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MATTHEW SADLIER – Leitrim’s ‘Titanic’ victim remembered


April can be considered ‘Titanic Month’ for even though the famous liner sank to the sea floor 103 years ago, people’s fascination with the story shows no signs of diminishing. Titanic is the ultimate story that just keeps on giving: it is romance, and tragedy, there are heroes and villains, there is superstition and most of all the folly of man underestimating the power of nature.

This month a small town in the North West of Ireland took centre stage as its own connection to the Titanic disaster was recalled and a commemorative seat unveiled to its own maritime victim. Mohill is the home of Matthew Sadlier a 19 year old lad who set out for New York to start a new life for himself. Over a year ago a Committee was set up in the town involving the local youth group, Foroige. They were joined by some more experienced hands and they got to work preparing a plan to commemorate the life of young Matt Sadlier. They decided upon a commemorative seat to be located in a prominent position in the town and also set out to contact any living relatives of Matthew. The Committees work came to fruition in a wonderful weekend of events associated with the Titanic, the highlight of which was the unveiling of the memorial in a newly renovated plaza.


Who was Matthew Sadlier?

Matthew was born in 1892 to Matthew & Catherine Sadlier at their house at Clooncoe on the shores of beautiful Lough Rynn. The house was located on the famous Lough Rynn Estate, home of the Clements family, the Earls of Leitrim. The Sadliers were members of the Church of Ireland and Matthew was baptised at Farnaught Church on the 8th October, 1892. Matthews Civil Birth Record shows his birth was recorded just over two weeks later on the 26th October. The Civil Record gives his date of birth as the 8th October also, the same date as his baptism, something which seems extraordinary today. The informant is Dr Henry Pentland from Mohill who it says was present at the birth. This would suggest that Matthew may have been brought to the baptismal font on the same day as he came into this world. The fact that the Sadlier home is located so close to Farnaught Church means this would not have been a long journey but would have been, at the very least, be a great imposition on poor Catherine. Matthew Seniors occupation is recorded as an Agricultural Labourer. Catherine’s occupation is not given but as she was to bear Matthew Senior 9 children, 7 of whom would survive infancy, it is likely all Catherine’s time was taken up with child rearing and keeping house.

Matthew and Catherine did not always live at Lough Rynn. They married on the 25th February, 1881 at St. Marys Church of Ireland, Mohill. The church is reputedly built on the site of the original monastery, Maothail Manachain which was the precursor to the modern town of Mohill. The founder of the monastery was St. Manachan and his feast day is the 25th February, the same day that Catherine & Matthew Senior took their vows.

Matthew Senior and Catherine were both born in the same townland on small tenant farms just a mile west of the town of Mohill. Matthew Seniors father was Henry Sadlier, who was born circa 1810, but unfortunately the location is unknown. As well as farming his small holding Henry also for some time was a weaver. The fact that he was engaged in weaving might suggest that the family may have migrated to Leitrim from a more north eastern location where the linen trade was predominant. Henry Sadlier died on the 25th November, 1885 at the age of 75. He was buried in Mohill Church of Ireland Cemetery and we also know he died a widower, his wife having predeceased him. Present at his death was a Sarah McCombs.

Griffiths Valuation (1857) shows Henry as holding a tenancy on the Crofton Estate in the townland of Tamlaghtavally. His holding is just shy of 15 acres in size which would have been well above the average holding in the area at that time.

 Tamlaghtavalley 1857 Griffiths

Sadlier Holding No’s 5,6 & 7 Tamlaghtvalley, Mohill, 1857.

 Catherine Sadlier, the mother of tragic Matthew, was born to Thomas and Anna Duke, also in Tamlaghtavally, Mohill in 1852. She was baptised in St.  Marys Church of Ireland on the 22nd December that year.

The 1901 Census will show Matthew Senior and Catherine Sadlier living in Clooncoe with their 7 surviving children Thomas (19), William (18), Jane A (16), Fanny (15), Henry (11), Kate (9) and young Matthew (8). 10 years later when the enumerators called again to the Sadlier household only Kate and Matthew remained at home. Catherine would go on to marry a William Boddy and live out her days in Mohill.

William the second eldest appears to have been the first of the Clooncoe family to cross the Atlantic circa 1904. The following year, the elder brother Thomas made the crossing, stating on the ship manifest that he was travelling to William at 49 Grove St., New York.

It is clear that young Matthew was intent on joining his siblings in America as soon as he possibly could. Matthew purchased a 3rd Class ticket (Ticket No. 367655 , £7 14s 7d) on the White Star Line to New York. It was a considerable sum of money at the time. Senan Maloney recounts some local lore about Matthews final days in Clooncoe;-

‘His parents didn’t wish him to leave , his mother being particularly attached to her youngest, having already see offspring William, Thomas and Fanny take the American boat. On the morning he was to leave, a cockerel came to the doorstep and crowed three times. His mother, seizing on superstition for her own ends, declared,‘That’s enough now!’ grabbing Matthews suitcase from his hand. It was unspoken knowledge that a cockcrow at the door meant sad news. Matthew patiently retrieved his case from his mother’s grasp, said farewells and went about his journey’[i]

Matthew made the long journey to Cork and then boarded the illustrious liner ‘Titanic’ embarking from Queenstown, Co. Cork on Thursday the 11th April, 1912.

Catherine Sadlier had already lost 2 children out of the 9 she brought into this world. Another local tale recalled by Maloney tells of a man called Easterbrook who was cycling home at night on the long sylvan Avenue leading to Lough Rynn House. This man claimed he met the ghost of Matthew Sadlier’s sister who had predeceased him. The ghost’s hair was dripping wet as if it were submerged in water. With fright he lost his balance and when he regained his nerve the ghost was nowhere to be seen. Apparently when this apparition occurred word had not yet made it to Leitrim that the ‘Titanic’ was lost.

In an interesting postscript, on the 25th September 1922 Matthew Sadlier Senior leaves Mohill and headed for New York on board the ‘Cedric’ of the same White Star Line that owned the ‘Titanic’. He purchased his ticket through Thomas J. Gannon Agent in Mohill and boarded at Liverpool. His next of kin is stated to be his daughter Mrs William Body of Tawlaghtavalley, Mohill and he was travelling to his son Thomas Sadlier of Fairfield, Connecticut. Matthew Senior arrived in New York 2nd October 1922.

For Matthew Junior there is no burial plot but the sea, his body if ever found has never been identified. Thanks to the Matthew Sadlier Committee there is however a place to remember him and to contemplate the incredible tragedy he was destined to become part of. The memorial is just a few feet from the final resting place of his dear sister Kate, to whom he was so close too. When you see the beautifully crafted seat commemorating Matt Sadlier you cannot but think of the words of Patrick Kavanagh.

