Michael O’Leary, Kuno Meyer and Peadar Ó Laoghaire





Fighting in the wrong army?

Ballingeary Cumann Staire Journal  No. 9 (2001) reproduced in full a February 1915 “Cork Examiner” report which contained the following lines celebrating the Inchigeela winner of the British Army’s Victoria Cross:


“When the Gaelic League in Dublin resoluted Kuno Meyer

 It was Private Michael O’Leary who took the Mauser fire”.


In those two lines are condensed the transformation that Britain’s wartime jingoism had succeeded in effecting in Ireland, when the work that had been done on behalf of the native language of O’Leary’s own parish of Inchigeela/Ballingeary could be so derided by the very paper that had itself lionised Meyer when he received the Freedom of Cork City in 1912. Michael O’Leary was, of course, a man of fearless courage, and it is quite natural that his story should be recounted in the Journal of his native parish, as it is correspondingly appropriate to also bear in mind what Journal 1999 had said of the discussion at that year’s O’Leary Clan Gathering in Creedon’s Hotel:


“We considered whether Michael was a brave man fighting in the wrong army”.


And indeed, Creedon’s Hotel, situated in the heart of Iveleary, has often resounded to the prevailing view in local culture of service in that “wrong army”, embodied in the Fenian ballad “Iveleary Hills”, which begins:


“In sweet Iveleary by the hills

my youthful days passed by.

The Famine came and fills the cills

I saw my father die”.


Economic necessity forces the narrator to join the British Army:


“I joined the Redcoats then – mo léir!

What would my father say?

And I was sent in one short year

on service to Bombay”.  


And the most ringing indictment of such service is his involvement in the bloody suppression of the Indian Mutiny of 1857:


“I thought to be a pauper

was the greatest human curse.

But fighting in a robber’s cause

I felt it ten times worse.

I helped to plunder and enslave

those tribes of India’s sons.

And we spent many a sultry day

blowing sepoys from our guns”


Daniel Corkery Summer School Aftermath

Creedon’s Hotel is also a great venue for historical discussion. It was my own privilege to be present there  July 22nd 2004 to hear historian Father Brian Murphy’s wonderful lecture on Erskine Childers. For Childers had been another brave man in the British Army who, however, finally concluded he was indeed in the wrong army. He therefore transferred to the Irish Republican Army for both the War of Independence and the Civil War, with some of his last months before his 1922 execution being spent in the Ballingeary/Inchigeela area.


Brian Murphy’s  lecture was held under the auspices of the Daniel Corkery Summer School, to which the following warm tribute was paid by Eoghan Harris in the “Sunday Independent” on July 25:


“This School, the brainchild of Joe Creedon of Creedon’s Hotel, is run on a shoestring by a committee of four, and involves both local people and local historians like Michael Galvin in a way in which bigger schools could study with profit”.


Writing of a return visit which he paid to the area a fortnight later, he gave more well-deserved praise on August 8:


“We had a lyrical lunch at Creedon’s Hotel, possibly the most perfect provincial hotel in Ireland  - and certainly the only bar which has shelves of recently published hardbacks on Irish history and culture”.


It was when he himself ventured into the realm of local history and culture, however, that Eoghan Harris went astray. On July 25 he wrote of stopping at the old cemetery in Inchigeela to visit a British Auxiliary’s grave:


“Lieutenant Cecil J. Guthrie, the sole survivor of the Kilmichael ambush … badly wounded, crawled to a farmhouse, was betrayed to the IRA, done to death, buried in a bog, and later exhumed after an appeal by his family to General Tom Barry”.


Apart from the fact that the man described as “poor Guthrie” had not been the sole British survivor, his identification as the murderer of the civilian Jim Lehane at Ballymakeera some weeks before Kilmichael would seem to have been forgotten.


On August 8 Eoghan Harris also wrote of paying a return visit to the cemetery:

“Ian, a liberal Prod who speaks perfect Irish, is possibly a fad too patriotic. So I made him stop at the old cemetery in Inchigeela and tried to get him in touch with the British side of our national self by looking up the grave of local hero, Michael O’Leary VC … After lunch, Joe Creedon got out the scrapbook and showed us a photo of his gorgeous grandmother greeting the handsome O’Leary on the street”.

