Category Archives: Ireland and the World

The greatest propaganda coup in Fenian history

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The Catalpa Memorial Rockingham Western Australia (Image Thesilvervoice)

It is still billed as the most daring escape ever undertaken, yet it happened over 140 years ago! Years in the planning, and months in the execution, the rescue of six Irish Fenians from Fremantle’s Convict Establishment remains a breathtaking and exciting story, and has been called the ‘greatest propaganda coup in Fenian history’. Yet I wonder how many Irish people have ever heard of it!

John Boyle O’Reilly (see previous post here) was one of  62 Fenian Political prisoners aboard the Hougoumont, the last ship to transport convicts from England to Australia in 1867. Some 17 of these, like Boyle O’Reilly, were military personnel who were charged with recruiting Fenians from within the ranks of the British army.
During the voyage of the Hougoumont the Fenians produced seven weekly hand written newspapers entitled ‘The Wild Goose: A Collection of Ocean Waifs’. The title of the publication was inspired by ‘The Wild Geese’ a name given to Irish soldiers who had gone into exile and who had served in European armies from the 17th century.
The_Wild_Goose,_Number_1_page_1

The first page of The Wild Goose, handwritten by Fenian Convicts while being transported to Western Australia. (Image Wikipedia)

Boyle O’Reilly escaped Western Australia in 1869 and went to live in Boston. Over time some of the other convicts were released or given Tickets of Leave, but about 12 of the military convicts were still held. Meanwhile another Fenian John Devoy, a Kildare man, who had been pardoned in England on condition that he go into exile, made his way to America. It was he who received a letter from convict James Wilson, smuggled out of  the Fremantle Establishment, pleading for help to escape.
Boyle O’Reilly and Devoy were instrumental in producing a plan to effect the escape of their comrades still languishing in Western Australia. Devoy attended a Clan na Gael meeting in New York at which he read Wilson’s letter which ended with ‘We think if you forsake us, then we are friendless indeed.

Wilson wrote that his was ‘a voice from the tomb,..For is not this a living tomb’ and said they were facing ‘the death of a felon in a British dungeon.‘ Devoy read the letter at a meeting of Clan na Gael and shouted. ‘These men are our brothers!

In 1875 with financial assistance from thousands of Irishmen via Clan na Gael (an Irish independence support group) the Catalpa, a three masted whaling bark was purchased for $5,550. The plan was for the ship to appear legitimate and to undertake whaling while making its way to Western Australia. Captain George Smith Anthony, an American sympathetic to the cause of the patriotic Irishmen was the trusted whaling captain who skippered the Catalpa that pulled out of New Bedford, Massachusetts on April 29, 1875.

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The Whaling Bark Catalpa (Image Library of Congress)

The Catalpa made her way to the Azores, hunting whales along the way. She dropped off a cargo of whale oil but most of her crew deserted and three got sick. A new crew was recruited.

Meanwhile in September 1875, two Fenian agents, John Breslin and Thomas Desmond arrived in Western Australia. Breslin was a native of Drogheda County Louth and already had credentials in assisting escapes as he had sprung James Stephens the leader of the Fenians from Richmond Prison in 1865. Thomas Desmond was born in Cobh County Cork and emigrated to America at the age of 16. He fought on the Union side of the American Civil War after which he became Deputy Sheriff in San Francisco.

In Western Australia Breslin assumed the identity of a wealthy American Businessman, James Collins. He had a letter of introduction that enabled him to become acquainted with the Governor of Western Australia, who very conveniently took him to the Convict Establishment on a guided tour! Desmond found work as a wheelwright and got to know local Irishmen who agreed to help with the plan. The Catalpa voyage took longer than anticipated as she lost a mast in a storm, but she eventually dropped anchor off Bunbury in Western Australia on March 29, 1876.
Captain Anthony and Breslin met and finalized their plans.  The original escape was scheduled for early April but had to be abandoned due to the arrival of customs officials and Royal Navy ships in the area. The event was reset for Easter Monday when most people, including the Establishment Garrison would be distracted by the annual boating regatta on the Swan river.
On Monday morning April 16 1876, the Catalpa was anchored in International waters. Captain Anthony and a crew rowed a whaleboat ashore to Rockingham, about 20 miles from the prison at Fremantle, and there awaited the arrival of the prisoners.
Breslin and Desmond arrived near the prison with horses and wagons and the 6 prisoners who had all been working outside the walls on that day made their escape. The local helpers cut telegraph wires to ensure that word of the escape could not be spread, and the horses took off at breakneck speed for Rockingham pier. On board the wagons were six Fenians
Robert Cranston, Thomas Darragh, Michael Harrington, Thomas Hassett, Martin Hogan and James Wilson.

The Fenians made it to the pier where Captain Anthony and his crew were waiting in the whaling boat. Because the Catalpa was so far out at sea, they would have to row for a number of hours to reach it. They were however spotted by a local man who raised the alarm. When they were about a half mile offshore they saw mounted police and trackers arriving on the shore. Soon after they saw a steamer and a coast guard cutter that had been appropriated by the Royal Navy to intercept them. They rowed like mad with the armed authorities chasing them. They could see the Catalpa in the distance but the steamer Georgette was closing on them. Darkness fell and a gale blew up causing crashing waves to almost submerge the boat. Captain Anthony ordered them to start bailing and they kept rowing for their lives. The Georgette was unable to locate them due to the heavy seas and the lack of light.

