Category Archives: Leitrim Memoirs

A Loop in the River

The Weir at Jamestown

The Weir

This Blog’s title owes itself to the River Shannon. The river meanders its way through the countryside and provides us with some beautiful backdrops. Today the sun was shining brightly which can be rarity hereabouts, at least of late. I was smiling to myself after a friend told me a little anecdote about Rick Santorum the US Republican Senator. Apparently Santorum had said that Pope Francis ought to leave climate change to the scientists! Poor Rick however was apparently unaware that the Pope, prior to taking orders was a trained chemical lab technician. Little matters like Ricks oversight can make you feel happy sometimes. As I was passing through Jamestown the river came into view.  I just had to stop the car to admire the beautiful Weir and the sound of the cascading waters. I was reminded of those beautifully crafted lines of Kavanagh:-

“Where by a lock Niagariously roars

The falls for those who sit in the tremendous silence

Of mid-July. No one will speak in prose

Who finds his way to these Parnassian islands.”

A few minutes later I stopped at one of the bridges that traverse the Albert Lock and Canal. This stretch of water is likely to be very familiar to the boating fraternity on the Upper Shannon.  It is also an area rich in history ancient and modern. The canal is also known as the ‘Jamestown Cut’ and it bypasses an un-navigable part of the river in the loop between the neat villages of Jamestown and Drumsna.

The Albert Canal

The Albert Canal

Jamestown itself was founded in 1622 as a walled plantation town and remarkably, as a recognised borough, it returned two MP’s up until the Act of Union in 1801 . The town itself never really flourished in the manner envisaged by its founders. Its prominence peaked in the mid seventeenth century when it was fought over during the 1641 Rebellion. In 1650 a famous Synod of the Bishops was held here but from then on the town declined although it retained a modest river trade and was still a significant fording point over the Shannon. The importance of the crossing point has long been recognised. The area marked the traditional fording area and point of demarcation between the ancient provinces of Connacht and Ulster. The ‘Doon’ of Drumsna stretched for over 1.6 km between the villages of Drumsna and Jamestown.The Doon consisted of a large earthenwork rampart up to six metres high on its northern side. The ramparts also had a fortified gate or entrance and was effectively an ancient ‘Checkpoint Charlie’. It is believed that the Doon was in use in the period 500BC to 400AD.

Drumsna is also a picturesque riverside village. Up until the mid Nineteenth Century it was of huge significance as the main postal town of the southern part of the County of Leitrim. The Novelist Anthony Trollope lived for a time in the Village and penned one of his earliest novels ‘The Macdermotts of Ballycloran’ here.

Trollope

Trollope

Another famous person associated with the area is the famous Surgeon and Explorer Thomas Heazle Parke who was born in nearby Clogher House. Parke made a name for himself in the relief of Gordon at Khartoum in 1885. He also worked with Henry Morton Stanley in the Emin Pash Relief Expedition. Whilst in Central Africa Parke is said to have purchased a pygmy girl, a strange act in modern terms but one which saved his life. When he contracted malaria the girl nursed him back from death. Unfortunately he could not bring her with him as her eyes could not adjust to the sunlight after coming out of the dark of the forest.

Thomas Heazle Parke

Thomas Parke

The Canal was first mooted in the 1600’s as part of an overall scheme to make the Shannon navigable. A canal was not constructed however until 1769. The original canal was much smaller and narrower than what we see today and its depth averaged only 1.2 metres. The Shannon Commissioners approved new works in 1844 and much of the construction work was carried out by Poor Relief Committees during the famine. On average 300 men worked on the Canal daily at this time. The new Lock was named after the Prince Consort and husband of Queen Victoria. The canal served the area well commercially until the late 1950’s by which time increased use of road haulage made the river barges obsolete. From a highway of commerce the river has now become a leisure route . I hope today’s  canal users take just a moment to think of the local labourers whose backbreaking toil, with hand tools, built this fine canal, all for the measly sum of six pence a day.

All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied

Ecclesiastes 6:7

SUPPING AND GLAMPING

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A few years ago many of us would not have known what terms like Glamping or Supping meant. The cousin, JP, thought Glamping was a nocturnal activity himself and Eddie Joe did at the weekends with a large spotlight attached to the bullbars of his jeep, scanning the bogs for Foxes.  So you can imagine my surprise when JP announced recently that he and ‘the woman’ were SUPping over in Drumshanbo at the weekend. Being old school I thought supping was something JP did whilst shouting at a TV screen in the local whilst elucidating on the performances of his ‘beloved’ Everton. For JP, until now that is, a good sup, usually consisted of 8-10 pints of Smithwicks. This time though JP wasn’t having me on, he had just spent a few leisurely hours paddling down a canal in what is now known as Leitrim’s Blueway.

The Shannon Blueway is in fact the first of its kind in Ireland, an inland series of  water and land based trails. It facilitates paddling from Drumshanbo to Carrick-on Shannon via Battlebridge and Leitrim Village. JP isn’t the only one raving about it, numerous Travel Writers and journalists are focussing in on places like Leitrim and initiatives like the Blueway. In the coming years we will likely see the development of a number of Greenways in the County. One of these planned Greenways will traverse North Leitrim from Dromahaire to Glenfarne on the route of the old Sligo-Leitrim and Northern Railway. Another Rail Trail is planned for South Leitrim running from Mohill to Belturbet in Cavan along the former route of the Cavan-Leitrim narrow gauge railway. All of these projects are wonderful and all hope to emulate the success of the Greenway in Mayo.

