Amazing Grace: Cruel Slave Trader finds safe haven in Lough Swilly

Amazing Grace – Probably the best known hymn in the English speaking world! Performed,it is estimated, about 10 million times every year, it is loved by folk singers, protest movements, church congregations, pipe bands, bag pipers and choirs the world over. Often thought to be an  African American Spiritual, it was in fact written by an Englishman John Newton, a slave trader who at one time found refuge from a storm  in the sheltered waters of Lough Swilly in north Donegal, Ireland,where he penned the first verse.

Newton_j

John Newton in later life (image Wikipedia)

John Newton was born in 1725 in Wapping,London, England, the son of a shipmaster. His seagoing career began at the age of 11 when he first sailed with his father. At the age of 18 he was press-ganged into the Royal Navy and served aboard the HMS Harwich. At his own request some time later, he transferred to the Pegasus heading for West Africa. Pegasus was a slave trader and was in all probability plying the triangular route,sailing from Liverpool towards the west coast of Africa where one commodity was traded for another – in this case goods such as textiles and rum were traded for humans. Crossing the Atlantic to the Caribbean Islands and North Americas, the so-called ‘Middle Passage’ these human ‘commodities’ were then sold, the ship reloaded with sugar,cotton, tobacco  then sailed back to its Liverpool base.

Typical triangular trade route  (Image Wikipedia licenced Creative Commons)

Typical triangular trade route (Image Commons Wikimedia)

Newton was a deeply unpopular man. He was loudmouthed and rebellious,given to profanity and heavy drinking. He was disliked so much by those on board the Pegasus that they abandoned him to a slave dealer in West Africa. Here in Sierra Leone he had a miserable time. He described his humiliating existence as being a ‘servant of slaves’. It was during this period that he began to show a passing interest in Christianity. In 1748 he was rescued  by the captain of the Greyhound, probably at the instigation of his father who had asked the captain to keep a look out for him. However,on March 10,1748, en route back to Liverpool,the Greyhound encountered a violent storm off the coast of Ireland. She was relentlessly pounded by heavy seas for weeks on end. Holed and taking on water. Newton pleaded with God to spare him and the crew. But the terror continued for a number of weeks, as the damaged Greyhound drifted helplessly and food supplies ran low. Newton later wrote in his autobiography, ”An Authentic Narrative”

‘We saw the island of Tory and the next day anchored in Lough Swilly in Ireland. This was the 8th day of April, just four weeks after the damage we sustained from the sea. Then we came into this port, our very last victuals was boiling in the pot; and before we had been there two hours, the wind began to blow with great violence. If we had continued at sea that night in our shattered condition, we must have gone to the bottom. About this time I began to know that there is a God that hears and answers prayers‘.

While her crew enjoyed the hospitality of the locals who lived on the Lough, local tradesmen set about repairing the Greyhound. Newton attended church at nearby Derry/Londonderry and it is thought that he penned the first verse of Amazing Grace while at Lough Swilly.

Amazing Grace! How Sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind but now I see.

For the rest of his life, Newton marked March 10th as the date on which he was converted to Christianity.

The Sheltered waters of Lough Swilly (Image  Boyd Gray Creative Commons Licensed for reuse)

The Sheltered waters of Lough Swilly (Image Boyd Gray Creative Commons)

However, conversion to Christianity did not divert Newton from his human trafficking trade. For the next number of years, he sailed on the slave ships working the ‘triangle’ route between Liverpool, Africa and the West Indies eventually captaining his own ships. He was not in any way kind to his captives. He reputedly had guns trained on them to maintain order,or placed them in thumbscrews to keep them quiet.He did not feel there was any conflict between trading slaves and being a christian and indeed this was the widely held belief in the 18th Century. In 1754 he had a serious health scare while at St Kitts, an island in the West Indies. This experience deepened his faith further, as he was once again saved from death. He resolved while here to enter the church.  His last captaincy was in 1754, but for years afterwards he continued to invest in the slave trade. Meanwhile,his religious convictions grew deeper until finally, in 1764, he was accepted by the Church of England and became curate for the parish of Olney in Buckinghamshire in England where he was based for the next 16 years. Newton developed a reputation as an inspirational orator and people thronged to his little church to hear him speak. It was here that he met the poet William Cowper and they collaborated in producing the world famous Olney Hymns, published in 1779. Newton’s Amazing Grace was included in the hymnal. The tune is unknown but it bears a strong resemblance to a West African ‘sorrow chant’or lament, which Newton may often have heard as the human cargo was being loaded up.

Newton Memorial  Window at Olney Church

Newton Memorial Window at Olney Church

In 1780, Newton was transferred to the London City parish of St Mary Woolnoth. This church is in Lombard Street and was familiar to me when I worked in the City of London.It has survived a number of attempts to have it demolished, including one when the underground rail system was going beneath it. There was public outcry, and the railway company had to be satisfied with putting the lift shafts for Bank Underground station directly under the floor.  It is now a listed building.

Church of St Mary Woolnoth, in the city of London.  (Image  Wikipedia)

Church of St Mary Woolnoth, in the city of London. (Image Wikipedia)

Among Newton’s parishioners there was William Wilberforce a young member of parliament  who had been a recent convert. They became firm friends. Newton counselled Wilberforce to remain in politics and use his new found beliefs to improve the world. This Wilberfoce did with “with increased diligence and conscientiousness”. Wilberforce spearheaded the cause of  the abolition of slavery in the House of Commons from 1789, no doubt in part influenced by Newton’s 1788 publication ‘Thoughts upon the Slave Trade’ which was a hard hitting account of the misery experienced by the human cargo, in particular highlighting the dreadful conditions on the ‘Middle Passage’. Newton sent a copy of his pamphlet to every member of Parliament and it became very popular. In it he stated: ‘It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders‘.

