Category Archives: Irish History

Postcards from Newtownforbes Co. Longford

Newtonwforbes in County Longford  is a small village located  just a few miles outside Longford town, on the busy N4 Dublin to Sligo road.  Originally known as Lisbrack (Lios Breac in Irish), the name was changed to Newtownforbes in the middle of the 18th Century by the Forbes family, who were granted the lands here in the early 1600s. The Forbes family, with the title Earls of Granard, have lived in the village for over 300 years.

 

The present Castle was constructed in the 19th Century – the original built c.1624  was destroyed by fire. As this is a family home, the entire demesne is private and not open to the public.

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Introduced Grey Squirrel (Image Wikipedia)

In 1911, the grey squirrel was introduced here. An indigenous species of North America, several pairs were given as a wedding gift to a member of the Forbes family in 1911. A number escaped and went on to breed prolifically and almost annihilate the native Irish red squirrel. Fortunately the progress of the grey squirrel seems to have finally been halted in recent years, and the red squirrel is again increasing in numbers.

The main street in Newtownforbes has remained largely unchanged over the decades with modern development confined largely to side streets.  Two churches dominate the village, both provided by the Forbes family.  The Church of Ireland church of St. Paul, built  about 1820, replaced an earlier church from 1694.  The graveyard here has been mapped and recorded by a local team of dedicated volunteers lead by Doreen McHugh and Des Mooney. The earliest recorded burial dates to 1698.  The results of their work can be seen on the Historic Graves website. See the link below.

 

There is a Forbes family crypt in this churchyard and interestingly, and unusually I would think, there is another Forbes family mausoleum attached to the  Roman Catholic Church of St. Mary’s.

 

 

The Catholic Church of St Mary’s, where I was baptized, is in the centre of the village. This is the parish church of Clonguish. It has been almost totally remodelled in recent times.

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Clonguish RC parish Church

However, it used to look like this:

Original RC Clonguish Parish church in Newtownforbes. (Image retrieved from NLI at  http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000330897)

The ‘explanation’ for this dramatic change appears on this plaque at the side of the church. It would appear that the term ‘restoration’ can have a very broad meaning!

Plaque marking the 1974 work on the RC Church in Newtownforbes.

Either side of the main entrance door are two carved heads, which may or may not represent specific people. These are part of the original church, built 1861-1864.

 

I had hoped that some of the interior survived the renewal, in particular the baptismal font at which I was christened, but I was to be disappointed.  With the possible exception of the brass sanctuary lamp, some stained glass windows and the mosaic memorial to the local nobility, everything else seems to be modern.

 

 

The new round stained glass window is very attractive and compliments the interior. The original side aisles have been removed and everything within seems to be very modern.

 

Returning to this little village in the midlands of Ireland is always poignant. The Station House, in which we were born and where we spent many happy times with our grandparents, was built in the 1860s and closed as a railway station in 1963 . It is now a beautifully maintained private residence. It is always nice to stand on the little bridge and look down to the place where we made many happy memories.

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Newtownforbes Station House, where our grandparents lived

The railway line is still in use. I have lovely memories of walking along the line with my grandfather. The main telephone lines ran on poles along the line in those days. and he used to lift me up and place my ear against the poles to hear them ‘singing’.

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The Dublin – Sligo line is still in use although the station is closed.

It was always exciting to cross over this little bridge as we knew we had arrived for more adventures!

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The railway bridge at Newtownforbes Station

Quite near the Station is the abandoned Lisbrack House. Most recently a nursing home, it was once a school and a bishop’s home. To the best of my recollection our mother was taught to play the piano in this building by a very cranky nun who was also a great pianist!

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Former Lisbrack House

Another prominent religious site on the main street is the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy. About 1869 the nuns were invited here by the Earl of Granard who provided the site for the buildings to enable them to educate the children of the estate. An orphanage and industrial school were also established here.  Sadly this site had a role in the tragic legacy of such establishments in Ireland. The school and convent are now closed and I understand that these rather nice buildings are now apartments.