At first light the Georgette reappeared, headed alongside the Catalpa and demanded to go aboard. The 1st mate refused. The Georgette was running low on fuel and had to return to shore to refuel. Captain Anthony decided to make a run for it to the Catalpa so they rowed with all their might with a cutter in hot pursuit, but they made it and scrambled aboard. Captain Anthony immediately got the Catalpa under sail to get away, but the wind dropped and the Catalpa lay powerless. By the following morning, those on board the becalmed Catalpa were alarmed to see the Georgette with a 12 pound cannon and armed militia pull alongside. The Fenians and crew on the Catalpa armed themselves and stood ready to die.

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The Georgette (Image Wikimedia Commons)

The Georgette fired a shot across the bow of the Catalpa and ordered them to stop, saying there had escaped prisoners on board. Captain Anthony’s response was that he only had free men on board and the Georgette responded with a threat to fire on the ship. Still becalmed and in danger of drifting back into Australian waters, Captain Anthony pointed to the American Flag and said : ‘This ship is sailing under the American flag and she is on the high seas. If you fire on me, I warn you that you are firing on the American flag’. The wind increased again and Anthony drove his ship towards the Georgette, narrowly missing its rigging!  The Catalpa headed to sea with the Georgette in pursuit but eventually the British retreated and headed back to the coast. The Fenians were free! They arrived back in the USA four months later to a heroes welcome and news of the astonishing rescue was spread worldwide. Devoy, Breslin and Anthony were hailed as heroes

In 2005 a very impressive memorial to these events was unveiled at Rockingham where the Fenians made their escape. The centerpiece of the memorial is 6 bronze Wild Geese flying out to sea to freedom. Perched on a polished local granite base, the Wild Geese Memorial as it is called, can be seen from some distance away on the Rockingham shoreline.

The entire pillar sits on a bed of ballast stones collected from the holds of many ships that transported people to Western Australia. An engraved image and short bio of each of the escapees is etched onto the granite pillar.

In 2014 the memorial was finally completed with the installation of pillars bearing transcribed pages from the onboard newspaper The Wild Goose, including  part of the the image of the actual page shown above.

The shiny surface makes for challenging photography!

Looking towards Garden Island and the horizon where the Catalpa made her way to freedom.
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Robert Cranston was a native of  Stewardstown, Co. Tyrone. He served in the 61st British Infantry. Very little is known about Robert after arriving in New York.

Thomas Darragh was a native of Wicklow. He was a Protestant member of an Orange Lodge and had been decorated for bravery in the British Army.

Michael Harrington was from Macroom, Co. Cork and had been decorated for bravery in the British Army.

Thomas Hassett was a native of Doneraile Co. Cork  and had served in the Papal Brigade in Rome. A previous attempted escape from the Fremantle Establishment failed.

Martin Hogan from Limerick deserted the British Army, was captured and tried. He lay in an unmarked paupers grave until 2014 when a marker was erected by the Fenian Memorial Committee of Chicago.

James Wilson was from Newry Co. Down. He served in the British Army in America, India and Syria he deserted in 1865 but was caught and transported. The last survivor of the Catalpa convicts, he died in 1921 at the age of 85.

In this year when we in Ireland recall the Fenian Rising, it is fitting to recall the events that happened beyond our shores for the same cause.

So come you screw warders and jailers

Remember Perth regatta day

Take care of the rest of your Fenians

Or the Yankees will steal them away 

(Folk song lyrics)

 

References

National Museum of Australia

Smithsonian Magazine

Wikipedia

San Francisco Sheriff’s Department

‘The Voyage of the Catalpa: A perilous journey and six Irish Rebels’ escape to freedom’ by Peter Stevens. 2003 Weidenfeld & Nicolson History

http://www.smithsculptors.com

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Filed under Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish Convicts, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Transportation

John Boyle O’Reilly: Fenian, Convict, Poet

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John Boyle O’Reilly Information Point, Leschenault Conservation Park, near Bunbury (Image ©thesilvervoice)

As Ireland commemorates the 150th Anniversary of the Fenian Rising of March 1867, it is fitting to note that thousands of miles away in Western Australia on this coming weekend of March 25th and 26th 2017, the John Boyle O’Reilly Association of Western Australia will once again pay homage to John Boyle O’Reilly, Irishman, Fenian, Poet, Journalist, Escaped Convict.

Although he was not active in the March 1867 Rising, it was Boyle O’Reilly’s Fenian membership that brought him to Australia as a convict in the first place. He was here for a relatively short time – from January 1868 to February 1869 – but nevertheless he is a hero in these parts and is remembered on an annual basis. The primary aims of the Association are to promote the life and literary works of John Boyle O’Reilly as well as his historical significance to Western Australia and the Bunbury area in particular.

I first encountered the John Boyle O’Reilly Association of Western Australia quite by chance when visiting the Leschenault Peninsula in Western Australia in 2014 with my friend Leith, who had wanted to show me where John Boyle O’Reilly ‘hung out’ while awaiting his escape from the penal colony. We arrived to discover that there was already a sizeable crowd there being addressed by various dignitaries. They had gathered at the John Boyle O ‘Reilly Memorial site to regale the gathered crowd with quotes and facts from his life and to celebrate his life and the work of the local community in raising awareness of their convict poet.

But who was John Boyle O’Reilly and why is he so revered  in Australia?

“The world is large, when its weary leagues two loving hearts divide;

But the world is small, when your enemy is loose on the other side”

These words were spoken on June 28 1963, by the United States President John F. Kennedy in his address to the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament). He was quoting from the extensive work of poet, author, journalist and Fenian, John Boyle O’Reilly, who in all likelihood was as little known in Ireland then as now, but not as widely known as he ought to be. Historians and history buffs among us would have been aware of him and of his Fenian Brotherhood activities; others may have vaguely recalled the name from some long forgotten school history book. For a considerable number of us however, the name meant and still means very little.

