Tag Archives: Mohill

‘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.



Francis McGann – Leitrim Mathematician, Surveyor, Patriot (1786-1815)

Growing up in South Leitrim I had often heard of the brilliant but tragic Francis McGann. McGann was a native of Eslin and a noted scholar who died at the early age of 29. McGann was simply known to his peers as “the Bright Boy” and his early demise was sadly lamented for generations of people who saw in his passing the loss of one who had the potential to be a great leader of the people.

Francis McGann was born in 1786 in Drumlara, a townland in the parish of Mohill and on the northwestern shore of Lough McHugh. His father’s name was Peter McGann and his mother was a Mulvey from Aughacashel.

Francis was born into a country where the penal laws restricted the life and prospects of most Catholics. He initially attended a local Hedge School run by a Hugh McDonald where his genius soon became apparent. Soon he was enrolled in a highly regarded private school run by an Owen Reynolds at Glebe St., Mohill. The building where Reynolds school was located still stands and is now converted into two private residences. The Reynolds School was highly regarded in the teaching of Mathematics and McGann excelled in this discipline.

Owen Reynolds School. Mohill

    Owen Reynolds School. Mohill

Hedge school

Hedge school

McGann later moved on to a classical school in Drumsna run by a Parson Kane where he became proficient in Greek and Latin. By this stage McGann’s own reputation as a gifted scholar was widely known. In order to further his education in Mathematics, McGann travelled to Ballingarry, Co. Limerick, where he was enrolled in a school conducted by a Mr. James Baggot, himself a famous Mathematician of the day. In 1805 Baggott was advertising that he had acquired a supply of “curious mathematical and astronomical instruments,” in which he hopes his pupils will find “both pleasure and profit in the prosecution of their studies.”

Baggott was also noted for the fact that he was a friend and correspondent of Pierre Simon Marquis Laplace, the great French scientist and tutor to Napoleon. It is recorded that when Laplace was once in conversation with a Colonel O’Dell, a Limerick MP, he enquired if O’Dell knew of  “the great Irish mathematician. The Great O’Baggott”.

The Baggott School was an environment where the young McGann from Leitrim thrived but it wasn’t only Mathematics he was now learning. Baggott was also a member of the United Irishmen and his house in Ballingarry was where Lord Edward Fitzgerald stayed when he toured the country stoking up rebellion in 1798. Baggott is also said to have devised a plan for the capture of the city of Limerick. The plan was however discovered and the plotters all arrested. It is not known if McGann was amongst those interrogated but it is clear that Baggott had a huge influence on him and helped formulate in McGann’s mind the revolutionary ideals which were to become more apparent later in his life.

The Government in Dublin Castle were kept fully informed by a spy who signed himself “J.D.” of all Baggott’s movements, and a General Payne wrote advised Dublin Castle: “That rascal Baggott can neither be frightened nor bribed, and when Mr. O’Del returns I think we had better take him up.” The Government were right to be worried about Baggott and his school, particularly in light of his known correspondence with well figures in Parisian Society. Baggott died at Charleville on 31st August 1805 at the age of thirty five. He was widely mourned as can be noted from the following contemporary verse penned in his honour.

O Science, mourn! thy favourite is no more,

Alas! he’s numbered with the silent dead;

 Hibernia’s genius will his loss deplore

Whom he to fame’s exalted temple led.

By nature blessed with an exploring thought,

His brows were decked from the Newtonian tow’r

The deep arcana of fair Science sought,

And gleaned her fields of ev’ry golden flow’r

It can be surmised that the end of Baggott also signalled the end of Francis McGann’s education. Returning to Drumlara, McGann began working as a mapper / surveyor and a pioneer in the art of preparing accurate large-scale maps which were developed later by the Ordnance Survey. His attention to detail was widely known and it was said locally that he would even take care to “rub the breath off the chain” he used for surveying so that it would not distort his measurements.

He drew a map of the district of Bunnybeg, Attymanus and Annaghhasna on a dried and pressed sheepskin for the landed Lawder family. He also mapped the townland of Killamaun and the length of the Eslin river. It is said that he was offered a position with the East India Company as chief surveyor but he declined. The Leitrim that McGann  returned to was the subject of considerable military activity in the decade following the failed insurrection of 1798. Although the United Irishmen were broken McGann became leader of a secret society known as “the Rock” “White Rock” or “Rockites”. It is little surprise that McGann was prominent and he may even have helped found such a militant agrarian society. The area where he had lived whilst in Baggott’s school was also a major centre of “Rockite” activity. A John Hickey of Doneraile, was suspected by the English authorities of the time of being ‘Captain Rock’. The Rockites tended to use United Irishman rhetoric and regularly mentioned that “assistance was to be given from France” to any Irish insurgents. One of the main Rockite aims was the placing “Catholics upon a level with Protestants”.


