Thursday, February 24, 2011

Larry Griffin - The Missing Postman

On Christmas day 1929 Larry Griffin, a 48 year old married postman, went missing in the village of Stradbally, Co. Waterford.  The saga of the missing postman was to be headline news for months afterwards and remains an unsolved mystery to this day.  Just over 8 years later 35 year old John Taaffe from Co. Longford, a newly promoted Garda Sergeant, arrived in Stradbally from Ballymote in Co. Sligo.  A former teacher, he was to take charge of the Stradbally Garda Station where a Sergeant and 3 young policemen had been stationed on that fateful day in December 1929.  Two of those Gardai were implicated in the disappearance of Larry Griffin and as a consequence had been dismissed from the Garda Siochana.

During his service as a member of the Gardai which commenced on 23rd March 1926 and ended with his retirement on 9th July 1966, my father was never heard to discuss Garda business in my presence.  Only once did I overhear a conversation between himself and a retired Garda Superintendent with whom he had served in Castlecomer in the early 1940s.  It was that conversation which first brought the story of the missing postman to my attention and I have been fascinated by it ever since. 

The investigation into the disappearance of the Stradbally postman had been well run down by the time my father arrived in Stradbally.  However, the discovery of skeletal remains brought my father and his station colleagues to what they believed and perhaps hoped was the final resting place of Larry Griffin.  It was not to be as the remains proved in time to be that of a man of the road who died apparently of natural causes.  This was the story related by my father and for a youngster hearing of the missing postman it created an interest which has remained to this day. 

How was it that a middle aged man last seen in a local pub in a County Waterford village could disappear without trace?  Whelans Pub in the village of Stradbally was where the story unfolded that Christmas day evening 82 years ago.  One man came forward to give an account of what happened.  James Fitzgerald, a farm labourer, claimed that the postman died following a row in Whelans Pub when it is believed he hit his head against a stove.  In the pub that day, contrary to the Christmas day closing laws, were a number of people including two local Gardai, a National school teacher and up to 15 or more other persons.

Fitzgerald made a statement to the Gardai which he later retracted, claiming that Griffin, described by his postmaster as a ‘frail and peaceful man’, having received much hospitality while delivering post that day was not entirely sober.  He apparently received quite an amount of half crowns in Christmas tips and as might have been expected had taken quite a few drinks while on his rounds that day.  Late in the evening he called into Whelans Pub where it was said he joined the company of local school teacher Thomas Cashin and another local man Edward Morrissey.  Some of the money given to the postman during the day fell out of his pocket and Morrissey picked up the money and used it to buy a round of drinks.  When Griffin realised what had happened he challenged Morrissey and according to Fitzgerald’s Statement Morrissey ‘threw Griffin over’ and the unfortunate postman hit his forehead off a stove. 

The Prosecuting Counsel at the preliminary hearing in the District Court claimed in his opening address that Cashin struck Griffin, while Morrissey pushed him to ground.  Larry Griffin lay motionless on the ground, his forehead marked where it had hit the stove.  Neither a doctor nor a priest was called, but instead, if Fitzgerald’s statement is to be believed, it was decided to remove Griffin’s body from the pub.  Fitzgerald then claimed that Cashin and Morrissey, assisted by others in the pub, carried the postman’s body to Cashin’s car and that Cashin, accompanied by Morrissey, drove away to an unknown location to conceal the body.  Given that there were believed to be 15 or 23 persons in Whelans Pub that night it is quite extraordinary that no one other than Fitzgerald, who later withdrew his statement, made any admissions to the investigating Gardai.

Larry Griffin had served in Africa during the First World War and after he was demobbed was appointed postman serving the Stradbally area working out of Kilmacthomas Post Office.  Married with a teenage son and daughter he was very well liked in the area and the publican, Patrick Whelan, who with others was later charged with his murder, would later claim that he was a good friend of Griffins.  At midnight on Christmas day Mr. Brown, the Postmaster of Kilmacthomas, reported Larry Griffin as missing and so started a chain of events which would be headline news in Irish newspapers for weeks and months to follow.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Parliamentary Constituency and Athy

The present parliamentary constituency consisting of an artificially created South Kildare bears little comparison with the parliamentary constituencies which in the past included this area.  Way back in the 16th century Athy Borough, consisting of an area within a circumference of half a mile from Whites Castle, had the right to elect two Members of Parliament.  Those elected seldom had any connection with the town and owed their political careers to the Earl of Kildare who also controlled appointments to the local Borough Council.  The record of parliamentary representation for Athy showed that Edward Blount of Bolton, England was M.P. for Athy Borough in 1634.  Five years later two Dublin men, Stephen Steevens and Sir Robert Meredith were elected to represent the citizenry of Athy in the Irish House of Parliament.  John Days of Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim was one of Athy’s M.P.’s in 1692 and this tendency for non resident representatives would continue until the Act of Union.  Indeed despite the fact that one of Ireland’s most famous patriots Lord Edward Fitzgerald was a Member of Parliament for Athy Borough from 1783, the Borough’s parliamentary history ended discreditably in 1800 when it was represented by William Hare and Richard Hare of Cork.  Their father had purchased the right to nominate M.P.’s for Athy Borough from the Duke of Leinster and on the passing of the Act of Union both the Duke and the purchaser of the Athy Parliamentary nomination rights were compensated from the public purse.

