Monthly Archives: September 2014

Revisiting Shanksville on 9/11 – Let’s Roll


Today, September 9, or 9/11 as it is now more universally known, we recall the loss of life resulting from the highjacking and deliberate crashing of passenger aircraft in America. The World Trade Centre, Washington D.C and Shanksville were where these tragedies unfolded. In October 2008 I visited Shanksville, long before the erection of the official memorial and was struck by the emptiness and wild silence of this place where lives ended on that September morning in 2001. This is a reposting of my thoughts and photographs from that visit.

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Filed under Ireland

Revisiting Shanksville on 9/11 – Let’s Roll

Today, September 9, or 9/11 as it is now more universally known, we recall the loss of life resulting from the highjacking and deliberate crashing of passenger aircraft in America. The World Trade Centre, Washington D.C and Shanksville were where these tragedies unfolded. In October 2008 I visited Shanksville, long before the erection of the official memorial and was struck by the emptiness and wild silence of this place where lives ended on that September morning in 2001. This is a reposting of my thoughts and photographs from that visit.

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From Kilfinane to Kalgoorlie

On April  27, 1926  two policemen from the special Gold Stealing Detection Unit boarded their bicycles and pedalled off  to carry out surveillance on an illicit gold plant in the  goldfield area of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. They were Detective-Inspector John Walsh  and  Detective-Sgt. Alexander Henry Pitman. On a recent trip to Australia, I happened on their graves in the Catholic section of Karrakatta Cemetery, outside Perth, Western Australia.

The monuments on these two graves are high and imposing, but as they lie very close to, and face a very high boundary hedge, it was not possible to take clear photographs of the front of the graves.

Pitman's Grave concealed by foliage

Pitman’s Grave partly concealed by foliage

These two graves are marked as part of an Historic Trail , with Walsh listed as Irish-born on the adjacent plaque.  I was therefore compelled to discover more.

The plaque  referred to a monument to the men that was originally in Perth City,at the front of the Police Headquarters building in East Perth, but had been relocated to the Police Academy at Joondalup, just minutes from my sister’s workplace on the adjacent Edith Cowan University Campus. I set about finding it, and wanted to check if I could get access to it, so I wrote to the Western Australia Police Department asking for permission to photograph the monument at the Police Academy campus,and I was thrilled to bits when permission was granted to visit and take photographs. And so, on my last full day in Australia, between torrential thundery showers, I walked across the huge parade ground towards  the statue commemorating the two policemen.

Between the flagpoles on the Parade Ground, is the memorial to Walsh and Pitman

The flagpoles on the Parade Ground frame the memorial to Walsh and Pitman on the far side of the water

Crossing the water feature at the Police Academy was  almost surreal as I felt I was coming to a very special place.

The Memorial to Pitman and Walsh dominates this area which is dedicated to all WA Police Officers who have died in the line of duty.


The Memorial was made in Italy with funds raised from policemen all over Australia. It is of the goddess Themis, familiar to many as the ‘scales of justice statue’ usually blindfolded,holding scales aloft in one hand a sword in the other.  In this case however, the ‘Justice’ figure has eyes downcast and holds the sword downwards, bearing a wreath. There is a Swan emblem on the shield,representing the black swans of  Perth.

12-DSCF5560On either side of the base are beautifully worked  images of Pitman and Walsh

Immediately behind the Memorial is a Remembrance Garden  in memory of all Western Australian policemen who have lost their lives while on duty.

13-DSCF5563The contrast between the classically styled  Pitman/Walsh memorial and the ultra modern design of the Memorial garden is quite stark, but adds to the sense of sombreness and certainly adds to the story that law enforcement people have been losing their lives across decades and generations.

The list makes sobering reading and I was struck by the high number who have died in road traffic accidents

On returning home to Ireland, I began researching the story of Walsh and Pitman, to put with the photographs I had taken in Western Australia. I was quite horrified to discover the horrible details of their deaths. Having been missing for some time, a search was mounted and following reports of a terrible stench and many flies near a mineshaft, their decapitated, dismembered and partly burned bodies were discovered 60 feet below ground. Three local men were arrested. One turned King’s Evidence and the other two, William Coulter and Philip Treffene were hanged for the double murder of Detective-Inspector John Walsh  and  Detective-Sgt Alexander Henry Pitman.

I was then very surprised to find that John Walsh was a native of County Limerick, Ireland, not far from where I live. He was born in Kilfinane, to Ellen nee Bourke and James Walsh on 14 February 1862. He attended Ardpatrick National School,  studied medicine in University College Cork for a couple of years, but by 1881 he was in Sydney Australia where he joined the police force. He eventually arrived in Western Australia, after serving in Queensland and the north-western part of New South Wales.

This streetscape of Kilfinane may well have been familiar to the young John Walsh.


Ardpatrick is a small village just minutes from Kilfinane. Until 1861 they were in the same parish. The church in Ardpatrick dates from 1835 and is adjacent to the school. There are many original features still remaining in the school, which is now used as a community centre.

Ardpatrick National School adjacent to the Church

Ardpatrick National School next to the Church

The fine church bell dates from 1856, and the young John Walsh probably heard it peal on many an occasion.

Original window on Ardpatrick school

Original window on Ardpatrick school

Ardpatrick schoolhouse is a protected  two storey building. The boys classroom was on the upper floor, with access via stairs on the church side of the building nearest the bell.

