Category Archives: Irish Australian

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.

BE1A17B0-C6D1-4CB7-AF32-8719D6B44E5B-10233-0000082781661F6F

 

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

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

The sun never sets …on Donegal places?

 

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Sun setting over Bushland in Australia

In James Joyce’s Ulysses,Mr.Deasy asks Stephen Dedalus what an Englishman’s proudest boast is. Stephen replies:“That on his empire..the sun never sets”. The saying came to mind on a recent trip to Australia as I came across a brand new development of some 250 houses in a relatively remote area.

The phrase ‘the sun never sets’ is familiar to many. Early reference was in relation to the 16th Century Spanish Empire that had extended well beyond its own borders and included vast tracts of Europe,North Africa,the Philippines and the Americas. Francis Bacon wrote :both the East and the West Indies being met in the crown of Spain, it is come to pass, that, as one saith in a brave kind of expression, the sun never sets in the Spanish dominions, but ever shines upon one part or other of them which, to say truly, is a beam of glory”. In the 19th Century it was the British Empire on which the sun never set.

Fast forward to more recent times, we now speak of globalization, emigration, diaspora.These concepts have largely replaced the might of empire,of conquest and supremacy. We Irish have down the centuries, spread out across the globe with tens of millions now claiming Irish descent.We have become people of influence in far-flung places and communities. Historically, invaders and conquerors applied their own placenames to their new lands – for example New York, Norfolk Island, San Francisco. Nor is there anything new about places being named from areas where immigrants settled, whether they arrived there involuntarily or otherwise. New York State has an Ulster County,Pennsylvania has a Dublin and Limerick is to be found in about 10 different locations in the USA.

In Western Australia the school attended by my grandchildren is at the edge of bushland, on the outskirts of a small village nestled under the Perth Hills, about 45 kilometers north of Perth City. Here kangaroos roam in the evenings,emus wander about and parrots make their noisy presence felt. Part of the bushland near to the schoolgate has now been cleared to make way for a housing estate. Not just any housing estate,but a housing estate whose roads and streets are named after villages I know well in my native Donegal, Ireland, some 10,000 miles away! Where snakes emus, cockatoos, scorpions, ants and a huge diversity of species roamed and foraged in a rich scrubland of eucalyptus, acacia, and tussocked grasslands, there now will be Donegal Entrance,Ballybofey Loop,Fintown Street,Killybegs Street,Doochary Street,Letterkenny Road, Ardara Road,Bundoran Street,Lifford Street,and Narin Loop! (Narin I presume began life as the correctly spelled ‘Nairn’)

 

While I do wonder that indigenous and local names might be more appropriate, I can’t help but also wonder if the residents will ever know the origins of their street names and the beautiful places they represent. Will they ever know that  Fintown sits on the shores of the dark waters of Lough Finn; that the beach on Narin is one of Ireland’s most beautiful; that Killybegs is famous for its fishing fleet; that Donegal refers to an entire county in the north-west of Ireland,as well as a town,and that the town has a castle; that Ballybofey sits on the banks of the River Finn; that Doochary is derived from the Irish language and means ‘the black weir’ and that here Irish is the spoken language; that Ardara has one of the most amazing views in the world at Glengesh Pass; that Bundoran is spectacularly situated on Donegal Bay on the world famous Wild Atlantic Way; that Lifford is the county town and dates from the 16th century; that Letterkenny is County Donegal’s largest town and is perched on a series of hills and has one of Ireland’s largest Celtic Crosses?  Probably not! And in all probability too the new local pronunciation will make the street names unrecognizable to anyone from Donegal.

I am assuming that the developer has a connection with Donegal or at least with Ireland. He has ensured that the names of these Donegal beauty spots will become part of the lives of  over 200 families,and perhaps even some from those very places, some 10,000 miles away.

Is this a ‘beam of glory’ for Donegal people? Should we be proud that our global reach is such that we now influence naming of places,without having had to conquer,or intimidate,or arrive as convicts. Instead we are just settling in and settling down in places where we have actually chosen to live? Before long perhaps, the sun will never set on Donegal placenames!

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

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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Filed under Ireland, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora, Irish diaspora in Australia, My Travels

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, possibly 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

Postcards of Serpentine National Park, Western Australia

You don’t have to travel far in Western Australia to find an Irish connection!  The Darling  Scarp lies to the east of Perth. It was originally named  the General Darling Range in 1827  in honour of General Ralph Darling who was Governor of New South Wales.  Ralph Darling  (1772 – 1858) was born in Ireland, the eldest son of  Sergeant Christopher Darling and has had several geographic features named after him. (For detailed biography  of this remarkable and controversial man see here.)

Serpentine National Park is a recreational area set  in the foothills of the Darling Scarp, that centres around a river of the same name. The upper reaches of the river flow into Serpentine Reservoir on the Darling Plateau, which is retained  by a 55 metre high dam, with a crest of 424 metres. This is one of the sources of drinking water for the metropolitan area of Perth

Water from the Serpentine Reservoir is released into the Serpentine Pipehead catchment some 5 kilometers downstream.The Pipehead Dam is 15 metres high and  142 metres across. From here, the water is piped away to the water mains.

The river  then  flows off  the Scarp at Serpentine Falls as it makes its way to the sea. Being mid-summer the Falls were not as dramatic as in winter when fuelled by rains. At their base is a deep, natural pool that has been hewn out of the rock by the force of the river

The area is heavily forested , most commonly by Eucalyptus marginata that has the Aboriginal name of Jarrah,  a dark wood that  resembles Mahogany. There are wonderful amenities in the very scenic park ranging from picnic sites complete with gas barbecues, cycle trails, bushwalks, campsites. and there is a very nice café at the top of the dam, with the original name of the Cafe on the Dam!

The area is beloved of birdwatchers and just from my table, I snapped these!

Just 40 kilometers from the hustle and bustle  of the city, Serpentine National Park is well worth a visit!

 

References

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

Biography of Ralph Darling at Australian \dictionary of \biography

Governor Ralph darling’s Iron Collar  by Marcus Clarke

 

 

 

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Filed under Ireland and the World, Irish Australian, Irish diaspora in Australia, Travels in Australia

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.

07-DSCF5550

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.

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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.

Notes:

*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.

References

Australian Dictionary of Biography

http://monumentaustralia.org.au

Newspaper report of Inquests 

Newspaper report May 16, 1926

Gruesome details of the discovery and retrieval of the  bodies

Western Australia Police Historical Society

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