Thursday, November 26, 2009

Treasure unearthed in London book shop

‘A good book is the best of friends, the same today and forever’.

I can’t recall who penned these words but they strike a chord with me given my interest in books and the printed word. Over the years I have discovered many great books and some not so good, but all of them nevertheless gave enjoyment, while sometimes proving useful and informative. Earlier this year while on a visit to a second-hand book shop in Charing Cross Road, London I came across the two volume set of Kitty O’Shea’s book, ‘Charles Stewart Parnell, his Love Story and Political Life’.

I first purchased a copy of these volumes in Greene’s bookshop in Clare Street, Dublin perhaps 35 years or so ago. I was working then in Baggot Street and Greene’s bookshop and Parson’s book shop on Baggot Street Bridge where May O’Flaherty held court, were almost daily ports of call.

Despite already having a copy of Kitty O’Shea’s book I decided to buy the set on sale at the Charing Cross Road book shop. The book was very reasonably priced and was a nice copy, despite some adoring mother having inscribed a dedication on the fly leaf.

Some months later a copy of the same book was for auction in England. The book was inscribed by Kitty O’Shea, using her married name Katherine Parnell and with it was a letter signed by Gladstone, the British Prime Minister addressed to Captain O’Shea MP. I have always had a high regard for William Ewart Gladstone, the first British Prime Minister ever to take a considerate view to what the British call ‘The Irish Question’.

He drew up the first Home Rule Bill and resigned in 1886 when many of his own party voted against the measure, thereby ensuring its defeat. One of the longest serving Westminster politicians, Gladstone finally resigned from politics in 1894 when he was 84 years of age. His espousal of the cause of Irish Home Rule was just one of the many causes which marked his as the greatest political career of the 19th century.

Gladstone’s letter, coupled with Kitty O’Shea’s inscribed book, was the prize I succeeded in securing at the auction and some weeks later both items arrived in Athy. Katherine Parnell had inscribed Volume 1 of her book to ‘T.S. Curtis with kind regards’. Her writing looked familiar and I wondered where I had seen it before. I turned to the other recently acquired volumes of the same book and there in the same hand with obviously the same pen was the inscription ‘Norah, with dearest love from mother.’ It was Kitty O’Shea’s handwriting and she had signed the volumes published in 1914 to her daughter Norah. You can imagine my delight at such an unexpected find.

Kitty O’Shea married Charles Stewart Parnell just five months before he died in Brighton on 6 October 1891. Their relationship which began soon after they met in 1880 resulted in the birth of three children, the first of whom died soon after birth, while the other two daughters of Parnell lived until 1909 and 1947 respectively. Both married and his daughter Clare had an only daughter who died in 1941. There is no surviving direct descendant of Parnell.

Norah, to whom Kitty O’Shea inscribed her book, was her second child by Captain O’Shea and was born seven years before Parnell met her mother. Norah continued to live with her mother Kitty following Parnell’s death and they moved house on several occasions over the years, always living on the south coast of England, before returning to Brighton.

The book, ‘Charles Stewart Parnell, his Love Story and Political Life’, was published in 1914 at a time when Katherine Parnell was in dire financial straits and is believed to have been edited by her son Gerard O’Shea. Reviewed by the national newspapers of the day the book was lambasted by many, although the London Times in its review gave an accurate resume of the book and commented that it gave a new insight into the Parnell O’Shea relationship which redeemed Captain O’Shea’s reputation from the previously made charge of connivance in his wife’s affair with Parnell.

The book sales allowed the impoverished Kitty to live in some comfort and shortly before she died in 1921 she moved to the seaside town of Littlehampton. Her daughter Norah, who had by then moved to London as her mother’s health and wealth improved, now returned to Littlehampton.

Katherine Parnell passed away on 5 February 1921, 30 years after the death of the Irish leader. In contrast to the huge funeral which Parnell was given in Dublin, his wife Kitty’s coffin was followed by only two horsedrawn carriages, one of which was empty as it passed slowly through the streets of Littlehampton to the local cemetery. Her grave is marked with a cross inscribed ‘To the beloved memory of Katherine, widow of Charles Stewart Parnell – born 30th January 1845. Died 5th February 1921, Fide et Amore.’