 

The village has many buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The two storey tudor style house is one of a pair provided for estate workers and it was in these that County Longford’s first flushing toilets were installed.

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A Tudor style house built for estate workers – among the first in the county to have flushing toilets!

Many  of the houses would would have originally been thatched and unfortunately many are no longer occupied.

 

The former RIC Barracks built c. 1900 was burned during the War of Independence. It was later rebuilt for the use of the Garda Siochana (Irish Police) and is now a private residence.

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The former Newtownforbes RIC Station

This interesting item is the Famine Pump. It was provided by Lord Granard as a Famine Relief scheme. It sits alongside a building that started life as a shooting range in Longford army barracks.  It was purchased by a local who erected here c.1933 and is known locally as Christy’s Hall.

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Famine Water Pump and Christy’s Hall

The hard work of the local tidy towns volunteers is evident throughout the village.

 

 

And local junior artists have also been decorating the hoarding surrounding the former school buildings.

 

A board inside the church lists the townlands in the parish of Clonguish, which derives from the Irish ‘Cluain Geis’ which means The Meadow of the Swans.

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Newtownforbes is the last resting place of our grandparents and an uncle and aunt so visits nowadays are to pay respects at their graves in the new cemetery.

 

One of the great delights of my brief visit discovering a great little restaurant  called Tús Nua right on the main street, so if you happen to be passing through, drop in for a wee wander through this quaint little village and enjoy a fabulous coffee in this delightful coffee house!

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References

http://historicgraves.com/graveyard/newtown-forbes/ld-spnf

http://http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000317412

http://www.buildingsofireland.ie

 

 

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Filed under Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish Countryside, Irish Heritage, Irish History

The Irish Workhouse Centre

 

The Women’s building at The Irish Workhouse Centre, Portumna

Yesterday I attended a conference at the Irish Workhouse Centre in Portumna,Co Galway. This was my first visit to this complex of buildings, which date from 1850.  Workhouses were introduced in 19th Century Ireland to provide food and shelter for the destitute. The very name ‘Workhouse’ has terrible connotations to this day because of the awful conditions in which the inmates lived.

Families were split up on arrival with separate wings for men, women, boys aged between 2 and 15 and girls aged between 2 and 15 .  Children under the age of 2 could stay with their mother. Parents were permitted ‘ to have an interview with their child at some time in each day’, other than that, there was total segregation. How cruel for little children who would not understand what was going on.

The rear the building that housed the boys. With piles of rocks in what was the yard .

At the height of the Great Famine that raged from 1845 to 1851 or 1852, the poor were clamoring for admittance. Buildings built to accommodate 600 people could have been packed to overflowing with 1,600 people. The daily food allowance was minimal and of poor nutritional value, and many inmates of these establishments died of disease such as dysentery, cholera and typhus.

Inmates had to work in exchange for food and shelter. Women took care of laundry, scrubbed floors, did the cooking and did sewing and mending while men did often meaningless heavy work such as breaking stones.  The laundry area has some very fine industrial archaeology.

By the end of the Great Famine Ireland had 163 Workhouses. Many of these eventually became local hospitals and still stand today as care centres for the elderly. Many have been demolished and have disappeared without trace.

This wonderful project in Portumna which houses the Irish Workhouse Centre is a credit to those who had the foresight to save these buildings from total dereliction. Steady  progress is being made with restoration and conservation work. The centre is in use  for educational purposes and  there are plans for a Workhouse Museum.  The guided tours of the buildings are a revelation, and are conducted with knowledgeable enthusiasm.

Only a handful of Workhouses remain in their original format. This unique complex of buildings in Portumna  stands testament to the history of the ordinary people of Ireland, the non landed gentry from whom most of us descend. Ordinary people who endured extraordinary hardship –  many of them died, many emigrated, many survived too.  This is a tangible monument to them all and deserves our support.