“O commemorate me where there is water,

Canal water, preferably, so stilly

Greeny at the heart of summer. Brother

Commemorate me thus beautifully”[ii]

Committee IMG_1827

[i] Senan Molony ‘The Irish onboard the Titanic’ Mercier Press (October 24, 2012)

[ii] Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin -Patrick Kavanagh © Estate of Katherine Kavanagh

If destruction be our lot – the tragedy of Civil War


Union Soldier reloading by Randy Steele

Union Soldier reloading by Randy Steele

I have always had a great interest in the American Civil War. As a boy I read plenty of material about the conflict. Lincoln was almost as big a character as his outsized memorial in Washington, from his humble origins, to his powerful oratory at Gettysburg, and finally his dramatic and tragic death. More is known in Ireland about the American Civil War than our own similar bloodletting 90 years ago. Part of the reason for this is how the american conflict is perpetuated in popular culture. In the mid 80’s we watched the ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ with a Confederate flag emblazoned on the roof of the iconic 1969 Dodge Charger, better known of course as the ‘General Lee’. One of the big TV hits at the time was a mini-series called ‘North and South’ starring a young Patrick Swayze.  The saga tells the story of the enduring friendship between Orry Main born into a South Carolina planter – slaveowning family, and his friend George Hazard from a Pennsylvanian mill owning family. The pair had become best mates while attending West Point. Soon they find themselves and their families on opposite sides of the Civil War. One bi-product of watching the series was that I perfected my pronunciation of Charleston in a southern drawl, “Chawstunh”.

It was with great surprise that I later learned that my Grandfathers uncle had fought on the Union side. Recently arrived in the US he and his two sisters headed from New Orleans up the Mississippi to a riverside town in Illinois. It was an exciting time along the busiest river highway in the world. It was the world recreated in the fiction of Mark Twain, inhabited by characters like ‘Puddenhead Wilson’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn’. In the summer of 1862 my great granduncle voluntarily joined the 84th Illinois Infantry. Why a recently arrived immigrant would join a fight which really wasn’t his fight is a mystery but thousands of young men like him did the same. In a few months the new recruits were fighting their way through Kentucky and into Tennessee. There my uncle came a cropper in the fields around the town of Murfreesboro on New Years Day, 1863. Luckily he survived and after a few months was back with his regiment in the hell fire of Chickamauga and Chattanooga. Finally the Union broke into Georgia and split the Confederacy in half. My Great Granduncle wasn’t part of the infamous drive by Sherman to the sea. Instead his regiment headed back towards Tennessee via Huntsville, Alabama. There were some final battles but the end of the war and victory was in sight. My Great Granduncle returned to Illinois where he was to marry, raise a family and where he now lies resting in the cemetery at Keithsburg.

In reading about the American Civil Wat, I happened upon this sad tale recently. Civil War, as we well know in this country, can literally tear a family apart, pitting brother against brother or father against son as each rallies to the flag of the cause that captured his heart. As Lincoln said at the outset, “if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher”. There is no more dramatic evidence of this than the encounter that took place on the American Civil War battlefield at Malvern Hill July 1, 1862. Captain D. P. Conyngham was an officer in the Irish Brigade and described the incident shortly after the war:

“I had a Sergeant Driscoll, a brave man, and one of the best shots in the Brigade. When charging at Malvern Hill , a company was posted in a clump of trees, who kept up a fierce fire on us, and actually charged out on our advance. Their officer seemed to be a daring, reckless boy, and I said to Driscoll, ‘if that officer is not taken down, many of us will fall before we pass that clump.’

‘Leave that to me,’ said Driscoll; so he raised his rifle, and the moment the officer exposed himself again bang went Driscoll, and over went the officer, his company at once breaking away.

As we passed the place I said, ‘Driscoll, see if that officer is dead – he was a brave fellow.’

I stood looking on. Driscoll turned him over on his back. He opened his eyes for a moment, and faintly murmured ‘Father,’ and closed them forever.

I will forever recollect the frantic grief of Driscoll; it was harrowing to witness. He was his son, who had gone South before the war.

  Ivan Terrible after killing his son

And what became of Driscoll afterwards? Well, we were ordered to charge, and I left him there; but, as we were closing in on the enemy, he rushed up, with his coat off, and, clutching his musket, charged right up at the enemy, calling on the men to follow. He soon fell, but jumped up again. We knew he was wounded. On he dashed, but he soon rolled over like a top. When we came up he was dead, riddled with bullets.”

Bishop Edward O’Rourke and the Nazis of Danzig

Bishop Edward O'Rourke 2O'Rourke_coat_of_arms_large

Count Eduard Alexander Ladislaus O’Rourke was born October 26, 1876 in Basin near the city of Minsk in modern day Belarus. At the time the area was part of the Russian Empire and the O’Rourke’s were an aristocratic family. They had large estates acquired no doubt on the basis of several generations of loyal and successful military service to the Czars. Edward’s father was Michael Graf O’Rourke and his mother a Angelika von Bochwitz who was of Baltic-German descent. The O’Rourkes had never forgotten their Irish and Leitrim Heritage and had petitioned the Czar to retain their Irish Titles

Leitrim Heritage

Eduard was a direct descendant of Ualgarg Mor Ui Ruairc of Breifne. Ualgarg’s descendants became known as the O’Rourkes of Clooncorrick and they were the major landowners in the modern Barony of Carrigallen in East Leitrim on the Cavan border. The O’Rourkes were greatly reduced in both wealth and influence from the end of the nine years war 1594-1603 but the O’Rourkes of Clooncorrick retained much of their lands until after the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland in the early 1650’s. In the ensuing land confiscations many of the O’Rourkes fled to the continent with many of them achieving fame on the bloody battlefields of Europe.

Brothers Brian, John and Cornelius O’Rourke, were grandsons of Count Brian O’Rourke of Cloncorrick Castle. According to Anthony Kudryavitsky:-

‘John was born in 1728 in a village near the ancient castle of Woodford. At the age of twenty-five he left Ireland for London and entered the military service. He remained in the English capital for about five years, experiencing many disappointments, but ultimately fixed on the military profession as the best suited to his genius and disposition. In the First Tropps of Horse Guards he received the rudiments of arms; however, being a Roman Catholic, he was forced to resign.

John O’Rourke then went to France. Travelling to Versailles in 1758 he petitioned King Louis XV for a military commission, specifying his princely origin and praying for a regiment. The impressed King had O’Rourke installed as the Captain of the ‘Royal Scotch’ Brigade, much to the chagrin of the French officers. As a few instances of irregular promotions had been made in the brigade, the lieutenants were hurt at his appointment and resolved to contest the matter with him.

Challenged by a number of these enraged officers, John O’Rourke was forced to demonstrate his regal military deportment in a series of fencing duels, four in two days. He emerged victorious in all those duels and so gained a great reputation – not more by his gallantry in the field, than by his honourably confessing that he thought it an injury to the national regiment that he as a foreigner should be thrust upon them. He therefore gave up his commission, informing the French monarch that it was too dear a purchase to fight for it every day. After receiving a certificate of recommendation from the French King he was off to Russia and the court of Tsarina Elizabeth 1 in St. Petersburg.