Kitty’s daughter Norah was penniless following her mother’s death and sought help from the Irish Parliamentarian TP O’Connor who got her a position as a nursery governess in a London hospital. She used the name Norah Woods, rather than O’Shea, because of the notoriety attached to her mother’s name which, even so many years after Parnell’s death, was still likely to lead to troublesome questions. Norah died aged 50 years on 16 July 1923 and was buried next to her mother at Littlehampton.

She left a box containing relics of her mother’s relationship with Parnell which in 1956 was passed to Sir Shane Leslie who eventually gave the contents to the Kilmainham Jail Museum in Dublin.

How the book inscribed by Kitty to her daughter Norah came to be in the second-hand bookshop in Charing Cross Road is a mystery. The happy coincidence of a book auction purchase of a book inscribed by Katherine Parnell allowed a book inscribed ‘To Norah from her mother’ to be identified as written by the former Kitty O’Shea whose love for the Irish political leader Charles Stewart Parnell had far reaching and lasting consequences for the political destiny of the Irish people.

Your own opportunity to buy books of interest comes with the Lions book sale scheduled to take place in the premises next to the Emigrant Pub at Barrow Quay on Saturday and Sunday, 28 and 29 November.

The premises have been kindly lent for the book sale by John Gallagher and books will be on sale on Saturday from 10am to 6pm and on Sunday from noon to 5p.m. All proceeds go to local charities and donations of good clean books are very welcome. Books can be left into the offices of Taaffe & Co. at Edmund Rice Square, Athy up to and including Friday and into the book sale premises on either Saturday and Sunday.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Identification successfully complete

With the help of a number of readers and especially Matt Perse, the Athy players, officials and supporters whose photograph appeared here some weeks ago have now been identified. For the record the photograph is reproduced again, with all the names. The team’s goalkeeper, who now lives in Kill, believes that the photograph was taken in 1958, possibly on the occasion of a quarter final match against Raheens which Athy lost narrowly. However, he has since had second thoughts as he felt that Brendan Kehoe played in that match, yet Brendan is not included in the photograph. Can any of my readers identify when and where the photograph was taken?

The photograph shows at the back from left Matt Murray, Tom Clandillon, Tony Taaffe, Eugene Deering, Mick Carolan, Joe Day, Hugh Moran, Joe McEvoy, John Sullivan, Sean Vernal, Tim O’Sullivan, Brendan McNulty, John Flood, Lazerian Kehoe, Harry Mulhall, Johnny Wynne, Noel Rochford and Derek Candy. In front from left are Anthony O’Sullivan, Ambrose McConville, Brendan Owens, Mick Dooley, Johnny Morrissey, Andy Smith, Danny Kavanagh and Terry Holligan. The two young boys are Matt Murray Junior and his brother Thomas.

I had a call recently from Denis Doyle of Letterkenny who worked for years in the tourism business in the northwest of the country. His father was Denis Doyle, a brother of Jim, Jackie, Joe and Pat Doyle, all members of an old Athy family. Denis married Kathleen Looney, daughter of John Looney of Woodstock Street, who survived the horrors of World War I in which he served as a stretcher bearer. Kathleen Looney worked as a dressmaker in Duke Street, while her brother Paddy married and lived in 16 Woodstock Street and another brother John emigrated to England. Her only sister Maisie married Joe Hanley, a Sergeant Major in the Irish Army, and they also lived in Woodstock Street for a time before moving to Dublin.

