Turtle Bunbury

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USS Patrick Gallagher – The Mayo Man Gets His Warship

On 12 March 2018, New York  Senator Chuck E Schumer announced that the U.S. Navy will name one of its next destroyers, the Arleigh Burk-class DDG-127, after Marine Corporal Patrick ‘Bob’ Gallagher (1944-1967). This follows on from a remarkable campaign to have the Mayo-born Vietnam hero honoured. This is Bob Gallagher’s story. 


Somewhere amid the jungles of central Vietnam on 28 January 1967, Marine Corporal Patrick ‘Bob’ Gallagher found a moment to write to his parents in Ballyhaunis, County Mayo. It had been nearly a year since the 23-year-old had visited Ireland. At the time, he had told his parents of his ambition to join the United States Marine Corps. When they expressed alarm that he might be drafted in to fight in the Vietnam War, he assured them that he would be spending the ensuing year training in San Francisco and that the war would surely be over by then.

However, the truth was that Bob Gallagher had already joined the Marines before he made that final visit to Ireland. And he had received his orders to make his way to Vietnam almost as soon as he returned to the USA from Mayo.

So now he must have grimaced as he wrote. ‘I hope you won’t be too mad at me for the news I got for you,’ he commenced. ‘I have been in Vietnam since last April, and I will be leaving here in 60 days. Now don’t get worried. Everything is going just fine here and I am enjoying it very much.’

Gallagher felt obliged to confess to his parents because he had lately been singled out for the Navy Cross, the US Navy’s highest medal of valor.[i] It was to be awarded to him for an act of extraordinary heroism he performed during the summer of 1966.

He correctly anticipated that the awards ceremony would attract attention from the Irish media and so his letter home was to forestall the shock his parents would feel about his having secretly been fighting in Vietnam for the past ten months. He assured them of his plans to visit them, complete with Navy Cross, following the completion of his tour of duty in April 1967.

The people of Ballyhaunis were elated by the news that one of their own had been awarded such a prestigious medal. Plans were put in motion to celebrate Corporal Gallagher’s homecoming with a street party on April 14. However, when the day came, the streets of Ballyhaunis were deathly silent. Bob Gallagher returned home, as promised, but he came home in a coffin having been killed in an ambush two weeks earlier.

Gallagher was born on 1 February 1944, the second of nine children – and the eldest son – of Peter and Mary Gallagher. He grew up on the family farm at Derrintogher, three miles from Ballyhaunis.[ii] The nickname ‘Bob’ was bestowed upon him by his older sister Margaret who couldn’t pronounce his name ‘Patrick’ when she was small. His grandfather Patrick, for whom he was named, had been a schoolteacher. The younger Patrick also showed much promise at school and was educated by the Franciscans at Granlahan Monastery on the Roscommon-Mayo border. As well as being a fine footballer, he developed an interest in carpentry and cabinet-making, studying at the vocational school in Ballyhaunis.[iii]

US soldiers in bomb crater - Vietnam

In 1962, the second year of JFK’s Presidency, the 18-year-old flew from Shannon to New York and moved in with an aunt, Mrs May Burns, on Long Island. He found a job in real estate and started at law school. However, with the escalation of the conflict in Vietnam, he found himself drawn to the Marines, one of the world’s premier fighting forces, enlisting in late 1965.

The Vietnam War officially lasted from 1955 to the fall of Saigon in 1975. It is estimated that over 3 million people lost their lives in the war, mostly civilians.

The Irish involvement in the war was a much neglected subject until 1998 when Declan Hughes ( began the identificaton of the Irish who lost their lives in that war, at a time when few believed any Irish had been there. As Declan put it in an email to me in March 2015: ‘In 1999, I brought the Vietnam Memorial (replica) to Ireland, where it toured the 4 historic provinces, with 3-day stops in each of the following: Collins Barracks Cork, Dublin Castle, Queens University Belfast, NUI-Galway and Adare Manor. The Irish Defence Forces rendered military honours in Cork, Dublin, Galway and Adare. An Garda Siochana escorted The Wall around the country, and the then-RUC escorted north of the border. President McAleese paid her respects to those Irish who died when The Wall was in Queens University Belfast, along with Secretary of State for NI, Mo Mowlam. The Taoiseach laid a wreath on behalf of the Irish people when The Wall was in Adare Manor. I continued (and continue) to identify Irish dead from the conflict.’

In 2008 Gaul House Press in County Kildare published James Durney’s acclaimed book ‘Vietnam – The Irish Experience’ in 2008. As Durney observed, at least 2,500 of the men and women who served during the Vietnam War were Irish.[iv] Untold numbers were of Irish descent; Tim Pat Coogan recalled coming across a ‘Shamrock Squadron’ of 22 Irish-American piloted helicopters in Vietnam.

Irish soldiers were in the action from the moment US troops began arriving in droves after the Gulf of Tonkin incident led to a considerable escalation of the conflict in 1964. Among them was Michael Coyne, now living in Jenkinstown, Co Meath, who was injured five times during his 16 months in Vietnam. Coyne received five Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars.

The war also accounted for the deaths of 28 Irishmen and one Irishwoman who were killed in action, or died in accidents or perished of natural causes.[v]

Among the most vocal supporters of the war was Cardinal Francis Spellman, arguably the most powerful man in 1960s New York, whose father was a shoemaker from Clonmel, County Tipperary.[vi]

Ho-Chi-Minh 1921
Above: The Vietnamese leader Ho Chí Minh studied Tom Barry’s ‘Guerilla Days’ and was impressed by Terence MacSwiney’s hunger strike. 

On the other hand, Ireland’s fight for independence from Britain had been one of the sparks that compelled a young Paris-based Vietnamese Marxist called Ho Chí Minh to lead Vietnam’s fight for independence from France. Interested in the Easter Rising, Ho was particularly impressed by Terence MacSwiney’s death from hunger strike, remarking ‘A nation that has such citizens will never surrender’. He also studied Tom Barry’s book, ‘Guerrilla Days in Ireland,’ which he would put to good use himself when he led North Vietnam during its wars against the French and the USA.[vii]


In February 1966 Bob Gallagher returned to Ireland on a surprise trip that lasted three weeks. It seems likely he had already completed his three months of training by this time. Pat Nee, a fellow Marine from Galway, likened the experience to ‘12 weeks of pure hell’. However, Gallagher did not tell his family that he had joined the Marines. ‘I was afraid you might worry too much,’ he wrote to them in January 1967, ‘so I made my aunt and sisters in New York promise they would not tell you I was there.’

By the time Ireland was commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising in April 1966, Gallagher was serving as a Lance-Corporal in the jungles of south-east Asia. Three months later, while stationed in Quang Tri Province in north central Vietnam, he performed the act that was to win him the Navy Cross.

On 18 July Gallagher and three other Marines were quietly manning a defensive, riverside post near the border at Cam Lo when a party of Viet Cong guerrilla fighters ambushed them with grenades. Gallagher managed to kick the first grenade out of the post before it exploded. A second grenade then landed on the ground between two of his comrades. The citation for his Navy Cross explains what happened next.

‘Without hesitation, in a valiant act of self-sacrifice, Corporal Gallagher threw himself upon the deadly grenade in order to absorb the explosion and save the lives of his comrades.’

Remarkably, none of the Marines were wounded, despite the fact two more grenades landed in the post and exploded. The grenade upon which Gallagher was lying had still not exploded either. His squad leader ordered him to roll over and hurl the grenade into the river. Gallagher did just that; the grenade exploded on impact with the water.

Mariones at Cam Lo

Gallagher was rightly applauded for saving his comrades ‘from probable injury and possible loss of life’. His action also rang loudly with the Marine’s code of ‘Semper Fi’ (Always Faithful).

‘It is a pleasure to pin this on your breast,’ said General William Westmoreland, deputy commander of the US in Vietnam, when he awarded Gallagher his Navy Cross. Frank Erwin, one of his fellow Marines wrote: ‘I remember Patrick Gallagher, the bravest Marine that ever wore the uniform. He was so proud the day General Westmoreland presented him with the Navy Cross. We had our picture taken together.’[viii]

At the ceremony, Gallagher was apparently told that he would have been ‘a shoe-in’ for the Congressional Medal of Honour, the USA’s highest military honour, if the grenade had exploded and killed him.

Gallagher was almost bashful when he told his parents the news in his letter of January 27. ‘It was not much, but they made a big thing of it … I had planned on not telling you myself until I got back to the US.’

When word of his award reached Ireland, there was considerable excitement. RTÉ News dispatched Seán Duignan to interview his family while Ballyhaunis Junior Chamber of Commerce began gearing up to light up the town for Gallagher’s planned home-coming on April 14.

However, glum news reached the parish. Four Irish soldiers were killed in Vietnam in March 1967.[ix] The last of the four was Corporal Gallagher who was killed on the morning of 30 March, just over eight weeks after he wrote to his parents. He was part of a squad on patrol at Dai Loc, near the coastal city of Dà Nang when ambushed by the Viet Cong. Bob Gallagher was one of eight Marines who died in the attack. Frank G. Erwin, who was beside Gallagher, later recalled finding his friend dead. ‘I crawled to him, rolled him over and saw that horrible stare of death on his face.’ [x] Erwin described his death as ‘a profound loss to our entire company, as everyone looked to Patrick for courage in battle.’ Erwin would later name one of his sons Patrick in honour of his Irish friend.

The news was wired to the American embassy in Dublin who made contact with Father Rushe, parish priest in Ballyhaunis. Following the Mass on Sunday, Fr. Rushe informed Bob Gallagher’s parents of the sad news. Gallagher’s younger sister Teresa Keegan, now Dublin City Councillor for Cabra-Finglas, was in her early teens when Bob died and clearly remembers seeing her mum’s desolate face when she learned the news.

On a day that had once been marked to celebrate his homecoming, Bob’s casket was escorted to Ballyhaunis by his cousin Staff Sergeant Gerard Moylan. The Western People wrote: ‘The funeral to the new cemetery was one of the largest ever to pass through the town of Ballyhaunis.’ Among those who attended the funeral were the parents of Christy Nevin of Claremorris, who had been killed in Vietnam a year earlier, and Mary Freyne of Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon, whose 21-year-old son Bernard was one of the other four Irishmen killed in March 1967.

Staff Sergeant Moylan laid a wreath on the grave on behalf of the US forces before presenting the American flag, which draped the coffin, along with the Navy Cross insignia and the citation to Mrs Gallagher. Bob was buried in a tomb in Ballyhaunis constructed by his old school friends. His name is recalled on the USA Memorial in Castlebar, as well as on Panel 17 East of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington.

The Gallaghers also received a letter from Bobby Kennedy who wrote: ‘Winston Churchill said, ‘Courage is rightly esteemed as the first of all human qualities because it is the one that guarantees all others’. This courage, Corporal Gallagher gave to us all. To him and to his family are due the thanks of a humbly grateful nation.’



For more see

With thanks to Teresa Keegan and James Durney.

[i] The award is second only to the nation’s highest award, The Congressional Medal of Honor, recognizing combat valour.

[ii] The Gallagher’s appear on the 1911 census at

[iii] One of his brothers was also a carpenter. Patrick also won first prize for a vegetable plot at the vocational school.

[iv] They served variously in the army personnel of the US, Australia or New Zealand forces. Most of the five million who died were Vietnamese; the US lost 58,000 men while Australia, one of its main allies, lost 496.

[v] Sgt Patrick Nevin from Claremorris, Co Mayo, was killed in February 1966 after coming across hostile gunfire.

Dubliner Paul Maher was 20 when he died in an explosion set up by the Viet Cong in March 1966.

John Collopy of Limerick was killed a week before his 21st birthday in July 1967.

Pamela Donovan was the only known Irish woman to have lost her life. The 26-year-old, who was born in Liverpool to parents from Dublin, was deployed in the US Army Nurses Corp and died from what was recorded as “illness/injury” less than three months after arriving in Vietnam.

See for plagiarism.

[vi] According to Tim Pat Coogan, Spellman “ruled New York from 1939 to 1968”. His support impressed Lyndon B Johnson greatly and Spellman had much clout in Washington. (Coogan, Tim Pat, Wherever Green is Worn, p. 302).

[vii] Berresford Ellis, Peter (1996). A History of the Irish Working Class (new ed.). London: Pluto Press. p. 254. ISBN 0-7453-1103-2.) In 1923, H? Chí Minh met Sean MacBride, the IRA veteran, in Paris.

[viii] ‘Vietnam: Our Story – One on One’, Gary D. Gullickson (V V Publishing, Minnesota, 1992), p. 49.

[ix] Eight Irish-born soldiers died in 1967. March 1967 was the single worst month for the Irish soldiers serving in Vietnam when four men died. The four men were Bernard ‘Brian Og’ Freyne from Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon, Mike Smith of Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, John Coyle of Birmingham (whose parents were from Cavan) and Corporal Patrick Gallagher of Ballyhaunis.

[x] ‘Vietnam: Our Story – One on One’, Gary D. Gullickson (V V Publishing, Minnesota, 1992), p. 49. Mr Erwin included a rather gruesome detail which I have opted to leave out of this piece as the request of Bob’s family.


The Choctaw Nation’s Extraordinary Gift to Ireland

On Monday, Leo Varadkar will meet with leaders of the Choctaw in Durant, Oklahoma, to thank them for the succour that their ancestors provided during the time of the Famine … here is my account of that extraordinary donation.

Turtle Bunbury

Choctaw Kindred SpiritsAbove: In the summer of 2015, Kindred Spirits, a beautiful sculpture by Alex Pentek, was unveiled at Bailic Park in Midleton, County Cork, to commemorate the Choctaw Nation and their kindness to the Irish. The sculpture comprises of an empty bowl made from nine giant stainless-steel eagle feathers. Gary Batton, present chief of the Choctaw Nation, attended the unveiling and declared: ‘These are great healing moments. A great moment for us to show our respect back to them as nation to nation. A chance to stand up and say, ‘A, Chata Sia.’ ‘Yes, I am Choctaw.


Skullyville, Oklahoma – Tuesday 23 March 1847

On that spring day, as Major William Armstrong surveyed those who had gathered in the small timber agency where he lived, he must have experienced mixed emotions. For one thing, the meeting had been summoned to raise money for ‘the relief of the starving…

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The Choctaw Nation’s Extraordinary Gift to Ireland

Above: In the summer of 2015, Kindred Spirits, a sculpture by Alex Pentek was unveiled at Bailic Park in Midleton, County Cork, to commemorate the Choctaw Nation and their kindness to the Irish. The beautiful work comprises of an empty bowl made from nine giant stainless-steel eagle feathers. Gary Batton, present chief of the Choctaw Nation, attended the unveiling and declared: “These are great healing moments. A great moment for us to show our respect back to them as nation to nation. A chance to stand up and say, ‘A, Chata Sia.’ ‘Yes, I am Choctaw.'” You can view a Nationwide special on the Choctaw and Alex Pentek’s sculpture at this link on RTÉ Player.


Skullyville, Oklahoma – Tuesday 23 March 1847

On that spring day, as Major William Armstrong surveyed those who had gathered in the small timber agency where he lived, he must have experienced mixed emotions. For one thing, the meeting had been summoned to raise money for ‘the relief of the starving poor of Ireland’, the birthplace of his own father. For another, while the crowd included many missionaries and traders, much of the $170 subscribed at day’s end would come from the chiefs of the Choctaw Nation, who were also present. [i]

Major Armstrong had known these Choctaw men for many long years, having served as the US government’s chief agent in the region since 1832. He had been with them through the ‘Trail of Tears’, in which perhaps as many as four thousand Choctaw men, women and children perished when they were bullied out of their ancestral homelands and forced to cross the River Mississippi.

The major’s wife, Nancy, and his older brother Frank had been as keen as he was to help the Choctaw, but both died in the wake of the Trail of Tears. And when the 52-year-old Armstrong himself succumbed in the summer of 1847, less than three months after the Skullyville meeting for the ‘white brethren of Ireland’, the chief of the Choctaw Nation, Colonel David Folsom, would recall him as ‘our father and our friend’.[ii]

Oral histories collected in the nineteenth century include tantalising suggestions that the ancestors of the Choctaw Nation were hunting for mammoths over 12,000 years ago. Nanih Waiya, an ancient grass-covered earth mound held sacred by the Choctaw, lay at the heart of their ancestral lands in the Mississippi region. During the eighteenth century they traded with French, British and Spanish alike, but following the Treaty of Hopewell (1786) they became close allies of the United States itself.

When Britain went to war against the US in 1812, many Choctaw warriors served in the American army of Andrew Jackson, particularly during the crushing defeat he inflicted on the Creek Indians, Britain’s erstwhile allies, as well as in the successful rescue operation of two hundred Tennessee Riflemen from a British ambush.[iii] David Folsom was among the 50 or 60 young Choctaw warriors who were still with Jackson’s army when he annihilated the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. .

However, the Choctaw’s credit with Jackson amounted to little when he became President of the United States fourteen years later. During the 1830s ‘Old Hickory’ Jackson was responsible for transplanting numerous American Indian tribes, including the Choctaw, over the western frontier and appropriating their ancestral lands for settlement. Jackson, whose parents were both born in County Antrim, Ireland, had barely been elected to the White House when he persuaded Congress to pass the Indian Removal Act in June 1830, thereby legitimising his ruthless eviction policy.

Much of Jackson’s focus was on the fertile lands east of the River Mississippi belonging to five nations, including the Choctaw, known as the ‘Five Civilized Tribes’ by the Anglo-European colonists and settlers of the period. The state of Mississippi had been admitted to the Union in 1817. Twelve years later Mississippi passed resolutions that declared Choctaw lands ‘state property’ and ‘terminated’ Choctaw sovereignty, thereby making the Choctaw communities subject to the state’s laws and open to possible attack by the militia.

