Category Archives: Mohill

The fog is lifting from the scene and I am forced to go… Lovely Leitrim and the call of duty


I set out to write this piece about a week ago but got completely side-tracked. One thing that distracted me was getting glued to the twenty four hour news coverage of the most recent terror attack on the Borough Market in London.  In horrific moments such as these we cling to any semblance of normality and hope. The pieces of shattered humanity can begin to be glued together by tales of came appearances of real heroes, ordinary people doing extraordinary acts to try to help and protect others. I’m thinking of the paramedics rushing in to tend to the injured whilst the attackers still roamed the streets. I’m also thinking of the Spanish man on Saturday evening last who took on one of the knife wielding attackers with his skateboard. What a brave man, a true hero. At moments like these you can’t help everyone but everyone can help someone.

Irish people tend to remember heroes by penning songs about their feats. I intended writing today about one such hero and a song. The song isn’t about his heroism, it’s a song he wrote reminiscing about his home county in Ireland, his heroism was to come later. The song is not a complicated verse, it is quite simple in fact, typical of its age but it is very sincere. When music was put to the lyrics the verse became a waltz and when a man from Longford called Larry Cunningham sang it in the 1960’s it became a hit. By this time the author had already been dead for almost two decades. It is the nature of his death that makes the song all the more poignant today for Leitrim people everywhere.

I was in ‘Fitzpatricks’ Bar in Mohill, County Leitrim recently. This fine public house is run by Val Fitzpatrick and his wife Carmel and is also known as the Ceili House. The Fitzpatricks originally hail from the proud parish of Aughavas in the heart of South Leitrim. The family have a long musical tradition going back through the generations. As an aside the family are also related to the late BAFTA Award winning actor Patrick McGoohan, he who appeared in famous TV serials such as ‘The Prisoner’ and ‘Danger Man’ in addition to Hollywood blockbusters like ‘A Time to Kill’ and ‘Braveheart’.

Phil FitzpatrickAs usual I digress. The person I most want to discuss is a man named Phil Fitzpatrick who was born in Aughavas, Co. Leitrim in 1892. Phil emigrated to New York just after independence and he joined New York’s finest as a Patrolman in 1926. He spent most of his career in the mounted section patrolling precincts around Midtown and Central Park.

It probably seemed like an ordinary day. Fitzpatrick was off-duty and having lunch with a colleague Patrolman George Dammeyer in a tavern on the Upper East Side. Suddenly two armed men rushed into the Tavern and sought to rob the staff and all the patrons. Fitzpatrick and his colleague confronted the criminals. A shootout ensued. The two criminals were killed but Fitzpatrick was badly wounded in the stomach. He was taken to nearby Beth Israel Hospital and survived for six days before finally passing away on the 26th May, 1947. A year later he was posthumously awarded the NYPD Medal of Honor. He left behind a widow and five children.

The song ‘Lovely Leitrim’ was originally only a B-Side on the record released by Larry Cunningham. Gradually though it became popular and eventually it would go all the way to number one knocking The Beatles off top spot.

Today the song is synonymous with County Leitrim and sung on all occasions happy, sad and everything in between. I recall it being sung very poorly one night by three inebriated Leitrimites (including yours truly) in a taxi in Manchester. Perhaps the best renditions were given on those long nights in the summer of 1994 when Leitrim were crowned Connacht Champions for the first time in 67 years.

leitrim-cocoLast night I had a pleasant dream, I woke up with a smile

I dreamed that I was back again in dear old Erin’s isle.

I thought I saw Lough Allen’s banks in the valleys down below

It was my lovely Leitrim where the Shannon waters flow.

As is often the way one begins to write something that is already clear in your mind, yet somehow by the time it reaches the page it has transformed into something else altogether. I’ve since discovered numerous well written articles about Phil Fitzpatrick online and referencing the 70th anniversary of his death. I’m a bit behind the crowd so to speak ……. except, what I’m looking for now is a meaning and a modern parallel to this mans life and his death.

It seems to me that time moves on and so this emigrants lament just seems to tag along with it. This despite a lot of changes. The scene of the fatal shooting on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 96th is now opposite the Islamic Cultural Center of New York. Fitzpatrick’s grand-nephew Brian is now a Republican Congressman for Pennsylvania.  Phil Fitzpatrick put his body on the line seventy years ago to tackle two armed raiders. I’ve already mentioned a man who acted the same way last Saturday night in London. His name was Ignacio Echeverría.  ISIS and all terrorist s will not succeed in their hate and terror campaigns. I know this to be true because they are faced not just by powerful nations but with the might of ordinary citizens prepared to take on their armed and bloodthirsty cadres with nothing more than a skateboard.  In the frontline are people and responders motivated not by religion or hate but the simple desire to help a stranger. I’m also thinking of another line in another poem by Fitzpatrick that resonates. It is called ‘Soldiers of Peace’ and it contains the prophetic line, “when he kisses his wife and children goodbye, there’s the chance he will see them no more”.