I decided to investigate at the weekend and although it was damp and cold I was well wrapped up by the time I got out of the Jeep at ‘Beirnes of Battlebridge’. Set on the banks of the River Shannon, there is a charming caravan and camping park her, set in natural sylvan surroundings. The Pub at Battlebridge has being in the Beirne family for generations. The place was one of Ireland’s best kept secrets until the charming rural retreat was the proud recipient of several awards, including: Black & White Pub award and Irish Pub of Distinction. In 2014 Beirnes was nominated by “The Irish Restaurants Association” for “The best gastro pub award”. The Caravan and Camping Park has standard pitches as well as the opportunity for some Glamping and has been listed as one of the “10 best Irish camp-sites” by the Irish Independent. You can even do a bit of paint ball shooting here.

Battlebridge has in fact two bridges, one crosses the Canal and the other the Shannon itself. The Canal was built as to assist navigation south of Drumshanbo and I head for a walk that starts between the Canal and the river. The walk is a loop walk to Drumhauver. It is a pleasant walk and like all canal-side trails is easy going due to the level ground. The sun is starting to dip in the west and I can see the Shannon to my left and its flat ‘calloughs’ fields and plenty of ‘pools among the rushes’ as Yeats wrote. The halfway point is a set of locks at Drumaleague. Here the frost laden crest of Sliabh an Iarainn comes into view, it’s white crown unseasonal but not unprecedented.  The turning point in my walk is Drumhauver Bridge and I take a break after walking for an hour at this stage.  I have met a score of people walking on the canal bank both visitors and locals I surmise. The lack of fitness begins to tell on the southern return leg. At Drumaleague I am like a marathon runner who has hit the infamous wall. I curse my over-confidence but struggle on, get a second wind, and in the fading light I reach Battlebridge again. I reward myself with the wonderful restorative properties of a pint of plain in Beirnes. Whilst I didn’t meet any SUPpers enroute I can appreciate that a paddle down the canal from Drumshanbo to Carrick-on-Shannon is on my to-do list for when the long evenings ahead. There are certainly many more activities such as trails and walks in Leitrim these days as we strive to attract those interested in activity based holidays. Great credit is due to the Leitrim Development Company, Leitrim Tourism and funds such as Leader and the Rural Development Programme (RDP) which have provided practical advice and financial resources to people interested in developing tourism focussed projects.

Recently, Pol O’Conghaile, the Travel Writer wrote a heart-warming article in  the Irish independent setting out Ten Great Reasons to visit Leitrim. Pol opened with “It’s small, off-radar and home to just 32,000 souls. But Leitrim packs a serious punch… and lots of surprises for the visitor” and went on to list the County’s Literary connections, its natural beauty spots, adventure breaks, award winning restaurants and describes the place as an ‘adventure Eden’ and ‘walkers paradise’. The article went mini-viral and was shared, mostly by Leitrim residents and ex-pats, although few in number, we Leitrim folk are very proud of our little corner of God’s creation. The article had the capacity to instil a pride in a person’s home place in the way that a parent feels  all gooey inside when their young daughter wins first prize at the local feis. I was no different, anybody who reads this blog will quickly realise that for me Leitrim is one of the loves of my life. Hopefully such articles will be read by more than just sentimental Leitrimites around the world. Come visit we’re open. 

http://www.independent.ie/life/travel/ireland/10-great-reasons-to-visit-leitrim-30739767.html

MATTHEW SADLIER – Leitrim’s ‘Titanic’ victim remembered

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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.

IMG_1837

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

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

‘JAZZING EVERY NIGHT OF THE WEEK’

8o years ago #Leitrim was not a hotbed of #Jazz. It still isn’t but for Jazz musicians it is now considered relatively safe to travel through the County.

'A River runs through it'

Canon Donohoe Hall, Mohill, Co. LeitrimJitterbug_dancers_NYWTS

The Anti-Jazz Campaign

Mohill and Cloone became the national centre of the infamous Anti – Jazz campaign of the early 1930’s. The leader of the campaign was the parish priest of Cloone, Fr. Peter Conefrey.  Conefrey was an ardent cultural nationalist and was heavily involved in the promotion of Irish music, dancing and the Irish language.  He devoted his life to making parishioners wear home – spun clothes and become self – sufficient in food.

Many people who look at the anti-jazz campaign often do so in isolation of the cultural context and background in which these events played out. The new Irish State faced enormous economic and social problems including high unemployment rates and falling living standards. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church had grown considerably in power and influence after independence and began to pre-occupy itself with perceived threats to the virtue of it flock. In the Lenten…

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The Ballad of JP

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There was the first chill of the oncoming winter in the house tonight. I pulled the heavy door shut, turning the key in the stiff lock, another little job to add to the ever growing list for the weekend. I’m sure there is a can of WD40 somewhere in the shed. The turf fire in the old range will have the place nice and toasty by the time I get back tonight. An involuntary shiver overcomes me as I walk through the exhaust fumes towards the car, parked facing west, down the long grass centred lane.  “It’s the darkness that gets me” she had said. I could never understand what she meant, I never missed the lights, there was always the moonlight or the starlight, but then for someone born and reared in a city it might be different. I had to allow her that. “You’ll get used to it”, I had said, seeking to comfort and reinforce the idea that one day this could be home for us. I turned left down onto the main road past the solid stone piers my grandfather had built, or maybe it was his grandfather, who knows. I remembered turning on the headlights that night “There is that any better for you?” and laughing “You will, you’ll get used to it” but now I know that the eyes adjust but the rest might not follow, that was just ten months ago.