I stood looking at this for a long time. I  couldn’t help but contrast the image of a small boy who climbed these stairs to learn and who ran down them to play, passing  that beautiful small window and perhaps glancing at the church bell, with the image of  the gruesome, horrible way in which his life would end, thousands of miles away in Kalgoorlie.

My grateful thanks to Beth Naylor, Public Affairs Officer at Police HQ, Perth, Western Australia, for her help, courtesy and kindness in facilitating access to the Walsh-Pitman Memorial at the Police Academy Campus at Joondalup, WA

I am also indebted to the Ardpatrick Community worker (whose name I do not have) who was watering flowers,and  allowed me access the school building.


*When making this post that I noticed the shamrock embellishment on Pitman’s headstone, indicating some link  with Ireland. I have been unable to prove a direct connection, but it is possible that his wife’s family was Irish. His mother -in-law, Margaret Shepherd Fitzgerald  who sadly died on May 18th, 1926, only one day after her son-in -law’s funeral, was buried in the same grave. Perhaps the headstone reflects her direct link to Ireland. More research required.


Australian Dictionary of Biography

Newspaper report of Inquests 

Newspaper report May 16, 1926

Gruesome details of the discovery and retrieval of the  bodies

Western Australia Police Historical Society


Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Ireland, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora, My Travels

Postcards from Rathkeale, Co. Limerick

Rathkeale, County Limerick is a town on the road between Limerick and Kerry, just 2 minutes off the N21. The town sits on the banks of the picturesque River Deel which makes its lazy way towards the River Shannon.

The opening of the town bypass some years ago has removed the bumper to bumper traffic that clogged the streets, and it is now possible to look at and enjoy this historic town at leisure.
The name Rathkeale is derived from the Irish Rath Gael meaning Gael’s Fort. This ancient fort was named in the Book of Rights (in Irish Leabhar na gCeart) which details rents and taxes due to the King back in the year 900.

The Holy Trinity Church dates from 1831, or possibly 1825, and was erected on the site of an earlier church. It is a very attractive building, with a lofty square tower, set in well-kept grounds.

The graveyard has some very old headstones, dating from the 1700’s. Buried here are many Palatine families who settled here in the early 1700’s, with their very distinctive family names, such as Bovenizer,Teskey, Shier, Sparling.

04-DSCF5911 Some inscriptions can be seen here

Here too is the very imposing Massy Vault, built about 1800 and restored in the early 1900s.


Right beside the Holy Trinity Church is Rathkeale National School, catering for Church of Ireland children.

10-DSCF5930Further up the street there are some fine period houses with lovely features.

The town benefitted from the Andrew Carnegie library grants in the early 1900s and the refurbished library now also houses an arts centre
15-DSCF5934At the top of the street is the very impressive 19th Century  Town Hall, with belltower, clock and imposing steps. It tells of a time when Rathkeale was a prominent county town.

The Old Town Hall, Rathkeale

The Old Town Hall, Rathkeale

The ruins of an Abbey founded by Gilbert Hervey  for the Augustinian Canons of the Order of Arosia in the year 1280 dominate the limerick side of the town. In 1436, St. Mary the Virgin allegedly  worked several miracles here. The monastery was suppressed in 1542. The ruins were lovingly restored by the local community in the 1970s and are a great asset to the town.


The town has some fine buildings…

and interesting laneways…

And interesting  shop window where English Soccer Clubs and horses have parity  with Virgin Marys

Further down the street is a house with a plaque commemorating Séan Finn who fought in the Irish War of Independence. He was killed on March 30 1921 near Foynes, Co Limerick.

Plaque commemorating Séan Finn, who lived at this house died 30March 1921

Plaque commemorating Séan Finn, who lived at this house died 30March 1921

Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church dominates the entire landscape. It is a high gothic-style structure built on a hill, with a high spire. The church dates from about 1864 with the spire having been completed in 1881.

The church interior is cathedralesque, with high ceilings, ornate pillars and stained glass windows.

08-DSCF6016 11-DSCF6022 14-DSCF6025The detail on the pillars is very interesting, comprising flowers of every description possibly of some significance as it is said that the bulk of the money needed to erect this church was raised abroad.

Just down the road from the Catholic Church is the Palatine museum, housed in this beautiful cut stone railway station house that was moved stone by stone from its original location a few hundred metres away to make way for the new road. It is now the definitive centre for all things Palatine, the Palatines being a group of German people who settled in this vicinity in the 1700’s


Just alongside the Palatine Museum there is access to the Great Southern Greenway, a beautiful walking and cycling amenity following the route of the old railway line.

1-DSCF6031And finally….before you head off to the sumptuous surroundings of Rathkeale House Hotel for a cuppa to send you on your way, I hope you get a chance to see Marilyn Monroe in her iconic pose from The Seven Year Itch on the main street.

2-DSCF6033Rathkeale has become something of a hidden gem, now that it has been bypassed. It does not always get positive publicity, but there is a lot more to it than we see in reality TV shows. Whether you are a local or a passing visitor, you could easily spend 15 minutes or an hour or so here, exploring some or all of the wonderful heritage and enjoy stepping back in time to when a town like Rathkeale was in its heyday.

When I was taking these photographs I met a neighbour, Catherine O’Sullivan in the street and when I told her what I was doing she said to me: ‘I love Rathkeale’. Now I know why.




Filed under Ireland, Irish Countryside, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Living in Ireland, My Oral History, My Travels