In September 1830 the Choctaw minkos (chiefs) signed the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, the last of seven such land treaties, by which they ceded nearly 11 million acres of their ancestral homeland in present-day Alabama and Mississippi to the US. In return, the Choctaw were to receive 15 million acres of wilderness across the Mississippi in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), lands that had already been obtained by a cessional treaty a decade earlier.

Above: The French writer Alexis de Tocqueville chanced to encounter the Choctaw during their mass exodus.

By Christmas, 1831, an estimated seven thousand Choctaw had set off for the Indian Territory, where the US had promised to leave them to their own devices. In the widely published ‘Farewell Letter to the American People’ (1832) one of the minkos, George W. Harkins, explained that ‘we as Choctaws rather chose to suffer and be free, than live under the degrading influence of laws, where our voice could not be heard in their formation.’ [iv]

In December 1831 the French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville chanced to witness ‘a large troop’ of Choctaw men, women and children stumbling out of the forest near Memphis, Tennessee, on their way to the Mississippi.[v] He also observed an American agent who, with the aid of a wad of banknotes, managed to induce a steamboat captain to escort the group ‘sixty leagues further’ downriver into Arkansas.

De Tocqueville watched as the Choctaw ‘advanced mournfully’ towards the steamboat. The horses were loaded first; several took fright and plunged into the river, from which they were ‘pulled out only with difficulty’. Then came the men and women, with their children either attached to their backs or wrapped in blankets. And finally the elderly hobbled on, including a desperately emaciated, semi-naked woman who, de Tocqueville learned, was reckoned to be 110 years old. ‘To leave one’s country at that age to seek one’s fortune in a foreign land, what misery!’ opined de Tocqueville.[vi] The Frenchman also knew that the promise that the Choctaw would be left alone on the far side of the Mississippi was a joke; he felt it would be ten years at most before the insatiable white man came looking for more land.

‘In the whole scene,’ continued De Tocqueville , ‘there was an air of ruin and destruction, something which betrayed a final and irrevocable adieu; one couldn’t watch without feeling one’s heart wrung. The Indians were tranquil, but sombre and taciturn. There was one who could speak English and of whom I asked why the Chactas [sic] were leaving their country. ‘To be free,’ he answered. – I could never get any other reason out of him … It is a singular fate that brought us to Memphis to watch the expulsion, one can say the dissolution, of one of the most celebrated and ancient American peoples.’[vii]

De Tocqueville was right to feel so gloomy. That first migration of the Choctaw proved utterly devastating, coinciding with one of the coldest winters ever recorded. Endless blizzards, flash floods, pestilent swamps and iced-up rivers combined with a cholera epidemic and malnutrition to kill thousands of the hapless migrants. When they finally reached Little Rock a Choctaw minko was quoted in the Arkansas Gazette as describing the trek as a ‘trail of tears and death’. After a journey of 600 miles, the survivors would later settle in what became the state of Oklahoma, the name being Choctaw for ‘red people’.

Trail of Tears

Numbers tend to vary wildly, but it is thought that, between 1830 and 1834, about 12,500 Choctaw embarked on the Trail of Tears, of whom between 1,500 and 4,000 died along the way. A further 6,000 Choctaw chose to remain in Mississippi, where they would experience considerable harassment during the 1830s and 40s from the influx of Anglo-European settlers. Many continued to embark on the Trail of Tears, with a thousand Choctaw migrants making the journey in 1846 alone, while many more simply succumbed to the alternative reality bestowed by an addiction to whiskey.[viii]

When one reads of the Trail of Tears – or, indeed, of the Great Famine in Ireland – one is generally inclined to think that the scoundrels who allowed these grim events to happen must have been the most villainous blackguards that ever lived. I assumed that those who orchestrated the ‘forced relocation’ of the Choctaw were the sort of yobbos you see in cowboy films who yelp with delight as they set fire their to tipis. However, history is rarely that simple. Contemporary correspondence suggests that Frank and William Armstrong – the two principal government figures during the Trail of Tears era – were utterly appalled by what happened to the Choctaw that cruel winter.

Like Andrew Jackson, the Armstrong brothers were of Scots-Irish stock. Colonel James Armstrong, their father, was born in 1736 in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, and is said to have been a son of the Rev. Gustavus Armstrong.[ix] He was known as ‘Trooper’ Armstrong from his time with the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons, a regiment of the British army largely mustered in Ulster. A contemporary later recalled ‘his superb figure and great physical strength, as well as his skill and enterprise.’[x] Trooper Armstrong is thought to have served in the Seven Years’ War, in which the Inniskillings fought with great distinction at the Battles of Minden and Wetter in 1759. He subsequently left the army and immigrated to America shortly after the Revolutionary War. By 1786 he had settled in Abingdon, Virginia, and married Susan Wells, daughter of Charles Wells, founder of Wellsburg, West Virginia.

In July 1791 Trooper Armstrong’s gentlemanly education came to the fore when he served as an ‘arbiter elegantiarum’ during Governor Blount’s seven-day council with the Cherokee at White’s Fort (now Knoxville), Tennessee. More than 1,200 unarmed Cherokee observed the courtly manner in which the Ulsterman presented forty-one chiefs and warriors to the governor, introducing each one by his aboriginal name.[xi]

A decade later Trooper Armstrong moved his family to a 2,500-acre farm on Flat Creek, fifteen miles from Knoxville, where he died in 1813.[xii] He was survived by two daughters and five sons. His sons fought in Andrew Jackson’s army during the Creek Wars of 1813–14 and again at the Battle of New Orleans. Such service stood them in good stead when Jackson was elected to the White House in 1829. Robert Armstrong, a particular ‘pet’ of Jackson’s, became postmaster of Nashville, while William became the town’s mayor.[xiii]

In April 1831 another brother, Frank, was despatched to the Mississippi to take a census of the Choctaw and to survey their farms before their departure.[xiv] Born in Virginia in 1783, Frank Armstrong is one of those near-miss household names: he reputedly designed a short-barrelled pocket pistol, of large calibre, and then showed the pattern to a gun-maker named Henry Derringer. When Derringer successfully manufactured the weapon, a delighted Armstrong selflessly christened it the ‘Derringer pistol’.[xv]

Many years later the Choctaw chief David Folsom would tell of how he had known Frank since 1810 and of how he had surveyed the Choctaw lands ‘faithfully and to the entire satisfaction of all concerned’.[xvi] On 7 September 1831, the day on which he completed the census, Frank was appointed agent to the Choctaw in Indian Territory. As such, he was to prepare for the arrival of all those Choctaw who would soon be spilling across that mighty, rolling, yellow river to establish a new life.[xvii] He set in motion the construction of a wagon road from Fort Smith to Red River. Built by US soldiers, the Military Road, as it became known, was fraught with complications, requiring numerous causeways across the boggy marshes.

Meanwhile, in July 1832, Frank’s younger brother William was assigned the task of looking after the remaining Choctaw on the east side of the Mississippi. Although the Armstrongs had served under the hard-nosed Jackson, they had inherited their father’s honourable demeanour as well as his respect for the Native Americans and the pioneer’s determination to improve someone’s lot. However, entrusted with the thankless task of overseeing the mass exodus, they were both badly hampered by a lack of money and resources.[xviii]

By April 1833 it was reckoned that the majority of Choctaw had crossed the river, and Frank Armstrong secured $10,000 to build a council house for the Nation, as well as houses for the chiefs of the three districts and a church in each district, which were to double as school houses until actual schools could be completed. These schools were set up at the request of the Choctaw chiefs, and most were paid for out of the money the Choctaw had obtained in exchange for land cessions. As a result, it could be argued that the Choctaw Nation had the first publicly funded school system in the US.

Frank seems to have been on good terms with the Choctaw, but it was a tough slog for everyone. When the crops failed in the dire spring of 1834 he tried to get hold of as many bushels of corn as he could to relieve the starving Choctaw, as well as commissioning looms and spinning wheels. His diplomacy was greatly prized by the government, and by 1835 he was picked to negotiate a treaty with the Comanche and other ‘wandering tribes’ west of Missouri and Arkansas. He also erected a new logwood head office, known as the Agency Building, some fifteen miles west of Fort Smith. The settlement that grew up around the building became known as Skullyville. However, Frank was struck down by an unidentified disease and died, aged fifty-two, on 6 August 1835. One wonders whether he passed away tormented by the promises he’d been unable to keep to the Choctaw, embittered by the government’s almost total failure to meet his demands during the grim trek to Indian Territory. Either way, he died and was buried at Fort Coffee in Le Flore County, Oklahoma.

At the time of his death twelve logwood schoolhouses were either finished or nearing completion. Books had been bought and ‘steady, sober, married’ candidates were being interviewed as potential teachers. Three months after Frank died his wife delivered a posthumous son, Frank, Jr, who would later earn the distinction of being the only Confederate general to start the Civil War fighting for the Union.[xix]

After Frank’s death his brother William succeeded him as Superintendent for Indian Affairs for the Western Territory. He moved across the Mississippi and occupied the Agency Building, where he was based for the next twelve years. As Chief Folsom put it, William ‘came among us with his family’, but a few months later his wife, Nancy, died. ‘My friends, but few of you knew the loss we sustained in the death of Mrs Armstrong,’ said the chief. ‘She was an excellent woman. The sympathies of her heart flowed out to the Choctaws – to the poor Choctaw women.’[xx]

Meanwhile, William had to contend with considerable discord within the Choctaw Nation itself, brought about by the apalling sorrow of the previous years. His diplomatic skills ensured that he was also deeply embroiled in negotiating the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation to the Indian Territory from their lands in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Alabama and the Carolinas.

Like Frank, William spent much of his time helping to create a semblance of a society for the Choctaw in their new location, with a particular emphasis on education. He had a good deal of success in this regard, and a report in the Missionary Herald of early 1847 applauded the ‘great efforts’ being made ‘by the leading men to establish schools, and a strong desire is manifested by the people to avail themselves of the benefits of schools.’[xxi] Among these buildings was a boys’ school founded in 1844, known as the Armstrong Academy, which was eventually destroyed by fire in 1921.

On 23 March 1847 William Armstrong chaired the meeting at the Agency Building in Skullyville at which the $170 was raised for Irish famine relief. It is assumed that the Choctaw contributed because they felt immense empathy for the Irish situation, having experienced such similar pain during the Trail of Tears a little over a decade earlier. The money was then forwarded to Charles Goffland, Treasurer of the Memphis Irish Relief Committee.

Of all the thousands of benevolent bodies and individuals who contributed to the General Irish Relief Committee of the City of New York in 1847, ‘the Choctaw tribe of Indians in the far West’ were regarded as the most remarkable.[xxii] The committee’s chairman was the 65-year-old Myndert Van Schaick, a veteran New York politician and former State Senator. On 22 May 1847 he wrote to Joseph Bewley and Jonathan Pim, joint secretaries of the Quaker-inspired Central Relief Committee in Ireland, stating that American contributions had thus far raised nearly $145,000, and expressing his satisfaction that the first vessels laden with ‘bread stuffs’, clothing and other provisions had already arrived in Ireland. Another ship was being loaded as he wrote.[xxiii]

Van Schaick then drew specific attention to a sum of $2,747, which had been collected by James Reyburn, president of the Friendly Sons of St Patrick, from donors in Mississippi and Tennessee. Van Schaick observed that, ‘out of $170 of that sum, the largest part was contributed by the children of the forest, our red brethren of the Choctaw nation. Even those distant men have felt the force of Christian example, and have given their cheerful aid in this good cause, though they are separated from you by many miles of land and an ocean’s breadth.’[xxiv]

The $170 raised in Skullyville was not the only money raised by the Choctaw. More than 150 miles south, the citizens of Doaksville, the largest town in Indian Territory, gathered to consider ‘the benefit of the starving Irish’ in early May 1847. The meeting was chaired by Joseph R. Berthelet, a public-spirited soul who would go on to found the Milwaukee Cement Company. A total of $153 was ‘immediately subscribed’, prompting Charles de Morse, editor of the Northern Standard of Texas, to remark: ‘Considering how far in the wilderness Doaksville is situated, its small population, the fact that nothing but unprompted sympathy for distress elicited their aid, and its very great distance from the scene of the famine and from all active efforts in its behalf … we consider it very creditable to the citizens of that little place.’[xxv]

The Arkansas Intelligencer published a rather more self-congratulatory tribute on 8 May: ‘What an agreeable reflection it must give to the Christian and the philanthropist, to witness this evidence of civilization and Christian spirit existing among our red neighbors. They are repaying the Christian world a consideration for bringing them out from the benighted ignorance and heathen barbarism. Not only by contributing a few dollars, but by affording evidence that the labors of the Christian missionary have not been in vain.’

Curiously there is no record of the Doaksville contribution in the accounts of the General Irish Relief Committee. Nonetheless, the Choctaw money that did reach Ireland was gratefully received by the Society of Friends, who referred to it as ‘the voice of benevolence from the western wilderness of the western hemisphere.’[xxvi]

Major William Armstrong died at Doaksville, aged fifty-three, on 12 June 1847.[xxvii] His remains were brought to Nashville for burial. A month after his death the Nashville Whig published Chief Folsom’s remarkable appreciation in which he commended William, ‘our father and our friend’, for being so ‘deeply interested’ in the well-being of the Choctaw. ‘He was careful to do everything he could to make our wives and little ones comfortable. He saw us settled in our homes.’[xxviii]

Assistance to the Irish people notwithstanding, the Choctaw of Mississippi were still in torment in 1849. They described how they ‘have had our habitations torn down and burned, our fences destroyed, cattle turned into our fields and we ourselves have been scourged, manacled, fettered and otherwise personally abused, until by such treatment some of our best men have died.’[xxix]

The Choctaw’s generosity to the Irish was vaguely remembered during a terrible drought in 1860, which killed almost all their crops and left them on the verge of famine. Elias Rector, the Southern Superintendent of Indian Affairs, issued a reminder of their generosity in a letter to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington. ‘As we aided in sending food to starving Ireland, so we should preserve from destruction and misery these faithful allies and dependents.’[xxx]

In 1992 a group of twenty-two Irish men and women walked the 600-mile Trail of Tears, raising $1,000 for every dollar given by the Choctaw in 1847. The money went to relieve suffering in famine-stricken Somalia. Seven years later Gary White Deer, a member of the Choctaw Nation, reciprocated when he visited County Mayo and led the annual Famine Walk from Doolough to Louisburgh.[xxxi] Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, is an honorary Choctaw chief, and a plaque acknowledging the Choctaw contribution is mounted in the Mansion House in Dublin. On 10 March 2018, the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is due to meet with leaders of the Choctaw in Durant, Oklahoma, to thank them for the succour that their ancestors provided.


This story is extracted from Turtle Bunbury’s book ‘1847-A Chronicle of Genius, Generosity & Savagery’, published by Gill in 2016. The acclaimed book is available via Amazon.


Watch a Nationwide special on the Choctaw and Alex Pentek’s sculpture at this link on RTÉ Player at




[i] On 3 April 1847 the Arkansas Intelligencer reported that ‘a considerable portion’ of the $170 raised at the Skullyville meeting was contributed by ‘the “poor Indian” sending his mite to the poor Irish!’ Quoted in Nehemiah Adams, The Life of John Eliot (Boston: Massachusetts Sabbath School Society, 1847‬), p. 324. Another account from the Conneticut Courant of 24 April 1847 added that whole Major Armstrong took the chair, J.B. Luco was appointed Secretary. Major Armstrong read out a circular of the “Memphis Committee “, after which the meeting contributed $170. “All subscribed, Agents, Missionaries, Traders, and Indians, a considerable portion of which fund was made up by the latter.” A misprint dating from at least 1916, perhaps copied from the Arkansas Intelligencer, mistakenly put the figure at $710. It can be found in Joseph B. Thoburn, A Standard History of Oklahoma (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1916‬), p. 266, as well as in Joseph B. Thorburn and Muriel H. Wright, Oklahoma: A History of the State and Its People, Vol. 1 (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1929), p. 249, and in ‘James Shannon Buchanan’, Chronicles of Oklahoma, vol. 30, no. 3 (September 1930), p. 353.

[ii]         Nashville Whig, 16 July 1847. A fuller version of Chief Folsom’s speech can be found at

[iii]         The Tennessee Riflemen were commanded by General Billy Carroll when a party of fifty to sixty Choctaw came to their rescue. Iti Fabussa, ‘Choctaws and the war of 1812: A high point in relations with the US’, in Biskinik, the Official Publication of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, February 2015, p. 11.

[iv]         George W. Harkins, ‘Farewell Letter to the American People’ (1832). Reprinted in Wayne Moquin and Charles Van Doren (eds.), Great Documents in American Indian History [1973] (New York: DaCapo Press, 1995), p. 151.

[v]         Alexis de Tocqueville, letter, on board the Louisville, 25 December 1831, at

[vi]         Alexis de Tocqueville, letter, on board the Louisville, 25 December 1831, at

[vii]         Alexis de Tocqueville, letter, on board the Louisville, 25 December 1831, at

[viii]         ‘Choctaw social and ceremonial life’, in John Swanton, Source Material for the Social and Ceremonial Life of the Choctaw Indians (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1931).

[ix]         ‘James Armstrong (1736–Sept. 28, 1813)’, in Mary U. Rothrock (ed.), The French Broad-Holstein Country (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1946). His birthplace is reported by one source as ‘Knock Ma Knowles’, presumably Knockmanoul, Co. Fermanagh.

