Tag Archives: County Kerry

Guest post: Detailing the Crosbies of North Kerry

Michael Christopher Keane is a retired University College Cork lecturer and author of three books about the Crosbies, leading and often controversial landlord families in County Kerry for over 300 years. Keane’s own genealogy revealed that one branch of his North Kerry ancestors were transplanted tenants on one of the Crosbie estates. His newest book, ‘The Crosbies of Cork, Kerry, Laois and Leinster’ (2021), and earlier ‘From Laois to Kerry’ (2016) and ‘The Earls of Castlehaven’ (2018), are available in Kerry bookshops and online at omahonys.ie, hannas.ie, and kennys.ie. Email Michael at mjagkeane@gmail.com. … Journalists, historians, authors, researchers, and travelers to Ireland are always welcome to offer guest contributionsMH

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My first book focused on the initial arrival of the Crosbies into Kerry and in particular their role in transplanting many members of the leading Septs of County Laois in the Irish midlands to Kerry in 1607. The historic “Seven Septs of Laois”, Moores, Kellys, Lawlors, Dowlings, Dorans, McEvoys, and Deevys or Dees, had been in almost continuous rebellion through the late 1500s as they vigorously resisted the plantation of their county by the English.

Following defeat at the landmark Battle of Kinsale in 1601 they accepted the plantation of Laois, which had been renamed Queens County. This was facilitated by the large-scale transplantation of the Laois Septs to about 10 parishes in North Kerry extending from Tarbert in the northeast to Ballyheigue.

These lands had been taken over by the Crosbie brothers Patrick and John, the latter having been appointed Protestant Bishop of Ardfert and Aghadoe 1601-1621. From Laois to Kerry includes a detailed tracing of the descendants of the Seven Septs of Laois in North Kerry through the generations to the present time. Many of the Laois Sept surnames are still quite prominent in North Kerry, especially Kellys, Lawlors, Dowlings, Moores, and Dees. However, all seven continue to have a distinct presence, with many families still established over four centuries later in the original 10 parishes to which their distant ancestors were first transplanted.

Ardfert Abbey

The Crosbies of Cork, Kerry Laois and Leinster aims to reveal the complete story of the Crosbie family from the 1500s to the present time. The Crosbies had highly unusual origins. Their story begins with the MacCrossans of Laois who were historic bards to the two leading clans of the Irish midlands, the O’Moores of Laois and the O’Connors of Offaly. In the 16th century two MacCrossan children, Padraig and Sean, were fostered in Laois by new English planters, the Cosbys of Stradbally Hall (now of Electric Picnic fame) and changed their names to Patrick and John Crosbie. They both became large landowners in North Kerry.

In the next generation, Sir Pierce Crosbie, heir to Patrick, as well as being a large North Kerry landowner, also became a trusted member of the English royal court during the reigns of James I and Charles I, attaining membership of the English Privy Council and the Irish Parliament and Privy Council. His marriage to the widow of the 1st Earl of Castlehaven led to the story of my second book. The War, Sex, Corruption, Land, subtitle gives a hint of the content.

The Crosbies were particularly noted for marrying widely into virtually all the “big houses” of Kerry, leading to the expression “Kerry cousins,” denoting the close family links between the county’s landlords of the time. As an example, the Crosbies became closely intermarried at an early stage with their neighbours the Fitzmaurices of Lixnaw, Earls of Kerry. The Fitzmaurices were the leading family of North Kerry through the generations until their dramatic demise in the 1700s. Their glory and decline are detailed in two fine books by fellow North Kerry historians: Kay Caball’s, The Fall of the Fitzmaurices, and Martin Moore’s Deeds Not Words: The survival of the Fitzmaurices Lords of Kerry 1550 to 1603.

Having become the new dominant family of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy era in North Kerry, the Crosbies developed several mansions, including Ballyheigue Castle, Ardfert Abbey, Tubrid House in Ardfert and Rusheen House in Ballylongford. Along with a couple of other leading landlord families, they dominated Kerry politics throughout much of the 18th and 19th centuries, representing the county almost continuously in Parliament, firstly in Dublin and then in Westminster.

Having obtained the rank of Earldom in the later 1700s, the Ardfert Crosbies, as Earls of Glandore, lived in great style for a time both in Kerry and in their fine Dublin townhouse, now Loreto Hall, on St. Stephens Green. That era led to the long stewardship at Ardfert of William Talbot-Crosbie, or “Billy the Leveller” as he became widely known, from 1838 to 1899. While he was an innovative agriculturalist, his extremely harsh treatment of tenants, which included widespread evictions and his activities during the Great Famine, remain highly controversial to the present time. The evidence clearly shows that the main parishes of the Crosbies, Ardfert, Ballyheigue and Abbeydorney experienced some of the worst losses of life and of emigration of all Kerry parishes during the decade of the Great Famine. Remarkably, “Billy the Leveller’s” successor at Ardfert Abbey, Lindsey Talbot-Crosbie, supported land reform and Home Rule, while his son in turn Maurice was a candidate for the Irish Parliamentary Party in Cork in the 1918 general election. Their two great houses in Kerry, Ballyheigue Castle and Ardfert Abbey, were both burned down during the War of Independence and the Civil War.

