Wednesday 30 May 2018

A Blast from the Past.

When Rodger Dirrane/Derrane bombed the priest's house in 1908.

Priest's house is the flat roofed building on the right.
Slated building on the left is now site of the R.N.L.I. station.

The bombing of the Parish Priest's house in Cill Rónáin in 1908, has been, until recent years, a subject that many Islanders were reluctant to talk too much about. In deference to the Church and to the descendants of some of those involved, this is very understandable. However, while we may be inclined to take undeserved credit for heroic actions of our ancestors, we certainly should not be expected to take blame for those less noble deeds.

The background to the incident is complicated and those who don't want to have a long read, should stop now. 

The two main characters involved were a very forward thinking and industrious priest, Murtagh Farragher and a local bailiff, carpenter, relieving officer, shop keeper and publican, Roger Dirrane.

Being part of the Archdiocese of Tuam, the Aran Islands have a long history of Mayo priests and Fr. Farragher hailed from Hollymount in South Mayo. He had served as curate on the Island from 1887 until 1891. He returned as Parish Priest in 1897 and his influence on all three islands, until leaving for Athenry in 1920, was huge.
Rev Murtagh Farragher as a young man.
 Photo kindly supplied by Murtagh's grand nephew and namesake.

A large part of the old Irish Landlord class, who had ruled for centuries, were for the most part, bankrupted by the great potato famine of the 1840s. The voting acts in Westminster had resulted in the electorate in Ireland going from 224K to 738K and this, along with the secret ballot, resulted in a shift of power from the Landlord class to the Catholic Hierarchy.

O.S map of 19th century Killeany showing the village clustered around Arkin Castle and the Lodge to the South. Fr Farragher was instrumental in having new cottages built here in 1914.

The 1903 land act and various other land acts had resulted in the British Government buying out many estates and distributing the land to the tenants who had worked these lands from ancient times.
The decision to buy out the old Digby estate on the three Aran Islands would result in tensions over who would get which piece of property and was the main cause of the row between Rodger Dirrane and Murtagh Farragher. The Digby estate was finally sold for £14,000 to the Congested Districts board in 1914 but before this, Fr.Farragher was believed to have much influence on how it would be distributed.

Roger Dirrane/Derrane was a reasonably wealthy man and had been employed as both a relieving officer by the Galway Board of Guardians and as a bailiff by Henry A Robinson of Roundstone, the Digby estate agent. 

He had control of much of the Hill Farm in Cill Éinne as well as the large hunting lodge, high on the hill. He also had a pub in Cill Éinne as well as a shop and various other properties in Cill Rónáin.

Roger’s job as bailiff was a dangerous one and it seems he carried a revolver. In 1898 he was in court for threatening to shoot Colman Joyce in Iarairne. The case was dismissed. 

His predecessor as bailiff, Bart Hernon had been shot at twice in the 1880s with the second incident leading to the wrongful imprisonment of Cill Rónáin man, Bryan Kilmartin

Killeany Lodge about which Fr Farragher and Roger Dirrane disagreed.

It would appear that Roger appealed to the Parish priest to let him hold on to the hill farm and the Lodge and it seems that Murtagh was determined that the land be distributed to the landless local people, in the fishing village of Cill Éinne. 

Roger had even visited the Archbishop in Tuam to protest against his perceived harsh treatment but got no satisfaction.

The Archbishop would later claim that he and Fr Farragher wished to use the Lodge as an Irish college. The property would eventually end up in the hands of another publican, the late Katie Joe Mac of Cill Rónáin.
Teampall Bheánáin, high above Cill Éinne.
The old Hunting Lodge to the left

Killeany Lodge is said to have been built by the aristocratic Fitzpatricks before passing into the hands of Martin O'Malley who, like all the O'Malleys, had a fair bit of smuggling DNA in his blood.

 In 1908, the O'Flaherty/Johnston family of Cill Muirbhigh had control of its leasing but it was owned by the Digby estate at the time of the dispute. Roger had the job of collecting the very high rents which the writer Tim Robinson speculates was not done with any great vigor, in case it might upset the customers in his pub.

Roger would also have known that the Landlord days of old were soon to disappear under the new land acts and it was hoped that arrears might be reduced or even wiped out.

Roger had inherited some of his property when he married the daughter of the previous bailiff, Bart Hernon. Some readers may remember Bart for the role he played in the wrongful conviction  of Bryan Kilmartin in 1882.
Interestingly, Roger Dirrane married twice and so had two Fathers-in-Law. His second, Bryan Kilmartin, had been wrongly convicted in 1882 for trying to murder the first, Bart Hernon.

