Saturday, December 22, 2012

'We Are To Be Shot in the Morning'

3 teens among 7 IRA 'irregulars' executed 90 years ago in Kildare

'We are to be shot in the morning, 19th December at 8.15…We are dying happy anyway, so good-bye old Kildare.'
         -- Paddy Bagnall, from Hare Park Prison, Curragh Camp, December 18, 1922
By Robert Doyle

Paddy Nolan's final letter home to his parents. Click on the
image to see a larger view.
With much of the attention regarding the struggle for Irish independence being on the upcoming centenary of the 1916 Rising, events in County Kildare 90 years ago this December bring into sharp focus the tragedy of the subsequent Civil War.

Men and women who had fought side by side against British rule, turned their vitriol and their weapons on each other in a bitter conflict that began with the occupation of the Four Courts in the summer of 1922 by forces opposed the signing and ratification of an Anglo-Irish Treaty.

The outbreak of the Civil War forced pro and anti-treaty supporters to choose sides. Supporters of the treaty came to be known as 'pro-Treaty' or Free State Army, legally the National Army. The objectors called themselves "Republicans," but were more commonly known by the Free State government as “Irregulars.”

Although most of the fighting took place in Dublin and around Munster, County Kildare was no different in terms of the bitter divides. The occupation of the Curragh Camp by the Free State Army after British withdrawal made operations very difficult for the small column of Irregulars who operated in the vicinity of Kildare town.

Eamonn O’Modhrain from Ballysax, who had commanded the 6th Battalion of the IRA’s Carlow Brigade (South Kildare/West Wicklow) during the War of Independence, objected strongly to the signing of the Treaty and was immediately arrested and imprisoned for much of the year-long conflict. However, many of his former command took up arms against the Free State and operated a guerrilla- style war around Kildare Town, concentrating their efforts on disrupting the vital railway network in the area.

Moore's Bridge, where the 7 'irregulars' were captured.
In late 1922, The Leinster Leader reported that a column of Irregulars were operating in the vicinity of Kildare, derailing or stealing train engines, which would subsequently be used as an obstruction, blocking the line. It was also reported that on November 25th, this column took part in an ambush of Free State troops, audaciously close to the Curragh Camp.

On December 13th, 10 men, allegedly the same column, were surprised at a farmhouse beside Moore’s Bridge (close to the Curragh Racecourse) by Free State troops. Having been found in possession of rifles, a quantity of ammunition and other supplies, the men were arrested and brought the short distance to the Curragh Camp. During the arrest, one of the captured, Thomas Behan, was killed although the cause of his death remains disputed to this day.

In the following days, seven of the men were tried before a military court and found guilty of being in possession of arms without authority.  Unfortunately for the convicted, the Free State government had, only weeks earlier, decreed that such an offence was punishable by death. The executions were duly carried out by firing squad on the morning of December 19th at the Military Detention Barracks. Although the Free State sanctioned 77 official executions of anti-Treaty prisoners during the war, this combined execution of seven men was the largest carried out -- a tragic statistic in County Kildare’s history.

The day before their deaths, the seven men were allowed to write letters to their family and loved ones. Each letter is a tragic but very poignant memorial to the men, composed as they each came to terms with their fate. Typed copies of some of the letters were sent to their ex-commander, Eamonn O’Modhrain.

Nineteen-year-old Paddy Bagnall wrote to his uncle that he and his comrades were “all to go West together … but it is all for the best, and I hope it sets old Ireland free.” Bagnall finishes a remarkably mature letter for one so young by stating that he was dying happy and bids “good-bye old Kildare.”

Paddy Nolan, 34. penned a heartbreaking final letter to his mother and father. He hoped that they would bear his death with “the Courage of an Irish Father & Mother.” He tried to ease his mother’s worry by writing that the chaplain in the Curragh, Father Donnelly, had told him that he would go straight to heaven.
Kildare memorial to the 7 who 
were executed.

However, the saddest words are often the simplest, and Nolan signed off by telling his family that he “had a few pounds in his suit case” and they could have them and anything else in the house belonging to him. A shorter letter to his younger brothers and sisters asks that they remember him and his comrades on Christmas morning, only a few weeks away. He also asks that they be good children and always obey their parents.

The other letters written by the men on the eve of their deaths are similar in composition and sentiment. Each is also a reminder of the conflict that scarred the fledgling Irish nation during its progression from a British colony into a sovereign country. 