For more information see http://www.irishworkhousecentre.ie

 

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Discovering a Carrigart man on the centenary of his death

Just the other week, I came upon a grave in Trinity Churchyard in Carrigart, my hometown, on which was recorded a World War 1 death. Amazing to think that I grew up in a parish in north Donegal and never heard about a young local man who by the age of 23 had received two bravery awards and had given his life in the 1st World War

The Fisher Family Headstone

This family headstone in the Trinity churchyard in Carrigart records the deaths of three sons, two of whom predeceased their parents. One of these had two bravery awards and was killed in France in 1917.

So what is the story of James Fisher? Who was he?

James was born in Umlagh outside Carrigart on December 10, 1893, the eldest son and third child of James Fisher and his wife Helen McIlwane.

The 1901 census tells us that  parents James and Helen were living in Umlagh with their 7 children, Rachel aged 10, Margaret 9, James 7, Kezie 5, Alexander 4, John 2 and David 6 months and James’ brother John. The census record can be seen here.

By 1911, David, born on October 9, 1900, had died in 1905, Rachel and Margaret were no longer living at home, but the family had 5 new members. The household at that time consisted of father James, mother Helen and John senior as well as  young James, now 17, Kezie who was 16, Alexander who was 14, John who was 12, and new arrivals Annie aged 9, Margery 7, Catherine Susan aged 5, Aaron who was 3 and another David, then only 2 months old, born on January 21, 1911.  The 1911 census record for the family can be seen here.

James enlisted in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and then transferred to the Machine Gun Corps, specializing in, as the name suggests, machine gun duties.   In 1916  Lance Corporal James Fisher was awarded the Distinguished  Conduct Medal, (the DCM,) for gallantry and the news was carried in The Derry Journal in September of that year.

From The Derry Journal of September 6, 1916

The citation for this award was as follows:

‘18679 Actg. L/Cpl J Fisher Mach. Gun Corps (LG 22 Sept. 1916)

For conspicuous gallantry in action. When his seniors had become casualties he took command of the gun team and pushed forward. Later he took  his gun into a shell hole, caught the enemy in the open , and drove back their counter attack.’

The Distinguished Conduct Medal

DCM

 

James was a very brave young man as he was again recognized for gallantry winning another Distinguished Conduct Medal or  ‘Bar’.  The 207th Machine Gun Company was attached to the 3rd Australian Division between October 1916 and October 1917 and it was during this time that he won the second award. The citation for his second or ‘bar’ award of the DCM  is as follows:

A/Corpl James Fisher D.C.M. For conspicuous gallantry on the night of 17/18 May 1917, when in charge of a Machine Gun in very exposed position on ?? the enemy attempted a raid of ? Gap at the same time heavily bombarding ? . No 18679 Corporal J Fisher at once opened fire on his S.O.S target ‘D’ Gap(?) and continued to fire although shells were bursting all around his position, and in spite of the fact that he received blows on the head and in the small of the  back from shrapnel. Owing to the protection of his steel helmet and belt respectively, the only injuries received were bruises. His sub-section(?) officer tried to persuade him to be relieved at the gun, but he stuck to his post till the situation became normal, although in a dazed and deafened state. After the raid was over he wanted to stay with his gun, but was ordered by his officer to go to Section Headquarters for the night. Besides materially helping to repel the raid, the example set to the N.C.O.s and men of this Company will have a far reaching effect

This recommendation is recorded is the 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Australian Division on 22 May 1917.

However his luck ran out and Sergeant James Fisher, DCM bar Service No. 18679, was killed  on September 25, 1916, probably at the Third Battle of Ypres. At this time it appears that the Machine Gun unit was no longer attached to the Australian forces. James probably died around Polderhoek Chateau Ridge on the morning of September 25, 1917, when the British  were about to launch their own attack.

In a History and memoir of the 33rd Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps, the events of the fateful day are recorded;

By 12 midnight on the 24th-25th September …the 207th Machine Gun Company..was ordered to be in position by 1 a.m on the morning of the 25th, about 159 yards behind our front posts..  About 3.30 on the morning of the 25th, the enemy opened a bombardment of hitherto unparalleled intensity upon our front.