Helping others


Sundays at Blue Bridge


He crossed the old iron gate first and then lifted the boys over, encouraging and cajoling them across the rusting blue iron bridge with the missing planks. The boys were momentarily weak with fear of falling into the river below. The length of the gaps between what planks remained appeared colossal. But once across the bridge the boys were exhilarated by their pseudo-bravery and pluck.

The next obstacle was quick upon them, the old wall which ran along the edge of the former gardens of the crumbling Castle. They jumped down the wall to the low ground and on to the path through the thick man high growth that led to the river bank. The air was heavy with pollen and the last heat of the day.

The father took out his old fishing rod and took a hook from his box. Holding the little piece of barbed steel in his lips as he fed the fine line through the metal eyes, finally, threading the line through the eye of the hook and knotting it securely. He then repeated the process on the boys new shiny rods, his forehead lined in concentration. The corks were set at about three feet from the hook and a few lead weights attached further down the line. Then the jam jar was opened. A nice fat worm was caught between his thumb and forefinger chosen not just for his size but for the dark colour of his back and head, apparently this was the type the fish liked best. The hook was delicately forced through the thin skin and the worms fate was set, thus impaled he would end his days as fishing bait.

When all three rods were set up the father took the first casts out, watching for the low hanging bushes around them, before landing the corks mid-stream. He allowed them to bobble and settle. With the corks caught by the gentle current the rods were handed to the boys.  The corks  began  to drift lazily downriver towards the entrance to the lake. Dragon flies swooped low as the young fishermen eyed their corks for any movement that might signify the bite of a perch or roach.

‘Nipper’ Geelan and the ‘Yankee’ invasion

01c42ca9c458cf9c228d6e8222633a676511f84816On Sunday the 8th of August 1948 it was standing room only at St. Manachans Park, Mohill, County Leitrim. The grounds were by now the premier football ground in the County since their opening in 1939. They hosted many inter-county games and County Finals but this day saw an unusual pairing. It was a game that captured the imagination of all Leitrim Gaels, home and abroad.  The crowd was estimated at in excess of 8,000. The reason, the visit of the Leitrim Club from New York, led by their mercurial Manager and Mohill native, Michael ‘Nipper’ Geelan.

Geelan had been a star player with his native Mohill and lined out for the County at Junior and Senior level whilst still in his teens. His nickname apparently arose when a Galway mentor enquired from a local who was the ‘Nipper’ playing havoc in the full forward line. Geelan was born in Laheenamona in 1901 where his father, a native of Cashel in Bornacoola had settled. Whilst the Nipper is probably better known for his on field exploits he was also a member of Fianna Eireann and later of  ‘A’ Company, 3rd Battalion, Leitrim Brigade of the Old IRA. He debuted for Mohill at the age of 15 and played for Leitrim from 1921. He was a regular until in the spring of 1926 he decided to emigrate to New York. He teamed up with many Leitrim emigrants and helped get the club competing for the New York Championship then dominated by the famous Tipperary Club. One of the great GAA organisers at the time was another Mohill native, John McGuinness of Tulrusk/Drumhanny. McGuinness was formerly Leitrim County Board Chairman who was elected to the same position in New York in 1932, a rare achievement. Had Nipper Geelan not emigrated when he did it is certain that he would have been part of the Connacht Championship winning team of 1927.

In 1932 the Leitrim Club won the New York Championship with a talented team that included Eddie Maguire, uncle of Packy McGarty. Commentators thought that this was a team that would go on and dominate the club scene in the Big Apple. Sadly the effects of the Great Depression and tighter immigration laws saw the club began to flounder. Starved of fresh blood off the boat the club folded.  It was not until after the end of the Second World War that a group of Leitrim exiles got together and started to put in action a plan to reform the club. The GAA was beginning a revival and the next few years were a golden period in North America. In 1947 the All-Ireland was played in the Polo Grounds, the only time it was every played outside of these shore.

