Tuesday, July 30, 2013

James Durney's 'The War of Independence in Kildare' and Dr. Jack Carter's 'Land Crime and Politics in Queens County'

James Durney’s latest book ‘The War of Independence in Kildare’ is a welcome addition to the growing list of publications dealing with that part of our history.  No doubt as we enter a decade of centenary commemorations (mind you not celebrations) further books will be added to the growing Irish history library of that era.

The book published by Mercier Press sets down the principal military events which occurred in County Kildare during the 1919-1921 period, the details of which have been extracted in the main from local newspapers.  In doing so and by referencing the sources the author has provided a worthwhile background against which further research can be undertaken.  He makes the valid point that the strength of the British Army presence in the County of Kildare made it extremely difficult for local Republicans to mount an effective campaign on the lines of the guerrilla tactics which proved so successful in the South West of the country.  Nevertheless he concludes that Kildare County did play an effective role in the War of Independence, an opinion with which any person familiar with that period could hardly disagree.

On reading the book I was of course particularly anxious to see the many references to Athy and was pleased to find that Mercier Press and the author have done an excellent job in producing the index.  This is a book which anyone interested in our shared history should read.  

Another book recently published is Dr. Jack Carter’s ‘Land Crime and Politics in Queens County 1882-1916’.  Jack Carter has previously published ‘The Land War and Its Leaders in Queens County 1879-1882’ and ‘Murders in the Midlands 1862-1915’, as well as ‘The Built Curiosities of Laois – 15 Tours’.  His latest book is a very detailed and well researched account of the happenings in County Laois centred around the Luggacurran evictions in which Athy people and the town itself played a not insignificant part.  It’s a book which should be in every local household. 

Going back to James Durney’s book I have recently come across a report in the Cork Examiner of the 6th of March 1923 of an event in Athy which had not previously been referred to in any publication concerning the Civil War.  How much more relevant material is still out there unnoticed it is difficult to say but it would be wrong to assume that our knowledge and understanding of the events of 1919-1923 cannot be improved by further research.  The report under the headline ‘Scenes in Athy’ and the sub headings ‘Stores Set Ablaze’ and ‘Goods taken from Shops’ reads:-

            ‘The town of Athy was invaded by a large party of armed men – about sixty – On Saturday morning.  They arrived in motors.  At the railway station they burst in the door of the station-house, entered the stationmaster’s office, burst open drawers, destroyed all books, correspondence, etc. and tore down the station clock and lamps.  The same process was gone through in the parcel office.  The goods store which contained a large quantity of stuff, some, it is said, consigned to local traders, was next visited and set on fire, also the signal cabin, both of which were smouldering at 10 p.m.  The instruments of the signal cabin were just a heap of scrap iron.  Mr. O’Neill, stationmaster, went out and was taken away by the raiders, who told his son that they were bringing his father to the doctor as he had taken ill.  Mr. O’Neill was brought to Dr. Kilbride’s residence, and from there to a hospital.  Fearing the station house would be fired, Mrs. O’Neill pleaded with the raiders not to fire the office as her children were asleep in the room overhead.  They did not set fire to the office.  They left at 4.15 a.m.

One party of raiders broke the window of the Post Office and gained entrance.  They smashed the telephone and telegraph instruments, tore up all official papers and burned on the street all the old age pension books and a small quantity of stamps.  Fortunately they could not gain entrance to the sorting office, so the mails were safe.  Entrance to the temporary quarters of the Civic Guard was obtained by one part of the invaders, after repeated demands for admission, about 12.30 p.m.  The uniforms, batons and bedding were taken and burned in the square.  The bicycles of the guard were also taken, and they were cautioned not to leave the place for two hours.

Another detachment entered Mr. Shaw’s drapery establishment, and demanded and obtained half a dozen waterproofs, skirts, socks, sports coats, riding breeches, leggings and boots.  They were courteous, stated their wants and touched nothing.  Mr. Miley’s halfdoor was forced, and Mr. Miley was given an order for groceries, which he made up and handed over.  The value of the groceries was about £10.  A motor was taken from Mr. Maxwell’s garage and another from the foundry.  The raiders finally called at Mr. Donegan’s shop and took cigarettes.’