Inchigeela Nationalist, not Unionist

But recognition of O’Leary’s bravery was not due to any “British side of our national self”. Eoghan Harris was mistaken in writing of Inchigeela as if it were akin to Castletownshend. It was Nationalist, not Unionist. And it was as a soon-to-be regretted Nationalist strategy that popular support was initially forthcoming for Britain’s war on Germany. For Inchigeela was not even Redmondite. In the 1910 elections William O’Brien’s All-for-Ireland League had trounced the Redmondites throughout Cork, taking 8 of the county’s 9 seats in Parliament. In the 1918 elections William O’Brien also withdrew all AFIL candidates and threw his support behind Sinn Féin and against Redmond. In the meantime, however, O’Brien had indeed supported Britain against Germany, but for very different reasons than those motivating John Redmond.


O’Brien had established the “Cork Free Press” in oppositions to the Redmondite “Cork Examiner”. Its young editor was Frank Gallagher, later editor of Dáil Éireann’s “Irish Bulletin” during the War of Independence, and editor of the “Irish Press” during its pioneering years of the 1930s. In his 1953 reminiscences “Four Glorious Years”, written under the penname of “David Hogan”, Gallagher recalled:


“Old William O’Brien … was the nearest of the National leaders to Sinn Féin. He had kept much of his Fenian spirit and when Redmond made his Woodenbridge speech, recruiting for Britain, O’Brien became the hope of those who looked for a voice for freedom. When the War began, William, like countless other Irishmen, took the view that this was a struggle of Great Powers and, perhaps, before it was over, the little nations would get their chance, too. But he was a great lover of France and of Paris, his wife’s beautiful city, and when, in the first six weeks or so, the Germans swept towards the French capital, William O’Brien was troubled. At the same time, the British propaganda machine got to work, and the stories pouring out of Belgium and France were overwhelming. In the end, through a mixture of pity and propaganda, William O’Brien decided that a world without French civilisation would be a poor place. From that it was an easy step to the end of the road”.


“One evening he sent me a note to come to him. I was then in the press gallery of the British House of Commons, and we often had such meetings. A relationship had developed between us almost of father and son … He was then 61 years of age, and I had just turned 20 … That night William O’Brien told me he was going to declare for Britain in the War. I had seen signs of that decision peeping out of his conversation in the last few days and was surprised only by its suddenness. Its firmness was to be a surprise too. There abides with me a recollection of a conversation, entirely placid, which is strange. For William O’Brien was a volatile man who threw into his talk the whole vividness of his personality. He could become suddenly like a 100-mile-an-hour tornado when he reacted to some criticism. But now there was a quiet earnestness about stating his views. We argued for hours as we strode that red carpet in this quiet backway of the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ …”


“He agreed with much I had to say, but it soon became evident his mind was made up. He summed it all up in the phrase, in which, to me, there seemed to be the strong accent of regret: ‘We must either be the open enemy or the open friend of England in this war – and we are not strong enough to be the open enemy’ …”


But when in the aftermath of 1916 it became obvious that Britain’s “freedom of small nations” did not apply to Ireland, O’Brien’s followers in Cork went Sinn Féin.


Inchigeela Barracks

Eoghan Harris’s brief reference to Creedon family history is therefore incomplete, for

he neglects to follow through with the War of Independence role of Joe’s grandfather, Conny Creedon. And it is my family history too, for Conny was the first cousin of my Ballingeary grandmother, Julia Creed, they each being the son and daughter, respectively, of the Illauninagh brothers Seán Mhichíl and Maidhc Mhichíl Ó Críodáin. In “Where Mountainy Men Have Sown” Micheál Ó Súilleabháin recalled the January 1920 raid on Inchigeela RIC barracks, when the IRA needed oil for the purpose of firebombing that building:


“It was my first acquaintance with Conny Creedon, a merchant in the village. He came out to the middle of the village street to offer us four or five barrels of paraffin he had in stock”.


The fact that the sergeant and four constables inside were all native Irishmen was not a consideration. They were wearing the uniform of a Britain that was attempting to suppress the will of the Irish people for Independence, as expressed in the 1918 General Elections. When, however, the IRA learned that the sergeant’s wife and family were also present in the barracks that night, the raid was called off, after an exchange of gunfire in which one constable was wounded.


But even when Inchigeela had initially supported Britain’s war in 1914-16 it would be a mistake to describe it as “the British side of our national self”. For, as Frank Gallagher also made clear, such a characterisation would be way off target, even in respect of Michael O’Leary’s own family:


“The news item which never survived the blue pencil of the British censor often decorated the newspaper office walls. The best was the recruiting speech of Michael O’Leary’s father in his native Inchigeela. For incredible bravery, his son had won the Victoria Cross, and the War Office took the father on to the recruiting platforms, or rather platform, for he did not last more than one meeting. His speech, as the censor killed it, was something like this:


“Mr. O’Leary, senior, father of the famous V.C., speaking in the Inchigeela district, urged the young men to join the British army. ‘If you don’t’, he told them, ‘the Germans will come here and will do to you what the English have been doing for the last seven hundred years’.”


