Monday, October 7, 2013

If you like my blog posts you will definitely like my latest book- "Fadó Tales of Lesser known Irish History" which has just been published by Matador, an imprint of Troubador.

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Other books written by Rónán Gearóíd Ó Domhnaill

Loftus Hall

At first glance it is a big house like so many in the country, but Loftus Hall, located on Hook head in County Wexford has an eerie reputation and is said to be one of the most haunted places on the island. Local folklore has it that the hall was haunted both by the devil and by the ghost of a young woman.
The Redmond family built the original building about 1350 and lived there until the Cromwellian campaign, when their lands were confiscated and it was granted to the Loftus family in the 1650s. Charles Tottenham came to live in the mansion in the middle of the 18th century with his second wife and his daughter Anne.
The family like to play cards in the evening. One night during a storm, a ship unexpectedly arrived at Hook Peninsula. A young gentleman from the ship came to the house and was made welcome and he stayed a few nights. In other versions of the tale he arrived on horseback having lost his way.
Anne and the young man became very close and both had considerable success playing cards. One night as they played the young man dropped a card on the floor. Anne went to pick it up and as she did so she saw to her horror that the man had hooves for feet. She screamed in horror as the young man, realising the game was up vanished in a puff of smoke leaving a hole in the ceiling where he exited. It was said that the hole could be properly repaired. Of course the cloven foot could be explained by a clubfoot, which was much misunderstood at the time.
Though the mysterious stranger had departed his presence remained and poltergeist activity made his presence known. Protestant clergymen were called upon to exorcise the house, but failed. Though the penal Laws were in force the family sought the help of Father Thomas Broaders, who lived locally and he exorcised the house. When he died in 1773 his tomb in Horetown Cemetery was inscribed with the following epitaph:

"here lies the body of Thomas Broaders,

Who did good and prayed for all.

And banished the Devil from Loftus Hall."

Anne never recovered from the shock of that night and lost her mind. She was put in her favourite room in the mansion, known as the Tapestry Room, where she would spend the rest of her days. She refused food and drink and sat with her knees under her chin until she died there in 1775 aged 31. It is said that when she died, they could not straighten her body as her muscles had seized and she was buried in the same sitting position in which she had died.
There may have been a more credible explanation however for her supposed mental illness and it was said that Anne had shared her bed with the young man and suddenly found herself in the ‘family way’. The young man was either no longer around when her pregnancy was discovered or her father disapproved of him. At the time such pregnancies would have been viewed as a disgrace and it would not have been unusual for her to have been locked away out of sight, never to be spoken of again.
Given that her life had been an unhappy one it is not surprising that her ghost remained on in her beloved Tapestry Room.
A number of encounters with Anne’s ghost are recorded. The father of the Rev. George Reade stayed with a large party at the Hall some time about 1790, and was given the Tapestry Chamber to sleep in. He described how something heavy leapt upon his bed, growling like a dog. The curtains were torn back and the clothes stripped from the bed. At first he assumed that someone was playing a trick, but searching the room he found no one and the door was locked. Several years later, when the 2nd Marquess of Ely was at the Hall, his valet, Shannon, was put in the Tapestry Chamber and woke the whole household by his screams in the night. He reported that the curtains of the bed had been violently torn back and he saw a tall lady dressed in stiff brocaded silk. He refused to spend another night in the room.
When the Rev. George Reade and his father came to stay George chose the Tapestry Chamber as his bedroom. As he stayed up late reading a magazine, he saw the door open and a tall lady in a stiff dress pass silently through the room to a closet in the comer, where she disappeared. He did not realise that he had just witnessed a ghostly apparition until it happened again the next night and he tried to grab her. His arm went right through her. The ghost does not appear to have terrorised him and although aware of the tale continued to sleep in that particular room whenever he found himself at the hall.
This was not the case with Rev. Charles Dale, tutor to the young marquess, who slept in the room in the latter half of the 19th century and though taciturn about what he had witnessed was left visibly shaken. By 1868 The Tapestry Chamber had become a billiards-room but spirits do not appreciate changes to their haunts and the servants reported that her ghost made considerable noise by knocking the billiard balls about.