[x]         Recollections of Dr J. H. Calendar, quoted in Zella Armstrong and Janie Preston Collop French, Notable Southern Families (Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1974‬), p. 4–16.

[xi]         J. G. M. Ramsey, Annals of Tennessee (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1853), p. 555. Quoted by Carolyn Thomas Foreman, Chronicles of Oklahoma, vol. 15, no. 2 (June 1937), p. 293. Under the terms of the ensuing Treaty of Peace and Friendship, signed at Holston, the loosely affiliated Cherokee tribes were to fall under the protection of the United States, while the government would oversee all foreign affairs.

[xii]         In 1801 James ‘Trooper’ Armstrong, then living at Abingdon, Virginia, bought 2,180 acres from Francis Maybury, to which he added 400 acres from Nicholas Tate Perkins seven years later.

[xiii]         In 1836 Brigadier-General Robert Armstrong commanded the Tennessee mounted volunteers at the Battle of Wahoo Swamp, Florida, during the Second Seminole War. In 1845, he was appointed United States consul to Liverpool, remaining in England until 1852. He was also sometime publisher of the Washington Union and a close adviser to President Polk.

[xiv]         Frank’s first port of call was the office of George S. Gaines, a licensed trader and friend of the Choctaws, who noted that Frank ‘appeared to be entirely ignorant of the actual state of things’. Gaines duly introduced him to the Choctaw chiefs.

[xv]         The story about Frank Armstrong showing Henry Derringer the pattern was recorded by William Park, the Donegal-born husband to Armstrong’s sister Jane (Jenny), who stated that he personally witnessed this. This story and other details about Armstrong’s connection to Derringer are covered in an appendix in Carolyn Thomas Foreman’s article ‘The Armstrongs of Indian Territory, part II: William Armstrong’, from Chronicles of Oklahoma, vol. 30, no. 4 (1952), at

[xvi]         A fuller version of Chief Folsom’s speech can be found at

[xvii]         Frank Armstrong’s census of 1831 is available at

[xviii]         In November 1831 William Armstrong went to Washington and secured $50,000, but this seems to have been only to help fund the agents orchestrating the emigration. Severe weather delayed his return until late January 1832.

[xix]         Francis Wells Armstrong was buried at Swallow Rock (Fort Coffee) at Spiro in Le Flore County, Oklahoma. His wife, Anne Willard, was a Catholic from Baltimore, Maryland, who, after his death, married General Persifer Smith, military governor of Mexico City in 1847. After General Smith’s death in 1858, Anne entered a convent and became a mother superior.

[xx]         A fuller version of Chief Folsom’s speech can be found at

[xxi]         On 3 February Mr Charles C. Copeland, a licensed preacher, wrote a letter from Norwalk to the American Board of Commissions for Foreign Missions describing the improvement made by the Choctaws since he went to reside among them. ‘It is perceptible in every thing; and in nothing more than in the interest that is manifested in schools. Great efforts are made by the leading men to establish schools, and a strong desire is manifested by the people to avail themselves of the benefits of schools. The applicants for admission to the boarding schools would fill twice as many.’ Missionary Herald, vol. 43 (1847).

[xxii]         The General Irish Relief Committee was originally ‘appointed by the inhabitants of the City of New York’ to devise ‘efficient measures for the relief of the starving poor of Ireland, to collect and transmit funds and provisions, and to do such other acts as they might from time to time think expedient.’ Full details of all those who contributed between February 1847 and February 1848 were published in Aid to Ireland: Report of the General Relief Committee of the City of New York (New York: General Relief Committee, 1848).

[xxiii]         Aid to Ireland: Report of the General Relief Committee of the City of New York (New York: General Relief Committee, 1848), p. 91.

[xxiv]         Aid to Ireland: Report of the General Relief Committee of the City of New York (New York: General Relief Committee, 1848), p. 92. See also p. 51. When Van Schaick read of the Choctaw’s kindness it was likely to have stirred memories of his father, Goose Van Schaick, an officer in George Washington’s Continental Army, who received the thanks of Congress in 1779 for the ‘activity and good conduct’ displayed by his troops in ‘the late expedition against the Onondagas’ of upstate New York. The Onondaga Indians, one of the constituent nations of the Iroquois, were being punished because some of their warriors had sided with the British during the Revolutionary War. Colonel Van Schaick’s force of 558 men attacked their principal settlement along Onondaga Creek, methodically burning fifty houses, along with their provisions and stores. Van Schaick took thirty-two prisoners without losing a single man. However, the thanks extended by Congress made no mention of the alleged rape and murder of Onondaga women, or the killing of the Onondaga’s cattle. Nor did it observe that the settlement was largely undefended because all the Onondaga warriors were away.

[xxv]         Northern Standard, 5 May 1847. Quoted in Richard B. Marrin and Lorna Geer Sheppard, The Paradise of Texas: Clarksville and Red River County, 1846–1860 (Clarksville, Tex.: Heritage Books, 2007), p. 235–6.

[xxvi]         Quoted by Christine Kinealy in A Death-Dealing Famine: The Great Hunger in Ireland (Chicago: Pluto Press, 1997), p. 111.

[xxvii]         The Armstrong family had been heavily involved with Native Americans for nearly sixty years by this time. As one descendant put it in the 1930s, ‘their humanity to the Indians under their charge caused them to be loved by the red men.’ Carolyn Thomas Foreman, ‘The Armstrongs of Indian Territory, part II: William Armstrong’, Chronicles of Oklahoma, vol. 30, no. 4 (1952), p. 292.

Correspondence in the Baltimore Patriot, 15 July 1847 (, suggests that William Armstrong’s 23-year-old son, a lawyer in St Louis, was in the running to succeed him in his post. The other candidate was Major Arnold Harris, son-in-law of Brigadier-General Robert Armstrong. However, the man who ultimately succeeded appears to have been Samuel M. Rutherford (see footnote 6 at

The Agency Building later became home to Tandy Walker (1814–77), a mixed- race Choctaw and sometime governor of the Choctaw Nation. It was considered the oldest building in Oklahoma when it was destroyed by fire in 1947.

[xxviii]         Nashville Whig, 16 July 1847. A fuller version of Chief Folsom’s speech can be found at

[xxix]         ‘Three efforts at development among the Choctaws of Mississippi’, in Walter L. Williams (ed.), Southeastern Indians Since the Removal Era (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1979), p. 142–53.

[xxx]         The letter states: ‘The Choctaws and Chickasaws are, it is believed, the greatest sufferers from drought; their crops have almost wholly failed, and it is thought that many will perish for want of food, unless some provision is made by the government to relieve them. Humanity urges that the department should ascertain their condition and necessities …’ Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (1860), p. 117.

[xxxi]         It is sometimes said that the Choctaws’ attention was caught by the story of the Doolough Tragedy in Co. Mayo, in which at least sixteen people perished in a blizzard while seeking to obtain relief from the Poor Law Union. However, the Doolough Tragedy ocurred on 30 March 1849, two years after the Choctaw donation. This horrific event took place when a desolate group went to the town of Louisburgh to be assessed for famine relief by the Board of Governors. When they arrived they were told the two commissioners had gone on to Delphi Lodge, a hunting lodge 12 km south. The group were advised to be there for assessment at seven o’clock the following morning, but when they arrived they were turned away. In appalling cold and sleet they attempted the return journey to Louisburgh, but many perished along the way. The bodies of seven men, women and children were found on the roadside. Another nine disappeared, either washed into the open waters of Doolough or Killary. Local lore puts the figure considerably higher.

The AFRI (‘Action from Ireland’) Famine Walk from Doolough to Louisburgh has taken place annually since 1988 and was famously led by Bishop Desmond Tutu in 1991.

[xxxii]         Adam Kemp, ‘Ireland recognizes gift from Choctaw Nation during potato famine’, Oklahoman, 23 March 2015.


The Sinking of the RMS Leinster

The sinking of the RMS Leinster, just one month before the end of the First World War, remains the single greatest maritime disaster on the Irish Sea. At least 550 people died when a German submarine sank the mailboat on 10 October 1918. The centenary will be the key historical event commemorated by the Irish state in 2018. 


There were 22 men in the ship’s Postal Sorting Quarters when the first torpedo struck. Most were Dubliners. It was standard practice on a mailboat like RMS Leinster to ‘sort’ mail as the ship voyaged the seventy miles between Kingstown (as Dun Laoghaire was then called) and the Welsh port of Holyhead. On this morning, there were over 250 sacks of mail to go through.

The banter would have been free flowing among the postal sorters. They knew each other well. Together they had gone on strike the previous April as part of a successful protest against a threat by the British government to introduce conscription in Ireland.[i]

Joseph Blake from Drumcondra had been particularly active in the strike. Two of his sons served with the Volunteers during the Easter Rising; one died of his wounds.[ii]

Matthew Brophy of Phibsboro had just learned that his wife was pregnant with their first child. Adam Smyth from Sandycove was called in at the last minute when a colleague fell ill.[iii] Just before he boarded the ship, Adam saw his eldest daughter Daisy running towards him, armed with sandwiches his wife had just made for him.


Jocelyn Alexander via Valerie Wallace, A LIFE OF THE HYMN-WRITER MRS ALEXANDER Lilliput 1996 page1152 copy
Above: The poet Jocelyn Alexander, courtesy of Valerie Wallace’s ‘Life of the Hymn-Writer, Mrs Alexander‘, published by Lilliput in 1996.

Although her main purpose was to carry mail, the Leinster was also transporting 187 civilians – men, women and children.[iv] Civilians were the primary source of income for the City of Dublin Steam-Packet Company, which had operated the Leinster and three sister ships on the Kingstown-Holyhead route since before the war. Each ship was named for an Irish province.

Some of the passengers were very well-to-do, such as Lady Phyllis Hamilton, eldest daughter of the 2nd Duke of Abercorn and a sister to Lady Wicklow.

Jocelyn Alexander, a poet, was the eldest son of the Protestant Primate of All Ireland; his mother was the hymn writer Mrs. Cecil Frances Humphreys who penned such classics as ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ and ‘Once in Royal David’s City.’ [v]

As a past pupil of Winchester College (or Old Wykehamist, as they are called), he may have exchanged words with another Winchester pupil, Bob King, a 14-year-old butterfly enthusiast who had been visiting his family in Dundrum. Bob’s father was Professor of Oriental Languages in Trinity College Dublin; his mother was a sister of the press barons Lord Northcliffe, founder of the Daily Mail, and Lord Rothermere. [vi]

Widowed just over three months earlier, Fanny Wookey was sailing home to live with her family in England. She apparently carried a bag of gold sovereigns given to her by a Latvian Jew in return for the sale of her late husband’s business, the Wookey Linen Mills in Leixlip, County Kildare. [vii]

John Ross, secretary of the Howth Yacht Club, was on his way to a scouting conference in England.

Fanny Saunders was going to visit her dying daughter in Wales; she had bought a new pair of red shoes for the trip. [viii]


Above: Beautiful Lizzie Healy was one of four women from Tralee, Co. Kerry lost in the sinking. This photo comes courtesy of Lizzie’s great niece, the genealogist and researcher Kate Healy. Further details of Lizzie’s story can be found at Kerry Kate

Elsewhere on the ship, some 500 soldiers were milling about, mostly preparing to rejoin their units in the UK and beyond.[ix]

Ernest Lee, a captain with the Royal Army Medical Corps, was heading back to the Western Front where he had been based for four long years. Many were aware of his incredible heroism during the battle of Ypres. His father Edward Lee, a draper, was one of Ireland’s best-known businessmen; as well as operating the largest retailer in Dun Laoghaire, he had been the only employer to serve on Tom Kettle’s Peace Committee during the 1913 Lockout.[x]

Forty-year-old Arthur Cohen had moved to Ireland from Lithuania as a teenager and tried his hand at many things, including stints as a railway porter and as a gold prospector in South Africa. His biggest venture was the Donegal Clothing and Home Furnishing Company, based in Belfast. However, its failure in 1916 ultimately left him with little option but to join the army so he could secure a regular income for his wife Mollie and their son Louis. And so it was that he was on board the Leinster, headed, he thought, for the frontlines.[xi]

Private Patrick Faughlin of the 3rd Battalion of the Leinster Regiment had come home from the frontlines to meet his baby son.

Alexander Burleigh from Florence Court, Co. Fermanagh, had been visiting his older brother, Andrew, an injured soldier, at a hospital in Dublin. Travelling with him was an Australian relative, Edwin Johnson Carter, who had also been wounded.

Margaret and May O’Grady, two young nurses from Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare, were returning to their duties in England after a holiday with their parents.

The 77-strong-crew was predominantly Irish or Welsh. They included William Maher, a moustachioed Boer War veteran who worked as a stoker, and the Greaser Connolly, whose son Tom was a cabin boy on the ship.

Jem Carraher, a seasoned mariner from Cahore, Co Wexford, had been at sea since he was 13. As the Leinster’s bosun, he looked after her rigging, anchors and cables.

In charge of this entire operation was Dublin-born William Birch, the 61-year-old captain of the ship, who had been sailing the seas for nearly half a century.[xii]

Shortly before 9 o’clock that Thursday morning, Captain Birch gave the signal; the Leinster left her moorings on Carlisle Pier and set off on its last voyage from Kingstown.


Nobody should cross the Irish Sea without a degree of trepidation, not least in a time of war, when German U-boats are on the prowl. Although the Germans had suspended attacks on merchant ships in the wake of the uproar over the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, there had been a shift in the Kaiser’s naval policy since late 1917 and many ships had been sunk.

As such, the Leinster’s 230-foot long exterior had been painted with zig-zag lines, the clever camouflage employed by many merchant ships at this time. A twelve-pound gun was also mounted on her stern, along with a three-man team of Royal Navy gunners to man it. This explains the origin of some live artillery shells divers found on the ship in the 1980s. The shells inspired a certain amount of baseless conspiracy thereafter, with allegations that the ship was transporting armaments, but she was certainly carrying troops and that arguably made her a legitimate target.

Moreover, with no escort, she was still exceedingly vulnerable.

Below sea-level, Oberleutnant Robert Ramm of UB–123 scanned the waters for suitable quarry.

The weather was fine but the Irish Sea was rough after a recent storm. As the Leinster steamed by the Kish Bank, it passed RMS Ulster, her sister mailboat, returning from Holyhead. Adam Smyth must have thought of his eldest son Daniel, a cabin boy on the Ulster.

Shortly after 9.30, the Leinster passed the Kish Light Vessel. And then, approximately 16 miles from Dun Laoghaire, Ramm’s submarine spotted the ship and fired.

When passengers on the Leinster saw the first torpedo approach, they initially thought it was a porpoise. As it crossed the bow, narrowly missing them, the shock of realisation set in.

Above: Captain Birch was awarded the Mercantile Marine Medal and British War Medal. He is commemorated at Tower Hill Memorial. He is also remembered on the family gravestone at Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.

Captain Birch was informed and immediately ordered the ship to turn about and head back to Kingstown, following a zig-zag course. When the Leinster was launched in 1897, she was one of the fastest ships at sea with a speed of 24 knots; the captain had reasonable grounds to hope he could outrun the submarine.[xiii]

Sensing further trouble, he also ordered the lifeboats to be lowered but unfortunately the horror was only just beginning.

Ramm’s second torpedo struck slammed into the port side, right beside the postal sorting quarters. The ladder connecting the quarters to the upper deck was also destroyed and all but one of the 22 sorters either drowned or were killed in the initial explosion.

Captain Birch was blown off the bridge into the sea, as a torrent of water began gushing into the ship through holes in both her port and starboard sides.

In desperation, the crew tried to alter course and lower the lifeboats but the panic was rife. Many had already tumbled into the icy waters and started to drown.

Some heads remained unruffled.

Louie Parry, a fun-loving 22-year-old stewardess, instantly ran down to the lower decks to bring women and children up, handing out lifejackets.

Alderman Michael Joyce, the nationalist MP for Limerick since 1918 and a founder member of Garryowen Rugby club, was reading a newspaper in the smoke-room when the first torpedo struck. Having already survived four shipwrecks in his life, the 68-year-old calmly made his was onto one of the lowered lifeboats, which quickly went around collecting people from the sea.

‘We are quite alright,’ Lady Phyllis Hamilton assured crewmembers. ‘Not a bit excited, don’t worry about us.’

That was just before a third torpedo ripped into the starboard side of the ship, penetrating through to the engine room. As one witness put it, the ensuing explosion ‘shattered the ship like matchwood.’ It blew the funnels into pieces; splinters riddled the deck, killing several passengers.[xiv]

The Leinster plunged, bow first, hurling the majority of passengers on the forward deck into the water. Lady Phyllis handed her lifejacket to someone else, saying ‘I’m a strong swimmer.’

Louie Parry was trying to get a woman and child out of their cabin when the second torpedo hit. Their cabin door slammed on all three of them; their bodies were never recovered.

As the ship was sinking, Ernest Lee helped a fellow officer with a metal splint in his arm to put on his life jacket. He also helped a nurse with her life jacket and then swam out to a lifeboat. However, he then jumped back into the sea to help a woman and child in distress. Having got them safely on board, he suddenly disappeared from sight.


Edward Shortt, Lloyd George’s Chief Secretary (and future Home Secretary), was a passenger on the incoming Ulster and watched aghast as the Leinster sank beneath the waves.[xv]

Arthur Cohen had managed to clamber onto a raft after the first hit but fell back into the freezing water amid the turbulence of the second strike. All around him the sea was now full of men, women and children, terrified, screaming, dying. Some struggled into lifeboats while others, like Arthur, clung on to floating pieces of wood or debris. A self-professed atheist, Arthur vowed that he would say his morning prayers forever more if he survived.