“But it was not all laughter, for many a plucky Irish printer, who, despite the censorship, tried to get the truth to the people or to print what would sustain their hearts in a bitter hour, had his printing house invaded by the Royal Engineers and his machinery dismantled. His way of livelihood was gone and his workers could starve or, if they didn’t like that, join the British army.”

Families Touched By War

There was, indeed, hardly a family in Ireland left untouched by the War that Britain had launched on Germany in August 1914. As I wrote in the “Irish Times” on November 28, 2002:


“Two years after the murderous Battle of the Somme it was still a front being fought over. It was there that a first cousin of my maternal grandfather … was killed on February 15, 1918. There was indeed much heartbreak and sorrow among his family, not least because he had died as British cannon-fodder”.


The role of D.D. Sheehan, the North Cork M.P. who recruited such cannon-fodder, became the subject of a debate in the columns of “The Corkman”, extending from late 2002 into early 2003.  It was a debate during which I dealt in greater detail with my own family history in the issue of November 7, 2002:


“There are no Republican martyrs in my family tree. Those of my Cork relatives (from Ballingeary on my father’s side and Clonakilty on my mother’s) who fought for Irish freedom in the IRA all survived our War of Independence. The only war casualty in the family had fought in quite a different cause – Britain’s Imperialist War against Germany – John Sheehy of Barryroe, Clonakilty… There was, of course, considerable family mourning and sorrow at his death. But what was mourned no less was the fact that he had died in a British army uniform. With some family members this no doubt was with the benefit of the hindsight acquired in the brief period following the 1916 Rising. Hindsight certainly had no right to be smug in evaluating the mistake of historic personalities … (but) to make a virtue of that mistake… would be most unfair to the memory of those who, unlike D.D. Sheehan, did allow the scales to drop from their eyes in the wake of Britain’s post-Easter Rising vengeance …”

Clonakilty Show Standoff

There were other people again for whom the scales had never been there in the first place. John Sheehy’s sister, Máire Ní Shíthe, a colleague of P.H. Pearse who proudly described herself as a “Gaelic authoress” in the 1901 Census, had drawn far different lessons than her brother from the family circumstances of being native Irish-speaking children of a tenant farmer evicted during the Land War. A founder of the Gaelic League in the Clonakilty area and Irish-language editor of the “Cork Sun”, she was responsible for organising the very successful Feiseanna in the early years of the twentieth century that for a time were held in conjunction with the Clonakilty Agricultural Show. That is, until the year the Show organisers also invited a British Army band to provide additional entertainment. In the “Cork Evening Echo” on August 1, 1971 my maternal aunt and godmother Máire Bean Uí Shíocháin completed the story of her cousin’s stand: “When the Feis committee arrived at the venue they found the then army of occupation, the Redcoats, had taken up positions in the fair field. Máire Ní Shíthe refused to go in until the Redcoats came out. They refused to do so and the result was that no Feis was held”.

British Army Outrages

The army of occupation would of course, go on to do its worst in the shape of the Black-and-Tans. Under the title of his 1932 memoirs “The Men I Killed”, selected writings of their founding commander, Brigadier General Frank Crozier, were reprinted in 2002 by Athol Books of Belfast, associate publishers of Millstreet’s Aubane Historical Society. These are most revealing and of particular interest because Crozier actually resigned from that position when British atrocities, carried out primarily in the Cork area, became too much even for him. He recalled:


“Hence the burning of Cork, the increase of murder, hate and treachery … While in hospital I heard of the dreadful murder by my men of an ex-officer, Captain Prendergast, by drowning, at Fermoy … In addition, another Roman Catholic priest, Canon Magner (of Dunmanway), was murdered in County Cork by another of my men who was eventually tried, but, as in the case of Bowen-Colthurst, was found ‘insane’ … The most reliable document in existence dealing with the  Cork fires is the report of the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress … which sets out freely … the reign of chaos, murder, arson, robbery and drunkenness … The fire hoses were cut by crown force members in order to prevent the fire brigade (sent from Dublin) from limiting the loss; the City Hall and Carnegie Library were maliciously set on fire by military men … banks were robbed … four hundred gallons of petrol were taken in lorries from Victoria Barracks by the police under the nose of the military and then upset in business premises which were then set on fire…”