Official medallion of the British Anti-Slavery Society (1795) Produced by Wedgewood Factory. (Image Wikimedia)

Official medallion of the British Anti-Slavery Society (1795) Produced by Wedgewood Factory. (Image Wikimedia)

Newton lived to see the enactment the Slave Trade Act in 1807,which declared the slave trade illegal in the British Empire, but only just. In frail health he died just months afterwards on December 21st 1807. He wrote his own epitaph which is on a plaque at St Mary Woolnoth:

JOHN NEWTON, Clerk

Once an infidel and libertine

A servant of slaves in Africa,

Was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour

JESUS CHRIST,

restored, pardoned and appointed to preach

the Gospel which he had long laboured to destroy.

He ministered,

Near sixteen years in Olney, in Bucks,

And twenty eight years in this Church.

Originally interred at St Mary Woolnoth, John Newton and his wife,who had predeceased him,were re interred at Olney in 1893, at the little Church where he began his religious life. His epitaph is also inscribed on his tombstone there. This church has  beautiful stained glass windows which portray the Greyhound – one being tossed in a wild sea, the other safely at Lough Swilly.

 

 

The island of St Kitts opened an Amazing Grace Experience in 2014, dedicated to telling the story of John Newton, who traded slaves for sugar on the island.

A newly founded  Amazing Grace Festival centred in Buncrana on Lough Swilly takes place annually to mark John Newton’s arrival on April 8th 1748. The festival features fun and uplifting events for all ages including history, music, dance, arts and crafts, exhibitions, faith stories, and  more.

Everyone has their own favourite rendition of Amazing Grace – this one by Judy Collins,  is mine.

References

http://www.johnnewton.org

http://www.culturenorthernireland.org/

https://www.awesomestories.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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To tell of times that were..

Forget-me-not. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Forget-me-not. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Recently  I had news of the death of a lady  from my home village in County Donegal. Having moved away many years ago, I had met her on perhaps two or three occasions in the past decade or so. Yet the news of her death made me feel particularly sorrowful. As the days passed and memories flooded back, I came to realize that the reason for my sadness was that her passing more or less closes the curtain on the memory of our late father’s fun-filled younger days over 70 years ago in that relatively isolated Donegal village.

Dad was born in 1921, the third of 5 children, each separated in age by 2 years. As electrification had not yet arrived, candles,oil filled Tilley lamps and blazing turf fires lit the long winter evenings of their youth. Cars too were scarce and bicycles – often the ‘high Nelly’ type were the preferred mode of transport. In a small community young folk made their own  entertainment. There were three Gallagher families in particular that forged deep and life long relationships, (although our family was not related to the other two). With others in the village they played badminton in the local hall, played golf on Logue’s 9 hole golf course, attended horse racing on the strand, played cards, kicked football on the Lee, told stories by the fireside, went out on the Mummers at Christmas and enjoyed the annual arrival of Duffy’s Circus. Touring repertory and variety players would arrive from time to time and put on shows that would be remembered for months afterwards.

Poetry was a big part of their lives and they tried to outdo one another with great recitations! Poetry came easily to them as they had to learn it by rote at school from the age of about 7 or  8, in much the same way as we learned our times tables in later years.The poems our father recited and quoted on a regular basis included

There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu,

There’s a little marble cross below the town;

There’s a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew,

And the Yellow God forever gazes down.

(The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God , by J Milton Hayes)

And..

No stir in the air, no stir in the sea,

The Ship was still as she could be;

Her sails from heaven received no motion,

Her keel was steady in the ocean.

Without either sign or sound of their shock,

The waves flow’d over the Inchcape Rock;

So little they rose, so little they fell,

They did not move the Inchcape Bell.

(Inchcape Rock by Robert Southey )

And, from  Tennyson’s ”Charge of the Light Brigade”:

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
(My father was still reciting this poem to my son, almost 80 years after he learned it).

In the 1920s and 1930s these young folk had a small band that played at dances in the local hall. Much of their musical  inspiration came from a crackly valve wireless that was run off a wet battery,like the one that filled the deep sill of our kitchen window.

I recall my father telling me how good a badminton player Annie was, but it was her reputation as a pianist that was second to none. He often spoke of their great music sessions. He played drums that were still in our house decades later. He had the full kit – snare drum, cymbals, drumsticks, drum brushes, the wooden block and the big base drum with pedals that operated the wooly beater. ”Top of the Pops” was different back then  –  if they heard a song or tune on the wireless that they liked, they sent away to McCullough Pigot in Dublin for the sheet music.

Wind up gramophone

Wind up gramophone (Image Wikimedia commons)

Shellac gramophone records were ordered to play on their wind up gramophone players so they all learned the melody and the lyrics. Dad was a good singer and he sang away to himself for all of his life! One of his favourite songs  was Abdul Abulbul Amir. We children were totally mesmerized by the exotic sounding names and the incomprehensible words, – such as Mameluke, skibouk, and truculent sneers, but that only added to our glee on hearing him sing! Written in 1877 by Percy French, one of Ireland’s most prolific songwriters, what appeared to be a light-hearted ditty was in fact a skit on the war between the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire and was a deadly serious tale! The great thing about Abdul Abulbul Amir was that  it sounded equally impressive whether spoken or sung,  and we delighted in either!