‘Nipper’ Geelan also coached a successful minor team called Incarnation. At the time the underage structure in New York saw many teams associated with their local church. Incarnation was a team attached to the Church of the Incarnation on 175th St which drew its players from the Irish communities of Inwood and Washington Heights. The star of this minor team and future star with Leitrim and New York was a young Jimmy Geelan, the Nippers own Nipper so to speak. 1947 saw the Leitrim play for the first time in fourteen years. The Nipper even managed to get some game time at 46 years of age when he lined out against Down alongside his son Jimmy, the match report said that “the younger Geelan is certainly following in his after his father’s footsteps and in a few short years will be competent enough to compete with the best in the division.”

The Leitrim Club were also active off the field; the Irish Echo reported that a Dance would be held in Croke Park Pavilion (Gaelic Park) on the 2nd August 1947, where the musical entertainment was provided by “May Rowley of West 161st St, a recent arrival from Mohill, Leitrim, an accomplished pianist and soprano as well as being very easy on the eyes”. 

It is not known when the trip back to Ireland was first planned but the plan was widely known by December 1947 when the Club held its annual dinner dance in the Dauphin Hotel. All through winter and spring the fundraising continued. Geelan was in bullish form ahead of the Tour, telling one reporter ‘We’ll lick any team in the old sod’.

The Leitrim team sailed for Ireland in July 1948 aboard the SS Washington and docked at Cobh on the 1st August where they were met by Secretary of the County Board, Michael Reynolds NT and other officials. After settling into their lodgings in the County Hotel, Carrick-on-Shannon the team headed to Manorhamilton where they drew 2-5 each with a North Leitrim selection. Sean McGowan from Cloonturk scored 2-1 for the visitors in an exciting game. The team also paid a visit to Kiltyclogher where a crowd of 1,000 people saw Geelan lay a wreath at the Sean MacDiarmada memorial.


The following night the County Board met to finalise arrangements for the big game in Mohill. The following stewards were requested to report at Mohill Park at 1.00pm ‘L. Moran, Robert Moran, Billy McGowan, J. Flynn, J. Gordon, James Canning , Charles Kilkenny, Charles Keegan, Sean Reynolds and Patrick McCrann’ and from Gortltlettragh ‘P. Reynolds, C. Reynolds, J. Milton, J. Booth and P. Gannon;  Bornacoola – T. Aherne, Michael McGowan, H. O’Brien, P. Greene, Bert Faughnan and J. Notley; Shannon Gaels – McNally, McGuinness, Newton and two from Carrick-on-Shannon; Aughavas – Carroll and Reynolds’.

Meanwhile Geelan took time out to write a telegram to John ‘Lefty’ Devine the GAA correspondent with the ‘Irish Advocate’ in New York. It read-

County Hotel
Co. Leitrim                                                                                          August 4th 1948

 Dear Lefty,

 A short line to let you know we are having a wonderful time here. Also to apologise for not getting a wire to you in time for Croke (Gaelic) Park. Communications are not the best in Leitrim. Of course you have already heard we tied our first game against a good selction from North Leitrim.

 On behalf of the team I again want to thank you and also please convey again my thanks to John (Kerry) O’Donnell for the inspiring support he gave us. Its men like O’Donnell that make it easier for us all to keep the Gaelic games alive. I did not forget the ball for Jacky. I may not be able to get the shoes as they seem to be very scarce in Ireland. I am enclosing a few cuttings and will forward more as time goes on. Incidentally the score was 2 gl. 5 pt to 2 gl. 5 pt, McGowan 2 gl. 1 pt, Brennan 4 pt. Regards to Mrs. Devine.

Sincerely yours,

 “Nipper” Geelan

Manager of the touring Leitrim Club.

A few days later the scene was set for a grand homecoming for Nipper in his home town where his exiles would face the full Leitrim team. The town was buzzing from early in the day. Two fife and drum bands led the teams out to a wall of applause and excitement. Dan O’Rourke, the President of the GAA was even in attendance. The game was refereed by Peter O’Rourke, Tully (Carrigallen) who was also the Chairman of the Leitrim County Board. Canon Masterson threw the ball in and a rip-roaring game ensued. Jimmy Geelan, still a minor was amongst the scorers. Leo McAlinden was the star of the home team. The final score was a draw, 2-3 each and everyone thought it a fair result. It can be well imagined that the celebrations went on well into the night around the town.