My first (conscious) encounter with Boyle O’Reilly happened in Fremantle Prison in Western Australia in 2012. Fremantle Prison was the ‘Establishment’ in which convicts transported from Britain to the Colony of Western Australia were held.

Fremantle Prison. Housed convicts transported between 1850 and 1868)

Fremantle Prison (The Establishment) Housed convicts transported to Western Australia between 1850 and 1868 (Image c.thesilvervoice)

Now a World Heritage listed  building, the ‘Establishment’ had at the time of my visit an exhibition that included a replica death mask of John Boyle O’Reilly that had been donated by the National Museum of Ireland.

Deathmask of John Boyle O'Reilly . A replica presented by the National Museum of Ireland

Deathmask of John Boyle O’Reilly. A replica presented by the National Museum of Ireland

Born in 1844 at Dowth Castle in County Meath, John Boyle O’Reilly began a career as a journalist at the age of 15. He moved to England for a while as an apprentice and on his return to Dublin in 1863 he signed up with the 10th Hussars. Soon afterwards he became a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, or Fenians, who were rebelling against British rule. He actively recruited considerable numbers of new members from within his own regiment. When he was discovered, he was arrested. In June 1866 he was court martialled and on July 9, 1866 he was sentenced to death for his seditious activities. That sentence was immediately commuted to life imprisonment and subsequently to 20 years penal servitude. With other Fenian prisoners he was transferred to an English prison.

Boyle O'Reilly after his arrest.(Image Public Domain)

Boyle O’Reilly after his arrest.(Image Public Domain)

It was then decided that Fenian prisoners would be transported to Western Australia, and so in 1867, the Hougoumont left England with 62 Fenians among a consignment of 280 convicts on board. This historic voyage was to be the very last one transporting convicts to the penal Colonies of Australia.

During their time on the Hougoumont Boyle O’Reilly and others produced seven editions of a newspaper entitled ‘The Wild Goose’, containing poems, editorials and stories. Boyle O’Reilly later wrote “We published seven weekly numbers of it. Amid the dim glare of the lamp,the men at night would group strangely on extemporized seats. The yellow light fell down on the dark forms, throwing a ghastly glare on the pale faces of the men . .”

The Hougoumont arrived at Fremantle on January 9 1868 after a voyage lasting 89 days. Some weeks later, O’Reilly, prisoner number 9843, was assigned to works on the new road linking Bunbury and Vasse. He soon became an assistant to the head warder, Henry Woodman and he struck up a good friendship with the local Catholic priest, Fr.Patrick McCabe (a native of County Cavan) who offered to help him escape.

In the meantime, Boyle O’Reilly became romantically involved with Woodman’s daughter Jessie who became pregnant. The relationship ended unhappily and resulted in Boyle O’Reilly’s failed suicide attempt in December 1868, and subsequent depression. It was said that ”Boyle, poor Boyle, cried and cried in desperation for help.”  Jessie married a local man in March 1869, probably to preserve her reputation. The fact of her pregnancy has only been confirmed in a letter discovered in San Franscisco in recent years, a letter written in May 1870 by John Boyle O Reilly in which he writes:

“If Cashman, or any of them knows anything about Miss Woodman I wish they would write it or tell you what it is . Was the child born? That’s the principal thing I want to know‘”

Fr. McCabe made arrangements with the captain of the Vigilant, a visiting whaling ship, to take Boyle O’Reilly on board and spirit him away from the Penal Colony. So on a February night in 1869, Boyle O’Reilly slipped away from the convict camp near Bunbury and made his way on foot to a pre-arranged meeting place with two others. From there they rode northwards for an hour and, picking up a rowing boat, they made their way  out of the inlet and traveled northwards for about 12 miles. Here Boyle O’Reilly hid in the dunes, waiting for the Vigilant to leave port. When they spotted her, they rowed out to meet her but were devastated when the Vigilant sailed on, the captain apparently having reneged on the agreement he had made with Fr. McCabe. They had to return to shore and hide again while arrangements were made with another ship. After two weeks, they succeeded in making a deal with the captain of the American whaler Gazelle. O’Reilly and his friends met the Gazelle three miles out to sea on March 2 1869 and  made good their escape. Boyle O’Reilly arrived in Philadelphia on November 23, 1869, one of the very few convicts ever to have escaped from the Western Australian penitentiary.

He settled in Boston and was employed by The Pilot newspaper. He married in 1872, and he and his wife Mary (Murphy) had four daughters. Boyle O’Reilly worked tirelessly lecturing and writing on the Irish question. He became influential and highly respected in the Irish Boston community. Over the next number of years he published, among other works, several popular books of poetry and a novel, Moondyne, based on his life  as a convict.

His connection with Western Australia was not lost however as he was instrumental in planning the escape of 6 more Fenians in 1876. (This will be the subject of my next post).

On August 9 189o he was found dead, apparently having succumbed to an accidental overdose of sedative. He was only 46 years of age.

But his memory lives on in Western Australia where a dedicated band of admirers and scholars celebrate his life and his work, as they will do again this weekend. At the time of our visit in 2014, the Irish Ambassador Mr Noel White was in attendance together with the Irish Consul in Western Australia, Mr Marty Kavanagh.

The Irish Ambassador, The Irish Consul to WA , Ambassador’s son, and the author.

A memorial was unveiled to the late Dr Manea who did extraordinary work to raise awareness and appreciation of John Boyle O’Reilly in the area.

Memorial plaque in honour of Dr Manea. ‘This dreamer will live on forever’

Other West Australians dedicated to the cause are Fred Rea, Tony Costa and Peter Murphy who continue to promote all things John Boyle O’Reilly through their daily work.  It would make you very proud to be Irish when you witness the passion these people and others in the area  have for John Boyle O Reilly, their convict poet.