The men were buried in the grounds of the Detention Barracks, but their remains were later exhumed and lay in state in the courthouse in Kildare Town before being reinterred in Kildare's Grey Abbey Cemetery, in 1924. A gravestone was subsequently erected over their collective grave and a monument erected in the Market Square, in Kildare town.

The seven executed were Stephen White, 18, Abbey Street, Kildare; Joseph Johnston, 18, Station Road, Kildare; Patrick Mangan, 22, Fair Green, Kildare; Patrick Nolan, 34, Rathbride, Kildare; Bryan Moore, 37, Rathbride, Kildare (leader of the column); James O’Connor, 24, Bansha, County Tipperary; and Patrick Bagnall, 19, Fair Green, Kildare. WG

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Day in the Life of Irish Genealogists: Q&A With Nicola Morris, Helen Kelly

At The Wild Geese, we work every day to weave the threads of individual Irish stories into the tapestry of heritage “wherever green is worn.” Whether you are still pulling at strings or have a fully woven view of your own Irish story, a professional genealogist may hold the key to learning more.

Two of our own Heritage Partners, Helen Kelly, of  Helen Kelly Genealogy, and Nicola Morris, of Timeline Genealogy in Ireland, gave us us an insight into their work through an e-mail interview conducted by Preservation Editor Belinda Evangelista

[Uncover your own Irish story with the help of a $300 donation to our campaign to build The NEW Wild Geese.]

The Wild Geese: What started your interests in genealogy?

Helen Kelly
Helen Kelly: Like most professional genealogists, my initial foray into genealogy started because of an innate interest in ‘Who’s Who?’ and in particular, a curiosity about my own origins.

Nicola Morris: It was the detective work that appealed to me, searching back through fragments of records to try and build the story of a family and the telling of the history of Ireland through each family story. 

The Wild Geese: Have you both ever been baffled in your efforts? Hit the proverbial wall.

Kelly: In our professional capacity, our primary work entails Irish family history research, so we are always conscious of the fact that for historical reasons, Irish family history research, for most individuals, can hit the brick wall in the early 1800s.

Morris: The great challenge of being a professional genealogist is that it is our job to solve mysteries, to seek out sources that will get us past that 'brick wall.’ We can't always find the answer, but we will leave no stone unturned in our quest.

Nicola Morris' Timeline Genealogy in Ireland
The Wild Geese: What is your favorite genealogy resource?

Kelly: I have to say that land and property record known as Griffith’s Valuation is my favorite source, particularly in relation to members of the Irish Diaspora, because this source usually leads to identification of the precise birth location of the emigrant ancestor.

Morris: I enjoy working with estate records. These collections vary greatly in what they contain. It is the collections that document tenants and employees on an estate that excite me the most because these can often predate the many other traditional sources. These records can be mined for descriptions of tenants, maps of estates and, on the odd occasion, diaries and letters that breath life into the research.

The Wild Geese: Have you ever gotten teary-eyed over a case? Do you get emotionally involved with your research?

Kelly: All the time! Research becomes very sterile if the genealogist does not enter into the life and times of individuals they ‘meet’ on the paper trail.

Morris: Yes, of course. You cannot help empathizing when you are holding in your hand a death certificate for an abandoned child who died in the workhouse or a census return for a family of 15 living in a one-room cottage. You cannot avoid imagining what their lives were like and the struggles that they overcame. It certainly gives you perspective on the challenges that we face in life today.

The Wild Geese: What is your best advice for those who want to discover their roots?

Kelly: Be aware that as human beings we store a vast amount of personal data in our conscious and subconscious, and that the best starting place is -- not on the internet -- but within the recesses of our minds and in the minds of close family members. So, it is good for those starting research on their family history, to write down all they know about their family, retrieve all family documents in their possession and talk with other family members to ascertain what they know about their family history. Once this basic homework has been completed, they should then systematically go in search of family documents in the various family history repositories in their own area, and in the area where their ancestors emanated from. Many of these documents are available on the Internet, but one must always be aware that the family-history project will also necessitate research in local and national record archives and libraries.

Morris: I agree with Helen. Your family will often hold some of the most valuable clues to your family origins. When undertaking research I would always recommend patience and persistence. Sources can sometimes be time-consuming and tedious to research, but stick with it because there is a great sense of achievement when you do find the information that you are searching for.

The Wild Geese: Do you both talk shop when you get together?

Kelly: Mostly – but we also have downtime and fun discussing a range of topics outside the realm of genealogy!