Kildare County subsequently returned two Members of Parliament to the Westminster Parliament until the county was divided into a North Division and a South Division in 1885.  Interestingly the first local resident to represent Athy at the Westminster Parliament was M.J. Minch, the head of the local malting firm who entered Parliament in 1892.  The Kildare South Division remained unchanged for the 1918 General Election when Art O’Connor of Sinn Fein was elected.

In 1921 the constituency was changed with South Kildare and part of West Wicklow forming the Kildare Wicklow constituency which also remained for the 1922 Election in which Athy man J.J. Bergin first stood for Parliament. 

The following year the Kildare County constituency was reconstituted and continued as such until the 1937 election when the Carlow Kildare constituency was formed.  That election saw Athy man Sydney Minch elected for the third time and Bill Norton for the Labour Party elected for the first time.  Carlow Kildare shared a constituency for the 1943 and 1944 elections but split in 1948 when Kildare County again became a three seat constituency.  M.G. Nolan and Michael Cunningham, both from Athy, stood for election that year and Nolan would do so again in 1951.  The Kildare County constituency was still a three seater when in 1954 Paddy Dooley stood as a candidate for the first time.  He was elected in 1957, re-elected in 1961 and lost his seat in 1965 when another local man, Charles Chambers, was also unsuccessful.

The County Kildare constituency existed until recent years when separate South Kildare and North Kildare constituencies came into being.  The new constituencies very roughly equated to the North and South Kildare Divisions created at the height of Charles Stewart Parnell’s powers as the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party.

Our present form of parliamentary democracy came to us from the English model but thankfully parliamentary reforms commencing with the Reform Act of 1832 have ensured that the will of the people rather than that of the town patron determines who represents us in the Irish Parliament. 

Congratulations to Seamus Byrne on passing an age milestone which still lies ahead of some of his former classmates from the Christian Brothers School in St. John’s Lane.  Seamus has been a leading member of the traditional Irish musicians which have played in Clancys Bar every Thursday night for the past 40 years.  Indeed he is the longest playing member of that group and I am reliably informed that the weekly session in Clancys is possibly the longest continuously running traditional music session in the country.  Seamus plays the uilleann pipes and the Clancy session has proved to be one of the most enduring and enjoyable cultural experiences which Athy has to offer its visitors and locals alike.  To celebrate the unique 40 year long sessions a traditional music event involving musicians from all over Ireland will be held in Clancys over three days commencing Thursday 28th April and continuing on the following Friday and Saturday.

Don’t forget the Athy Museum Society meeting which will take place in the Heritage Centre, Town Hall Athy on Wednesday night, 23rd February at 7.30 p.m.  All are welcome.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gathering Memories Project / Cody Mulhall

Last week grandparents and parents gathered in the Halla Mór of Scoil Mhichil Naofa for the official unveiling of the ‘Gathering Memories’ Project recently undertaken by the school in conjunction with the Federation of Local History Societies of Ireland.  In the months leading up to last Christmas the young girls from 5th and 6th class of Athy’s largest primary school were involved in interviewing their grandparents and the results were on display as those grandparents and the children’s parents arrived in the school hall.  Each interview was recorded on camera and the resulting DVD and the typed transcripts of the highlights of the interviews were available as the Chairman of the Federation, Larry Breen of Naas, spoke of the unique Athy project.  Its importance was stressed by Mr. Breen who indicated that the Federation of Local History Societies would organise similar projects nationwide through its 130 member local history societies throughout Ireland.  The ‘Gathering Memories’ Project was, he stated, an important way of recording memories for posterity, while at the same time passing on traditions which helped the younger generation become more aware of their community history.

Extracts from all of the interviews were shown on screen that night and the obvious pride and sense of place which Athy and district encourages in all of us was palpable.  The older generation’s reminiscences were straightforward recollections of life experiences and the variety of those reminiscences pointed to the value of social history in promoting and understanding our recent past.  It was obvious that the grandparents were happy to be involved in sharing their youthful days with a new generation.  For the young girls involved it was a learning experience and an ideal way of explaining the history of Athy and its people in a structured way.  Congratulations to all involved in the Project and thanks not only to the young school girls and their grandparents, but also to the school teachers who were responsible for overseeing the interviews and compiling the DVD and typed transcripts which will now form an important archive of material for future historians.