In late 1815 there were major civil disturbances in the Keshcarrigan and Gorvagh areas. In the aftermath several houses and farms were burned to the ground. A local landlord by the name of Minor Peyton had also retaliated by cutting the road into the townland of Laheen Peyton thus preventing the Catholic Tenants from getting to Mass. McGann organised a large meeting to be held at Keshcarrigan Fair on December 20th, 1815. His speech to the massive crowd there is recorded in oral tradition. He told the assembled crowd that he was there;

“to meet the intelligence, the genius and the mind of Kiltubrid and to denounce Minor Peyton, a tyrannical brute and a disgrace to humanity, who not being content with burning Drumcollop, he now tears up the pathway which lead to the ‘House of God’. But the Sun of his glory is set and today he is like the remnant of a melancholy wreck having nothing but tradition to point to his former grandeur and greatness”

When returning from the mass meeting at Keshcarrigan Fair, McGann in the company of two men called Billy the Joiner and James Ward took shelter in a Sheebeen near Kilnagross. It had begun snowing quite heavily. The country had been enduring a severe cold snap and snow had lain on the ground for over six weeks. The people it was said had to boil snow to get a drink for their cattle. After a few hours McGann left the Sheebeen “for want of drink and fire” . It is believed he intended to visit the home of a young McKeon lady nearby with whom he was on friendly terms. Sadly McGann never reached his destination. The following day his body was found frozen to death in a snow drift, only short distance from McKeon’s house. Sadly ‘The Bright Boy” was no more and a few days later he was buried in Mohill. According to local tradition the place where McGann died was marked for many years by an evergreen tree which had become known as ‘The Monument’.
McGann’s passing was a huge blow to the people in the area.  His intellectual ability was noted from an early age. In many ways his life mirrored that of his mentor Baggott.

When McGann returned from Limerick he had matured and was clearly someone unafraid to take on the establishment both privately and publicly. Such men were in short supply in places like rural Leitrim.

The ballad, “The Fate of Francis McGann,” was penned by John Cox, the poet of Clooncarne in the parish of Bornacoola and in its folksy way it records the life and tragic death of this brilliant young man.

“He was versed in the language of all foreign parts,
And master of several bright liberal arts,
The art of surveying he had a command,
Mathematics and logic he did understand.
He could measure the air, the sea or the land,
John Cox gives his praises to Francis McGann.”


“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…

View original post 1,298 more words

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”.

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.


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 pastorals of 1924 the Irish Bishops addressed mass-goers on a number of evils and sources of degradation; these threats included women’s fashions, immodest dress, indecent dancing, theatrical performances and cinema exhibitions, evil literature, drink, strikes and lock-outs. By 1931 Archbishop McRory had taken to attacking the dangers of increased mobility which was bringing people into more and more contact with various evil vices. Now even the humble bicycle was a conduit for moral danger whilst ‘the motor car was seen as an instrument of seduction in the hands of unscrupulous males’.

Of all the perceived threats to the moral health of the nation one rose high above all others, the unlicensed Dance Hall, The clergy were not against dancing in principle. It was a perfectly healthy activity so long as the dances were of Irish Origin and the supervision was close. Cardinal Logue stated

‘They (ceili dances) may not be the fashion in London and Paris. They should be the fashion in Ireland. Irish dances do not make degenerates’.

In 1931 a Government appointed committee investigated the moral condition of the Nation, and its subsequent report, known as the Carrigan Report, concluded that the moral sate of the nation was very poor and legislation would have to be passed to improve the situation.

‘The ‘commercialised’ dance halls, picture houses of sorts, and the opportunities afforded by the misuse of motor cars for luring girls, are the chief causes alleged for the present looseness of morals’.

The Clergy led the way in seeking to have unlicensed dance halls closed and foreign dances banned entirely and pressurised the Government at every juncture for legislative reform. The definition of a ‘Street’ in the Criminal Law Amendment Bill was extended to include the evil motor car leading the liberal Senator Dr. Mahaffy to suggest that a wheelbarrow was a street and therefore could be used for an immoral purpose!

The Gaelic League re-launched its anti-jazz campaign in 1934. Fr. Peter Conefrey, the parish priest of Cloone came to national prominence as one of the leaders of the Anti-Jazz Campaign. Before long the campaign had grown into a national frenzy with Mohill at the epicentre. To have an alternative opinion was to be considered ‘anti-Gaelic’ and ‘un-Irish’.

