Lawrence of Arabia – and Ireland

An Irishman’s Diary: A family mystery

‘Thomas Edward Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia,  became somewhat fascinated with Ireland. His surviving letters contain references expressing a desire to visit his father’s homeland. In one letter Lawrence even remarked that he would like to buy a few acres in Westmeath.’ Photograph:  Hulton Archive/Getty Images

‘Thomas Edward Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia, became somewhat fascinated with Ireland. His surviving letters contain references expressing a desire to visit his father’s homeland. In one letter Lawrence even remarked that he would like to buy a few acres in Westmeath.’ Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

This month saw the 125th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Edward Lawrence. At the outbreak of the first World War, Lawrence was living a life of quiet scholarship and seemed destined to pursue a career as an historian and archaeologist.

Like millions of young men of his generation, the war propelled him in other, more dangerous, directions. He initially held a minor staff position in Cairo but, by 1918, he had led Arab tribesmen in a successful campaign in the Middle East and was lauded as a hero. Public interest grew in the immediate post-war years and the myth of “Lawrence of Arabia” was born. His life still fascinates people across the world but some aspects of it remain steeped in mystery. This is perhaps fitting, as Lawrence himself was unaware of the exact details of his own family background for much of his life.

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