Member of distinguished family respected by local community

FELICITY MacDERMOT: MADAM FELICITY MacDermot, who has died at the age of 89, was the widow of Charles MacDermot, who was the…

FELICITY MacDERMOT:MADAM FELICITY MacDermot, who has died at the age of 89, was the widow of Charles MacDermot, who was the MacDermot prince of Coolavin from 1947 until his death in 1979. She had lived in Coolavin House, Monasteraden, Co Sligo, for many years.

Felicity MacDermot’s brother-in-law, Hugh Maurice MacDermot, heir to the MacDermot prince of Coolavin title, was one of 39 young men from the local parish of Ballaghaderreen killed in the first World War. He was 18 when he died at Gallipoli on August 9th, 1915, serving with the Royal Irish Fusiliers. Of those 39 young men, he was the only one remembered at home. A plaque was erected to his memory in St Aidan’s Church, Monasteraden, by his family.

The plaque too was soon forgotten until MacDermot – known locally as “the Madam” – helped organise a Mass for him in 2005, on the 90th anniversary of his death. It was the first time many locals became aware that young men from the area had died in the first World War.

MacDermot was born in Somerset of another branch of the MacDermot family. She lived in the imposing Coolavin House for more than 57 years after her marriage to Charles in 1954. In 1947 he had returned to Coolavin when his father died. He had been a rubber planter in Malaya for 25 years and, during the second World War, was held prisoner by the Japanese for 3½ years.

Back home he built up a dairy herd and operated a milk round. When he died in 1979 MacDermot sustained the business, becoming a familiar figure locally.

In a 2006 Irish Times interview she recalled arriving by train at the local Island Road station in 1954 after her honeymoon. She remembered the bonfires and large crowds there to greet her and Charles.

As she recalled, it was possible to travel from Coolavin by train to just about anywhere in Ireland on a public transport system that “was cheap and punctual”. That stopped in 1963 when CIÉ closed the line from Ballaghaderreen to Sligo. MacDermot did not approve.

It was from that same Island Road station that a committee – including Dudley Costello of another, now defunct, ancient Catholic family in the area – gathered in 1915 to bid farewell to the young Lieut Hugh MacDermot as he headed off to war.

As Costello put it at the time, “[political] circumstances prevent many of us” from following suit. Yet, he looked forward to a time “when next a scion of the princely house of MacDermot goes forth to battle, [that] he shall be surrounded, as of old, by hundreds of daring followers”.

This was despite the fact that all the committee members and MacDermots were avid Home Rulers.

Later, a brother of Hugh’s would play a significant role in the political life of the new State. Independent TD Frank MacDermot founded the National Centre Party with James Dillon, of another distinguished local family, in 1932.

In 1933 the party merged with Fine Gael. Dillon later became leader of Fine Gael.

In 1937 Frank MacDermot joined Fianna Fáil and was a senator until 1938. An unrelenting critic of Irish neutrality during the second World War, he eventually left politics. He later became US and then Paris correspondent for The Irish Times.

From Felicity MacDermot’s arrival in 1954, local sports were held on the lawns in front of Coolavin House every year. In April 2010 these were filmed by local schoolchildren, led by principal David O’Gara. They were making a documentary entitled Heroes and Princes about the MacDermot family. As with so many other local historical, cultural and social events, MacDermot was grace itself on that occasion.

Madam Julia Mary Felicity MacDermot: born March 7th, 1923; died March 26th, 2012