William Maher plunged into the cold waters. A strong swimmer, the fireman had just reached an upturned lifeboat when he saw 13-year-old Dorothy Topping struggling in the water. He dove back in, grabbed her and held onto her for 2½ hours until the rescue boat arrived. She later presented him with a watch as a symbol of her thanks.[xvi]

Captain Birch was pulled into the lifeboat “Big Bertha”, his legs smashed, his eye badly cut.

The bosun Jem Carraher managed to push a raft into the water and gathered up several people, including a baby. Together they prayed for rescue.

The dreadful news had now reached the Admiralty at Kingstown who dispatched fifteen vessels, tugboats and torpedo destroyers to the scene.[xvii] However, amid fears of more torpedo strikes, the first rescue boats did not arrive until almost 90 minutes after the initial attack, by which time unknown numbers had perished.

The torpedo destroyer, HMS Lively, eventually picked up 127 survivors but when its crew began throwing ropes at Big Bertha, there was such a mad scramble to catch them that the lifeboat capsized. Captain Birch was never seen again.

The destroyers Seal and Mallard rescued 51 and 20 people respectively.

All survivors were brought to Victoria Wharf, Kingstown, to receive medical care and comfort. Boats continued to arrive back with survivors and the bodies of the dead until night fell. The bodies were placed in piles along the pier, their heads hanging, one to the left, one to the right, as distraught families jostled with the press to identify their loved ones.

Fanny Saunders’ younger sister broke her heart when she saw a pair of familiar red shoes poking out from one of the body blankets. Fanny’s sickly daughter Janet Owens died three days later.

Also found among the dead were Nurse Margaret O’Grady, Alexander Burleigh, Adam Smyth and Jocelyn Alexander.[xviii]

Fanny Wookey’s body was also recovered and she was buried in Leixlip; the fate of her bag of gold is unknown.

When John Brophy failed to find the body of his brother Matthew, he couldn’t bring himself to tell his mother or Mathew’s pregnant wife, Molly. He arranged for an empty coffin to be buried alongside his father in Glasnevin. Molly gave birth to her first child in July 1919; she named the boy Matthew.

Ernest Lee’s body washed ashore in Gorey a week later. The woman and child who he rescued later called to his parents to express their immense gratitude and told how Ernest had smiled so encouragingly as he saved them.

Above: Count John McCormack, the tenor, painted by Sir William Orpen. From their home in the USA, the Count and his wife Lily, waited in vain for news of Lily’s brother Thomas Foley; they later adopted a number of his children who had been orphaned by the disaster. [xxi]
Lady Phyllis Hamilton’s body was never found.

Nor was that of John Ross.

Nor Bob King, the butterfly boy.

Nor Patrick Faughlin, whose wife Mary, unsure of his whereabouts, rightly feared the worst when his frequent letters ceased on 18 October.[xix]

Nor did they find nineteen-year-old Josephine Carr, a shorthand typist from Cork, who thus had the unhappy distinction of being the first member of the WRENS (Women’s Royal Naval Service) to be killed on active service.

Jem Carraher, the bosun, made it ashore and waked quietly past the row of dead bodies, a blanket over his shoulder, and home to his wife and children on Findlater Street.[xx]

Arthur Cohen was hospitalised with pneumonia for six months but kept his vow to say his prayers. He later became a cinema magnate in Britain, running the London and Southern Super Cinemas, which built several large cinemas named Ambassador, and also took over a number of existing halls. He died penniless when his housekeeper embezzled the funds.

Tom Connolly, the cabin boy, survived when John Donohoe, the Chief Stoker, gave him his own life-jacket. Remarkably Donohoe also lived, as did Tom’s father, the Greaser. Tom later established the first supermarket in Dun Laoghaire.

Alderman Joyce declared he had ‘never had a more trying experience than he had that morning’. He died in his bed in his 90th year


It is not certain how many died. The official death toll of 501 but there were at least 550. The reason for the discrepancy is that (as on many ferries) people did not have to give their name in order to buy a ticket. In any case, it was very much an Irish tragedy; more Irish people died in the sinking of the Leinster than on either Titanic or Lusitania. The fact that the ship sank within sight of Dun Laoghaire was particularly shocking and brought the war right to the Irish shore in a way that hadn’t happened before.

The authorities refused to hold an official public inquiry despite an outcry over the failure to provide the ship with an escort; the Germans had warned that all ships within the exclusion zone surrounding Britain were liable to be sunk. As such, the Leinster was deemed a legitimate target and its sinking was a thus an act of war. Such a conclusion had unhappy consequences for families seeking compensation. Nor did it help the City of Dublin Steam-Packet Company, which went bust in the early 1920s.

Sinn Fein effectively capitalized on the failure to hold an inquiry during their triumphant General Election campaign in December 1918, just two months after the disaster.

The wreck of the Leinster is presently embedded in the sands about 30 m or 100 feet below sea level. She was bought by the late Des Branigan, an archaeological diver and maritime historian, widely hailed for his research into Spanish Armada vessels on the west coast of Ireland. He bought her to stop the plunder of artefacts from the vessel. It is hoped that the wreck will become State property on the hundredth anniversary of the sinking.

As for UB-123, the submarine that sank the Leinster … just nine days later the entire crew died when it struck a mine in the North Sea.

If there was any upside to the tragedy, it did speed up the end of the war. The German government had, in fact, being pushing for peace talks since early October. However, on hearing of the Leinster’s fate, US President Woodrow Wilson remarked on 14 October:

‘At the very time that the German government approaches the government of the United States with proposals of peace its submarines are engaged in sinking passenger ships at sea.’

Six days later, Germany agreed to cease attacks on merchant ships. An armistice was agreed and the First World War formally ended on 11 November 1918.



With thanks to David Cotter, Philip Lecane and Linda Maher of the Irish Daily Mail.


Above: ‘The Last Voyage of the Leinster’ is a new book, much of which was written by descendants of those who died.


Please visit for regular bulletins as plans for the centenary are developed. Anyone with information about, or photos of, their RMS Leinster relatives are likewise encouraged to email it to

Torpedoed!: The R.M.S. Leinster Disaster’ (Periscope Publishing Ltd., 2005) by Philip Lecane, chairperson of the Friends of the Leinster.



[i] They also included Tom Bolster, one of three players with the Davis GAA Club, and two more players from Glasthule Mitchels. ‘The Last Voyage of the Leinster’ book erroneously gives Tom’s age as 15. In fact, he had served in the Post Office for 15 years.

[ii] Joseph Blake’s son Jack Blake apparently died of wounds received as a volunteer in the 1916 Rising. Does anyone know which area he served in? Another son Joe Blake Junior served under De Valera in Boland’s Mill during the Rising. One of Joseph’s daughters was mother to Liam Whelan, the Busby Babe killed in the Munich air crash in 1958. Another was grandmother to Aidan Gillen, the actor who plays Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish in ‘Game of Thrones.’ The Blake family played a prominent role during the War of Independence and Michael Collins regularly stayed in their home in Drumcondra. Joseph’s in-laws were the Fay family, closely involved with he Abbey Theatre.

[iii] The second of 11 children, Adam Smyth grew up on Sandycove Road and was himself married with nine children aged between two and 17.

[iv] Many of the passengers had stayed the previous night in Dun Laoghaire at Ross’s Victoria Hotel, the Royal Marine or Salthill Hotel.

[v] (Robert) Jocelyn Alexander (1852-1918), third son of Mrs. Cecil Frances Humphreys and her husband, Sir William Alexander, the Protestant Primate of All Ireland the Most Reverend. His only son had died in infancy over forty years earlier. The 66-year-old Oxford graduate, poet and HM Inspectorate of Schools  was buried in Derry near his parents.

[vi] Alfred Curzon King, as Bob was formally called, had been visiting his family at Roebuck Hall in Dundrum; his father, Sir Lucas King, was Professor of Oriental Languages in Trinity College Dublin while his mother, Geraldine, was the eldest sister of the press barons Lord Northcliffe, founder of the Daily Mail, and Lord Rothermere. It was nearly four years since his older brother Luke was killed in action at Ypres.

[vii] Fanny Wookey was the English wife of Frederick Wookey, Justice of the Peace and owner of the Wookey Linen Mills, once the largest employer in the Leixlip area of County Kildare, with 50 staff. During the 1913 Lockout, Frederick became notorious for locking out members of the ITGWU, despite there being no dispute among the workers. Their eldest son was killed in France during the war. After Frederick’s death on 6 July 1918, Fanny sold the business to Benny Wolfsson, a Jewish refugee from Latvia who had come to Ireland in 1903. He paid her a bag of gold sovereigns as a down payment. She was returning to England to live with her relatives. Her body was recovered and she was buried in Saint Mary’s Churchyard in Leixlip next to her husband and, in due course, their only surviving child, Frances Norah Wookey, who died in 1939.

[viii] Fanny Saunders’ husband was one of the lifeboat men who died in the 1895 Dun Laoghaire Christmas Eve tragedy.

[ix] Transporting soldiers was compulsory during the war; the City of Dublin Steam-Packet Company was ordered to provide space on each crossing for soldiers. On occasion there were rowdy scenes when paying passengers were turned away because there were so many soldiers on board that the ship was at maximum capacity. The soldiers came from all over the world. Many had gone to Ireland on leave.

[x] Having studied medicine in Trinity, Ernest Lee was working as a medical officer on a cruise ship when war broke out. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and spent the next four years in Flanders and France, being widely applauded for his work on the front lines during the Battle of Ypres.

His father Edward Lee, the son of a Methodist tenant farmer from Tyrrellspass, County Westmeath, was born in 1853 and married Annie Shackleton from Dungar, County Offaly. Only four of their nine children reached adulthood but their drapery business was so successful that they were able to send their sons to boarding school and to Trinity College Dublin. The family lived in The Grange, Stillorgan, County Dublin. Edward served on Bray Urban District Council and owned, among other things, the biggest retail outlet in Dun Laoghaire, which stood on the site of present-day Dunne Stores at 22 to 24 upper Georges Street. During the 1913 Lockout, Edward Lee was the only employer to join Tom Kettle’s Dublin Peace Committee, which tried but failed to find a resolution to the conflict.

Ernest Lee’s brothers Joseph and Tennyson were with the 6th Munster Fusiliers during the bloody landing at Suvla Bay in Gallipoli in August 1915; Joseph was killed on the 7th; Tennyson was wounded two days later.

[xi] Arthur Jacob Israel Cohen was the son of Russian Jews who emigrated from Lithuania to Belfast in 1892. They started as bakers but soon ran a successful linen business. At the age of 15 he ran away to South Africa where he tried but failed to make his fortune from diamonds all gold. He then tried his luck in Canada before returning to Belfast in 1904. In 1910 he married Louisa, with whom he had Mollie and a son Louis. He claimed he was ruined when a cargo of linen he sent from Ireland to England was torpedoed in the Irish Sea. In fact, his linen and clothing business simply failed and he was declared bankrupt in both England and Ireland in 1915. He subsequently took various odd jobs, including a stint as a railway porter, before deciding to join the British Army for a regular income. See also The Northern Whig, 10 February 1916.

[xii] William Birch, the son of a Woollen Merchant, gained his 2nd Mate’s Ticket over forty years earlier. Having worked for the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company since 1902, he was now their most senior captain, holding the honorary title of Commodore. He was a veteran of the Holyhead to Kingstown route.

[xiii] RMS Leinster was built by Laird Brothers of Birkenhead in 1897 and weighed 2,640 gross tons.

[xiv] The third torpedo hit the ship about three minutes after the second one struck.

[xv] Larne Times – Saturday 19 October 1918,

[xvi] William Maher was also awarded a silver medal and certificate for bravery from the Royal Humane Society. He died in 1953 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Dean’s Grange. I understand a headstone is ahoy!

[xvii] The early edition of the Evening Herald carried the news but mistakenly claimed there were no casualties; as the paper had reported without official permission, it was closed down by Dublin Castle and banned for four days.

[xviii] Margaret O’Grady is buried in the family plot at Quin Abbey; her sister May’s body was never recovered. Adam Smyth was buried in Deans Grange Upper North. Fanny Saunders is also buried in Deans Grange. Jocelyn Alexander was buried near his parents in Derry exactly a year to the day after his mother was laid to rest. Alexander Burleigh was buried in Enniskillen. 144 military casualties were interred at Grangegorman Military Cemetery in Dublin

[xix] Nor was that of Edward Moors of Birkenhead was the Engineer’s Steward on the Leinster. He left a widow and eight children. He grew up near Laird Brothers, Birkenhead, where Leinster was built in 1897.

[xx] Jem Carraher narrowly avoided death when MV Inishfallon was sunk by a mine on 21st December 1940. He died in 1965 at the age of 82.

[xxi] The story, published in ‘The Last Voyage of the Leinster’ book, about the McCormacks searching the pier at Dun Laoghaire is not accurate.



Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) was painted by the Welsh artist John Downman in 1807.

As the Great Famine ripped through the County Longford village of Edgeworthstown in 1847, a tiny octogenarian was to be seen making her way from door-to-door, offering food and nourishment. Many of the beleaguered occupants would have recognised her as Maria Edgeworth, the gifted story-teller whose books had been entertaining adults and children alike for nearly half a century. In her prime, she was one of the most successful novelists in the world.

Maria Edgeworth was born on New Year’s Day 1768, 250 years ago, and spent most of her life on the family estate at Edgeworthstown. With the death of her mother when she was just five years old, she turned to her father for parental guidance.

Richard Lovell Edgeworth was a remarkable man with a passion for science and literature. He was also an inventor of no mean skill, creating the prototype of the caterpillar track system used by present-day bulldozers, tanks and tractors. He also produced an early form of telegraph, a velocipede cycle, a “perambulator” to measure land, a turnip cutter and various sailing carriages. Buoyed by his success, Richard urged all his children to undertake basic chemical experiments from an early age.

The library at Edgeworthstown House.

Richard had been a wild man in his younger years with a dangerous lust for gambling but he was cured of such vices when he was shown into the Pakenham’s library at Tullynally Castle, County Westmeath, and encouraged to read.

He in turn urged Maria to read anything she could get her hands on, be it English novels, French encyclopaedias or works by the great philosophers such as Voltaire. She was surely among the few women who read Adam Smith’s ‘Wealth of Nations.’ Every evening, the family gathered in the library at Edgeworthstown to read aloud and discuss the latest books that had arrived from Dublin or London. This was the environment in which Maria learned how to craft stories with wit and style, charm and irony.

She certainly had a sizeable audience to converse with at home. After her mother’s death, her father married thrice more and he ultimately sired twenty-two children, many of whom were close to Maria.

It was Richard who suggested that Maria channel her energies into “useful” writing. By that he meant novels and ‘moral stories’ for children that might actually bring in some money. He had put her to work at the age of 14 when she helped him translate a French book about education.

In the winter of 1793, she started work on ‘Castle Rackrent’, her critically acclaimed, innovative, comic masterpiece. The novel was written to amuse her favourite aunt, Margaret Ruxton, who lived in Navan, County Meath. [i]

There were a few distractions before its publication.

Firstly, having lost two more wives to tuberculosis, Richard was married a fourth time in May 1798. His bride Frances Beaufort was an intelligent, well-read woman. She was two years younger than Maria and a strong bond developed between the two; Maria would go on to help educate and raise Richard and Frances’s six children.

Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817). From an engraving by A. Cardon, 1812.

And then came the United Irishmen’s rebellion which broke out just as Richard and Frances were tying the knot. Richard had raised a local militia several years earlier to keep such lawlessness at bay but, in September 1798, he and his family were forced to flee to Longford, a Protestant stronghold, when the countryside around Edgeworthstown fell into rebel hands. More alarmingly, when a French army marched into the county and camped just outside Longford, suspicious Protestants nearly lynched Richard on the groundless basis that he had tried to send a signal to the French with his telegraph.

Richard toyed with selling up there and then but his father-in-law persuaded him that things would calm down after Dublin’s ultra-right-wing government was kicked out of office by the proposed Act of Union between Ireland and England. That said, Richard ultimately voted against the act that brought an end to the Irish parliament in Dublin.

Meanwhile, Maria finished ‘Castle Rackrent’ and sent the manuscript to Joseph Johnson, the leading literary publisher in London. Published anonymously in January 1800, the novel has been succinctly described by the literary critic Marilyn Bultler as ‘a remarkably intuitive, perceptive and far-reaching portrait of an unequal society.’

Although sales were initially small, Maria took heart in the news that both George III and Pitt the Prime Minister had enjoyed it. Soon the book was beginning to shift large volumes and, by 1801, Maria felt sufficiently courageous to include her own name on the title page of the third edition. After that, she was never again published anonymously.

From 1800 all the way through to 1814, she was the most celebrated and successful living novelist working in the English language, ranking Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott among her foremost admirers. Scott cited her as the inspiration for his first novel, ‘Waverley’. Valerie Pakenham observes that had Jane Austen’s short fling with Tom Lefroy been converted into marriage, Jane might have become Maria’s neighbour when Lefroy subsequently bought the Carrigglas estate near Edgeworthstown.

A complete edition of Maria’s novels runs to 18 volumes. As well as ‘Castle Rackrent’, a satire on Anglo-Irish landlords, there were three more set in Ireland, namely ‘Ennui’ (1809), ‘The Absentee’ (1812) and ‘Ormonde’ (1817). She also published ‘An Essay on Irish Bulls’ in 1802, as a response to Protestant Ascendancy propaganda in the wake of the 1798 Rising.