After the death of his first wife, Nora Hernon, whom he had married in 1893, Rodger had married Agnes Kilmartin in 1896, the nineteen year old daughter of Bryan Kilmartin  and it was this connection that would see Bryan's son Martin (Matty) Kilmartin caught up in the bomb plot.

Here is a photo of the house Roger Dirrane's daughter Katie, lived in until the 1970s.
We would appreciate any help in identifying the people featured. We though it might be Roger Dirrane and his wife Agnes Kilmartin, with perhaps Katie standing between them, but this now seems unlikely.The house is now a ruin but was located next to the old Sean Chéibh restaurant, now home to Quill's Woolen Market.  Photo by Jane Shackleton, taken in 1906

There was much bad feeling on the island as the priest had a very authoritarian approach and Roger had the triple fault of being highly intelligent, avaricious and fiercely stubborn. Things could only get worse. 

Fr Farragher was equally stubborn and had clashed with a number of bodies. Although a fervent supporter of the Irish language and a founding member of the Arran branch of the Gaelic League in 1898, he had supported his curate Fr. Charles White in 1902, when he was attacked by some language enthusiasts over sermons in English. Fr White had arrived on Aran from Achill in 1900.

Murtagh dug his heels in and in August 1902 even went so far as to deny a visiting priest, Fr Michael O'Hickey, who he believed was critical of his curate, the right to say mass in his parish.

 In truth, O'Hickey was more critical of the Archbishop, who had sent a man with very little or no Irish, to minister in an Irish speaking parish.

 Michael O'Hickey was Vice President of the Gaelic League and Professor of Irish at Maynooth College. After being forced by the hierarchy to resign his position in the Gaelic League, he would eventually be dismissed in 1909 from his job in Maynooth, after criticising the Bishops stance on the language. 

Fr White had claimed that everybody understood his sermons in English but later admitted that he had said this in order to annoy the people who were criticising him.

Murtagh showed his stubborn irrational streak because his own credentials with regard to the language were impeccable and he had introduced bilingualism in the schools which had previously been all English. 

Interestingly, Murtagh and his Protestant counterpart, the Rev William Kilbride, were very active in their support for the Irish language and Irish culture in general. Indeed, William Kilbride is credited with having one of the first Irish inscriptions on an Island headstone. This was for his wife Máire, who died in 1891.
Fr Michael O'Hickey.
 A man whose defense of the language would cause him much trouble.
He was denied the right to say mass on Inis Meáin  by Murtagh Farragher

Fr Farragher also forbade the National School teachers of the three islands from attending a great Feis in Galway in 1902, organised by the Gaelic League. This, even though the teachers were on holidays at the time. Is it any wonder that Fr Farragher and the local teacher, David O'Callaghan, had clashed ?

Roger had inherited the job of bailiff from his father-in-law Bart Hernon and had been the bailiff on duty during the infamous island evictions of 1894 and this would have made him a less than popular figure on the island. Over 120 people and 17 families had been evicted and the event must have played a part in Fr. Farragher's bad feeling towards Roger. Bailiffs during those times were hated even more than Landlords and almost as much as land agents. Clashes between the local bailiff and the local priest were very common in Ireland. 
The 1894 evictions in Arran which were aired in the Parliament.
The bailiff on duty was Roger Dirrane and what was most unusual was that he was also the Relieving Officer.

Fr Farragher was probably bitter about the death of Fr. McPhilpin during the 1894 evictions, as he travelled to meet Chief Secretary for Ireland, John Morley and get some relief for his parishioners. Peter McPhilpin was very radical and had clashed with authority, both civil and clerical, more than once during his years as a priest. 

On McPhilpin's death and before the appointment of his successor Fr. Colgan, his newly ordained curate, Fr Michael McDonald, had taken up the challenge and acquitted himself well when he addressed the Board of Guardians in Galway. This body had the responsibility for relieving distress on the three islands and often played down the severity of the situation, as the ratepayers who elected them would have to foot the relief bill.
Morbid illustration of the Arran evictions of 1894.
The distress was raised in the House of Commons in London. (N.L.I.

A local bailiff had the job of identifying stock and figuring out who might be pressured into paying the rent. He would know also which Islanders had children overseas and would respond to the threat of their parents and siblings being evicted. 

The charge had been made more than once by bailiffs, that priests were exaggerating the distress in order to profit from relief funds. In Aran as elsewhere, the main purpose of putting a family out on the road, was not just vindictiveness but was to send a message to others who hadn't paid their rent and to relations who might help.