On his last visit to his home village in 2005, just eight months before he died, Dad and I  called to see his long time friend Annie. To the best of my recollection her piano had pride of place in her home, but the abiding memory of the day was how they both laughed and laughed as they remembered singing and playing Abdul Abulbul Amir. And so, the reason for my sadness is the evocation of beautiful memories that I saw a decade ago, remembering times stretching  back into the mists of time some 70 years before.

Annie’s love of music was honoured at her funeral with the singing of her favourite song from way back then – not the skittish Abdul Abulbul Amir, but the more appropriate and beautiful Tennessee Waltz that she loved.

Our father had several phrases that he repeated very often.When thinking back on events in his life and on those who were no longer with us, he would say – ”Ah! To tell of times that were…God rest them all.”

God rest them all indeed.

Listen here to ABDUL ABULBUL AMIR sung by Frank Crumit in 1927

Abdul Abulbul Amir Lyrics

The sons of the Prophet are brave men and bold
And quite unaccustomed to fear,
But the bravest by far in the ranks of the Shah,
Was Abdul Abulbul Amir.

Now the heroes were plenty and well known to fame
In the troops that were led by the Czar,
And the bravest of these was a man by the name
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skavar

One day this bold Russian, he shouldered his gun
And donned his most truculent sneer,
Downtown he did go where he trod on the toe
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.

Young man, quote Abdul, has life grown so dull
That you wish to end your career?
Vile infidel know, you have trod on the toe
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.

Quoth Ivan, “My friend, your remarks, in the end,
Will avail you but little, I fear,
For you ne’er will survive to repeat them alive,
Mr. Abdul Abulbul Amir!”

So take your last look at the sunshine and brook
And send your regrets to the Czar
For by this I imply, you are going to die,
Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

Then this bold Mameluke drew his trusty skibouk,
With a cry of ‘Allah Akbar!’
And with murderous intent he ferociously went
For Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

They fought all that night ‘neath the pale yellow moon;
The din, it was heard from afar,
And huge multitudes came, so great was the fame,
Of Abdul and Ivan Skavar.

As Abdul’s long knife was extracting the life,
In fact he was shouting, “Huzzah!”
He felt himself struck by that wily Calmuck,
Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

The Sultan drove by in his red-breasted fly,
Expecting the victor to cheer,
But he only drew nigh to hear the last sigh,
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.

Czar Petrovich, too, in his spectacles blue
Rode up in his new crested car.
He arrived just in time to exchange a last line
With Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

There’s a tomb rises up where the Blue Danube rolls,
And graved there in characters clear,
Is, “Stranger, when passing, oh pray for the soul
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.”

A Muscovite maiden her lone vigil keeps,
“Neath the light of the pale polar star;
And the name that she murmurs as oft as she weeps
Is Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

(many more verses are sometimes quoted)

 

 

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C. Y. O’Connor,a tragic genius

C.Y.O'Connor statue at entrance to Fremantle Port

C.Y.O’Connor statue at entrance to Fremantle Port

At the entrance to Fremantle Harbour, south of Perth, is an imposing statue some 12 feet high, of a man who changed the face of Western Australia during a period of ten years or so at the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries. This is Charles Yelverton O’Connor,Engineer-in-Chief in the colony from 1891 to 1902. At the base of the statue are plaques depicting his most notable engineering achievements – Fremantle Harbour, the Darling Scarp Railway Tunnel, and the Mundaring Weir, the starting point for the world-renowned Goldfields water supply.

Adjacent to the statue is a further tribute from his Engineering peers and the Port Authority.

Revered for his genius,he is commemorated,respected and admired particularly in Western Australia,yet is practically unknown in his native Ireland,his home for 21 years, and a land that remained close to his heart for all of his life.

Gravelmount,Co Meath. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Gravelmount,Co Meath. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Born on January 11, 1843 at Gravelmount House,Castletown,County Meath,Charles Yelverton O’Connor was named after his maternal grandfather Charles O’Keefe,and his grandmother’s family,the Yelvertons of Cork and Tipperary. His father John farmed around Castletown,where the family enjoyed country living in  their beautifully appointed three storey residence. John,working both as a magistrate and a farmer,saw the deprivations brought about by the Famine in his locality. It is said locally that he mortgaged all he had to buy grain and food for his deprived and hungry neighbours. He seems to have run out of money as a result of his benevolence,so in 1850 he moved to a small house in County Waterford. Charles was now aged 6, but it is understood that he,together with his younger sister,stayed in Meath with an aunt, John’s sister,Mrs Martha Garnett of Summerseat, near Clonee. When Charles was older he rejoined his family in Waterford where, according to his biographer Merab Tauman, he attended Bishop Foy’s School in Catherine Street. This is disputed in a more recent work by A.G.Evans who says that he was probably educated at the Waterford Academy. In any event,at the age of 17 Charles expressed an interest in civil engineering and was articled to the engineer John Chaloner Smith who was at that time building railways in Ireland. Between 1859  and 1864,Charles was involved in the construction of various rail links,including the Nenagh Extension,and was Assistant Engineer in charge of the construction of several weirs on the River Bann in the North of Ireland. In 1898 he was to write a letter in which he stated it was here on the Bann that he had ”exceptional opportunity of realising the conditions and forces which had to be dealt with in flood time”