The Wild Geese: What is a typical day like for a genealogist in Ireland?

Kelly: In truth, there is no such thing as a typical day for a genealogist -- whether in Ireland or elsewhere. Of course, every day has to start by booting up the computer and downloading e-mails. After that, one realizes that no two enquiries are the same -- just as no two individuals or families are the same. As each new day dawns, this diversity inevitably brings with it a sense of fresh adventure as, typically, we head for one of the wonderful record repositories in downtown Dublin, such as the National Archives, National Library of Ireland, etc.

The Wild Geese: What is your own 'Irish story'? Do you have any particularly fascinating ancestors, for instance?

Kelly: In the late 1980s, my interest in genealogy led me to search the history of my own family after being told by a relative that one of my maternal grand-mother’s ancestors was evicted from a large holding in the Midlands of Ireland back in the ‘mists of time.’ Extensive research of extant church registers brought me to the Registry of Deeds, where I discovered that this event really did happen circa 1790. Validation of this piece of ‘family lore’ then led me to an exciting trail of registered deeds back to the early 1700s and to a family pedigree for one branch of the family documented in Hunstanton, in England, in the 16th century.

Morris: My grandmother always spoke about her Italian grandmother and when I started working on our family history, I discovered the Pericho family in Cork and have so far traced them back to 1805 and a looking-glass manufacturer who I believe came from Italy. I have yet to make the connection in Italy. WG

Ready for Helen Kelly or Nicola Morris to dive into your family genealogy? Donate $300 to our campaign and receive a genealogy assessment -- and more!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Wild Geese Twitter QR Code for our Indiegogo Campaign

Visit for more details or launch our campaign page by lining up your smartphone’s camera with the QR code below.  Go raibh mile maith agaibh!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Irish Ancestors Archaeology Chart and NY Irish Limited Edition Print

Our Heritage Partners at Know Thy Place have offered one of their 'archaeology of your ancestors' map as part of an IRISH REWARD PERK BUNDLE from our Indiegogo Crowd Funding Campaign.
People first settled in Ireland over 9000 years ago. There is virtually no corner of the island that hasn’t felt the footsteps of our forefathers. Know Thy Place gives you the opportunity to understand where you live - or where your ancestors were from - in a completely new way, providing you with a beautiful chart to display in your home or workplace.
These Cork-based archaeologists offer custom charts tailored individually for you and your place, as well as generic charts that explore the island of Ireland, its counties and the ancestral homeland of Irish-American Presidents.  
A County Chart is ideal if you have not yet identified your ancestor's townland. Sometimes family names give clues to a possible county or counties - for example the O’Donnells of Donegal and the O’Briens of Clare. These charts examine the significant archaeology of the county, exploring it’s history from the first settlers through to the modern day.  Know Thy Place also creates Custom Charts with more detailed information from your family history.  
Included in this bundle is a sketch of your ancestor by New York artist Maryann Tracy plus a 24" x 33" print of legendary landscape artist Edmund Sullivan's "Next Parish, America".
Edmund Sullivan's "Next Parish, America"

Also included in this Irish Reward Perk Bundle a Wild Geese women's or men's hoodie from our store on CafePress, a pack of Shamrock Seeds from, 3 nods for The Wild Geese Hall of Fame plus your photo and one of your particularly beloved Irish ancestor in the mosaic on our new website!

Please go to our Indiegogo Campaign page and claim your rewards, no contribution is too small and we appreciate your support of and all our amazing Irish Heritage Partners.  For more information on our other Heritage Partner perks visit our Hell's Kitchen Blog

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Top Ireland Genealogists Offer Consultations and Assessments

Two of our many Irish Heritage Partners who have contributed items as rewards for contributions to our Indiegogo Crowd Funding Campaign are Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland (APGI) Genealogists Helen Kelly and Nicola Morris.  

Each have offered a genealogy assessment and consultation of your Irish ancestry as part of an IRISH REWARD PERK BUNDLE that includes:  The Irish Language Production "1916 Seachtar Na Casca," a 7-episode, 4-DVD set about the 7 signatories of Ireland's Declaration of Independence, from Abu Media


AND an historical DVD from Irish Music Mail Plus you get your photo, and your Irish ancestors', in the Wild Geese mosaic on the new website

Helen Kelly is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland (APGI), the accrediting body for Irish Genealogists. She has been involved in genealogy and tourism since the 1980s and holds an extramural certificate in genealogy from University College Dublin (1992), a diploma in Local History from the National University of Ireland Maynooth (1998) and a National Tour Guide Certificate from CERT (2002).