Local history has an ever growing interest for all of us.  Athy Museum Society, formed many years ago and which was responsible for the setting up of the Athy Heritage Centre, is about to take another important step in its drive to highlight the history of our town.  The Society will hold a meeting in the Heritage Centre on Wednesday, 23rd February at 7.30 p.m. to finalise arrangements for a series of local history lectures commencing in March.  The meeting will also include a short talk on the ‘Gathering Memories’ Project, as well as the screening of one of the interviews carried out by the girls from Scoil Mhichil Naofa.  Anyone interested in the history of our town and locality is encouraged to come along on the night.
One young man who is making history is 14 year old Cody Mulhall of Whitecastle Lawns.  A soccer player of exceptional ability Cody, who started out playing with the local team Athy A.F.C., is now a player with the Stella Maris Club in Dublin.  The English soccer club scouts have become aware of the young talented Athy lad and Cody has already had a trial with Derby County.  Both Aston Villa and Blackburn Soccer Clubs are in the chase to sign up Cody and he is to travel to England over the coming Easter to train with the Blackburn Rovers team.  A trial with the Aston Villa team is scheduled for later in the year.  In the meantime the young Athy player has already been picked to play for his country at U-15 level.  Two weeks ago he travelled with the Irish team to Helsinki to play for his country in a series of matches against Finland. 

Cody Mulhall who is the son of Caroline Mulhall and grandson of Bernadette and the late Dan Foley has footballing genes in his blood as the Foley brothers of Kilberry were noted players of the Gaelic code in the days of Tom Moore’s Rheban.  It’s wonderful to see someone so young doing so well in his sporting career and Cody carries all our best wishes for a long and successful career in the sport which he loves and enjoys so much. 

I gather Cody may not be the first soccer player from Athy to play for his native country as I mentioned some weeks ago Vincent Gray from Pairc Bhride featured on an Irish international team some years ago.  Incidentally I am still anxious to get some background information on Vincent Gray’s playing career and would like to hear from anyone who can help me in that regard.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Irish in Britain / Roseanna Davis / John Costello

I was in Brighton last week, just a few days after the death in that Sussex city of Roseanna Davis, formerly Mulpeter who emigrated from Rathangan 75 years ago.  Roseanna who was 101 years of age was a founder member of London’s Kildare Association and was the Association’s Secretary from its foundation until 1969.  Her work on behalf of Kildare emigrants in London was recognised with the award of the Kildare Overseas Personality of the Year Award just 4 years ago.

Irish emigration to Britain is on the increase and a new wave of young emigrants is adding yet another generation to those Irish men and women who were obliged to leave Ireland in the 1940s and later.  Those earlier generations found work during the regeneration of post war Britain and eventually settled down to form part of the most substantial minority group in England, Scotland and Wales.  Net emigration level, estimated at 24,000 a year in the immediate post war years, had increased to 40,000 a year in the 1950s. 

It was the Catholic clergy in England who first provided assistance for newly arrived Irish emigrants.  The Irish Centre in Camden was founded in 1955 with the support of Cardinal Griffin of Westminster and two years later the Irish Emigrant Chaplaincy Scheme in Britain was founded.  Initially its work was centered on construction sites where the mobile Irish work force were concentrated.  One of the better known chaplains was the later Bishop of Galway Eamon Casey who in 1963 became director of the Catholic Housing Aid Society.  Another was Fr. Owen Sweeney, later Parish Priest of St. Michael’s Athy, who was the Director of the Irish Emigrant Chaplaincy Scheme in the 1960s.

Various county associations emerged over the years and the Kildare Association had members in London and Manchester.  However, in more recent years both associations have been less active than before and as I write the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith London is under threat as the local Council signals its intention to sell the building. 

The size of the Irish presence in Britain has never been accurately identified but on March 27th the British Census will allow those participating to declare their ethnicity.  A campaign is presently underway on the British mainland to encourage not only Irish born but also second and third generation Irish to tick the Irish box on their census returns.

At the same time as the Irishness of the British population becomes a census issue a sad story comes to the forefront, having been ignored for many years. It concerns the last years of those Irish emigrants who left Ireland many years ago to work in a country which was not always welcoming and which in many instances overly discriminated with signs which read ‘no Irish or blacks need apply’.  These days are now gone but many of the men and women who suffered the discrimination of the 1940s and later are now amongst those who live lonely lives in sheltered accommodation in British cities.  They are many of the same people who have lost contact with their families back in Ireland and who when they die are buried in communal graves by their local Councils.  In Camden where there is still a substantial elderly Irish population approximately 100 persons a year are buried in unmarked communal graves.  It’s a sad end to any life, but the forgotten Irish is an issue which is being tackled by the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain, as well as a number of Irish Associations supported by the Irish Government Emigrant Support Programme. 

For many elderly emigrants living alone help will not come in time.  For others such as Roseanna Davis a lifetime spent helping fellow emigrants was its own reward.  Roseanna’s cremation takes place in Brighton on 7th February, after which her ashes will be returned to Ireland and interned in the family plot in Rathangan Cemetery.

John Costello passed away last week just a day or two before his 40th wedding anniversary.  John who was from County Galway came to Athy in 1981.  He was Assistant Manager of the Bank of Ireland Athy at a time when the late Michael Walsh was the Manager.  On my return to Athy a year later I banked with the Bank of Ireland and John oversaw my account at a time when local Bank officials had authority and responsibility for dealing directly with their customers.  Nowadays all that is changed and banking business is seemingly controlled by Dublin based computer programmes without any input from local banking officials.  John was a huge fan of Gaelic games in Galway, especially the Galway hurlers and I invariably emerged with the winning bet when our respective counties met in a hurling decider.  To Siobhan and his family are extended our sympathies.