On Christmas Eve 1864,C.Y. O’Connor emigrated to New Zealand where immigration and gold discoveries created a demand for big engineering projects. For the next several years C.Y.as he was known,was involved in identification of routes, constructing roads, bridges and railway lines. He created routes up over steep mountains,across raging rivers and deep gorges,opening up access to the recently discovered goldfields. One of his first projects was the Otira Gorge section of the road to the West Coast goldfields. He was also responsible for several harbour improvements on the rugged west coast,facilitating  increasing coal and timber exports from New Zealand. During some twenty-five years in New Zealand he acquired a reputation as a brilliant engineer who understood the wild and challenging terrain. He also enhanced his reputation as an imaginative organiser and leader. Meanwhile, in 1847,C.Y. married Susan Laetitia Ness from Christchurch and together they had eight children,one of whom,a son,died tragically following a scalding accident in their family home. By 1883 C.Y. had become under-secretary for public works, a position he held until 1890 when he was apparently demoted in a reorganization, becoming marine engineer for all of New Zealand. Disgruntled by this, he began to look elsewhere for employment.

C.Y and Susan OConnor  in 1865

C.Y and Susan in 1865 (State Library of Western Australia)

In 1891 C.Y. O’Connor was invited by John Forrest the first Premier of Western Australia to become Engineer in Chief  for the colony and General Manager of government railways. Western Australia occupies about 1/3rd of the entire vast Australian Continent and at  this time had a population of about 50,000. Forrest himself had been an explorer and surveyor. He had a grand vision for the emerging colony with its vast mineral resources,that included a major rail terminus in Perth,the development of Fremantle as the port-of-call for all overseas mail and passenger services and provision of water supplies and essential services to the emerging  agricultural communities. C.Y O ‘Connor was the man who would make this vision a reality.

At Fremantle,hitherto served only by a long timber jetty,O’Connor carried out meticulous research and calculations and decided that the stone bar obstruction at the mouth of the Swan River could be removed and a large sheltered deep water harbour could be created within budget. The harbour dredging began in 1892; the stone barrier was blasted,land was reclaimed to allow for the quays and warehousing. On May 4,1897 the harbour was officially opened with  the SS Sultan,a 2,063 ton steamer steaming into port,marking the beginning of a new era in Western Australia. On July 23rd,1897 the Prince of Wales,on behalf of Queen Victoria invested O’Connor with the insignia of the order of Companion of St.Michael and St.George; principally in recognition of his outstanding Fremantle Harbour construction project. Since these early days the harbour has seen some changes and has been extended,but the basic structure as designed by C.Y. O’Connor remains largely unaltered to this day.

When ‘The Chief’ as he became known,took over as Engineer for the state and General Manager of Government Railways less than 200 miles of rail was in public ownership and it was operating at a loss. Gold was being discovered in the interior and there was a great need to deliver people and all their needs to remote areas. During the 5 and half years that he had charge of the railways,he oversaw the construction of new lines,standardized and upgraded existing ones,invested in new rolling stock, restructured the maintenance and repair depots and returned the railway to profit. It was while working at the rail maintenance sheds that he became aware of the tough working conditions and poor pay of the men here. While in New Zealand he had also been known for his concern for workers and his leadership abilities. It was said that he was patient and encouraging of new men starting out on their careers, but that while compassionate and understanding  he was rigorous in his standards. One of the new young men he appointed as assistant surveyor in Western Australia in 1893 was W.H.Shields, a fellow countryman, who was tasked with identifying water availability (needed for steam locomotives) along the planned railway routes to the parched interior.The discovery of gold in particular at Coolgardie in 1892 and Kalgoorlie in 1893 led to an unprecedented influx of prospectors to these dry arid regions. At this time water was more precious than gold in the goldfields, with thousands of miners often being rationed to a small amount each day,for which they had to pay huge sums of money. Water for washing was simply not available.The problem for The Chief was to supply water to these areas that was fit for human consumption and keep the steam train infrastructure open and performing at full capacity.

C.Y came up with a brilliant and radical plan to supply water to the goldfields. His idea was to dam the River Helena at Mundaring near Perth, lift the water 390 metres over the  Darling Range, and pump 5 million gallons a day overground for 500 kilometers (over 300 miles) to the goldfields. By laying the pipe along the railway line and overground,costs could be kept to a minimum and any problems such as leaks could be dealt with rapidly.His spectacular plan was met with disdain and disbelief. Mine owners and local representatives in the goldfields joined with state level politicians in heaping scorn on the plan. Most people thought it sheer madness as it would be the longest pipeline in the world and in any event,the gold might run out and there would be no need of a permanent water supply. Some newspapers were particularly scornful of the proposed cost of 2 million pounds as well as the madness of the scheme,and of  O’Connor himself. However,the meticulous O’Connor discussed and shared his plans with his engineer peers in England,who commended it. His own engineering credentials and the political prowess of Forrest obtained international investment funds  and work commenced. In 1898 a railway line was completed connecting the main Eastern Railway line to the Mundaring Weir site on the Helena River. The dam was built in an age without modern machinery, using the strength of hundreds of men with wheelbarrows and pickaxes, who dug down some 30 metres to create the weir.