Timeline Research Ireland was established in 2006 by Dr. Robert Somerville Woodward and Nicola Morris to provide professional genealogical and historical research services to clients in Ireland and around the world. With 20 years experience in the fields of genealogy and history, the pair are able to offer expert advice and research services carried out to the highest professional standards.

Both are both members of the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland, and are the associate researchers for the Irish Ancestry Research Centre at the University of Limerick.

So if you love all things Irish and wish to support our Irish Heritage Partners and help the Wild Geese move forward with a dynamic new website with many more features, check out the perks on our Indiegogo Campaign contribution is too small or just show your support by sharing our Heritage Partner's Reward Perks. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Like Father, Like Daughter: Q&A With Fiddler Marie Reilly

(All photos by James Higgins)
Fiddler Marie Reilly, 58, clearly has much to be grateful for, not the least of which is a much praised new album, “The Anvil,” her first, created after a 23-year self-imposed pause from playing.  Irish Echo reviewer Dan Neely, for example, called the new album “a delight,” noting that “Reilly’s versions all have delicate touches that many will find pleasantly surprising.” 

During her musical exile, which she says ended in February 2010, she raised her two children, Gearoid Keogh, 25, and Grainne Keogh, 23, a champion step-dancer.

Reilly grew up on the family farm, in the townland of Glannagh, Ballinalee, County Longford. She has dedicated her album to her father, famed Longford fiddler Michael Reilly, who happened to be a blacksmith as well as an exceptionally talented and learned fiddler, farmer and father of four.

Her father died in 1967 at the age of 46. Five years later, age 18, Reilly left Ireland, living eight years in England, where she taught music and performed with a folk group called Battering Ram. In 1980, she immigrated to the United States. She has resided in Yonkers, N.Y., a suburb of New York City, for the past 28 years.

Mindful of the imminence of Fathers Day, we e-mailed Reilly some questions about her father, and his imprint on her life.

The Wild Geese: Marie, what inspired you, after decades as a world-class fiddler, to finally undertake the work of producing your debut album? What was the impetus? How long has this project been in the works?

Marie Reilly (left):  What was the incentive, you ask? I decided to undertake the work of producing a debut album to preserve the music for posterity. I think it is very important to convey invaluable insight into a unique style of fiddling, the less well-known south County Leitrim repertoire of tunes to a younger audience. Along with the motivation to share such rare music, I thought it would be a shame to give up my special talent.

I took a break from playing for a while because of family commitments and now that I have extra time I decided to take up music again, something I love doing.   My father was a very well known and respected fiddle player, originally from Drumreilly, County Leitrim.  From a young age, he instilled in me the importance of sustaining the musical traditions of the Reilly family, and I thought making a CD in honor of him was the perfect way to keep his music “alive.”

The project started over a year ago when I learned all of the new material, perfected it and started recording last November, (in) 2011.

The Wild Geese: Tell us a bit about your childhood — did you take immediately to the fiddle, did your Dad place it in your hands early on, or did you simply find yourself drawn to it? What age were you when you began playing?

From session at Reilly’s CD launch: Kathleen Fitzpatrick, 
whistle; Marie Barrett, flute; John Walsh, guitar; Tom Dunne,
box; Eugene Cottrell, guitar; fiddles: Pete Carolan, left, and
John Hehir, right. The baby is unidentified.

Reilly: A word to describe my upbringing is that of a humble one, but I can honestly say I had everything I needed.  I enjoyed my childhood, growing up on a farm, I never came short of excitement.  I loved animals and in particular horses.  We had a Connemara pony, named “Molly.” I loved to ride her through the fields and I tried my best to master the art of jumping. More often than not, I found myself on the ground -- not everyone can be as successful as [multi-National Hunt champion] Pat Taaffe!  Molly was a prize-winning pony, taking first place at many agricultural shows throughout Ireland along with our Irish setter, Florrie.  We also had a forge, and I was completely fascinated with  it, especially the anvil -- hence the CD  title. After a day at school, I spent a lot of my time in the forge with my father, lilting, singing, and trying to help him.  We both enjoyed each other’s company.

