Turtle Bunbury

Historian * Author * Presenter * Speaker * Guide

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…

View original post 2,347 more words

1847 – Thirty Six Remarkable Tales

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 …





Above: 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 Comancheria, Texas. The treaty transpires to be one of precious few agreements made with native Americans that was never broken. It also leads to the establishment of an extraordinary, proto-type hippy commune at Bettina settlement.

Jamestown 1847.png

2. The Opium King & the Apostle of Temperance

Appalled by reports from Ireland of mass death from cholera and starvation, the merchants of Boston persuade the US government to send a warship stuffed with food supplies to assist. Ben Forbes, a Bostonian who had made his fortune selling opium to the Chinese, commands the USS Jamestown in its voyage across the Atlantic. In Ireland, he is given a grizzly insight into the effects of the famine by Father Theobald Mathew, a Capuchin monk, known as the Apostle of Temperance, who has persuaded millions of people in Britain and Ireland to take the pledge and give up alcohol. This story has side-shows relating to the ‘Aladdin Quickstep’, a world-famous “Oriental Riff”, and the voyage of the Keying, a Chinese junk and travelling museum that visited New York and Boston in 1847.

Above: Daguerreotype of ‘General Tom Thumb’ in 1848.

3. General Tom Thumb & the Prince of Humbugs

PT Barnum was already one of New York’s best-known showmen and ‘purveyors of curiosity’ when he introduced the world to General Tom Thumb, a perfectly proportioned dwarf boy who happened to be his distant cousin. In February 1847, the duo returned to the US after a successful three-year tour of Europe in which the boy had performed before over five million people. This is their story, in part told through the eyes of John Palliser, an Irish explorer bound for the Rocky Mountains. It also includes a spin-off about Barnum’s circus partner J.A. Bailey, born in 1847.

4. ‘Oh! Susanna, don’t you cry for me’

Stephen Foster, the young Mississippi shipping agent, whose song-writing exploits provided ‘Oh! Susanna’, the anthem of the Forty Niners, as well as such epics as ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ and ‘Hard Times Come Again No More’.

5. The girl who liked dinosaurs

Having narrowly survived death by lightning as a baby, Mary Anning becomes the world’s foremost fossil collector but it is not easy being a woman in a man’s world and an addiction to laudanum ultimately brings the Dorset native to an early grave. She is recalled today in the tongue twister, ‘She sells seashells upon the sea shore.’

Above: Commissioned by King Ludwig of Bavaria, Lola Montez took this portrait with her into exile and sold it in London in 1849. (National Portrait Gallery, Canberra)

6. Lola Montez and the King of Bavaria

The rise and fall of the tempestuous Sligo-born dancer who seduced Franz Liszt and brought the King of Bavaria crashing down before embarking upon a new life running a saloon for gold-miners in California. This remarkable story includes a spin-off about the Château de Monte-Cristo, built by the French writer Alexandre Dumas, a paramour of Lola, for 500,000 gold francs and named for his classic novel, ‘Le Comte de Monte-Cristo’.

  1. The curse of Ignaz Semmelweis

As an obstetrician at the Vienna Maternity Hospital, the Hungarian-born Semmelweiss brilliantly deduced that the prime cause of the puerperal fever epidemic that killed so many European mothers was simply down to doctors failing to wash their hands properly. The tragic twist was that nobody believed him.

  1. Pablo Fanque and Mr Kite

The Norwich-born black equestrian performer who wowed Queen Victoria at Astley’s Amphitheatre in 1847, and who later inspired the Beatles song ‘Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite’. This story has a spin-off about the evolution of the Australian circus in 1847.

  1. The Choctaw Nation and the Great Famine

In 1847 the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma raised $170 for Irish famine relief. Their empathy was stirred by a similar experience during the early 1830s when approximately 12,500 Choctaw were forced to embark on the infamous ‘Trail of Tears’, of whom between 1500 and 4,000 died along the way. This story explores the fate of the Choctaw and the two Irish-American brothers who helped them cross the Mississippi.

  1. frederick_douglass_by_samuel_j_miller_1847-52
    Above: Frederick Douglass by Samuel J Miller, circa 1847

    Frederick Douglass faces home

The black abolitionist and social reformer confronts racism on the Cunard line as he heads home to the US after a 19-month tour of Britain and Ireland. As he remarked, having ‘enjoyed equal rights and privileges’ during the entirety of his tour, ‘it was not until I turned my face towards America that I met anything like proscription on account of my colour.’ Back in New York, he founds the North Star, an anti-slavery newspaper that he names in tribute to the direction he and so many other runaway stars were given when the set out for the free Northern States and Canada: ‘Follow the North Star’. This story includes a substantial section on Daniel O’Connell, the celebrated Catholic Emancipator and Douglass’s mentor in Ireland, who died in 1847.

  1. The bombardment of Tourane

The French government flex their imperial muscles by destroying the Vietnamese port of Tourane (Da Nang) on the pretext that they are protecting Catholic missionaries in the empire.

  1. The birth of Cartier

How the son of a Napoleonic soldier based in Paris established one of the world’s most famous jewellery and watch-making brands. This story includes the tale of the Napoleon Diamond Necklace (now in the Smithsonian) and Redier’s pioneering alarm clock.



  1. The rise and fall of Khan Kenesary

Exploring the brutal wars raging through present-day Kazakhstan as Kenesary Kasymov, Khan of the Middle Horde seeks to extend his empire across western Siberia. This includes a short account of Eset Kotibarov ‘s eleven-year-long rebellion against Russia which began in 1847.

  1. Captain Baxter and the Barnstable Boys

In the spring of 1847, four schooners arrived into Ireland from Cape Cod, laden with food supplies. One was skippered by Rodney Baxter, one of the most charismatic sailors upon the 19th century seas, whose homeward voyage from Ireland was the fastest yet recorded by a fore-and-aft schooner. This chapter also looks at the influence of an eccentric architect named Orson Squire Fowler who inspired Baxter’s two-storey octagon home in Hyannis.

  1. NMA.0052136
    Above: The “Swedish Nightingale” – Jenny Lind was considered the finest soprano of her age.

    Felix Mendelssohn and the Swedish Nightingale

In May 1847 the composer Mendelssohn enjoyed one of the greatest nights of his life when his protégé and paramour Jenny Lind mesmerised London with her soprano performance in ‘Roberto il Diavolo’. Within six months, he was dead, quite possibly of a broken heart, while Miss Lind, known as the Swedish Nightingale, would go on to make a fortune touring the US under PT Barnum’s management.

  1. Dr Fabre-Tonnerre’s Polynesian dictionary

The short but sad tale of the Polynesian island of Kuria and the dictionary that outlived them.

  1. A tale of sultans, music, telegraphs and famine

Sultan Abdülmecid was one of the most enlightened of the 36 sultans who ruled over the Ottoman Empire. 1847 was very much his year as he not only enjoyed a series of private piano performances by the virtuoso Franz Liszt but he also green-lighted the laying down of Samuel Morse’s electrical telegraph across his empire, having test-run it on his own extensive harem of concubines. However, perhaps the Sultan’s finest hour was to send a massive £1,200 to help alleviate the distress caused by the famine in Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland.

  1. franklinexpeditionnote
    Above: The note explaining Sir John Franklin’s death in 1847.

    Death in the Arctic

A message was found in a stone-cairn on King William Island in 1859 reveals part of the grim fate of the 128 men who set out on Sir John Franklin’s Arctic expedition only to be ensnared by a fatal riddle in the spring of 1847. Marking one of the greatest mysteries of the modern age, the discovery of Franklin’s ships HMS Erebus in 2014 and HMS Terror in 2016 suggests that further details may yet come to light.

19. The Chicago Tribune

The early days of the Illinois capital as seen through the eyes of the man who founded its foremost newspapers.

20. Mormons on the march

Brigham Young leads the Mormon exodus to the promised land of the Salt Lake Valley while the Mormon Battalion embarks upon the longest military march in US history to help the US Army in its war against Mexico. Accompanied by thirty-three women and fifty-one children, the 500-strong Mormon Battalion remains the only religious unit ever to have mobilized as part of the US Army. Some of its members are credited with introducing baseball to California in March 1847. This story also looks at Sam Brannan and the early days of San Francisco.

Above: A gathering of Mormon pioneers photographed in Salt Lake City in 1897, fifty years after their 1300 mile trek from Illinois. A quarter of the original 2000 or so Mormon pioneers were less than eight years old at the time.


21. Edward Lear and the Two Sicilys

The father of nonsense explores southern Italy and Sicily on the eve of revolution, accompanied by his dying friend Johnny Proby. This story includes a spin-off about London Zoo (which opened to the public in 1847) and the hymn-writer CF Alexander (who penned ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ that year).

22. The surveying expedition of HMS Herald and HMS Pandora

A chronicle of Panama belles, Irish colonies and giant tortoises, as told through the experiences of Henry Kellett, a senior Royal Navy officer from Tipperary, and Berthold Seemans, a young German botanist, who together explore the Pacific coast of America from top to bottom. While Seemans heads on an overland expedition into Peru and Ecuador, Kellett gains an exceptional perspective on the mounting conflicts between British, US and Mexican interests throughout the region, as well as the sorry fate of the Galápagos tortoise.

23. Johann Gramp’s succulent vines

The story of the Lutheran émigrés who swapped persecution in Germany for a new life in the fledgling British colony of South Australia, and how they took over the Barossa Valley where Johann Grampp, founder of the Jacob’s Creek vineyards, oversaw the first commercial planting in 1847.

Above: Carl Nebel’s depiction of General Winfield Scott leading the US Army into the Plaza de la Constitución as the US occupation of Mexico City begins. The Metropolitan Cathedral is in the background.

24. Mexico has fallen, or How the USA grew by a third

A whistle-stop account of the origin, battles and outcome of the Mexican-American War, homing in on the motives of US President James Polk and the unfortunate destiny of the San Patricios, a battalion of former US army soldiers who deserted to fight for Santa Anna.

25. The Tsar’s bizarre circus war

An extraordinary showdown between rival circus masters in the Russian city of St Petersburg during the reign of Tsar Nikolai I.