It was perhaps because of the continued hauntings that the hall was demolished in 1870 and rebuilt. The present structure dates from this time and was the residence of the 4th Marquess of Ely. In 1917 Loftus Hall was bought by the Sisters of Providence and turned into a convent and a school for young girls interested in joining the order and later by the Rossminians from 1937 until 1983. In 1983 reopened it as "Loftus Hall Hotel", which operated until 1990s. The site has been examined by a paranormal investigator who claimed to have felt a presence there. The site stands on 70 acres of land and includes five reception rooms and twenty-two bedrooms. It was sold again in 2008 to an unknown buyer.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Recess Boycott

This summer driving through Connemara I pulled into Sraith Salach, (Willow Stream) as Recess is now officially called, on the N59 Galway Clifden Road. All Gaeltacht villages throughout Ireland now only have the Irish name, though it caused such a furore in Dingle/ Daingean that they made an exception. The village consists of a shop, pub and marble shop. My friends were eager to photo the statue of the Connemara giant designed to lure tourists into stopping.

I went across to the shop and addressed the local shop assistant in Irish. I speak Irish, but it is useless to me if I never use it. Though they appeared to understand they answered me in English. I continued in Irish and they became aggravated. This is Connemara- Irish is sometimes welcome, sometimes not and impossible to say in advance where it is welcome and where it will be met with hostility.

Still wondering about the situation I just experienced we drove past a primary school and I suddenly thought of Bríd Ní Dhomhnaill, no relative, but subject of a bizarre boycott of the eighties which would last for five years.

The school opened in 1975 and though situated in the Gaeltacht, English was the language of instruction there. The new principal, Bríd Ní Dhomhnaill, opposed this. According to Ní Dhomhnaill only one parent was adamant that English remain the language of instruction and she went and spoke to the parents individually explaining the importance of Irish to them. She also tried to promote the rich cultural heritage of the area to her pupils, which was undeniably intertwined with the Irish language. In the eyes of her enemies she became a ’language fanatic’. Today it is slowly becoming obvious that we are terrible at languages, whether continental or our ‘first official language’. What Bríd Ni Dhomhnaill, as an educational professional, wanted to do was to teach her pupils enough Irish so that they would have more than the pathetic cúpla focal, which would today be seen as an advantage. In the eighties, however the local parents saw emigration as the only future for their children and believed Irish would be of little use.

She also crossed swords with the Catholic Church when she demanded that the mass be said in Irish only as opposed to bilingual, which usually meant the odd Irish word here and there but mostly English. She claimed that the priest, Father Gabriel Charles, could not, or would not speak the language of the local people. Religion is a very personal thing and it would be no exaggeration to say that elderly parishioners would have been more comfortable with Irish than English. The priest warned her against meddling in church affairs and that if she continued to do so he would press the Department of Education for her dismissal.

The problem with that is that there were no reasonable grounds to dismiss her. She did her job to the letter and though malicious allegations of incompetence were made against her, the Department of Education could not find fault with her. Nevertheless parents withdrew their children from her class and engaged the services of a private teacher. Though her union, the INTO, supported her they could not resolve the matter.

The boycott continued and though the private teacher appointed by the parents was removed she was replaced by another teacher, paid by the department of education, a bizarre move.
The strange thing is that nobody was really sure what the boycott was all about; was it that she had challenged the church on a civil rights matter or that she was doing the job she was paid to do? Possibly part of the problem was that she was too enthusiastic about Irish. She saw the Irish speaking culture of the locality being eroded and tried to stem the tide, determined that the Irish language would not become a foreign language as it had in other parts of the country.
Another teacher would have just gone with the flow and acquiesced to whatever demands parents made, but Bríd Ní Dhomhnaill was a woman of principle with a strong sense of right and wrong. She described her predicament as being ‘recessed’, whereby although she had done no wrong she was bypassed by both parents and the Department of Education. She still had to be paid for turning up to an empty classroom. It was a bizarre situation that should never have happened or gone on as long as it did.
Many hoped that when Father Charles was replaced by Father John Cosgrove that the situation would improve. It did not and the parents were as determined as ever that English remain the language of a Gaeltacht school. The school eventually closed in 1991 and Bríd Ní Dhomhnaill was transferred to a Gaelscoil in Galway city. Today the boycott has been forgotten about, though still has the power to provoke strong reactions if mentioned in conversation. Many in Galway, a county which sees itself as a champion of Irish culture would prefer it that way. Even today there are teachers who are afraid of being too enthusiastic about teaching Irish for fear of aggravating reluctant pupils and drawing the ire on the parents, yet a common complaint is that people cannot speak a word of Irish after twelve years of learning the subject. For me as a language teacher it is disturbing that though have improved for Gaeilgeoirí it still happens that the standard of Irish taught in school is dictated by parents and not the Department of Education.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Carrowntryla House