From the age of 4, as soon as I was able to hold the fiddle, my father introduced it.  He purchased a beginner fiddle, small in size.  I used to sit on his lap, he would place the fiddle under my chin and begin to play a tune.  It took some time before I was able to play a tune, but I'll always remember the first tune I learned was “Three Blind Mice."

The Wild Geese: How many hours a day did it take to gain your level of mastery? Were your brothers and mother supportive, or were there some sibling rivalry, teasing and such as many of us experienced growing up?

Reilly and her daughter, Grainne.
Reilly: I progressed quickly -- with an hour or two of practice every day. Before I knew it, I was playing tunes with my father.  My mother, a lovely singer and dancer herself, was very supportive of my music.  She would sit, listen, and critique my playing.  My older brother, Desmond, was playing music at the same time and we would practice together. This worked well if we were on good terms, otherwise it was a disaster -- [then] no progress was made and the practice came to an abrupt end!

The Wild Geese: What was your father’s style of both parenting and instructing – very hands-on, demanding or more laid-back, encouraging, nurturing, or none or all of the aforementioned? Tell us about your relationship with your father, both with a fiddle in your hands and without.

Reilly: All of the above!  He was a very loving man, always encouraging us to reach our full potential. While he was supportive, he could be very demanding at times – at least when it came to music. There was not much play until our school homework was complete, tunes were practiced and up to his standards, which at times were a little high! I had a great relationship with my father. If I am being honest, I was his favorite. (I am sure my siblings would not like to hear that). Wherever he went, I was there, too. Along with taking me to Fleadh Cheoil and Feiseanna, we performed together at local concerts and appeared on national television.

The Wild Geese: Your father clearly had an outsized influence on your life, your values. With Fathers Day nigh, If your father were able to read this, to hear this, what would you say to him?

Reilly playing her fiddle. 
Reilly: I love you, Dad, and a huge thank you for steering me in the right direction! I was blessed to have you in my life, not only for the fiddle tradition you instilled in me, but the strength you gave me to pursue my dream. You were and still are my inspiration, and I am sure so many others would say the same.

The Wild Geese: And by the way, who has your Dad’s fiddle now? And his anvil? Both would seem like valued, emotional touchstones for you.

Reilly:  My younger, brother, Micheal, an all-Ireland champion, has my father’s fiddle.  This is definitely an heirloom; it belonged to my grandfather, Terence Reilly. The prized anvil is in the possession of my little sister, Colette, who currently resides in [Drumshanbo,] County Leitrim. WG

"The Anvil," fiddler Marie Reilly's new album, is available from some Irish merchants along McLean Avenue, in Yonkers, N.Y. It will soon be available at She will be appearing this weekend at the Fairfield (Conn.) Irish Festival and touring in County Leitrim and environs in September. You can contact her at to purchase the album, as well.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Honoring Irish Women of Our Past: Q&A With Artist Rachael Flynn

The Book of Names is an Internet-based project to recognize the women in our past who have migrated from Ireland. By adding the names of your Irish mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and so on, you will have the chance to ‘light a candle’ in their memory.

The effort is the brainchild of Rachael Flynn, who was born on the east coast of Scotland and grew up in the coastal village of Barry. Studying fine art and specializing in sculpture, she graduated from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee and headed south to Goldsmiths, University of London, were she was awarded a Master of Arts degree.

Rachael has worked with independent filmmakers, artists, research groups and production companies, and is using skills gleaned from that experience for her Ph.D. work at the Scottish Centre for Island Studies. Her dissertation, in the discipline of Visual Arts Practice, is focused, in part, on the personal narrative of her Irish grandmother and the family that her grandmother left behind. Returning to her parents’ native Glasgow area, she currently teaches filmmaking at the University of the West of Scotland. The Wild Geese’s Preservation Editor Belinda Evangelista e-mailed her some questions about the project. WG

The Wild Geese:  The Book of Names project was inspired in part by the letters from your Glasgow grandmother from Donegal to the family she left behind in Ireland.  Is there anything you have learned about her that stands out from reading the correspondence? 

Flynn: I think one of the most important things that came from reading the letters was hearing the conversations and correspondences of a woman. What I mean by this is that, for me, my grandmother was very much the character of a grandmother. She passed away when I was 8 and still a child so to read these letters as a young woman meant I got to hear the voice of someone who -- although facing a different set of circumstances -- was reflecting and discussing some of the same age old things as I do. Although always remembering her fun and energetic ways, this strong character suddenly became located amongst the experiences that formed such a headstrong spirit. To read this prevailing determination to cope and to make things work was something that made me incredibly proud when reading the letters. As with many old letters the handwriting is beautiful and very gracefully scripted. This reinforced my sense of a woman who had great academic gifts who, although pushing the boundaries of opportunity, didn’t have a chance to study further than childhood. This again translated as reigniting a sense that my research and studies were as much for her as they are for me, as I partake in activities in which she would have thrived. This is something that I hope underpins the Book of Names project, as we recognize our positions now as things made possible due to these brave women of our past.