Leitrim County Council adopted a resolution condemning jazz and all-night dancing. From the benches of local Courts District Justices took up the refrain talking of the dangers of ‘Nxxxxr music’ and the orgy of unrestricted all-night dances’.

In January 1934 a large demonstration took place in Mohill, County Leitrim. It was made up mostly of young people and the press estimated the attendance at 3,000, with five bands and banners inscribed with ‘DOWN WITH JAZZ’ and ‘OUT WITH PAGANISM’. Support came from church and state. A meeting was then held at the Canon Donohoe Hall organised and chaired by Canon Masterson the local Parish Priest. A letter from Cardinal McRory was read out:

‘I heartily wish success to the Co. Leitrim executive of the Gaelic League in its campaign against all night jazz dancing. I know nothing about jazz dancing except that I understand that they are suggestive and demoralising: but jazz apart, all night dances are objectionable on many grounds and in country districts and small towns are a fruitful source of scandal and ruin, spiritual and temporal. To how many poor innocent young girls have they not been an occasion of irreparable disgrace and lifelong sorrow?

The campaign was given official state blessing in a letter from Eamonn de Valera:

‘I sincerely hope that the efforts of Conradh na Gaeilge in your county to restore will be successful, and within the reasonable hours which have always been associated with Irish entertainment’.

Douglas Hyde also sent a message of support to the meeting and he hoped in future that all dances and games should be Irish. The Secretary of the Gaelic League Sean O’Ceallaigh condemned the Minister for Finance, Sean McEntee;

‘Our Minister of Finance has a soul buried in jazz and is selling the musical soul of the nation for the dividends of sponsored jazz programmes. He is jazzing every night of the week’.  A voice from the floor shouted, ‘Put him (MacEntee) out.’ To which Ó Ceallaigh replied, ‘Well I did not help to put him in,’ and added,

As far as nationality is concerned, the Minister for Finance knows nothing about it.  He is a man who will kill nationality, if nationality is to be killed in this country.

This prompted the local Fianna Fáil TD, Ben Maguire, to defend his party colleague.  He agreed that the broadcasting was not as national as it should be but he declared that if the minister was to be attacked personally he would take up the challenge on his behalf.  He added, ‘I hope it will not pass unanswered and that the minister will be given the opportunity of defending himself.’

 Fr. Conefrey then got up to speak. He declared that jazz was a greater danger to the Irish people than drunkenness and landlordism and concerted action by church and state was required. Jazz, Fr. Conefrey advised the gathering, emanated from “the savages of Africa” and had been brought to Ireland by “the anti-God society, with the object of destroying morals and religion.” He called on the government to circularise Garda barracks to forbid the organisation of jazz dances and to compel dance halls to shut at 11 pm.  He also called for the training of young teachers in Irish music and dancing. The meeting in Mohill was the high point of the anti-jazz campaign and it was covered by all the major newspapers and further afield.

Fr. McCormack from Granard, Co. Longford, informed the meeting that GAA clubs were some of the worst offenders for organising jazz dances while Mr. B. Fay of the Ulster Council of the GAA called for legislation regulating the use of dance halls and excluding young people under the age of 16 from entering them.  He also warned that it was a sign of degradation to see young women smoking in public. Not surprisingly the meeting was then followed by a concert and Céilí in the hall.

On the 20th of January, the Leitrim Observer published a letter from ‘Lia Fáil and fellow Gaels.’  The writer advised the ‘Gaels of Breffini’ that,

‘we are with you in the fight against the imported slush. Keep out, we say the so – called music and songs of the Gall; his silly dances and filthy papers, too.  We can never be free until this is done’.

The piece went on to say,

‘Let the pagan Saxon be told that we Irish Catholics do not want and will not have the dances and the music that he has borrowed from the savages of the islands of the Pacific.  Let him keep them for the 30 million pagans he has at home.’

It was eventually decided that Dance Halls should be the subject of separate legislation. The Dance Halls Act of 1935 was passed without any debate in the Dail. The act was draconian and made it practically impossible to hold dances without the sanction of the trinity of clergy, police and judiciary. It marked the end of private dances in private homes which were popular up to that time. It also led to the closing of many privately owned Halls who could not compete with the many new Parish Halls that sprung up around the country. At last the Church and Conradh na Gaelige could rest content that one of its main proposals for legal control of personal morality had become the law of the land.


Leitrim Observer, 6th January 1934,

Leitrim Observer, 13th January 1934.

Leitrim Observer, 20th January 1934.

Leitrim Observer, 10th February 1934.