“I resigned …because we were murdering and shooting up innocent people, burning their homes and making new and deadly enemies … I resigned … for the Crown regime was nothing more or less than a Fascist dictation cloaked in righteousness …”


But this was only a few years after blood-lust had already been unleashed by Britain’s War on Germany, in which Crozier himself had been no less ruthlessly efficient as a Major in the Royal Irish Rifles. Sometimes that blood-lust could get out of hand, as in an incident involving Crozier’s own men during the Battle of the Somme:


“Their nerves are utterly unstrung. The enemy falls like grass before the scythe. ‘Damned …’ shouts an officer, ‘give them hell’. I look thorough my glasses. ‘Good heavens,’ I shout, ‘those men are prisoners surrendering, and some of our own wounded men are escorting them! Cease fire, cease fire, for God’s sake,’ I command. The fire ripples on for a time. The target is too good to lose. ‘After all they are only Germans’, I hear a youngster say. But I get the upper hand at last…”.

Controlled blood-lust in time of War

Crozier had nonetheless been proud of his efforts to nurture a more controlled blood-lust:


“The first half of 1915 is spent by us in perfecting our military machine for war … I, for my part, do what I can to alter completely the outlook, bearing, and mentality of over a thousand men in as short a time as possible – for blood-lust is taught for purposes of war in bayonet-fighting itself and by doping the minds of all with propagandistic poison … The process of ‘seeing red’ which has to be carefully cultured if the effect is to be lasting, is elaborately grafted into the make-up of even the meek and mild, through the  instrumentality of martial music, drums, Irish pipes, bands and marching songs …”.


“The British soldier is a kindly fellow and it is safe to say, despite the dope, seldom oversteps the mark of barbaric propriety in France, save occasionally to kill prisoners he cannot be bothered to escort back to his lines. In order that he shall enter into the true spirit of the show, however, the fun of the fair as we may call it, it is necessary to corrode his mentality with bitter-sweet vice and to keep him up to the vicious scratch on all occasion … (so) that they (British soldiers) will be able to joke lightly among themselves in these matters, fortified by the fact that they are giving more gashes, ripping up more bodies and causing more suffering generally than the other side. By September 1915, everything we do is faultless, everything the Germans do is abominable …”

Praising the Bloodlust at home

In its report of February 20, 1915 the “Cork Examiner” had already entered into that spirit of the show:


“Sergeant Michael O’Leary, who received the VC for having killed eight Germans, has become the hero of the hour in London”.


It quoted the following from Michael O’Leary himself:


“We captured a machine gun, killed the gunners and took some prisoners. The Huns lost terribly… On the 6th inst. we attacked them again with the bayonet and took all their trenches … When the Irish Guards charge, they do charge, and the Huns knew that too. You would laugh if you saw us chasing them, mowing them down by the hundreds…. We have not yet properly started on them. God help them when we do, for there will be some slaughter, they will beat it back to Berlin, any of them that is left…”


War and its accompanying slaughter is indeed a terrible thing. The official history of O’Leary’s regiment was to be written by no less a person that Rudyard Kipling himself, whose own son John had fallen in its ranks in September 1915. Published in 1923 as “The Irish Guards in the Great War”, and emblazoned with Kipling’s own personalised swastika emblem, it related Michael O’Leary’s 1915 exploits as follows:


“February 1st – The Germans were too well posted to be moved by bomb or rifle, so our big guns were called upon to shell for ten minutes, with shrapnel, the hollow where they lay. The spectacle was sickening, but the results were satisfactory … It was here that Lance-Corporal O’Leary … won his V.C. He rushed up along the railway embankment above the trenches, shot down 5 Germans behind their first barricade in the trench, then 3 more trying to work a machine-gun at the next barricade fifty yards further along the trench, and took a couple of prisoners. Eye-witnesses report that he did his work quite leisurely and wandered out into the open, visible for any distance around, intent upon killing another German to whom he had taken a dislike… Our guns and our attack had accounted for about 30 dead, but had left 32 wounded and unwounded prisoners, all of whom, with one exception, wept aloud. The hollow was full of mixed dead – Coldstream, Irish, and German”.