Although often seen as a ‘Big House’ writer by Irish critics, others consider her a pioneer of the 19th century social novel, on a par with Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot. She was also one of the first successful writers of stories for children and apparently secured the second largest book advance of her generation after Scott. She was elected as one of the first female Honorary Members of the Royal Irish Academy in 1842.

She was a compulsive letter writer, as revealed in ‘Maria Edgeworth’s Letters from Ireland’, a new tome edited by Valerie Pakenham and published by Lilliput Press. After her father’s death in 1817, notes Pakenham, Maria was ‘released’ from the discipline of being his literary partner and began writing twice as many letters. She drolly complained when her stepmother and sisters tried to reduce the time she spent writing these often witty and razor-sharp letters to four hours a day.

Maria also inherited her father’s love for science. Humphrey Davy, inventor of the miner’s safety lamp, frequently stayed at Edgeworthstown, which was seen as an oasis of cultured enlightenment in the Irish midlands at this time. William Rowan Hamilton, John Herschel and Michael Faraday were also in Maria’s circle, while another close friend was the Dublin surgeon, Dr Philip Crampton.

In 1842, her half-sister Lucy married the astronomer, Thomas Romney Robertson, head of the Observatory at Armagh.

Maria Edgeworth, photographed by Richard Beard, in the early 1840s.

Maria never married. Her only known suitor was the Chevalier Abraham Edelcrantz, a Swedish poet and diplomat, whom she met in Paris in 1802. Although she turned him down, she remained obsessed with him for long years afterwards, creating an idealized version of him in her novel, ‘Patronage’.

In politics, Maria was an ‘enlightened Conservative’. She hailed Catholic Emancipation as the dawn of a new golden age but castigated Daniel O’Connell as a rabble-rouser.

During the Great Famine, in which her brother Francis died, she did what she could to alleviate suffering in Longford. In 1847 she tried unsuccessfully to send some of their tenants to start a new life in America on USS Jamestown. Oral history relates how this tiny old lady went from house to house to feed and nurture the starving.

Fortunately she had always been a healthy woman, thanks in part to her brisk early morning walks and also, as she put it herself, thanks to her three favourite consultants, ‘Dr Quiet, Dr Diet and Dr Merryman.’

Maria Edgeworth’s Letters from Ireland’, edited by Valerie Pakenham, Lilliput Press, 2017. This is a justly acclaimed and very useful update to Augustus Hare’s edition of her letters from c. 1860, 2 volumes. The complete works of Maria Edgeworth are available here.

As well as science and literature, she was an enthusiastic gardener and builder. She did much to improve the condition of cottages in Edgeworthstown and delighted in laying new pavements and gutters, or lowering the river bed, as well as constructing a new school in the village.

Following the financial collapse of her addled half-brother Lovell Edgeworth, she worked closely in tandem with her stepmother Frances for 20 years to keep the family estate afloat. It helped that she had adhered to her father’s advice to never spend the capital she earned on her books, or from her inheritance.

She died suddenly of a heart attack on 22 May 1849, aged 81. The family home survived for another three generations, when many neighbouring ‘big houses’ were burned out or abandoned and left to fall into ruin. The house is now a nursing home, while a bronze statue of Maria herself adorns the town’s main street.

Maria Edgeworth celebrations are planned for Rome, York and Dublin in 2018.



I have a personal interest in the Edgeworth story as Maria’s sister Harriet married my grandfather’s great-uncle Richard Butler, Rector of Trim and  Dean of Clonmacnoise, Described as ‘a handsome man with expressive eyes’, he was born at Granard, County Longford, on 14 October 1794. He was the fourth of six sons born to the Rev Richard Butler (d. 1841), Vicar of Burnchurch, and Martha Rothwell, daughter of Richard Rothwell, of Burford, County Meath.

Richard’s memoir, published by his widow and printed by T. Constable in 1863 is available in full online. Educated at Reading under Dr Valpy, he entered Oxford in 1814. He received his priests’ orders in 1819 and was inducted as Rector of Trim where, according to ‘A Compendium of Irish Biography’ (1878), ‘his life as passed in attendance on the duties of his cure, and in literary and antiquarian investigations.’

He also helped his friend, the Rev. James Hamilton, run the Diocesan School of Meath in Trim. Founded in 1567 and regarded as one of the best schools in Ireland, it was housed in the remnants of Talbot Castle, where Jonathan Swift once lived. The Rev. Hamilton, the school master, frequently entertained Richard in his residence. One of the school’s greatest success stories was the Rev Hamilton’s nephew, Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1805- 65), the renowned astronomer and mathematician, who went from Trim to Trinity College Dublin at the age of 18. Another pupil was Richard Crosbie, the balloonist and sometime member of the Pinking Dindies, who claimed he once climbed to the top of the Yellow Steeple at Saint Mary’s Abbey and somehow caused young Arthur Wellesley to cry! After the Rev Hamilton left, the school fell into decline.[ii]

Richard Butler was one of the founders of the Irish Archaeological Society, and was particularly applauded for his philosophy of historic investigation in editing the Annals of John Clyne and Thady Dowling. He also brought out two editions of his work on the ‘Antiquities of Trim’ before 1840. In 1847, he succeeded the Rev Henry Roper (who lived at Bishopscourt, Clones, County Monaghan) as Dean of Clonmacnoise. He died on 17 July 1862 aged 67 and was interred beside the church at Trim where he had ministered for 43 years. His collection of coins, medals, seals and other antiquities passed to the Royal Irish Academy on his death.

While in Trim, he became a close friend of Maria Edgeworth through her beloved aunt, Margaret Ruxton of Navan, for whom she wrote ‘Castle Rackrent’. ‘Mr Butler holds his place firmly in my affections,’ she opined. ‘The more I see of him, the more I like him .’ He later introduced Maria to his friend William Rowan Hamilton, who became head of the Irish Royal Academy.

In 1826, Richard Butler married Harriet Edgeworth (1801-1889), half-sister of Maria, and a daughter of Richard Lovell Edgeworth (R.L.) by his third wife, the botanical artist Frances Beaufort, who grew up at Flower Hill in Navan. Harriet’s grandfather was the geographer and mapmaker, the Rev. Daniel Augustus Beaufort (1739–1821), who was Rector of Navan, County Meath,  from 1765 to 1818. In 1790, the Rev Beaufort was presented by the Right Hon. John Foster to the vicarage of Collon, co. Louth, where he built the church and remained until his death in 1821. Harriet Butler’s uncle was Rear Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort (1774–1857), the hydrographer and contemporary of Charles Darwin and William McClintock Bunbury, who created the Beaufort Scale for indicating wind force.

Clever, funny and high-spirited, Harriet Butler was one of Maria’s favourite half-sisters. Her mother Frances was also very close to Maria, who was actually two years older than her stepmother. Maria helped Frances raise and educate the six children she had with R.L.. Together they did much to keep the Edgeworthstown estate intact after R. L.’s death in 1817 and the subsequent financial ruin of Frances’s son, Lovell Edgeworth. After R.L.’s death, Harriet and four sisters were brought on a tour of London, France and Scotland, paid for by Maria, in order to widen their social circle beyond the limited confines of Edgeworthstown.

When she learned ‘the delightful news that Harriet had accepted her long term suitor’s proposal of marriage in the summer of 1825, Maria wrote to her on August 27th from  Black Castle: ‘My beloved sister, I may now without constraint let my heart swim in joy as it does – And it swims secure and fearless – I am now sure of the only point of which I ever doubted – of all the essential questions. Of his being all that can ensure the happiness of a good reasonable and cultivated woman I have long felt convinced – I think your happiness as safe as mortal happiness can be. For I know the decision of your character & that once your esteem & your affections have been touched, it is forever – I never saw a man look so happy! – He most kindly told me that he could not think his happiness complete till he had communicated it to me – Thankyou my dear Harriet for permitting him to do so – How very cold is thankyou  to what I feel as I write it…..”

In a letter to her stepmother dated 28 January 1835 and written from The Rectory in Trim, Maria Edgeworth described Richard’s thoughts after an encounter with a son of Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator:  ‘O’Connell’s son, Mr B(utler) says, is quite a gentlemanlike young man & spoke well and Mr Butler would not cut O’Connell’s own head off if he never spoke worse or did worse than he did at Trim. You know or shd know that O’Connell went down to Trim – had himself proposed merely to have the advantage of speaking his speech – Mr Butler who heard it says it was exactly the ditto of what he spoke in Dublin . He thought him very eloquent & with a fine voice & great variety of tones – evidently studied tones – affected pronunciation – diet de-et of Poland etc.’

In 1842, Harriet’s sister Lucy married the astronomer, Thomas Romney Robertson, head of the Observatory at Armagh. Harriet’s brother Michael Pakenham Edgeworth (1812 –1881) was a botanist who specialized in seed plants and ferns, and spent most of his life and work in India; he also experimented with the use of photography techniques in botany from 1839, making daguerreotypes and photogenic drawings, some of which survive.

Richard and Harriet took in two children when very young, the issue of Mrs. Butler’s sister Sophy who had died young. Maria evidently valued Richard greatly. (The Edgeworths had visited Kilkenny for the ‘Theatre Season’ in 1810). Following another visit to Trim in 1838, she wrote: ‘Dr Butler pounced upon the Quarterly Review with hawk bright eyes – and has been devouring it ever since – garbage and all. By garbage I mean the extracts from “The Reign of George 4th” which, whether by Lady Charlotte Bury or not, Mr Butler declares are most scandalous & detestable and not fit to be read – therefore he began to read them to us. But we preferred Northanger Abbey which Harriet is now reading to me every evening – As you know, Sir Walter Scott sent us to it – to see if he was right in liking it – and I say ditto to Sir Walter.’

Richard Butler’s older brother John Butler married Mary Barton, daughter of Robert Barton, and died in 1890. John Butler appears to have purchased Maiden Hall house and farmlands in Bennetsbridge, County Kilkenny, at the time of the Encumbered Estates Act (December 1852). The family purchased the Scatorish/Burnchurch property at the same time. John and Mary’s son George Butler (1859-1941) was father to Hubert Butler, the essayist and founder of the Butler Society, as well as Gilbert Butler, my grandfather, and two daughters.

Richard’s disciplined philosophy of investigation of history and legends was greatly admired by his great-nephew Hubert who dedicated the 2nd edition of his book ‘Ten Thousand Saints’ to him. He quotes Richard’s Irish legends text by Harriet JE Butler and its last sentence is powerful: ‘We would look upon these strange and portentous narratives as the hieroglyphic records of forgotten but substantial history.’ Hubert Butler and his wife Peggy were involved in getting Maria Edgeworth’s short stories The Purple Jar and The Most Unfortunate Day of My Life (re?) published and illustrated by their friend Norah McGuinness.

[i] Trivia boffins may like to know that Margaret Ruxton was a (great?) great-aunt of Beatrice Hill-Lowe (nee Ruxton) from Ardee, Co Louth,  Ireland’s first female Olympian, who took a bronze medal for archery at the 1908 London Olympics.

[ii] “Schools of the Ríocht – Case Studies in the History of Irish Secondary Education’ by Christopher F. McCormack (2016), p. 12-16, Printed by Anglo Printers Limited, Drogheda, Co. Louth.

With thanks to Valerie Pakenham, Julia Crampton, Phyllida White, Ros Dee, Hollie Bethany, Richard Crampton and John Kirwan.


The Big Snow of 1947

big snow 1947Glancing out his bedroom window in Ballymote, Co. Sligo, on the evening of Monday 24 February 1947, seventeen-year-old Francie McFadden shivered. The penetrating Arctic winds had been blowing for several weeks. Munster and Leinster had been battling the snows since the middle of January. It was only a matter of time before the treacherous white powder began to tumble upon Ulster and Connaught.

That night, a major Arctic depression approached the coast of Cork and Kerry and advanced north-east across Ireland. As the black winds began howling down the chimneys, so the new barrage began. When Francie awoke on Tuesday morning, the outside world was being pounded by the most powerful blizzard of the 20th century.

1947 was the year of the Big Snow, the coldest and harshest winter in living memory. Because the temperatures rarely rose above freezing point, the snows that had fallen across Ireland in January remained until the middle of March. Worse still, all subsequent snowfall in February and March simply piled on top. And there was no shortage of snow that bitter winter. Of the fifty days between January 24th and March 17th, it snowed on thirty of them.

‘The Blizzard’ of February 25th was the greatest single snowfall on record and lasted for close on fifty consecutive hours. It smothered the entire island in a blanket of snow. Driven by persistent easterly gales, the snow drifted until every hollow, depression, arch and alleyway was filled and the Irish countryside became a vast ashen wasteland. Nothing was familiar anymore. Everything on the frozen landscape was a sea of white. The freezing temperatures solidified the surface and it was to be an astonishing three weeks before the snows began to melt.

Francie McFadden’s neighbour Jim Kielty was driving back from Dublin to Ballymote the night the blizzard struck. Mr Kielty would drive over two million accident-free miles in his career as a hackney driver but he swore that was the hairiest journey he ever made. Through heavy snow and near zero visibility, he could see buses, lorries and cars abandoned all along the roadside.

Every field, road and rooftop was submerged under this dry, powdery snow. In many places, the snowdrifts were up to the height of the telegraph poles. When he got caught in the snow, Jackie Doherty of Liscarbon, Co. Leitrim, found his way home by clambering up a drift and using the telegraph wire to guide and maintain his balance. In the towns too, all the shop fronts, hall doors and gable walls vanished under the massive walls thrown up by the Arctic winds.

De Valera’s post-war Ireland ground to a complete standstill. The transport system was the first major thing to crumple. Every road and railway in the land was blocked, every canal frozen solid, every power cable and electricity pylon suffocated by snow. No amount of grit or rocksalt was ever going to compete. Mick Higgins, a railway porter from Claremorris, walked the line from Claremorris to Kiltimagh, a distance of 9½ miles, to assure people that the snowplough train was coming soon. The drifts were up to his hips in places and the gallant porter required an urgent thaw when he reached Kiltimagh. However, the bottom line was that nobody was going anywhere fast and nothing would be normal for many long weeks.

‘People said Ireland was finished’, recalled Mr McFadden. ‘It was pure black frost, night and day constant, and the snow was as high as the hedges. A lot of the houses around here were backed up to the roof. You couldn’t go outside the door without a good heavy coat on you. And there was no sky to be seen at all, or no sun.’

White 47
Above: Turtle’s account of the Big Snow of 1947 formed the cover story of ‘Ireland’s Own’ in February 2017. (Regarding the sub-heading, please note that while there were indeed some fatalities during the snow, the suggestion that ‘hundreds of Irish lives were lost’ was not Turtle’s!)

Bicycles were ditched all over the country and quickly consumed by the ravenous mantle of snow. Johnny Gormley, a postman in Roscommon, was caught out in the rugged valleys on his bicycle and collapsed suffering from fatigue and hypothermia. By a stroke of luck, he was found by a farmer out searching for his sheep who brought him back to his house to recover.

Thomas Levins of Co. Kilkenny recalls how his father set out into the blinding snow to rescue his mother who had collapsed on the road outside Gowran, surrounded by ‘walls of snow the height of herself’.

Less fortunate were two colleagues of Mr McFadden’s father who were caught in a snowdrift while returning from the bogs of Sligo. They were found four days later with the bags of turf frozen on their backs.

The owner of Tullomoy House in County Laois was making his way to bed that night, candle in hand, when he though he heard a distant cry. Despite the fact that it was cold and snowing, he opened the second floor window and looked out but all he could see was a sheet of snow on the ground as far as his eye could see. The following day, the frozen bodies of a local woman and her two children were found curled up together in a little snow cave.

Another fatality was a Carriackmacross farmer who was found in the fields by his teenage son, Pat Joe Walsh.

For the elderly, those three bone-chilling weeks presented a deadly nightmare. The plummeting temperatures triggered respiratory problems, heart attacks and strokes. If people had not stocked up on food and medical supplies, their situation was extremely precarious. Provisions were quickly rationed; no individual was entitled to more than 6lb of bread, half a pound of sugar, half an ounce of tea and 2 ozs of butter. But the actual delivery of bread, milk, potatoes and vegetables was extremely difficult given the snowy roads. Grocers were unable to access their potato and vegetable suppliers on the farms.

Petrol and gas supplies were also severely rationed. The fledgling electricity supply swiftly dwindled and most people were soon back on paraffin lamps and candlelight. More worryingly, by the close of February, there was a nationwide shortage of peat. It was estimated that half the houses in Dublin City had no turf for their fires. People began to hack up furniture while, in the countryside, countless trees were felled for firewood. Iced up wells and frozen pipes added to the misery. A marooned old timer in Killeshandra, Co. Cavan, packed a large cauldron with as much snow as he could gather and was dismayed to find that, when boiled, he only had a half pint of water.

Survival is a game that favours the young. Inaccessible to doctors and nurses, hundreds of elderly souls in rural Ireland, the children of the 19th century, must have succumbed during the Big Snow of 1947.

Burying them turned out to be particularly difficult on account of the snow and the frozen ground. In several instances, coffins remained above ground or were temporarily buried in snow until the ground was sufficiently thawed to dig a grave. Coffins were often transported in improvised sleighs, usually barn doors taken from their hinges and pulled with ropes by horses. The quick-thinking bakers and milkmen of Boyle, Co. Roscommon, constructed similar sleighs to supply their snow-besieged customers with bread and milk.

The wintry conditions were particularly devastating for out-wintered livestock. In Britain, almost a quarter of the country’s sheep died during the Big Snow and it took six years for the numbers to recover. Newspapers across Ireland carried similarly sorry tales of horses, donkeys, cattle and sheep killed by snowdrifts.