John Forrest departed Western Australian politics and became Defence Minister in the federal government. With a change of government in Western Australia,politicians continued to attack  O’Connor’s  scheme in Parliament at every stage of construction and with increasing hostility. In effect,he became a political football. Enquiries and Select Committees were set up about the caulking or joining of the pipes, whether or not it should be done by hand or by machine,by public workers or private sub contractors. O’Connor,fastidious,meticulous,and cost conscious, a sensitive man and a man of honour was deeply troubled by the endless criticism. Newspapers were suggesting that the dam would collapse and inundate all of Perth. The Western Australian Sunday Times was particularly virulent and suggested that he was lining his own pockets from the scheme. In a very nasty article about him  in the Sunday Times on February 9,1902 it was written ” ..and apart from any  distinct charge of corruption this man has exhibited such gross blundering or something worse,in his management of great public works it is no exaggeration to say that he has robbed the taxpayer of this state of many millions of money…This crocodile imposter has been backed up in all his reckless extravagant juggling with public funds, in all his nefarious machinations behind the scenes by the kindred-souled editor of The West Australian.”

On January 22 1903,just  five years after work commenced,Pumping Station Number 1 at the Mundaring Weir on the newly created Lake Helena was started up and, with the help of 7 further pumping stations along the route,two days later fresh water flowed into the reservoir at Kalgoorlie. O’Connor’s brilliant plan had worked and not only provided water for the mines and towns along the route of the pipeline and for the steam locomotives that hauled goods and supplies to the area, but also met the needs of a generation of farmers,the pioneers of a new ‘wheat belt’ between the west coast and the eastern goldfields. O’Connor had estimated a cost of 2.5 million pounds for the project and the scheme was delivered at a cost of 2.6 million.  The pipleine is still in use to this day, and is one of the great heritage projects of the entire continent.

Missing from the grand opening however was the man himself,for 10 months earlier on March 10,1902 O’Connor penned the following note:

”The position has become impossible

Anxious important work to do and three commissions of enquiry to attend to

We may not have done as well as possible in the past but we will necessarily be too hampered to do well in the  imminent future

I feel that my brain is suffering and I am in great fear of what effect all this worry will have on me – I have lost control of my thoughts

The Coolgardie scheme is all right and I could finish it if I got a chance and protection from misinterpretation but theres no hope for that now and it is better that it should be given to some entirely new man to do who will be untramelled  by prior responsibility

10/3/02

put the wingwalls to Helena Weir at once”

He then rode his horse out  to Robb Jetty,in Fremantle and there rode into the sea and shot himself.

A subsequent government enquiry into the scheme exonerated him from any wrongdoing and found no basis whatsoever for political or press accusations of corruption or misdemeanour.  When his will was published it showed that he had not enriched himself with his brilliant schemes – It showed assets of 298 pounds,which included two horses and a  cow valued at 47 pounds, books,jewellery and furniture valued at 215 pounds and salary due to him of 36 pounds. He had liabilities of 189 pounds mostly to merchants for produce and coal.

Charles Yelverton O’Connor is buried in Fremantle Cemetery,under a fine Celtic Cross. Those who knew him spoke of a character who was subtle and often aloof,but who was deeply considerate of others,who was fun-loving and witty,gentle and amiable. According to his daughter Kate, ”he was devoted to Ireland and carried Ireland with him everywhere and he was acutely sensitive to the unhappy state of Ireland and the distress of many of his countrymen.” She said he helped many a young Irish lad start a new life in the colonies,and always had Irish boys from farms in Ireland to look after his horses,and they lived-in, as part of the family.

The grave of Charles Yelverton O'Connor, proud Irishman

The grave of Charles Yelverton O’Connor, proud Irishman

A genial,generous giant of a man,sometimes difficult,but  whose legacies of the Goldfields Water Supply and Fremantle Harbour,in particular stand testament to his brilliance.

One wonders what other ingenious schemes C.Y. O’Connor might have designed had he not been hounded and libelled by press and politicians alike. And isn’t it a shame that the Irish man who conceived and largely implemented one of the world’s greatest engineering projects is relatively unknown in Ireland?

References/Further reading

There are some excellent photographs of the construction of the Pipeline at the website of the National Trust of Australia, Education and Learning site at http://www.valuingheritage.com.au/learningfederation/the_pipes.html
 
The Chief C.Y. O’Connor (1978) Tauman, Mereb, University of Western Australia Press
C.Y. O’Connor : his life and legacy. (2001) Evans, A.G., University of Western Australia Press.
Te Ara, the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand accessed at tp://www.teara.govt.nz
The Australian Dictionary of Biography accessed at http://adb.anu.edu.au/
National  Trust of Australia
National Library of Australia
Trove Newspaper Archive accessed at http://trove.nla.gov.au
State Library of Western Australia
 
 
 

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Selling ‘Ireland’ and Forgetting the ‘Irish’? Some Thoughts on the Taoiseach’s St. Patrick’s Day Speech

The Silver Voice:

A fascinating and factual view of the relationship between Ireland and America which is honoured in Washington D.C. and other U.S cities in March each year. The thousands of Irish emigrants, many Famine emigrants, who gave their lives for America in the American Civil War and who helped shape that nation are apparently forgotten. It seems altogether astonishing that the Irish government considers that they are irrelevant in what is Irish American heritage month in the United States of America.

Originally posted on Irish in the American Civil War:

This week Ireland’s Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, visited America for St. Patrick’s Day. Each March, our small country enjoys exceptional treatment on the other side of the Atlantic, treatment which includes a meeting with the President of the United States at The White House. Ireland’s relationship with the U.S. is the envy of other small countries. That relationship is almost entirely based on the affinity that many Americans hold for Ireland as a result of their own ancestry. In other words, Ireland has its past emigrants to thank for the extraordinary access and coverage we enjoy annually in one the world’s largest nations. It seems to me, however, that in our eagerness to use these opportunities to sell ‘Ireland’, we are consistently forgetting to remember the ‘Irish.’