Irish history, or at least that part of it which encompasses the post 1916 period and ends with the Civil War, will be rigorously examined and re-examined over the next decade.  Dr. Jack Carter’s and James Durney’s books have surely whetted our appetite for the many books and publications on various aspects of that history which will be available over the next few years.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

World War I Remembrance

In Athy, where 218 men from the town and the surrounding district died during the 1914/18 war, a few men came together on Remembrance Sunday 1985 to publically commemorate for the first time in over 50 years the local men who had died in the war.  The ceremony was held in the local cemetery where six World War I soldiers who died at home were buried and I am proud to say that the Remembrance Sunday commemorations have been held every year since then, with ever growing numbers attending.  So far as I have been able to ascertain this small initiative in the South Kildare town would be repeated elsewhere and led to a general acceptance that people from both political traditions who died in World War I should be honoured.

It is often claimed that commemorations in Northern Ireland were organised by and large on religious or political grounds for many years.  For many Catholic families who had lost sons or fathers in the war, collective commemoration in public was not deemed appropriate, particularly in nationalist areas of Belfast.  For many Catholics in the North the 1914/18 commemorations were viewed as Loyalist events and the war itself as a futile conflict to be forgotten.  Indeed participation in the annual commemoration events was seen as a badge of loyalty.  The divergence was noticeable from the first Armistice Day commemoration held on the 1st of November 1919 where in Belfast businesses stopped for two minutes silence at 11.00 a.m.  At the same time there was no mass observation in Derry city.  In Dublin a sizeable demonstration was held on that first anniversary, but it was accompanied by rowdy scenes, with clashes between Unionist and Nationalist supporters.  The newspapers reported ‘hardly had the Trinity students concluded the singing of “God Save the King” when a crowd of young, mostly students from the National University, appeared in College Green shouting and singing the Soldiers Song.  A scene of wild disorder followed. 

In 1966 the Taoiseach Sean Lemass, a one time critic of remembrance ceremonies in Ireland, acknowledged that Irish men who had enlisted in the British Army during World War I ‘were motivated by the highest purpose and died in their tens of thousands in Flanders and Gallipoli believing they were giving their lives in the cause of human liberty everywhere, not excluding Ireland.’

One of the first cross community approaches in Northern Ireland in retelling the 1914/18 story in a bipartisan way was seen in a 1993 publication by the West Belfast Farset Youth and Community Development Project which told of the Somme story as one involving both the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Division.  It was after all the Battle of the Somme which brought Republicans and Loyalists together as one and where both traditions suffered huge losses fighting in a common cause.  Despite this the Somme had always been seen by Loyalists as a 36th Ulster Division conflict which was highlighted on many Orange Lodge banners as central to loyalism.  The 1993 project recognised Republican involvement and losses on the Somme for what was the first time in the North’s modern history.

The IRA ceasefire in 1994 prompted the SDLP in Belfast to attend as a body for the first time Remembrance Sunday commemorations in that city.  That same year the SDLP took part in commemoration ceremonies in Armagh, Omagh and Enniskillen.  The SDLP Mayor of Derry, John Kerr, was the first Mayor to lay a wreath during the 1995 ceremonies in Derry and two years later Belfast’s first nationalist Mayor, Alban Maginness, participated in the city’s remembrance ceremonies.  He was accompanied by the Lord Mayor of Dublin when laying a poppy wreath during the Somme commemorations on the 1st of July. 

The first cross border approach to joint commemoration resulted in the opening of the island of Ireland Peace Park at Messines in 1998 by the English, Irish and Belgium Heads of State.  This was an initiative by Glen Barr and Paddy Harte, then a Fine Gael T.D.  The Park with the round tower commemorates Loyalist and Republican involvement at Messines in June 1917 when they fought side by side as part of the 10th, 16th and 36th Divisions.

Perhaps one of the most far reaching participations in Remembrance Sunday events in recent years was that of Belfast’s first Sinn Fein Mayor Alex Maskey in 2002.  His participation and that of all the other participants I have mentioned was a recognition long overdue that people from both traditions had shared the losses and sacrifices which marked the 1914/18 war.