Above: Penelope Smyth, Princess of Capua

26. Royal Scandal in the House of Bourbon

Penelope Smyth, an Anglo-Irish beauty, causes one of the greatest royal scandals of the 19th century when she elopes to Gretna Green and marries Carlo Ferdinando, Prince of Capua and heir apparent to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. When the prince’s elder brother King Ferdinand II refuses to recognise the marriage, the couple go into exile where they spend over a decade trying to reclaim their place in the Bourbon hierarchy. All comes asunder in Malta in 1847. This story includes a spin-off about Malta’s first civilian governor.

27. Werner Siemens & the Gutta-Percha Tree

In the summer of 1847 the young German army engineer Werner Siemens secures a contract from the Prussian Army to lay a subterranean telegraph line insulated, at his suggestion, by sap from the Malaysian gutta-percha tree. By October the innovative genius has established a telegraph company in Berlin that will evolve into the present-day global telecommunications and engineering giant, Siemens AG.

28. Captain Hanson Gregory, doughnut inventor

Hanson Gregory, a sixteen-year-old sailor, inadvertently invents the doughnut by ramming a ‘fried cake’ over a spoke on his ship’s steering wheel during a sea storm.

Above: The German inventor Werner Siemens.

29. Abide with Henry Lyte

‘Abide with Me’ is widely regarded as one of the most moving hymns ever written. The story of the man who wrote it is no less poignant.

30. The Murder of a ‘Divine Servant’

The rising tensions in disease-riddled Ireland are revealed through the murder of a clergyman and a landowner in County Roscommon, as well as horrific reports of the huge numbers dying upon the ‘coffin ships’ anchored off Canada’s Grosse-Île.

31. Camila O’Gorman and the Jesuit

A tragic love story in which the daughter of an affluent Argentinean becomes the prey for the republic’s hard-nosed dictator when she dares to elope with a Jesuit priest.

32. The King of Crackers

Tom Smith, a young ‘Ornamental Confectioner’ from London, invents the Christmas cracker and becomes the “King of Crackers”, running one of the biggest wholesale confectioners in the United Kingdom.

Above: Sir Richard Burton, translator of the Kama Sutra.

32. Richard Burton’s simian dictionary
Sir Richard Burton was probably the most extraordinary explorer of his age. Fascinated by the language, culture and eroticism of the east, he first made his mark in British India as an undercover agent investigating illicit brothels in Karachi. 1847 was a year of personal sorrow and physical illness for him but he would find consolation with a menagerie of forty tame monkeys.

33. The New House at Lisnavagh
Reflections on the construction of the author’s family home in a time of famine.

34. Literary Notes
Musings upon an extraordinary year of books – Jane Eye, Wuthering Heights, Vanity Fair, Sweeney Todd and the Communist Manifesto.

35. An Alabaman reflects upon New Orleans
A brief description of the Louisiana city by day and by night.

36. A Messianic Earthquake
An extraordinary seismic cloud in the wilds of Mexico.





BUY 1847 



Why 1847?

1847: The Year it All Began


Historian Turtle Bunbury explains the reasons why he was inspired to write his new book 1847 – A Chronicle of Genius, Generosity & Savagery (Gill). The book was launched by Luka Bloom at  The chq Building in Dublin, Ireland, on Thursday 29th September 2016. Five days later it blasted into the Irish hardback non-fiction charts at No. 8.


In the front of my car I keep a steel harmonica in order to whittle away the minutes on the rare occasions when I find myself idling through rush-hour traffic. I am by no means a skilled player – what goes on in the car, stays in the car – but I am grateful to the Seydel Söhne harmonica factory of Klingenthal, Germany, for sending me such a useful instrument. The company was founded in 1847, making it the oldest surviving harmonica manufacturer in the world, and it seems fitting that I should have one of their models in my car.

When my harmonica arrived in the post, it was accompanied by a ‘simple song example’ to enable me to practise drawing, blowing and puckering on the holes. I was thrilled to note that the chosen song was Stephen Foster’s ‘Oh! Susanna’, a veritable 1847 classic if ever there was one. I assumed the 1847 match-up was deliberate, until Lars Seifert, managing director at Seydel Söhne, expressed such pleasant surprise when I asked him about it. To my mind, this was a typical moment of 1847 serendipity.

That year has followed me around for the best part of three decades now, and my affection for it knows no bounds. In my mind there is no doubt that an inordinate number of curious, brilliant and dreadful events took place during those particular twelve months. 1847 was a year of immense discord that paved the way for so much human migration, territorial conquest and monarchy-toppling turmoil that the planet is arguably still recovering from it. And yet there was progress and harmony too, played out on pianos and banjos, on broadsheets and telegraphs, as our ever-shrinking world learned more about itself than it had ever known before.


My first awareness of 1847 came while I was studying Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights for my English A-Level examination at Glenalmond, a boarding school in Scotland. It was noted that Brontë had published her book in 1847, the same year that W. E. Gladstone, later to become the British Prime Minister, had founded our school. At about this time I came upon a silver trowel at Lisnavagh, my family home in County Carlow, Ireland, which revealed that the first granite stone of our house was laid on 23 January 1847.

Having been educated in Scotland, I didn’t learn much about the Great Famine that tore Ireland apart during 1847. It was Christy Moore’s melodic voice that first really alerted me to the catastrophe when he sang ‘The City of Chicago’, written by his brother Luka Bloom. The first verse runs:

1847 was the year it all began.
Deadly pains of hunger
Drove a million from the land.
They journeyed not for glory,
Their motive was not greed,
A voyage of survival
Across the stormy sea.

         I went to the books to learn more. The impact of the Famine was, of course, enormous and the statistics are difficult to comprehend. In 1847 alone, some 400,000 men, women and children are believed to have died in consequence of the Famine, be it through disease or starvation, while nearly 250,000 fled, primarily to Britain and North America.[i] Such a massive exodus inevitably had a huge bearing on the shape of things overseas. For instance, the population of Toronto in January 1847 was 20,000; by the close of the year it was 60,000, with the newcomers almost exclusively from Ireland.

With so many grim statistics to ponder, I found myself questioning why my forebears took it upon themselves to build a new mansion in a year that was to become known in Ireland as Black ’47. And yet, while I have almost certainly said too little about the Great Famine in the pages of my book, my purpose is not to rake over the coals of that appalling era, which, even as I write, is replicated in the plight of so many luckless souls seeking to escape from their own tortured homelands amid the uncertainty of the present century.

What happened in Ireland during the 1840s was shocking, heart-breaking and almost entirely indefensible. Its consequence was to totally restructure the psyche of the Irish people, both at home and abroad. It is my hope that some measure of the immensity of the calamity, and of the philanthropy it generated, will be discernible in these pages in the effect, great and small, it had on such an anomalous group as General Tom Thumb, the Choctaw Indians, the Cape Cod fishermen, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and the opium-running merchants of Boston, Massachusetts.

Had I but time and space I would also have told the tales of the French celebrity chef who set up his soup kitchens in Dublin, and of Cassandra Hand, the wife of an English clergyman, who moved into my wife’s family home in Clones, County Monaghan, in 1847, from where she set up a crochet lace manufacturing business that enabled at least fifteen hundred hitherto destitute women to earn ‘a respectable living’.[ii] If there are any positives to be found in the crisis that blitzed Ireland in the 1840s it is that so many people all over the world put such a noble effort into trying to make things better.

With the arrival of so many sickly and destitute Irish refugees in Canada and the United States, it is small wonder that many other settlers opted to push west in 1847 in pursuit of less congested lands. That said, the Irish Famine does not appear to have influenced the decision of the Mormons to set off on their epic voyage to Salt Lake City, or indeed that of the German colonists who set up their liberal commune at the heart of Comanche territory in Texas, or of those who began planting their vineyards in South Australia.

In a year when the world’s population stood at approximately 1.25 billion, people were on the march at almost every latitude. The citizens of Europe were, by and large, making the trek from the countryside to the cities, where the Industrial Revolution was continuing apace. However, many more were making their way to the distant continents of Australia, Africa and the Americas to start anew.

Some even ventured north to the Arctic, but, as the British explorer Sir John Franklin discovered, the northern climes were ill-suited to human survival. Franklin’s expedition to the Northwest Passage is an event we have long known about in our family, because one of our forebears was involved in the quest to discover the fate of the unfortunate man, his crew and their two lost ships, HMS Terror and HMS Erebus. However, it was only when I began reading on the subject in detail that I discovered Franklin’s life concluded so tragically in 1847. And yet that same story continues to be front-page news right up to the present day. On 12 September 2016 it was revealed that Terror had at last been found under the ice, two years and a day after the discovery of Erebus, the other ship that floundered in those treacherous Arctic waters in 1847.

As I say, the year has followed me around. I see it on Carlsberg cans, on Jacob’s Creek bottles, on my 24-hour clock in the early evenings. I live in rural Ireland, but I cannot look at a Massey Ferguson tractor without recalling how Daniel Massey started out making threshers in Ontario in 1847. When I remind my young daughters to wash their hands after they have been to the bathroom, my mind wanders to poor old Ignaz Semmelweis and his campaign to persuade doctors to wash their hands, which began in 1847. When I attended the 2015 Web Summit, I could not resist telling all those code-busting internet whizzes about how San Francisco’s streetscape was laid out in 1847 by an Irish surveyor named Jasper O’Farrell.

I think the clearest indication of my magnetic attraction for 1847 took place when I chanced to be staying in San Ángel, a suburb of Mexico City, in the winter of 2001. I had tired of trying to teach my host’s parrot how to say ‘feck’ and decided to go for a walk. I could have gone in any direction, but my feet escorted me this way and that until they reached a cobblestone plaza, where they halted in front of a marble monument. My Spanish is still dreadful, but even then it was clear that this was a memorial to seventy-one soldiers, mostly Irish, who had died fighting for Mexico against the United States in the year of Our Lord, 1847. I give my account of the San Patricios in these pages, but I can tell you here and now that stumbling upon that memorial was probably the moment when I decided that this book would one day have to be written.

The Mexican War was about the expansionist ambitions of the United States. Land ownership was also the root cause of conflict elsewhere in 1847, be it the French attack on Vietnam, the frosty relations between London and Washington over Oregon, the muscle-flexing antics of those in charge of British India, the rise of the Kazakh chieftain Kenesary or the growing threat posed along the northern borders of the Ottoman Empire by Tsarist Russia. More cerebral disputes vested in notions of equality, religion and liberty were at the heart of the revolutions that were about to erupt throughout Europe and that even plunged the Swiss into a civil war.