Like many large extended families of their time, the Crosbie family story contained its share of scandals. These included the shipwrecking of the Golden Lion laden with bullion at Ballyheigue, which resulted in one of Kerry’s most famous unsolved mysteries. Accusations against the Crosbies and others led to arrest, jail, alleged murder, and multiple court hearings, with much manipulation of the legal system at the time. In the modern era, the Crosbies of the Examiner newspaper dynasty of Cork also trace their roots to Thomas Crosbie who arrived in Cork as a young journalist from North Kerry in 1842.

Ballyheigue, County Kerry, Ireland, 2019. The gateway to a ruined castle and golf course.

America’s 1921 relief to Ireland, revisited

Most of my work this year for the American Reporting of Irish Independence section of this blog has focused on the American Committee for Relief in Ireland. The 1921 fund drive provided $5 million to Ireland through summer 1922. Three of the 10 stories below were published outside the blog. Three key relief committee documents are also linked below the photo.

American investigators visit Ireland, February 1921

St. Patrick’s Day, 1921: ‘A Summons to Service’

Cardinal Gibbons, who died 100 years ago, was committed to Ireland, Catholic Review (Baltimore)

American visitors describe ‘Distress in Ireland,’ April 1921

The Pittsburgh fight over 1921 relief to Ireland 

War relief to Listowel and North Kerry, 1921Listowel Connection

‘A duty to their own flesh & blood’

Forgotten Charity Between Ireland and America, 1889 & 1921, The Irish Story

The lawyer, the banker & money to Ireland, fall 1921

Irish visitor thanks America for 1921 financial relief

The American Committee for Relief in Ireland inspecting factory ruins at Balbriggan. Hogan, W. D. (1921).

KEY DOCUMENTS

Welcoming American tourists to Ireland, 1913-2021

Americans remain welcome in Ireland, even as other European nations tighten or prohibit non-essential travelers from the United States due to surging COVID-19 infections.

“They’re a very important part of our tourism sector, if we were to block Americans we would definitely be shooting ourselves in the foot,” John Galligan of the Irish Travel Agents Association told TheJournal.ie. “There are not a lot of American tourists at the moment but there are some. Business travel is a part of this too.”

In 2019 the Irish travel industry reported record visitors, paid room nights (with a related decline in visitors “couch surfing” with relatives), and other tourist spending. Only tiny fractions of those figures have been realized since the pandemic erupted shortly before St. Patrick’s Day 2020. Visitors are now required to show proof of vaccine or negative test results.

Americans began driving the Irish tourism industry before the 1918 flu pandemic. It’s a recurring topic in Ireland [1913], the 118-year-old travelogue by German journalist Richard Arnold Bermann, now translated into English for the first time by Leesa Wheatley and Florian Krobb.[1]Published by Cork University Press, 2021. 200 pages, including Introduction and Note on Translation, Endnotes, and Index. No interior photos. The book has drawn particular attention as a snapshot of Ireland at the start of its revolutionary period and a year before the Great War. In their Introduction, Wheatley and Krobb also note Bermann’s “umbrage … at traces of mass tourism prone to erode the serenity of the autochthonous culture where it might still survive,  and the blatant exploitation of visitors by entrepreneurial yet intrusive individuals who offer their services as guides or coach drivers.”

Early in the original text, Bermann writes:

At this moment in time tourism is really taking off in Ireland. It will not exactly do away with the country’s history because it feeds on it — Ireland’s history populates the countryside with splendid sights, with druidic stones, with ancient kings and ruins in every shape and size, all meticulously decorated in ivy. But the tourist industry should help clear the huts, these dreadful holes, even if then the ladies from Connecticut are thereabouts find Ireland a lot less delightful.[2]Ireland, pp.45-46.

At Killarney, he grumbles about tour buses “packed with Americans.” Later, he smirks that “it is just too comical seeing really old American women climb onto gentlemen’s saddles and gallop off.”[3]Ireland, p. 47 and p. 51, respectively. Was Bermann sexist as well as anti-American?

Other perspectives of these same American tourists are found in the 1913 U.S. newspaper clippings on this page. The Boston Globe reported how members of the city’s Irish county clubs–groupings of immigrants from Cork, Clare, Cavan, etc.–were touring “the Old Country.” Lady Aberdeen, wife of the Lord Lieutenant, hosted a U.S. agricultural delegation and promised to open a “Welcome Club” for American visitors in one of Dublin’s old Georgian mansions. Instead of climbing to the top deck of a tour bus or saddling a horse, other U.S. visitors to Killarney boarded a jaunting car.