Carrowntryla House was one of the ‘Big Houses’ in Dunmore, County Galway and is a place of personal interest to me as it was in this house that my grandmother was born in 1915. Her father, a former RIC constable, was the caretaker there until 1928. It is not known for certain where the name comes from. In its corrupt English form it appears to have several spelling variations. Carrown is a corruption of Ceathrú meaning quarther and Tryla possibly comes from traonach meaning corncrake, a bird which the like the Irish language is no longer native to the area.
The house was first owned by the Catholic Burkes, who drummed up support for King James at Aughrim, which did them few favours. In 1753 they had to sell and the house passed into the possession of the Henry family in the 1770s. Their only daughter, Anne married William Hancock, son of Reverend Elias Handcock of Cavan in 1802. The Handcocks, originally from Devon had been in Ireland since the 14th century but had hitherto stayed east of the Shannon.
Their son William Henry Handcock, against his parents’ wishes, married Catherine Josephine Kelly in 1824. The estate at the time had an income of £4,000 per annum. She was considered a great beauty and the couple had three daughters Josephine, Anne Mary and Honoria. Josephine kept a diary and described the grandeur of the time with the family dividing their time between Dublin, London and Paris, receiving visitors such as the Lord Lieutenant. Her diary entries made fond references to her father but she wrote less affectionately of her mother. Handcock accused his wife of having an affair and they separated in 1841. His wife had visited Portumna Castle, home of Ulick John de Burgh, the Earl of Clanricarde (1802-74) and absentee landlord, ambassador to Russia and later Postmaster General. In 1841 she gave birth to a boy whom she called John Delacour and was passed from relative to relative, believing he was an orphan. Handcock went to France and when he became sick was treated by Clanricarde’s physician. Before he died in 1843 he was encouraged by Clanricarde, who appeared to be trying to reconcile the family, to change his will making Catherine guardian of three daughters who would inherit Carrowntryla. Catherine took the girls to Paris but they returned to Carrowntryla during the turmoil of the 1848 unrest. Though left financially well off by her late husband Catherine was wont to complain of how poor she was and neglected the girls to the extent that they had neither proper food nor clothes and led lives of misery. By contrast when Delacour came to visit he was indulged and both she and her son seemed to despise the three girls. Josephine made a will, drawn by Lord Clanricarde bequeathing £10,000 to her mother in the event of her sister's marrying, but giving the whole estates to her mother if Honoria should die without leaving any children. Josephine died in 1849 and Anne Mary in 1851.They may have died of TB, induced undoubtedly by the poor living conditions mother had enforced on them. It was said and is still said to this day, that they were murdered when their mother laced the daughter’s dancing slippers with arsenic. Arsenic kills slowly and is hard to detect. In an 1855 article from The New York Times entitled ‘Another Romance in Irish High Life’ the mother, who died in 1853, was portrayed as a cruel villain who had treated her daughters most inhumanely stating that “greater cruelty was never exercised by a gaoler in the worst of times that this unnatural mother displayed towards her daughters”. The article summed up by saying that ‘the death of her children seemed to be the object of her life’. Indeed some commentators suggested the marriage in 1824 was part of an elaborate scheme between herself and Clanricarde with a view to getting the estate. Honoria died nine months later without leaving a will. The eleven year old Delacour became beneficiary of the estate. The claim was challenged by William’s brother, John Stratford Hancock who argued that an illegitimate son had no inheritance rights. The matter came to court and attracted considerable media attention both nationally and internationally. The case went on for two weeks and Clanricarde though distancing himself from the proceedings used his influence to get a compromise. It was decided that, though Carrowntryla would remain with the Handcocks, Delacour would have to be compensated to