As we approached town we had met a couple of oncoming tractors, pulling cattle trailers, on the way home from the livestock mart. One driver drove a vintage Massey Ferguson. There was no cab to shelter him, the only adornment being a roll bar on the back. He was well wrapped up and a pipe dangled precariously from his mouth, his bare hands gripping the steering wheel. “God will you look at that bloke” she said, “he must be freezing, he’ll get his death”. “He might be happier than you or me!” I replied. “He’s probably after selling a couple of weanlings and had his fill in Duignans or Reynolds. It might be cold outside but he could be warm enough inside”. I looked at the temperature gauge which displayed Four degrees. He will be cold by the time he gets home alright, but I was unwilling to betray my thoughts, especially after  leaping to exalt the lone driver just seconds before. Must be a Leitrim trait I thought, to defend ones place, defend one’s own, zealously, even when the attack is slight, veiled or maybe only imagined. “Will he have far to go now?” she asked, and my mind immediately remembered the jobbers and dealers that congregated in my Uncles Pub back in the 70’s, “He could be from as far away as Corlough or Glangevlin” I replied, “Is that far?”, I thought of Big Tom McGovern with hands the size of shovels handing me a bottle of Cavan Cola with a straw. I can’t have been more than 8 or 9 years old then. “Oh it’s a good spin alright, but he’ll have half a bottle of Jemmy in him to keep him warm, and he might have one or two more stops on the way”.

I pulled up outside the Bar on the empty street. I could make out the smoky silhouettes of a few heads inside. Opening the creaking door a blast of furnace-like heat meets me, and as I scan the place my eyes are drawn to a coal fire crackling away in the corner. Three men sit at the the counter, two manning a corner each, and one in the middle, my Uncle tending to them. He has failed since I last saw him that evening four months ago. We nod at each other. ‘Good man Dan, pull up a stool there’ says Tommy Gucks, ‘and fit and well you’re looking. It’s always an honour and a privilege to meet an educated man like yourself’. ‘How’ya young Dan’ comes from down the counter, the voice of a little snipe-like creature shirking beneath a well-worn tweed cap, Hugh Dunleavy. ‘Good man Hugh, you’re keeping well’, the reply was instant ‘not too bad Dan, not too bad, considering the state the country is in. Your grandfather and father would turn in their graves if they saw the messing that’s going on’. There is a pause as if the patrons must take up new positions and their conversation must adjust because of my intrusion. The pub hasn’t changed much since I was a boy and yet it still remains a place of wonderment, a place where these characters act out their roles and my Uncle like a good stage-director, steers the conversation in whatever direction he thinks appropriate. The Uncle places a creamy pint in front of me, ‘and sure get the lads one there as well’.

‘Any sign of JP?’ I ask the Uncle as he gives me back my change. No, you mightn’t see him in tonight, he was in last night and had a tightener. ‘He sure had’ said Tommy, ‘he sure had, when you see the little dog coming over to our place of an evening you know he’s looking to see if there’s any grub to spare’. ‘Thank you Dano’ says Hugh acknowledging the drink, ‘Good health to you Dan’ says Gucks lifting his glass and tipping his head in a well-choreographed  manoeuver.

The clock above the till is at 9.30 but it’s surely after 10 by now. I realise the fading discoloured clock has actually stopped. The clock is a souvenir of the Leitrim team from 1994. ‘I think you need a battery for that yoke’ I say to the uncle, pointing towards the idle timepiece. ‘I must do that tomorrow’ he replies, Tommy nudges me, ‘Ah sure it’s  a bit like the Leitrim team today, they are at a standstill, do you know someone remarked last week that it’s harder to get off the team than on it, now isn’t that something’. The uncle looks wounded, ‘That’s a bit rich from a man that never kicked a ball out of his way, aren’t they flying the flag anyway, fair play to them’. Hugh broke into a laugh which became a cough and a series of splutters the culmination of six decades of tipless cigarettes. We all wait a few minutes for Hugh to get his breath back and to put away the dirty cloth handkerchief that has never been washed since it came into his possession. Tommy wasn’t going to take my uncles slight lying down, ‘Sure I had no time for football and me busy teaching young Colm O’Rourke how to play, didn’t I teach him everything he knew before they all headed for Meath. Sean Boylan thanked me personally for helping them win the All-Ireland’. Hugh was composed again and quipped,’ Well where ever he got the football it had little to do with you Gucks. An awful pity though he didn’t come back to us, We could’ve done with him.’ My uncle now has his back to us, fumbling with some paperwork on the shelf, his glasses hanging off the end of his nose, like Harold Lloyd hanging from a Manhattan skyscraper. ‘Didn’t you play with the brothers Phil?’ ‘Whose brothers?’ replies the Uncle placing a Players Please GAA ornament of two men in the Galway and Kerry colours I’m presuming.  ‘The O’Rourkes of course!’ Turning now and placing his huge bare forearms either side of him leaning on the shiny counter, the Uncle gathers himself, before saying slowly, ‘Indeed I did, and great lads they were too, Fergus was a giant, a gentle giant most of the time, ah but we had great teams back then, Mayo had the flying Doctor but we had the flying dentist, Leo Heslin, what a gent’ as he looked wistfully towards the fire. The moment is broken by the creaking door and in comes Jack ‘the Lad’ Shanley whistling to himself, ‘Good night to ye all, could be freezing and if it’s not its damn well near it’.