The tour continued the following week and entered its most controversial phase. The team was scheduled to play Armagh in Davitt Park, Lurgan on the 15th August. The team cars proceeded to Lurgan on the Saturday night festooned with Tricolours and Stars and Stripes. Some of the cars and players were attacked and attempts made to grab the ‘Free State’ flags but the game proceeded before a crowd of 4,000. The exiles lost 1-6 to 0-5 but gave a good account of themselves against an Armagh team who were preparing for the All-Ireland Junior final. In press reports mention was made of the American’s ‘forceful’ and ‘unorthodox tackling style’. On the way back to Leitrim the team played an exhibition game in Garrison against a Fermanagh select. Thus the touring party achieved one of Geelan’s aims by playing in the ‘occupied part of the country’.


Armagh v Leitrim New York Team at Lurgan

Geelan wasn’t prepared to let the roughing up of his team of US Citizens in Lurgan go and wrote to the American Consulate in Belfast. He received a polite and courteous reply which reminded him that –

‘the United States government does not wish its nationals to take part in political affairs or events in foreign countries. When American Citizens acquire allegiance to the United States it is intended that they shall give up all allegiance to any other country. Failure to do so certainly impairs the right of this individuals to claim the protection of the United States Government while abroad’.

In other words one cannot claim the benefits or protections of US Citizenship when attacked whilst flying the flag of another nation. Geelans reaction is not recorded but can be surmised.

The final game of the tour was against the Dublin club St. Caillins, recently formed in the Capital and made up primarily of Leitrim players. The game was played in Fenagh but the result is unknown. There then followed a reception and dinner held at the Vocational School in Mohill (then ‘the Castle’ former residence of the Crofton family). Peter O’Rourke, Chairman of the County Board proposed a toast to the exiles saying that ‘they gave a very fine display’ and he hoped that their visit would be ‘an encouragement to the younger generation of Leitrim to go ahead and win an All-Ireland’.

The Exiles were then presented with miniature shields sponsored by the Connacht Council, silver medals from the County Board and cigarette cases from the Armagh County Board. Nipper Geelan presented the County Board with a special gold cup, the McTague-Galligan Cup which was played for in the drawn game earlier. The Cup was subsequently presented to the winner of the Leitrim Senior Championship until the onset of the current Fenagh Cup. Finally a farewell dance for the travelling party was held in the ballroom at Fenaghville.

The tour was undoubtedly a success on the field. The Leitrim Club were subsequently unlucky to lose two New York Finals in 1948 and ’49. The ‘Irish Advocate’ concluded ‘perhaps the greatest feat in the history of the local Leitrim Combination was made when they decided to sponsor a tour to Ireland, where they made a meritable showing against men of experience and full training. They were happy to record the fact that seven native born American boys were included in their line-up of players which gives them the right to say that Leitrim was the first to ever send back to the old sod the lads who learned the fine points of the game on the sidewalks of New York’.

However the tour did leave considerable debt and ultimately nearly sank the club. By the end of 1950 the club had lost over 22 players and had to rebuild again. One of the casualties was ‘Nipper’ Geelan himself who was uncompromising in defending the Tour against detractors. The Nipper left and was soon involved in coaching teams such as Kildare and Tyrone. The Leitrim club did recover though and one of its proudest days came when they won the 1958 New York Championship. One of the stars of the team was the now veteran Jimmy Geelan. The younger Geelan had already represented the New York Senior team that won the National League in 1950, defeating Cavan. “Nipper” Geelan had plenty more good days in football. He trained the New York Senior Teams from 1955 to 1963 in what was a hugely successful period for the exiles. He even trained a New York team that played In Wembley. In 1968 he was honoured by the New York Association for a lifetime of service. He passed away suddenly in December 1974.

Whatever about the financial success of the 1948 Tour it had a hugely positive effect on people throughout Leitrim. Emigration had tended to be one way traffic but this team in their bright suits and New York tans must have seemed a little exotic in a place where war rationing was still the norm. The highlight of the tour was undoubtedly the game in Mohill and its record attendance. It must surely have been one of the proudest moments of Michael ‘Nipper’ Geelan’s career.



‘The longest way round is the shortest way home’ – James Joyce’s Leitrim origins

james-joyceMore people start reading Ulysses than will ever finish it. It is a difficult novel to read, crafted as such by the author, who himself declared ‘I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality’. Yet despite all this complexity tackling the greatest modernist novel of all is a rewarding experience. Some commentators note that this ‘Selective secrecy’ on the part of Joyce was in fact ‘a brilliant marketing strategy’ ensuring that ‘scholars still debate the mysteries of this obscure and difficult text’ ad infinitum[i].