‘There was a lot of sheep smothered up in the hill’, recalled Hugh McCormick, a sheep farmer from the Glens of Antrim. ‘They died from the want of water and food.’

By day, the farmers dismally combed their snowbound lands, seeking out the telltale signs of life from the breaths of animals trapped underneath. Cavan’s Swanlinbar News reported that over 1,000 sheep had been lost in the snow. Maguire and Patterson, the match manufacturers, lost the entire herd from their farm in Donegal. On Mount Leinster, Carlow farmer John Cody became a local hero when he single-handedly shepherded a neighbour’s flock to safety. Even animals kept in sheds and byres required constant attention as fodder and hay were in short supply and the water troughs constantly froze up. Enormous numbers of chickens kept in poultry farms perished from the cold. Countless thousands of other birds, mammals and wildlife must have died in the wild.

On the plus side, the snow provided a heaven-sent opportunity for youngsters to spend the days sledging, throwing snowballs and building igloos instead of studying Peig Sayers and doing their sums. Most Irish children walked to school in 1947 so that was clearly a non-runner. Besides, all the ink had frozen solid in the inkwells so there was nothing to write with. So the schools simply shut and children began to break the glass on the milk bottles so they could eat the frozen contents like they were ice creams.

Beneath the bleak day sky and the clearer, brighter night skies, boys and girls across Ireland took to the slopes on an assortment of push cars, enamel basins and aluminium trays. In Co. Wicklow, the boys of the Sunbeam Orphanage outside Bray bombed down Bray Head on an old pram. They also made a giant snowman which they kept on building, day after day, higher and higher, thicker and thicker and Johnny Golden, one of its young architects, swore ‘that snowman was still standing in June or damned near it’.

Six-year-old ‪Michael Griffin can remember ‘the cattle jumping over hedgerows and disappearing in the snow’ but for him the highlight was a tunnel his father dug from their front door to the stable in order to milk the cows.

When the seventeen springs of Co. Sligo’s Bellinascarrow Lake were found to have frozen to a depth of nine feet, a group of young lads took the shoes off their horses, loaded their carts up with several tons of sawdust from the Ballymote mills and poured it all over the icy surface.

‘And didn’t they set up a stage on the lake with poles and lights and big heavy batteries!’, marvelled Mr McFadden. ‘They had bands and danced on it and the music of accordions and bodhrans could be heard above Boyle.’ One foolhardy gent won a whopping £30 when he drove across the lake on a BSA motorbike. Another daredevil cycled the full 10km length of Lough Key for the ‘craic’.

Elsewhere farmers were able to bring a pony and cart full of turf across Lough Major in Ballybay, while others went skating on the ice in Dublin Zoo.

Across the Irish Sea, a force of 100,000 British and Polish soldiers and German prisoners were put to work clearing snow from the railways and roads. Clearing the roads was certainly the most immediate and obvious solution to the crisis. By early March, men had gathered all along the roads of Ireland with shovel and spade, ready to do their bit. In towns and cities too, the people came out to remove the snow from the streets and footpaths.

The rural community at Ardmore in Co. Waterford had been effectively cut off by the blizzard and the 10-foot high drifts. It took a lot of shovelling but the reward was manna itself when the bread van from Youghal finally reached the village.

For others it was not such satisfying work. Charlie McAlister of Co. Antrim recalled how he and seven other men ‘were shoveling snow from January until the 17th March … and every time you shovelled it away it just come back, every day you just had to restart.’ Eventually they started shovelling the snow directly onto a lorry that carted the snow down to the beach and dumped it into the salt water.

For those who did not own a shovel, the answer was sometimes to use the large plate or mías off the dresser to clear a way out.

On 13th March, the snow was still window high in Buncrana. Four days later, on St Patrick’s Day no less, the great thaw finally began as the mighty slabs of ice slid from the rooftops and crashed onto the ground below. There was so much snow to dispose of that it was several weeks before normal travel could resume. To make matters worse, the thaw was accompanied by prolonged heavy rain, making it the wettest, sludgiest March in almost 300 years.

Sleaty Bridge on the Knockbeg Road outside Carlow was one of many bridges washed away on the night of 17th March. A priest from Knockbeg who was returning to the college would have been swept away in the torrent had some quick-thinking locals not managed to alert him. Water rose at such an alarming speed in nearby Graiguecullen that many residents had to be evacuated by boat.

When at last the green fields of Ireland reappeared, the countryside looked as if it has been pummelled by a twister – it was a veritable ocean of mangled bicycles, broken poles, fallen trees and the corpses of dead animals. In Fermanagh it is said that a coffin was found sitting on the wall of Montiagh Chapel; the snow had been so deep that they thought they’d buried it.

An unexpected positive was that the Big Snow appears to have done the arable farmers a favour for the yields of corn and potatoes in the summer of 1947 were as lush and bountiful as any there has ever been. This lends some credence to the old theory that frost and snow are good for ridding the soil of pests and disease.

When the world turns white, everyone has a memory. It was a time of extraordinary collaboration and resourcefulness, fun for children, almost unbearable for adults. There is no doubt that the Big Snow of 1947 was an event that was clearly etched on the mind of all who lived through it.



With thanks to ‪the Vanishing Ireland Group on Facebook.

Turtle Bunbury


Turtle’s books include the ‘Vanishing Ireland’ series, ‘Easter Dawn – The 1916 Rising’, ‘The Glorious Madness – Tales of the Irish & the Great War’ and, his latest work, ‘1847 – A Chronicle of Genius, Generosity & Savagery’. All of his books are available via this Direct Link on Amazon.



The Felling of the Big House – Lisnavagh, 1952


Above: The west face of Lisnavagh House, County Carlow, Ireland, in the midst of the seismic operation that reduced the house in size by nearly two thirds. The man in the trilby is the 4th Baron Rathdonnell (my grandfather), standing with my late aunt Rosebud. The four men pictured are presumed to be Jack Halpin with either Matt Brien of Ouragh [sic]; Tom Neill of Station Road; Mick Byrne of Newcestown; Brian McCutcheon of Templeowen and / or Mick Gorman of Parc Mhuire. (Photo courtesy of Sheila Halpin and Tony Roche).

William Robert McClintock Bunbury, my grandfather, was born in 1914. Educated at Cambridge, Bill – as his friends called him – was married in 1937 to Pamela Drew, a fun-loving artist from the Lake District whose ancestry combined banking and printing. Just weeks before their marriage Bill’s father died and he succeeded as 4th Baron Rathdonnell at the age of 23. During the Second World War, Bill served with the 15th/19th King’s Royal Hussars, commanding a team that helped round up several of the senior Nazi leaders, including Hitler’s successor Admiral Doenitz in June 1945.

Lisnavagh House was not yet a century old by the time Bill returned from the war. The first stone of the massive mansion was laid by his great-grandmother on 23 January 1847.  Much of the main house had been  boarded up during the war. A combination of exorbitant roof rates, dry rot and lack of cash compelled Bill and Pamela to take the dramatic decision to completely redesign Lisnavagh House by pulling down two thirds of the original Victorian structure, leaving behind the servants quarters and children’s wing.

Lisnavagh - Time Out.
Time Out. L-R: ___ (of Clonmore)?, Jack Halpin (Tullow), ___(of Clonmore)? , Matt Brien (Ouragh), Tom Neill (Station Road), Jer Byrne (Newstown), Peter McGrath (Tullow) and PJ Roche. With thanks to Tony Roche.

The Lisnavagh Archives contain a letter to the 4th Lord Rathdonnell from Aubyn Robinson of Caroe & Partners, College Street, Westminster, written in 1947. Aubyn was an uncle of Lady Rathdonnell (aka Pamela Drew), who was herself a noteworthy artist. Her ‘before-and-after’ watercolours, which gave the architect his general steer, are framed and hanging in the house today. Aubyn’s letter set out what he considered to be the future options for Lisnavagh – reduction in size, a new-build or a move to another house; together with various shapes and sizes of drawings, some of them very rough, in connection with the reduction of the house to its present size. One drawing marked in red the part of the house which stood over the basement (the servants’ quarters) which was ultimately the part of the house they chose to preserve, with modifications, enlarging as necessary the rooms in it. Meanwhile, the ‘grand’ rooms in the other part of the house were demolished. Pamela and Aubyn jointly master-minded the reduction of the house, in conjunction with the late Allan Hope (1909-1965) and his Dublin firm of architects. The latter subsequently presented their drawings to the Irish Architectural Archive, Merrion Square, Dublin. In addition, the archive has copied all or most of the outsize drawings, by Daniel Robertson and others, kept in the studio at Lisnavagh.

Once the decision to reshape the house was taken, my grandmother went at it with full throttle. ‘Rejuvenate the Positive’ was her New Year’s resolution. ‘Only the Best Will Do’, she scrawled in her notebook. When my brother William transcribed these notebooks (see below), he was struck by the fact that there were no regrets. Moreover, every single change had been carefully planned. The simple brief was “to produce a 40 room hunting lodge out of a 80 room romantic rambling chateau’. The book is peppered with Grannyisms – ‘bash a hole’ … ‘desultory destruction’ … and also reveals that she enjoyed dancing to a radiogramme until 3am on occasion!

THE IRISH TIMES carried the following advertisement on Friday, April 11, 1952, which was repeated in short on Sat 19th April and in full on Sat 26th April.

Sale Thursday 15th May. Lisnavagh, Rathvilly, Co. Carlow. Furniture, Schiedmayer Pianoforte, Sèvres Chandelier, Porcelain, Paintings etc. Owing to extensive alterations of the residence we have been instructed by the RT. HON. LORD RATHDONNELL to dispose of a residue of Furniture, Pictures, etc., of which the following is a basic résumé – Schiedmayer Grand Pianoforte; SUITE OF LOUIS XV GILT FURNITURE of Settee, 6 Single and 6 Armchairs, pair of Gilt Foot Stools; interesting Louis XVI Carved and Gilt Settee, pairs of Gilt Chairs, Carved Gilt Mirrors, Console Table, Mahogany Dining Table on pod. Settees. SÈVRES CHANDELIER, pair Sèvres Chandeliers, pair Sèvres and Ormolu Candleabra, large Sèvres Clock, Suite of Damask Curtains, with gilt and caved wood cornices; Occasional Tables, Tallboys, Chairs, etc.; usual Bedroom Furnishings of Toilet Tables, Chests of Drawers, Washstands, etc.
PAINTINGS include Large Painting of Reclining Figure by GUERCINO: ‘Set of Four Paintings’; ‘The Life of Our Lord’, after Pannini; pair of Classical Landscapes by ORIZONTE; also other paintings after VANDYKE [sic], Lely, Massot, Montanini, etc.
MIAA, Auctioneers, 110 Grafton Street. Tel. 77309 and 72532. Established over a century.


Above (L-R): Jack Halpin; Lord Rathdonnell (?); Rosebud (aka Rosemary McClintock Bunbury, who had a birthday party at this time); Matt Brien; Tom Neill of Station Road; Mick Byrne of Newcestown. (Photo courtesy of Sheila Halpin and Tony Roche).

On May 14th 1952, Pamela wrote ‘Ghastly Auction by Messrs. North, very wet, much given away’. The next line in her book was ‘June: House cut in TWO’.

The demolition project was overseen by Jack Halpin of Tullow, father of the late Willie and Sheila Halpin; it was Sheila who supplied several of the images for this tale. Jack’s grandfather James Halpin was a bootmaker based on Main Street, Tullow. Jack’s father William Halpin was a colourful fellow who climbed to the top of the steeple of the Catholic church in Tullow to install the steeplejack in about 1878. Shortly afterwards he joined the newly formed Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

Betty Scott told me Jack Halpin had eight men helping him take down the bulk of the house. My father reckons it was only four and that they, like Jack, had learned the art of demolition in London after the war. As he writes: ‘Jack had cut his teeth on blitzed buildings in London and was engaged to begin breaking out new doorways, etc. before a contractor came to do the main task.   The contractor never materialized and Jack continued.   He was more than overseer but not really a full contractor.   Each Saturday he produced an invoice to my father summarizing the week’s expenditure, mainly pay;  at the bottom was “To self and supervision – £10”   Quite amazing!   (The agricultural wage then was about £5).   Jack, his son-in-law P.J. Roche and Mick Gorman were the core workforce but there must have been more at times, and farm men when available.’ My father’s father would draw the wages of Jack and his three accomplices every week, just like he drew wages for all the other farm hands. There was no contract like with present day builders.

My father adds: ‘As these photographs show – having provided extra doorways as needed – they broke a hole through the building just outside where the kitchen, now library, is.   They then took down the west face, looking down the Lime Walk, numbering the stones, and reerected it in the gap;  later the middle of the building was demolished.    The whole job could not have cost more than £12,000.  (Had a quote for an extra bathroom of late?).   For that the house, as now is, was wired, got a modern hot water system (very rare in Ireland at the time!) and central heating that worked, and the old building was completely removed.’

fullsizeoutput_1e70Above: A rare photo of Lisnavagh before the reduction; everything except the three roomed block immediately beside the portico was felled. The half moon lawn is still there today.

Most of the house came down by hand but machines came in to carry the rubble away. Andy Verney has a theory that the terraces became compacted at that time by those machines, so much that they are now prone to flooding. Some of the stone from the old house certainly went down the Front Avenue; Andy Verney says you can see it poking up every now and then. Some may have gone down the Back Avenue to the Gate Lodge although Andy says that when he arrived circa 1964, one of his first tasks was to rebuild that road for which they got their granite from over by Haroldstown.

At the same time the house was being dismantled, Major Hugh Massy was summoned north from his home at Killowen to assist PJ Roche in stripping all the oak from the horrid Victorian stain, black or ginger, from the condemned rooms for the new library; tables and chairs, mirrors, doors and windows, all the library bookcases, went into the bath of caustic soda in the backyard to emerge pale and lovely.


Above (L-R): PJ Roche (facing away); Betty Scott, an O’Toole who apparently worked at Lisnavagh House; Jack Halpin (holding hat); tall woman who worked at Lisnavagh; Brian McCutcheon of Templeowen; Mick Gorman of Parc Mhuire; Matt Brien of Ouragh. (Photo courtesy of Sheila Halpin and Tony Roche).




Lisnavagh Alterations 1951

Motto: The quickness of hand deceives the eye law


Superseded by Only the best will do


Contents. 2

[Initial Notes] 4

Planners & Bashers who came to inspect. 4

[The Day to Day Diary] 5

  1. 1951. 9

Diary of Events (continued) 9

  1. 1952. 9
  2. 1953. 11
  3. 1954. 12

Cottages – September 1953. 12

Scott’s 12

Elliot’s 13

Gahan’s 13

Gate Lodge. 13

Demolition. 14

November 1954. 14

Library. 15

18th March 1953. 15

Lisnavagh Reconstruction “Plan Four” [i.e. Job Lists!] 16

1 – Coach Porch (Luggage Entrance) 16

2 – Porch. 16

Note – Cellars 16

3 – Front Passage. 16

4 – Coat & Drying Room. 17

5 – Smoking Room/Gun Room. 17

6 – Library. 17

7 – Hall. 18

8 – Dining Room. 18

9 – Play Room [Schoolroom] 19

10 – Kitchen. 19

11 – Scullery. 20

12 – Larder. 20

12A – Game Larder. 20

13 – Service Square. 21

14 – Pantry. 21

15 – Gents 21

16 – Back Hall. 22

17a – Store (under stairs) 22

17b – Back Passage. 22

18 – Back Porch. 23

19 – Servants’ Sitting Room. 23

20 – Outside WC and wash place. 23

[Initial Notes]

Plan was first made in June 1950.

Window bashed out in Old Servant’s Hall by R & Peter [Hornby?] on Good Friday 1951.

Holes clipped and sawn in yew hedge – June 1950.

Next window bashed out by Massy – June 1951.

China Closet move to Cellar – June 1951 ([E Parlour?])

2 fireplaces hacked out by Jack Elliot on July 26th 1951

July 1951 – Hay started electrifying.

Planners & Bashers who came to inspect

June 1950                    Aubyn Peart Robinson, prime planner& architect, Consultant in Chief

June 1950                    J J Butler, Architect (Sacked, wet)

July 1950                    Alan Hope, Architect

September 1950          Hyland, Quantity Surveyor

September 1950          Jacobs (plumber)

October 1950              Cleere, Kilkenny, (contractor)

November 1950          [Colfie?] & Keogh (contractor)

November 1950          John Eastwood and Sons (several sons)

? 1950                         McCall

January 1951               Hutchinson & Hay (electricians)

January 1951               Curtin & Quinn (plumbers – faded away)

May 1951                    ESB chaps

June 1951                    Carbery

June 1951                    Halpin

July 1951                    Thos. Powell (architect) for church

August 20th 1950        John Halpin (contractor) Fixed for start. [Perhaps 1951, not 1950?]

[The Day to Day Diary]

Monday, 27th August 1951

  • J Halpin arrived to start operations on Back Door, etc. (leading to much more).
  • Brought his tackle and kit & consulted with F Parker about timber, doors, etc.