The 207th Company, which…was close behind our front line grouped in batteries, opened fire with sixteen guns at almost point blank range into the massed hordes of the enemy. The enemy was concentrated behind Polderhoek Chateau Ridge… Low flying enemy aeroplanes soon, however, detected  (them) and both by machine gunning and directing artillery upon the 207th Machine Gun Company, the enemy inflicted very severe casualties amongst the gunners’

The body of James Fisher was never found, possibly blown to bits. He is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial for the missing as his grave is not known.  He is one of 34,992 young men whose remains were never recovered and whose names are inscribed on this wall.

Tyne Cot Memorial

The Tyne Cot Memorial stands around the eastern boundary of the Tyne Cot Cemetery near Ieper in Belgium, (Image Commonwealth Graves Commission).

At the time of his death, James was owed £45/10/5 plus a war gratuity of £16/10/0 which sum was paid to his father on November 15 1919. Not much consolation for the terrible loss of a beloved son.

When researching this post, I made a table of  the men from our parish of Mevagh, either born there or who had lived there at one time, and was astonished to find so many who had died between 1914 and 1918. This data has been extracted from the County Donegal Book of Honour, The Great War 1914-1918. These records are confined to deaths in the years 1914 to 1918 only and do not include, for example, a Mevagh man who is buried in Clontallagh who died in 1919.

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The statistics are quite startling. In 1914, 2 men from  our parish died, 3 died in 1915, 1 in 1916. In 1917, 9 died – 4 of them in a 4 week period alone (and one on the same day as James Fisher) – and 7 died in 1918.

It would be interesting to cross reference the data in the book with the civil records  and census records now online and to include those who died from wounds after the 1918 cut off date. and to find their  military records.

Sergeant James Fisher D.C.M (Bar) of Umlagh is the most decorated of these Mevagh men and he lost his life 100 years ago. He deserves to be remembered as a son of our parish, as indeed, do all of these men who lost their lives in  that conflict.

THE PITY OF WAR!

Sources

County Donegal Book of Honour, The Great War 1914-1918. 

Australian War Memorial at https:/www.awm.gov.au/collection/R1590453

http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/1631955/fisher,-james/.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action _of _25- September_1917

https:/archive.org//stream/historymemoirof300unse#page/32/mode/2up/searfch/207th

Ancestry.com UK Army Registers of Effects 1901-1929

With thanks to Damian Shiels, Military Historian, for his help in sourcing information for this post. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.
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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

There are raisins (reasons) for everything and currants for bread

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Mary Vaughan of Carrigart. A formidable woman who regaled our grandfather with her tales that were included in the Duchas Schools Collection recorded in the 1930s.

This post  has been updated in July 2017 to include a photograph of the key player, Mary Vaughan of  Carrigartt and to commemorate the anniversary of her death on July 5 1953., 64 years ago,  She would now be aged 145!

In a previous post  I wrote about finding reference to our family transcribed in the 1930s Schools Folklore Collection for Newtownforbes, Co Longford. I have now taken a look at the collection from schools in the parish of Mevagh/Rosguill where I grew up in County Donegal, to get an overview of what treasures are here, and to take a closer look at the stories from Mulroy school where our grandfather taught. It has been a fascinating journey of discovery at a social and personal level!

There were eight schools in the parish of Mevagh/Rosguill, in north County Donegal catering  for children from the ages of about 5 to 15. The parish schools listed are Manorvaughan, Derryhassen, Gortnabrade, Glen, Carrigart, Aghadachor, Kinnalargy  and Mulroy. (See links at the end of this post).  The collections for Aghadachor and Manorvaughan Schools are all in English, with some  stories in English from the Carrigart school too. All others are in Irish in the old Irish script.

Some of these schools had teachers who were still teaching us in the 1950s and 1960s. Pat McFadden (known as Big Pat) for example was the teacher at Carrigart School when the stories were being collected, and still taught there in the 1960s.

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Plaque at Carrigart School. (Image )

Tom McGinley was the teacher in Derryhassen in the 1930s, and he was still teaching in Gortnabrade School in the 1950s.

