Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Saint Colman

The Irishman who became patron saint of Austria


Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

(first published in Word October 2006)

Until 1663 when he was replaced by Saint Leopold the patron saint of Austria was an Irish man, Saint Colman.
Very little is known about who exactly he was though it is believed that he was a king’s son from somewhere in the south of Ireland. It was the year 1012 when a stranger calling himself Colman or Coloman wandered into the village of Stockerau, North of Vienna. He was on his way to the Holy land when his horse lost a shoe and he needed the service of the local smithy.
In a time when people did not venture far from their native villages and everyone knew everyone, strangers stood out. This particular stranger spoke a strange tongue and wore strange clothes. The neighbouring Bohemians had often attacked the area and the villagers took Colman to be one of their spies sent to do a reconnaissance.
Perhaps bitter and angry with previous incursions a mob gathered around the Irishman and he was thrown into jail where they tortured him but to no avail. He wouldn’t talk their language and persisted in speaking his unknown language. They brought him before the local judge but Colman’s attempts to explain himself as Gaeilge and with gestures made no impression on the judge who sentenced him to death by hanging.
He was dragged to barren elder tree and they hanged him there between two murderers.
It was the usual practice of the time to leave the corpse hanging to act as a deterrent. In the case of Colman his body hung on the elder tree for eighteen months.
Unlike the other corpses however, it did not decompose and it appeared to be as fresh as the day he died. Nor had the ravens and crows plucked out his eyes. The barren elder tree had also started to blossom. The villagers wondered at this but more was to come.

In the village there was a man called Rumaldus and his son suffered from severe gout. Rumaldus could do nothing about it until one night he was told in a dream to rub the afflicted area with a piece of flesh from a hanged man’s body. It was a common belief at the time that a hanged man’s body brought luck and cured certain ailments. Very often certain bodily parts were removed for this purpose. This is exactly what Rumaldus did and the corpse he chose was Colman’s. While he was cutting off a piece of flesh warm blood flowed out as if the body was still alive. He brought it home and the afflicted area had scarcely been rubbed three times when the boy stood up and was cured. Truly amazed by what had happed Rumaldus went back to where Colman was hanging and is reported to have seen that there was no trace of any incision made on the corpse.
The locals took this as evidence that Colman was no spy, but a holy man. They realised then that they that they had being a bit hasty in hanging the stranger and had treated him with great injustice. The least they could now do was to give him a decent Christian burial and he was buried it in a small church nearby. Not long after this his origins could be established when one of Colman’s servants traveling from Ireland, trying to trace the whereabouts of his unfortunate master, turned up in the village.
The village basilica was not to be Colman’s final resting place. The following year The Danube broke its banks and flooded the entire area causing massive destruction. The only place that the water shunned was Colman’s grave, which remained a green dry island. The local prince was deeply impressed upon hearing this and decided to the holy man’s body in re-interned in more suitable surroundings. It is said that when his grave was opened a smell arose that gave joy to all who smelt it and that the body still had shown no signs of decomposition. Thus the remains were transferred to Melk in 1014. Leopold II of Austria made Melk into a Benedictine monastery in 1089 and Colman, though never officially canonized became its patron saint.
Word spread of the saint’s remains and people travelled from afar to see them. A Colman cult thrived and no less than four popes granted indulgences to those who evoked his name. It was highly desirable for a nobleman to have holy relics in his kingdom and tended to increase his standing greatly.
Perhaps with this in mind King Stefan of Hungary wanted the remains to be brought to Hungary. When his request was turned down he threatened to start a war. In order to avoid bloodshed the Austrian’s reluctantly handed over the remains. The Hungarians were ecstatic that the miracle worker’s remains had come to their country. Instead of a blessing however Stephan’s kingdom was hit by plagues and famine, which the king believed to be an act of punishment and he had the remains returned to Melk in 1016.
Colman became patron saint of Austria in 1244. He also became patron saint of those sentenced to death by hanging, travellers and cattle, protected against foot ailments and the plague. Popular images of him show a man wearing pilgrim’s clothes of hat, cloak, and walking stick and are still quite numerous.
He was not only revered in Austria, but also in Bavaria, Swabia and Hungary, where several churches bear his name. Farmers’ daughters used to call upon him to send them a good husband.

Though he was replaced as Austria’s national saint by Saint Leopold in 1663 he still retains popularity. There is still an annual blessing of horses and cattle at Melk on his feast day on the 13 October. It is not only in Melk that traces of Colman are to be found. Beside the North side entrance of Vienna’s famous St. Stephen’s cathedral there is a stone, which once had traces of blood on it. This is said to be the stone on which Colman was executed.
Though it seems hard to believe that a single Irishman could have accidentally attracted so much attention he is still revered today a thousand years after his execution. In recent years
He has become a symbol of the need for us to listen to one another. He looked different and spoke differently and such people still arouse suspicion and can very easily fall victim to intolerance.