Tuesday, 28th August 1951

J Halpin, Builder, Labourer

  • Started to bash Back Door out of “Scullery” to yard.
  • Also to bash out old Coal House door to release door head piece (granite) for Back Door, old Store Room door for “Back Hall” & old Servant’s Hall door for other “Back Hall” door near Pantry.
  • Settled two glazed oak doors (large 4’9” wide) for New Dining Room & swing door
  • Oak fronted, for Dining Room/Serving Room door
  • Halpin started to move “kitchen”/”scullery” door to left (Gas pipe [hell?])
  • Gave Halpin Wash House for his kit
  • (Old stick House cleared by farm)

Wednesday, 29th August 1951

J Halpin personally for short time AM only, Builder, Labourer

  • They fixed headstone to “Back Door” from “Scullery”, it looks magnificent – and finished ope for door hacking out.
  • Continued hacking out new ope (8 ft) for Coal House – decided, as yesterday, to take this out up to Roof Beam, frame it round & hang double gates, bolted & padlock.
  • They shifted door and frame from old Boot Hall for new Kitchen/Scullery door, also shifted old China Closet door – and part of surround.
  • Astonishing revelations in old Boot Hall door, held up by a mere inch, where excavated for main gas pipe.
  • (Farm cart clearing rocks)

Thursday, 30th August 1951

J Halpin, for a couple of hours, Builder (Brien), Labourer

  • Built up masonry over “Back Door” from Scullery, leaving electric wire pipe.
  • Built up “Bicycle House” door where previously damaged by sticks.

Friday, 31st August 1951

J Halpin all day, Builder (Brien), Labourer

  • Foundations for new “Kitchen” door to Scullery made & much work done on this & sides of Back Door from “Scullery”.

Saturday, 1st September 1951

(Half Day) – J Halpin, Builder, Labourer

  • Started to build up old doorway from “Kitchen” to Scullery & make up surround to Back Door.
  • Planned door to Back Hall from Serving Room.
  • Decided to postpone painting & preparing for painting for another fortnight, to concentrate on the downstairs work.
  • Rang Hope’s office & got details:- 22 foot long  – 2 RSJ’s 12’ x 8’ x 65 lbs
  • J Langham Esq paid Halpin as follows:-

[There’s nothing written here and no evidence that anything was attached to the small space left on this page.  Perhaps there was some paperwork left loose between this page and the next?]

Sunday, 2nd September 1951

[Blank page, facing the previous day’s notes, but no evidence of anything previously attached.]

Monday, 3rd September 1951

Halpin AM, Builder (Brien), Labourer

  • Building up door from New Kitchen to “Scullery”.

Tuesday 4th September 1951

Halpin all day, Builder, Labourer, 2 painter/cleaners

  • These 2 were cleaning down kitchen ceiling & walls and repairing cracks in ceilings and preparing walls for new plaster.
  • Building up around door into Scullery, casing off “Back Door” concrete jamb.
  • Opening door into Back Hall, nearly done.
  • Jacobs here, starting his man off on job.
  • Fixed future Library lights with Hay.

Wednesday, 5th September 1951

Halpin, Builder, Labourer

  • Bashing hole for door from Back Hall to Serving Square.
  • Making concrete side and finishing top of Scullery/Kitchen door.
  • Started preparing for foundations for larder partition.

Thursday, 6th September 1951

Halpin all day, Builder, Labourer

  • Preparing foundations for partition in Larder.
  • Finishing surround of Kitchen/Scullery door.
  • Bashing and supporting new door from Serving Square to Back Hall and setting concrete side to it, supporting jamb.
  • New left hand side to Back Door from Scullery to Yard set in concrete.
  • Plumber trying to empty heating.  Ben assisted him with hose pipe.
  • Hay fixed pipe from infernal engine in cellars to assist plumber
  • [Hay] at new Library and Nursery lights

Friday, 7th September 1951

Halpin (short time AM), Builder, Labourer

  • Finished opening door from Back Hall to Serving Square and started on opposite door from Back Hall to Back Porch.
  • Concrete preparations for Larder partition
  • Second side for Back Door from Scullery set in concrete.
  • Plumber dismantling boiler.
  • PR worked at Yew Hedge also.

Saturday, 8th September 1951

Halpin all morning, builder, labourer

  • Fixed second side (in concrete) of door to Back Hall from Serving Square, having taken off other side’s casing and moved in cupboard.
  • Continued work on Back Hall/Back Porch opening; and set lintels in concrete for these doors and Larder door.
  • Measuring up & checking for Dining Room, upstairs & down.  Decided to remove fireplace from own future bathroom.
  • R Jacobs rang up pm checking on fittings.

Monday, 10th September 1951

Halpin (all day), builder, labourer

  • Mr R Jacob came and checked up.
  • {Jacob] tried to persuade me to invest in an Aga – I was rather shook by fuel consumption reduction, i.e. 8 ½ to 5 ½ tons, BUT you must have a few horsepower in hand.   Country Life demands great scope in cookery.  So what.
  • Also Bendex, says he, and a Drying Room (See “Coats”).
    [Coats? Where? Ed J]

Tuesday, 11th September 1951

Halpin (?), Builder (½  day), Labourer

  • Hay fixed RADIOGRAM to play by candlelight – whoever achieved a husband who gave them a Birthday Present of a Radiogram that played by candlelight.   So we danced.

Wednesday, 12th September 1951

Halpin all day, Builder, Labourer

A lot of Larder planning.  He says the marble shelves to be put on concrete benches.  Very good idea.   Scullery nearly finished.

I flew to London pm “for consultations” & to inspect a Governess.

Monday, 17th September 1951

(Hon T B McClintock Bunbury 13 today)

Returned from London about 4pm.

Great work has been done & another builder employed (at our expense) to bash holes for Jacob (pipe holes) & so

[nothing written after “so”]

Tuesday, 18th September 1951

Halpin all day, Builder (Brien), Labourer and Builder for Jacob punching holes

Further cementing in Larder for marble benches.

Planning Dining Room work

Wednesday, 19th September 1951

Builder (Brien) and Labourer and builder for Jacob, punching holes

Halpin came pm for consultations & got cracking – even over Drains

Thursday, 20th September 1951

Builder (Brien), Labourer, Builder for Jacob (punching holes)

The Big Battalions at it – they are clearing out everything to make our new Dining Room.  And the doors & casings & the shelves & every [trace?]. ANY MINUTE NOW.

Called on Hope for Kitchen & Gents detail plans, & a most Go-Ahead sketching party was held.   Madly confident, left for North.

Friday, 21st to 28th September 1951

Halpin, his builder, the plumber’s basher & the labourer have achieved a whole lot.  They have cleared out the doors downstairs & the kitchen door upstairs & supported the floors & bashed the wall between the China Closet and the Store Room & it looks most promising.   Upstairs they have removed the mantelpiece in the ex-kitchen and bashed away up [into Raft?] & got everything ready for the Big Guns. The ceilings in the Chins Closet & Passage are 11’4” and 11’3” respectively, whereas the Old Store Room is 11’1” – So what? (Fake it!) – with the false beams I long for.  The Bright Boy suggests abolishing upstairs wall & putting a partition instead, as tons of stone carrying nothing!  Very good progress.

Saturday, 29th September 1951

Halpin, Builder, Labourer, Plumber’s Basher

Great conclusion by our architect Halpin to use only 12’ x 6” x 65lb RSJ in place of two, after removing upper storey stonework (& then the other may do the “Library”).   He has got everything well [taped?] to date and asked for information on “Safe” & ceiling for Dining Room.

Sunday, 30th September 1951

Brilliant Lord Rathdonnell.  Why not a Strong Room in cellar?  So we plan it in the small vault cellar under present Back Passage, future Dining Room section.

R says fake Dining Room ceiling too (so get & draw it).

Monday, 1st October 1951

Halpin, Builder, Plumber’s Basher & Labourer

They moved out the Blarney Stone & got a lot of extra timber supports, etc. and got on with clearing out over kitchen upstairs, to be my beautiful bathroom, & ready to bash [for?] more.  They are tidy workers.  We measured “Strong Room” vault in cellar.   Arch 5’3” & door 6’9”, so intend rebuilding granite front of Safe onto Arch way, smoothing and lime washing the whole & hey presto!

No Plumber, so rang Jacobs – Excuses and hold-ups & Damn the fella.   Kept Jim Doyle idle half the day.   What’s the use.    Hay here, & much rounding up.

Wednesday, 31st October 1951



11th September

Radiogram plays to petrol-produced [current?]  Thanks to Mr Hay

30th October

ESB connected up, so we are lit for the first time.

Diary of Events (continued)

12th December, 1951

Electric Bath

26th December, 1951

Major M occupied New Room (Bed No4)

28th December, 1951

R slept in New Dressing Room, Bedroom No 3 on Plans.



New Schoolroom

23rd, January 1952

Lady R returned from Switzerland to eat in new Smoking Room.  (Pantry also used by this time).   Also, new bedroom, No 5 on plan, very dry, warm and comfortable.

16th February 1952

New Dining Room dined in.

19th February 1952

APR came to stay, in Bedroom No 6, new for this occasion.

20th February 1952

Great case in Dublin, wherein Lord Justice Dickson pronounced favourable verdict in [?] Wanton Tenant for Life.

28th March 1952

New Spare Room (Bed No 1) ready with its own Bathroom (Cold & Cold running water)

29th March 1952

HotBox a huge success, dancing ‘till 4.30am in New School Room.

13th April 1952 – Easter

New Hall.   Tea, Drinks & Supper.   Guests entertained.

5th May 1952

Oil-Burning Boiler lit, & HOT WATER.   Cent. Heat at 60° throughout.

14th May 1952

Ghastly auction by Messrs North.   Very wet.   Much given away.

June 1952

House cut in TWO.

July 1952

Drawing Room gable started being taken down & numbered.   [Jammet?] sent down by Hope.  He did drawings & surveys & got the clues for New Gable.

Oak suite put into Lady R’s Room & used more pieces to be done.  But very lovely.

APR came planning Cockloft gable.

August 1952

Cockloft gable done.

September 1952

Cockloft Bedroom gable new steel window fitted.

Skylight in Cockloft done. SUPER.

Red Drawing Room carpet laid on Upstairs Landing.

October 1952

Experimental stripping of Library Book Case Door started and started something.

Very good auction of surplus material.

Planning goes on in a desultory manner.

Demolition continues & much stripping of [more?] stripping of oak.   PJ trained to do this.


February 1953

Library chimney “Gerry” built

March 1953

Foundations for New Gable begin.

Terrace and flagging outside south front laid “Wyram [?] Court SW7”

April 1953

Old Library bookcases hacked out & started stripping.

Plans for New Library hatched.  HCM & P & Matt [?]

May 1953

Hall arch built up as no better plan forthcoming.

June 1953

Gable building

July 1953

Gable completed

September 1953

Slow Joe Broe came to do cabinet making on bookcases.

Matt on shutters.

October 1953

Very good

December 1953

Matt at Library still.

[Arty?] did screen for chimney breast, Spanish leather all refixed.

(Xmas, still in old “Anti Hall”)


January 1954

Slow Joe Broe returned to finish bookcases & portrait niches.

J Ryan (O’Hara’s) came with sanding machine to do floor.

16th January 1954

Library was ready (?) and our first night in it.   Hot Box form, it looked wonderful.

February 1954

[Desultory?] demolition.

Council drawing odd loads of stone, etc. throughout.

Work ceased.


March 1954

Work on terraces continued.

6th April 1954

APR came – Plans for Library’s terrace.   This finished in April.


August 1954

A little bashing.

October 1954

Indoors.  Finishing touches.

3rd November 1954

Byrne’s bulldozers & two lorries swept all away.

Cottages – September 1953


(Good to fair)

Roof repairs?  Check roof slates.


Back gutter.  Paint iron shed roof.

Main wall – small [I Apron?] to turn water.

S End wall – DAMP.

Re-point end wall, plaster & dash & whitewash.

See later about plastering inside.   Larger window for Back Room.

[Sketch Plan]

Sycamore Tree to be cut.

Walls 1’6”.



Roof repairs – slates.


Back Bedroom window – hole – none.

N End gable – re-plaster.

Porch.  Curtains?   Build up screen.

Shed.   C/iron roof, painting.

[Sketch Plan]


Fair (Rather worse)



S End Gable

(Later on)


Ceilings, floors, plaster on walls.

[Sketch plan]

Gate Lodge


Chestnut tree to go (S of house)

2 copper beech.   Dying, ivy – both to go?

[Sketch of bay window]

[Sketch of exterior window detail]

Sleeping Part

A – Door Steps



D – Roof to come off

Pig Sty Roof

[Sketch Plan, showing “Drain”, “Needs Damp Course”, etc.]

Living Part

Electric wiring?

Sept 1936

Door Steps

Gate: Patches. 3 new bars.  Crack at hinge.

10 years ago – painted last.

Inner door and New Partition making Lobby

New ceiling put in (A)

Gutters wanted.   Downspouts.

[Sketch elevation]

[Sketch Plan with “Plaster repairs under archway”, “General Pointing”]

[Many Blank Pages follow]


November 1954

Byrne’s Bulldozer

(International T9) [or TD?]

Wednesday, 3rd November 1954

11am – 1pm

1pm – 6pm

1 Lorry 11am – 6pm

1 Lorry 11am – 1pm.   Only 1 hour pm (engine trouble)

Thursday, 4th November 1954

Bulldozer. 8.30 am – 6.30pm (1 hour dinner)

1 Lorry.   Defective AM [?] 8.30 – 12.30.  1.30 – 6.30

1 Lorry.  8.30 – 6.30.

Friday, 5th November 1954

Bulldozer. 8.30 – 6.30 (1 hour dinner)

Lorry.  8.30 – 6.30 (1 hour dinner)

Saturday, 6th November 1954

Bulldozer.  8.00am – 12.30pm

1 Lorry. 8am – 12.30

1 Lorry. 8am – 12.45?


2 Lorries & Bulldozer.  45 minutes pm.

The driver of the bulldozer then performed a certain amount of maintenance on the International T9 ([Bucyrus Erie??]) Bulldozer & went off about 4pm.


(First used, 8pm 16th January 1954!)

18th March 1953

Stripped oak throughout.


Insulation by Tentest, Celotex???   Stainex, [Ronnk] ?

Carpet from old Library.

Black wool hearth mat.

No skirtings needed.

Window trimmings

Stripped oak (see over) [See sketch]

Green velvet curtains

Green pelmets, hung close to ceiling on boards.   Rufflette runners.

[Sketch of E Window]

Wanted:           3 pieces of architrave 10’11”


2 shutters.  16” x 7’

10’ 8” narrow panelling

4 arches window heads

3 narrow strips between, 7’ high.

8 sashes

[Sketch of W Window]

[Sketch of Bay Window (S)]

[Several Blank Pages]

Lisnavagh Reconstruction “Plan Four” [i.e. Job Lists!]

 1 – Coach Porch (Luggage Entrance)

Repair ceiling and paint it.

H[1] Fit lantern

H Bell?

2 tubs for flowers or concrete or stone tubs

Boot wipers – iron boot scraper.  14/7?

2 – Porch

New front door (Door from N. side. Old front porch.)

Lift flags to hold mat for boot wiping

New door to passage (From old front porch.  S. Side)

Alcove opposite front door if poss.

(later) Door on partition to Library.

H – Lantern on ceiling (Gilt bronze (3) switch)

Invisible flat door in place of cellar door.

Paint pearl white or [can’t read this]

Note – Cellars

  1. Stairs (front)
  2. Boiler Room
  3. Back of Boiler Room – for oil storage?
  4. Wine Cellar A & B
  5. Coal cellars and connecting passage to back
  6. China Closet
  7. Store Room
  8. Back Room (Entrance).   Halpin has built up [damage?] and made door good.
  9. Strong Room
  10. Store Room (under Pantry)
  11. Back Stairs (Yard)
  12. Others

3 – Front Passage

Paint pearl white oil all over.

Concrete skirtings, flush if possible or with a small moulding, painted grey.

Doors all oak – stripped.

Stone flags cleaned up and smoothed down.

Lanterns – ([Walker?]) 2

Switches (Gold or brass) 1 2 3

M – Magenta felt curtains. Rehang.

4 – Coat & Drying Room

[Off Cistern?]

J – Cistern Jacketed

Radiator for drying with cock wooden racks to be fixed over it, Farmhouse style.

Other racks for luggage at E End.

Shelves for spare hats, boxes of hats, etc. built into old window.

Hanging cupboard from Oriel Room (Front)

White cupboard for cartridges


Narrow cupboard for files

Clean down.  Whitewash.

H 1 large white light and white switch.

1 power plug

5 – Smoking Room/Gun Room

Paint lichen green

Paint woodwork. Copy present Drawing Room.

J – Radiator? ? Yes.  No.

Drawing Room door (later on) Done.

Fireplace with open hearth.  5’6” x 4’. From Library. Or from Boudoir.

Book case, shelves (from Hall)

H Gilt chandelier.  White Balls.

3 brass lamps.  White shades, tinted inside.

Gilt switches (2) Walker.

Bell push.

Red Damask curtains.   Rails from old Smoking Room.

Drawing Room pelmet, wooden part only or red Damask pelmet & tiny fringe.

Carpet from Entrance Hall with it’s own mat from Smoking Room.   Beat and scrub with Ammonia Soda [?]

6 – Library

Panelled ceiling.

Book cases to be fitted and faked.

Room to fit book cases!

J  Ceiling [?!] radiator.  Heat.  Floor?  2 radiators.

Dining Room (oak) fireplace & open hearth.

& Library mirror.

Window woodwork from present Drawing Room.

Double doors from Library/Drawing Room to go between Library & Hall in corner.

Or use book doors, with Dining Room doors outside.

Library carpet & floor from old house.

M  Library curtains & new to match.

M  Wallpaper?

H Gilt or brass switches ([Walker?])

Bell push


  • 2 from Library
  • 2 New Lizard [?] bronze
  • 2 ??