‘Is JP still kicking ball?’ I ask. ‘Apt’ says Hugh, trying to is all he’s at, sure he hardly trained the year, with hamstrings and groin strains.  ‘It’s the G-strings that is causing him more harm mind’ spurts Jack the Lad, and they chuckle in unison at some joke that will remain untold but will be left hanging, part released, in a ‘to be continued’ mode. ‘On his day he is good, I’ll grant him that’ says Gucks ‘but Jaysus he loves been told it, he does, ah he does. Do you mind the time he was in here on the Monday they bet Drumreilly and he had scored, was it 1-5 or something, any way he starts bladdering on about how he scored 1-5 yesterday and 0-9 the week before, and how he had, wait, was it 5-35 scored in the championship so far, and he was bladdering on and on”. “Now you were doing little in the way of discouraging him Gucks’ said the Uncle. ‘Well I gave him plenty of rein before I hit him the deadly, and if you don’t mind me asking JP, how much did you score on that young McDermott lad in the final last year? well it stuck him to the floor”. “F%4k you is all he said and off to the juke box, sure ya see he never got a sniff of it that day and they took him off at half-time. Well he stayed up that end for a while and then came back and sidled up to me and he says, you know well Tommy what happened me that day!’, ‘I don’t says I. What happened you at all?”. Tommy leaned into me imitating JP ‘You know fucking well I got the sh*ts after that kebab I had above in Longford the night before’. They all laughed again like it was the first time they had heard this tale, “Sure maybe he did” said I and Gucks took a sip out of his pint before giving me a half disproving look. “He’s had more good games than bad now! Or at least that’s what I hear,’ conscious that I hadn’t seen JP play since he was a minor.

Ah JP is some flower alright’ said the Uncle, he was telling us one night about his uncle Tom Pat ‘sure doesn’t he take after him’ muttered Eddy Joe Gray, a big bear of a man just in the door and in the process of hanging his heavy coat over the back of a chair near the now blazing fire. ‘Do you know that one Eddie Joe?’ enquires the Uncle.  ‘Which one, there are so many?’. ‘The one about the bull calf. Go on you know it, start it off there and I’ll boil the kettle’.

Eddie Joe sat in on a stool, then rubbing both his hands repeatedly on the knees of his trousers he began with a disclaimer, ‘Well gentlemen, If its lies I’m going to tell ye, then its lies that I was told, and this is what I was told, whether it be truth or lies. Tom Pat went out one morning and was doing his foddering and bits and pieces. He had this fine yearling bull calf that he was bucket feeding. Now he knew by the calf’s demeanour that he simply wasn’t himself that morning. Sure he was an ‘ould hand reared pet but a fair lump of a pet now boys, mark now a Charolais Limousin cross. Now this lad was been reared with Monaghan Day Mart in mind, do ya see now. Well the beasht wasn’t just himself, and Tom Pat couldn’t get him to ate  a bit of meal and his snout was cold. Well he was going to ring the Vet and then he reckoned the calf just had a chill.

Well he was in and out of the house and up and down the yard looking at this calf. He decided he’d bring him into the house by the fire. We’ve all seen it done now, be honest now boys, there’s no shame in it. So he brings in a bale of straw and scatters it all over the lino and he goes out and puts a halter on the calf. Now that didn’t work as sick and all as he was the calf was he’d never been led and wasn’t about to start at it now. So eventually with a bit of coaxing Tom Pat got him inside the back yard of the house. Now you know the lie of McCormacks place, you drive in on the street and then there’s a four foot wall around the house and you walk through a gate, into the yard and then into the house. Well the calf didn’t know what was happening at all but after another while didn’t Tom Pat get him into the house and he pulled the door behind him. He turned the table on its side to prevent the calf from pushing up against the door’.

‘Well the calf thought the arrangement a bit strange and he lowed a bit, but it was a weak enough low and it had Tom Pat worried. With the heat of the fire the calf began boiling up, and still its snout was cold. The calf lay down eventually in the middle of the floor and hung his head. Tom pat tried to rise him again but the calf wouldn’t move, then all of a sudden it gave one great big low, dropped its lugs and head and didn’t take another breath’. ‘You mean the calf died? In the house?’ I enquired. ‘That’s right Dan, stone dead there in the back kitchen. Tom Pat was in a tizzy and then he called the Vet, imagine calling a Vet then, sure what was he going to do, tell him his dead calf was beyond help and thank you very much, that’ll be Fifty euro. Well Flanagan, the new Vet in Arva came out and surveyed the scene, he’d never seen anything like it. He shook his head and commiserated with Tom Pat on losing such a fine animal. He told Tom Pat it was Blackleg. A bad dose, unless they get the injection early they’re finished. When he was going the Vet said to Tom Pat, ‘How are you going to get the calf out of the house? he’s swelling fast!

Tom Pat could only scratch his head and wonder. The Vet left and Tom Pat called up to Owenie Micks and wasn’t he in luck to find two fine men to counsel him in Owenie Mick and Jimmy Mullins’. ‘He was in luck alright with them pair of ludramans’ said Hugh shaking his head. ‘Well down to Tom Pats the three went. Owenie Mick produced a measuring tape from the boot of the car and proceeded to measure the height and width of the door way, he shook his head, ‘the jaumbs will have to go Tom Pat, there’s no other way’. Back out to the car went Owenie Mick, Tom Pat on his shoulder crying, and as he opened the boot to get a nailbar, he spied the con saw. Some class of a light went on in that cave of a skull of Owenies and he said, ‘begad there might just be another way’.