In Russia John O’Rourke met up with his younger brother Cornelius, who like himself had emigrated from Ireland in search of a foreign military career. Cornelius was as regal minded as his brother and had allied himself dynastically in marrying the niece of Count de Lacy, descendant from the Norman Co. Meath family and a field marshal in the service of Austria. Both O’Rourkes became prominent Russian military leaders. They retained their titles of Irish Counts as they entered the Russian military service.

John O’Rourke finally demonstrated his military prowess during the siege of Berlin. In 1761 he was appointed First Major of Horse Cuirassiers in the regiment of Body Guards. During the course of the war he greatly distinguished himself, in particular, by storming the City of Berlin, which he laid under contribution. When the war with Prussia was over, word reached O’Rourke that the Prussian King, Frederic the Great, impressed with his gallantry, sought his counsel.

Advised by his fellow Russian officers not to go to this meeting with the enemy, O’Rourke remarked that “A man who was a brave enemy could not be a dangerous friend.” So he picked his way towards Berlin where he was graciously received by Frederick and presented with a diamond-studded sword. Frederick inquired how the Count could possibly have believed he could defeat Berlin, to which O’Rourke replied, “If ordered by my commanding officer to storm the heights of Heaven, I would have made the attempt.”

At the end of that war John O’Rourke returned to France with certificates of his gallant conduct from Peter the Third, Prince-General Volkonsky, and Prince-General Souvorov. He was appointed by King Slanislaus as one of his chamberlains in the year 1764. In 1770 he was appointed a Colonel of Horse by the French King and was enrolled among the nobility of France. He was also granted a pension from the French civil list and in 1774 was honoured with the order of St Louis.

John O’Rourke eventually returned to London and published his ‘Treatise on the Art of War’ and attempted to secure a position among the English military elite. The English however, were not as susceptible to O’Rourke’s charms and he was viewed with much suspicion despite being introduced to the King by Lord Stormont himself in 1779. The English doubted O’Rourke’s credentials forcing the Count to produce his now large collection of titles and certificates of regality. He, in turn, was disdainful of those he termed ‘the upstart families of England’; however, he was nevertheless made a Knight by them in 1782, four years before he died. Upon his death in 1786, a large obituary appeared in The London Times, highlighting his career. Before that, The Hibernian Magazine for March, 1782, published a picturesque description of some incidents in his life.

John’s brother Cornelius remained in Russia where he was made first a Captain, then a Colonel of Horse and finally a General Major. His son Joseph (Josif Kornelievich) O’Rourke was born in 1772 in Dorpat, Estonia. His portrait hangs in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

O'Rourke Joseph Cornelius

General Joseph Cornelius O’Rourke

According to Kudryavitsky:- “Being enlisted in his childhood into the elite Izmailov life-guards Regiment in the rank of sergeant, Joseph O’Rourke started his actual service as a Captain (Rotmistr) of cavalry in 1790.He took part in the Russian-Swedish war in Finland and later in the campaign against the Polish Confederation. At first he served in the Pskov Dragoon Regiment but in 1797 he was transferred to the famous Pavlograd Houssar Regiment. In 1798, he became a Major of same regiment.

During the Italian Campaign of General Souvorov he participated in the battles at Austerlitz and Praslau where he greatly distinguished himself and was soon made a Colonel. His service record was adorned with numerous awards. In 1805 he was decorated with St George Order (the 1st level), five years later he was awarded the St Anna Order. Between 1809 and 1812 Joseph O’Rourke took part in the war with Turkey and was appointed commander of a cavalry corps. In 1812 he was entrusted to command the vanguard of the Western Army. He led the cavalry in pursuit of the remains of ‘The Great Army’ from Biarezina to Kouna and Warsaw. For his part in the battle of Leipzig he was made General-Lieutenant and decorated with Order of Alexander Nevsky.

During the Congress in Vienna he was, in the suite of Tzar Alexander 1, amongst the most distinguished Russian generals. Soon he was helping to ensure Napoleon’s demise at Waterloo. In 1819 General O’Rourke retired and subsequently settled down in Navahradak region of Minsk province. He was quite a prominent landowner in Byelorussia and had in his possession about 20,000 acres of land including a small town called Usialub and five villages”.

The Population Census of 1858 stated that his family owned 236 serfs. In 1848 he petitioned Tsar Nicholas 1 for permission to retain the title of Irish Count. The Tsar granted the title to him and his descendants in November 1848. In December 1897, Tsar Nicholas II confirmed that the O’Rourke family of Byelorussia were entitled to be called Irish Counts. By the time Joseph O’Rourke’s died in 1849 all of his sons had thriving military careers. The volume “Titled Nobility of Europe” lists the officers Major Alexander P O’Rourke, Lieutenant Patrick A O’Rourke and Lieutenant Constanine M O’Rourke as serving in the Russian Imperial Army. Apparently, it was Lt. Patrick O’Rourke to whom John O’Donovan was referring when he wrote, “It is curious to see how this fallen Irish family has found its proud level in the present Prince O’Rourke of Russia.” Documents regarding the military service of this family can be found in the famed Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and also in military archives in Vienna.

Early Life & education

The young Edward would have grown up in a multi-lingual environment and it is likely that his first language would have been German. He attended the famous Jesuit College in Chyrów (then in Austria-Hungary, now modern Ukraine).. In 1903 he graduated from the Trade and Mechanics Faculty of the University of Riga In 1903 he moved to Freiburg, Switzerland where he continued his studies at the University’s faculty of law. The following year O’Rourke moved to the theological faculty at the University of Innsbruck in Austria-Hungaria.

On October 27, 1908 he was ordained a priest in Vilna (Vilnius, Lithuania) and became a professor of ecclesiastical history, German and French language at the seminary of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev in Saint Petersburg Between 1912 and 1915, he became the priest of the multilingual congregation of St. Stanislaus in Petersburg.

 Religious Life

After the February Revolution in Russia, the church decided to re-establish the diocese of Minsk; O’Rourke was appointed as its administrator and the interim head of the Catholic Church in Russia. He met Achille Ratti for the first time, the Apostolic Visitor for the Baltic Countries and later, Pope Pius XI. Due to the proposed independence of Latvia, in 1918 the diocese of Riga was established. O’Rourke was appointed the bishop of Riga on recommendation of Ratti on 29 September 1918.