the sum of £20,000. It was a massive sum and had Handcock had to mortgage the estate to finance it. Clanrickard denied Delacour was his son and also played down his dealings with the Handcocks in general. He claimed that he was in Russia when Delacour was conceived. Josephine’s diary was produced which placed him at Portumna Castle in 1840 when her mother was said to have visited. Delacour squandered most of his inheritance on gambling, served with the 11th Hussars was a close friend of Randolph Churchill. The scandal resurface when the writer Hannah Lynch (1862-1904), a close friend of Douglas Hyde and Fanny Parnell, spent time at Carrowntryla as a governess. Her first novel "Through Troubled Waters" (1885, reprinted 2011), was a thinly fictionalised account of the Handcocks, in today’s parlance a ‘tell all account ‘of what life was like there. Critics described the plot as unpleasant but not without merit. A contemporary review of the book in The Spectator was critical of the horror aspect of the novel and had the following to say:
‘The woman who poisons her daughters to secure the inheritance for her son is a monstrous creation which might very well have been dispensed with’.
Very few original copies survived as both the Handcocks and Clanricarde bought and burnt them. By the 1870s the estate would have reached its zenith and consisted of 9,500 acres. The Handcocks also owned a considerable amount of land in Tuam and leased the land where the Cathedral now stands for a shilling a year. Times were changing in Ireland however and when Land War started in 1879 the tenants sought to buy the land which they farmed. A considerable part of the estate was sold off to cover debts. By the 1880s the Handcock’s children were resettling to The US, particularly Sundance Wyoming and Canada. The Land Commission tried to buy the estate but were out were outbid by Sir Henry Lopes and Mr Fitzwilliam Hume Dick. On the death of the latter his nephew and heir Captain Quintin Hume Dick (1849-1923) bought out the other mortgage and in 1897 went to live there. He was still living there in 1906 and the property was still in his name in 1910. The only occupant of the house however according to the 1911 census was 65 year old Daniel Kilcommons. Patrick Burke also 65 was listed as the gatekeeper. The Land Commission finally took over the estate in 1914. My great grandfather, John Deneny, was by this stage living and working there as the caretaker.
The Handcock of whom my grandmother always spoke was Major Gerald Carlile Stratford Handcock (1858-1938). His portrait once hung at the Museum in Galway but has since been removed. He served in the Princess of Wales's Own Yorkshire Regiment also known as The Green Howards. The regiment fought in the Maadi campaign in the Sudan, on the North West Frontier in India and in the Boer War in South Africa. Handcock was also a collector of antiquities gathered while stationed in Egypt in the 1880s and he sold a collection of Cypriot lead and selenite curse tablets to The British Museum in 1891. His niece, Evelyn Handcock Ferguson would later sell a large number of ancient Cypriot items in 1940 to The National Museum in Dublin. He was the last of the Handcocks to live at Carrowntryla when he moved from Athlone back to the ancestral home in 1928 and managed to acquire a hundred acres. He died in 1938 and was buried with his parents in the Augustinian Friary in the centre of Dunmore where the tomb still remains. His niece, a Mrs Voss inherited the house. Trying to run a house of what is believed to have been fifty rooms would have cost a considerable amount. Rates on such houses at the time were high and though such houses would today be considered tourist attractions and part of our heritage they were poorly regarded at the time and considered unwanted remnants of our colonial past. She sold the house to a Galway developer Hector McDonnell. The contents of the house were auctioned off, the man-made lake drained, the old trees felled and today not a single stone of the house remains. The orchard wall was saved from demolition and it contains an archway believed to have been taken from an ancient wall in Tuam. The closed family crypt where the unfortunate girls found their final resting place was left intact and today serves as a reminder to greed and cruelty.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Dan O'Hara - lyrics to the song