“…a truly enjoyable experience,” Bermann wrote. “A trap on two high wheels, drawn by a single horse, rides like a fairground contraption rather than a coach. It looks as if the house’s saddle has slipped onto the horse’s rear end.”[4]Ireland, p. 49 

An American family on a jaunting car at the Lakes of Killarney, Co. Kerry. (Decatur, Illinois) Herald & Review, Aug. 31, 1913.

The 1913 Ireland trip was the first of what became three decades of “frenetic, restless, almost driven travels all around the world” for Bermann (1883-1939), Wheatley and Krobb write. He wrote the book “to establish himself as a journalist of punch and substance.” His “pinpointing the Americanization of the beauty spots” and satirizing of fellow tourists “often borders on the affectatious.” Yet, “in spite of some gratuitous posturing, he conveys a very vivid picture … of the Ireland of his day.”

Bremann’s 1913 travels occurred only weeks after my Kerry-born maternal grandfather sailed to America. The journalist’s descriptions of Ireland frame the county just as the emigrant left it, never to return. (Coincidentally, and overlooked by Wheatley and Krobb, the French photographers Madeleine Mignon-Alba and Marguerite Mespoulet made the first color photographs of Ireland in May and June 1913.)

Belvidere (Illinois) Daily Republican, Aug. 21, 1913

Fifty-six years after Bremann, about halfway between 1913 and today, one of my grandfather’s six daughters became the first of his American family to visit Ireland. After her death, I inherited my aunt’s collection of ephemera from her 1969 trip and subsequent visits to Ireland. A 44-page Irish Tourist Board pamphlet promotes both 6-hour flights from New York and Boston, as well as 7-day “regular sailings by ocean liner into Cobh and Galway.”

Packed with lovely photos, the pamphlet describes mid-century Ireland on the eve of the Troubles in romantic marketing prose:

Their little island contains all you ever hoped it would–the fabled scenery, the castles rimed with age and legend, twisting lanes and peat bogs and mists, Irish whiskey and linen and tweed, Irish wolfhounds and soda bread, Blarney Stone and Blarney talk. … Aran’s children with enormous eyes, scholar priests a-walking; slender young gentles of ancient line, jaunty old chaps who spin the tales; farmers and fishers and cutters of turf, writers and actors … Oh, it is a marvelous spread of folk we have over here! Bunched in the cities where the stunning Irish theater is, spread over the lush and rolling green of the south, spread a little thinner in the west where the ribs of rock show through.”

I made my first trip to Ireland in 2000, a dozen years after my aunt’s last visit in 1988, and 87 years after Bremann. Over 10 trips I’ve covered the same ground as both of them (including Killarney) and millions of others since 1913. I’m anxious to return after being kept away for two years by COVID, but I don’t expect to make the trip until at least next year.

“Ireland is much too close to America,” Bremann wrote in 1913, a sentence that probably resonated with his German readers a year before the outbreak of the Great War. For contemporary Irish tourism officials, the travel reluctance of so many potential visitors is a troubling concern, even as the country remains more welcoming then other parts of Europe.

The Boston Globe, Aug. 18, 1913

References

References
1 Published by Cork University Press, 2021. 200 pages, including Introduction and Note on Translation, Endnotes, and Index. No interior photos.
2 Ireland, pp.45-46.
3 Ireland, p. 47 and p. 51, respectively.
4 Ireland, p. 49

A letter from troubled Kerry, January 1921

On Jan. 24, 1921, widowed farmer John Ware of Killelton townland, Ballylongford, mailed a hand-written letter from the rural County Kerry community on the south shore of where the wide mouth of the River Shannon empties into the sea. It was addressed to his same-name, bachelor son, a streetcar motorman in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a noisy, smokey manufacturing city of more than a half million people, a hub of Irish immigrants, including two of his sisters, with a brother on the way.1

The 87-year-old father2 began the letter by thanking his 35-year-old son for an earlier postal order for £3, equivalent to about $200 today.3 Such remittances from immigrants were vital to the Irish economy and perpetuated still more departures.

Your prosperity in America is a great consolation to me. Your generosity and kindness since you left home.

John Ware of Pittsburgh in World War I military uniform.

John Ware the younger left home in 1910. Sisters Nora4 and Bridget followed him to Pittsburgh in 1912 and 1916, respectively. He was naturalized in 1917, entered the U.S. Army as as private in April 1918, and shipped to France two months later. John survived the Great War and returned to Pittsburgh in February 1919.5

The father reported that another son in Ireland had just welcomed a baby girl to his family three weeks earlier. A third son had sailed from Queenstown four days before he wrote the letter, also destined for Pittsburgh.