O’Rourke’s position in Riga was problematic as German forces occupied the city in early 1919.[1] By the end of World War I, the ecclesiastical organisation was largely destroyed, and only a few priests were active. O’Rourke did not speak Latvian but tried to encourage Latvian priests. He resigned after a new government in Latvia was appointed and there was a popular movement calling for an ethnic Latvian bishop. Released from Riga in April 1920, O’Rourke was appointed the titular bishop of Canea and Apostolic Delegate for the Baltic States. In November 1921 he was also appointed as the Pontifical Delegate for Russian refugees in Danzig and East Prussia, and in 1928 for Russians in Germany.

Danzig 1920-1939

In the post war settlement the City of Danzig (modern day Gdansk) was problematic. The City was overwhelmingly a German city. Its population, history, culture and language were German. However, the River Vistula in all except the few miles which ran through Danzig was in Polish territory, and the natural part of Danzig was as a trading city to serve the basin of the Vistula; that is, to serve as the trading centre for Poland. Danzig was therefore a German city with a Polish trade.

Danzig, Die Mottlau mit dem KrantorDanzig 1939

The Poles wished to have free and direct access to the Baltic Sea and so were given a corridor through the former German lands of Pommerania and Prussia. Danzig was too German and too large to be incorporated in the Polish State, so the Peace Conference in 1919 made it a Free City under a Commissioner appointed by the League of Nations—an office occupied by an Irishman, Sean Lester. The Free City experiment was not a success, the Poles set about reducing their reliance on what they still considered a German run Port and began constructing  a massive new port called Gydnia, just North of Gdansk. The Poles then starved Gdansk of Trade which had the effect of increasing the Danzig Germans hostility to the League of Nations, due the double in justice of been denied union with their mother land and denied trade by their polish neighbours. Danzig became a hotbed ripe for exploitation by the Nazis.

Edward O’Rourke was witness to all these tensions in the Free City as in 1923 he took up the post of ‘apostolic administrator’ (quasi-bishop) in the Free City of Danzig where he would remain for the next fifteen years. In 1925, as a separate political entity, the Free City was given its own diocese with its seat in Oliwa cathedral with O’Rourke becoming its first Roman Catholic bishop.

Such tensions also spilled over into the local Roman Catholic Church where the German-speaking majority resisted attempts by Danzig’s small Polish community to found their own Polish parish. During his first decade in the city O’Rourke sided with the German-speakers, even proposing in June 1931 to the Danzig Senate’s German nationalist president that there should be a ‘stepping up of anti-Polish propaganda in the Church.’

Bishop Edward O'RourkeSean Lester

Bishop O’Rourke of Danzig                                                             Sean Lester

However, once the Danzig Nazi Party had taken control of the Senate in 1933, O’Rourke became one of the strongest allies of the Polish community in Danzig. With the Church now facing persecution by an external enemy, internal ethnic divisions in were set aside and the attitude of Bishop O’Rourke and part of the German-speaking clergy became more favourable towards the Polish community. Along with Irishman Sean Lester, the League of Nations’ High Commissioner in Danzig, O’Rourke was one of the very few independent voices prepared to publically criticize Nazi policies in the Free City. Of particular concern to O’Rourke were attempts by the Nazi Senate to absorb Catholic youth organizations and charities into Nazi structures and its pressure to completely ‘nationalize’ the Church in Danzig.

Despite the fact that Sean Lester was a Protestant and they initially had no common language except French, the two men became close friends and political allies. Both considered personae non grata by the Danzig Nazis, O’Rourke and Lester found a common affinity in their respect for human rights, their opposition to Nazism and their Irishness. Indeed, O’Rourke was intensely proud of his Irish ancestry, with Lester recalling in his diary how on their first meeting in 1934 the bishop came into the room ostentatiously carrying an Irish magazine and patriotically forcing himself to smoke ‘Irish’ cigarettes over his preferred Russian brand.

Once, however, Lester had been forced from his post in February 1937, O’Rourke’s became the last independent voice left in the so-called ‘Free’ City. With a section of the German-speaking Catholic clergy, along with the Nazis, openly opposing his support for the foundation of a Polish parish, O’Rourke finally resigned in October 1937, and moved to the Polish city of Poznan.

From then on, O’Rourke’s connections with Poland became stronger and stronger. Indeed, in 1939 he renounced his Danzig citizenship and became a Polish citizen.

When Germany invaded Poland in September, 1939 O’Rourke was forced to flee Poznan. In Brest-Litovsk he met the famous German General Heinz Guderian who gave him safe passage by car to Stettin from where he made his way to Berlin and then to Rome. He did try to return to Poznan during the war but the Germans would not grant him a visa. In a letter to a friend in Ireland from February 1940, O’Rourke outlines his escape from the war zone:-

 “I have been three months in Rome awaiting in vain for a German visum to go back to Posen. The most part of September I was in Poland; practically all the time of the warfare there. I was in Warsaw and in Siedlce during the bombardment of these cities, and came out of Poland with the help of a sympathetic German General, who sent me, with a motor car, to Eastern Prussia, and from there by sea I reached Stettin, and then Berlin and Rome.

The Germans were very kind to me, but they did not, and do not, wish me to go back to Posen. The rumours, spread in the papers, that I was killed by the Bolshevists, were probably caused by the fact that my cousin, Count Charles O’Rourke, was arrested by the Bolshevists, and it was said that he was killed. But he was only put in prison, and is till now detained, in horrible circumstances, in a cell with 30 other prisoners. He is 78 years of age, ill, and very weak. The President of Lithuania, Mr. Smetana, is trying to liberate him, but till now without success.

I was very amused by the cutting of the English paper. I am sorry I cannot confirm the good news it brought about me. But, fortunately, the bad news in the ‘Sunday Independent’ was not true. In Ireland there are many happy people and I hope Ireland will remain neutral and not take part in that terrible trouble the Continent is going through.”

Although O’Rourke died in Rome in 1943, in recognition of his defence of the Free City’s Polish community during the Nazi period, his bones were reinterred in Gdansk’s Oliwa Cathedral in 1972. Edward O’Rourke may the only member of his illustrious family to ever visit the birthplace of his ancestors. In the 1920’s he visited Leitrim and his enquiries led to him compiling “Documents and Materials for the History of the O’Rourke Family’ published in Danzig in 1925 (by Count Edward O’Rourke, Bishop of Pergame).

Plaque to bishop Edward O'Rourke in Oliwa Cathedral in Gdańsk

Cloughoughter Castle, County Cavan

Tucked away in a remote corner of the Erne River system, on a tiny island in Lough Oughter, stands the ruined circular tower of Cloughoughter – a modest-sized castle with a surprisingly prominent history. It was probably begun by William Gorm de Lacy between 1200 and 1224, possibly on the site of a crannog, after the Normans seized parts of the O’Rourke kingdom of Breifne. The lower two storeys can be ascribed to this phase; it had loops but no entrance on the ground floor, three doorways and at least two windows at first-floor level and possibly a curtain wall on the west side.