The Wild Geese:  Would you describe the experience of migration as bittersweet for most of the women and could you explain why that is? 

Flynn:  I think that for the people who are sharing and contributing such stories of migration within their family histories, there is this strange mix of feelings. In my own ancestry, both my maternal and paternal lines quite quickly lead back to Ireland; a trail weaved from stories of McBrides, Shevlins, Gallaghers, Laffertys, and Flynns. With such a mass exodus, there is both a sense of sadness, and at times anger, at the sacrifices and hardships which were part of their fate, alongside feeling a great sense of pride at their determination to create better lives for the families they were to create. Furthermore, in bringing these stories to the fore, there is a humbleness when comparing our daily trials with those that these women would have had to cope with. At a recent event that I held at Glasgow Women’s Library, during which people were invited to share similar stories of Irish migration within their families, this bittersweet sentiment was again echoed.  We discussed that despite these women having the accomplishment of creating more hopeful futures, and of, against the odds, rebuilding homes for their families, many left behind ancestral landscapes which they would always feel a great longing for. In many ways this displacement is something that is repeatedly experienced as a cultural memory which is inherited through the generations. The idea that we belong somewhere, and that the place from where you belong is somewhere that your family had to depart from bred a notion in me that the place where I now was represented something of a holding ground; somewhere that housed me but that was separate to the land ‘where I came from.’ This obviously was a feeling which was steeped in the fables weaved by family members and of a cultural people who represented to me a poetic lineage filled with romantic, tragic and courageous trials that were bravely faced.

The Wild Geese:  Besides honoring these women, what do you hope that, as women, we can glean from the project?

Flynn: I recently had to deliver a talk at an academic conference. I had known in advance that the majority of people in the audience were studying aspects of science and engineering, and were engaged in research that operated using approaches incredibly different to my own. I had pictured the sea of faces in my head and was becoming increasingly nervous! I had phoned a friend for some reassuring words and she told me that if my grandmother can run away from home at 15, arriving in a city to make a new life for herself, finding work, a home and raising a family against the odds, then I could stand up and give a presentation! I hope that whilst creating a place to house the memories of these women, the project serves to represent the lineage of women who above all kept going and coped. This sense of determination and strength is something which I feel enriches us throughout our daily lives and remains a sort of inherited ‘backbone’ that allows us to tackle and fight for the things we believe in.

The Wild Geese: Would you agree that your approach to documenting history is in itself a softer and more feminine way to archive this material?

Agnes In Her Tram Conductress Uniform
Flynn:  Absolutely, for me it is about creating an embodied and personal ‘documentation.’ This idea of empathy -- often considered a more feminine approach -- is core to my handling.  When I first sat down with the various letters, I came across an envelope that was thick with various correspondences regarding the death of Agnes’ 7-year-old son Stephen. After spending some time with them, I asked my father about them -- who had been 9 at the time of Stephens’ death -- and asked if he had read them. He told me he remembered my grandmother sitting by the window reading them and hiding the tears that they were causing. On several of the pages, there are marks of these tears as the ink has run. I feel these visible signs on the paper help to reveal the emotive histories within my study of her story.

These ‘hidden’ factors allow me to then engage in making work which responds to the layered narrative of a woman who was continually striving to create a better future for herself and her family, alongside a wider set of people who were attempting to overcome the social difficulties and prejudices that could face migrated communities. In the Book of Names, it is my intention to develop this notion. Through the book, people will be able to add the names of their ancestors to a record that will start to build up a collection that seeks to move beyond formal data to create a human document. By adding the names of their Irish mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers, aunts, cousins etc., those who engage with the book will have the chance to effectively ‘light a candle’ in their memory. Indeed, in the very way this historic commentary is portrayed, I am articulating historical information through alternative methods. Bridging approaches such as creative writing, sculptural spaces, visual imagery and group activities, I hope that people will be able to access a sense of this history through personally relating to them and ‘experiencing’ a sense of history rather than just assuming another person’s textual account. Core within the work is creating a ‘space’ in which the reader can experience a sense of separation, loss, distance, absence and the edge of a personal landscape. All of which are wrapped up within the aspects of personal migration.    