The world was small in 1847. It doesn’t seem so surprising that Frederick Douglass sailed home to the United States from Europe in the same ship that Tom Thumb had sailed in a couple of months earlier. Or that Father Theobald Mathew, the Apostle of Temperance, who Douglass met in Ireland, should have also befriended the Boston opium merchant who sailed a warship stuffed with relief supplies into Cork Harbour. Entertainers like Lola Montez, Pablo Fanque, General Tom Thumb and the equestrian circus stars of St Petersburg all trod upon much the same boards, although the world of classical music, represented in these pages by Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Liszt and the soprano Jenny Lind, must have been startled by the innovative strumming of guitar and banjo strings that carried on the air from the American West.

There are other factors I must mention. Since 2000 I have been engaged in a project called ‘Vanishing Ireland’ with my old friend James Fennell, for which we have interviewed and photographed over two hundred men and women who were born in the first decades of the twentieth century. I was consistently bowled over by how many of them told us that their grandparents had been children, if not teenagers, at the time of the Great Famine. I should not be so surprised. The year 1847 is only 170 years ago, or two 85-year-olds, if you prefer. In the spring of 2016 I met a man in his fifties who told me that his grandfather was born in 1847. Perhaps some of the senior inhabitants of Salt Lake City are the grandchildren of the youngest pioneers who made the Great Trek with Brigham Young in 1847. Some of Australia’s oldest citizens are likewise only two or three generations removed from the very last convicts sent out to the former British colony.

My fascination with 1847 means that I am loath to cease writing this book. There are still so many stories to tell, so many lives to explore, and I am starting to question whether it was really necessary to describe the formative moments of the doughnut and the Christmas cracker when I might have focused instead on the foundation of Liberia or on the Swiss Civil War. (Needless to say, the Swiss hardly killed anyone and then felt so guilty about it all that they invented the Red Cross.) It is time, however, to say, Pens down. I appreciate the fact that this work is somewhat unusual in its scope, but I hope that this chronicle of famine, warfare, scandal and doughnuts will give you a little insight into the minds of some of those who walked this earth in 1847.








[i] Christine Kinealy, ‘Food exports from Ireland, 1846–47’, History Ireland, vol. 5, issue 1 (spring, 1997), p. 32–6.

[ii] Mrs [Louisa Anne] Meredith, The Lacemakers: Sketches of Irish Character, with Some Account of the Effort to Establish Lacemaking in Ireland (London: Jackson, Walford and Hodder, 1865), p. 19–23.


Above: By 1904, it looked certain that Tom Kettle would pursue a legal career, not least when he won the Victoria Prize at the King’s Inn and was called to the bar. However, a combination of political journalism and Irish nationalism soon became his raison d’être

Ginchy, 9th September 1916

 ‘Somewhere’, wrote Tom Kettle to his brother on the day of his death, ‘the Choosers of the Slain are touching … with invisible wands those who are to die.’ [i] The 36-year-old Dubliner was not ready to die. In that same letter, he avowed that he was ‘calm and happy but desperately anxious to live’. And yet he must have had an inkling that the Choosers were coming for him. In another letter, penned in those same moments, he wrote to his friend Joe Devlin, expressing a yearning to return to Ireland, yet reasoning that, should he be killed in the war, ‘to sleep here in the France that I have loved is no harsh fate’. [ii]

On the afternoon of 9th September 1916, Captain T. J. Kettle, commander of ‘D’ Company in the 9th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, received absolution from his padre. He then summoned his batman, an eighteen-year-old orphan called Robert Bingham. Private Bingham was heading home on leave to Belfast after the coming action; Tom Kettle quietly unstrapped his watch and presented it to the young man.

As the dusk began to settle that autumnal evening, he rejoined his men in the stinking trench. Perhaps he exchanged some words with Captain Bill Murphy, his old school friend, who had taken command of the 9th Battalion less than forty-eight hours earlier. Born in 1880, Bill Murphy hailed from Tullow, County Carlow, where his parents ran a grocery.[iii]  His father Edward, a nationalist, was elected to the first Carlow County Council in 1899 but died of pneumonia soon afterwards. Bill, an only son, was educated by the Patrician Brothers before going to board with the Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare. He excelled at golf, cricket and, particularly rugby, lining out for the Carlow team on several occasions and possibly even captaining the side. The Murphy family also kept a stable of horses at their farm at Kill, just outside Tullow, and Bill was an enthusiastic hunt and competitor at equestrian events on the locality. In 1908 this popular and affable young man emigrated to Western Australia where he leased 4000 acres of government land and gradually converted it into a successful wheat farm. He  chanced to be back visiting his family in Carlow when the war broke out. He initially joined the Leinster Regiment in Fermoy, as a private, before transferring to the 9th Battalion of the aforementioned Dubs where he was appointed a Temporary Captain.

Standing close by was 2nd Lieut. William Hatchell Boyd, Kettle’s second-in-command. The twenty-nine-year-old son of a Methodist minister, Boyd had worked as an accountant in Londonderry before the war.[iv]

Captain Murphy c:o Tullow Museum

Above: Captain William Murphy, courtesy of Tullow Museum, County Carlow.

Also nearby was eighteen-year-old Emmet Dalton, a second lieutenant, who had just been made second-in-command of the battalion’s ‘C’ Company. Tom Kettle was a close friend of Emmet’s father, a second generation Irish-American called James Francis Dalton. Born in Fall River, Massachusetts, Emmet was still a toddler when his parents settled back in Ireland in about 1901, running a laundry enterprise in Drumcondra in North Dublin. His father also became a major fund-raiser for the Irish Parliamentary Party. Like Tom Kettle, Emmet was educated at the Christian Brothers School in North Richmond Street. Indeed, by the time Tom Kettle and young Dalton met again on the banks of the Somme in those strange September days they had much in common. [v] Emmet was just behind Tom Kettle when, at approximately five o’clock, Captain Murphy blew his whistle and the first wave of 9th Battalion sallied over the top.

Thomas Michael Kettle was born in Artane, north Dublin, on 9th February 1880. His father Andrew ‘Andy’ Kettle probably had other things on his mind when the boy – the seventh of twelve children – arrived. Just three months before Tom’s birth, Andy Kettle co-founded the Irish Land League in Castlebar. A close ally of both Isaac Butt and Michael Davitt, he went on to become Parnell’s right hand man, sticking by the formidable nationalist leader during his fall from power. After Parnell’s death, the elder Kettle bowed out of politics and focused instead on his farm at St. Margaret’s in Finglas. The farm where Tom Kettle spent his childhood was one of the most progressive in Ireland.

Tom was an attentive schoolboy, quick-witted and game for a laugh.  For decades after his death, both the Christian Brothers of North Richmond Street and the Jesuits of Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare would hail him as a model pupil. An enthusiastic athlete, cricketer and cyclist, he also impressed his peers at University College Dublin where he won a gold medal for oratory and became auditor of the Literary and Historical Society in the last years of the 19th century. [vi]

The columnist William Dawson would later recall him ‘… a genial cynic, a pleasant pessimist, an earnest trifler, he was made up of contradictions … a fellow of infinite jest, and infinite sadness.’ Magnetically intellectual, his circle included the Home Rule journalist Frank Cruise O’Brien and the pacifist Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, both of whom were to become his brothers-in-law. James Joyce was another friend, while Oliver St. John Gogarty, immortalized as ‘Stately, plump Buck Mulligan’ in Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’, was one of Kettle’s cycling and drinking comrades.

Kettle was at UCD when the Anglo-Boer War began in 1899. Echoing the anti-war stance taken by so many students in modern times, he protested vehemently against British motives for invading the Boer lands. He was among those who distributed pro-Boer pamphlets on behalf of the Irish Transvaal Committee which, founded by Maud Gonne and Arthur Griffith in 1899, boasted a high calibre membership list that included W. B. Yeats, James Connolly, Willie Redmond, the veteran Fenian John O’Leary and Andy Kettle’s old friend Michael Davitt.

For those at UCD who heard Tom Kettle speak, it must have seemed likely that this young man, the prodigy of one of the Land League’s co-founders, would one day make a large impression on the Irish political scene. His biggest obstacle was himself. Highly-strung and prone to melancholy, he drank too much, not least when his favourite brother died in 1903. Shortly afterwards, the twenty-four-year-old suffered some form of a nervous breakdown that led him overseas. He spent a year at Innsbruck University where he studied history and philosophy.[vii] He also used this time to devour every European literary classic he could find, as well as mastering the German and French languages.

By the time he returned, a securer soul, it looked certain that he would pursue a career as a barrister, not least when he won the Victoria Prize at the King’s Inn and was called to the bar. However, that sort of bar just didn’t grab him and political journalism was fast becoming his raison d’être. He started by writing for papers and magazines until the newspaper proprietors took fright at his broad-minded but controversial views on topics such as the Gaelic League, women’s rights and university education.

He then established his own weekly journal, The Nationist,  combining his opinions with some of the more extreme views held by John Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party. Redmond had known of Kettle since at least 1904 when the young man co-founded the Young Ireland Branch of the United Irish League and became its first president. The ‘Yibs’, as they became known, injected a welcome dollop of youth culture into the ageing IPP which Redmond was keen to capitalize on. He was particularly enchanted by Kettle, even tolerating The Nationist’s dreamy notions of an alliance between the IPP and Sinn Féin. Redmond asked Kettle if he’d like to stand for Parliament as an IPP candidate. Kettle initially declined, preferring to stay focused on his journalism but in 1906 he conceded that perhaps politics was for him. That summer, the twenty-six-year-old defeated the Unionist candidate by 19 votes in a by-election and so began his four years in Westminster as MP for East Tyrone.

Tall, slight, youthful and exuberant, he cut a dash in the House of Commons from the moment he made his maiden speech, arguing that the British War Office should be footing the bill for the Dublin Metropolitan Police, rather than Dublin ratepayers. He also put his oratorical skills to good use, memorably lambasting Britain’s two biggest political parties with the observation that, ‘When in office, the Liberals forget their principles, and the Tories remember their friends’.[viii] Not surprisingly, many considered him a shoe-in to succeed John Redmond as and when the older man stepped down.