The Memorial to John Boyle O ‘Reilly at Leschenault

Image ©thesilvervoice

The inscription on the memorial reads:

 In Proud Memory of
FENIAN JOHN BOYLE O’REILLY

Humanitarian, author, poet and lecturer.
Born Ireland 28th June 1844.
Died U.S.A 10th August 1890.
Absconded from a convict
road party, Cokelup Swamp
18th February 1869
and escaped from this area
on the whaling ship Gazelle
3rd March 1869.
Also dedicated to all convicts
who built , sweated and toiled
in this district.

Then here’s to brave John Boyle O’Reilly
who first blazed a trail over the sea
By escaping from Bunbury to Boston
An vowing his comrades to be free

                                                     Catalpa Ballad

Erected by the South West Irish Club and local community

Unveiled by Ambassador Designate to Ireland
Mr Brian Burke, 13th March, 1988.

I am indebted to Ian Kenneally, author of ‘From the Earth a Cry’, a biography of John Boyle O’Reilly for the ‘heads up’ on the discovery of the letter confirming that Jessie was indeed expecting Boyle O’Reilly’s child. His book is an excellent read and is highly recommended.

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Published works of John Boyle O’Reilly

 

References

Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaelogical Society, 1969, volume LXXIV

Convict Ship Newspaper, The Wild Goose, Re-discovered by  Walter McGrath quoted

 J. J. Roche, Life, Poems and Speeches of John Boyle O’Reilly, page 68

http://trove.nla.gov.au

http://www.fremantleprison.com.au

http://www.iankenneally.com/

https://jboreilly.org.au

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Filed under Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish American, Irish Australian, Irish Convicts, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Transportation

Irish V.C. honoured in Western Australia

The Irish tricolour flutters in Perth Western Australia. (Image ©thesilvervoice)

Something very special happens when you turn a corner 15,000 kilometers from home to see the Irish tricolour fluttering in a stiff breeze! Such was my experience yesterday as I attended a wreath laying event at Western Australia’s State War Memorial in King’s Park in Perth.

Regular readers will be aware of my journey of discovery of tragic Co.Tipperary man Martin O’Meara, winner of a Victoria Cross while in the service of the Australian Imperial Force in World War 1. See earlier posts here and here.

The Western Australia State War Memorial is dramatically located on Mount Eliza which overlooks Perth Water and consists of a main obelisk and a Court of Contemplation that includes the Eternal Flame.

A series of plaques surround the Eternal Flame. These commemorate V.C and George Cross Recipients (Image. ©Thesilvervoice)

Irishman Martin O’Meara V.C is included on these plaques.

The plaque dedicated to Martin O’Meara V.C (Image ©thesilvervoice)

The Irish Minister of State in the Department of Justice and Equality, David Stanton was over from Ireland for St Patrick’s festivities and joined members of the RSLWA  (Returned & Services League of Western Australia) in honouring the State’s War Dead by laying a wreath at the eternal flame. This was followed by the laying of a wreath at the plaque in honour of Martin O’Meara V.C.  Minister Stanton,who was accompanied by Mr. Marty Kavanagh – Honorary Consul of Ireland, Western Australia, co-incidentally is the public representative for my constituency of East Cork, Ireland.

The beautifully simple ceremony was attended by people with an interest in matters Irish, and was facilitated by the former soldiers of the RSLWA, many of whom I believe had served in Vietnam. They looked resplendent in their medals and uniforms.

Minister Stanton paid tribute to the many Irish who served Australia and other nations across the globe.

Minister Stanton lays a wreath of laurel from the Government of Ireland on the plaque dedicated to Martin O’Meara. (Image Ⓒthesilvervoice)

 

The Last Post is sounded…always a poignant moment!

It is really heartwarming that so many emigrants from Ireland and their descendants remain very proud of their roots and celebrate, commemorate and honour  fellow countrymen whenever the occasion arises. The Irish Community in Western Australia is particularly active in this way!

References

http://www.bgpa.wa.gov.au

 

 

 

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

Epic stories of Irish Emigrants

Writing this blog has led me to keep an eye out for topics that interest me and which may be of interest to those who visit these pages. Many of my family are modern day emigrants who live in far flung places across the globe, so it has been interesting  to discover connections with Irish emigrants of earlier decades and the impact they have had on places where they ended up. So these ‘pioneers’ and ‘trailblazers’ feature on my blog from time to time as I believe they deserve to be better known at home. (See link to Irish People who made a difference page).

annie-moore

The Moore Children Statue at Cobh Co Cork, point of departure for many emigrants from these shores. Annie Moore was the first immigrant processed at Ellis Island, New York  in 1892. (Image thesilvervoice)

Last year Dublin acquired a new  21st Century  interactive visitor experience with the opening of  EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum on Custom House Quay. Dedicated to the millions who left these shores, it celebrates our diaspora in a number of virtual galleries in historic vaults on the bank of the River Liffey. The varied and complex story of the 10 million people who left Ireland over the centuries  and how they changed the world is captured here. Now tens of millions proudly claim a degree of Irish Ancestry. From Grace Kelly the Hollywood actress, to Ned Kelly the Australian outlaw; from Patrick Cleburne, Major General in the Confederate Army of the American Civil War to Admiral William Brown, father of the Argentine Navy; from the poor starving masses who left on famine coffin ships for America to the young so-called ‘Orphan’ girls who were shipped out to Australia to become domestic servants and to marry: It’s all here!