We all felt so happy he [was] able to get away giving to the present state of the country. That state of the case in Ireland at present is very bad.

War in Ireland

Ireland was in turmoil in January 1921. Two years had passed since Irish separatists established the first Dáil Éireann in Dublin. The Irish Republican Army’s guerrilla war against British authority, typically followed by military and police reprisals, had escalated steadily since summer 1920.

There was a policeman shot in Listowel a week ago. There is a fear there will be great damage done the town of Listowel through envy.

D.I. Tobias O’Sullivan

District Inspector Tobias O’Sullivan was shot multiple times at close range mid-afternoon Jan. 20, 1921. He was only a few yards from the Listowel barracks. The victim was accompanied by his 5-year-old son.6

In Pittsburgh, John Ware may have read the next-day, front-page newspaper coverage of the O’Sullivan killing,7 which occurred about eight miles from his father in Killelton, Ballylongford. The city’s papers reported several of the shootings and fires deliberately set to houses, creameries, and other businesses that occurred in North Kerry since fall 1920,8 one episode only a few weeks earlier:

At Listowel, in the marshal law area, crown forces  were fired on by civilians while arresting men wanted. They returned the fire, killing one and wounding two who were captured and sent to a hospital. Five arrests were made.9

The most notorious event in the area, however, flared a month after John Ware’s letter, on Feb. 22, 1921, when two constables were ambushed and killed at Ballylongford, followed by retaliation from the authorities:

In the history of reprisals no place has proportionally been visited with such wholesale destruction as the prosperous little town of Ballylongford. What was one time the business center of North Kerry, the wealthiest district in the county because of its port … is now little more than a smoking ruin. … The houses remaining are shattered and the people occupying them are confined indoors. Those whose places were destroyed and who fled in terror in the dead of night with no notice save the discharge of rifle, revolver, and machine-gun fire,  the rattle of petrol tins and crackling of flames found refuge with their country friends and are afraid to return.10

These and other episodes of violence against civilians, but not IRA attacks on military and police, were cataloged by the Dáil in a document titled “The Struggle of the Irish People,” presented in May 1921 to the U.S. Senate.11 A century later, the burning of Ballylongford “has still not been forgotten locally.”12

Agricultural distress

War violence was not the only trouble John Ware mentioned in his letter from Kerry:

The past year in the country is the worst that was ever remembered. The most of the year was all raining, the farm produce was never before so bad.

Farming in Kerry in the early 1920s.

His assessment is confirmed in Kerry newspapers of autumn 1920, which reported the impacts of a “late spring” and “continuous wet weather” that created a “black outlook not only for the farmers but for the people in the towns as well.”13 Government reports also recognized the decline in agricultural activity that year, though quantifying it was complicated by the war and relied on estimates and summaries. “In 1920 it was not found practicable to obtain particulars of either crops or livestock on all farms.”14

John Ware in Kerry did not mention his two daughters in Pittsburgh, who worked as household servants and perhaps also sent remittances. He concluded the letter to his son with wishes for a Happy New Year, a year that would soon bring a truce to the fighting and end with the treaty that created the Irish Free State.

Guest post: The Fall of the Fitzmaurices

County Kerry native Kay Caball is a professional genealogist and author of the definitive Finding Your Ancestors in Kerry. (She has helped me.) Kay also wrote The Kerry Girls: Emigration and the Earl Grey Scheme, about the young women shipped to Australia in 1849/1850 from four of the county’s workhouses. Her new book is The Fall of the Fitzmaurices: The Demise of Kerry’s First Family, available through Kay’s My Kerry Ancenstors website, and O’Mahony’s Booksellers in Limerick. Kay provided this overview of the story. MH

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Ennobled as the 1st Earl of Kerry in 1723, Thomas Fitzmaurice, 21st Lord of Kerry, Baron of Lixnaw  and his wife, the former Lady Anne Petty, presided over great estates in Kerry and elsewhere. They and their family enjoyed prestige, influence and immense wealth. Within 100 years their land was gone, the Fitzmaurice earldom was no more. 

So what could have happened to this Kerry dynasty after almost 500 years of acquisition and expansion, which was then so reduced  in such a short space of time? We would have to say improvidence, extravagance, careless management, and improvidence.

Thomas, 21st lord, inaugurated a span of lavish spending; the main result of his expenditure on the ancestral seat of Old Court was a magnificent demesne and a well-appointed house run on a grand scale. His raised status as an earl in 1723 would appear to have spurred him to take on all the trappings expected of the title. He purchased and furnished a Dublin home in the prime fashionable area of St Stephen’s Green,1 while continuing to improve and develop his Kerry estates. His three daughters, Anne, Arbella, and Charlotte, made good if not spectacular marriages: each into new families with generous dowries. His sons, William and John, enjoyed exclusive educations at Westminster School and at the University of Oxford.