Hermann Goertz

Hermann Görtz- from Berlin to Ballivor


Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

While Hitler’s plans on Ireland are still regarded as at a matter of speculation he did send a number of spies into the country. It was of great concern to the allies that the Free State would be used to transmit weather reports, useful for U-Boats to Germany, or indeed that neutral Ireland become a safe haven for spies to infiltrate Britain. The most famous of these spies was Dr. Hermann Görtz (1890-1947).
Görtz had fought in the First World War and had interrogated allied prisoners, a skill that would later have its use. After the war he trained to be a lawyer and went to England on his own bat in the 1930s to write a book on the expansion of the RAF or so he would claim at his trial for spying at the Old Bailey in 1935. He was accompanied by a secretary, nineteen year old Marianne Emig, who posed as his niece. They lived in Broadstairs, Kent and the pair befriended a local RAF man, one Kenneth Lewis, whom they duped into giving information. He was amazed at how much they knew about the RAF and when he became concerned about telling them military secrets Görtz assured him that England and Germany would be on the same side in the next war. His ‘nice’ maintained regular correspondence with Lewis and was happy to get photos of RAF planes which the unwitting Lewis sent her.
When the landlord of the house Görtz had been renting called by he found a note his tenant had left out, which he believed referred to Göertz’s motorbike. Believing that someone had stolen the motorbike while Görtz was away, the landlord rang the police. They searched the property but did not find the motorbike. What they did find was maps and drawings of the local RAF bases. Emig was in Germany when Görtz was arrested and under the circumstances was reluctant to return to England. His trial attracted considerable media attention at the time and he was sentenced to four years. Following his release in 1939 he was deported back to Germany.

In 1940 Britain faced a serious threat of invasion and in May of that year Görtz parachuted into Ireland as part of a fact finding mission which had been given the codename Operation Mainau. He landed at Ballivor, Co. Meath, although he was supposed to have landed in Tyrone. He was wearing his Luftwaffe parade uniform and First World War medals. Still dressed in his uniform he went to the local Garda station to find out where he was and look for directions. The Guards seemingly found nothing unusual about the apparition that appeared before them and gave him the necessary directions. He then walked the eighty odd miles to Laragh County Wicklow, the home of Iseult Stuart wife of Francis Stuart daughter to Maud Gonne. In Berlin Francis Stuart had told him that if he ran into difficulty he was to go to her and he now availed of the offer.

From Wicklow he went to Dublin to meet IRA activist Stephen Carroll Held at number 245 Tempelogue Road. Held, having first made contact with Oscar Pfaus from the Abwehr, the German secret service, had travelled to Germany a few weeks previously to deliver to the Abwehr, Plan Kathleen.
Plan Kathleen was a grandiose plan conceived by IRA man Stephen Gaynor, which outlined a proposed invasion of the north, similar to the invasion of Norway and was approved of by Stephen Hayes acting chief of staff of the IRA.
As part of the plan an amphibious assault was to be made at Lough Swilly and German paratroopers would land in the Divis Mountains and Lisburn, while the IRA would attack from the south at Leitrim. The plan called for 50,000 German troops, but contained no details of coastal defences in the North or other vital information. The Abwehr had been told that the IRA in Ireland was 5,000 strong and all that they needed was guns, which they wanted to be brought ashore along the west coast.

Görtz, who had looked at the plan a fortnight before dropping into Ireland, thought it somewhat far fetched. He wanted the IRA to cease hostilities in the Free State, where they were more active than in the North, and concentrate their energy on fighting the British. He was shocked to find that the IRA was not the guerilla movement he had been told it was. He found it to be unreliable and completely disorganized. In terms of numbers it seemed nowhere near the amount he had been told in Berlin. It proved to be more of a liability to the Germans and other German spies were told to avoid contact with the IRA.

While Görtz was staying with Held, the house was raided on 22 May. While Görtz escaped through the back garden Held was not so fortunate and was given a given a five year prison sentence for his involvement in the affair. The guards found $20,000 in the house as well of details on Irish harbours, bridges and the distribution of the Defence Forces. The plans for Plan Kathleen were also uncovered and handed over to the British.
Görtz managed to stay at large until November 1941. When a known IRA man, Pearse Paul Kelly visited Stuart’s house, the guards raided and arrested both Kelly and a German who called himself Heinrich Brandy. Brandy soon revealed his true identity to be Hermann Görtz. Stuart was also taken into custody. She was imprisoned for a month, but was acquitted when brought before a court.

Görtz was not the only spy to arrive in Ireland. Others such as Günther Schütz were sent to collect weather reports and assess the affect of German bombing in the north. He was supposed to be dropped off at Newbridge in September 1940 but landed in Wexford and was arrested almost immediately. It is possible that this was the intention. The news of German spies arriving in Ireland would unsettle the Allies. Although the agents were informed in depth about Ireland by the professor of Celtic Studies, Ludwig Mühlhausen, they had very poor English and were bound to stand out. None of the spies were allowed to associate with German prisoners of war in the Curragh. Schütz tunneled his way out of Mountjoy in 1942 and found refuge in an IRA safe house. He was later recaptured and survived the war. Following this escape attempt Görtz and the other spies were transferred to Costume barracks in Athlone, where they spent the rest of the war.
In 1946, Görtz applied for asylum, but his application was turned down. He was released the following year and went to live with
Bridie and Mary Farrell. His days however in Ireland were numbered. On May 23, 1947 he was requested to report to the Aliens’ Office in Dublin, where he was told a plane was ready to return him to Germany. Knowing that he would probably face a prison sentence or worse in occupied Germany, he swallowed his poison capsule and died within a few seconds. He was buried in Dublin and later re-interned in the German cemetery at Glencree in 1974, where tucked away in a corner, his grave marked by a sword and wrapped in ivy he found his final resting place.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Travel Writings of Roger Lamb


Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

While personal accounts of military service from ordinary soldiers are common place today in the 19th century it was unheard of. Given that most soldiers were illiterate, accounts were usually only written by officers. The most detailed account of Britain’s war in America however was written by Dubliner, Sergeant Roger Lamb. He has largely been forgotten and he first came to my attention on a visit to the Army Museum in London. His account reads like a travel log and even for those not interested in military history his vivid descriptions of the Native American culture, their war dances and custom of taking scalps as well as detailed description of wildlife of the North American continent provide fascinating reading.
He drew his first breath in Dublin as the youngest of eleven children in 1756, where exactly, he does not reveal, but it would appear to have been near the North Wall, making him a Northsider. The first chapter of the book provides an interesting account of contemporary Dublin life. He recalls for example in 1766 walking along the South Wall, seeing criminals hanging on giblets near the light house. This was the Mugglins, four men convicted of piracy and murder and who hung there as a warning to others. After a month people started to complain of the smell and the sight of the decaying corpses and they were duly removed. He appears to be have been fascinated by swimming and recommended it as useful for surviving shipwrecks. He swam regularly in the Liffey at a spot where the Customs House now stands. He describes Lower Abbey Street and Marlborough as places where ‘Club law’ prevailed and he appears critical of the duelling culture prevalent in Dublin at the time.
He joined the British Army in 1773 aged seventeen and over six days was marched down to join the 9th regiment of foot, based in Waterford. Discipline was harsh and Lamb recalls bursting into tears when he first saw a man being flogged. Being literate he had an advantage over his comrades and was given better jobs, which was essential as his sergeant very often stole the men’s’ pay to pay off his debts in the alehouse. He was one of 50,000 British soldiers to be sent to the Americas to quell The American War of Independence. During his eight years there he served on two major campaigns was captured twice and twice escaped from captivity to rejoin the British Army.
He first served under General Burgoyne in Canada who invaded the Colonies from the north, intending to divide New England from the southern colonies. But as he moved southwards the Americans managed to block his supply routes and his army came to a standstill, eventually compelling him to surrender at the battle of Saratoga in 1777. It was the end of Burgoyne’s career who returned to England and became a playwright.

His army, the "Convention army," so called after the treaty or convention that was to be signed promising that the soldiers would never again take up arms against the Americans went into captivity. Lamb does not record his time in captivity as being particularly harsh though he does mention they were not given any blankets
and his captors set the straw alight as soon as they saw a prisoner falling asleep. He and about a thousand others managed to flee and he made his way to New York where he was assigned to the Royal Welsh fusiliers. This was one of the oldest regiments of the British Army, which fought in nearly every campaign of the war and now they were poised to move south to subdue the southern colonies. Lord Cornwallis, who would later become Viceroy to Ireland, commanded the Crown forces in the south.
Lamb fought at Camden in South Carolina in 1780, a battle the British won. He carried the regimental colours and although he had little medical experience became the provisional regimental surgeon. He was so exhausted at this battle that another sergeant had to replace him. The sergeant who replaced him was killed by a nine pound cannon ball and Lamb considered that fate was on his side.
While he was in the southern colonies he had opportunity to observe the way of life there. He gives a vivid description of slavery pointing out the hypocrisy of the Americans who while loving their freedom practiced slavery, with the plantation owner regarding a slave like a farmer would regard livestock.
At the battle of Guilford Court-House in North Carolina in1781 Lamb is credited with saving the life of Cornwallis. While it was a battle the British won, Cornwallis suffered a crushing defeat that same year at Yorktown. The surrender at Yorktown marked the end of the war and Cornwallis was to become known as the man who ‘lost America’.
With the cessation of hostilities Lamb was sent back to Portsmouth in 1783, demobbed shortly afterwards and returned to Dublin where he was appointed schoolmaster of the Methodist Free School in Whitefriar Street, a position he held for thirty years. In his free time he took up writing, observing that people were more interested in tales of war than of peace. He wrote A Journal of Occurrences during the Late American War in1809 and later Memoir of My Own Life in 1811, both of which were widely read. His books were to influence others and Robert Graves would later write two thinly fictionalised accounts of Lamb’s experiences entitled Sergeant Lamb of the Ninth in 1940 and a sequel entitled Proceed, Sergeant Lamb in 1941, which dealt with the passions and frustrations of a distant war which mirrored many of Graves' own feelings for World War Two.
In 1809 Lamb was awarded a pension of one shilling a day from the Chelsea Hospital, based at The Royal Hospital Kilmainham in recognition of his military and literary services. He died in 1830.