From 1233 until the end of the seventeenth century, the territory of East Breifne, roughly today’s County Cavan, fell under the control of the O’Reilly clan, who built up the castle to its present height. It played an important role in the dynastic power struggles of the O’Reillys and in conflicts with their former overlords, the O’Rourkes of West Breifne, and during this time also served as a grim prison, where some unfortunates were incarcerated for years. When Philip O’Reilly was held here in the 1360s he had “no allowance save a sheaf of oats for day and night and a cup of water, so that he was compelled to drink his own urine”.

After the Flight of the Earls in 1607, the castle was captured by Sir Richard Wingfield and granted to Captain Hugh Culme, who built himself a residence on the south shore of the lake. In the 1641 Rebellion the castle was captured by the O’Reillys and used again as a prison; here the old Bishop of Kilmore, William Bedell, together with his two sons, his son-in-law and Arthur Culme, were kept in irons in a “cold, wet and windy room almost at the top of the tower”. It was the last stronghold to fall in the Cromwellian wars and immediately afterwards, in March 1653, was rendered useless by a massive explosion of gunpowder. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the picturesque ivy-clad ruin was depicted by a number of artists, including William Ashford, whose fine painting of the castle c. 1790 hung at Fota until recently. Excavation was carried out to facilitate conservation works on the walls in 1987, most of the finds were of seventeenth century date, including four human skeletons, three male and one female, all evidently casualties of the final fatal siege of 1653.

Located on an island in Lough Oughter
3 miles SE of Killeshandra and S of Killykeen Forest Park.
NGR: H 863554.
National Monument.
Open access.

The Great Big Poppy Debate

poppiesI attended a remembrance ceremony this week. I did not wear a poppy, nor was I asked to. Near the end of the ceremony the Rector pointed out that if anyone wanted to contribute to the British Legions Poppy Appeal they could do so at the rear of the church. Of the seventy or so people present about two thirds were of the Protestant faith, they practically all wore their poppies. I didn’t see any of the others, who were mostly Catholic, wear any poppies, or any symbol for that matter.

In the days previous I read the statement of James McClean to the Chairman of Wigan FC, Dave Whelan in which he explained articulately and precisely why he couldn’t and wouldn’t wear the poppy.

James McClean       James McClean comes from Derry, a community where one of the worst atrocities of the ‘Troubles’ was carried out by a British Army Parachute Regiment on the 30th January, 1972. In 2010 when the Saville enquiry’s report was published it completely rejected a previous report carried out by Lord Widgery. The Widgery Report was shown to be in effect a ‘whitewash’ of the truth of what happened on ‘Bloody Sunday’. Whether or not this was a deliberate whitewash is not addressed, but just ask anyone from James McClean’s neighbourhood and they’ll give a very definite answer to that question. The problem for the British Government is not so much that a regiment went berserk, shooting civilians in the process, but, that the British establishment, in the form of Lord Widgery, sought to cover up what happened by attacking the character and good names of the deceased. In doing so they not only defamed the Dead, they defamed an entire City. David Cameron deserves credit for standing up in the House of Commons on the 15th June, 2010 and acknowledging, among other things, that the Paras fired the first shots, fired on fleeing, unarmed civilians, and, shot and killed a wounded man lying unarmed and helpless on the ground. The victims of that terrible day, and their loved ones, were finally vindicated, but an apology by the British Government whilst helping, can never fully heal the wound.

Bloody Sunday will remain a permanent scar for the families of the victims and their community. Time will help heal but what is done cannot be undone. James McClean was born and bred in that scarred community. His talent as a footballer was recognised at an early age. He represented Northern Ireland at underage level but held out for a call up to the Republic of Ireland squad. In this he was successful and he now represents the Republic, a move, one of many, which has caused consternation in the Northern Irish Football Association in Belfast. The move also had some Northern Ireland politicians in a twist. The Deputy Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Nigel Dodds urged the British and Irish governments to work together to stop the injustice of the ‘haemorrhaging’ of Northern Irish footballers to the Republic. Mr. Dodds must realise that the problem is more rooted in the attitudes of the IFA than the FAI, as the former organisation has not been serious about ridding Northern Irish football of its rabid sectarianism, the type that caused it to lose players such as Neil Lennon and Anton Rogan, Catholics who received death threats from their ‘own’ supporters. The lack of action on behalf of the IFA is hardly the type of reassurance young footballers from the Nationalist Community need in order to commit to themselves to representing the IFA.

Despite McClean’s reasonable and articulate letter last week he still received some boos from the terraces in Bolton. Is it any wonder? The growth of the poppy as a symbol of all British military campaigns to include Iraq and Afghanistan has, unbeknownst to most British people, also given a certain legitimacy to the actions of some British soldiers in the troubles in Northern Ireland. As McClean has said

‘I have complete respect for those who fought and died in both World Wars – many I know were Irish-born. I have been told that your own Grandfather Paddy Whelan, from Tipperary, was one of those. I mourn their deaths like every other decent person and if the Poppy was a symbol only for the lost souls of World War I and II I would wear one’.

Unfortunately the modern poppy is not just representative of the deaths of World Wars One and Two, and therein lies the rub.

‘For people from the North of Ireland such as myself ….the poppy has come to mean something very different’.

Every year over the last decade or so November sees more and more poppies on show, particularly on our TV screens. There is no room for dissent but there will always be dissent. The journalist and broadcaster Jon Snow refuses to wear a poppy on screen and every year he inevitably receives the cat calls of ‘traitor’ and is decried for his unpatriotic stance. What I find most refreshing is that Jon Snow has said on numerous occasions that he does in fact wear the poppy, only he does so in private. Mr. Snow is a making a fine point that  goes completely over the heads of the mob, and that is that not wearing a poppy is not the same thing as not remembering the war dead. Unfortunately in modern Britain there has been created an atmosphere whereby people are forced to publicise their remembrance of the fallen, what the author Guy Walters has described as ‘grief fascism’. What Snow represents is the view that it is not  the act of poppy-wearing that causes offence it is the compulsion to wear one.

Jon snow

That is in essence a ‘very English’ debate and whilst similar, is also very much distinct from the ‘Irish question’ as alluded to in McClean’s statement. It may be that the poppy would be alright if it just remembered the fallen of 1914-18 and 1939-45, but it no longer does. The poppy as a symbol has evolved and whilst wearers of the poppy celebrate the freedoms for which the fallen fought and gave the ultimate sacrifice for, they should also remember that these hard won freedoms also include the freedom to opt out of this very public display of remembrance. No inference should ever be drawn that those of us who remain Poppy-less remember the fallen any lesser than those that do wear the emblem and vice-versa.

Last Sunday I remembered a family member of my own who after surviving the Somme, died in the cauldron of the Ypres salient. His brother was also in my thoughts; he served in South-West Africa and Tanganyika where he was badly wounded. His wounds contributed to his demise in Johannesburg in 1921 from complications. We remember so that we never forget and in exercising my act of remembrance I didn’t wear a poppy, nor was I asked too. For that I am grateful.