Thomas’ eldest son and heir, William, was not the wisest of men. After his father’s death in 1741, William became 2nd earl, and was head of the family fortunes and estate for just over six years. 

William was involved in a number of expensive court cases and family settlements, the most spectacular of which arose from his dalliance with a mistress that led to a scandal of epic proportions in the exclusive aristocratic circles of 18th century Dublin. Elizabeth Leeson, his mistress of two years, declared they were married, and though neither Church nor state had been involved in any nuptials, the courts decided there had been a valid marriage, and he was ordered to proceed with a Church ceremony or be excommunicated. William does not appear to have followed up with the Church ceremony, but Elizabeth, now titled Lady Elizabeth Fitzmaurice, conveniently died three years later. William then married the daughter of the earl of Cavan, against his father’s wishes.

So we come to Francis, who became the 3rd earl of Kerry in 1747 on the death of his father.  Francis was not then seven years of age. His mother initially became his guardian, but when she remarried and moved to England three years later, he became a ward in Chancery, and was left in the care of a tutor and servants. The Old Court estate and demesne in Kerry were closed up and allowed to deteriorate. Incompetent agents were responsible for managing and collecting the land rents. Francis, although left to fend for himself, had a good tutor, and he attended and graduated from Trinity College, Dublin at the age of 15, but afterwards led a lazy and indulgent life. To compound matters, he got involved with a married woman, Anastasia Daly, herself an heiress. Francis’ cousin, British Prime Minister William Petty-Fitzmaurice, 2nd earl of Shelburne and 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, said of Francis:

He fell in love with a married lady twenty years older than himself, the daughter of an eminent Roman Catholic lawyer, and she having obtained a divorce, married her – [she was] an extraordinarily vain person. Having to fight their way up into good society, and having no children, they sold every acre of land that had been in our family since Henry II’s time.2

Anastasia’s husband took an action against Francis Fitzmaurice, and there followed a sensational court case which revealed lurid and explicit descriptions of their sexual encounters. The aggrieved husband was awarded £5,000 compensation for the loss of the company of his wife. This would be over €974,235 in 2019,3 and resulted in the commencement of the large-scale sale of land and assets from the Fitzmaurice Lixnaw estates. Soon after, a divorce was granted by the Westminster Parliament, and Francis and Anastasia married in England in 1768. Initially, they settled in London, where they furnished three large houses lavishly within the space of 10 years, before moving to Paris in 1778. Even though Anastasia, now Countess of Kerry, had the pleasure of being presented at court, the couple were not given the recognition they felt they were due as part of the respected old Norman Irish nobility. Although they moved in aristocratic circles, British society at that time was conservative and rigid, and the young Protestant earl married to the older Irish Catholic divorcee, with a scandalous past, did not command the cream of invitations or acceptance into the milieu to which they aspired.

Their sojourn in Paris from 1771 to 1792 – where they lived extravagantly, dined, wined, entertained and shopped – came to an abrupt end when they had to flee during the Reign of Terror at the time of the French Revolution. Francis and Anastasia were lucky to escape with their lives, but their servants were executed. 

Though they had to abandon their possessions in Paris, their papers – letters, bills, receipts, invitations – were saved, and this collection of eight boxes of documents is now housed in the Archives Nationales, Paris. Their extravagant spending had meant frequent letters home to the earl’s agent, solicitors and auctioneers with instructions to sell or unload land or leases at almost any cost to keep banks and creditors at bay, copies of which survive in Paris.

Back in London in 1795, Anastasia was to live for only four more years. She died in 1799 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, where Francis erected a large monument to her. Francis died in 1818 and was buried with Anastasia. This, then, is the story of the fall of the Fitzmaurices, the premier family of Kerry for 583 years. 

Catching up with modern Ireland: October

Monument in Eyre Square, Galway city, marks JFK’s June 1963 visit. November 2018 photo.

In a few days (or weeks?) we should know whether Irish-American-Catholic Joe Biden wins the U.S. presidency, 60 years after the historic election of Irish-American-Catholic John F. Kennedy. A sentimental milestone for some (and eye roll for others), a Biden administration appears poised to pay close attention to the impact of Brexit on the Irish border and any U.S.-U.K trade deal, as well as visa and citizenship issues for Irish people in America. A Biden win would help take some of the sting from this year’s cancelled St. Patrick’s Day events on both sides of the Atlantic and the lost summer of tourism in Ireland. Let Trump rule his links at Doonbeg.