An hour and a half later the Calf was more or less butchered.  Owenie started with the legs and cut off all four just above the knee joint. They then laid a bit of old tarp on the ground and sawed into the stomach, blood and gore flying in an arc until it hit the back wall and spattered the ceiling. Then off came the head and and they sawed the whole way down through the backbone, leaving two heavy hund quarters, which it took all three of them to lift into the barrow. They wheeled all through the back yard and stacked it along the road. It was like an Abattoir, the straw coloured crimson , the walls and ceilings all spattered with blood, a  trail of offal from the back door to the road. 

Tom Pat had already called Nannerys, the knackers yard and they were on the way. When the lorry arrived arrived it reversed in on the street but Tom Pat told them to park on the road. As he lifted the tarpaulin the driver was shocked to see a hairy, bloody pile of of bone, meat and guts, stacked five foot high, there on the side of the road, a decapitated head sitting askew on top with a long tongue hanging out to one side. Those ISIS boys wouldn’t hold a candle to Ownenie Mick and his consaw’  

bloody-knife1I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, it was like something from a Quentin Tarantino movie, barbaric and funny. The Uncle brought out a tray with a large pot of tea, a bag of sugar and pint of milk on it and laid it before Eddie Joe. One story followed another and the performers came and went, the conversation going through ebbs and flows, intervals and actions. It was like the unscripted performance came together here under this roof, my uncles roof, the last in a long line of publicans, a man who left a good job in Boston to come home to run this bar. His father told him that he had reared ten children out of it and there was no reason why he couldn’t do the same. Now he was the last one, of that there was no doubt, he wasn’t going to marry now at eighty years of age. As his ageing customers drifted off I helped him clean up, I swept the floor, put the chairs on the tables and on the counter. It was nearly 2.00am and we sat down by the last embers of the fire, each staring into the red coals as if it were an oracle. I nursed a crested ten between my hands and then he spoke, ‘How is that girl, Denise, isn’t it? Lovely looking girl …. soft hands …. you didn’t bring her down with you?’. ‘No, I’m afraid we’ve gone our separate ways. Not compatible unfortunately, but better find out now than ….”’Ah that’s a pity……… don’t worry you’ll meet someone else, you will…… I don’t know if she’d like it around here anyway, ya know like when you come back’. I said nothing, just stared on into the grate, and thought I could see her smiling face, ‘Your right I don’t think she would.’ The Uncle lifted a poker and started fiddling with the dying embers, trying to coax the last of the warmth from them. ‘I better be off’ I said to him throwing the glass on my head and swilling the whiskey, letting it warm my mouth before swallowing it, ‘I’m going to make an early start, I’m going to try and get JP out for a shot’ He stayed looking into the embers as I began to let myself out, ‘ I’ll call in after Mass time’ ‘Grand’ he replied and I heard him murmur, ‘Hard to believe it’s the first of November already …… where has the year gone’.

coal-stoves-1

‘LEITRIMS REPUBLICAN STORY’

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.

Blog Entry written in a Country Churchyard

Grave of IRA Volunteer Joseph O'Beirne, Mohill Graveyard

Grave of IRA Volunteer Joseph O’Beirne, Mohill Graveyard

Sunday was a beautiful late summer day and I was back visiting the home turf. Noon found me showing my eldest boy my old Secondary School. The old Alma Mater is now looking very dingy and dilapidated.  The fact that it is overshadowed by the ultra-Modern, uber-cool Community School that replaced it a few years ago probably doesn’t help. Across the road from the dirty Old and the pristine New school is the parish graveyard. I recall one time long ago, when a group of us as teenagers, planned to use an Ouija Board on top of a ‘haunted’ grave here. We never did play the infamous board game there. I think secretly everyone was glad the idea just slowly died away and despite our external bravado, inside we were petrified of what might happen. It illustrated that deep down there is a primal fear of the unknown in us all. Graveyards no longer hold such fear for me. Some final resting places are very peaceful places to spend time in. Glasnevin cemetery is one of Dublin’s premier sightseeing locations and gives one a fantastic tour through Irish History. I have also enjoyed Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx where one can easily spend hours walking amid the beautiful manicured parkland-like graveyard. Mohill graveyard is not on the same scale obviously but it has its own little narratives waiting to be discovered. I decided to bring my son for a walk around the graveyard to show him the resting places of his relatives. Soon I was standing amid the old graves beside the seat of learning where I first read Thomas Gray’s famous lines,

‘beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,

Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,

Each in his narrow cell for ever laid’

Soon we were reading the names of my sons Great-Great-Great Grandparents. I’m not sure the Eight year old mind can appreciate the generations that have gone before or the fact that without their existence, we wouldn’t exist. I know that he now knows where his people lie and that is good. I’m sure he will come back some day on his own initiative, and hopefully with the next generation too. We said a little prayer together for these people whom we never met but who gave us their DNA.