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Gortnabrade National School extension. The original building is older. (Image Thesilvervoice)

How fascinating to read of significant local events and how people coped with famine and floods; to see names of people who were drowned in various accidents or shipwrecks  – all woven in to local tales and stories. I particularly loved the stories of people who excelled and astonished their neighbours…great walkers, jumpers, runners, swimmers, divers, dancers. A local lady walked to Derry and back the following day in bare feet,(80 miles?)  and someone else who was a great Irish dancer, danced on top of Lackagh Bridge!

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Lackagh Bridge. Co. Donegal. You would not want to fall in here if dancing on the wall!  (Image Wikimedia Commons)

And these stories were recounted by people whose family names were very familiar in the area when we lived there, some 50 years later, such as McGettigans of Glenree, Dennisson from Drumdutton, Hall of Aughalatty, McBride of Tirlaughan, Boyces of Tullagh to name just a few. Much of the collection is beautifully hand written by the pupils themselves with the name and age of the informant usually given at the end of each piece. The pages below for example are the work of Cyril Hall from Aughalatty.

In these copy book pages you can discover that not one but several townlands in the parish seem to have a pot of gold hidden under a rock! Devlinreagh gets particular mention.  (Why would you bother doing the Lottery?). Then there were the super heroes of their day….Danny Coyle from Glenree who could dive 60 feet under water, a man who could cut 3 acres of hay with a hook in spectacular time, William McCorkle from Audhachor who could lift seven hundredweight on his back, two great runners, James McClure from Dunmore and James McBride from Carrick, and John Coyle from Kill who could jump 16 feet over a river! I particularly love the entries that describe names of fields, rocks etc in several townlands, such as seen below from Glen school.I wonder if any of these names are still in use?

Here too we learn of personal tragedies. Kate Boyce of High Glen was killed by a flash of lightning; three McCorkell children drowned on Tramore strand when they were cut off by the tide; John Coyle of Glenereragh died of the big flu in 1918 and the bodies of 5 shipwrecked men were buried in Carrigart. (This last story is new to me and I must get more information about it..can anyone help?)

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Mulroy National School where our grandfather James D Gallagher compiled the stories collected by his pupils from older family members and neighbours.(Image thesilvervoice)

When the Schools Folklore Collection was undertaken, our grandfather James D Gallagher was the school principal at Mulroy National School. Rather than have the children write the stories in their own hand, he seems to have undertaken all the transcriptions himself as I recognize his handwriting from the margins of books that used to be in our house. I wonder why? Perhaps he had a deadline to meet? The school closed in 1966. We were pupils  here for some years, with Enda Ward as Principal,  but never knew our grandfather who died in 1944.

One of the more prolific sources of information in our grandfather’s School Collection was a lady named Maire Ni Bhaughan, who was then aged 67. I am not sure where she lived in the 1930s, but during our younger days she was our immediate neighbour at the top of the village. I remember her fairly well as a shawled old lady sitting in the corner in the kitchen and I seem to recall someone saying that she smoked a pipe! She died on July 5 1953, when I was 5 years old.

Mary Vaughan or Maire Ni Bhaughan told of cures, placenames, landlords, how the robin got a red breast and how the donkey got the cross on its back. She told of buying and selling outside the chapel after Mass before there were shops; she gave a recipe for boxty and listed the native animals about the place including badgers, squirrels, weasels, foxes and ‘mada uisce’, the otter.  She told a story of three boys who were at a dance and had to walk through a wood to get home. A badger came out of his den, and one after another 7 more of them appeared .The boys were terrified and ran away. She also tells that there were  two people over 70 at the time (in the village or townland?)  – a McClafferty woman and Peter McBride.

I remain intrigued that so much of the collection from Mulroy school has been provided by Mary Vaughan, and equally intrigued by the fact that there is usually no pupil recorded as the collector, indicating that it is likely that our grandfather spent a lot of time with her listening to her recollections and stories. That he enjoyed them is beyond question as it is possible to see the humour shine through. There is one page in particular that lists local old ‘sayings’  (without attributing to anyone in particular) . Included here is a brilliant ‘Go Pettigo leat’ – To Pettigo  with you – a dismissive phrase apparently that I certainly never heard of.  (Pettigo is a village in the south of the county).