On the night of June 1st 1908 Fr Farragher's sister Theresa and a servant woman May Flaherty, retired at about 11P.M. Shortly after midnight they were awakened by an all-mighty bang and they thought the house had been struck by lightening. Shortly afterwards they heard a second crash and on inspecting the dining room found it to be severely damaged.

The state of Fr. Farragher's dining room on the morning of June 2nd 1908 (Photo Galway Co Library)

Most of the plaster from the ceiling can be seen scattered around.
Photo Galway County Library

The two women were terrified and were afraid to venture out until the sun had risen next morning. This act against two defenseless women would go badly against the perpetrators, as most islanders felt that whatever about putting the fear of God into the priest, terrifying two innocent women was very wrong. It's possible that the bombers were unaware of how much damage their bomb would cause, as it's unlikely they could have tested their invention out, prior to the attack on the house.

Directly behind the trawler is the shed where Roger is believed to have made his bomb.
 Photo by Raoul Lemercier 1970s

  The celebrated writer Tim Robinson, in his book Stones of Aran Labyrinth, amusingly uses the words 'Unfortunatly Farragher was away' and its hardly credible that the bombers didn't know this and that the two women were at home. The dividing wall of the room directly above the blast, was split in two. While some have always held that the damage was not substantial, the photos indicate that there was a fair bit of power in the blast.

The curate Fr Owens and local men Coley Costello and Pat Hernon, called to the house in the morning and discovered immediately that some sort of bomb had been detonated. After a thorough investigation, first by Seargent Parkinson of the R.I.C. and later by District Inspector Mercer, Roger Dirrane and his teenage brother-in-law Matty Kilmartin were arrested and on June 10th 1908, conveyed on the S.S. Duras to Galway.

S.S. Duras which conveyed the prisoners Roger Dirrane and Martin Kilmartin to Galway (Photo  N.L.I.)

The bombing of a priest's house had made international news and there was a massive amount of outrage at this almost sacrilegious act. For this reason, all police leave in Galway was cancelled and a large force was on duty at Galway dock in order that a mob of over two thousand outraged citizens, didn't take the law into their own hands. 

Newspaper report on the Arran bombing of the priest's house in June 1908

The trial opened in Galway on July 1st 1908 and after extensive and very convincing evidence by witnesses and forensic experts, both men were convicted by the jury, after less than an hour of deliberations. Unlike the case of Bryan Kilmartin in 1882, there was little doubt among Islanders of their guilt.

The Archbishop of Tuam, Dr. John Healy was among the witnesses.

Rev John Healy, who gave evidence in court.

In the course of his evidence Fr. Farragher had to admit too much bad feeling towards him for over ten years and that he had once assaulted a man he had a disagreement with. Fr Farragher had favoured trying to get a settlement on a cess that had been due since the 1880s and which was the cause of a famous battle in 1887. We wrote about this in a previous article.
  Others resisted paying anything.

One of the most damning accusations against Roger was that, as part of his disagreement with the priest, he had stopped going to mass since Christmas 1906. Fr Farragher had also reported the local rate collector to the authorities for some perceived wrongdoing and he had been dismissed from his post.

Fr Farragher also had to admit to hitting a woman with a stick after he had lent her money to go to America and she hadn't paid him back. He added that she never did pay him his money and this evoked great laughter in court.

The curate Fr Owens gave evidence of seeing Roger and Matty heading towards the Old Pier on the evening of the 1st of June.  He had been out in his garden at the time. Ingredients for making a bomb had been found in Roger's shed on the Old Pier.
Fr Owens' cottage behind the cross. To the left in the distance is Rogers vacant house where evidence was also gathered.

At the time of the bombing, the dispute with teacher David O'Callaghan had been going on for some time and the curate, Fr Owens, had assumed management of Fearann an Choirce (Oatquarter) school. This dispute would later become world famous after the eviction of David O'Callaghan in 1914 by Fr Farragher. It also provided the inspiration for the writer Liam O'Flaherty's book 'Skerrett'. In the course of that very bitter dispute, Murtagh had refused to hear the confession of David O'Callaghan, or to give a reference to his son Michael when he was entering teacher training college. The bombing would see an escalation in this dispute.