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Admiral  Brown from Foxford in Mayo, revered in Argentina as father of the Argentine Navy (Image thesilvervoice)

And they went and they made a difference, building and navyying and dying in tunnels in Scotland and England; they fought and they died in wars with Australian and other other armies; they saved lives, they brought expertise, literature, engineering, arts, religion, science,politics and  dedication to every corner of the world. The story of our emigrants is  a rich and a proud one and deserves to be well known.

img_0008EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum and the Irish Independent Newspaper have come together in an exciting project to spread the word about the Irish Emigration experience. A very impressive four part Magazine Supplement will come free with the Friday edition of the newspaper. A further  5 free copies of the magazine will be delivered to every second level school in the country where it is hoped it will be used as a learning aide by students who wish to know more about our people who changed the world.

I was delighted to be asked to contribute a short piece on Dave Gallaher, who left Ramelton in my native Donegal as a young boy and who became world famous as the captain of the first ever All Blacks Rugby team. Last weeks supplement looked at the impact of the Irish abroad.

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The cover of last week’s magazine supplement

And my piece ..img_0005

The subject of our diaspora and what became of them is dear to my heart. My son writes extensively about the Irish who moved across the Atlantic in their droves in search of better lives and of the impact of that migration on both the modern day United States and the social and financial fallout for family members who stayed behind here in Ireland. He makes the point that we Irish tend to leave the memory of our emigrants at the quayside and that we as a nation do not engage with preserving their memory or celebrating the enormous contribution they made on both sides of the Atlantic. This wonderful collaboration between Irish Independent and EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum will I hope, help change that view that we hold of those who had to leave our shores. We need to be proud of them.
forgotten-irish
References
Wikipedia.

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Filed under American Civil War, Emigration from Ireland, Ireland, Ireland and the World

Discovering landmarks and Family History on Blacksod Bay, County Mayo

Continuing along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, rain and low grey cloud were my only companions as I headed into this remote Irish-speaking part of County Mayo. Although visibility was reduced it was still possible to enjoy some lovely sights. The Irish-only road signs were something of a challenge at first, even though I am used to our bilingual signs here in Ireland and Irish-only signs in Donegal, and other Gaeltacht areas, these places were not familiar to me. However, once I figured out that ‘An Fod Dubh’ meant ‘Blacksod’ and that therefore ‘Chuan and Fhóid Duibh’ was Blacksod Bay, I chugged along happily in the beautiful Mullet Peninsula that protects Blacksod Bay from the worst of the Atlantic weather.

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Trá Oilí or Elly Beach

This eye catching beach is one of many big sandy beaches in the area. It sports the Blue Flag, one of the world’s most recognised eco-labels, indicating that it complies with a specific set of criteria on water quality, information points, environmental education, safety and beach management. Raining or not, this is a good beach for swimming!

Tír Sáile – the North Mayo Sculpture Trail –is the largest public arts project ever undertaken in Ireland.  Several of these sites are located here on the Mullet peninsula. This work is entitled ‘Deirbhile’s Twist’ and I like that it was formed by raising large granite boulders already lying around on the ground and arranging them into an eye catching feature. This is located at Falmore which is a beautiful location, even in the mist!

Saint Deirbhile (Dervilla) is a local saint who arrived at Falmore in the 6th Century. Arriving by donkey she was pursued by an unwanted suitor who,so the story goes, was very attracted to her beautiful eyes. Rather drastically she plucked them out to discourage him and he left, heartbroken. Water gushed from the spot where her eyes fell and after bathing her sockets her sight was restored. The ruins of her convent are here near the seashore with Deirbhile’s Well nearby. Modern day pilgrims believe that water from the well can help cure eye complaints and they come here for special devotion on August 15 each year.

Ruins of Dervilla's Monastery

Ruins of Dervilla’s Convent

And then on to the site I was particularly interested in – Blacksod weather station, situated at the end of the peninsula.

This is Blacksod Lighthouse, looking very unlike a traditional lighthouse, perched atop an old granite building that dates from 1864. This is a very significant place because it was from here that a weather report issued on 3rd June 1944 changed the course of history. The World War 2 D-Day landings scheduled for June 5th were delayed because of the hourly weather report lodged by Irish Coast Guardsman and lighthouse keeper Ted Sweeney, which indicated that there would be adverse conditions in the English Channel for the following few days. Blacksod was of particular significance because it was the first land-based observation station in Europe where weather readings could be professionally taken on the prevailing European Atlantic westerly weather systems. Ted’s report on June 3rd mentioned a rapidly falling barometer and strong winds which would have augured badly for the planned invasion. A further report from Ted at 12pm on June 4, said ‘heavy rain and drizzle cleared, cloud at 900 feet and visibility on land and sea very clear’. This meant that better weather was on the way for the south of England, and so Operation Overlord went ahead on June 6th 1944 with calm clear conditions in the English Channel.

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Plaque at Blacksod Lighthouse

There is a nice little harbour alongside the lighthouse, Termon Pier, which was almost totally deserted when I was there with only rain and wind to be heard and seen and a few currachs pulled up out of the water.

Winds were picking up the rain was relentless so it was time to leave. I was delighted that I had made the trip out here and discovered a few sights, in spite of the conditions.  Suddenly there was an incredible noise that almost deafened me and for the life of me I could not figure out what on earth it was.  On turning round I saw a helicopter had just taken off from right beside me, as  there is a Helicopter Landing base beside the Lighthouse!

A helicopter lifts off

A helicopter lifts off.