The Wild Geese:  As an artist, do you have a visual image in your mind as to how your art might document this material or will that image evolve with the project?

A cottage on the Donegal coast.
Flynn:  I am wanting to, with permission of those who want to be involved, develop an artist’s book and set of artist’s prints using the names of these women. I feel there is a different experience associated with reading the actual names of such women -- and acknowledging that a relative submitted them -- which is different from reading the recorded statistics and typed data of state records. They live on as individuals, each receiving a page in the book for them to own and occupy. I also want to create a photographic and video sculptural work. I am going to put a call out to those who have submitted a name to the Book of Names who want to be involved in an interactive piece. For those who wish to, I will send a tea light candle and ask them to either photograph or film on their phones or cameras, the candle burning in their relatives memory.  I have already lit a candle for Agnes in front of her ancestral cottage in Donegal -- which is far harder than first imagined with such strong Atlantic Coast winds! I will then use these images to make a work that captures this living and continued presence of such memory in all of our Irish cultural psyches. I also hope to physically visit various sites where these boats would have come in or departed from and have a mass collection of candles burning to form a site-specific sculpture. The first location of these will be at the docks in Glasgow, but will grow as more names and locations are submitted. Depending on funding (as ever!), I also hope to take candles to the various counties and docks within Ireland where these women departed from. Traces of temporal elements and of frail yet enduring materials exploring a conversation between past and present generations lies beneath all of these activities.

The Wild Geese:  Is there anything else you would like the Diaspora to know?

Flynn:  Although as an artist I have launched this project, I would just like to underline that I feel this work is a collaborative work and would welcome any thoughts and reflections. It is one that will make its own journey as it stops to pause at various points. It is exciting to work on something that continues to grow and hopefully allow others to engage in their own histories. I myself feel that my journey into my Diasporic lineage is in its infancy. But something that has struck me as I have gone deeper into my grandmother’s narrative, and indeed the wider social background, is that I wish I had been prouder of all their achievements and unwavering strength sooner! WG

You can include names of the Irish women among your immigrant ancestors in the Book of Names Project, at

Friday, May 11, 2012

Making Art By Ulster’s Sperrins: Q&A With Aine MacAodha

Aine MacAodha is Irish for Ann Keys, who was born in 1963 in the small town of Omagh, Tyrone County, in Northern Ireland. Aine is a writer, a poet, a photographer and artist, and has been published widely in Ireland, United Kingdom and the United States.
MacAodha lives at the foot of the Sperrin Mountains -- her inspiration in any season. She has two poetry books published: “Where the Three Rivers Meet” and “Guth An Anam” (“Voice of The Soul”). 
Aine started writing poetry as a child, when she also became enamored with photography. Between her mother’s collection of ballad books, which intrigued her, and her inquisitiveness about her father’s darkroom in the family home, she was destined to become the accomplished ‘poet-ographer’ that she is today.
A mother of three grown children, MacAodha is also an artist not afraid of taking chances. She personifies the key ingredient for achieving unique beauty in her work; that is, not necessarily doing different things, just doing things differently. She is drawn to mountain ranges, old ruins, churches, castles, Celtic burial sites and rural scenery. She is a master at pairing images with her poetry.
The true genius of her work is the timeless quality of it, much like Ireland itself. MacAodha is able to capture the spirit of nature and emotion in words and through the lens of her camera. We e-mailed her some questions, which she addressed hard by the Sperrins that so inform her muse.– WG Visual Arts Producer Maryann Tracy

The Wild Geese: Have you always had an interest in both poetry and photography?

Aine MacAodha
Aine MacAodha: I always had an interest in rhyming words and phrases together, loved reading and often upon reading old ballad books my mother collected, changed the words to suit my own, this [taught] me the ballad form but my love of photography started as soon as I realized what father was doing, he had a darkroom and developed his own photographs. I was always at his sleeve questioning everything.

The Wild Geese:  Which came first? When did you decide to combine the two?

I suppose poetry came first; growing up, songs surrounded the home and poetry and song are very alike to me. The combination was always there; when words fail me I have the camera in hand to capture some of nature’s often-overlooked wonders. Lately, I have combined Haiku with a photograph -- poetography -- if you like, they fit so beautifully together. Haiku are my favorite poem to write, very difficult to get them right; but when I do it’s magical to see them combined on screen.