That story is for another day but it's important, that having read O'Flaherty's book 'Skerrett', readers understand that while the book is loosely based on the row between Farragher and O'Callaghan, at the end of the day, it is a work of fiction.
 The character 'Griffin' was inspired, it’s believed, by Roger Dirrane, a cousin of O'Flaherty's father Michael. Skerrett has been endlessly studied for hidden meanings etc but in many ways it was also a way for Liam O'Flaherty to get even with his enemies.
Limerick teacher David O'Callaghan in 1906 with his pupils in  Fearann an Choirce (Oatquarter). Photo Jane Shackleton)

Roger was adjudged to be the ringleader in the bombing and was sentenced to three years in prison.  On the recommendation of the jury, it was decided that Martin, who placed the bomb, was under undue influence from his much older brother-in-law and was sentenced to just six months. Justice Kenny warned Roger that he had a mind to give him fourteen years, so dastardly was the crime. Roger would serve his sentence in Maryborough (Portlaoise) prison in the midlands and was released in September 1910.

They say that a man who has done the crime and done the time, should be allowed to start again but this was not to be the case with Roger Dirrane. In a fit of spiteful rage, Fr. Farragher denounced the culprits and their relations from the altar and instructed his flock to boycott both families and any relations who continued to speak with them. 

This would cause a bitter split on the Island as natural justice, family loyalty and a stubborn streak resulted in many defying the priest and ignoring his orders. Because the bomb had been placed in a saucepan, this nickname would persist for at least a generation and even today some Islanders wear it as a badge of honour.

Murtagh Farragher had started a branch of the United Irish League which was a political grouping that arose in 1898 after the fall of Parnell and before the reunification of the old Irish Party. One of it's great aims was land reform and the redistribution of land. The priest was accused of using this political organisation to enforce his boycott and persecute all who opposed him.

The boycott would be used in the House of Commons to highlight how the Catholic clergy used their power to crush all before them and it's no coincidence that the man who raised it, Charles Craig, MP for Antrim, was a Unionist. Charles was a brother of Northern Ireland's first Prime Minister, James Craig.
James Craig. First P.M. of Northern Ireland. He and his brother Charles would use the Arran boycott as an example of "Rome Rule" being the outcome if "Home Rule" were conceded. Raised the issue in the House of Commons.

The behavior of Murtagh Farragher seemed to give  credence to the great Unionist fear that "Home Rule is Rome Rule". That Irish Catholic Home Rule MPs defended Murtagh, was put down to how the Catholic Church had assumed so much power in Ireland. Any hope Murtagh had of being the next Archbishop, must have been severely dented by the Arran controversies.

  It should be noted that during his time on the Island, Fr. Farragher was responsible for the building of the magnificent Church of St. Bridget in Cill Rónáin, which opened in September 1905. 
Corner stone laid in July 1903 by Archbishop John Healy.

Church of St. Bridget and St Oliver Plunkett in Cill Rónáin. Built under the guidance of Murtagh Farragher.
Corner stone laid by Archbishop Healy on Sunday July 26th 1903. Estimated cost was £1,200.

The original parish church in Eochaill. Built in 1833, not long after Catholic Emancipation and still in use today.  A lovely church with memories of times past ingrained all around. Well worth a visit.

A Boycott is a cruel and crude instrument of revenge and the innocent suffer as much, if not more, than those it is aimed against. While the bombing left some physical damage, the boycott would leave vastly more damage in its wake. It's worth noting that Fr Farragher was able to entertain to lunch, the visiting Bishop Higgins of Ballarat, Australia, just a few weeks after the bombing.

Back in the 70s we mentioned the bombing to an old woman who would have been a girl of about twelve when the bomb went off. She remembered the incident well and said she had spent her life feeling shame about the boycott and wondering how she and her mother had gone along with the priest's instructions. All contact with the families of those, who the priest adjudged to be his enemies, was frowned on. Interestingly, she said that her father, who was a fisherman from Arklow, had ignored the boycott and the priest was afraid to confront him. 

No matter how big or tiny a boat, a skipper then (or indeed now), was his own man and was not used to being told what to do. The majesty and raw power of the ocean has a way of undermining the importance of mere mortals like a priest, the Pope or indeed the King of England. 

This Arklow man had come with his boat in the early 1890s as part of a Government subsidised effort to introduce new fishing methods to the islands. When most of his fellow skippers went home after a few seasons, he had fallen in love with an Aran girl and settled on the island. 