Nevertheless First World War commemoration will remain a potentially controversial subject for some time to come given its roots and the complexities of what is a contested past. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rev. J.J. Malone

The Geelong Advertiser of Saturday 17th July 1948 carried the following death notice, ‘Malone on July 16th 1948 at Mercy Hospital Melbourne, Very Rev. J.J. Malone, Parish Priest of Ashby (Geelong) in his 83rd year and 60th year of priesthood loving brother of Patrick (deceased), Thomas (deceased), Michael (deceased), Mary (deceased) and John of Rockdale, Sydney.  Beloved Uncle of Sr. Gertrude (Sister of Charity Sydney) and of Mrs. Matt Browne (Geelong).  Requiescat in Pace.’

Joseph James Malone was a native of Dunbrin, Athy and over many years I had become familiar with his poetry which first appeared in Irish papers and magazines of the latter part of the 19th century including United Ireland, Shamrock and Irish Fireside.  His contribution to Irish poetry was noted by David O’Donoghue in the third part of his biographical dictionary of ‘The Poets of Ireland’ which issued in 1893.  In Australia Fr. Malone was noted for his literary interests as a poet, essay writer and journalist.

He was born in Dunbrin in 1863 and after attending primary school at Shanganaghmore he became a pupil of the Christian Brothers in Athy.  Entering the Catholic seminary he was ordained at Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, Dublin on 29th June 1899.  He arrived in Melbourne two days before the following Christmas and served as a curate in a number of parishes before being appointed Parish Priest of Daylesford in 1901. 

In 1906 he took a year’s sabbatical leave and left Melbourne in February 1907 in the company of a number of priest friends, visiting Egypt and the Holy Land on his way to Ireland and the United States on the return journey.  His travels were recorded in an Australian Catholic magazine and proved so popular that they were published in book form in 1910 under the title ‘The Purple East’.  Fr. Malone’s arrival in Athy came soon after the death of his brother Professor Malone who had passed away in Cork on 24th November 1906, aged 41 years.  Professor Malone was the father of Eamon Malone, the Irish Republican who for a time was Commander of the Carlow/Kildare I.R.A. Brigade during the War of Independence.  While he was Parish Priest of Daylesford Fr. Malone wrote a number of Australian Catholic Truth Society pamphlets. 

In 1913 he was appointed Parish Priest of Clifton Hall and remembering the part played by the Irish Christian Brothers in his early education he persuaded the Christian Brothers to open a school in his new parish.  In 1914 his first book of poetry ‘Wide Briar and Wattle Bloom’ was published, bringing together a collection of poetry which had appeared in various magazines and publications over the previous 25 years.  The book title expressed his dual devotion to Ireland and Australia and the poetic themes included references to his native home and the River Barrow.

The following year his book of essays on Irish and Australian poets, ‘Talks About Poets and Poetry’ was published.  It included a masterful assessment of the Australian poets, Adam Gordon and Henry Kendall who Fr. Malone had heard of long before he left Ireland and whom he described as ‘the young and daring muses that had put spurs into Pegasus.’ 

In 1919 he transferred to the Parish of Ashby where he would remain for the rest of his life.  In 1927 he took another 12 months sabbatical leave and for the last time visited places in and around Barrowhouse which had figured prominently in his poetry.

Special celebrations were held in 1939 on the 50th anniversary of his ordination and when he died in 1948 he was the senior priest in the Irish diocese of Melbourne, with 60 year’s service as a priest. 

The Geelong Advertiser on 17th July 1948 wrote of the Irish priest orator and poet, ‘perhaps it does not occur to many of the Geelong citizens who observed Fr. Malone taking his daily stroll with his dogs that behind his ostentatious but distinctly charming manner is an ever growing intellectual fire, for his fame as an orator, poet and prose writer is not confined to Victoria or Australia.  For many years he has enjoyed the enviable reputation of being the most eloquent Roman Catholic pulpit orator in the State.’

At his requiem mass Archbishop Mannix said, ‘Fr. Malone was a man of rare gifts of deep and wide cultural great learning.  A versatile writer, he gave a distinction and charm to almost any subject he touched.  He was a poet of no mean accomplishment.  He was a preacher of rare distinction with an unlaboured flow of natural eloquence that always filled his churches and charmed and enriched his hearers.  Yet with all his gifts he was a simple natural, humorous, kindly, hospitable man.  He was loved even for those foibles and eccentricities which sometimes give distinction and charm to those more highly gifted than their fellows.’