[On a separate piece of paper (the back of a job application letter)…]

Double Floor (if enuf.)

Stable boards laid upside down over ordinary deal floor, secret nailed.

[There is a cross-section sketch of this]

7 – Hall

Build arch. (Concrete Blocks and plaster) Cloisters arch?

Stone fireplace.   From Back Hall & Open hearth.

French window (Order new)

Plasterer: Make up false window.

Paint pearl white.   Rough cast, or stipple – by Xmas (please).

Stone floor, tidied up.

J – Heating pipe?  Propose radiator in horizontal position under desk.

Wooden pelmet from Smoking or Dining Room.

Grey Morocco tapestry from Duke of Wellington’s [vestibule?]

Red velvet drop curtain from Garden Entrance. + wooden pelmet. Red corded.

Sheep Rug from PR’s Bathroom (cleaned)

Oak furniture & Samarang bits & easy chairs

H Table lamps, 4 plugs.  Gilt/Bronze switches (Walker).

8 – Dining Room

Paper ceiling?

Fireplace from Smoking Room & Open Hearth.

J – No Central Heating?  1 Radiator.


Ceiling paneled & beams & [clear? – above? Tudor & feudal?]  Gilt strips from Drawing Room.

Doors = 1 & 2 from Stair Case Hall.

Library Hall & Smoking Rm doors & Swing Door unswung, from Back Passage/Garden Entrance to be used in partition to Service Square (all caustic, stripped and dull polish).

Framework & shutters from Smoking Room side windows.

Double skirtings from Hall under stairs.

(Sideboard to get caustic later?)

Runners and rails from Smoking Room.

Tapestry curtains relined and rehung.

M Wooden pelmets from Smoking Room (side) & bits.

Carpet to be rotated to fit.


In Nooks, much felting & paper all over.

H Wall lights – Gilt/brass switches.

New Red shades.

Table light in Gilt/Bronze (Walker)

9 – Play Room [Schoolroom]

J – Radiator to be moved into corner.

Parquet ply-wood, like Ox & Cam Club?


New floor from Old House

Remove bells

French window from Gun Room – open out – to be used in south window.

Shutters from Hall. & Smoking Room front

Small window – permanently shut

Lower windows to ground

Window seats in other two 2 windows.[2]

Wooden pelmets from Smoking Room (front window) & Dining Room

Plaster coloured walls.   White ceiling.

Flat bookshelves from Schoolroom

White skirtings?   Lined[?] woodwork.

Doors – Try glass door from Hall – as second door into Dining Room.

Fireplace.   Gun Room.  Black marble.

Big [B…..?]

6’3” x 4’

White Damask curtains from Smoking Room

Large ones for front (shortened).   ½ pr for small window & 1 ½ prs for 3 hole – E side window – Repairs to rufflettes


10 – Kitchen

J  – Make tiled corner (see drawing)

Formica or traffolyte ordered.    Pipes in chase [or?] boxed in cornice. [What drawing?]

Esse Major with flue to Bedroom No4 in VENTILATOR. (Vent Axia?)

Twin stainless steel sinks (adjoining)

Electric water heater, above in corner.

Plate rack drainer – in corner.

Roller towel below this at window [level?]

Tea towel & rubber holder, on widow.

Pot Rack around top of tiles.

Cup hooks below Pot Rack, for things.

Cement – Smooth window cill & tiles.

Drop-flap table to be fitted below for staff dining (from old pantry)

Dresser, entire South wall lowered with built in cupboards below.

Service hatch through door to Service Square

Low cupboard for serving table

Shallow cupboard (Bottles, tins, etc.)  (Make doors from shutters)

Primrose plastic curtains (lined) & Pelmet

Paint white glossy.  Ceiling white.

Grey woodwork & canary yellow.   Glazed doors.

Stone flags retained.

[On next page, below Scullery, but presumably referring to Kitchen:]

Kitchen dresser (use shutters horizontally)

Cupboards (Nicholl’s boot) doors 2’4” x 1’4”

11 – Scullery


Vegetable racks

New glass for doors

Whitewash.  Redo with Snowcem      8/X/52

Pale grey paint for doorways (glazed)

Stone flags

H  Light & switch

Bakelite shade etc

Brush & mop rack

12 – Larder

Divided by gauze from Game Larder (see plan)

Marble slabs on top of concrete benches

Wooden racks at end to be painted

Hooks.  All whitewashed.

Woodwork pale grey

Stone flags

Plain light on wall; Bakelite shade (& switch in scullery)

12A – Game Larder

New Yale lock on door to Back Yard

Racks & Hooks as before, painted grey

Walls whitewashed

13 – Service Square


Space under to house trolley

BUZZER each way

Stone flags

Cupboard for brushes, etc (See [Higgins?] plan)

BAIZE on door

Paint white shiny oil & pale grey woodwork

Glazed doors, with a service hatch through kitchen door

H Hanging Bakelite shade Ceiling light, Ball

Bell-Board indicator

By Oct 29th

14 – Pantry

(By Oct 29th…. By Dec 14th)

Twin drainer – steel sinks

Formica behind – Re-centre racks (racks over)

Plate rack – drainer at end

Decanter rack over.  Towel holder.

Cupboard for silver (Baize lined and Yale lock)

Low cupboard with counter top.

Shallow cupboards for silver over this (18” clear)

H   Light hanging over sink.  White Shade. 100W.

Lino on the window cill

Flap table under, for cleaning silver on.


Counter top cupboards with narrow cupboards over for glass/china. Make the doors for this of windows, hinged 4 x 3 x 1’6”

2 doors under for cleaning things

The rest cupboards

Paint glossy white.  All cupboards & woodwork glossy grey.

Stone flags

Old pantry cupboards – 7’5” x 7’8” wide, in two halves.  Bottle one 5’9” wide x 5’4”.  6 drawers 6’10” x 2’6”.  Bottle rack 6’10”. Tray rack 4’10”.

15 – Gents

Glazed – borrowed lights

Stud partition with door near fireplace (door from upstairs)

Divided shutter against window & stud partition with door to divide off WC (door from upstairs in Bedroom 3 cupboard)

Use windows from kitchen and from Scullery (on sides) to make borrowed on iside partition to Back Hall

Paint all shiny white

M    Use curtains from Green Bachelors room

2 short racks & runners

& Spy pictures

Green rubber lino floor? Or grey marble lino.

New WC

Basin in alcove.  Mirror ordered at [The?] Dunne, Capel St


H   One light will give enough for WC through borrowed light

16 – Back Hall

Hope [3]

Grey marble lino – 28 yds ordered 7/X/52

Cupboards all round to be all painted Pale Med.Gray (Shiny)

Shiny white walls

Shiny grey woodwork (Curtains?)

Hunting Boot Cupboard – Linen Cupboard  – Large one – & Jam cupboard. Spare leaves rack.

J Teak sink.  New sink from Old Pantry (for boots) (& flowers)  Drawers under draining boards for boot cleaning things.

Flower vase cupboard at side& bin for dead ones, built up in corner next [to] porch.

Whip Rack (on partition of Gents)

Fireplace (concrete, open hearth)

Big Table (plastic cover) for valetting.

H   Light, central ball, large, 3 switches (Bakelite)

Gum-Boot Rack with seat over it

M Curtains

Veneer Door – Big squeezer wanted.

17a – Store (under stairs)

Paint white.   White wash.

Light on wall over door.

Shelves – Lino wanted


Stone floor

Yale lock

Ventilation, gauze in door panel.

17b – Back Passage

(Lantern)   (Walter)

Double swing doors – Re-hang with butt hinges (2 each).   Brass screws.

2 spring push squeezers on backs.

New and wider STOP all round front face.

Fit stationary, uplifting head piece.


18 – Back Porch

Light in centre, hanging (ball)

Glaze all doors

Paint all Pale Grey

Meters.   Fuse diagram – to be completed and framed.

Letter table & Bell & chair.

Rack for wet Macks & coars

Big mat (for boots).

Baize Door +

19 – Servants’ Sitting Room

Carpet?   Oak Room?   sold

Light in centre (shade)

Lamp (a plug by fire)

Add door cupboard for crockery?

20 – Outside WC and wash place

I suggest we convert outside WC to garage for van and build…

BATHROOM for men servants. (Wanted – see Plan 4)

…under Back Stairs[4]

Bash Door [under Back Stairs] (Impossible)

J    Put in basin (from Gent’s Turret)

New WC & bath tub (shower?)

Connect up cold water supply, intercept it on it’s way to outside WC and put in electric heater – about 12 gallon.

Paint white


APR, 12, See Aubyn Peart Robinson

Aubyn Peart Robinson, 4

Back Door, 5

Back Hall, 5, 6

China Closet, 4, 5, 8

Dining Room, 5

Halpin, 5, 6

Halpin, John, 4, 5, 6, 7


New, 5, 6

Kitchen, 6

Langham, J, 6

Library, 6

Scullery, 5, 6

Servant’s Hall

Old Servant’s Hall, 4, 5

Serving Room, 5, 6


[1] There are several items marked with an “H” in red crayon. “M” in pencil or “J” in green crayon, presumably referring to individuals who were assigned the task in question.   “H” is surely an electrician?   George Hay?   “M” might be Me, as in Granny? Or possibly Hugh Massy?? – Was he around?   “J” must be the plumber – Jacobs?

[2] Many items on the list have tick marks, indicating that they were completed, but this has an “X” so presumably the idea was abandoned like the items with the strikethrough text… which would explain why there are no window seats in the Schoolroom!  Some other items on the list have no tick marks and were also never done.

[3] …a reference to the architect, Alan Hope, rather than a plea for help, one hopes!

[4] It’s hard to be certain of the exact sequence of thoughts, but the text high-lighted blue seems to have been added in later, perhaps in a different hand, and it appears there was some debate about what the best thing to do with this area was, and how.

[5] Major H.C. Massy and the painter P.J. Roche (a son-in-law of Jack Halpin) carried out all the stripping of the oak, as my father recalls, ‘from the horrid Victorian stain, black or ginger;   tables and chairs, mirrors, doors and windows, all the library bookcases, went into the bath of caustic soda to emerge pale and lovely.’



Strokestown, 1847. A single shot from a blunderbuss echoed into the Roscommon skies. The lead slugs pounded into Major Dennis Mahon’s chest as he slumped into the seat of his carriage and died instantly. Set against the backdrop of Black ’47, the worst year of the Great Famine, the major’s murder sent shockwaves across Ireland. Although it was barely two years since he had inherited the Strokestown estate, he was widely, if a little unfairly, reviled for his leading role in the infamous ‘coffin ships’ tragedy.

The story of Major Mahon’s assassination 170 years ago is just one of dozens of tales told as one journeys through the labyrinths of Strokestown House, the substantial Palladian winged mansion in County Roscommon where he once lived. As well as being home to the Irish National Famine Museum, the house and its gorgeous gardens form one of the leading cultural attractions in Connaught.

In April 2017 the entire Strokestown project received perhaps the ultimate accolade when Jim Callery, its long-standing owner and principal decision-maker, was awarded the prestigious 2017 Europa Nostra Award from the European Union for his dedicated service to heritage preservation.

Now aged 82, Jim Callery purchased Strokestown at auction in 1979 from Olive Pakenham Mahon, a great-granddaughter of Major Mahon. Her ancestors had owned Strokestown since the late 17th century. In 1845, the heavily indebted estate was inherited by the luckless major on the death of a cousin. During the early stages of the famine, he acted with Christian charity, distributing Indian corn to the hungry, serving on the local famine-relief committee and establishing a soup kitchen that served nearly 3000 people daily.

However, advised by an agent with a harder heart, he subsequently consented to the clearance of 3,000 of his 12,000 tenants, including some of Jim Callery’s ancestors.

1,490 tenants took part in a deeply flawed emigration plan, sponsored by Major Mahon, which resulted in one of the most shocking events of that grim era. The tenants walked the Royal Canal to Dublin, sailed to Liverpool and then boarded a fleet of four ships chartered by Mahon to carry them to North America.

Unfortunately, the ships were riddled with cholera. By the time these aptly named ‘coffin ships’ were finally permitted to dock at Grosse-Île, an island near Quebec, 700 of Mahon’s tenants were dead. The island’s medical superintendent described the survivors as ‘without exception, the most wretched, sickly, miserable beings I ever witnessed.’

When Mahon heard the news, he anticipated the worst and ordered a six-barrel pistol from his gunsmith in Dublin. He stopped attending meetings of the Strokestown Relief Committee, even when the government ordered his soup kitchen to wind down. A public row with the parish priest further alienated him so that the notion of his murder became a question of not ‘if’ but ‘when’.

His assassins struck just as his carriage was rattling through Four Mile House on the way to Roscommon. His companions later swore that his sole topic of conversation on the journey was how to resolve the crisis of the poor. Two men subsequently went to the gallows for their alleged role in the murder.

Major Mahon’s only daughter and sole heiress, Grace, fulfilled her vowed to never set foot in Strokestown again. One might have expected the Mahon connection to end at this point but the property passed to Grace’s son Harry and then to Harry’s daughter Olive who sold it to Jim Callery. The powerful sense of history is reinforced by the fact that Olive attended Queen Victoria’s funeral in her youth.

Raised as a farmer, the resourceful Mr Callery opened Strokestown’s first filling station in the 1960s and began selling both cars and tractors. In 1968 he became a Chrysler dealer and eight years later he scored a lucrative contract to become the main distributor for Scania trucks in Ireland. Over forty years later, his extensive truck depot runs along one side of the Strokestown estate, visible from a gazebo in the six-acre walled garden where the Mahon’s took tea in the Victorian Age.

Such a vista inspires nothing but pride in John O’Driscoll, Strokestown’s erudite General Manager, who started out as the head gardener nearly 20 years ago. He rightly accredits those Scania trucks with having enabled Mr Callery to pump several million into making Strokestown what it is today. This included the restoration and re-roofing of the main house, originally built in 1740, possibly by Richard Cassells, as well as its fantastic vaulted stables and galleried kitchen. He also paid for the landscaping and plantation of the gardens and surrounding demesne which includes one of the longest herbaceous borders in Europe, a 100-acre walled deer park and a one kilometre trail through mature woodlands.

Perhaps the most captivating part of the Strokestown experience is the house itself. The vast mansion belies a deceptively intimate interior in which many rooms are left as if the Mahons have simply nipped out to a tea party and will be back at any moment. ‘Delightfully dilapidated’ opined one recent visitor. Indeed, little has changed since the house doubled as a convincing location for Pat Murphy’s award-winning period movie ‘Anne Devlin’ over thirty years ago.

Viewable by guided tour only, this acutely atmospheric house provides an exceptionally rich and poignant insight into the life of its former occupants – a library that doubled as a ballroom, a bedroom in which nine Labradors once slept, a gigantic kitchen to satiate ‘Downton Abbey’ enthusiasts, corridors lined with a zillion books and pictures of battles past, ancestors and impressive nudes.

Much of this is a legacy of the charismatic Harry Pakenham Mahon, son of Grace, father of Olive, who enjoyed a penchant for erotic art and planted various bamboo, walnut and gingko trees in the garden. His father was a kinsman of the earls of Longford, as well as the Duke of Wellington, whose chiselled portrait stares out from many a wall.

Aided by an archive of over 55,000 documents, the multi-roomed Famine Museum provides extensive details on subjects ranging from the Mahon family history to the scientific origins of the potato blight to an examination of contemporary famines around the world. It comes as no surprise that Jim Callery and his daughter Caroilin are among the most vocal supporters of the Irish Naval Service’s work in the Mediterranean; the service has been credited with saving over 15,000 migrants since May 2015.

Visitors can also avail of a café in the courtyard, as well as a gift shop.

Paying for the upkeep of all this has put a massive dent in the Callery coffers but Jim Callery is the first to admit it never made financial sense. However, there was good news for the family in October 2015 when the Taoiseach Enda Kenny declared that Strokestown Park and the National Famine Museum would be operated by the Irish Heritage Trust until 2025. The trust also runs Fota House in Co Cork and Johnstown Castle in Co Wexford.

As Jim Callery gradually eases himself into the back seat, the Europa Nostra award is a timely nod towards his considerable efforts at preserving an extraordinary story that might otherwise have vanished from this land.

Above: Jim Callery of Strokestown Park collecting his EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award – Europe’s top honour in the field – during a high-profile event at St. Michael’s Church in Turku, Finland. Maestro Plácido Domingo, President of Europa Nostra, the leading heritage organisation in Europe, and Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, co-hosted the European Heritage Awards Ceremony.” Jim won the award for “restoration and establishment of the world renowned Irish National Famine Museum & Archive which has been the largest act of private philanthropy for cultural heritage in the history of modern Ireland”.  Mr Callery’s award is in the Category “Dedicated Service”.


1847 – Thirty Six Remarkable Tales

Turtle Bunbury

Doughnuts and dinosaurs, innovation and treachery, war and sexual scandals … the world was in a state of high excitement in 1847 and here are 36 reasons why as per Turtle Bunbury’s new book, 1847 – A Chronicle of Genius, Generosity and Savagery. Launched in Dublin by Luka Bloom on 29 September, the book blasted into the Irish non-fiction charts at No. 8 just five days …





screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-11-14-48Above: La vuelta del malón (The return of the raiders) by Ángel Della Valle.

1. The Comanche Warriors & the Free-Thinking Germans

A very tall, music-loving German aristocrat signs a treaty with the chiefs of the Penateka, or Honey Eaters, one of the fiercest bands of Comanche warriors. Under the terms of the 1847 treaty, the Germans and the Comanche agree to scratch one another’s backs in the wilds of…

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