The old lady had also confided, with undisguised pride, "Michael, my father came to this island to teach them how to fish, but I can't say that around here". Kilronan was very much an English speaking village at this time and this old lady, born and raised there, claimed to have almost no Irish.
Thatched cottage where the old woman who remembered the bomb, lived in the 1970s

This old lady and her mother had finally abandoned the boycott after a very petty incident. Benediction was on and a little girl of about nine had gone to the shop to buy candles. With nobody about, the shopkeeper broke the boycott and sold her a few candles.
However, the little girl had been spotted and a grown man had reported the shopkeeper to the priest. This incident she said, opened their eyes to the injustice of the boycott and they abandoned it.

Roger's pub was located just a few yards up a little road that runs from the top left corner of this photo towards Killeany Lodge. (Photo by Jane Shackleton. Thanks to Collins Press)

Another example of Fr Farragher's pettiness involved a National school teacher in Cill Éinne, a sister of the O'Flaherty brothers, Tom and Liam, who was out cycling near the Eastern end of the island. As the day was very warm, she and a friend stopped at Roger's, her father's cousin's pub, for a mineral to quench their thirst. When the priest heard about this he immediately transferred the woman to a school on one of the smaller islands. The teacher resigned her position and headed off to America. Is it any wonder Liam O'Flaherty would portray Murtagh in an unfavorable light, when he came to write Skerrett ?

This also highlights how the teachers union, the I.N.T.O. became one of the toughest unions in the country. While most unions had to battle with one master, this union had to battle with two, the Board of Education, who paid them and the Church who employed them.

The thatched house of the curate, Fr. Owens and the Celtic cross erected in memory of Fr. Michael O'Donohue (Photo N.L.I)
One amusing anecdote from the boycott concerns the burying of a cow in Cill Éinne. In those days and for many years after, it was customary for offerings of money, to be made at every funeral. The more important the deceased, the greater the 'Altóir'' (Altar) which was the term used. People would often remark as to the fine 'Altóir' a dead islander might have generated. This money went to the priest. 

Roger's cow died and a father and son in Cill Éinne gave him a hand to bury the animal. When meeting the lad some days afterwards, Fr. Farragher berated him for helping Roger. The young lad's father happened along and became angry at the priest. His comically, cutting remark has lasted down through more than a hundred years of telling and retelling. Speaking in Irish he told Murtagh, " Agus bheach tú féin ann dá mbeadh altóir ann" (And you would have been there yourself, if there had been an Altar).

Kilronan village in 1906.

This photo is taken from Jane W. Shackleton's Ireland compiled by Christiaan Corlett.
 It is reproduced by kind permission of The Collins Press.

Another amusing story told was that Roger met the priest one day on An Chaircir Mhór.  The priest said in Irish to Roger, " Only for I don't like to, I'd put horns on you", for in those days many people believed that priests had "The Power". Roger replied ,"And if you did, I'd puck you in the arse with them".

 Fr Farragher and Roger Dirrane were in many ways alike and perhaps the Island was only big enough for one of them.
Cill Muirbhigh beach, where a fishing Co Op thrived for a few years during and after the Great War. (Photo N.L.I.)

In 1915, Murtagh Farragher also played a leading role in the development of The Aran Fisheries Co Op society in Cill Muirbhigh, which boomed for some years before eventually going out of business in 1922.
(Buíochas le John Bhaba Jack Ó Chonghaile)

 It was Ireland's first fishing Co-Op. The tensions from the boycott had caused trouble in the co-op and didn't help with its survival. Murtagh had found a very lucrative American market for cured fish.  The fish buyers in Galway were not too happy though. .

  Fr Farragher had also been instrumental in setting up in 1898, an Agricultural bank to help small business ventures. This bank became disparagingly known later as, Banc na mBanbh. (The piglets Bank)
A forerunner to todays Credit Union, which was founded in the 1970s and has been an outstanding success. 

1904 report on Fr Farragher being ill.

Murtagh was also the driving force behind the building of new cottages to replace the atrocious living conditions, which parts of the islands, and especially Cill Éinne, had endured for many years. These conditions were the cause of many fever deaths and indeed Murtagh himself was lucky to survive when he contracted smallpox in 1904. A vast number of Irish priests died during the 19th and early 20th centuries, from diseases contracted as they ministered to their parishioners. 

The building of the various cottage schemes must have saved many lives and Murtagh had great support from Máirtín Mór McDonagh, of the Galway merchant family, himself the son of an Aran woman, Honora Hernon. The progress of the 21 Killeany cottages, which were occupied in December 1914, was only agreed after ten individuals would go guarantor that the weekly rents of 1/3p with land and 9p without , would be paid. Fr Farragher was one of these guarantors and he organised the other nine.