Emmet Dalton’s father was presumably closely involved when John Redmond sent his bright young star on a six-month trip to the US to raise funds for the IPP and to push home the party’s message. At Carnegie Hall in New York, Tom Kettle shared a platform with the old Fenian ‘dynamitard’ Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa.[ix]

But while he undoubtedly paid close heed to Irish-American politics, Tom Kettle’s mindset was always more closely entwined with Europe.  ‘My only programme for Ireland,’ he declared, ‘consists in equal parts of Home Rule and the Ten Commandments. My only counsel to Ireland is, that to become deeply Irish, she must become European.’[x] Ever since his European adventure, he had considered Ireland’s future as intrinsically bound with Europe, predicting something not dissimilar to the European Union. His European vision would play a major role in sending him to the trenches in 1916.

His personal life took a bold step forward when he married Mary Sheehy on 8th September 1909. Her father was also an MP for Redmond’s party but the newlyweds had manifold other connections. She too had studied at UCD, where James Joyce developed a crush on her, and she not only shared Tom’s beliefs in suffrage and nationalism but was also closely related to two of his best friends. Her sister Hannah married Francis Skeffington in 1903; he duly bucked the trend and latched her name onto his to become Francis Sheehy-Skeffington. Another sister Kathleen married Frank Cruise O’Brien and was mother of the future government minister, writer and historian, Conor Cruise O’Brien. Also into the mix was Father Eugene Sheehy, Mary’s uncle, a co-founder of the GAA who oversaw young Éamon de Valera’s education in Limerick.

Tom Kettle was by now such a good speaker that everyone wanted him. This became rather problematic from 1908 when he was appointed first Professor of National Economics at UCD. The post meant a lot to him; he was fascinated with economics as a means to recreating the society he believed Ireland and Europe could become. In the first of the two General Elections of 1910, he was re-elected for East Tyrone. However, when the second election was called, he took the opportunity to stand down. He subsequently teamed up with the Protestant Home Ruler Swift MacNeill and others to co-found UCD’s Legal and Economic Society (now the Law Society).

While he was no longer at Westminster, Professor Kettle continued to make his voice heard, applauding the Home Rule Bill in 1912, pushing for a united Ireland and scoffing at Unionist fears of ‘Rome Rule’. Unlike most middle class Dubliners, the hard-drinking 33-year-old also threw his support behind the strikers during the 1913 Lock Out, serving on the Peace Committee formed to broker a deal between the strikers and the employers. He published a series of articles highlighting the appalling working conditions and the state of the slums where so many people lived.

In 1913, the year his daughter Betty was born, Tom became so fed up with Unionist resistance to Home Rule that he co-founded the Irish Volunteers. On account of his impressive German, he was dispatched by the Volunteers to raise arms in Europe. The guns were successfully procured but they were never to reach Ireland because the cargo was still being considered by Belgian customs when the German army invaded the neutral kingdom in August 1914. The guns were subsequently gifted to the Belgians to assist their defence against the Germans.[xi]

As such, Tom Kettle found himself in Brussels when the Great War broke out. He was soon tapping out stories on his typewriter as a war correspondent for the Daily News, the London newspaper founded by Charles Dickens in 1846. As the conflict exploded across Europe, he counselled his readers that this was a war of ‘civilization against barbarians’. He was to remain in Brussels for two months during which time he witnessed the infamous ‘Rape of Belgium’. Like many Irish Catholics, he regarded Belgium as one of Ireland’s closest spiritual soulmates and he was appalled by the horrific manner in which the Germans overran the country, killing 6000 civilians and destroying over 25,000 buildings.[xii] When he visited the smouldering ruins of the University of Louvain, including its celebrated Irish seminary, he became so incensed that his further writings were unhesitatingly vitriolic against the Germans. He condemned Germany as  ‘guilty of a systematic campaign of murder, pillage, outrage, and destruction, planned and ordered by her military and intellectual leaders.’[xiii]

He had no doubt that it was Ireland’s sacred duty to take up arms against Germany. ‘This war is without parallel,’ he wrote. ‘Britain, France, Russia enter it purged from their past sins of domination. France is right now as she was wrong in 1870. England is right now as she was wrong in the Boer War. Russia is right now as she was wrong on Bloody Sunday.’ [xiv]

He instantly sided with John Redmond’s call to join what he hailed as ‘the Army of Freedom’ and was commissioned as an officer with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in November 1914. [xv] The army were quick to pounce on such a fine orator and Lieutenant T. M. Kettle was soon touring Ireland on a massive recruitment drive, apparently addressing some two hundred rallies in his army uniform.

Having witnessed what happened in Belgium first-hand, he was desperate to convey to his fellow Irishmen that if ‘Prussian barbarity’ won the war, all talk of home rule would be canned. ‘It is a confession to make and I make it,’ he said in 1915. ‘I care for liberty more than I care for Ireland.’ [xvi] By no means everyone was convinced. When he showed up at an anti-recruitment meeting in Dublin wearing that same uniform, he was heckled and booed by the audience. In his final poem he would further underline his reasons for supporting the war effort.

‘Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,

Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,—

But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,

And for the secret Scripture of the poor.’


Like many moderate nationalists, Tom Kettle believed that a united effort by the National Volunteers and the Ulster Volunteers to defeat Germany would bond the two sides and stem the dreaded civil war that seemed to be coming down the line.

The Easter Rising was a blow for him on many levels, not least because he was close to many of the rebel leaders. Joseph Plunkett had been one of the secretaries on the Peace Committee during the Lock Out, while he had served on the board of the Theatre of Ireland with both Thomas MacDonagh and Patrick Pearse. His brother Lawrence also took part in the Rising.

Tom Kettle was livid with the rebels for destroying what he saw as the best chance for reconciliation between Protestant Ulster and the rest of Ireland. However, as his wife later said, ‘what really seared his heart was the fearful retribution that fell on the leaders of the rebellion.’ As he himself reputedly forecast, ‘Pearse and the others will go down in history as heroes, and I will be just a bloody English officer.’ [xvii] From a personal perspective, he was also profoundly shaken by the murder of his brother-in-law and college friend Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, killed by an insane British officer during the course of the Rising. [xviii] It didn’t help when he went to console his bereaved sister-in-law and her children clad in the same uniform Francis’s killer had worn. ‘The Sinn Fein nightmare upset me a little,’ he wrote later, ‘but then if you tickle the ear of an elephant with a pop- gun, and he walks on you that is a natural concatenation of events.’[xix]

Mary Kettle
Above: Mary Kettle. She and her sister Hanna Sheehy Skeffington gave evidence during a Commission into the shootings of three journalists in Portobello Barracks, including Francis Sheehy Skeffington, during the Easter Rising in Dublin. The three men were shot without order by Captain J.C. Bowen-Colthurst, who was subsequently court-martialled and found guilty but insane. (Irish Life, 1 Sept 1916).

Perhaps because of all this he urged his superiors to send him to Europe so that he could fight the good fight.  They finally relented and he sailed for France on Bastille Day 1916. On July 24th, five days after he found his battalion near Béthune, he went into the trenches for the first time. About a week later, a Dublin City postman arrived at 3, Belgrave Park, Rathmines, and delivered a letter to Mary Kettle. ‘My ears are becoming a little more accustomed to the diabolism of sound,’ he husband wrote, ‘but it remains terrible beyond belief. This morning, as I was shaving, the enemy began to find us and dropped aerial torpedoes, shells and a mine right on top of our dug-out. The strain is terrible. It continues from hour to hour and minute to minute. It is indeed an ordeal to which human nature is hardly equal.’[xx]

In another letter to Mary, written nearly three weeks later, he expressed his abhorrence of war. ‘I want to live, too, to use all my powers of thinking, writing and working to drive out of civilization this foul thing called war and to put in its place understanding and comradeship.’ [xxi]

Among those he teamed up with during this time was Major Willie Redmond, his fellow Nationalist MP and brother of John Redmond, who was serving on the Divisional Staff. Willie Redmond would later tell Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle of their frontline friendship. ‘I saw a good deal of Kettle,’ he wrote, ‘and we had many talks of the Unity we both hoped would come out of the War.’[xxii]

Within weeks of his arrival, the hot summer, the constant death and the drudgery of trench life were taking a toll on Tom Kettle. ‘Physically I am having a heavy time,’ he admitted to his wife. ‘I am doing my best, but I see better men than me dropping out day by day and wonder if I shall ever have the luck or grace to come home … The heat is bad, as are the insects and rats, but the moral strain is positively terrible. It is not that I am not happy in a way – a poor way – but my heart does long for a chance to come home.’ To offset his melancholy, Tom Kettle began writing a history of the 16th (Irish) Division.

On August 29th, the 9th Battalion marched from Longueau to billets at Corbie on the River Somme. It was at about this time that he became reacquainted with Emmet Dalton. The American-born officer may have only been eighteen but he had already lived an interesting life. In November 1913, aged fifteen, he had signed up with the Irish Volunteers and while Tom Kettle was gun-running in Belgium, the youngster was helping his father dispatch a small cargo of rifles to County Mayo for Patrick Moylett, a future President of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Encouraged by Joe Devlin, Emmet opted to join the 7th Service (Dublin Pals) Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in 1915. Moylett tried to talk him out of it but to no avail. [xxiii] His father was likewise appalled. ‘The first he knew was when I’d walked into my home dressed as a second lieutenant,’ Dalton recalled. ‘He told me to get out, that no bloody redcoat would enter his home.

Dalton was undergoing training at Kilworth Camp near Fermoy, County Cork, when the Easter Rising took place. Approximately 125 past pupils of O’Connell School served under Pearse and Connolly but Dalton, wearing his British uniform, regarded it as madness. Unconfirmed reports place him at Wexford and Enniscorthy where the rebels surrendered without a fight. Dalton would later doubt the merits of the Rising, reasoning that there was not ‘a whale of a difference between the Home Rule Bill at that time and the Treaty as it was subsequently accepted.’