Here’s the October roundup:

  • On Oct. 22, the Republic of Ireland became the first European country to reimpose a nationwide lockdown following a surge in coronavirus cases. New quarantine rules apply until Dec. 1.
  • The five-year Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes report is to be finalized Oct. 30, though its public release date remains unclear. Expect a wave of damning coverage about how the Catholic Church and the State handled Ireland’s most vulnerable citizens.
  • “I continue to be amazed by the lack of knowledge or interest in the political and social affairs of both a part of the UK – the North – and also of our near neighbour – the Republic,” Conservative MP Simon Hoare wrote in a column for The Irish Times.
  • The Police Service of Northern Ireland began a three-month pilot program for new-look uniforms, but a proposal to drop the words “Northern Ireland” from the force’s official crest, replaced only with NI, was rejected, the Belfast Telegraph reported. PSNI was formed after the Good Friday Agreement as a more inclusive successor to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
  • “Sublime Chaos” is the headline of a short New Yorker piece about the “mystical Irish Dadaism” of Dublin composer Jennifer Walshe. “When I was younger, I wanted to run away from Irish identity, which at times can be so narrow and confining and politically problematic,” said Walshe, born in 1974. “But it’s part of me, and it belongs to everyone here.” (Thanks ADH.)
  • The Book of Lismore, created in the late 15th century, has been donated to University College Cork (UCC) after centuries in a British estate. This major medieval manuscript, created at Kilbrittain, Co. Cork, in a golden age of Irish literature, is considered as one of the Great Books of Ireland.

Three from Kerry:

  • Europe’s rarest fern has been discovered in Killarney. Stenogrammitis myosuroides, has only ever previously been found in the mountainous cloud forests of Jamaica, Cuba, and Dominican Republic, according to The Guardian. “Kerry mousetail” has been suggested as the common name for the plant.
  • A plant appears, an animal disappears: Fungie, the resident male, bottlenose dolphin that helped transform Dingle from a small fishing and farming community into a global tourist destination, has vanished after 37 years, The New York Times (with lovely photos) and other media reported.
  • Finally, there’s some anthropologic evidence that natives of the Kingdom are less susceptible to COVID-19, says Maynooth University’s Ciarán Walsh.

Alas, the annual November conference of the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland is cancelled due to COVID. See details of previous conferences. Best wishes to members and past participants.

See past monthy and annual roundups.

The grounds of the Belfast Botanic Gardens and Palm House. November 2019 photo.

Irish history movie ideas: the Lartigue monorail

This is the second post in an occasional series about aspects of Irish history that I believe provide strong cinematic opportunities if dramatized for narrative and commercial appeal. First post: The Colors of Ireland. Ideas and comments are welcome. Enjoy. MH

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Take a look at this 3:30-minute archival footage of the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway, a unique monorail that opened in 1888 between the two Co. Kerry towns. There’s no sound.

I’m not sure why the footage is dated 1931. The money-losing monorail was discontinued in October 1924 after being rejected for consideration in the Irish Free State’s railway nationalization scheme.

The train was known as the Lartigue, after its French inventor, Charles Lartigue. It was the subject of affectionate poems, as reflected in these opening stanzas published a few weeks after it closed:1

Farewell, old train, beloved train; at last
you’ve ceased to run!
Unlike all other trains we’ve seen, of
wheels you had only one.
You battled hard, ‘gainst might odds
for close on thirty years.
And now to think your race is run, it
almost brings us tears.

In its day, the Lartigue was easy fodder for humorous stories because of the way passengers and freight had to be balanced on each side of the pannier-style rolling stock. One tells of a farmer who bought a cow in Listowel and wanted it transported to Ballybunion. To do so, he had to borrow another cow to balance his purchase. At Ballybunion, he faced the predicament of returning the borrowed cow, which required the balance of another animal. And on and on; a running gag for the potential movie.

Passengers on the Lartigue also were occasionally required to get out to push the train. Some were said to get sickened by sitting sideways instead of facing forward. The train’s plodding pace inspired the story of the conductor who offered a ride to an old woman riding a donkey. “No thanks,” she replied, “I’m in a hurry today.”

I see the Lartigue as a perfect opportunity for the eccentricity and distinctive styles of directors Wes Anderson or the Coen brothers. It needs a quirky story with an ensemble of charming and oddball characters to match the unusual train.

As you can see, the front of the Lartigue locomotive is more anthropomorphic the most regular trains. Perhaps this could be an animated film?

See my earlier posts about the Lartigue:

The Lartigue monorail in Kerry opened on Leap Year Day in 1888. The line closed in 1924.

The Ireland that fills my heart

With more than 11 million annual visitors kept home by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tourism Ireland has released a short video to remind prospective travelers they “can still dream of future holidays and adventures.” The campaign, titled I will return: Fill your heart with Ireland,” arrives at the 20th anniversary of my first visit in May 2000.