As with all of the Mulroy collection, every word is recorded in Irish  –EXCEPT for a little phrase here in English that says:

There are raisins (reasons) for everything and currants for bread. (Mary Vaughan Carrigart)

duchas-page

From Mulroy Collection..all in Irish apart from ‘There are raisins(reasons) for everything and currants for bread’ The immortal words of Mary Vaughan, Carrigart.

So how special was that to have her own quotation recorded and attributed to her in English?

There is one other spectacular entry attributed to her. It tells of Leprechauns and Fairy Folk.

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P110 Mulroy school. Leprechauns and ? A story from Mary Vaughan

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One of Mary Vaughan’s stories – the ultimate in ‘duirt bean liom’ ! Last paragraph:This is the best proof we have that there are fairies:- I myself heard a woman saying that a woman told her that she heard her grandmother saying that she heard a woman saying that a woman told her that she herself saw a fairy. (p111. Image Duchas)

She describes the ‘small things’ with their blue coats and red hats and how a man went off to cut a  stick to make a fishing rod. Taken ill when cutting it, he went home and did not return for some years when he was out looking for a stake to tie his cows. He recognized the  stick as the one he began cutting years earlier. He brought it home and tied up the cow but by morning she was dead. A further 3 cows met similar fates until he threw the stake away and no more cows died. It’s the entry at the end of his story that is so intriguing. Translated, it goes like this:

”This is the best proof we have that there are fairies:-

I myself heard a woman saying that a woman told her that she heard her grandmother saying that she heard a woman saying that a woman told her that she herself saw a fairy”

I cant help but wonder if the first sentence is inserted by our grandfather, and is tongue in cheek, or did Mary with a glint in her eye recite it exactly as written? We will never know!

But what we do know  is that our grandfather and Mary Vaughan spent a lot of time talking and listening and recording her social scene. Little did they know that their efforts would see the light of day decades later and their descendants would have a chance to step back in time and share their times together. Mary Vaughan obviously had a talent for story and tale telling, one that was passed on to her grandson Paddy, who became something of a legendary yarn spinner in his own lifetime and who continues to regale many a listener with his stories still!

What a truly wonderful resource the Duchas Schools Folklore Collection is, and what a wonderful way to learn about our places and our ancestors!

The original school pages for our parish can be seen by clicking the links below.

1078 Aghadachor (Aghador) Aghadachor, Co. Donegal
An Mhaol Rua (Mulray) Mulroy, Co. Donegal
Manorvaughan Rawros, Co. Donegal
Doire Chasáin Derrycassan, Co. Donegal
1079 Doire Chasáin Derrycassan, Co. Donegal
Ceann an Largaigh Kinnalargy, Co. Donegal
Gortnabrade Gortnabrade, Co. Donegal
1080 An Gleann Glen, Co. Donegal
Carraig Airt Carrickart, Co. Donegal
Rosguill & Doe Branch I.N.T.O. ) Rosguill, Co. Donegal

In Memoriam:

James D Gallagher died November 26  1944 aged 59 years

Mary Vaughan (Nee McGinley) died  July 5 1953 aged 81 years

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Mary Vaughan, The star of the show in the Multoy National School  Collection.

References:

All images from The Schools Collection are by courtesy of Duchas.ie

They can be contacted at http://www.duchas.ie

The image of  Mary Vaughan  Nee McGinley  is used courtesy of her great-grandson Kevin Vaughan of Carrigart. The original photo we understand was taken by local photographer John McClafferty.

Postscript

Duchas is looking for people to transcribe this collection. It could be possible to collate it into a local resource at the same time? To my amazement, many people nowadays are unable to read ‘cursive’ writing. (This issue is often raised on genealogy sites that I follow especially since the release of the Catholic Church and the Irish civil records online). So those of us of a certain vintage need to get at it!

The English cursive writing challenge is one thing, but the old Irish script and spellings from the 1930s pose a different challenge altogether. In my opinion these are best transcribed by native speaking locals who recognize place names and ‘turns of speech’ in common use in the locality!