The huge slump of over 50% in fish prices around 1920 as the British boats returned after the Great War, heralded the end for the fishing Co-Op. Murtagh was a good seaman and like his Protestant counterpart in the 1850s, Rev.Alexander Synge, was as much at home at the helm and with the salt spray in his face, as standing in the pulpit.
Return of British steam trawlers after the Great War, contributed to the decline of the Aran Fishing co-op.

Roger was a very skilled carpenter and is credited with being the first man to build a water tank in his fields, in order to harvest the precious rainwater and reduce the amount of work needed in watering cattle. He is believed to have picked up this idea when visiting West Clare. His capacity for invention also extended to improvised explosives it would seem. 

Roger Dirrane is credited with being the first man to build a water tank on the dry fields of Aran

While the bombing of the priest's house contributed to much bitterness on the island, the boycott was much more damaging and Murtagh Farragher must take much of the blame for all that ensued.

The writer Pat Mullen had emigrated to America in 1905, three years before the bombing and only returned home in 1920. In his book 'Come another Day', Pat described the great changes for the worse he noticed on the island he grew up in. Pat found that the people had changed and put much of it down to prosperity. A tendency to backbite had crept in where once there had been comradeship and hard work. Some of these changes can be put down to economic circumstances, the upheavals after the recent departure of the R.I.C. and as the bitter divisions of the Irish civil war took effect. 

Pat also bemoaned the treatment of Aran's last Protestant rector, Rev. Landon Lennon and his American wife Catherine Philpott Curran, a descendant of Robert Emmet's never to be father-in-law, John Philpott Curran.
The Lennons  had been kind to Pat and his little son P.J. and in return Pat writes that he would bring their coal from the pier when others refused. A fine account by Zara Brady, of Catherine's last years on the tiny Rabbit Island on Lough Corrib can be read Here
Mind you, Pat Mullen, like Liam O'Flaherty was not shy about using his writings to land a few well aimed blows at people who had crossed him in the past. Pat's tended to be slaps but Liam could really land a haymaker. The pen can indeed be mightier than the sword.  
Rev Murtagh Farragher, PP Aran Islands from 1897 -1920.

Fr Farragher and his boycott may have played a role in this change in Island behaviour. While the bomb damage could be repaired quickly, the damage done by the boycott would last for decades. Even today there are mixed views on Fr. Farragher's motives. While some say he was looking out for the local people who needed land, others claim that he and the Archbishop had their eye on Killeany Lodge.
Others claim he was doing both.

The real story perhaps is that it was a clash between two Alpha males or three if you include schoolmaster David O'Callaghan. Any sort of challenge to the priest's position was to be resisted ferociously. The description in court of Fr. Farragher, by Roger's legal council, as ruling the islands with more authority than the Czar of Russia, must have contributed also to his rage against his perceived enemies. 

Murtagh had a history of violent behaviour. In 1898 the celebrated father of the Co-Op movement, Horace Plunkett, visited Aran. Horace wrote that  Fr Farragher was a splendid P.P.  He wrote " He believes in the strong arm and established his authority shortly after his arrival two years ago by knocking down the local bully outside Eochaill chapel"
It's likely that Murtagh himself was the source of this information and that he was proud of his physical ability to dominate. O'Flaherty describes Moclair, based on Fr Farragher, as a well built handsome man. However, Murtagh was taking advantage of his clerical position in that a man might be reluctant to fight back out of fear of damnation. Its likely that today, men like Murtagh and Roger, would be advised to do a course on anger management.

While there is much evidence to suggest that Murtagh was proud, progressive, hardworking, charismatic, dedicated, sometimes charming, sometimes vindictive, mean spirited, arrogant and small minded, another characteristic which he displayed was courage.

In July 1911, three men found themselves trapped underneath an upturned currach near Cill Rónáin. Jumping into a nearby boat, Murtagh and his curate Fr Owens, rowed to the rescue and succeeded in saving all three men from drowning and a number of children from being orphaned. 

The hill farm was eventually divided up between a number of locals and the Land Commission sold the lodge to a local publican, Alfred Smith, whose heroic death in 1926, we have covered before. Here

It was later sold on and it eventually ended up in the possession of the McDonagh family of Tigh Joe Mac fame. Today it is a centre for spiritual healing and reflection. See here.

The reputation of Murtagh Farragher has suffered from the depiction by Liam O'Flaherty, of the fictitious Fr Harry Moclair in his book Skerrett. The idea that the pulling of the islands into the 20th century was a mistake and that the islanders would have been better off, if left alone, is very simplistic. It reminds us of the visitors who raged at the changes to the island that electricity brought in the 1970s. These visitors, while bemoaning the end of the old thatched houses, turf fires, candles and paraffin lamps, could return after a few summer days on Árainn to their comfortable centrally heated homes and electrical appliances. 