I left here very pleased with my foray into this area, and with the few treasures I had discovered. However, the Mullet Peninsula had one more surprise in store as not far along the road I  came upon Ionad Naomh Deirbhile, a local Visitor and Heritage Centre.

img_1292Although they were about to close I was invited in for tea and a homemade scone and here discovered the story of The Tuke Fund assisted emigrants. It is not always recognized that hunger in Ireland did not end with the famines of 1845- 1852 and 1879. Hunger and deprivation were a fact of life in poorer districts of the western seaboard in particular, with hundreds of families needing relief into the mid 1880s and beyond. James Hack Tuke (1819-1896) was an English Quaker who made it his mission to aid people suffering from starvation and deprivation in the West of Ireland. One of the features of the Tuke Fund assisted migration was that only entire families would be facilitated, thereby freeing up smallholdings for another family. The emigrants were provided with the fare and money to enable them settle in their new locations.  In 1883 and 1884, 3,300 emigrants left North West Mayo and Achill, boarding ships in Blacksod Bay.  They sailed on 10 separate voyages, for Boston and Quebec. There are impressive storyboards at the centre, where descendants of those who left here almost 140 years ago are welcomed. One such family arrived while I was there. It is reckoned that over 2 million people are descended from these North Mayo emigrants

The research on the Blacksod Tuke Emigration scheme was carried out by Rosemarie Geraghty, I believe for her thesis. Rosemarie has researched the 10 ships manifests that carried these families to their new lives in what she describes as the time of the  ‘forgotten famine’  and is absolutely delighted when descendants arrive here in search of their roots. I asked her what the charges are for family research and she said ‘They left here with nothing, we are never going to charge them to know where they came from.’ Rosemarie is ably assisted by Norah Cawley, a superb scone maker who makes visitors feel very welcome indeed. I have been to many a family research centre before, but never one like this – with such enthusiasm, warmth,  passion  and great scone making!

All of this information with family names  is available free to view, and is searchable under various headings, at http://www.blacksodbayemigration.ie . They just love to hear from anyone wherever in the world whose ancestors may have left this beautiful place over 130 years ago.

On what was a miserable wet grey cloudy day, how lucky was I to discover such wonderful silver linings at the Mullet Peninsula and on the shores of Blacksod Bay!  More treasures of the Wild Atlantic Way – Beidh mé arais arís!

 

St Deirbhile Stained Glass window at the Centre.

St Deirbhile Stained Glass window at the Centre.

References

http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/how-blacksod-lighthouse-changed-the-course-of-the-second-world-war-30319681.html

http://www.blacksodbayemigration.ie/

http://www.museumsofmayo.com/deirbhile.htm

 

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Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish Countryside, Irish Diaspora, Irish History, Mayo Emigrants

Seamus Heaney’s Flaggy Shore

image Seamus Heaney was one of Ireland’s best loved poets. His death came suddenly on August 30, 2013, leaving an entire nation bereaved. While his work and his words live on in bookshelves and on bedside tables across the land, he is greatly missed. He had such a way with words and such a mellow speaking voice that I for one could listen to him all day long.
imageOn my recent trip along the Wild Atlantic Way I happened upon The Flaggy Shore in County Clare on the shores of Galway Bay. So here in front of me was a seascape that inspired this great man. On a grey day the leaden sky hung over a silvery sea lapping a silvery grey shore. I could not help but wonder how such a scene could inspire anyone!  And therein is his greatness. I recall reading that Heaney said of his poem about the Flaggy Shore ‘we drove on into this glorious exultation of air and sea and swans.’ The swans were not on the lake beside the shore on the day of my visit but there certainly was an abundance of air and sea!

Perhaps it takes a man of Heaney’s caliber and talent to see such beauty in what could be considered a relatively mundane landscape! Many know of this poem as ‘The Flaggy Shore’ but the correct title is ‘Postscript’.

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Postscript

And some time make the time to drive out west

Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white

Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it

More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open. – Seamus Heaney
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Seamus Heaney, poet, playwright, translator and lecturer, and the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature passed by this Flaggy Shore before me. I am so glad he did. He died three years ago. His legacy lives on.

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Filed under Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish Countryside, Irish Culture, Poetry

The boy ‘full of frolicsome fun’ who went mad: Martin O’Meara V.C.

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Martin O’Meara

One hundred years ago, less than four months after Ireland’s Easter Rising, a 30 year-old Irishman from County Tipperary was caught up with tens of thousands of others in the bloody Battle of the Somme. This was Martin O’ Meara, whose tragic and sad story has captivated many. My personal story of discovery is here: Discovering Martin O’Meara V.C. & The Psychological Cost of World War One. Martin O’Meara had left the small rural farm in Co Tipperary where he was raised and eventually ended up in Western Australia. Not far from Perth, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was sent to France. The very first action the encountered by the 16th Battalion  was on the killing fields of the Somme, at Mouquet Farm near Pozières, France. On these days a century ago, between Wednesday the 9th and  Saturday 12th August 1916, Martin O’Meara astonished his Australian Expeditionary Force officers with acts of daring bravery and courage. His military records contain eye witness accounts of his actions during battle as follows:

“On the night of 8/9 August, I saw Private O’Meara go out into ‘No Man’s Land’ where it was being severely shelled and remove wounded to places of safety where he rendered first aid and subsequently assisted to carry them down to the Dressing Station. I personally saw him remove not less than 6 men, mostly of the 15th Battalion, A.I.F. and the Suffolk Battalion. One of the wounded whom I saw him remove in this is Lieut. Fogarty of the 15th Battalion . A.I F.”  – Captain Ross Harwood.

“Late in the afternoon of the 12th instant, after my Company had been relieved in the front firing line, I noticed Lieut. Carse of the No.4 Machine Gun Company, lying wounded in a sap which was at that time out off from the rear by a very heavy barrage. In order to go to the assistance of this officer No. 3970 Private O’Meara with great gallantry and utmost fearlessness went through the barrage and subsequently assisted to bring him down to the Regimental Aid Post”  – Captain A McLeod.