I also came across the grave of Joseph O’Beirne, an IRA Volunteer killed at Selton Hill in the spring of 1921. Selton Hill is about 5 miles north of Mohill on the road to Fenagh and Ballinamore. I had often heard about the ambush as a young boy from my grandmother who was born just a few townlands away. The general consensus was that the flying column of which O’Beirne was a member were betrayed by loose talk which passed to the local GP, Dr. Charles Pentland. The doctor was a popular man locally but he was also loyal to the Crown. He passed the information on to Inspector Gore-Hickman of the RIC and very quickly a British Army Unit was mobilised. The eleven volunteers in Flynn’s house at Selton had no idea that their fate was sealed. Some sat around drinking tea whilst cleaning their guns and others rested up, tired after an early morning march cross country. When they realised that they were found out it was too late. The main body of nine men who were in Flynn’s house spread out across the marshy bottoms. Quickly they were mowed down by two well-placed Lewis machine guns set up on the high ground on the main road above the house. The column was also undone by a small group of British Soldiers who had outflanked them and set up an enfilading position. Been fired at from two sides in mostly open country the veteran troops of the Bedfordshire Regiment had created a killing zone. In a few minutes six of the nine men who were in Flynn’s house were fatally wounded. Two more were badly wounded but survived. Only one, Andy McPartland escaped the bloody scene. Another man, Bernie Sweeney lay undetected in a drain where the cold water must have helped to stop the haemorrhage of blood from his wounds. The two men who were the luckiest of all were Pee McDermott and Paddy Guckian who were posted to a neighbouring house. They escaped around by Selton Lough. Joe O’Beirne hailed from Currycramp in Bornacoola but his family had a plot on Mohill graveyard. One of his sisters later married Ben McGuire who for many years was a Fianna Fail TD for Leitrim until he fell out with De Valera. McGuire and his wife Josephine (nee O’Beirne) are buried beside Joe whose beautiful gravestone proclaims  that he ‘died for Ireland’. Only a few yards away lay three graves close beside each other of men who may also have thought that they were dying for Ireland. These men though died in the First World War wearing the khaki green of the British Army. The first is Joe Salmon who was in the Army Services Corp and died in Belfast; the other two are brothers, the Reynolds from Treanmore. These are the only war graves identified in Mohill cemetery and in many ways they are unique in that they are only three of perhaps up to fifty Great War casualties  who are interred in their native parish. In the Great War the slaughter was so rapid that you were buried where you fell. Some who didn’t make it home are interred quite a distance away. Private John Cunion was from the Green Road where he was the eldest of the seven children of Bernard and Bridget. Bernard worked as a baker in town. John before signing on was an apprentice coach-maker. Today John lies thousands of miles away from his native Mohill. His grave is in a dusty town called Amarah on the bank of the Tigris in Iraq. In 2003 Amarah became a centre of resistance against the US led invasion. Just like in 1915 it was the British who fought their way into the city and took control block by block, street by street. The current instability in Iraq means that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is finding it difficult to maintain the graveyard in Amarah.

Commonwealth War Graves in Mohill

Commonwealth War Graves in Mohill

There are men from Mohill lying in Commonwealth Graves all over the World. Thomas Bell is buried in Allahabad in northern India. Francis Canning fell at Gallipoli. John Fitzgerald survived Gallipoli before his unit was later overrun by the Bulgarians at the Battle of Kosturino in modern day Macedonia. John’s remains were never found. and his death is simply recorded on a communal plaque.  John’s brother Patrick had already died in the opening months of the War. Another brother Thomas would die just three weeks before the Armstice that ended the war. In 1923 yet another brother Edward, a private in the Free State Army, died in a shooting incident in Longford. Mrs Fitzgerald was indeed unfortunate to lose four sons in uniform. Another Mohill born combatant, Patrick Nooney died at sea. The majority of war dead from Mohill  lie buried in Flanders or France where most of the Irish Units served. It is certainly unusual for soldiers to be buried in the graveyard of their home town. In Michael Reynolds case it is particularly poignant. Michael was gassed on the front and although he lingered on for months afterwards his demise was inevitable. He did however live long enough to make it back to hospital in Ireland and that is why his remains lie here. The landed gentry were also not immune from the bullets and shell fire. Hugh Crofton, a member of the landlord family who owned the town of Mohill died in Gallipoli. He is buried in Twelve Tree Copse overlooking Cape Helles, where the Dardanelles meets the Aegean Sea. Just another short journey from the war graves is an impressive headstone to a Sergeant Joseph Bruen of the RIC. Bruen was from Drumraghool and was stationed at Henry Street Barracks in Belfast around the time of partition. He was a Catholic in what was an increasingly sectarian force. He was shot in an apparent robbery in April 1922.  This would have been one of the bloodiest months in Belfast at the height of the Pogroms. The atrocities committed around these times are still remembered to this day in that city. Some of the worst acts of violence were committed by the ‘Cromwell gangs’ who killed many innocent people, including children, in an effort to religiously cleanse parts of the City. It was said that many of the gang were members of the RIC and that Michael Collins had managed to get all their details. It is also said that Collins had planned a similar attack to the one that took out the Cairo gang in Dublin. Fate intervened however to these plans in the guise of Beal na Blath. The atrocities weren’t all confined to one side of the religious divide of course but one can’t help but think that this was not a nice place to be for a Catholic policeman in an RIC Uniform.

Sgt Joseph Bruen, RIC Belfast d. April 1922

Sgt Joseph Bruen, RIC Belfast d. April 1922

So as the sun shone down over the rolling drumlins of South Leitrim, and I find myself, janice –like, looking back through the medium of the names engraved on these grey stone slabs, I can’t but conclude that one doesn’t have to go to Glasnevin to experience Irelands troubled past. There is a lot of history to be found in the graveyard of every small town and village up and down this Island.  Alas for the unfortunate actors in this particular play I can only recall one more line from Thomas Gray’s famous poem – “For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn”.