Joseph Mary Plunkett
The Wild Geese:  Are there certain poets that inspire you?
There have been many. The first poets to really inspire me were the 1916 poets, [for example, Joseph Mary] Plunkett; especially his story, I like this poem “I See His Blood Upon a Rose,” and I really admired his wife, Grace Gifford Plunkett. [I was] greatly inspired also by Yeats, Seamus Heaney and the Celtic revivalist era of Yeats, Katharine Tynan, and Alice Milligan, who was a native of Omagh. I also love Rumi, the 13th century mystic poet. I'm very fond of the beat poets of America and read quite a bit lately of Emerson and Whitman. All fascinating.

The Wild Geese: You are obviously tremendously inspired by your surroundings. Tell me about that creative or spiritual feeling you experience when you find that special place, like the Sperrin Mountains.
MacAodha: The Sperrin Mountains are my inspiration in any season. Here in Omagh surrounded by the mountains you are never very far from a mountain spring or lough or place of sacred ground, that's the good thing. As I walk out over the Pigeon Top or the lakes area of Gortin Glens, my spirit flies too, the blanket bog soft under foot and surrounding hills and mounds have a supernatural pull for me. It’s instinctual for me to go visit the ancient Beaghmore stone circles or holy wells -- it does the soul good. I feel at home in the solitude of the views.

The Wild Geese:  “Voice of the Soul,” your second book of poetry, published in 2011, includes some haiku that I particularly enjoyed. What is "soul voice"?

“Voice of the Soul” was my second book, and I have written quite a few haiku in that collection. Haiku are a beautiful way to write short forms of poetry, I began reading Basho, the Japanese haiku poet, and it had me fascinated [as] it looked so simple yet quite the opposite to do. I was thrilled to have a few published in the Shamrock Haiku Journal and Haiku Ireland.
Holy Well, Co. Clare
So back to your question on what is “soul voice.” I think for me its the outpouring of a deep inner knowing or feeling; perhaps love for something beautiful like a poem or a landscape that you feel at home in. Your soul soothes in it. It’s a voice that is intuition and whispers from within -- you need to be very still to hear it.

The Wild Geese: What is the essence of "Where the Three Rivers Meet"?

“Where the Three Rivers Meet' was my first collection. It took a long time to put [it] together, as I wanted most of the poems within to have been published in as many poetry publications as possible. Many of the poems touch on The Troubles, and growing up amid this, your surroundings were bleak. This collection is an 'awakening,' if you like, to the beauty that surrounds Northern Ireland, now that peace has come it looks and feels more freer and beautiful.

The Wild Geese: Tell me about your poem “Denied.”

I … was asked to write a poem on [the Cillini – typically, unconsecrated burial grounds for unbaptized babies], and “Denied” was the result. I found this very interesting and heartbreaking, [with] so many parents having to go through this with no support from church and family at that time.

The Wild Geese: Tell me about your involvement with the Derry Playhouse.

I was involved with the Derry Playhouse back in 2000, under the guidance and facilitation of writer Margie Bernard (author of “Daughter of Derry”), a wonderful woman who I and others met at a creative writing master-class tutored by theatre director David Gothard, held at The An Creggan center here in Tyrone. From that was formed The Derry Playhouse Writers, which is still going as strong today. You can visit the site here at . For me the playhouse opened my mind and gave this country girl a voice. There were weekly meetings and various workshops and master classes, which helped my writing go forward.

The Wild Geese: Is there anything you would like to add?

At the moment, I am sending new poetry out to magazines, with recent publications in Outburst Magazine and The firstcut [the on-line magazine of the Listowel Writers Group] and I recently interviewed with Frank Hanover of the University College Cork radio show “Words on Top.” On the back burner is a kind of semi-autobiographical book on growing up in Omagh, with the background of music not war. I hope to get to work on that in June when I take up my residency at The Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Monaghan. WG
Barnes Gap, Sperrins Region

Carved centuries ago
by the powerful elements
of wind and ice slicing
through the countryside.
Glazed now by a carpet of moss
and haunted by the hills of
Mullaghbane and Mullaghbolig
seem untouched by modern man;
apart from the odd sheep
that wandered under the fence
leaving clots of wool waving
Tense atmosphere only solidifies
the cheek of my intrusion.
Sun plays hide n. seek
behind rocks and crevices
cooling schists once again.