“When ye go home tell them of us and say,

For your tomorrow we gave our today”

The day they lynched the Elephant

Hanging with the Elephanthanging elephant

Search Engines have the habit of waylaying me (in the best possible way) and this evening was no different. I was looking up the wonderful Michael Harding’s latest work, ‘Hanging with the Elephant – or how not to meditate’ and simply entered the words ‘Hanging’, ‘Elephant’ and ‘Harding’ and found my target. It was only when I clicked on images in search of the book cover that I came across a strange and macabre sight. It was an adult Elephant seemingly hanging from a crane? Curiosity got the better of me and so I simply had to explore further and this is the harrowing tale that I now share.

The Elephants name was Mary and she was a five ton Asian female. She was part of Charlie Sparks’ revelling circus which was travelling throughout the near west in the summer of 1916. The Circus had just arrived in the town of Kingsport, Tennessee, USA in the month of September.  The circus staff prepared for the usual parade down the Main St., a spectacle that was sure to be the best form of advertisement for their upcoming show. An inexperienced handler called Red Eldridge was put in charge of Mary. Eldridge was a Hotel Worker who had just been hired the evening before the parade.

The parade was going normally when the elephant stopped to nibble on a piece of discarded watermelon. She slowed down and as one can imagine the whole parade had to stop when Mary stopped. Eldridge jabbed the elephant to get her moving and inadvertently hit an abscessed spot just behind her ear. The elephant’s reaction was deadly. The elephant grabbed her new handler with her trunk, lifted him in the air dashed him against a drink stand and as he lay dying on the road, issued the coup de grace by trampled on his head. Mercifully Eldridge was killed instantly. While the terrified spectators screamed and fled, a local blacksmith unloaded five rounds of ammunition into the elephant with little effect.

As Mary recovered her composure the townsfolk encircled her and someone shouted to the Circus people that the killer elephant must be put down.  Before long the crowd had started chanting “Kill the elephant, kill the elephant.” Mary was eventually subdued and brought back to the circus grounds. The only talk amongst the citizens was the murderous Elephant in their midst. Newspaper accounts did nothing but flan the flames of the public’s frenzy. A contemporary newspaper account said that Mary “collided its trunk vice-like about [Eldridge’s] body, lifted him 10 feet in the air, then dashed him with fury to the ground… and with the full force of her beastly fury is said to have sunk her giant tusks entirely through his body. The animal then trampled the dying form of Eldridge as if seeking a murderous triumph, then with a sudden… swing of her massive foot hurled his body into the crowd.” It should be kept in mind that female Asian elephants don’t have any tusks!

Leaders from nearby towns threatened that the Circus would not be allowed visit their communities. Worried that the circus dates would be cancelled if he did not accommodate the crowds call for vengeance the circus owner Charlie Sparks reluctantly decided to acquiesce to the mobs demands. The condemned animal was loaded on a railway car and brought to the nearby town of Erwin. A huge crowd had assembled in the Clinchfield Railroad Yard.

The unfortunate elephant was hanged from a railcar-mounted industrial crane. The first attempt ended in failure when the chain used snapped. Mary broke her hip in the ensuing fall. The second attempt was successful and Mary was buried beside the tracks. A vet who carried out a post mortem on Mary was able to show that she had a severely infected tooth in the precise spot where Red Eldridge had prodded her.

A study by the University of Missouri noted that “Nearly 3,500 African Americans and 1,300 whites were lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968, mostly from 1882 to 1920.” Mary however was the only Elephant known to have suffered a similar fate at the hands of a vigilante Mob. Sadly there was no Atticus Finch on hand to save her life.

Atticus Finch

Incidentally the word ‘lynching’ comes from Galway. James Lynch Fitzstephen was the Mayor of Galway when he hanged his own son from the balcony of his house after convicting him of the murder of a Spanish visitor in 1493.

Finally, I purchased Michael Harding’s book and am looking forward to tucking into it; the critics say it is ‘A compelling memoir. Absorbing and graced with a deceptive lightness of touch, [Hanging with the Elephant ] is clever and brilliantly pieced together. Harding writes like an angel’


‘To boldly go’ – Space Tourism and the melting wax conundrum.

imageMAN has a long held obsession with flight but one man more than any other has an obsession with space flight. Richard Branson has poured millions of pounds into his dream of commercial space flight. As news filtered through that one of his proto-type “Spaceships” had crashed onto the floor of the Mojave Desert, one felt that Branson’s dream had taken a severe battering. In the last few days Branson has faced a lot of personal criticism much of it unjustified, over the loss of the Virgin Prototype that killed a test pilot. It may transpire that the loss of Spaceship Two was due to pilot error and for that you simply cannot lay the blame at the feet of Sir Richard.

History has a habit of following a cyclical yet chronological path. Empires rise, prosper, decline and fall. Truth is but for the Cold War we wouldn’t have had a Space Race. Only for the emergence of Hitler we mightn’t have had a Second World War and only for the harsh Treaty of Versailles we wouldn’t have had the catastrophic social and economic conditions that gave rise to the scourge of National Socialism. Ironic then that the shifting sands of European politics and catastrophic bloodletting of two world wars would lead to arguably man’s greatest achievement; leaving behind the world that bore him and standing on another celestial body. That such an achievement was borne from the development of inter-continental ballistic missiles, technology developed by Nazi scientists, is proof that we can be at our most productive when we are actually seeking to be destructive, an extreme version of the common phrase ‘every cloud has a silver lining’

Space Travel From the time of the Wright brothers first manned flight in Kitty Hawk, to man stepping on the moon took a mere sixty six years. In the intervening forty five years Space Travel hasn’t progressed much. Constellation, a Bush Administration program for a return to the Moon by 2020 was judged inadequately funded and unrealistic by an expert review panel reporting in 2009. The fact that at this very moment we cannot repeat a feat achieved in 1969 speaks volumes. It would be like if Hillary and Tenzing were still the only people to stand atop Everest.

That is not to say there hasn’t been considerable scientific achievement in that time, because there has been: in particular the deep space probes such as Voyager and Cassini, the various Mars probes etc. Yet none of these expeditions have captured the imagination of the mass public like in the golden days of Sputnik and Apollo. It is clear that the majority of people on our planet are more excited by space travel than space exploration. Yet Branson’s project is a different animal. It is the preserve of the uber rich and privileged. Many of the potential clientele will not even be household names. Many may have wealth but not fame. Even if they do end up on a Virgin galactic Craft bound for Space they will never be household names like Neil Armstrong, John Glenn or Yuri Gagarin. Maybe that’s the way they like to live, enjoying the trappings of wealth without the erosion of their privacy.

Richard Branson may yet resurrect his commercial space flight operation. He has invested too much to give up now and this accident, whilst tragic, is merely a setback.