He was subsequently sent to the Western Front and transferred to the 9th Battalion where he reunited with Tom Kettle. On September 5th, the men marched through heavy rains for three hours to the Sherwood and Pagan trenches at Trônes Wood from where they took part in the attack on Guillemont two mornings later. On the eve of Guillemont, Tom Kettle found the time to pen the poem he is best known for, a sonnet entitled “To My Daughter Betty, the Gift of God”, written in a field near Guillemont. He recited the poem aloud to Dalton. Regarded as one of the most outstanding poems of the Great War, the final line inspired the title of Sebastian Barry’s award-winning novel, ‘The Secret Scripture’.

“To My Daughter Betty, the Gift of God”

To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God

In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown

To beauty proud as was your mother’s prime,

In that desired, delayed, incredible time,

You’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,

And the dear heart that was your baby throne,

To dice with death. And oh! they’ll give you rhyme

And reason: some will call the thing sublime,

And some decry it in a knowing tone.

So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,

And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,

Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,

Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,

But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,

And for the secret Scripture of the poor.


Guillemont - Jen can we find original?

Tom Kettle came through Guillemont unscathed, leading some to briefly wonder if he had a charmed life. However, as Emmet Dalton later wrote, the 9th Battalion had lost seven officers and 200 men to ‘the Bosch shell fire’ during the battle. As they raced to refill the upper ranks, Captain Murphy took command of the battalion, Tom Kettle took over ‘B’ Company and Emmet Dalton became second in command of ‘A’ Company.

On September 8th, Captain Murphy received his orders. The Dubs were to advance on Ginchy the following day, not at dawn as was the norm, but when the twilight came. Their mission was to clear out the Bavarians who occupied the western side of the village. There had been many Allied attempts to conquer Ginchy during the war; none had succeeded.

Tom Kettle wrote his last letter to his brother. ‘If I live I mean to spend the rest of my life working for perpetual peace. I have seen the war and faced modern artillery, and know what an outrage it is against simple men … We are moving up tonight into the battle of the Somme. The bombardment, destruction and bloodshed are beyond all imagination, nor did I ever think the valour of simple men could be quite as beautiful as that of my Dublin Fusiliers. I have had two chances of leaving them – one on sick leave and one to take a staff job. I have chosen to stay with my comrades … The big guns are coughing and smacking their shells, which sound for all the world like overhead express trains, at anything from 10 to 100 per minute on this sector.’

That was also the letter in which he referred to ‘the Choosers of the Slain’ and their ‘invisible wand’.

As they made their way out of Trônes Wood, Emmet Dalton recalled how ‘the stench of the dead that covered our road was so awful that we both [ie: he and Tom] used some foot powder on our faces.’

On the outskirts of Ginchy, the Dubs dug in for the day. Professor Kettle received his absolution, wrote his final letters and gave Private Bingham his watch.[xxiv] And then, upon the sound of the whistle, he and his men went over the top. A staff-captain who knew Kettle claimed that he threw himself into the ensuing charge with a degree of relish.  ‘He was enjoying it like any veteran, though it cannot be denied that the trade of war, and the horrible business of killing one’s fellows was distasteful to a man with his sensitive mind and kindly disposition.’ [xxv]

German bullets and bombs slashed through the rain-sodden skies and the Dubs began dropping left and right. Sixty-seven of them would die that day. Many weeks later, Emmet Dalton found the strength to write to Mary Kettle and explain what happened to her husband.

‘I was just behind Tom when we went over the top. He was in a bent position and a bullet got over a steel waistcoat that he wore and entered his heart. Well, he only lasted about one minute, and he had my crucifix in his hands. He also said, ‘This is the seventh anniversary of my wedding’.’ [xxvi]

When it became apparent that Tom Kettle was dead, Emmet Dalton quickly removed all his papers and personal items from his pocket. He then handed them to 2nd Lieutenant Boyd, the Londonderry accountant, with instructions to send them back to Mary. Just minutes later, William H. Boyd was atomized by a howitzer shell, and all Tom’s belongings with him.

Bill Murphy, the grocer’s son from Tullow, was also now dead; his body was last seen crumpled in a trench. [xxvii] It was left to eighteen-year-old Emmet Dalton to take command of both ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies for the final push. With night falling fast, he led the men onwards, under intense fire. He positioned a series of machine gunners in the most commanding spots he could find and instructed them on how to protect their flank. While he and a sergeant were on a mission to check these positions, they ran into an enemy patrol. Amazingly the two Irishmen managed to stun the officer commanding the patrol into surrender and they returned to their trench line with twenty-one German prisoners. The following year Dalton would be presented with a Military Cross at Buckingham Palace for having displayed ‘great bravery and leadership in action’. [xxviii] He apparently refused to bow to the king because of his strong feelings about the execution of the Easter Rising leaders.

The Irish conquest of Ginchy turned out to be one of the few victories the Allies could claim in the terrible year of 1916. It gave them control of a series of vital observation posts overlooking much of the Somme region and that would prove to be a game-changer of a sort in the inch-by-inch battle for the Western Front. That the Bavarians had been ousted from the village was almost entirely thanks to the 16th (Irish) Division. ‘The wild rush of our Irish lads swept the Germans away like chaff,’ applauded Father Willie Doyle, Chaplain of the 8th Royal Irish Fusiliers, who also won a Military Cross for his service during the battle. ‘The first line went clean through the village and out the other side, and were it not for the officers, acting under orders, would certainly be in Berlin by this time!’

The cost to the Irish was immense. Tom Kettle was one of over 4,350 casualties recorded by the 16th (Irish) Division between 7th and 12th September, as compared to 884 of the village’s Bavarian defenders. The Dubs were so badly hit that Emmet Dalton and Second Lieutenant E. R. Hurst were the only two of their eight officers to leave the battlefield alive. Amongst the sixty-one others from the battalion who died were Tullow-born Sergeant Edward Wall, who was born on Barrack Street, and Private James Rathband, the sixteen-year-old son of an auction porter from Gardiner Street in Dublin.[xxix] The Royal Munster Fusiliers who also took part in the battle of Ginchy suffered worse still, losing eight officers and 220 men.

Tom Kettle’s body was buried by the Welsh Guards who took over the ground where he died after the Irish had pushed on. Despite extensive searches initiated by his widow, its location remains unknown. His name would be carved upon the Thiepval Monument to the Missing of the Somme along with 72,194 others whose remains were never identified.

‘Kettle was one of the finest officers we had with us,’ wrote an unnamed staff officer in the coming weeks. ‘The men worshipped him, and would have followed him to the ends of the earth … When the battle was over, his men came back to camp with sore hearts. They seemed to feel his loss more than that of any of the others. The men would talk of nothing else but the loss of their ‘own Captain Tom,’ and his brother officers were quite as sincere, if less effusive, in the display of their grief.’

‘Tom’s death has been a big blow to the Regiment’, agreed Emmet Dalton in a letter he wrote to Mary Kettle five weeks later, ‘and I’m afraid that I could not put in words my feelings on the subject.’ The orphan Robert Bingham also took a moment to write to Mary. ‘He was a brave officer and was like a father to me … I was awfully sorry when God called such a brave man away.’ Mary would do her best to take Private Bingham under her wing, sending him cake and other parcels in the coming years. He survived the war but died in Belfast at the age of twenty-one in October 1919, possibly a victim of the Spanish Flu.

News of Tom Kettle’s death, just fifty-two days after he arrived on the Western Front, shocked his political and intellectual colleagues in Ireland. As the columnist William Dawson put it in an introduction to ‘Poems Parodies’, a book of Tom’s poetry published later that year, ‘it is not the death of the Professor nor of the soldier, nor of the politician, nor even of the poet and the essayist, that causes the heart-ache we feel. It is the loss of that rare, charming, wondrous personality summed up in those two simple words, Tom Kettle.’ [xxx]

Reports upon his death and extracts from his letters home regularly featured in The Irish Times for the rest of the year, while the Freeman’s Journal of October 23rd published an extraordinary letter which he wrote on the eve of Ginchy with directions that it was to be sent to Mary in the event of his death.

‘Had I lived, I had meant to call my next book on the relations of Ireland and England: The Two Fools: A Tragedy of Errors. It has needed all the folly of England and all the folly of Ireland to produce the situation in which our unhappy country is now involved. I have mixed much with Englishmen and with Protestant Ulstermen and I know that there is no real or abiding reason for the gulfs, saltier than the sea, that now dismember the natural alliance of both of them with us Irish Nationalists. It needs only a Fiat Lux [ie: ‘let there be light’ – TB], of a kind very easily compassed, to replace the unnatural with the natural. In the name, and by the seal of the blood given in the last two years, I ask for Colonial Home Rule for Ireland – a thing essential in itself and essential as a prologue to the reconstruction of the Empire. Ulster will agree. And I ask for the immediate withdrawal of martial law in Ireland and an amnesty for all Sinn Fein prisoners. If this war has taught us anything it is that great things can be done only in a great way.’

Those who knew him must have imagined that the name of Tom Kettle would be enshrined forever, with perhaps a city street or a train station named in his honour. As it happened, on account of his allegiance to the Crown and his massive support for the recruitment drive, he was largely purged from memory when the new Irish Free State took shape. There was a considerable rumpus when his supporters commissioned a commemorative bust by the sculptor Albert Power. Cast in Brussels, the bust now stands discreetly in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, and hails him as a ‘Poet, Essayist, Patriot’. He is also recalled by a bronze plaque in the Four Courts along with the twenty five other Irish barristers who died in the war, including Major Willie Redmond.

Tom’s heartbroken father died at home in Finglas less than two weeks after the battle of Ginchy.[xxxi] Tom’s widow Mary continued to play a leading role in the emancipation of women, as well as in Dublin’s municipal affairs, and lived until 1967. She had made her last public appearance three months earlier to at a Mass in St. Francis Xavier’s Church to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Tom’s death. Their daughter Betty Dooley also studied at UCD and became a solicitor. She died at a nursing home in Clontarf in 1996 and is buried in the family plot in Swords.