I would appreciate hearing from any of the readers of the column who know the Doyle or Looney families.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Events mark our maturing as a people

This past weekend Athy hosted a number of events, one of which brought us face to face with our distant past observed as never before by a mature and confident Irish people. The other event was in its own way a mark of our growing confidence as a nation and our belief in the importance of our native language. Remembering a lost generation destroyed during World War I on Remembrance Sunday in St. Michael’s Cemetery was in a sense recalling the town’s recent history as a ‘garrison town’. On the other hand the taking over by the Gaelscoil of the recently built school building at Rathstewart spoke of a growing confidence in the Irishness of a people living in what was once an Anglo Norman town.

Our native language has been on the retreat for centuries. Indeed here in this part of County Kildare Irish has not been the everyday language of the local people for more than 200 years. Various attempts to revive the language were made over the years. The Gaelic League established in Dublin in 1893 as Conradh na Gaeilge opened a branch in Athy, when exactly I cannot say, but a contemporary note records that the Athy branch was ‘revived’ in January 1919. This was at a time when the anglicisation of Ireland was at its height and everything Irish was being thrust aside in favour of English ways. It was also a time when the law discriminated against the Irish language. Padraig Pearse in his only appearance before the Courts unsuccessfully defended a carter who insisted in putting his name on his cart in Irish rather than in English. Here in Athy an Irish teacher based in the newly opened Technical School in Stanhope Street was convicted and fined at the Petty Sessions held in the Courthouse for signing his name in Irish.

Brigid Darby, National school teacher, who lived with her mother in Leinster Street, was Treasurer of the Gaelic League, the Secretary being James Kealy, while Michael Dooley, shopkeeper of Duke Street, was the League President. The latter was also Chairman of the local Sinn Fein Club and the Gaelic League and Sinn Fein would appear to have shared many of the same members. The League put on Irish classes in the evening and employed James Tierney of Woodstock Street for that purpose, but for whatever reason the League appears to have discontinued operating in Athy in and around December 1921. It was revived again sometime in the late 1940s by Kevin Meany and others, but like its predecessors seems to have run out of steam after a few uneventful years. A further revival of the Gaelic League in the 1950s involving the late Paddy Walsh, Kevin Meany and others, also petered out after a while.

It was the setting up of Athy’s Glór na nGael in 1994 which in time proved to be the most successful Irish organisation in the town. The initiative came from Kathleen Robinson during her term as President of the local Chamber of Commerce. She organised the first Seachtain na nGaeilge. The aim was to encourage local shopkeepers to make use of the Irish language for one week in the year during the course of their business. Advertising signs in Irish, coupled with the effort to speak in Irish, was the aim of the Chamber of Commerce sponsored Seachtain na nGaeilge over the following few years. It was people such as Peadar O’Murchú, the late Paddy Walsh, Maisie Candy, David Murphy, John Watchorn and Kathleen Robinson who over the years kept the language movement alive here in Athy. Glór na nGael set up the first Gaelscoil in Athy in December 2004, using Aontas Ógra’s premises adjoining the former Dreamland Ballroom to accommodate its first Junior Infants Class. 21 young boys and girls enrolled that first week and their teacher was Michael O’Cuinneagain. The following November Sinead Ni Nualláin from Graiguecullen in Carlow joined the teaching staff and today Sinead is Principal of the seven teacher Gaelscoil Atha Í. In November 2005 the Gaelscoil moved from the Aontas Ogra premises to the Athy Soccer Clubhouse at the Showgrounds. There the classes expanded each year and were housed in the Soccer Clubhouse which accommodated two classes and in four prefabricated buildings.

The inter-denominational and co-educational school now caters for 144 pupils, with seven teachers. They are Sinead Ni Nualláin, Treasa Ni Earchaí, Fiona Nic Seon, Gobnait Bhreathnach, Doireann Ni Raghnaigh, Eamonn O’Ceidigh and Sorcha ni Mhisteil. The Gaelscoil is part of the Gaelscoil movement which operates under the Department of Education but its teachers are not part of the panel system operated by the Department. This is to ensure that only Irish speaking teachers are employed within the Gaelscoil system. Pupils start at junior infant level and by the end of their second year in senior infants most will have a marked proficiency in the Irish language. All subjects with the exception of English are taught through Irish.