And that recalls my dearest experience of Ireland.

At Dublin Airport, I handed my new Irish/E.U. passport to the customs agent, having obtained citizenship through foreign birth registration. He waved me into the country without question. Then, as I waited for my luggage, I thought I heard my name called on the public address system.

“That couldn’t be me,” I thought. “Nobody knows me here.”

I took a taxi to my bed and breakfast in Portmarnock. The room wasn’t ready, but the innkeeper secured my suitcase and I took a mid-morning walk on the nearby strand.

When I returned, my host answered a telephone call.

“Yes, he is here,” he said.

It was for me.

Eithne

The voice at the other end of the line–and it was still a line–belonged to a woman in her 60s, a retired school teacher, the unmarried daughter of a North Kerry man. His brother was my mother’s father, who emigrated shortly before the Easter Rising.

My grandfather married a North Kerry women in Pittsburgh, where several of their siblings and other relations also lived. Because of these connections to Ireland, deepened by the citizenship through decent process, I shared my travel itinerary with my mother. She passed the details to her sister, who maintained regular contact with the woman on the phone, the one who had me paged at Dublin Airport. Her name was Eithne.

My plans to meet the Irish relations were unformed, something to be figured out during the trip, if any of them even cared to meet me. A holy trinity of Irish and Irish-American women assured those introductions. My plans changed within an hour of my arrival. Eithne insisted that I lodge with her.

The B&B host graciously released me from my booking. Eithne’s Jack Russell Terrier, named Beano, sniffed me suspiciously, but deigned that I enter the house on Griffith Avenue, Dublin, near Corpus Christi Catholic Church. I was very welcome in Ireland.

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In the 50-second “I will return” video, edited from earlier campaigns, only a few people are seen among the verdant landscapes and historic sites; mostly from behind, all of them individually, none in groups. A few turn to the camera and motion as if to say “come over here,” suggesting an unseen companion outside the view and a metaphor of the “return to Ireland” dream theme of the promotional work. Like them, I have enjoyed solitary walks along Ireland’s “wandering lanes, and rugged cliffs, her fields laced with streams”, as the narrator intones. Conspicuous by its absence, however, are scenes of people-packed pubs and festivals. 

Over the last two months, relations and friends on both sides of the Irish border have shared their quarantine stories with me. Long term, I can’t imagine a socially-distanced Ireland. I want to be crowded around a Galway city busker, surrounded at an Abbey intermission, bumped into by other bookstore browsers, elbowed by relations around a kitchen table.

The “I will return” narrator is confident of being “welcomed in at every turn, into her kind embrace,” the pronoun a reference to Ireland at large. That welcome does not come from solitary exploration of unpopulated landscapes, lovely as they are. The Céad Míle Fáilte, the hundred thousand welcomes, comes from the Irish people. 

Before she died in 2016, Eithne introduced me to dozens of relations. I have enjoyed spending time with them during nine more visits to Ireland, three with my wife, whom I had not yet met in 2000. I’ve added new friends and professional contacts on my own. And I’ve enjoyed random encounters with farmers and merchants, archivists and waitresses, and many others working in the island’s important tourism industry. 

Collectively, they are the Ireland that fills my heart. It is to them I will return, to once again hear my name called in welcome.

Irish & American connections, before & during pandemic

In February, a month before the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the world, I received a telephone call at my Washington, D.C., office from Michael Larkin in County Mayo, Ireland. He found me through this blog, and reached me on my mobile device, which is so much more than a phone.

More on that in a moment.

Thomas Larkin eventually returned to Mayo.

It turned out that Michael and I share a connection to Pittsburgh, the city of my birth; the destination of my Kerry emigrant grandparents; and the place where his ancestor, Thomas Larkin, secured employment with the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania and became one of the early Telephone Pioneers of America. (Today–April 25–is National Telephone Day.)  

Michael, a health services professional, is the author of the 2019 book, Making the Right Connections. As he describes:

The book depicts the emigrant journey of Thomas Larkin, as well as themes relating to emigration, transatlantic connectivity, evolution of telecommunications, predictions made regarding the early telephones and an overview of the social history of Ireland and Irish America in the early 1900s.

While Thomas Larkin was just another Irish immigrant hoping to find employment of any kind in the USA, the words ‘connection’,  ‘connectedness’, etc., are particularly apt in the context of Irish American connectivity and also in the context of the early telephones, when the services of an operator were required to ‘make the connection’ in order for a telephone conversation to occur. 

“Believe me, the day will come when you will be able to ‘see’ the person who you are speaking to on the telephone”.

When Thomas Larkin uttered the above words, following his retirement from the Bell Telephone Company and return to a predominantly rural Ireland, they were greeted with suspicion and doubt. Perhaps if he could now ‘see’ the advances in telecommunications, or realize that some of his almost forgotten telephone memorabilia items illustrates and symbolizes Irish American connectivity in its many facets, he might simply say, “I told you so”. 