Last year people in the US spent twice as much on plastic surgery than their Government spent on space travel. In an era where the budgets for space programs are been cut, the space shuttle grounded, the international space station running on a shoestring,  there is clearly a vacuum for private promoters like Richard Branson has made a niche for his Virgin Brand. Space Tourism is an innovation and all innovations bring risk. If this accident was under the auspices of NASA there would likely be no personal blame attached to any individual, at least not in the way that Branson is currently being pilloried. The problem for Branson is that he is the quintessential capitalist and his dream of space tourism is as much about profit as it is about vision.

Just a few days before the Virgin crash another private rocket launch ended in disaster when an Antares rocket blew up just seconds after lift-off. Accidents do happen particularly when one is testing new technology. In a media interview since the ‘Space Ship Two’ crash Branson has said that he will not be accepting customers until the spacecraft has been flown safely by himself and family members. The retort sums up Branson, one part showman, one part businessman, on the front foot promoting his project. At the end of the day criticism is misplaced. Whilst Branson deliberately courts publicity, this is still essentially a private business venture, for private customers, with the objective of making money for the Virgin Group. The crash is only a temporary setback even though federal investigators are estimating that it may take up to a year before their report is complete.

Virgin will be hoping the story will not have a parallel with the tale of the Great Eastern steamship. The ship was the largest steamship of its time yet despite the genius and proven record of Brunel it was still a financial disaster, plagued by accidents, mishaps and bad luck. Branson will be keen not to emulate this Victorian calamity, nor suffer the fate of Icarus in the ancient fable when the wax securing his wings melted because he flew to close to the Sun. Despite the ire directed at Branson, humankind needs people like him to push the boundaries, to dream, to innovate, and most of all, to boldly go.

The seductiveness of the simple word


What has surprised me in the last few weeks is the wonder in some quarters at the outcomes of two, ostensibly at least, very different by-elections. In Clacton-on-Sea, the result delivered to the people of Great Britain its first UKIP MP. Nigel Farage hailed the election of Douglas Carswell as “a shift in the tectonic plates of British politics”. In a very different constituency in the west of Ireland the people, using the PRSTV system, elected Michael Fitzmaurice, who although receiving the second highest number ones, quickly overtook the pre-election favourite to eventually enjoy a comfortable finishing margin. Fitzmaurice may be called by some, the ‘Son of Ming’ but in many ways he is much more reflective of the demographic of the rural, under-developed constituency than his predecessor. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan with his typical flair for the dramatic, echoed the UFC Cage Fighter Conor McGregor, when he announced to those assembled in the Count Centre that ‘We are not here to take part, we are here to take over’. Fitzmaurice also has that rare ability to compose melodic phrases that resonate with the wider public; in his acceptance speech he declared that he was ‘a man of the soil’, a simple, powerful and almost pagan expression worthy of Kavanagh or Heaney.

Simple language can be powerful and a powerful message can often hang on its simplicity. The seductiveness of the simple language that Nigel Farage et al use is difficult to counter. Nationalist and Populist parties can thrive in the atmosphere that pervades the political landscape of Western Europe presently. Protests against austerity are springing up everywhere. Where once we had flash mobs we now have flash rebellions

It is perplexing how ordinary people throughout the United Kingdom think they can relate to this privately educated former banker. Are people really politically engaged when they vote for character driven Candidates who trade on their carefully manufactured personas? Surely this new politics is not sustainable? Recently a caller telephoned a radio show in the UK and said he’d voted for UKIP. When the presenter asked him why he had voted for them, the caller couldn’t name a single policy of UKIP. Sinn Fein still make promises here following on from the auction politics that reached its heights in 2011. When Sinn Fein Candidate Cathal King realised he was losing the Dublin SW televised debate on TV3, he hastily promised SF would abolish water charges. Unfortunately this abolition wasn’t part of the Sinn Fein Manifesto. Their policy proclaimed that they were opposing charges, but opposing is well short of abolishing. SF are learning that if you want to be serious about getting into power you have to have more than just populist policies, you must have policies that will survive retrospective spotlight.  Unfortunately Cathal King reverted to default mode when put under pressure by the Anti-Austerity-Alliance Candidate, Paul Murphy.

The results in the Irish By-elections were not good for any of the main parties. Fianna Fail, Labour and Fine Gael combined have less than 30% of the votes in Dublin SW. Fianna Fail on the other hand are not making promises but it’s limited improvements show that in the current climate people do not have the patience to engage with them or forgive them for been at the helm when the country went down the tubes. Michael Martin put in a huge personal effort in Roscommon / South Leitrim knocking on doors all over the Constituency. Unfortunately while he was well received his Candidate wasn’t and at the end of the day it was not Michael Martins face on the ballot paper. Young Emmet Corcoran debated well and showed a passion that was largely absent from the race. He had one or two ideas that unfortunately will never see the light of day. Roscommon has done strange things over the years, electing and dumping Sean Doherty and Brian Lenihan, and for years returning the committed Socialist Jack McQuillan. This time around they elected a man that isn’t even from the constituency.

An absentee TD you might think yet of all the candidates, Fitzmaurice, who came into the race later than anyone, had by far the widest appeal. The Glinsk native resonated with the largely rural area, and whilst people outside Roscommon mightn’t have heard of him, he already had a profile. He had a passion & charisma that motivated a merry band of canvassers, not just constituents, but many from counties such as Longford Galway to take to the few highways and many byways of Roscommon and Leitrim. On the debates he stayed well out of trouble.  One point that he made concerned the River Shannon which defines (and often floods) this area. For many years there have been plans to divert water from the Shannon to Dublin. The point made, a tad clumsily but made nonetheless, was why, oh why, can they not get clean water into the taps of Roscommon, when at the same time they can divert millions of gallons of ‘our’ water to the big City? Maybe the answer is that there isn’t the political will to invest in rural Ireland. Fitzmaurice’s argument pits the classic urban needs v rural necessities. Fitz plays the role of the boy in the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ pointing out the obvious to a blinded audience. The seductiveness of the simple answer is very difficult to counter?

‘KEENANS CHARGE’ The Battle of Chancellorsville, 1863


Captain Peter Keenan was born in 1834 to Irish parents at the town of York in the rural North West of the State of New York. By 1861 he was living in Philadelphia. He helped recruit the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry. He was appointed Captain, Company C, 19 August 1861. He was promoted to Major of the regiment 15 October 1862. According to the Pleasonton version, at the Battle of Chancellorsville,

“he was ordered by General Alfred Pleasonton, after the rout of the 11th corps on the right wing, to charge the advancing enemy in a wood, and hold them in check until the artillery could be got into position. He charged with his regiment, which numbered fewer than 500 men, so impetuously that the Confederates were startled, and hesitated to advance from the wood, until the guns were ready to rake the column as it emerged. Keenan met an inevitable death at the head of his men, many of whom fell with him, but the sacrifice enabled General Pleasonton to hold Stonewall Jackson’s corps in cheek and save the army from rout.”