Kipling’s suggestion that O’Leary could not be bothered to escort back more than a handful of prisoners, and that he had proceeded to kill another German, to whom he had taken a dislike, makes for chilling reading. And I cannot bring myself to share Eoghan Harris’s enthusiastic endorsement last August 8: “But what really took my breath away was the bald strap under O’Leary’s picture in the ‘Daily Mail’: ‘Killed Eight Germans’. If he did that today he’d be attacked by Amnesty International…”




Unsung Heroism in Ballyvourney

 Michael O’Leary’s physical courage is beyond doubt. But the morality of what he was engaged in on behalf of Britain is quite a different matter. And yet he was a man also capable of showing moral courage, although the occasion on which he showed it remains, unlike his V.C., unsung by West Britain. O’Leary was himself too well-wedded to Imperial service to follow Tom Barry out of the British Army into the struggle for Irish Independence. But, as Patrick J. Twohig points out in “Green Tears for Hecuba”, he continued to be held in respect on visits home, and “during the Troubles he was well received by the Republicans”. This was a debt of honour which O’Leary repaid at a critical moment in Ballyvourney on October 20, 1920 when the Auxiliaries descended on that village on a murder hunt for Jerh. Lucey, the local IRA section leader. Lucey was at the far end of the bar in the village’s Hibernian Hotel when the British Auxies entered, declaring “We want blood!” or “We’ll have blood!”. And it was none other than Michael O’Leary who saved Lucey’s life. For he himself was also in that same bar having a drink with his brother-in-law. As Twohig recounts:


“One of the Auxies snapped – ‘You haven’t got your hands up!’. O’Leary, who was not in uniform, turned out the lapel of his coat and flashed the green ribbon of the Victoria Cross, the highest insignia for gallantry in the British Army. They immediately saluted. It was required military etiquette at the time. He let it sink in. Then in his best barrack-room manner he grated: ‘These boys are all friends of mine. Now, get out, you scum!’. They went, and that ended the searching for the night”.


Whipping Up Race Hatred

And fair play to Michael O’Leary for that unsung act of heroism. The War of Independence which formed its backdrop had, however, also been necessary to salvage the nation’s honour for having previously joined in Britain’s war against Germany. For the race-hatred whipped up by British War propaganda had polluted Irish society. On August 15, 1914 a newly-enlisted British soldier led a mob in a pogromist attack on German pork butchers shops in Dublin, while the authorities arrested the owners themselves and deported them to England for internment, bringing about the economic ruin of their families. Such anti-German racism of the British state visited Cork in a particular way in 1916 when it struck the family of six-year old Aloys Fleischmann, described by his life-long friend and fellow-Corkman Gerald Goldberg as “the only child born to Herr Aloys and Frau Tilly Fleischmann, the one a choir master, the other a consummate pianist, and later teacher, who in her youth had been a pupil of a pupil of Liszt”. Tilly Swertz had been  born to Bavarian parents in Cork, where her father held the position of   organist at the Catholic Cathedral since the 1870s, and she in turn married another Bavarian, Aloys Fleischmann Snr., who also went on to become organist and choirmaster at the North Cathedral .


During the first two years of the Imperialist War the Fleischmanns had been successfully shielded by their Cork Republican friends from British state racism. In 1916, however, Aloys Snr. was arrested as an “enemy alien” and transported to an internment camp in England, while Tilly was compelled to close the family home. Their real crime was how patriotically Irish these Germans had actually become. It was in fact in the Fleischmann home that the future Republican Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Cork, Terence and Muriel MacSwiney, who would later become so closely associated with Ballingeary, first met each other in 1915. The German internee’s son, Aloys Fleischmann Jnr., went on to become Professor of Music at University College Cork, founder of the Cork Symphony Orchestra, co-founder of the Cork Ballet Company and founder of the Cork International Choral Festival. In later years Cork City, led by Gerald Goldberg, would at long last repay its debt.  It was the generous Goldberg sponsorship which made it possible for Fleischmann to bring the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra to Cork in 1956, while in 1962 Sheila and Gerald Goldberg also inaugurated the lunchtime recitals dedicated to the memory of Tilly and Aloys Fleischmann Snr. And it was as Lord Mayor of Cork in 1978 that Gerald Goldberg himself proposed and conferred the Freedom of the City on Aloys Fleischmann Jnr., in the words of his daughter Ruth, “a musician of German ancestry whose people had emigrated to Cork in the 1870s and whose life was dedicated to promoting a culture of music in Ireland”. Finally, at the Requiem Mass for Aloys Fleischmann in Cork’s Cathedral in July 1992, it was his life-long Jewish friend Gerald Goldberg who read from the Book of Deuteronomy on the death of Moses.