Tom Kettle bust 1 by Patrick Hugh Lynch

Above: The commemorative bust of Tom Kettle by the sculptor Albert Power was cast in Brussels and now stands discreetly in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. (Photo: Patrick Lynch)


Emmet Dalton was destined to have a particularly remarkable life after Ginchy. Promoted to the rank of Major, the MC winner was wounded in the chest and knee and would go through the rest of his life with a bullet scar on his face. He served out the remainder of the war in Salonika, Egypt, Germany, Palestine and France. De-mobbed in 1919, he then reverted to his pre-war empathies, re-joined the Irish Volunteers as a training officer and rapidly rose to become the organization’s Director of Training and Munitions during the War of Independence. In his spare time, he played for Bohemian Football club during the 1919-1920 season. [xxxii]

Emmet Dalton with Michael Collins - Getty has this
Above: Emmet Dalton, left, with Michael Collins.

In the wake of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Dalton supported Michael Collins and the pro-Treaty side and was one of the leading military brains involved with the National Army’s subsequent campaigns. On 28 June 1922, he commanded the Free State troops assigned to dislodge the rebel ‘Provisional Executive’ from the Four Courts in Dublin, an event generally considered to be the start of the Irish Civil War. The following month, he led the army south, driving the Irregulars out of towns such as Tullow, the home of the late Captain Bill Murphy, his commander at Ginchy. Depending on one’s convictions, Major-General Dalton is to be either credited with, or blamed for, breaking the back of the Anti-Treaty forces in the ‘Munster Republic’ during the summer of 1922, including a dramatic amphibious attack on Cork City. Tom Kettle’s ‘invisible wand’ passed close to him once again that August when, as General Officer Commanding the Southern Command, he was with Michael Collins when the latter was gunned down at Béal na Bláth.

FINAL COVER Glorious Madness 08.08
Above: This text is extracted from ‘The Glorious Madness – Tales of the Irish and the Great War’ by Turtle Bunbury. The book was shortlisted for Best Irish Published Book of the Year 2014.

Emmet Dalton resigned his army commission in December 1922, having marked his card as an opponent of the Free State government’s policy of executing anti-Treaty IRA prisoners without trial. After a short stint as Clerk of the Senate, he quit politics to try and rescue his father’s ailing wholesale goods business. A fan of the silver screen, he then moved to London to work as a film distributor and producer. In 1958 he co-founded the Irish Ardmore Studios in Bray, County Wicklow. Its first production was an adaptation of Walter Macken’s play, ‘Home is the Hero’, starring Macken himself and Joan O’Hara, mother of the novelist Sebastian Barry. Ardmore went on to produce films such as ‘The Blue Max’, ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’ and ‘The Lion in Winter’, all filmed in Ireland. In more recent years, Ardmore has been the base for movies such as ‘Braveheart’, ‘My Left Foot’, ‘The Commitments’ and ‘Veronica Guerin’, as well as ‘The Tudors’, ‘Moone Boy’ and ‘Penny Dreadful’.[xxxiii]

Emmet Dalton died in 1978, over sixty years after Ginchy. He was survived by his son Richard and three daughters, Audrey (an acclaimed actress), Sybil and Nuala.[xxxiv]


With thanks to Niall Ó Siocháin, Simon John Draper, Sean Connolly (Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association), John O’Donovan, Michael Brennan, Laz Murphy, Sebastian Barry, William Paton, Billy Wright (Tullow Museum), Noel Cuddy, Chris McQuinn, Jake Duggan (Military Museum, Carlow), Sean Boyne, Jim Murphy, J.A.David Bird, Dermot Mulligan (Carlow Museum), Peter Fegan, Joshua Levine & the Dublin Fusiliers.



Tom Kettle’s close friend Robert Lynd always maintained that his poem, “Reason in Rhyme” was the one that best represented  ‘his testament to England as his call to Europeanism is his testament to Ireland.’

Bond, from the toil of hate we may not cease;

Free, we are free to be your friend;

And when you make your banquet and we come,

Soldier with equal soldier must we sit,

Closing a battle, not forgetting it.

With not a name to hide,

This mate and mother of valiant “rebels” dead

Must come with all her history on her head.

We keep the past for pride:

No deepest peace shall strike our poets dumb:

No rawest squad of all Death’s volunteers,

No rudest man who died

To tear your flag down in the bitter years,

But shall have praise, and three times thrice again,

When at the table men will drink with men.


Burke, Tom, ‘In Memory of Lieutenant Tom Kettle, ‘B’ Company, 9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers’, (Dublin Historical Record, Vol. 57, No. 2, Autumn, 2004), pp. 164-173. Published by: Old Dublin Society.

Connolly, Sean, ‘A Forlorn Hope : The Royal Dublin Fusiliers in the Kaiser’s Battle March 1918’ (Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association, 2008).

Dungan, Myles, ‘They shall grow not old: ‪Irish soldiers and the Great War’ ‪(Four Courts Press, 1997)

Gregory, Adrian, & Senia Paseta, ‘Ireland and the Great War: A War to Unite Us All?’ (Manchester University Press,  2002)

Housman, Laurence, ‘War Letters of Fallen Englishmen’ (‪University of Pennsylvania Press, 1930).

Hume, John & Kramer, Alan: ‘German Atrocities, 1914: A History of Denial’ (1999) (2001):  (Yale University Press ISBN 0-300-10791-9)

Kettle,. T. M., ‘Poems & Parodies’ (Talbot Press, 1916)

Kettle,. T. M. ‘The Way of War’ (1917).

Levine, Joshua, ‘Forgotten Voices of the Somme: The Most Devastating Battle of the Great War in the Words of Those Who Survived’ (Ebury, 2009).

Lyons, John Benignus ‘The Enigma of Tom Kettle: Irish Patriot, Essayist, Poet, British Soldier, 1880-1916’ (Glendale Press, 1983).

Lynd, Robert, ‘Galway of the Races’ (Lilliput Press, 1990).

Osborn, Edward Bolland, ‘Tom Kettle’ in ‘The new Elizabethans, a First Selection of the Lives of Young Men who have Fallen in the Great War’ (Lane, 1919).



[i] Quoted in ‘War Letters of Fallen Englishmen’ by Laurence Housman

[ii] Tom Kettle to Joe Devlin, shortly before he died, quoted in The Ways of War Memoir p. 34: “I hope to come back. If not, I believe that to sleep here in the France that I have loved is no harsh fate, and that so passing out into silence, I shall help towards the Irish settlement. Give my love to my colleagues – the Irish people have no need of it.”

His war journalism was issued as The Ways of War (1917) and edited by Mary Kettle. She also compiled the aphorisms of An Irishman’s Calendar ([1938).

[iii] William Joseph Murphy and his family appear on the 1901 census. Their grocery was the building which now holds Griffin’s Chemists at 1 Barrack Street, Tullow, County Carlow. The Murphys owned a substantial chunk of The Square in Tullow including (apparently) the Sherry Fitzgerald building (where I have my office), as well as the Presbytery where the Forward Steps Resource Centre now stands.

In 1907, Bill Murphy’s only sister Tess was married at the University Chapel on Stephen’s Green, Dublin, to Bernard Maurice O’Connor of Newcastle West, Australia. (Weekly Irish Times, 30 November 1907). According to the 1907 wedding announcement, Bill Murphy was a nephew of Rev. A. F. Murphy who preseumably Rev. Arthur Murphy, affiliated with Emo Court – see image here. By 1911, the O’Connors were living at Kilmagarvogue, better known as Kill (now the Bolgers home, formerly home of Thomas Bunbury), a mile west of the main N81 road between Tullow and Rathvilly. Also with them was Captain Murphy’s widowed mother Mary and their baby son Gerard. (See 1911 Census)  it is thought the O’Connors later emigrated to Australia with her husband.  Kill was formerly property of the Bunbury family and Thomas Bunbury of Kill wrote a detailed diary during the 18th century. After the death of Captain Murphy’s mother in about 1925, his sister – also living in Australia – sold the house to Thomas Bolger (1882-1938), Cumann na nGaedhael Teachta Dála (TD) for Carlow from 1925-1926. Mr. Bolger’s grandson and namesake presently owns the property.

[iv] William Hatchell Boyd was the second son of Rev. Samuel T. Boyd, Methodist of Dublin.

[v] Emmet Dalton was born on March 4th 1898.

[vi] The gold medal is mentioned in The Irish Times, Thursday, November 15, 1900, p. 6.

[vii] Adrian Gregory, Senia Paseta, ‘Ireland and the Great War: ‘A War to Unite Us All’?’ (Manchester University Press,  2002), p. 8-12.

[viii] He could also be wicked, describing Tim Healy as ‘a brilliant calamity’, and a new book aimed at Yuletide shoppers as ‘very suitable for the Christmas fire.’

 [ix] p. 93, ‘The Enigma of Tom Kettle: Irish Patriot, Essayist, Poet, British Soldier, 1880-1916’ , John Benignus Lyons (Glendale Press, 1983). See also New York Times article ‘Money for a Free Ireland’ of October 22, 1906.

[x] “Ireland” in ‘The Ways of War’, Memoir p.4, Mary (Sheehy) Kettle, T. M. Kettle.

[xi] Adrian Gregory, Senia Paseta, ‘Ireland and the Great War: ‘A War to Unite Us All’?’ (Manchester University Press,  2002), p. 9.

[xii] German Atrocities, 1914: A History of Denial (1999) (2001) John Horne and Alan Kramer of D.U., Yale University Press ISBN 0-300-10791-9. Detailed researched account of German atrocities perpetrated on the Belgian and French civilian population in Autumn 1914. Winner of the Fraenkel Prize for Contemporary History in 2000.

[xiii] The Ways of WarWhy Ireland fought” p. 69, T. M. Kettle.

[xiv] The Rise and Fall of Imperial Ireland: ‪Redmondism in the Context of Britain’s Conquest of South Africa and Its Great War on Germany 1899-1916, p. 404.

[xv] His first attempt to enlist was apparently rejected on the grounds of his poor health, possibly connected to his drinking?

[xvi] Extracted from ‘NEWS FROM IRELANDAn Appeal to Irishmen (The Tablet, 7th August 1915).

[xvii] This quote appeared in Bruce Stewart’s useful dataset site. However, while Bruce initially suggested this line came from Desmond Ryan, but it is not clear where Ryan got it from, possibly Ernie O’Malley’s book , The Singing Flame (Anvil Books, 1978). It may be in J. B. Lyons, The Enigma of Tom Kettle (Dublin: Glendale Press, 1983)? In July 2015, Bruce contacted me to say: ‘The point you make is true enough and the sentence quoted is so telling – if derisive – that it is a shame to let it remain an orphan so if you have found it anywhere since writing, please let me know! I am perfectly sure that Kettle said no  such thing in the tone implied by the wording though he may have been distressed by the Rising and the executions. I recall that some of my notes on Kettle were taken in Conor Cruise O’Brien’s house and contain some material in his papers. You know of course his place in Conor’s outlook and his writings.’