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Brigid Maher - Athy and Toronto

It was a chance meeting on a street in Toronto which brought us together.  I had arrived in the Canadian city the previous evening and was out early in the morning with a map in hand to find my bearings as the city folk went about their business.  A bystander’s offer of help was received with gratitude and was soon followed by the oft asked question ‘what part of Ireland are you from?’  Generally the questioner’s knowledge of our island extends no further than the political division between Northern Ireland and the South, but in this case the young man who asked the question seemed to know our country quite well.  My usual answer is to indicate that I come from ‘a small town south of Dublin’, a reply which usually satisfies most enquirers, but to my amazement my good samaritan was able to identify with Athy.  His mother I discovered was from the South Kildare town, having emigrated to Toronto with her sister in 1954. 

What an amazing coincidence on talking to the first person I met on the streets of Toronto to find that he was a son of Brigid Maher who left No. 2 Minch’s Terrace almost 60 years ago.  George Geddes was on his way to work and we stepped on to the same trolley car and continued our conversation for a short while as I scribbled notes and names on my transit map.  It was a great pleasure to meet the young man whose knowledge of Athy was far greater than one might expect and was apparently based on his mother’s memories of her home town.

His mother Brigid Maher was daughter of Ellen and James Maher, formerly of Higginsons Lane, who following the slum clearance programmes of the early 1930s moved into their new home at Minch’s Terrace.  James Maher who had served overseas during World War 1 died aged 49 years in 1937 and was survived by his widow Ellen and six children, only one of whom, Jim, would continue to live in the town of his birth.  Jim worked in the local Asbestos factory and died unmarried in 1975, aged 47 years.  His sisters Brigid and Margaret emigrated to Canada in 1954 where both eventually married and settled down in Toronto city.  Brigid died some years ago while her sister Margaret is still living in the Canadian city.  Another sister, Mollie, also emigrated and she spent some years in London and Toronto before returning to her home town of Athy where she lived for a while in the gate lodge of Ardreigh House.  Mollie died in 1997, aged 67 years.  Her siblings, Lowry and Nellie, also emigrated, both taking the emigrant boat to England and both took up residence in Manchester where Lowry still lives.  The Torontonian George Geddes was able to talk to me with affection of No. 2 Minch’s Terrace which he had visited during his Granny’s lifetime and where John Shaughnessy, son of his Aunt Nellie, is now living. 

The emigrant story of the Maher family is typical of many Athy families of the past.  The current recession has awakened memories of the mass emigration of the 1950s as I found when later on my short visit to Canada I was served by Stephanie Dargan Moore of Newbridge in Earls Restaurant next door to Vancouver’s Supreme Court.  Stephanie left Newbridge two years ago and in her own words ‘loves Vancouver’ where two of her friends are Sinead Howe and Emmet Doyle from Athy.

Canada has received many Irish emigrants over the years including those who survived the dangerous Atlantic sea crossing during and after the Great Famine.  During the worst years of the Famine 365,000 Irish men, women and children arrived in Canada.  Between May and October 1847 38,000 starving Irish arrived on Toronto’s Lake Ontario shore and more than 1,000 of the new arrivals died before the summer had ended. 

On the 150th anniversary of ‘Black ‘47’ President McAleese opened a waterfront park in Toronto dedicated to Irish Famine victims.  The Ireland Park houses a wall made of Irish limestone, with the names of the dead Irish emigrants who could be identified, carved on it.  It also contains five bronze figures sculpted by Rowan Gillespie depicting Famine victims to mirror the Famine figures he sculpted for the Famine memorial at Dublin Port.  The park, funded by the Irish and Canadian Governments with some private donations, unfortunately has been closed since 2010 due to building and road works on the waterfront.  Nevertheless the impressive memorial wall was just about visible when I tried to access the park. 

In this year of the Gathering I have received an increasing number of enquiries from abroad relating to Athy families of the past.  With each enquiry generally comes a good deal of family information which is proving useful in documenting the town’s story.  The unexpected meeting with George Geddes on a Toronto street has afforded me a unique opportunity to document the emigrant story of one Athy family.