( On New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2003, Gerald Goldberg himself passed on, in his 92nd year. In Journal 2001 my father, Michael O’Riordan, told of his close association with Goldberg during the mid 1940s. But family friendship went back much further than that. The latter’s father, Louis Goldberg, had fled to Ireland at the age of 14 to escape from Tsarist Russian pogroms in his native Lithuanian village of Akmeyan. When he finally settled in Cork he was befriended by another “blow-in” to the City, my Ballingeary grandfather Micheál O’Riordan Snr. Both of them were villagers who had acquired English as a foreign language when coming to the “big smoke”. My grandfather was, of course, a native Irish speaker and Goldberg a native Yiddish speaker – but the latter also went on to become a singer of Irish-language lullabies to his children! When Louis Goldberg died in 1932 my grandfather went down to his own aptly-named “Ballingeary Stores” in Adelaide Street and, notwithstanding the Church sanctions of that era for attendance at non-Catholic religious ceremonies, told his assembled customers that he was closing his shop for the day because he was “off to the Jewish cemetery for Mr. Goldberg’s funeral!”.)


Kuno Meyer, Roger Casement and Ballingeary

The anti-German racism that was to imprison Aloys Fleischmann’s father in 1916 had already led the City Councils of Dublin and Cork to disgrace themselves in the action they took against the German Irish language scholar Kuno Meyer. In the “Irish Independent” on August 18, 1914 the poet Padraic Colum protested as follows against the pogrom that had just taken place:


“I hope there are a few Irish men or women who have read without deep indignation the account of unprovoked attacks upon German shops in our capital and in other towns in Ireland. What have these defenceless traders done to the citizens of Dublin that their means and subsistence should be destroyed? What has Germany done to Ireland that she should be insulted by mean attacks? … The nation is Germany, the motherland of Zimmer, Windisch and Kuno Meyer. I remember when the Anglo-Irish and the English universities mocked Irish civilisation, saying there was nothing in our literature that was not silly or indecent, it was from the German universities that the word went forth that made our culture respected …”


And on August 22, 1914 the Aran Islander and Gaelic League activist Micheál Ó Maoláin wrote in the “Irish Worker”:

“One of the most distinguished gentlemen upon whom the Freedom of this City was recently conferred was a German – Dr. Kuno Meyer … for his work in the saving of the Irish language. He was then acclaimed as a public benefactor, but now it seems that were he found in our streets he would be apprehended … and perhaps his residence looted by the King’s Irishry”.


In 1903 Kuno Meyer, a close associate of the Gaelic League founder and later President of Ireland Douglas Hyde, had established the School of Irish Learning as precursor of the School of Celtic Studies. As a close associate of Roger Casement Meyer had also supported the latter’s work on behalf of the Irish Colleges. Indeed Casement’s own donation towards the foundation of Coláiste na Mumhan in Ballingeary had been prompted by his outrage at the London “Morning Post” sneering at the Irish Revival as being akin to the teaching of “Kitchen Kaffir”. One of Meyer’s staff members, Osborn Bergin (Ó hAimhirgín) would also teach in Ballingeary.


In the magnificent volume published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission in 2003, “Sir Roger Casement’s Heart of Darkness – The 1911 Documents”, its editor Angus Mitchell has also highlighted this Ballingeary connection as follows:


“Roger Casement’s significant contribution towards the revival of the Irish language and his support for education in the Gaeltacht regions have been largely overlooked. Between 1904 and 1916 Casement contributed what in today’s terms would amount to many thousands of euro towards the support of Irish language schooling throughout Ireland. He helped fund and organise schools at Ballingeary, Co. Cork, in Donegal at Gortahork, in Galway at Tawin island in Connemara and Antrim. Besides his great financial contribution … intellectually he also made contact with Douglas Hyde, Kuno Meyer and R.I. Best through his involvement in the language revival. Any serious historical study of the Irish language should include a chapter on Roger Casement”.


Kuno Meyer and an tAthair Peadar O Laoghaire

At a special meeting of Dublin City Council on July 18, 1911 a motion to confer the Freedom on the City to Kuno Meyer was proposed by Seán T. O’Kelly, a future President of Ireland, and seconded by William T. Cosgrave, a future President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State. The ceremony took place on April 23, 1912 where the honour was also conferred on Canon Peadar Ó Laoghaire of Carraig an Ime, Co. Cork, the greatest modern Irish writer of his day. And Ó Laoghaire’s own speech went on to express his appreciation of Meyer and his indebtedness to him for his translations from Old Irish which had unlocked for him for the treasures of the early language. There was at least one great hero of the O’Leary Clan who would always honour that German scholar!