Last Saturday I joined my first grandchild Rachel on the school’s Open Day which coincided with the transfer of the Gaelscoil from the Athy Soccer Club premises to the purpose-built school in Rathstewart. The building, just one year old, had previously housed part of St. Patrick’s Boys National School which has now transferred to another new building on the same campus. The Gaelscoil children, as you can imagine, were excited viewing their new school and parents and teachers alike shared in the excitement of their new premises. I was delighted to meet Sinead Ni Nualláin, School Principal, whose father Seamus and her grandfather Jim, who was in his time a member of Carlow Urban District Council, encouraged the use of Irish and so Sinead from a young age developed a proficiency in the speaking of our native tongue.

It is one of the great regrets of my life that despite fourteen years of primary and secondary education I was never able to speak the Irish language, other than badly. I blame the system of Irish teaching in vogue during my years in the Christian Brothers School. It was a system imposed by departmental mandarins whose lack of appreciation of what was required to develop Irish as a spoken language was indefensible. I left the educational system, like so many of my peers, disliking the Irish language, the teaching of which was so unappealing and quite frankly downright depressing. If, like me, you would like to repair the damage of an inadequate schooling in our native tongue, note that the Gaelscoil will be holding Irish language classes every Monday evening in its new school at Rathstewart, with beginners’ classes at 7 p.m. and improver classes at 8.15 p.m.

Two launches during the past week have given us here in Athy a cultural fillip, just in time for the forthcoming Christmas season. I missed the launch of ‘Skin’ Kelly’s book, ‘Winner alright – Skinner alright’, but made amends the following day by buying the book. I began reading it that same evening and enjoyed it so much that I did not put it down until the last page was reached. It is a delightful book, easy to read and well written. A thoroughly enjoyable book, it is highly recommended.

The Photographic Society’s exhibition in the Wet Paint Gallery (which used to be Miss Dallon’s shop combined with part of the old Leinster Arms Hotel) is a fine example of the artistic qualities of some of Athy’s finest photographers. Many of the Society’s members are truly artists with cameras, with the ability to capture and reproduce images as good as any created by artists working in different mediums. The Exhibition, which continues for a few weeks, is well worth a visit. The Photographic Society’s annual calendar is also on sale and it again shows twelve examples of the Society’s members best photographic work in and around Athy. It will make a wonderful gift for Christmas, especially for Athy people living abroad.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Remembering our war dead

Her mother wore a poppy every Remembrance Sunday. She wore it around the house but seldom ventured outside the door that particular Sunday as she would ordinarily do every other day of the year. ‘Why do you wear that thing mother?’ her young daughter asked, her enquiry born of curiosity as much as a growing awareness of a young Free Stater’s dislike of emblems of a failed empire.

Some years were to pass before the mother explained to her daughter why she wore the poppy. ‘It’s to remember my young brother Michael – he was just 19 years of age when he died’. Michael Territt’s sister would continue to remember her long lost young brother, even as she grew into old age. For years she treasured the last poppy she was able to buy on the streets of Athy, keeping it for that one Sunday each year when with hundreds of other mothers and sisters her thoughts turned to a time when young men left Athy with high spirits never to return.

Michael Territt died of his wounds in Flanders on 22nd June 1916, aged 19 years. He had enlisted in the Dublin Fusiliers the previous year, exchanging the Territt family home in Chapel Lane, Athy for the Military Barracks in Naas. He landed in Gallipoli in October 1915 and left the following January for Alexandria before travelling on to France. Wounded at Mailly Wood, Flanders on 20th June 1916 he died two days later. Michael Territt is buried in Mailly – Maillet Communal Cemetery and the army records show that he was survived by his mother Mrs. M.A. Territt of Chapel Lane, Athy. There was no mention of his brothers or sisters.