[xviii] Léon Ó Bróin, Protestant Nationalists &c (1985), p. 117.

[xix] PRONI, D.3809/67/2, McLaughlin papers, letter, T. M. Kettle to Sir Henry McLaughlin, 7 August 1916. Quoted in ‘Irish Regiments in the Great War – Discipline & Morale’, Timothy Bowman, p. 128.

[xx] Quoted in ‘War Letters of Fallen Englishmen’, by Laurence Housman, p. 166.

[xxi] Quoted in ‘War Letters of Fallen Englishmen’, by Laurence Housman, p. 166.

[xxii] Letter from Willie Redmond to Arthur Conan Doyle, dated 18/12/1916, quoted in ‘Memories and Adventures’ by Arthur Conan Doyle (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1924) via

[xxiii] Patrick Moylett later recalled, ‘Emmet Dalton told me that John Redmond was getting him a commission in the British army. Emmet Dalton was wearing a Christian Brothers cap at the time; he told me he was 18 years of age. His statement made me sad, because it cut straight across what he was then doing. I tried to persuade him not to join, but I was not successful.’ Bureau of Military History (WS 767).

[xxiv] At some point he also revoked copyright of his works in favour of his wife.

[xxv] Quoted in The Ways of War Memoir, Mary (Sheehy) Kettle (p. 36-39).

[xxvi] Quoted in ‘In Memory of Lieutenant Tom Kettle, ‘B’ Company, 9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers’, Tom Burke, Dublin Historical Record, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Autumn, 2004), pp. 164-173. Published by: Old Dublin Society.

Letter to Mary Kettle from Emmet Dalton c/o Liverpool Merchants Hospital at Etaples, France, dated 14 October 1916. It begins: ‘Dear Mrs Kettle, I presume by now that you are utterly disgusted with me for failing to reply to your letter, but I assure you that if I had been in a fit condition I would I have….’ It is quoted in fill in Tom Burke’s article in Dublin Historical Record.

Dalton’s version of events is rather different to those given by an unnamed staff captain to Mrs. Kettle which were published in both The Irish Times (Saturday, September 23, 1916)  and in ‘The Ways of War’ (p. 36-39).

Why was this so? Did Dalton make it up? Or did Mrs Kettle prefer the idea of her husband leading her men, even as he lay dying on the ground? Here is what the staff captain said:

” In the Guillemont righting I caught a glimpse of him for a brief spell. He was in the thick of a hard struggle, which had for its object the dislodgment of the enemy from a redoubt they held close to the village. He was temporarily in command of the company, and he was directing operations with a coolness and daring that marked him out as a born leader of men.  He seemed always to know what was the right thing to do, and he was always on the right spot to order the doing of the right thing at the right moment. The men under his command on that occasion fought with a heroism worthy of their leader. They were assailed furiously on both flanks by the foe. They resisted all attempts to force them back, and at the right moment they pressed home a vigorous counter-attack that swept the enemy off the field. ” The next time I saw him his men were again in a tight corner. They were advancing against the strongest part of the enemy’s position in that region. Kettle kept them together wonderfully in spite of the terrible ordeal they had to go through, and they carried the enemy’s position in record time. It was in the hottest corner of the Ginchy fighting that he went down. He was leading his men with a gallantry and judgment that would almost certainly have won him official recognition had he lived, and may do so yet. His beloved Fusiliers were facing a deadly fire and were dashing forward irresistibly to grapple with the foe. Their ranks were smitten by a tempest of fire. Men went down right and left some never to rise again. Kettle was among the latter. He dropped to earth and made an effort to get up. I think he must have been hit again. Anyhow, he collapsed completely. A wail of anguish went up from his men as soon as they saw that their officer was down. He turned to them and urged them forward to where the Huns were entrenched. They did not need his injunction. They swept  forward with a rush. With levelled bayonets  they crashed into the foe. There was deadly work, indeed, and the Huns paid dearly for the loss of Kettle.”

In July 2016 I spoke at an event marking the centenary of the Somme in Christchurch Cathedral. Amongst those in attendance was David Bird who afterwards wrote to me:

“My father Thomas Bird was in the 3rd Munster Fusiliers and landed in France on the 7th June 1916 attached to the 9th Dublin Fusiliers.His Field Message Book (Army Book 153) is inscribed by him—T.H.Bird 6PL. B Coy. 9th. RDF. I remember him saying that he was with Tom Kettle in the trenches. We have my father`s copy of “ POEMS & PARODIES”  T.M.KETTLE and on page 16 at the end of the poem to his daughter my father has written   “This was written from a page of my Army book 152 (Correspondence Book)”. I have always wondered if the original manuscript i.e the page, still exists in the Kettle papers, and, after reading your account of his death and what happened to his papers, how did the poem get back to Ireland? Was it entrusted to someone or did he just post it with a letter to his wife?

My father was injured in the battle of Ginchy  but rejoined his unit in February 1917. He was captured in the breakout from St. Quentin on the 21st March 1918 … We now know that the man who would have been his brother-in-law- Arthur Wilson- was serving with the 1st. Munsters at Ginchy. Arthur was fatally wounded and died on the 10th September. He was attended by Rev Richard Bird, a Chaplain to the 16th. Division, who was my father`s eldest brother. Richard Bird was the Senior Church of England Chaplain at the unveiling of the two memorials to the 16th Irish Division at Guillemont and Wytschaete.”

I pitched David’s question at Sean Boyne, author of ‘Emmet Dalton, Somme Soldier, Irish General, Film Pioneer’ (Merrion Press, 2014), who told me how Dalton referred to Kettle having written the famous poem ‘in an officer’s notebook’. We don’t yet know how the poem survived – it may have been in Kettle’s belongings back in his billet. (Dalton’s daughter Audrey told Sean Boyne that he carried a copy of the poem in his wallet all his life, until he died.) Dalton recorded that, after Kettle was killed, he removed papers and other items from the body and gave them to 2nd Lt William Hatchell Boyd to pass on to Mrs Kettle. Sadly, Boyd was ‘blown to atoms’ a few minutes later, and everything was lost. There follows a rough transcript of a passage from a series of interviews which Emmet Dalton gave to Pádraig Ó Raghallaigh, and which were broadcast on RTE radio in early 1977.

Tom Kettle I had met in my battalion, [he was] a Lieutenant. He was in the advanced trenches, the kick-off point where I met him and talked to him. He was more an associate and a friend of my father’s than he was of mine, but he was a very charming and delightful man and I spent a little time with him, the little time that was available because within two days we were in the forefront and within three days he was dead. He literally died in the advance on Ginchy. He was with me when he died, I was literally beside him when he died, he was shot over the heart. It was sad because I recall, sitting with him prior to the movement up to the front line, that he recited to me a poem that he had written to his daughter, and he had it written down in an officer’s notebook, it was a delightful little poem which I look back on with great … I was very moved when I read it, Kettle obviously by the tone of the poem as I now think of it, saw the difficulties that had arisen due to 1916 in Ireland… 

[xxvii] In 1926 Captain Murphy’s devastated mother Mary gifted a house and garden to the people of the parish in his memory, now known as the Captain Murphy Memorial Hall. The Catholic Church are believed to be the trustees. On 9 September 2016 I attended a charming centenary commemoration of Captain Murphy’s life in this very building, at which John O’Donovan spoke of Bill Murphy’s life, Robin Harvey read a poem and joint prayers were held by Archdeacon Andrew Orr of the Church of Ireland and the Very Rev. Andy Leahy of the Roman Catholic Church. The event was organised by William Paton.

Laz Murphy, the Tullow butcher, heard a story in his youth of a detachment of soldiers, bedraggled and war weary, arriving into Tullow just after the war and giving some form of a salutation outside the Murphy premises on the square. It is assumed they were surviving members of the 9th battalion. This apparently did not stop the Black and Tans from subsequently burning the building.

Captain Murphy’s portrait is in the museum in Tullow.

MURPHY Captain William Joseph (commanding) being killed as the 9th battalion reached GINCHY.Age 36. died. 09/09/1916 Mentioned in Despatches Son of Edward and Mary Murphy, of Tullow, Co. Carlow. Joined Cadet Corps, Leinster Regt., Nov., 1914; appointed Lt. 9th Dublins, Dec., 1914, and Capt., March, 1915. Via

For details of all the Tullow dead, see

[xxviii] “At the capture of Ginchy, on the 9th of September, 1916, he displayed great bravery and leadership in action. When, owing to the loss of officers, the men of two companies were left without leaders, he took command and led these companies to their final objective. After the withdrawal of another brigade and the right flank of his battalion was in the rear, he carried out the protection of the flank, under intense fire, by the employment of machine-guns in selected commanding and successive positions. After dark, whilst going about supervising the consolidation of the position, he, with only one sergeant escorting, found himself confronted by a party of the enemy, consisting of one officer and twenty men. By his prompt determination the party were overawed and, after a few shots, threw up their arms and surrendered.”

[xxix] The names of all those who died at Ginchy can be found at and search for 09/09 1916.

[xxx] Poems & Parodies, T. M. Kettle (Dublin: The Talbot Press, 1916).  William Dawson wrote under the penname ‘Avis, primarily for Leader, and was a cousin and close friend of politician Arthur Clery.

[xxxi] Andrew Kettle died on 22nd September 1916 at St Margaret’s, Finglass, aged 83.

[xxxii] As a member of General Headquarters Staff, he both conceived and took part in the daring plan to rescue the IRA’s flying column leader Sean MacEoin from Mountjoy prison in May 1921.  All went well until it emerged that Mac Eoin was not where they expected him to be and the would be rescuers made a hasty retreat.

Among those whom Emmet Dalton encountered in this era was Edward Bellingham who had been Lieutenant Colonel of the 8th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers at Ginchy.  Bellingham later became a senator.