While some of Fr Farragher's methods were cruel and crude, there can be no doubt but that the islands benefited greatly from his more than twenty five years of cajoling and bullying. Now, as we reach the 110 year anniversary of the bombing, we can just hope that Murtagh and Roger are resting in peace. 
Canon Murtagh Farragher funeral in Athenry in November 1928. A remarkable man who left his mark. R.I.P.

And here we must leave the tale of the bomber and the priest and if we have left out any relevant facts or made factual errors, we welcome all contributions. Opinions, ours included, are two a penny but facts are priceless.

Many thanks to the innumerable people who have provided information during the researching of this article. Many dead and gone and too numerous to mention individually. Much information gathered also from old newspapers and many books written down through the years. 

We have used Facebook to notify followers of each new article but with the vast numbers deserting this platform, we recommend that anybody interested in being notified of new posts should sign up to the blog.
Many thanks.


Friday 30 March 2018

How an Aran Island policeman saved Eamon De Valera's blushes.

                   Eamon DeValera and the Garda from the Aran Islands.

Eamonn De Valera admiring the new statue, after unveiling it in June 1935

The recent unveiling of a replica, by sculptor Maurice Quillinan, of the famous Pádraic O Conaire statue in Eyre Square, Galway, has brought back memories of the day the original was unveiled in 1935. 

President Michael D Higgins and the new bronze replica, which he unveiled on 23rd November 2017

The man chosen to do the unveiling in 1935 was the new Taoiseach, Eamon De Valera and but for the keen eye of a Garda from the Aran Islands, the unveiling would have been much more notable than it was.

Pádraic is one of the most important literary figures in twentieth century Ireland and worked mainly through the medium of Irish.
After a short lifetime as a British civil servant, full time writer, journalist and wanderer, Pádraic died in 1928 at the very young age of 46. Many have mistakenly assumed that he lived to be an old man.

The severe limitations of making a living while writing in Irish, resulted in him being broke and in poor circumstances for the last years of his life. Like many an Irish writer before and since, Pádraic had a great love for public houses and the characters who frequented them.

Pádraic O Conaire (Conroy) Born Galway town 1882 and died in Dublin in 1928.

Older readers may well remember his book, M'asal beag dubh (My little black ass) from their school days and which is still in great demand.
A much loved school book from long ago

We once heard from one of Galway's best known historians, Tom Kenny, a story of Padraic and a friend of his, Tim Keane. Tim lived in a little house, a few yards above high water mark, just past the end of Beach Avenue in Salthill. This writer can remember it well from the early 60s when it was rented out to visiting families during the summer.

It's long gone now and the spot ended up a long way from the shore, when the new prom was built in the late 60s. Tim always had a bed for Pádraic and on one visit Tim was bemoaning the terrible disaster that had befallen him the week previously when a huge sea had washed ashore and drowned most of his hens.
  Pádraic was not long in reminding Tim of ignored advice he had often given him.
"Didn't I tell you often enough Tim, that its not hens you should be keeping, but ducks"
The place on Galway docks where Páraic O Conaire was born in 1882. Although Pádraic is popularly known as "sean  Pháraic" (old Patrick), many are surprised to learn that he was only forty six years old when he died.

Padraic's people came from Ros Muc in Connemara and he spent much of his childhood there after his mother died when he was eleven. He and Eamon De Valera had attended Blackrock college together. The new limestone statue, unveiled in 1935, was by the famous Dublin sculptor, Albert Power and has become one of the most iconic symbols of Galway in the years since.

Dublin sculptor Albert Power with his almost completed statue, shortly before its removal to Galway.
Carved from a single block of  Durrow, County Laois, limestone.
 In the years since 1935 the statue was exposed to both the weather and the vast numbers who felt compelled to have their photos taken with Padraic. The statue was moved on a number of occasions and the final indignity happened in 1999 when some drunken latchicos removed his head.
Although it was recovered, it was decided to restore the statue and then site it permanently in the Galway city museum. Decapitating  a famous statue is not unknown and the people of Copenhagen were almost as outraged as the people of Galway, when their famous Little Mermaid was decapitated twice, in 1964 and 1998.
Galway City museum, near the Spanish Arch, is well worth a visit. Apart from the original statue, the museum is full of reminders of days gone by. The new statue in Eyre Square is a bronze replica of the original.