The story of Michael Joseph Territt and his part in the first World War is the same story told and retold hundreds of times in every town and village in Ireland. The euphoria of war time exploits shorn of the depravity of death and mangled bodies was in itself sufficient encouragement for young Irish men to enlist after August 1914. The boredom of unemployment, coupled with the opportunity for travel overseas, was more than enough to encourage even the most reluctant to don the khaki and shoulder the much vaunted Lee Enfield. Much encouragement came from the local Church and civic leaders, who from a recruiting platform positioned under the Town Hall clock in Emily Square called on the young local men to join the ranks, ‘to fight the Hun’ – ‘to fight for the cause of little Belgium’. The Parish Priest and the Chairman of the Urban District Council led the call for local recruits and the local men joined up in their hundreds. Those who enlisted were paraded to the local railway station behind the Leinster Street Fife and Drum Band, cheered on by the women folk of the town. The people of Athy it seemed shared a common mission, seldom if ever before matched or ever again equalled. There were a few disapproving voices, but only a very small minority who caught up in the Gaelic League Movement saw little reason to support the country which had denied Home Rule to the Irish people.

No one questioned the decision of the young men who volunteered to serve abroad following the declaration of war. No one questioned their motives and certainly no one questioned their allegiance to the country of their birth. The young men of Athy left these shores with the support and with the good wishes of those they left behind.

What happened while they were away fighting and dying in the mud of Flanders fields to turn that support into disapproval, culminating at the end of war into denial? When those young men who were fortunate to survive the war returned home after November 1918 they came back to a country which had experienced the Easter Rebellion of 1916. This was soon followed by the execution of its leaders and a shift in support for the emerging Sinn Fein organisation left the returning soldiers isolated and cut adrift from the public support they had previously enjoyed. As they returned to their homes having spent up to four years experiencing the horrors of war torn Europe these battle hardened young men found themselves, not as war heroes as they might have expected, but as an embarrassing reminder of an earlier failed parliamentary movement for Home Rule.

I remember as a young lad a number of local men who decades after the war were still suffering the effects of gas poisoning and other injuries sustained in France and Flanders. They were a forgotten generation, forgotten not just by local Church and civic leaders who had encouraged them to enlist, but also forgotten, indeed positively ignored, by a townspeople, some of whom actively, most however passively, had supported the drive for Irish independence. If the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War were difficult times for surviving Irish soldiers of World War I (some of whom were summarily executed), the post Independence period also brought its difficulties. The comradeship of war kept alive in British Legion halls throughout Ireland and by the annual Remembrance Sunday ceremonies held throughout the Free State in the 1920s disappeared soon after the election of the first Fianna Fáil government in 1932. De Valera’s nation building had no place of honour for the men of 1914-18.

It was a later generation, more tolerant and perhaps less prejudiced, which sought to recover for Irish history a past generation’s part in our common history. Twenty or so years ago it was inconceivable that any Irish person would wear a poppy in public on Remembrance Sunday or that any form of ceremony would be held in an Irish provincial town to commemorate the men who died in the First World War. But it did happen here in Athy and I am proud to say that I was part of a small group who publicly acknowledged the part that a past but forgotten generation of Athy men played in the ever developing history of Athy.

In St. Michael’s old Cemetery are the graves of six Athy soldiers who died at home during World War I. On next Sunday, 8th November at 3.00 p.m., a short ceremony will take place in St. Michael’s cemetery to honour the memory of all those men from Athy and district who died in the Great War. Many of those men have no known grave. Others like Michael Territt lie in graves close to where they died in battle. Remembrance Sunday is the one day in the yearly calendar when we can show our respects for our town’s war dead. I hope you can join in the Remembrance ceremony in St. Michael’s next Sunday at 3.30 p.m.

Last week Johnny Timpson passed away after a long battle with illness. He attended the Christian Brothers Schools in St. John’s Lane where he excelled as a Latin scholar and was a fine footballer in his day. Johnny came from an old Athy family and like many of those families he too had members of his extended family who fought and died in World War I.

Like me, Johnny was born of a generation which was not decimated by war. Michael Territt and his generation bore the brunt of war and in return got little or no appreciation for what they and their families suffered. We can still make amends for that omission.