I was intrigued to find out a few years back that the creator of the enigmatic modern hero, Leopold Bloom, had strong Leitrim connections and in particular with the parish of Gortlettragh. Joyce’s maternal ancestors were the Murrays, tenant farmers on the shores of Lough Rynn, about 3 miles south of the town of Mohill in the townland of Tulcon. Well-known local historian Michael Whelan wrote an excellent article some years back about the family. Joyce’s grandfather was a John Murray who was born in Tulcon in 1829. The infamous Lord Leitrim, William Sydney Clements acquired the Tulcon lands in or about 1862. He immediately set about reducing the number of tenants on the lakeside and took the best of the Tulcon lands into the Lough Rynn home farm. In 1866 Hugh Murray (granduncle of James Joyce) and family had been moved to the other side of the lake. They took up residence in the townland of Gortlettragh from which the parish bears its name. Hugh’s brother, Patrick Murray was the Parish priest in Carrick-Finea parish on the Cavan-Longford border and became well known in the area for helping to found the United Land League in Mullahoran in 1879.

By the time the Murrays had left Tulcon, John Murray had already established himself in Dublin. In 1854 he married Margaret Theresa Flynn whose family owned the iconic ‘Eagles Nest’ public house in Terenure. Margaret herself was the licence holder in 1860. The Flynn family were well known in business circles in Dublin where Patrick Flynn was master of a spirit store and later a starch & blueing factory, at 53 Back Lane. Margaret Theresa Flynn had two sisters Elizabeth and Anne Flynn who ran schools for piano and singing. It is believed the Miss Morkans of the famous short story “The Dead” is based on them. It was also said that Elizabeth Flynn may at some point have been a governess at the court of Louis Napoleon of France. “The Dead” was subsequently made into a feature film by John Huston in 1987.

In 1859 Mary “May” Murray, the future mother of James Joyce was born. May was an accomplished pianist, no doubt influenced by her talented Aunts. At this time the family had moved to 7 Clanbrassil St. It was on this very street that John Stanislaus Joyce, a charming, failed medical student, amateur tenor and incompetent business man met and fell in love with 20 year old May Murray. Joyce had moved to Dublin from Fermoy in Cork where his family were modest landlords and business people and firmly part of the rising Catholic middle classes.

According to Michael Whelan[ii], John Stanislaus Joyce was secretary at a distillery in Chapelizod where John Murray also transacted business. It is also known that May Murray and John S Joyce both sang in the choir at the Church of the Three Patrons, Rathgar. The young couple married in Rathmines Church on the 5th May, 1880 to the disapproval of both the Murrays and Mrs Joyce; the latter who returned to Cork after the nupitals and never reconciled with her son. On return from honeymoon in London the newly-weds settled at 47 Northumberland Ave., Kingstown. A first child John Augustine Joyce died in 1881 and their second, James Augustine Joyce was born on the 2nd February 1882, at their next home in 41 Brighton Sq. W., Rathgar.

John S. Joyce spent most of his life dodging creditors. After James the couple had three more boys and six girls. The youngest, Freddie, died in infancy in 1894. There is evidence that John S Joyce may have been violent towards his wife when drunk and at least on one occasion the police became involved. Joyce moved from job to job, selling off assets, taking out mortgages, moving house. Through all this May Murray-Joyce’s health began a long spiral of decline. Another son George died in 1902 and this was a huge blow to her as was James’ rejection of his Catholic religion.

James visited her from Paris over Christmas 1902 and she appeared to rally. Within a few months however she was confined to bed. She does not seem to have confided in James on how ill she really was. On Good Friday morning 1903, Joyce sent her a postcard asking her to tell him what was wrong, but when he returned to his hotel that evening he found his father’s telegram informing him that his mother was dying. May Joyce was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver but it is now believed this was a misdiagnosis and that she was dying of cancer. Joyce returned from Paris to be with his mother who lingered on throughout the summer in great discomfort until her death on 13 August. It is said that Joyce and his brother Stanislaus refused to kneel and pray at the bedside of their dying mother, despite being ordered to do so by his uncle John Murray. Mrs Joyce was laid out in a brown habit at their house at St Peter’s Terrace before being buried in a plot in Glasnevin Cemetery. A year later Joyce writing to Nora Barnacle said that when he looked upon his mother’s grey and wasted face as she lay in her coffin, he knew that he was looking on the face of a victim, and he cursed the system that had made her a victim.