The new bronze replica, unveiled by President Michael D Higgins in November 2017

The new statue in 2017 as it awaited its unveiling. Not the first time it was covered up before the big day.

In his highly entertaining autobiography, politician and lawman, Patrick Lindsay, recalled the day, or more importantly, the night, before the 1935 unveiling with a mixture of humour and regret.
At the time, he was a student in U.C.G. and in the harsh times that were in it, hoped to embarrass Eamon De Valera. Patrick was not a supporter of Dev and its hard now to fully comprehend just how vicious Irish political life was during those turbulent years.

Cumann na Gael politician, the late Patrick Lindsay(1914-1993), TD for North Mayo.
As we approach the 100 year anniversary of the very bloody civil war, there are bound to be books in the writing, that will shock many who have not fully appreciated the terrible atrocities committed by both sides. 
Attending a political meeting in the 20s and 30s often involved wearing a strong pair of hob nail boots and having a thick blackthorn stick in your hand. Many had a gun in their pocket.
De Valera's most trenchant opponents came to be known as "The Blueshirts".
Padraic O Conaire, in the days when Eyre Square was enclosed by railings.

A couple of nights before the unveiling, Patrick Lindsay, who would later become Master of the High Court, and some friends climbed over the enclosed park's railings and silently approached the veiled statue, which was secured with a string.
 Loosening the string, they proceeded to dress Padraic in a blue shirt, tie and black beret before carefully replacing the veil.
Could the late Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Jack Lynch and the late Fine Gael politician Patrick Lindsay ever have been talking about the day Dev came to Galway in 1935 ?

On the Sunday of the ceremony, they hung around waiting to witness the reaction when Eamon formally unveiled the statue. There are mixed views on how developed Eamon's sense of humour was but there is little doubt but that he would not have been amused. However, it's likely that his wife, Sinéad O'Flanagan would probably have enjoyed the whole thing. Sinéad's influence on the course of Irish history is probably much undervalued.

The late Garda Colm (Coleman) Gill of Cill Rónáin.(1903-1999)

Alas for Patrick Lindsay and his friends, their plans would be foiled by the eagle eyed Guard Pat Joe Gill from Cill Éinne, who ruined the surprise.
While checking the statue, Pat Joe was obliged to remove the string and inspect the sculpture.

The late Pat Joe Gill of Cill Éinne. Seen here with his late uncle.

Patrick Lindsay identifies the man who foiled their plot as Guard Gill from the Aran Islands. At the time , there were two Guard Gills from Aran stationed in Galway town and after some further investigating we are now fairly sure that the man involved was Pat Joe Gill from Cill Éinne. Apologies to those we misinformed before. 
Pat Joe and his 3rd cousin Colm  from Cill Rónáin were known in Galway as Ginger Guard Gill and Black Guard Gill. Colm had two brothers also in the force, Peter in Killorglin and Paddy who ended up in Spiddal (An Spidéal) Both Colm and Pat Joe had arrived in Galway in July 1934. Pat Joe Gill was a brother to the late Matty Gill in Cill Éinne and the late Baba in Cill Rónáin.

Of course as soon as the policeman loosened the string and had a look at Pádraic in his new blue shirt, tie and beret, the game was up and the statue was quickly stripped, just before Eamon De Valera arrived.

Although the plotters were to be denied their moment of glory, they did have some consolation in what happened shortly after.

According to Patrick Lindsay, all the great and the good of the West of Ireland were congregated on a recently constructed platform. For the most part, according to Patrick, the majority were people who just a few years previously, would have crossed the road if they saw Pádraic O Conaire approaching, in case they might have to buy him a drink.

The tendency to ignore troubled souls and artists when they are alive and then celebrate them after they are dead, is not a recent phenomenon it seems. A man to be avoided in life, can often be quickly embraced in death.

So great was the amount of goodness and greatness that climbed on to that stage that, to the sound of splintering timber and loud screams, the platform collapsed. Luckily, the only injury done was to the pride of some of the dignitaries. The amount of injury being relative to how much self-esteem the victims believed themselves worthy of and how loudly they had screamed.

For well over a hundred years, back to Royal Irish Constabulary times, the Aran Islands have been famous for producing very high quality police officers. Hundreds of years of working with precious timber, washed ashore from the countless shipwrecks in the North Atlantic, has also produced generations of very high quality woodworkers.

For this reason, it seems reasonable to speculate that while the policeman on duty that June day in 1935, was an Aran Islander, the carpenter was not.

M. Muldoon