Sure it's poor I am today
For God gave and took away
And He left without a home poor Dan O'Hara
With these matches in my hand
In the frost and snow I stand
So it's here I am today your broken hearted

A chusla geal mo chroi*, won't you buy
a box from me
And you'll have the prayers of Dan from Connemara
I'll sell them cheap and low, buy a box before you go
From the broken hearted farmer Dan O'Hara

In the year of sixty-four
I had acres by the score
And the grandest land you ever ran a plough through
But the landlord came you know
And he laid our home so low
So it's here I am today your broken hearted

For twenty years or more
Did misfortune cross our door
My poor old wife and I were sadly parted
We were scattered far and wide
And our children starved and died
So it's here I am today your broken hearted

Though in frost and snow I stand
Sure the shadow of God's hand
It lies warm about the brow of Dan O'Hara
And soon with God above
I will meet the ones I love
And I'll find the joys I lost in Connemara

*a chuisle geal mo chroí / a kwishla gal mo kree/ = love of my heart

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dan O'Hara- the man behind the song

I had occasion to visit Dan O’Hara’s hillside farm in Connemara recently as part of my work as a tour guide, work that takes me all over the country. The owner Martin Walsh, a natural born storyteller captivated the group with the story of how the unfortunate farmer ended up in New York and sang the sad song which told of his misfortune. The name O’Hara itself comes from the Irish Ó hEaghra, Eaghra being a Sligo chieftain who died in 926. By the standards of the area he would have been regarded as something of a prosperous farmer who farmed eight acres around his average sized cottage. The potato was the main source of food and an acre and a half of potatoes would feed five or six people for six months. At the time nobody owned the land on which they farmed and the tenants could be evicted on a whim or if the landlord suddenly decided the land would more profitably be used for grazing. The landlord tenant relationship was very different to that of in England. Firstly the landlord did not usually live in Ireland; indeed many rarely if ever visited their Irish estate and seldom had any idea was what going on there. Secondly the landlords viewed their tenants as a conquered people to be exploited. They preferred to let local land agents, known as ‘land sharks’ take care of their estates and send the rent to England. The tenants lived in fear of these agents. Though the cottage is half way up a mountain it was a focal point in the area for several céilis and many men found their future wife at his home. The area is today sparsely populated but in the 1840s it would have considerably more densely populated. Not only would the Famine decimate the population of Connemara but it also affected the Irish speaking culture. His fatal mistake was to improve his cottage by installing larger windows around 1845. Home improvements were frowned upon by landlords and agents. Doors and windows could not exceed a certain height and dimension without the notorious window tax coming into force. It is from this tax that the phrase ‘daylight robbery’, a tax on natural daylight, stems. The already high rent was increased and O’Hara failed to make the payment at ‘gale day’. Tenants would not have had any right of appeal and could expect no mercy. The end came when the landlord’s agent arrived with the bailiffs, a battering ram and the heavily armed RIC. The thatch was set alight, the walls pushed in and the family left without a home. Evicted tenants would then usually set up a make shift shelter in a ditch or a bog hole and live like animals. Very often however they would be expelled from the area and friends and neighbours would be forbidden from taking them in. America offered the only chance of survival. His friends and neighbours would surely have keened the departure of the O’Hara family with an American Wake, sadly accepting the fact that they would never see Dan O’Hara in Connemara again. It was the fate shared by thousands at the time. It is not known which ship the O’Hara family left on. More than likely he would have left through Clifden or Galway. The ships which sailed the Atlantic became known as ’coffin ships’ and conditions on board were appalling. Passengers were not screened prior to boarding and many came on board with typhus. A typical journey could be anywhere from forty days to three months, depending on the wind and the skill of the captain. It was assumed that the passengers would bring their own food and the ships were only required to provide 7 pounds of food per week per passenger. Many passengers were starving when they started the journey and they depended on this meagre ration which was often poorly cooked presenting further health problems. The sick and dying lay in their own filth with no doctor on board to tend to them or priest to give the last rites. Not only was the food a problem but the water supply often became contaminated which led to dysentery. Some ships even ran out of water which increased the torment of those already suffering. Of the 100,000 Irish that sailed to North America in 1847, one in five died from disease and malnutrition. Only the strongest would survive and Dan O’Hara’s wife and three of his children did not survive the voyage. Dan O’Hara arrived in New York a sad and broken. Man. In mid 19th century America no group in America was considered lower than the Irish and many, including Dan O’Hara, would have spoken little or no English which is why even today so much of New York slang has Irish roots. Conditions for the newly arrived emigrants were little better than in famine Ireland. Most of the Irish would have lived in a shanty, from the Irish sean tí, which were a common feature in urban areas. At the time 80% of all infants born to Irish immigrants in New York City died. Dan O’Hara was forced to put his remaining children into an orphanage. As the song proclaims he sold matches though his Irish accent would have been scorned by the Nativists, the white Anglo Saxon Protestants who formed the ruling elite of America. He ended his days in destitution and never got to live the American Dream. Dan O’Hara would have long faded into obscurity were it not for singers such as Delia Murphy (1902-71) from Claremorris who wrote the song and set it to music in 1951 at a time when such songs were not popular. She learnt many of her songs from the travellers who camped on her father’s land. Finbar Furey also adopted the song into his repertoire making sure the unfortunate farmer would not be forgotten. The cottage where Dan O’Hara once lived was restored in 1992 where it now forms part of the Connemara Heritage Centre at Lettershea on the N59 on the Galway side of Clifden.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


