The Swiss philosopher Amiel wrote “ To know how to grow old is the master work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living”. One man who excelled in the art of living was Michael Wall of Chanterlands who died on Christmas Eve, having reached 96 years of age. He was born on the 9th September 1920 in the second year of the Irish War of Independence. A native of Ballywalter, near to the Mayo town of Ballinrobe, he once recounted to me how his baby cot concealed a revolver from a search party of Black and Tans who raided his parents home. Michael was very proud of Mayo’s involvement in the War of Independence and of his father’s role in that struggle.
It is probably a misleading word to apply to that conflict, implying as it does one army fighting against another. The Independence struggle of the Irish Republicans which is deemed to have commenced with the killing of two Irish born R.I.C. men at Soloheadbeg, Co. Tipperary on the 21st January 1919 is probably more accurately termed “Guerilla Warfare”.
Michael’s attachment to his native County of Mayo never palled despite the fact that his family migrated to County Laois in 1929 following his parents purchase of a farm in the midland county. Michael was the eldest of four sons and two daughters born to Patrick and Mary Wall. His father was at one time Clerk to the Sinn Fein Court which sat in Claremorris presided over by local solicitor Conor Maguire. Conor Maguire would later become the Irish Chief Justice and by happy coincidence his son Bryan on becoming a dispensary doctor in County Kildare, came to live in the same neighbourhood of Athy as the Mayo born Michael Wall.
I was privileged to know Michael Wall since 1982 when I returned to live in Athy after an absence of 21 years. Michael himself came to Athy in 1963 when he took up the position of Horticultural Instructor in nearby County Laois. He had attended Albert College in Dublin from where he had qualified as a Horticulturalist. He was one of the earliest members of Athy Lions Club and served for almost 40 years as an officer and a member of that charitable organisation. A founder member of Athy Gymnastics Club, Michael was also involved with Jerry Carbery and Des Perry in setting up one of Athy’s earliest canoe clubs.
Apart from our common interest in Irish history, Michael and myself shared an interest in Irish politics. Our own politics were at opposite ends of the political scale. His being Fine Gael as against my support for Fianna Fail. Michael often chided me failing to understand how “an intelligent man could be a member of Fianna Fail”. It was a moot point, particularly when discussions settled on the deValera governments’ disgraceful treatment of Leitrim’s Jimmy Gralton and the deValera sleight of hand in transferring Irish Americans financial donations for the Irish Republican cause to the since failed newspaper empire which continues to be controlled by a deValera.
Michael, as I always told him, remained my favourite “blueshirt” given that on the two occasions I stood for election as a Fianna Fail candidate, he voted for the only times in his life, for a candidate whose political views he did not share. In case anyone reading this takes offence to my use of the term “blueshirt”, note that Michael never did, as we both had a well grounded understanding of the history of Irish political parties.
Michael was blessed with 31 happy years of retirement which he devoted to his family and his beloved garden. I benefitted on many occasions from his horticultural advice and his love of plants and I recall his friendship with admiration and deepest satisfaction. To his wife Moya and to his children I extend my deepest sympathy realising that his legacy remains in the wonderful children Moya and Michael raised to adulthood and of which both were justifiably proud.
The Christmas period just ended and also saw the passing of Tom Flood of Church Road whose father and uncles played a very prominent part in the struggle for Irish Independence. Tom was earlier in the year predeceased by his older brother Danny who will be remembered as one of the Kildare footballing heroes of the 1950’s. Their father, Tom Flood and his brothers, all natives of Dublin City were prominent members of the Dublin Brigade old I.R.A. An uncle, Frank Flood, who was executed on the 14th day of March 1921 was one of the “forgotten ten” whose bodies were removed from Mountjoy Jail on 14th October 2001for burial in Glasnevin Cemetery. Liam Callan of Ardreigh, like Michael Wall, died after a long life as did Ettie O’Brien of Fontstown and her sister Peggy Molloy of Booleigh. Also lost to us in recent days were Mary Gray of Ardreigh and Veronica Bradley of Foxhill.
Our sympathies go to all those who were bereaved over the Christmas period.