[xxxiii] He also made the 1978 RTE documentary “Emmet Dalton remembers” with Cathal O’Shannon – to be broadcast after his death, which you can see at this link. Dalton was actually interviewed by Cathal O’Shannon standing beside the memorial to Captain Bill Murphy in the Guillemont Road Cemetery. The relevant clip is at:

[xxxiv] On the off-chance that you’re a Perry Mason fan, Audrey Dalton appears as Kate Eastman in an episode called ‘The Case of the Injured Innocent’. Richard Dalton, son of Emmet, emailed me in December 2014 to say: “My two sisters, Sybil & Nuala who were alive at the time of my father’s death have since passed on so now there are just two of us!   Sounds like a Agatha Christie story.”

The Bruce Invasion of Ireland, 1315-1318


Above: Statue of Robert the Bruce at the Bannockburn battlefield in Scotland.


Edward II did not have much cause to celebrate during his reign as King of England. However, his mood in October 1318 must have been singularly improved by the arrival of a package from Ireland containing the head of one of his most notorious enemies. The head belonged to Edward the Bruce, a Scottish warlord who had caused Edward II considerable indigestion when he crowned himself High King of Ireland in 1316. In the ensuing period, Bruce had caused much mayhem for the Anglo-Norman lordship of Ireland.

Not that Edward II expected anything but hardship from the Bruces. After all, Edward the Bruce was the younger brother and heir apparent of Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots, who gave the English such a massive drubbing at the battle of Bannockburn, fought on 24 June 1314.

The House of Bruce came to the fore during the Scottish War of Independence, the early years of which were characterised by the rise and fall of William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace. In 1306, less than a year after Wallace’s execution, Robert slew his arch-rival and was crowned King of the Scots.

King Robert spent much of the next eight years engaged in a form of guerrilla warfare, defending his throne against the English forces of Edward I (‘Longshanks’) and his feeble successor Edward II.

By the summer of 1313, Bruce’s army were in the ascendance across Scotland and all that stood between them and total victory was Stirling Castle. King Robert sent Edward, his brother and his most trusted commander, to negotiate with Sir Philip de Mowbray, the castle’s Governor. A glutton for chivalry, Edward struck a deal that favoured de Mowbray. From Midsummer’s Day, the Governor had one year to secure reinforcements from Edward II. If none arrived, de Mowbray would surrender the castle.

King Robert was understandably livid this arrangement as it not only green-lighted an English invasion of Scotland but gave them an entire year to organize. Moreover, the Bruces may have excelled as guerrilla fighters but they had little experience of pitch battles.

One year later, the two armies met at Bannockburn for a battle that was to become the most seminal victory in Scottish history. During the battle, the Scots ‘schiltroms’ advanced forward ‘like a thick-set hedge’, protected by closely locked shields, bonded by immense courage, carrying sharp axes at their sides and deadly lances in their hands. The English cavalry were simply unable to penetrate. When Robert Clifford, one of the English commanders, lost his cool and charged at a schiltom, he was quickly overcome and slain. By the end of the battle, Edward II had lost two thirds of his men and the English king fled the battlefield. Mowbray duly surrendered Stirling Castle, making the Scots victory absolute.

In the wake of England’s meltdown at Bannockburn, the Scots mounted a series of invasions into northern England. King Robert also decided to open up a second front in Ireland to further deplete England’s resources.

The task fell to his brother Edward who, having commanded one of the schiltroms at Bannockburn, was forgiven for his blunder at Stirling Castle. On 26 May 1315, Edward sailed for Ireland with 6,000 men who duly disembarked along the Antrim coast between Carrickfergus and Larne.

The immediate catalyst for the Bruce invasion of Ireland was an invitation from their cousin Domnall mac Brian Ó Néill, King of Tyrone, who sought an ally against the Anglo-Normans in Ulster. King Robert agreed to assist on condition that the Irish accept Edward as High King of Ireland.

Aside from a short-lived attempt by the Ó Néill’s in 1258, Ireland had not had a High King in 130 years. The Bruce brothers were the sons of Sir Robert de Brus, 6th Lord of Annandale, and had a tentative claim to the dormant throne through their paternal grandmother Lady Isabella de Clare, a descendant of Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster.

Edward the Bruce is believed to have spent a good deal of his childhood in Ulster, either as a foster child of the O’Neill’s, kinsmen of his mother, or with the Bissett family, Lords of the Glens of Antrim.

Even as Bruce’s ships powered across the North Channel to Ulster, King Robert’s propaganda chiefs were highlighting the Bruce’s Irish lineage as the key to their ideological vision of a ‘Pan-Gaelic Greater Scotia’ in which the family would rule over Scotland, Ireland and, in due course, Wales. In a letter addressed to the leading Irish kings and chieftains, Robert spoke of the Scots and the Irish as ‘nostra nacio (our nation) … stemming from one seed of birth’, united ‘by a common language and by common custom.’

The Bruce’s had hoped the Irish would arise in their favour, oust the Anglo-Normans and proclaim Edward as High King. The reality was infinitely more complex, not least because so many of the Irish kingdoms were already locked in bitter internecine warfare between rival claimants to the various thrones.

When Edward arrived, he was merely another player in this game of thrones, albeit one of the most powerful. He quickly secured control of much of Ulster, capturing Carrickfergus and defeating an army raised by Richard de Burgh, the Red Earl of Ulster, who was, to further complicate matters, King Robert’s father-in-law.

In early June, 13 of Ulster’s Kings and lords swore fealty to Edward at Carrickfergus. The annals would later claim that ‘all the Gaels of Ireland agreed to grant him lordship’ but many were clearly hedging their bets. Two of the 13 men at Carrickfergus subsequently orchestrated a failed ambush on Edward as he marched south from Newry. Dundalk was to experience the full hell of Scottish vengeance; the town was destroyed and its entire population, Norman and Gael alike, brutally put to the sword.

In early November, Edward convincingly defeated Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, in a pitched battle at Kells, Co. Meath. Kells was a smouldering ruin by the time the Scots moved south and over the ensuing months they similarly pillaged and burned towns across Counties Longford, Westmeath and Kildare. Such anarchy simultaneously prompted the O’Toole, O’Byrne and other clans of the Wicklow Mountains to rise up against the Anglo-Normans.

Pillage was arguably necessary; how else was Bruce to feed the thousands who served under him? However, it came at a serious cost to his reputation and the marauding Scots were soon as despised as the English. The situation was by no means helped by a series of severe winters between 1315 and 1317 which led to widespread famine across Ireland.

Bruce was also consistently let down by Irish leaders whose promise of support frequently failed to materialize. Without their support, Edward was compelled to withdraw to his safehaven in Ulster. On his return trip, he cemented his ambitions on 2 May 1316 when he was crowned High King of Ireland on the Hill of Maledon near Dundalk.

Meanwhile, the English were regaining their composure under the guidance of John de Hothum, the sagacious Governor of Ireland. Under his watch, several of Bruce’s key allies, including the pirate Thomas Dunn, were captured and killed.

In February 1317, the reinforced Scots launched a massive campaign for which King Robert joined his brother upfront. Perhaps they still hoped the Irish would rise up as ‘Gaelic brothers’, although they must have by now realized that most of the Irish were opportunists who could not be relied upon.

As the Bruces advanced on Dublin, Hothum prepared the city’s defences, burning the suburb of St Thomas and dismantling the church at St Mary’s del Dam on Dame Street to strengthen Dublin Castle. Such defences had the desired effect and the Scots instead wheeled west from Castleknock to Leixlip before laying waste to Naas, destroying the Franciscan friary at Castledermot and advancing south through County Kilkenny towards Limerick.

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 15.12.39
Above: The inscription over Edward the Bruce’s grave on the Hill of Faughart in County Louth, Ireland. My apologies for dreadful quality.

The King of Connaught were supposed to join the Bruces but the kingship was in crisis and, harried by hostile forces, the Scots were once again forced to return to Ulster. Robert abandoned Ireland in May and returned to Scotland.

Edward the Bruce’s morale also took a further blow in 1317 with the failure of a major campaign to convince the Pope to accept him as King of Ireland.

On 14 October 1318, Edward’s army met a superior Hiberno-Norman force at the Hill of Faughart near Dundalk, Co. Louth. Three columns of Scots were defeated in succession and at least 30 Scottish knights were killed, including Philip de Mowbray, the former Governor of Stirling Castle, as well as the Kings of Argyll, the Western Isles.

Edward the Bruce also fell in the battle, slain by John Malpas from Dundalk. The news was greeted with much joy in certain quarters. Perhaps under the watchful eye of the Red Earl of Ulster, the authors of the Annals of Ulster lambasted Edward as ‘the destroyer of Ireland in general, both Foreigners and Gaels’ and applauded his death as the best ‘deed’ since the beginning of the world, because his time in Ireland caused such hunger that ‘people undoubtedly used to eat each other throughout Ireland.’

According to the Lannercost Chronicle, ‘Edward was beheaded after death; his body being divided into four quarters, which were sent to the four chief quarters of Ireland.’ While Edward II almost certainly received his head, his remains are believed to have been buried in the churchyard at Faughart beneath a large flat stone that can still be seen today.

Following his death, the Scots position in Ireland collapsed. The House of Bruce would retain the Scottish throne until 1371 when a new dynasty came to the fore – the House of Stuart whose destiny would also ultimately be dictated on the battlefields of Ireland.

Voice of the Soldier-Poet – A review of Michael J. Whelan’s PEACEKEEPER (Liam Kenny – Leinster Leader)

Michael J. Whelan - Writer

This article/review of PEACEKEEPER was published Tuesday August 2016 in the Leinster Leader Newspaper

A Review by Liam Kenny

Michael J. Whelan, 2016, Peacekeeper, Doíre Press,

Casla, Co. na Gaillimhe.

ISBN: 978-1-907682-46-9.

Voice of the soldier-poet

Local newspapers are good at reflecting the nuances and characteristics of the community they serve. The reports of meetings, court-cases, politics, profiles, incidents, matches, launches, local notes and much else create a nuanced picture of everyday life in the locality covered by the paper. It is often been said that to reconstruct Dublin in the early 20th century a reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses would provide all the working drawings needed by way of its multi-layered descriptions of people and places. Much the same can be said about the local newspapers. To view the files of this paper from, say, a hundred years ago, is to surround oneself with the ebb and flow of life…

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