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny with President Barack Obama in The White House (Wikipedia) An Taoiseach Enda Kenny with President Barack Obama in The White House (Wikipedia)

As might be expected, Ireland uses the opportunity presented every March…

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International Women’s Day – Make it Happen with Kiva!

centredinternationalwomensday

 

Theme for IWD 2015

Theme for IWD 2015

International Women’s Day 2015 is on Sunday March 8th, with a theme this year of ‘Make it Happen’!  Unable to attend any of the very many events happening across the world, I wondered how I as an individual might ‘Make it Happen’.  No sooner had I begun wondering than an email arrived, announcing that I had received a repayment  on a loan I had made through Kiva. That’s it, I thought! By donating the money I saved through not attending a real live event, I can ‘Make it Happen’ for  women less fortunate than myself. Kiva is a microfunding, not for profit organization that facilitates loans to low-income entrepreneurs and students, male and female, in over 70 countries. It is possible for those of us with limited means to make a difference as the smallest loan amount is  25 USD . Kiva Zip,a sister organization granting interest-free loans to people in USA and Kenya, accepts loans from as little as $5. Ordinarily you will be repaid- it is such a thrill to get an email saying ‘You have received a repayment of 19 cents!’ When your loan is  repaid, you can claim back the money or relend it again to another person or project.  So for International Women’s Day, I have decided to focus my loans on women in underdeveloped countries, to ‘Make it Happen’ for them. Traditionally these women who have incomes, however small, are empowered to change their lives and educate their children, thereby benefiting their entire communities.

The first International Women’s Day was celebrated in March 1911. It had its origins in America a few years earlier where women had come together to protest against poor working conditions, resulting in a National Women’s Day being declared by the Socialist Party of America. Subsequently at an International Conference for Working Women in Copenhagen, attended by delegates from 17 countries, and including the first 3 women elected to the Finnish Parliament, a proposal to have a special day each year to focus on women’s issues was met with unanimous approval.

Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark observed the first International Women’s Day in March 1911. More than a million men and women attended rallies in support of women’s right to work, right to vote, right to hold public office. In 1913, Russian women observed International Women’s Day campaigning for peace and in 1914, other European countries joined in.

In 1917, amid great unrest in Russia caused by millions of casualties, terrible food shortages, and with many women removed from farms to work in the factories, International Women’s Day prompted 90,00 workers to strike and the army at Petrograd to revolt. Attempts to end the unrest were not successful and Tsar Nicholas II abdicated some days later. The new provisional government granted universal suffrage with equality for women.

Down the decades, the movement has continued to grow and has become a worldwide event, celebrating social, political and economic changes for women, highlighting inequalities and raising money for charity.  In 25 countries it is an official holiday while in China Madagascar and Nepal it is an official holiday for women only. In many countries from Bangladesh to Guinea, from Vietnam to Iceland, from Afghanistan to Zambia, events will take place on March 8th to mark International Women’s Day. The top 5 countries for International Women’s day activity to mark the centenary on March 8th are the UK, Canada, Australia, the United States and Ireland. Details of events across the globe can be found on the International Women’s Day site here.

What better day to log in to  Kiva and make a small loan to help our sisters across the globe!

Happy Women’s Day!

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Filed under International Women's Day, Ireland, Significant World Events, Social Justice

Discovering Martin O’Meara V.C. & The Psychological Cost of World War One

The extent to which the Irish diaspora have left indelible marks in many corners of the world, yet are relatively unknown in their homeland never ceases to amaze me. One of the most memorable of these is County Tipperary man Martin O ‘Meara, a veteran of World War One, whose memory lives on in the parts of Western Australia where he lived and died.

A bright-eyed Martin O Meara, date unknown (Australian War Memorial, public domain

A bright-eyed Martin O’ Meara, date unknown (Australian War Memorial, Public Domain

Martin inscribed his name into the annals of history for his actions during the Great War, service which earned him the highest decoration for gallantry. But it was also a conflict that destroyed him, ultimately consigning him to long years of mental anguish and institutionalisation. This is his story.

Irish tricolour far from home

Irish tricolour far from home

On March 17th 2014, at the Western Australian State Memorial Park in Perth, an Irish tricolor fluttered in the breeze. A member of the Irish Government was coming to lay a wreath at one of the tablets surrounding the Flame of Remembrance. The entourage was led by Mr Alan Kelly T.D. (now Minister of Environment, Community & Local Government) then Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, and Mr Marty Kavanagh, Honorary Consul of Ireland in Western Australia. In a very simple and moving ceremony  Mr Kelly honoured his fellow Tipperary man at the plaque inscribed Pte Martin O’MEARA VC, 16th Australian Infantry Battalion AIF, 9 September 1916. 

So who was Martin O Meara? Since that ceremony I have made it my mission to find out, traveling to some of the sites associated with him and spending long hours exploring many of the historical documents associated with his life.

Martin O'Meara in 1916 Image Wikimedia Commons

Martin O Meara in 1916
Image WikimediaCommons

Martin O’Meara (Meara) was born in County Tipperary, Ireland in November 1885, one of 11 children of  Michael and Margaret. In the 1901 census we find 15-year-old Martin living with his father and mother, three older brothers and two older sisters in the townland of Lissernane. By the time of the 1911 census, his mother has been widowed and she is living in the same house with one son and one daughter. We cannot be sure where Martin was at this time, but a Martin O’Meara born in Tipperary and of the correct age is recorded working in the timber industry in Kilkenny as per this 1911 Census entry for Skeard. Could this be Martin, a wood worker and boarder in the house of a mill worker? We do know that he made his way to Liverpool about 1911, and onwards to Australia In 1914. He eventually settled in the vast timber forests around Bowlling Pool, Western Australia some 30 plus miles from the town of Collie. It was here that he found work as a sleeper-cutter, servicing the rapidly expanding railway system of Western Australia.