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Folklore, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Irish legends, Irish Traditions, Local History, National Folklore Collection, Schools Folklore Collection

“They froze to death, their hands frozen onto the oars”

Fanad Head Lighthouse guarding the entrance to Lough Swilly, County Donegal, Ireland. (Thesilvervoice).

Fanad Head Lighthouse guarding the entrance to Lough Swilly, County Donegal, Ireland. (Thesilvervoice).

 

Fanad Head lighthouse features regularly on social media because of its splendid location. Whilst it is a major tourist attraction, it has also featured in some dreadful tragedies over the years. One such was the loss of the Laurentic on this day in 1917.

The Laurentic (Wikipedia commons) The Laurentic was an ocean-going liner of the White Star Line and,like their other world famous ship the Titanic, was built at Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Launched in 1908 she was considered a ‘magnificent ship’ at 570 feet long and she could ‘do’ speed! She plied the Atlantic operating a regular service between Liverpool and Canada, sometimes calling in New York. In August  1914 before the declaration of World War 1, she was filled with refugees fleeing the European situation. In September of that year she was commissioned as a troop carrier for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and subsequently saw service in Sierra Leone, Hong Kong and Singapore.

On 23 January 1917 she departed Liverpool for Halifax, Nova Scotia, with about 479 people on board. In addition she was carrying a cargo of 3,211 gold bars for the purpose of purchasing munitions in USA and Canada for the war effort.

On 25 January she made an unscheduled stop in Lough Swilly at Buncrana  to disembark a number of men who had contracted Yellow Fever and needed medical attention. While there, it was reported that the officers went ashore to enjoy a meal at the Lough Swilly Hotel and they were all back on board again by about 5 pm to set sail across the Atlantic. They headed out of Lough Swilly and no doubt Fanad Head lighthouse was one of the last things they saw. The weather was bitterly cold at -13c (9f) with blizzard conditions.

Less than an hour after departing Buncrana, the Laurentic struck two German mines in quick succession. The engine room was disabled, power and pumps were rendered useless and the ship listed. Many were killed. In pitch darkness the life boats were launched with some difficulty due to the list. The Laurentic quickly sank in 40 metres of water. Many had been injured as a result of the blasts and those who made the lifeboats rowed for Fanad Head. Newspaper reports stated that many were found “frozen to death in the lifeboats, hands frozen onto oars”.  Buncrana’s Lough Swilly Hotel became a temporary morgue, but many bodies continued to be washed ashore for a number of weeks.

71 were interred at St. Maura’s Graveyard in Fahan, 2 at Cockhill in Buncrana, 1 in Arklow, 1 in Orkney and Memorials to those who died are at various locations including Plymouth in Devon, Chatham in Kent. The wreck that lies in 40 metres of water off Fanad Head is an official War grave site.

And what of the 3,211  gold bars? Between 1917 and 1924 the Royal Navy recovered all but 25 of them. In 1934, 3 more were discovered, so 22 remain undiscovered.

At Downings  pier in north Donegal, near my home village, is one of the guns from the Laurentic, recovered by the Downings Diving  team and presented to them by the owners of the wreck.

A gun recovered from the wreck of the Laurentic. Sited at Downings Pier in County Donegal.

A gun recovered from the wreck of the Laurentic, sited  at Downings Pier in County Donegal. (Thesilvervoice)

Next to the gun is a handsome memorial to the 354 men who lost their lives on that bitterly  cold January evening, 100 years ago this very evening.

 

2013-05-19-12-53-11A memorial cannot portray the true horror that unfolded on that January evening, just off Fanad Head. But next time I pass it by, I will recall those who “froze to death, their hands frozen onto the oars”.

References

http://www.irishshipwrecks.com/shipwrecks.php?wreck_ref=128

Wikipedia.

http://www.irishfreemasonry.com/index.php?p=1_112_HMS-Laurentic

List of burial/ memorial sites:

http://irishfreemasonry.com/list%20of%20burial%20sites.pdf

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