Stories of Midland families feature in new book by Val Cox
The arrival of the Black and Tans, the Civil War, the founding of the Republic of Ireland were all milestones on the road to the formation of the Irish State – and there are countless families in Ireland where people have grew up hearing firsthand accounts of that time. .
The current pandemic is an episode of an equally seismic nature, but during the long months of lockdown journalist Valerie Cox has found people eager to delve into their memories and share the stories that were the tradition of their youth.
Among them were several families from the Midland from whom we have a glimpse of life during this time. The result is the appealing “Independence memory: a people’s portrait of the early days of the Irish nation”, published by Hachette, giving anecdotes that show how these important historical events impacted families, and providing insight into the behind the scenes of various incidents and events that have helped shape this country.
âThis book was primarily written through the magic of the phone and Zoom calls,â says Valerie, a familiar face from shows such as Tonight and Ireland AM, explaining the impact of the Covid restrictions on the interview process of his subjects.
Despite being denied the opportunity to meet her interview subjects face-to-face, Valerie came out with incredibly engaging interviews, embellished with surprising details, such as reminiscences of Sr. Ethna Swan and her brother the professor. Swans from Lobinstown to Meath. , who remembered their grandmother growing tobacco on her farm in Carlanstown, near Kells, and who remembered that when they wanted refreshments while attending the 1932 Eucharistic Congress, it was not Coke or Fanta that was offered to them: “If you were thirsty, you went to a scout and he gave you a ball of buttermilk!”
Offalien Martin Meleady was, Valerie was told, “the Che Guevara of the Tullamore region”.
Martin’s story was shared with Valerie by his grandson, Martin Mulrennan, who revealed that not only was his grandfather the quartermaster of the Offaly IRA Brigade, but that three of his grandfather’s six sisters father were in Cumann na mBan (the other three became Sisters of the Holy Faith).
Among the responsibilities of the Meleady sisters was that of delivering messages and weapons, by bicycle, to volunteers around Tullamore, Clara, Kilbeggan, Ballycommon and Killeigh.
Martin Meleady lived in Croghan, and his grandson remembers, at the age of seven, seeing his grandfather in a mishap with a political opponent in Tyrrellspass.
Stories of the Egan family of Croghan, near Tyrrellspass are also told in the book. Valerie writes: âThey fought in the Civil War and produced a TD, an Army Chief of Staff and a son who studied medicine with Kevin Barry.
The family were divided in their opinions during the Civil War and for some time afterwards, but a proud day for the younger generation was when the President of Ireland, SeÃ¡n T Ã Ceallaigh came in the 1950s to attend a feis held at Croghan Hill, accompanied in his official capacity by the Army Chief of Staff, Major Liam T Egan.
The savagery of the Black and Tans is recalled by a number of those interviewed, but one of the most shocking accounts is how, in a Fermoy pub, when they were asked to reduce the noise because there was a seriously ill man next door, they responded by entering the house and dragging the patient out and throwing him into the Blackwater River, where they then attempted to shoot him. They then set his house on fire.
The book is fascinating read: âI absolutely loved writing this book, engaging with people whose parents and grandparents lived remarkable lives and whose contribution to the Ireland we have today. may not have been documented so far, âexplains Valerie.