Cork followed suit with a ceremony that also conferred the Freedom of that City on both men. As Ó Laoghaire proudly noted, that ceremony took place on September 25, 1912, the feast day of the City’s patron saint, St. Finbarr of Gougane Barra. In the light of the “Cork Examiner’s” use of Michael O’Leary’s name to sneer at Meyer’s reputation a few years later, it is instructive to read from that paper’s editorial on September 24, 1912:


“Dr. Kuno Meyer is now Professor of Celtic in Berlin, but before his appointment he had for many years sojourned in Ireland, and his reputation as an authority on the early Irish language and literature is universally acknowledged. He has made this department of study his own, and with the thoroughness and determination of his race he has explored, investigated, elucidated, until he had ennobled the character of the early Irish nation as a people possessing a refined and expressive language, a copious and heroic literature, of high proficiency in the arts, in music and in the higher forms of craftsmanship … For his labours and his services in collecting and expounding those widely scattered vestiges of the early culture and refinement of our people. Dr. Kuno Meyer has imposed a heavy obligation of gratitude on Irishmen and women of the present day”.

Honour Removed

But the British anti-German racism that engulfed both Dublin and Cork on the outbreak of the First World War was to result in both City Councils striking out the honour they had given to Meyer such a short time previously. In vain had W.T. Cosgrave protested on March 1, 1915:


“The proposal now before the Council is to remove the name of this eminent Celtic scholar from the roll of honorary freemen. To negative a life work of Celtic erudition. No Continental upheaval can affect the everlasting debt of gratitude owed to German Celtic scholars. Zeiss, Windisch, Thurneyson, Zimmer and Kuno Meyer have laboured in the vineyard of Celtic study, and the labourers are worthy of their hire”.


“No exponent of jurisprudence, however profound, can alter the truth of this scholarly industry, and generations yet unborn shall benefit by their work. No denunciatory sophistry can affect what they have accomplished, and every honest-minded citizen shall applaud the effort to prevent the stain upon the fair fame of Ireland’s municipality”.


To no avail. The expunction of Meyer’s name was carried out in Dublin on March 15, 1915, and Cork later followed suit. When the War of Independence had  at last effected a sea-change in Irish public opinion away from such shoneenism,   Dublin City Council voted once more on April 19, 1920 - this time to rescind the infamous resolution of March 1915. But it was too late for Meyer. He had died on October 11, 1919 and his name was never actually restored to the role of honorary burgesses in either Dublin or Cork.


On April 12, 1990 Lt-Col. J.P. Duggan, a keen historian of Irish-German relations, wrote an article for the “Irish Times” entitled “Kuno Meyer – Time to Make Amends?”, in which he called on Ireland “to heal the gratuitous wound inflicted on the great Irish scholar”. By making a point of concluding his 1915 autobiography with such praise for Kuno Meyer, Canon Peadar Ó Laoghaire had taken his own courageous stand against the tide of bigotry that was in that very year so hell-bent on dishonouring him. What better way, then, for us to repay our debt to that friend of what Ballingeary stood for, than by reprinting an tAthair Peadar’s account.


-          Manus O’Riordan





Kuno Meyer agus Mé Féin ar Lá Fhéile Barra Ghuagáin


Ghluais an aimsir. Lean mé don obair. Dhealródh an scéal gur tuigeadh gur dhein mé mo chion den obair maith go leor. Thit rud amach sa bhliain d’aois an Tiarna míle naoi gcéad a dó dhéag, rud a thaispeáin gur tuigeadh; rud nach dtitfeadh amach in aon chor mura mbeadh gur tuigeadh. An dara lá fichid d’Aibreán na bliana sin bhronn uaisle chathair Bhaile Átha Cliath saoirse na cathrach sin orm féin agus ar an Ollamh Kuno Meyer, mar gheall ar a raibh déanta againn ar son na Gaeilge. Bronnadh an onóir airsean mar gheall ar an saothar a bhí déanta aige ar shean-Ghaeilge na hÉireann, agus bronnadh an onóir ormsa mar gheall ar an saothar a bhí déanta agam ar son na Gaeilge atá beo in Éirinn fós. Ghabhamar araon ár mbuíochas le huaisle na cathrach. Le linn a bhuíochais féin a ghabháil leo don Dochtúir Kuno Meyer dúirt sé focal a chuir in iúl dúinn go léir nach inniu ná inné a thosaigh sé féin ar bheith ag cur suime i nithe Gaelacha. (Labhair sé as Béarla.) Tar éis roinnt cainte a rá dúirt sé mar seo :


‘Dúirt mo sheanathair liom, agus mé i mo leanbh thall i gcathair Hamburg, go raibh, go deimhin, caint idir é féin agus Napper Tandy, agus gur rug Napper Tandy ‘greim ar lámh air’, lom dáiríre, nuair a bhí sé ina gharsún. D’inis sé an méid sin dom i bhfad sular airigh mé aon trácht ar ‘The Wearing of the Green’.’