While my phone conversation with Michael was a “simple” voice connection, we just as easily could have seen each other across the Atlantic on Zoom, Skype or other digital platforms, which so many of us now use as we huddle in quarantine. I also connect with Michael, and with other friends and family in Ireland, via email and Twitter messages, sending words, images, and video in addition to voice. I can do it all on my “phone.”

Perhaps because of that incredible technology, and the extraordinary times we find ourselves living in, I am fond of the trove of my family’s hand-written letters between Ireland and Pittsburgh. The earliest date from the 1920s. The writers mention wars and sickness, economic hardships and other challenges. They also confirm good health, and share news of marriages, babies, graduations and other joys. We are often separated and unable to be with the each other, and yet always find ways to remain connected.

Making the Right Connections is available through Book Hub Publishing  and Mayo Books.

Many Irish Americans have found their ancestor’s name on these documents.

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Outrages

Harry F. Guest

American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. MH

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Sinn Féin in Name of Patriotism Commits Shocking Outrages1

Guest published several consecutive stories about the republican Sinn Féin revolution. The activity he observed in Ireland, he wrote, “will prove something of a shock to many Americans who, by the purchase of Sinn Féin bonds,  gave moral as well as financial support to the so-called ‘war against English rule’ which is being waged on the turbulent island across the sea. But, as investors, they are entitled to know how the enterprise is being conducted.”

As examples, Guest detailed the Jan. 21 attack on Timothy T. Mangan of Killorglin, County Kerry, whose ears were cut off; and the Feb. 14 murder of 61-year-old Ellen Morris, near Enniscorthy, County Wexford; and other crimes during his two months in Ireland. Guest published an “unofficial list” of police statistics for “outrages charged to the Sinn Féin  movement” for the period Jan. 1 to Feb. 15, 1920, by province:

  • Munster………209
  • Leinster………..94
  • Connaught……47
  • Ulster……………22

“These figures will give a fair idea of how crime in Ireland is getting beyond all control of the authorities,” he wrote. “Emboldened by their success in eluding capture and by the way in which these outrages have been glorified in America, the perpetrators have grown more daring and more defiant.”

The 32 counties and four provinces of Ireland. Map image: Family Tree Magazine

Sinn Féin Attacks on Barracks Usually Made To Get Munitions2

“Although the Royal Irish Constabulary is as large as the police force of New York, is better armed and has the advantage of military training, it is unable to keep down crime among a population only two-thirds that of New York,” Guest began his fourth installment.3 He noted the lack of electric lighting in rural Ireland, which he had visited at the darkest time of the year.

Guest detailed the late January 1920 attack on the Murroe RIC barracks, eight miles north of Limerick city, near border with County Clare. 

“Barely a night passed while I was in Ireland that there was not either an attack on a police barracks, or the shooting down of a policeman, or a raid upon some farmer’s house for arms. And there were times when all three occurred in a single night.”

Big Rewards For Information In Irish Cases Goes Unclaimed4

This story described how Sinn Féin tampered with the mail system to gather intelligence and thwart the government’s efforts to pay citizens for information about attacks on police and the military. Further, Guest wrote:

The past six months have witnessed a widespread revival of the secret societies that flourished in the days of the Finians and before that time. … It is these secret societies which carry out the attacks upon police barracks, the raids for arms upon the homes of farmers; which burn haystacks or drive off or maim cattle; which terrorize families by firing shots through the windows of their homes; which hold up and bomb trains. Their word is law with the Irish people.

Scotland Yard Sleuths Fail to Identify Irish Rebels5

“One of the most popular forms of spreading terror among the peasantry in the south and west of Ireland is the posting of proclamations containing warnings and threats as to what will happen to persons who hold intercourse with the police or military,” Guest reported. He quoted one poster from the outskirts of Cooraclare, County Clare, which said that “traitors [should] be shunned as if they were fever stricken.” Other posters, often handwritten, were spotted in Ballyvaneen, Clare; Macroom and Michelston, County Cork; and Rearcross, County Tipperary.

Guest also reported that when Irish rebels or members of secret societies were arrested, their families received regular weekly payments “from some mysterious source.” Like the threatening posters, social boycotting, and nocturnal attacks on police and civilians reported in his earlier stories, such activity vividly recalls the Land War period of the 1880s.  

“Is there a link between the dreaded secret societies and Sinn Féin?,” Guest posed. “Dublin Castle says there is, but has offered no proof. If there is a link, it is well hidden. Personally, I was unable to find any connection. … Ireland is a hard place in which to prove anything.”

NEXT: ‘Dora’ Gives Sweeping Powers To British Rulers In Ireland