ALBERTUS MAGNUS

Albert peaceLife, like Literature has a habit of juxtaposing seemingly odd ends together. Milton gives us God and Satan in ‘Paradise Lost’ and for some reason the fallen Angel came out of it with an enhanced reputation. This morning I read that a small train station called Dromod, the only train station in all of County Leitrim, was in danger of closing. I have used the Station on many occasions often not knowing when I’d be back.

 

Many of my forbears also used Dromod Station. Sadly some never saw their native County again. The train meandered behind our home place. It was said that in the late 19th Century my Great-Great -Grandfather climbed a rick of hay so that he could wave goodbye to his New York bound granddaughter on the passing locomotive. Climbing a rick of hay is not exactly alpine in scale until you factor in that the old man was reputedly a hundred years of age at the time. When I was younger I thought this story was nonsensical.  Years later I discovered the date of the grand daughter’s entry into Ellis Island. I slowly wiped the egg from my face.

 

Another relative of ours who never again saw home boarded the train in Dromod in late 1939. He went to England to work in a munitions factory. He died in Toronto in the 70’s. Word got back to the family who of course were shocked. The shock was not so much that the man had died but on where he had died. His sisters always believed that he was still living somewhere in Manchester. Thankfully, and unlike these family members, every time I took the train I did get to see home again. I know however that one day I’ll leave and that it will be the last time.

 

I remember also going out to Dromod to see the men from the Hills of Donegal bring back the spoils of war from Croke Park in ’92. That was a great sight and a wonderful occasion for the whole Northwest.

 

I have many memories of Dromod Station. Sadly a man passed away today that has no memory of Dromod. One time he knew everyone in the Village and everyone who bought a train ticket. Sadly Alzheimers ravaged this sharp mind and confused those precious recollections. I’m sure if he was in good health Albert Reynolds would not overly-nostalgic and perhaps say that it was the best of times, but also the worst of times.

 

 Albert Reynolds main legacy will undoubtedly be the crucial role he played in bringing peace to this island. That is a noble legacy to what was an intractable problem. Albert may not have ticked all the boxes for the South County Dublin set but he was shrewd man, a person who took risks, who speculated to accumulate, a type of character no longer prowling the halls of Leinster House. Yes, Albert made mistakes, plenty of them and his political demise was full of controversy, yet somehow it is easy to forgive him. It is not simply because us Irish are wont to speak ill of the dead, it’s because Reynolds retained a common touch. He was a man who knew the value in the handshake to the country folk. My mother and father met in the ‘Cloudland’ in Rooskey, just like thousands of couples throughout the Midlands and West who found a partner in one of the many Reynolds Dance Halls in the hucklebuck era.

The Reynolds were said to be ruthless in business, especially with competitors and yet there are plenty of stories citing kind works Albert did for people without any fuss or fanfare.  His passing will be keenly felt in Longford which is suffering badly in the current recession. His home village of Rooskey is also in decline. Where once there was a booming meat processing plant employing hundreds of people from South Leitrim, North Roscommon and Longford there is now a quiet sleepy village where Bus Eireann only stops once a day.

 

As a young man Albert Reynolds worked as a clerk for CIE in Dromod Railway Station and I’m sure he carried many memories of the place with him throughout his life. I once met a man at a function in the North of England. He told me that when he was emigrating to England he had his boat fare but was short some money for the train fare. Albert let him on the train with a valid ticket and told him he’d see him when he was home again. The man found work but was not home for over two years. When he passed through Dromod Albert was no longer working there. The young emigre could have got away without repaying the fare but he felt he could not renege on the good deed. He made himself known to the Station Master who told him, ‘Ah yes, I remember young Reynolds saying you were from good stock and you’d be back’. The honest traveller told me he had the pleasure of telling Albert the story years later when he met him in Longford.  Reynolds knew immediately who he was and how much he had owed CIE, before saying to him ‘I never doubted ya’.

 

Albert ReynoldsPolitics has changed and so has Ireland since the Reynolds/Haughey/ MacSharry heydays. It is doubtful that we will ever see another Albertus Magnus. Eugene McGee reckoned the night he was made Taoiseach and returned to the Market Square in Longford was like the County winning the All-Ireland.

 

It is sad that the news regarding the future of Dromod Station is juxtaposed with the departure of its most famous employee. Sadly this time it’s a one way ticket for Albert. His loss will be keenly felt throughout the villages, towns and parish halls of Longford, Leitrim & Roscommon.

The Show

imageIn Ancient times the Celts held their great festivals and gatherings in the month of August or Lunasa as it was then known. It was the month of the harvest when the first berries ripened. It is therefore not altogether inappropriate that the local farming community of Mohill and its hinterland chose this month to host their annual show.

For the farmer August is never quite the same from year to year. Each summer he goes head to head against the elements in an eternal battle between man and nature. It is a struggle that has been repeated again and again over the millennia. While the weather is always variable there is one constant every year, and as August draws to a close and one starts to notice the first drawing in of the evenings, thoughts invariably started turning to the Show. In our house it was never known as Mohill Show, it was simply “The Show”, and at that it was the grand dam of all shows. Its roots dating back to the pre famine times of Lord Leitrim and ultimately revived in the 1920’s by a dynamic Padre known as Canon Masterson. Our Show, for us there really is no event quite like it. There was just something about this particular day when the country folk took control of the town, when they brought out their finest stock and produce and when the world was turned topsy-turvy for a few short hours. The long summer days in the fields or backbreaking hours on the bog were now forgotten.