While in no way trying to defend it, it would be wrong to depict Kingsmills as an isolated event, evidence of IRA barbarism. It was a barbaric event but it was inspired by equally barbaric events, which are often overlooked. Kingsmills was a brutal example of the tit-for-tat murders that plagued the north for so long. On 4 January 1976 The Reavey family, who were Catholics living at the village of Whitecross in South Armagh became the targets for loyalists. The parents had gone out for the evening, leaving their three sons, Anthony (17), Brian (22) and John Martin (25) in the house. Four masked gunmen entered the house as the boys watched television and opened fire. Both Brian and John Martin were killed instantly. Anthony took refuge in the bedroom where he hid under a bed, but was found, shot and left for dead. He survived but died a month later. The family had no political connections and had been targeted solely for their religion. As would become a common feature in the north a grieving father went on television to say he wanted no retribution for what he had suffered. He said it was worse for his killers as they had to live with what they had done . Nobody was ever caught for the atrocity but it was believed to have been planned by Robin Jackson of the UVF, who also a suspect in The Dublin Monaghan bombing. He died of cancer in 1998 and according to a friend he believed that was drawn into a world of evil that wasn't of his making. As the Reaveys lay dying, fifteen miles away in the village of Gilford another UVF gang struck the O’Dowd family as they sang around the piano. Three members of the family were killed when the gunmen burst into the house firing indiscriminately. It was believed that a member of the RUC, John Weir, had been involved in the murders as well as a member of the UDR. The RUC was supposed to be an impartial police force and the UDR was a type of militia trained by the British army and used as Reserve Defence Force. Membership was almost exclusively Protestant and many of its members were also heavily involved with loyalist paramilitaries. The murders were claimed to be revenge for an IRA bomb attack on an Orange Order Hall in Gilford. Thus the scene was set for an even bloodier climax. On the 5 January 1976 twelve workers from the Glenanne textile factor were being home to the village of Besbrook. The bus always took the same route at the same time. The driver slowed down as a man in military fatigues suddenly waved him down. The occupants eleven Protestants and one Catholic got out. They had nothing to hide and therefore nothing to fear. The ‘soldier’ who spoke with an English accent had not asked for the driving licence and when they were asked who the Catholic was they feared the worst for their workmate and stopped him going forward. Richard Hughes was the Catholic. This time however it was not loyalists, but republicans who seemed to already know who the Catholic was. He was sent down the road and told not to come back. The stillness of the evening was interrupted by gunfire as the eleven Protestants were massacred. One hundred and thirty six rounds were fired in the space of a minute and then when it was over a shot was put into each body to make sure they were dead and nobody survived to tell the tale. One man did survive though. Alan Black was found badly wounded in a ditch and described to Peter Taylor in a frank account the TV series Brits what it felt like to be shot. Black had been shot eighteen times and put his fingers in the holes to stop the blood flowing out. Meanwhile Hughes managed to stop a car and was driven to Bessbrook RUC station, where he raised the alarm. A schoolteacher arrived at the scene of the carnage and started praying for the death. Ambulances followed and Alan Black made something of a miraculous recovery. A group calling itself ‘South Armagh Republican Action Force’ took responsibility for the attack. The IRA itself was on ceasefire at the time and direct involvement would have been forbidden. It is however highly likely that IRA members were involved under this cover name. The group said they would stop the murdering of innocents if the loyalists would. The tit-for tat murders ceased. The Historical Enquiries Team, a unit of the Police Service of Northern Ireland set up in September 2005 to investigate the 3,269 unsolved murders committed during the Troubles named the IRA as being officially behind the atrocity. Sinn Féin rejected any claim that the IRA was involved in Kingsmills, which their critics refused to accept. The UVF did not respond to Kingsmills. In 2007 it was revealed that the UVF Glenanne Gang had planned to murder thirty Catholic school children at St Lawrence O'Toole Primary School in the South Armagh village of Belleeks. The plan was aborted at the last minute on the orders of the UVF leadership who ruled it to be "morally unacceptable", and would have a detrimental effect on support for the UVF. Lenny Murphy of the ‘Shankill Butchers’ also planned retaliation for the Kingsmills. He was regarded as too extreme, even for the UVF who helped republicans organise his assassination. The British responded to Kingsmills by announcing the official deployment of the Special Air Service, who would later become involved in shooting unarmed IRA men as well as entirely innocent civilians such as sixteen year old John Boyle in Dunloy 1978. In 1999 Ian Paisley, man well known for the stirring the pot of a sectarian hatred, stated that Eugene Reavey, brother to those massacred earlier, had taken part in the Kingsmills massacre. His comments were intended to stir hatred instead they united two grieving men from different religions-Alan Black and Eugene Reavey. Kingsmills presents problems for all sides, both paramilitary and government. The IRA broke their ceasefire by participating in the massacre; a police officer and part time soldier are strongly believed to have participated in the incident that sparked Kingsmills, while The Irish government came in for criticism for its lax border security which allowed the IRA to escape to the safety of the Republic. Kingsmills and the preceding events were horrific events and an example of how low we could sink, but also how far things have moved on since then. It is perhaps regrettable that a spirit and willingness for reconciliation using these events did not prosper.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Kidnapped- the story behind the book

Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous work Kidnapped written in 1886 was inspired by true events and the main character was based on the figure of James Annesley (1715-1760) from County Wexford. The novel Kidnapped was not the first fictionalised account of Annesley but undoubtedly the most well known. The story itself is stranger than fiction. The word ‘kidnapped’ itself was coined in the 18th century and referred to the all too common practice of stealing homeless children for sale abroad as slaves. Children were easy targets, easy to steal and once on board easy to control. Shockingly, in the eyes of the law, it was considered a minor demeanour. The Annesleys were part of the Protestant Ascendancy, a wealthy minority that ruled the country. Originally from England, the Annesley family obtained a massive amount of land in Ireland during the Elizabethan conquest of the 16th century, when Captain Robert Annesley from Buckinghamshire, was granted 2,600 acres in County Limerick after the natives had been resettled elsewhere. James Annesley was born in 1715 at Dunmain House, Dunmain, County Wexford where his father Arthur Annesley 5th Baron Altham (1689-1727) had extensive lands including much of New Ross. When James was two, his father threw his mother, Mary Sheffield out of the house, falsely accusing her of having an affair. Father and son moved to Dublin where the baron fell into debt. It is believed his father’s mistress Sally Gregory disliked James and at age eight his father threw him onto the streets to fend for himself. A butcher, John Purcell took pity on the boy and offered him a place to live in the summer of 1727. When his father died in autumn of that year James attended the funeral at Christchurch, although he had not been invited. He stood there in his tattered clothes and proclaimed that the deceased was his father and ran out the door. He may have done this for sentimental reasons or to let people know that there was an heir. He stood to inherit his father’s wealth, something of which his uncle Richard was also aware. Not long after the funeral strange men ¬began hanging around Purcell's yard but the butcher saw them off with his cudgel. The following April however, James who was by then twelve years old was seized in Ormond Market, behind the present day Ormond Quay and brought to George's Quay where a ship was waiting to take him to America. Uncle Richard had made a deal with the ship’s captain to sell James as an indentured servant once they reached America. Indentured servants entered the New World willingly or as in the case of young James, less willingly. Paupers sought a better life in the New World and sometimes in return for their passage offered their services free of charge for a set number of years, usually between three to seven years. The majority were teenagers. When their period of indenture had been served they were free and they usually settled in The New World. It was a practice written about at the time, most notably by Daniel Defoe who mentions it in his work Moll Flanders and much later by John Steinbeck in Cup of Gold (1929). White slaves in the new world were nothing knew and Cromwell had started sending Irish people as slaves to Barbados in the 1650s. Their descendants are still there and are known as ‘red legs’. James found himself in Newcastle, Delaware where he would spend twelve years as a slave. It is not known for how much he was sold but the going rate was somewhere in the region of sixteen pounds. He was sold to Duncan Drummond a small-time merchant-farmer who was living in north western Delaware. He escaped after five years but was recaptured and severely whipped. When he eventually obtained his freedom he had no intention of creating a new life in the area and his only desire was to return home to claim his inheritance. He made his way to Jamaica where he enlisted in the royal navy as an able seaman and served abroad the H.M.S. Falmouth. On board he was recognised by an old friend from Dublin who vouched for his identity, which would have otherwise been dismissed as far-fetched. By the time he returned to Dublin, something that no one, least of all, his uncle, had expected, he was the talk of the city. His uncle set about plotting his nephew’s death and when James went to the races at the Curragh of Kildare a coach nearly ran him over. Accidents happened but when the coach turned and tried a second time it looked a little suspicious. James brought his case to court and at the time, taking nearly two weeks, was the longest trial that had ever been heard in either Britain or Ireland with twenty-eight barristers participating. The case gripped popular imagination and Uncle Richard was now regarded as a scoundrel who had wronged his nephew most terribly. Uncle Richard had never offered a consistent explanation for his nephew’s sudden disappearance in 1728. He had told some people the boy died of smallpox, others that he died in the West Indies. The trial attracted considerable attention both in Britain and Ireland and fifteen different accounts of the trial were published. James won his case which was a cause of much celebration among Dubliners. As a result parliament in Dublin tried to pass legislation d to stop the kidnapping of homeless children, but the bill was overruled at the request officials in London and kidnapping continued to be practiced until the 1820s. Though James had won his case in Dublin he had to go to London to fight for his English estates before he could claim his inheritance. Unfortunately for him Uncle Richard had not given up and knew the right people who would best know how to stall the proceedings, which would make them rich and bankrupt James. James Annesley suffered an asthma attack half way through his legal battle and died at the age of 44. He was buried in Kent without ever getting the inheritance for which he had fought and suffered for so long. His uncle still held on to the estates but was now looked as a schemer and scoundrel who became a social outcast and died within the year. Neither left an heir and the title ‘Earl of Annesley’ became extinct.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Diamantis