“On the morning  of the 11th August, O’Meara was on scouting duty in ‘No Man’s Land’. At this time some three machine guns were firing over the section of ground which he was examining, and it was also being very heavily shelled with H.E shells.  About ten minutes after I saw him going over the parapet into ‘No Man’s Land’. I saw him return carrying a wounded man whom he had found lying in a shell hole in ‘No Man’s Land’. Having dressed the wounds of this man he returned to ‘No Man’s Land’ in pursuance of his duty as a Scout. My notice was again drawn to this man on the morning of the 12th when the section of  trench occupied by my company was being heavily bombarded by H.E and Shrapnel. I withdrew the garrison to either flank from one portion that was in process of being completely obliterated which subsequently happened; one man failed to get out in time and was buried. O’Meara, despite the overwhelming fire, at once rushed to the spot, extricated the man concerned and thereby undoubtedly saved his life. During the advance of the Battalion, on the night of 9/10th a number of men were wounded and left lying on the ground over which the advance had been made and subsequently on the 11/12th runners and carriers who had occasion to cross this area were wounded there. I saw O’Meara on many occasions on the 10/11/12th August search the ground for wounded to whom he rendered first aid, and whom he subsequently brought in or assisted to bring in  “  – Major P Black.

“I saw O’Meara on a number of occasions attending to or bringing in wounded men from an area over which the Battalion had advanced and from ‘No Man’s Land’. I estimate that the number of men rescued by him is not less than 20. At times when he was carrying out this work of mercy, the shrapnel and machine gun fire was intense beyond description. I cannot state who these men were – they were mostly members of the 15th Battalion, A.I.F  and the Suffolk Battalion , but I am able to identify Lieut. FOGARTY of the 15th Battalion , A.I.F to whom he rendered first aid and whom he subsequently brought into trench.This officer had been wounded and had been lying in ‘No Man’s Land’ for about 4 hours: the enemy fire at this point was so dense that it had been impossible to make a search for wounded, but such conditions did not deter O’Meara “ – Lieutenant F. Wadge.

”I respectfully beg to draw your attention to the conduct of No. 3970 Private O’MEARA, M., during the recent operations of this Battalion. Private O’Meara is the most fearless and gallant soldier I have ever seen; besides doing the very arduous duties imposed on him, by reason of his being in the Scouting Section, efficiently and cheerfully, this man used to fill in his time bringing in wounded under all conditions. Private O’Meara is always cheerful and optimistic, will volunteer for any job, and can be trusted to carry any duty through with the utmost certainty. During Friday night’s operations I required more ammunition and bombs on the left Sector, most of the reserve stocks having been buried owing to there being no communication saps, and the perfect hail of shells that were blowing the parapets to pieces, I would not detail anyone for this job. O’Meara went on his own initiative to the Battalion Dump twice, returning with S.A.A. and Bombs; on his second return he managed to guide a fatigue party across and relieved us of our shortage. During these trips he located wounded men and carried 3 of them back to the Dressing Station. This man has been responsible for the evcuaton of at least 20 men under conditions that are indescribable.’‘ – Lieut. W. J. Lynas

”On the night of the 11/12th August, that section of the Front Line occupied by ‘D’ Company was intensely shelled. All communication trenches were blown in as well as  cosiderable portion of the Front system of trenches. It was discovered that the supply of S.A.A. was very short, and that all bombs and flares for signalling purposes had been buried: An Infantry assault was expected to succeed the barrage. O’Meara volunteered to go down to the Regimental Dump and procure ammunition, bombs and flares. He made this trip twice and on both occasions staggered back under a very heavy load of the munitions required” – Lt. R.S Somerville 

On the evening of the 12th instant, after my Battaion had been relieved I met O’Meara near CHALK PITS going in the direction of POZIERS. He has previously been sent down as a guide to ‘D’ Company. When I asked him where he was going he informed me that he had just heard of 2 wounded men from the Battalion who had no been brought in from ‘No man’s Land’. He was subsequently seen by Lieut. Cook in the front trenches. The following day the attached note was received from him by my Scout Officer. During the latter stages of the relief of the Battalion a very heavy German artillery barrage was put down over the Communication trenches south of POZIERS. In order to carry out his mission of mercy this man voluntary returned through the barrage referred to after having reached a position of comparative safety.” E Drake Brockman, Lieut-Colonel, Major-General, Comdg, 4th AUSTRALIAN DIVISION

The terrible fighting that took place at Pozières and Mouquet Farm over less than seven weeks resulted in 23,000 Australian casualties, with 6,800 dead. Charles Bean, an Australian war historian described some of the horror ..

The reader must take for granted many of the conditions – the flayed land, shell–hole bordering shell–hole, corpses of young men lying against the trench walls or in shell–holes; some – except for the dust settling on them – seeming to sleep; others torn in half; others rotting, swollen and discoloured. 

Add to this the deafening noise, the exhaustion, the sights and sounds of screaming men, the rats, the trenches – this was a scene of horror that must have impacted all those who were there.

The image below was photographed on August 28 1916, at  The “Gibraltar” bunker, Pozières. A fatigue party laden with sandbags heads for the fighting at Mouquet Farm. and shows the total devastation caused by the barrage of shells that rained down on the area.

Heading for the fighting at Mouquet Farm (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Martin O’Meara was awarded a Victoria Cross, the citation for which was published in the Supplement to the London Gazette of Friday 9, September 1916:

No. 3970 Pte. Martin O’Meara, Aus. Infy. For most conspicuous bravery. During four 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.