The Show was more than just a one day event, it was as much about the anticipation, the preparations, the memory of the previous year perhaps, the preceding weeks leading cattle around the back roads, turning mad beasts fit for a rodeo into docile stars of the Show Ring. I can remember one occasion when aged not more than ten or eleven. I was leading a feisty heifer in our front field. As she took flight I stumbled, I held on to the rope as long as I could but she had me beaten all ends. As I let go I noticed I was minus one half of my footwear. Try as we might we could not locate the missing shoe. Ten months later the fate of the lost shoe was known. A trailer load of grass was tipped on to the silage slab, and there it was, my old shoe, tattered torn and ragged from its exposure.

The evening before the Big Day the cattle for showing were brought in from the fields. We haltered, washed, scrubbed and combed them. Plastic buckets overflowing with fairy liquid and warm water. There were several different types of combs for the different animals. The Herefords with their wiry hair, the big Shorthorn cow, her gleaming red hide and friendly polled head. Extra bedding was placed in the byres and with it the hope that the next morning the main actors would still be spic and span. When all was done some one might call into McGowan’s house to get a preview of the show book, hot off the press, from Aideen or Lourda, the overworked Secretaries. The Show Book listed all the classes and prizes and also the entrants, the friendly opposition.

An early breakfast was essential on Show morning as there was a busy few hours ahead. When finally ready we walked the cattle to the show. It was only a mile but what an adventure. Some passing motorists would always stop to say hello and drive alongside, windows down, half tanned arms lazily hanging out the side, commenting on how well our cattle looked and wishing us luck.

Crossing the town was always a bit nerve wracking, hoping the cattle wouldn’t stampede or damage a car, nearing the park, finding a good spot along the wall which would become HQ for the day. When we got into position there began another intense session of grooming and combing. A quick gander around the field to size up the opposition and see what our chances of success were.

The PA would then crack into life and get the show on the road. The classes were called. “When are we on?” “We’re next after that class in Ring two” “Who is judging?” “Get ready”. If not leading then a good ringside seat to watch proceedings. “How is she walking, how does she look, is the judge looking at her, is he calling her in, No?” “He’s calling her in now, where will he place her?” anxious moments, he is talking to my father for the longest time, then the rosettes in his hand, “what colour is it? Its red, yes we’ve won!”

And so the drama went on in pursuit of the Red rosette. The morning would simply fly by. There might get a short break and a chance to visit the horses and ponies. These were always over at the Boeshil end of the Park. Sometimes there was Showjumping and we watched the McGuinnesses with awe clearing the jumps effortlessly. The driving cars were always a highlight with Joe Beirne and family driving in fine style. Then was the Donkey Derby and great excitement and it always seemed to be won by the one of the Mees

Then back for the young stockman class. Some young naturals, unfortunately I wasn’t one of them, others under a little bit of parental pressure, some really looking the part with white coats. The standing of the animals feet was most important and animals were constantly been wheeled around again and their feet poked with sticks to get them standing perfectly, like a bovine Miss World pageant. Some poor devil would be struggling with a little heifer that was prancing around like a ballerina that morning, yet has somehow being transformed into a stubborn mule. A younger sibling is quickly press ganged in to walk behind and “push her on”.

My favourite event was the dog show. I entered a few times but the pedigree of our dogs was, well, questionable. It was still a great day out for the dog and what would he be at home anyway when we were all here. You could tell he wasn’t used to these big days unlike the professional poser dogs, posing nonchalantly, barely casting a sideward glance at our collie cross pulling hard against this strange leash. Don’t worry about it Sammy, we still think you’re the greatest and tomorrow I’ll get a big bag of bones from Paddy Kilrane or Logans to make up for the disappointment of coming last in your class.

The Shows in the 1980’s always seemed to be cursed with wet weather and I can remember people scrambling for shelter in trailers. If it was a long shower it wasn’t long before the air was sweet with the pungent scent of Woodbines or  Sweet Aftons.

The buzz around the field was magical. There were Chip Vans manned by the late Aubrey and Barney, Mr Whippy ice cream, the Photograph Section, the sheep and goats, the prize vegetables. My brother Enda entered three beets one show, which he had tended to all spring under the watchful eye of my granny. “And what would you know about Beets” as we taunted him. But he had the last laugh when he picked up his two pounds first prize. In the sheds the eagle eyed stewards had their hands full trying to keep quick handed urchins from running off with prized buns and mouth-watering cakes.

A quick trip over the town with my grandfather to Sheila McGarry’s Public House was obligatory. The little pub which was usually very quiet the rest of the year was packed on Show Day. Men with sticks and caps greeted each other enthusiastically. Their nicotine stained fingers clutching a half one and a glass of Guinness on the Counter as well.

The day gradually drew to a close and we gathered up our gear and headed across the town with our cattle. This was a trickier proposition; the traffic would be a lot heavier than this morning. As we neared home the cattle started getting excited as they sensed familiar pastures, a few quick lows from the lead cow and then the lows from away off from our other cattle, the ordinary cattle, those not deemed to have royal enough blood to go the Show. The Show cattle now quickened their pace, and when we got to the bottom of our lane we usually took the halters off and let them run up the rest of the way to the farm yard themselves. They knew where to go. They say a good huntsman would not let a morsel pass his lips until his animal was fed, watered and comfortable. We were no different.

A quick cup of tea and then into John James McKeon’s or Caseys where every animal on display at the Show that day was examined, discussed and judged anew. Commiserations for some who didn’t win, but felt should have, while those who did win tried hard to be humble about their success. The Show Dance brought matters to an end but the planning for the next one had already begun.