Ireland was largely spared the ravages of The Second World War. Indeed, there was no mention of the word ‘war’ and it was referred to as ‘The Emergency’. Ireland had declared itself neutral, albeit in favour of the allies. Germany could have won the war if they had cut off supplies to Britain. The U Boat campaign was vital to this and German U boats operated off the Irish coasts. The British fearful the U boat would seek shelter and even supplies in neutral Ireland and though legends abound there is little evidence that this ever happened. The war came to the south Coast when survivors of the Greek ship Diamantis were landed in Ventry harbour. The bizarre thing is that there rescuers were also those torpedoed their ship. Along with the Laconia incident it was one of two incidents where the Germans risked their live to help shipwrecked survivors. Captain Werner Lott (1907-97), commanding the U-35 had intercepted the Diamantis off Land’s End.
He signalled the ship that he needed to check if they were carrying supplies to the British, which would legally entitle him to sink the ship. He fired a warning shot across their bow and the crew abandoned ship. Although the crew had made it to the lifeboats the sea was choppy and some of the boats started to capsize. Lott was not obliged to pick up survivors. Indeed after the Laconia incident where the submarine picked up survivors and were bombed by the Americans despite the presence of a Red Cross flag, submarine crews were strictly prohibited from doing so. Lott gave the order to pick up the crew. An examination of the Greek ship's papers showed that the Diamantis was carrying 4,000 tonnes of Iron ore from South Africa to England. It was the confirmation he needed and Lott gave the order to sink the Diamantis 50 miles from Lands End. He now had a situation on his hands. Submarines were notoriously lacking in space and food. The U boot had a crew of forty three. An extra twenty eight people on board would be a tight squeeze. They had to be placed on board as RAF spotter planes patrolled the area and to stay on the surface would mean getting sunk. The Greeks requested that they be brought to England which would meant that Lott and his crew would either be captured or killed. He decided to bring them to the south west coast of Ireland. At least there they would not be fired upon. The U-boat submerged before the RAF turned up and headed towards Ireland. They resurfaced when darkness fell as a U boot travelled faster on the surface. They arrived into Ventry harbour stopping a few metres from the shore. The Greeks were brought ashore in a small boat, two at a time, while a crowd of locals looked on. None of the German crew actually set foot on Irish soil. The landing was witnessed by a twelve year old Jimmy Fenton who was amazed that the Greeks were full of praise for a man who had sunk their ship. According to Paderas Panagos the Germans gave them food and cigarettes. News of the event was reported in The Kerryman on October 7, 1939 which stated that the crew were treated hospitably at Maurice Clery's in Ballymore. Five of them are suffering from shock in Dingle hospital but are well enough to accompany the remainder of the crew to Dublin today’. The event made international headlines and Lott was widely praised for his chivalry. Though the Greeks were in his debt Lott received no thanks from his own government. The Irish Free State authorities had complained to the German government about the breach of their neutrality. It was not the first time the war had come o the Dingle peninsula. On 14 September 1939 a RAF plane which was on patrol looking out u boats was forced to land in Ventry Harbour with engine trouble. The pilot, Lt. Brooke and a mechanic went ashore with a broken fuel pipe, and waved down a passing motorist, Brendán O'Connell, a civil engineer who drove them to Dingle, where a mechanic repaired the pipe. The two airmen should have been interned but were let go. Dingle would also later be the spot where a German spy, Walter Simon would be landed by the U-38 in June of 1940. He immediately raised suspicions when he asked about the next train, not realising the line had long since closed. He was followed to Dublin where he was arrested and interned. As the far progressed such acts of humanity, on both sides would become rarer, Lotts war was of a short duration and the U-35 was sunk in November of that year off the Norwegian coast. The crew made it to the surface and were picked were picked up by the British.
Lott and his crew were extremely fortunate. Of the 35,000 German sailors who served on the u-boats 28,744 were killed in action. Lott surrendered to Lord Louis Mountbatten and the two became lifelong friends. Imprisoned in the Tower of London in primitive conditions, Lott would later help Hans von Werra escape, the only German POW to escape from the British and make it back to Germany. After the war Lott returned to Germany to look after his wife who had confined to a wheelchair after injuries sustained in a bomb blast. He devoted his life to social work and became the director of a large Rehabilitation centre. He finally set foot on Irish soil in 1984 when he went to visit the Dingle Peninsula.