I was delighted to have had the opportunity to see first hand the actual Victoria Cross presented to Martin O’Meara by  King George V at Buckingham Palace on 21 July 1917.

Martin O'Meara's Victoria Cross

Martin O’Meara’s Victoria Cross

O’Meara was wounded and was returned to England for treatment. Meanwhile news of his Victoria Cross award had reached Tipperary and there was great jubilation in the area. The local newspaper, the Nenagh Guardian of Sept 30, 1916, described him as ‘a bright lively boy full of frolicsome fun and a keen lover of sport’. He was welcomed back to Tipperary in October and on the 24th of that month he attended a meeting at nearby Borrisokane and thanked the gathering for their congratulations and for agreeing to take up a collection in his honour.

He rejoined the ANZACS but returned again to Tipperary in October 1917, where his demeanor was described as ‘strange’. He had failed to attend an event in Lorrha where his sister accepted a gold watch purchased from proceeds of the collection and the balance of £150. As a serving soldier he was not permitted to accept the money but it was held in trust for him. Martin was wounded three times during the war. He was  returned to Australia in November 1918 before the end of the war and almost immediately was hospitalized suffering from a mental breakdown. At what stage did the breakdown happen? Was it after the Mouquet Farm actions for which he won the V.C.? Was it a slow process that began to overcome him while on active service?  Reading the accounts above given by the officers in the field, one would wonder what drove him to be so courageous and to put himself in such danger to carry out the deeds in the first place. Did the breakdown happen before he returned to Australia? Was that the real reason he was sent home early? There are many unanswered questions regarding Martin and his mental illness. Shellshock was a relatively new phenomenon and was often seen as ‘malingering’ when displayed in regular soldiers. Treatment was in its infancy and there is no doubt but that his condition was both misunderstood and treated in a very basic fashion, certainly in the early days.

The  bright lively boy full of frolicsome fun who ran and played  in the green fields of Tipperary, the efficient,cheerful and optimistic soldier who went into battle, had gone mad.  Martin O’Meara, the hero of Pozières was incarcerated in mental institutions for the rest of his days, often restrained  in a strait jacket, often violent, often hearing voices. He died after 17 years in torment on 20 December 1935  and lies in this lonely plot in a vast graveyard in Western Australia.

Martin O Meara, the once bright lively boy full of frolicsome fun, lies in this lonely grave in Western Australia.

Martin O Meara V.C.  lies in this lonely grave in Western Australia.

After his death, the Catholic parish priest in Lorrha Co Tipperary went to court to have Martin’s bequest for the restoration of the old Abbey  in the village set aside and instead used to provide a pair of confessionals in the Church with the balance to be used for the building of Redwood school. An ironic enough situation given that the local clergy did not attend the event held in Martin’s honour many years earlier. The £150 pounds had become £370. 9 shillings and 1 penny by 1939. £60 pounds was expended on the confessionals and after expenses of £8. 8 shillings the balance of £362.1s.1d was allocated to Redwood school. This was a substantial sum in 1939 – equivalent to about €18,400 in modern currency. It is to he hoped that the pupils of that school are familiar with the story of the local hero, Martin O’Meara who played sport in the area just as they do and who loved having fun, who so courageously looked after his comrades in terrible circumstances. It is to be hoped that he is more to them than a name  inscribed on a local memorial in Lorrha village and on a small brass plaque in the Catholic church.

In Western Australia Martin O’Meara is well and proudly remembered nowadays by the Irish community, in particular Fred Rea of ‘The Australian Irish Scene’ and Ian Loftus and he is commemorated in Collie where he enlisted, as well as at the State War Memorial in Perth’s Kings Park on an annual basis. My good friend Leith Landauer who is a  guide at Kings Park first introduced me to Martin’s story. She has done trojan work to highlight the sacrifice he made for fellow Australians. To mark the centenary of the actions that earned him the Victoria Cross, Ian has written a biography of Martin O’Meara dispelling some of the myths and exploring the real story of this Tipperary man, this Irishman who gave his life, body mind and soul to help others. The book is aptly titled The most fearless and gallant soldier I have ever seen and is available here.

Martin O’Meara V.C.

November 6 1885 – December 20 1935

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam

Oh, The Pity of War.

Wilfred Owen – Mental Cases

Who are these? Why sit they here in twilight?
Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows,
Drooping tongues from jaws that slob their relish,
Baring teeth that leer like skulls’ teeth wicked?
Stroke on stroke of pain, – but what slow panic,
Gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets?
Ever from their hair and through their hands’ palms
Misery swelters. Surely we have perished
Sleeping, and walk hell; but who these hellish?

– These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished.
Memory fingers in their hair of murders,
Multitudinous murders they once witnessed.
Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander,
Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter.
Always they must see these things and hear them, 
Batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles,
Carnage incomparable, and human squander
Rucked too thick for these men’s extrication.

Therefore still their eyeballs shrink tormented
Back into their brains, because on their sense 
Sunlight seems a blood-smear; night comes blood-black;
Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh.
– Thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous,
Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses.
– Thus their hands are plucking at each other; 
Picking at the rope-knouts of their scourging;
Snatching after us who smote them, brother,
Pawing us who dealt them war and madness

References

National Archives of Australia Records

Australian Dictionary of Biography

Charles Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, Volume III, p. 728

War image is from the Collection Database of the  Australian War Memorial ID Number: EZ0098

https://ianloftus.com/martin-omeara-vc/the-most-fearless-and-gallant-soldier-i-have-ever-seen/www.awm.gov.au

http://www.seamusjking.com

Army Museum of Western Australia

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