On August 19, 1915  Martin O’Meara enlisted  in the Army at Blackboy Hill in Western Australia. His Attestation Papers show that he was born at Rathcabbin, that he was 29 years and 9 months old, 5 feet 7 inches in height, weighed 140 pounds and had a dark complexion, brown eyes and brown hair. He nominated his sister Alice as his next of kin. As a member of the Australian Expeditionary Force, he arrived at  Marseilles, France, on  June 1, 1916. Just a matter of weeks later the Tipperary man was in the middle of the Somme offensive, acting as a stretcher bearer in a fierce assault on the Germans at Mouquet Farm, near Pozières. The fighting here was bitter with the Anzac forces suffering heavy losses. It was here, between August 9 and 12 that Martin O’ Meara distinguished himself with acts of bravery that earned him the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy. The citation read: during 4 days of very heavy fighting, he repeatedly went out and brought in wounded officers and men from No Man’s Land under intense Artillery and Machine Gun fire. He also volunteered and carried up ammunition and bombs through a heavy barrage to a portion of the trenches which was being heavily shelled at the time. He showed throughout an utter contempt of danger and undoubtedly saved many lives.

Martin won high praise for his actions, with Lieutenant W.J. Lynas describing him as the “most fearless and gallant soldier I have ever seen”, while Lieutenant F. Wadge stated in dispatches that he rescued more than 20 soldiers during a barrage of high explosives and machine gun fire that was “intense beyond description.” On yet another occasion, he ventured into no-man’s land under heavy artillery and machine gun fire to retrieve six more of his comrades. The courageous Martin did not stop there, as Lieutenant Colonel E.A.D. Brockman, Commanding Officer of the 16th Battalion, said,  he “continued to venture out into no-man’s land after his company had been relieved, delivering first aid to the wounded, digging out soldiers who had been buried by high explosive shells, and carrying the wounded back to the dressing station.” Martin O’Meara was presented with his Victoria Cross by King George V in July 1917

Private O’Meara suffered gun shot wounds to the abdomen during this action and was evacuated to England and admitted to Wandsworth Hospital on August 19. He rejoined the 16th Battalion on December 22.  He was wounded twice afterwards, but rejoined his unit each time.

Outdoor photograph of Martin O'Meara, date unknown. (Australian War Memorial, public domain)

Outdoor photograph of Martin O’Meara, date unknown. (Australian War Memorial, Public Domain)

On August 31, 1918 he was sent to the UK for return to Australia, arriving back in Fremantle on November 6 1918. Sadly that was not the end of the war for Martin. The quiet, courageous man from rural Tipperary who had survived the hell of battle did not live happily ever after. He had already embarked on another journey into hell, a journey that was to last for the rest of his life. Martin was discharged from the army on November 30, 1918. Within days it was reported that he was “delusional” and he was transferred to Stromness Mental facility directly from quarantine, and from there to Claremont Mental Hospital three months later. The sights, sounds and the horrors of war on the Western Front had driven the quiet Tipperary man mad.

We know a little about Martin O’Meara’s personality as newspapers responding to the award of his V.C. sought accounts from people in Australia who knew him before enlisting. One friend described him as a strong but gentle teetotaller, while another remembered him as reserved but with a very genial character. A former employer reported that he was “generous to a fault” and willing to perform any task asked of him. He was a member of the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society. A few of his letters back to Australia have been published and they are evidence that he was a caring, compassionate, humble man, who made reference to God and his deeply held beliefs.

By contrast, his military records contain many shocking details of his post war condition. In December 1918 he was described as “extremely homicidal and suicidal and requires to be kept in restraint” with no hope of his recovery. The Inspector General of the Insane furnished a report of Martin’s condition during the 17 years he was in the Asylum. He was initially obstinate and difficult, restless, sometimes violent, noisy during the night, suffered from hallucinations and attacked the attendants. By 1923 he “showed loss of control” and frequently needed sedation. In 1925 he was again described as obstinate, difficult to manage, sometimes taking 3 or 4 attendants to put him to bed and in 1927  he is recorded as pacing the floor and rushing wildly to and fro cursing imaginary persecutors. By 1934, it was reported that he was “disconnected in his conversation” and was shameless, sometimes exposing himself and using abusive language. In 1926 he had been transferred to Lemnos Hospital, but because of his ”violent propensities”, he was sent back to  Claremont Mental Hospital in November 1935. Six weeks later, on December 19, 1935, he collapsed following a period of continued excitement and died the following day from Pulmonary Oedema, chronic mania and exhaustion. His death was recorded as “due to war service.” Martin O’Meara V.C. received a military funeral at Karrakatta Cemetery in Perth, with representatives of  the military and the state in attendance as well as other V.C. winners. The funeral cost to the state was 16 Pounds and 13 Shillings.