In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Stephen Dedalus describes his father Simon – for whom John Stanislaus Joyce was the model – as having been a ‘medical student, an oarsman, a tenor, an amateur actor, a shouting politician, a small landlord, a small investor, a drinker, a good fellow, a storyteller, somebody’s secretary, something in a distillery, a tax-gatherer, a bankrupt and at present a praiser of his own past.’

 When he died James remembered his father to his friend Harriet Shaw Weaver in the following terms:-

“My father had an extraordinary affection for me. He was the silliest man I ever knew and yet cruelly shrewd. He thought and talked of me up to his last breath. I was very fond of him always, being a sinner myself, and even liked his faults. Hundreds of pages and scores of characters in my books came from him. His dry (or rather wet) wit and his expression of face convulsed me often with laughter. When he got the copy I sent him of Tales Told &c (so they write me) he looked a long time at Brancusi’s Portrait of J.J. and finally remarked: Jim has changed more than I thought. I got from him his portraits, a waistcoat, a good tenor voice, and an extravagant licentious disposition (out of which, however, the greater part of any talent I may have springs) but, apart from these, something else I cannot define. But if an observer thought of my father and myself and my son too physically, though we are all very different, he could perhaps define it. It is a great consolation to me to have such a good son. His grandfather was very fond of him and kept his photograph beside mine on the mantelpiece.

 I knew he was old. But I thought he would live longer. It is not his death that crushed me so much but self-accusation …”

Whilst Joyce had a very dysfunctional upbringing his parents ensured he did receive a classical Jesuit education. 

His extended family contributed many characters that appear in his works and he in turn gave the modern world its greatest novel. He may not have been over-enamoured with his Murray ancestors who had made their money purveying ‘grog’ to the city. In the cyclops chapter Bloom muses,

Where do they get the money? Coming up redheaded curates from the county Leitrim, rinsing empties and old man in the cellar. Then, lo and behold, they blossom out as Adam Findlaters or Dan Tallons. Then think of the competition. General thirst. Good puzzle would be cross Dublin without passing a pub”.

In the age of constantly changing fashions and almost a century since publication, it is remarkable that Ulysses still occupies such an exalted position in literature. My favourite story about the often cantankerous Joyce is the one in where he is confronted by a former British Officer shortly after the end of the Great War. It was the era of men recounting what military campaigns they had fought in and how they had helped shape history. Not been a part of the ‘action’ was frowned upon in much the same way as a draft dodger is in an American election campaign today. The seasoned British officer seeking to embarrass the Dublin exile in front of a gathering asked, ‘and what did you do during the War, Mr. Joyce?’ to which the prompt reply was ‘Why I wrote Ulysses, what did you do?’ I’m sure his Leitrim cousins would have approved.

“What’s in a name? That is what we ask ourselves in childhood when we write the name that we are told is ours.” 


[i] Dr Sarah Davison, University of Nottingham

[ii] Michael Whelan ‘James Joyce Leitrim Conncection’ – Leitrim Guardian 2004 ed

“The savage loves his native shore”

Packy McGarty

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Packy McGarty on a few occasions and one thing that always strikes me is how he remains, even at 82, quick in mind and light on foot. In an era of high performance coaching, increasing demands on players and the onset of the ‘elite’ County player, programmed to play numerous systems and tactical set-ups, McGarty remains a beacon of light, a reminder of what makes the GAA great and unique. Surprisingly, to some at least, its not about a dresser full of medals.

I enjoyed this piece by David Kelly in today’s ‘Independent’.

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


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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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”.

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.

Leitrim’s Titanic Victim


Matthew Sadlier was born on the Lough Rynn Estate, Mohill, Co. Leitrim in 1892 where after school he took employment as a farm labourer. In 1912 he decided to emigrate and join some family members who had previously settled in Lakewood, New Jeresey, USA. Matthew purchased a 3rd Class ticket (Ticket No. 367655 , £7 14s 7d) and embarked from Queenstown, Co. Cork on Thursday the 11th April, 1912. The name of the ship was ‘Titanic’ the pride of the White Star Line enroute to new York on her maiden voyage. The rest  as the saying goes is History.

When the iceberg hit Matthew was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Matthew Sadlier died in the disaster. His body, if it was recovered, has never been idenitifed.

I came across this link which goes a little way to remembering the young lad.

Local media reports that a Committee has been set up with Mohill Foroige Group and other people interested in commemorating the short life, and tragic end of young Matthew Sadlier, on one of the most iconic ships ever built.