Thaispeáin sin go raibh bá ag Kuno Meyer, agus ag a athair, agus ag a sheanathair, le muintir na hÉireann, i bhfad sarar thosaigh an obair seo na Gaeilge.


Nuair a bhí an onóir sin tugtha dúinn ag muintir Bhaile Átha Cliath chuamar siar go Coláiste Phádraig Naofa i Maigh Nuad, mar bhí cuireadh faighte againn ó Uachtarán an Choláiste, an sagart oirirc agus an tOllamh diagachta Monsignor Ó Mainchín, atá anois ina Ardeaspag thall i Melbourne. Thug sé cuireadh do thriúr againn, don Ollamh Kuno Meyer agus do Dhochtúir Ó hAimheirgín agus domsa…


Nuair a d’airigh uaisle chathair Chorcaí an rud a bhí déanta ag uaisle Bhaile Átha Cliath thuig siad gur cheart dóibh féin rud éigin den saghas céanna a dhéanamh. Shocraigh siad ar shaoirse chathair Chorcaí a thabhairt do Dhochtúir Kuno Meyer agus dom féin. Cheap said lá chuige, agus ar ámharaí an tsaoil cad é an lá a cheapfaidís chuige ach an cúigiú lá is fiche de Mheán Fómhair, .i. Lá Fhéile Barra Naofa, lá naomh an Ghuagáin, an naomh a bhfuil cathair Chorcaí ar a choimirce.


Ní raibh aon choinne agamsa go bhfeicfinn an radharc a chonaic mé an lá sin. Nuair a tháinig mé féin agus Kuno Meyer amach as an traein i gCorcaigh bhí mórshlua leanaí ann ag cur fáilte romhainn. Ghabh siad  amhrán dúinn, amhrán Gaeilge, amhrán a chum an tAimheirgíneach dóibh. Bhí Méara na cathrach ann agus carráiste aige dúinn chun sinn a breith go dtí Halla na Cathrach.  Bhí garda lucht airm ár dtionlacan, romhainn amach agus inár ndiaidh agus ar gach taobh den charráiste, agust iad gléasta in arm agus in éide de réir mar a bhíodh a leithéidí in aimsir Chúchulainn. Nuair a chonaic mé iad chuimhnigh mé ar lá a bhí mé i gCorcaigh, suas le deich mbliana is fiche ó shin. Bhí toirmeasc na talún ar siúl ar buile an uair chéanna. Tháinig an tIarla Rua (Earl Spencer) go Corcaigh, mar dhea chun scéin a chur ionainn go léir, agus smacht a chur orainn. Chonaic mé é ag teacht amach as an traein. Bhí garda lucht airm ar an láthair roimhe chun é a chosaint orainne, mar dhea. Chuimhnigh mé ar an Iarla Rua sin nuair a d’fhéach mé i mo thimpeall agus chonaic mé mo gharda féin.

‘Dar fia’, arsa mise i m’aigne, ‘ach is fearr an garda atá agamsa inniu ná an garda a bhí ag an Iarla Rua an lá úd!’.


Chuamar tríd an gcathair; anonn trasna an droichid mhóir; siar go dtí an tsráid mhór leathan úd mar a mbíodh an ‘Capall Buí’ fadó; soir arís agus anonn trasna an droichid eile; go dtí Halla na  Cathrach. I gcaitheamh na slí sin go léir bhí na daoine, óg agus aosta, brúite ar a chéile ar gach taobh dínn, agus iad ag liúireach agus ag greadadh na mbos ag cur fáilte romhainn. Nuair a chuamar isteach sa Halla mór bhí na daoine bailithe istigh ann. Bhí sé lán, chomh lán agus nárbh fhéidir dá thuilleadh dul isteach ann. Dheineamar caint ansin agus deineadh caint linn, agus bhí ionadh ár gcroí orainn araon a fheabhas a labhair na buachaillí óga an Ghaeilge linn.


Measaim nach miste dom stad anseo, agus a rá, mar a dheireadh lucht scéalaíochta in Éirinn fadó:

Gonadh é sin mo scéalsa go nuige sin.


-          An tAthair Peadar Ó Laoghaire (1839-1920):

“Mo Scéal Féin” (1915).