Shell shock was a relatively new phenomenon,that affected thousands of soldiers. In the war’s early days it was not understood and sometimes dismissed as mere hysteria, especially in enlisted men. Nervous disorders were frequently viewed as disciplinary matters, with sufferers often accused of being cowards or malingering. It is not clear when Martin O’Meara was first affected by it as it is not referred to in any of the military records, but it is unlikely that it first manifested itself on his return to Australia. In any event, the psychological trauma he suffered caused his war to continue for 17 years after the last shots of war were fired. We do not know if he had any friends in the institutions for the insane or whether he had any visitors who cared about him. Was he forgotten for those long years of anguish? His sister Alice, who was in receipt of a fortnightly pension of 25 shillings based on Martin’s service, asked for and received accounts of him from time to time and there was also an enquiry made about him on behalf of one of his brothers.

Martin continued to make headlines following his death as a dispute arose about the validity of a new will he made when recovering from a wound in hospital in Bath, England, in 1917. After winning his V.C. in 1916, the people of Tipperary had a collection in his honour and he was presented with a gold watch. As a serving soldier he was unable to accept the remaining balance of the money collected, but in his will he bequeathed it for the restoration of an Old Abbey in Lorrha village, while his Australian Estate of over two thousand pounds was left for the education of his nephews in Ireland. His Victoria Cross was to be given to a friend (coincidentally from Kilkenny, some 2 miles from Skeard, as noted in the 1911 Census above ) provided she went to live in Western Australia for a period of 12 months, otherwise it was to be retained in Western Australia. However, the money in Ireland was insufficient to restore the ruined Lorrha Abbey and the local priest succeeded in having the court agree that the monies be used instead to repair confessionals in the Catholic Church with the balance being used for Redwood National School. Martin O’Meara’s contribution to the local parish is marked by a small brass plaque in the Parish Church in Lorrha, Co Tipperary, while further up the street there is a memorial to Martin, unveiled in recent years by proud parishioners, to commemorate the local boy who became a hero in Australia.

His Victoria Cross now resides in the Military Museum of Western Australia who would dearly love to have all of Martin’s medals in their collection. Martin’s British War Medal and Victory Medal were delivered to the family on June 24, 1924, with the receipt noting that Martin was then “an inmate of the Claremont Hospital.”

09-01-DSCF5449

Martin O’Meara memorial in the Army Museum of Western Australia

Martin O’Meara continues to attract headlines in Australia, almost 100 years after the end of  World War 1. In the little coal mining town of Collie, near where Martin worked in the Jarrah forests as a sleeper hewer, there is another plaque in his memory, and here Ireland’s Ambassador to Australia laid a wreath in his honour after a lovely Irish themed reception at the town hall. The ceremony was followed by a production in the local school hall of a play dedicated to Martin O’Meara, Under any Old Gum Tree, written and directed by Noel O’Neil.

Martin O’Meara’s life long torment epitomizes the Pity of War. His name and his story are centre stage within the Irish communities in Perth and in Collie, who remember his courage and valour with great pride, even though he had only lived in the area for a relatively short time prior to enlistment. The people of his homeland beyond his own Tipperary locality in Ireland deserve to know more about him and remember him too.

MOM VC

Martin O’Meara’s Victoria Cross. Author with Mr Graham McEwan, Chairman, Army Museum of Western Australia

*I am deeply grateful to Mr. Graham McEwan, Chairman, Army Museum of Western Australia for permitting me to see and photograph Martin O’Meara’s Victoria Cross, which is not on public display.

*I am indebted to Leith Landauer of Perth, Western Australia, a passionate stalwart of the cause of Martin O’Meara,V.C., my  tour guide with an encyclopaedic knowledge of WA heritage, and my friend.

*Following publication of this post, Mr Fred  Rea of  ”The Australian Irish Scene” shared the following information:

There is a website devoted to Martin O’Meara at http://www.martinomeara.weebly.com

Here is a link to the British Pathe newsreel footage that we believe shows O’Meara getting presented with the VC medal by King George V at Buckingham Palace in 1917. O’Meara starts at about the 22 second mark….

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/kings-investiture-at-buckingham-palace/query/kings+investiture+at+buckingham+palace

Thank you, Fred!

 

References:
National Archives of Australia Records as follows:
NAA: PP13/1, C5474
NAA: B2455, O’Meara M
NAA: PP645/1, Martin O’Meara V.C
TROVE Newspaper Archive at http://trove.nla.gov.au
O’Meara, P., & Devenish, S. (2010). Sir Neville Howse (VC), Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick and Private Martin O’Meara (VC) and
their contributions to Australian military medicine. Australasian Journal of Paramedicine, 8(1).
Shell Shock and Mental Trauma in World War 1, Dr Fiona Reid, Open University at FutureLearn.

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Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish at War, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora, Irish diaspora in Australia

Tread Softly … Honouring W.B. Yeats

The Silver Voice:

W.B Yeats is one of my very favourite poets. His exquisite word crafting leaves me in awe and in love with his work. I would like to share the eloquence of Social Bridge in placing him centre stage on this, the anniversary of his death.

Originally posted on SOCIAL BRIDGE:

W.B. Yeats W.B. Yeats

Tomorrow, January 28th, marks the anniversary of the death in 1939 of the  great Irish poet and Nobel Laureate, William Butler Yeats.

W.B.Yeats has been a part of my life pretty much from the day I was born, with my mother quoting lines of his work. One of her favourites, when I’d be getting into a tizz-wizz over something would be:

She bid me take life easy,
   as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish,
and now am full of tears. 
(From: W.B. Yeats, Down by the Salley Gardens)
W.B. Yeats’ poetry was a fundamental part of English in school and it was there that I fell in love with The Wild Swans at Coole. I associate the poem very much with my birthday in October, just when we’d be getting settled back into the first term after the long summer holidays.

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