His life is the subject of ‘To the Knife: The Biography of Major Peter Keenan, 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry’ by Charles C. Kelsey. His famous charge which is on a par with the Charge of the Light Brigade a decade earlier is also immortalised in the following poem by George Parsons Lathrop (1851-1898).


The Battle of Chancellorsville, 1863

The sun had set;

The leaves with dew were wet:

Down fell a bloody dusk

On the woods, that second day of May,

Where Stonewall’s corps, like a beast of prey,

Tore through with angry tusk.

“They’ve trapped us, boys!”

Rose from our flank a voice.

With a rush of steel and smoke

On came the rebels straight,

Eager as love and wild as hate;

And our line reeled and broke;

Broke and fled.

Not one stayed—but the dead!

With curses, shrieks, and cries,

Horses and wagons and men

Tumbled back through the shuddering glen,

And above us the fading skies.

There’s one hope, still—

Those batteries parked on the hill!

“Battery, wheel!” (‘mid the roar)

“Pass pieces; fix prolonge to fire

Retiring. Trot!” In the panic dire

A bugle rings “Trot!”—and no more.

The horses plunged,

The cannon lurched and lunged,

To join the hopeless rout.

But suddenly rode a form

Calmly in front of the human storm,

With a stern, commanding shout:

“Align those guns!”

(We knew it was Pleasanton’s.)

The cannoneers bent to obey,

And worked with a will at his word;

And the black guns moved as if they had heard.

But, ah, the dread delay!

“To wait is crime;

O God, for ten minutes’ time!”

The General looked around.

There Keenan sat, like a stone,

With his three hundred horse alone,

Less shaken than the ground.

“Major, your men?”

“Are soldiers, General.” “Then

Charge, Major! Do your best;

Hold the enemy back at all cost,

Till my guns are placed;—else the army is lost.

You die to save the rest!”

By the shrouded gleam of the western skies,

Brave Keenan looked into Pleasanton’s eyes

For an instant—clear, and cool, and still;

Then, with a smile, he said: “I will.”

“Cavalry, charge!” Not a man of them shrank.

Their sharp, full cheer, from rank to rank,

Rose joyously, with a willing breath—

Rose like a greeting hail to death.

Then forward they sprang, and spurred, and clashed;

Shouted the officers, crimson-sashed;

Rode well the men, each brave as his fellow,

In their faded coats of blue and yellow;

And above in the air, with an instinct true,

Like a bird of war their pennon flew.

With clank of scabbards and thunder of steeds

And blades that shine like sunlit reeds,

And strong brown faces bravely pale

For fear their proud attempt should fail,

Three hundred Pennsylvanians close

On twice ten thousand gallant foes.

Line after line the troopers came

To the edge of the wood that was ring’d with flame;

Rode in, and sabred, and shot— and fell;

Nor came back one his wounds to tell.

And full in the midst rose Keenan tall

In the gloom, like a martyr awaiting his fall,

While the circle-stroke of his sabre, swung

Round his head, like a halo there, luminous hung.

Line after line—aye, whole platoons,

Struck dead in their saddles, of brave dragoons

By the maddened horses were onward borne

And into the wavering vortex flung, trampled and torn;

As Keenan fought with his men, side by side.

So they rode, till there were no more to ride.

But over them, lying there shattered and mute,

What deep echo rolls?—’Tis a death-salute

From the cannon in place; for, heroes, you braved

Your fate not in vain; the army was saved!

Over them now—year following year—

Over the graves the pine-cones fall,

And the whippoorwill chants his spectre-call;

But they stir not again: they raise no cheer.

They have ceased. But their glory shall never cease,

Nor their light be quenched in the light of peace.

The rush of their charge is resounding still

That saved the army at Chancellorsville.

by: George Parsons Lathrop (1851-1898)


Leitrims Republican Story

This week saw the launch of the long awaited ‘Leitrim’s Republican Story 1900-2000’ by Ballinamore native Cormac O’Suilleabhain. At its launch the Author confirmed that the work was thirteen years in the making. It certainly is an impressive hardback with lots of fascinating photographs and the book stretches to almost 500 pages.

The book deals in depth with the War of Independence period in Leitrim. It doesn’t shy away from dealing with controversial topics such as the killing of alleged informers and the curious tale of the killing of Dr. Muldoon. The latters killing is full of all sorts of intrigue as it involves a priests housekeeper becoming pregnant and ultimately the Doctor been killed by local IRA figures to protect the ‘Republican’ Priest. If only Miss Marple was on hand.

Some events are recorded that really have nothing to do with Leitrim’s Republican Story. One such incident is the killing of Paddy Reynolds, the Cumann Na Gaedheal TD by a former supporter. Other events are recorded, such as the burning of a Northern Timber lorry near Mohill, whilst similar events, such as the burning of a bus carrying English fishermen in Ballinamore, are not mentioned. There is a comprehensive account of the Don Tidey Affair in 1983 and the deaths of a trainee Garda and Longford born soldier. Nothing is unearthed concerning the whereabouts of the legendary racehorse ‘Shergar’ who was also rumoured to have been buried somewhere in Leitrim. One definitely gets the sense that Leitrim played a crucial support role in the Troubles for the provisional IRA. The County’s topography and isolation made it suitable as a place to hideout, train, test weapons and so forth. There is also an inference that the IRA enjoyed widespread ‘indirect’ support and sympathy during the troubles from Leitrim residents, including families with non-Sinn Fein inclinations and even some protestant families. None of these assumptions are explored or substantiated at any great length. It would also seem apparent that a lot of information is gleaned from unofficial sources by the Author which on the one hand can add credence to his assertions but on the other hand is very partisan and partial.

After the Civil War period the book deals primarily with IRA and Sinn Fein activities in the County. In this regard the Author’s definition of ‘Republican’ is in the narrow sense, and encompasses those who first of all were anti-treaty, and secondly those that did not follow De Valera into the Dail. The book could also be entitled Leitrim’s Sinn Fein Story in that it fails to take a panoramic view of Republicanism. This will no doubt confine its interest to a narrower group of people than was necessary.

The book is very well researched and great credit is due to the Author as this is the first attempt by anybody to explore this subject comprehensively. The overall feeling one has though, is that there is a lack of balance, and it may be that the Author is unapologetic in this regard and this is intentional. Despite the length of the book there is very little critical analysis of events and pertinent figures, nor any great attempt to deal with a wider mosaic of Republicanism. The publication is successful in recording events, but, at times it seems a shame that this is done with a particular bias and lack of objectivity. Despite this, most people with an interest in Leitrim history will enjoy the read. Great credit is due to Mr. O’Suilleabhain on his first publication, and hopefully some of the events he deals with can be the subject of more objective and critical analysis in the future by either himself or others.