Man of Letters – Frank McNally on the Irish rebel origins of an extravagantly named Australian cricketer

A remarkable string of forenames

In his cricket column for the London Times earlier this week, Michael Atherton made passing mention of a former star of the game called John Elicius Benedict Bernard Placid Quirk Carrington Dwyer, or J.E.B.B.P.Q.C. Dwyer for short.

It was the remarkable string of forenames he was highlighting, mainly. But the surname, with its potential Irish angle, caught my eye too.

And sure enough, not only did this man of many initials have roots in Ireland, he was a great-grandson of probably the most famous Dwyer of all: the Wicklow rebel Michael (1772–1825), whose heroics inspired several ballads.

Unlike many insurgents of the 1798-1803 period, Michael Dwyer lived to tell the tale. After surviving the battles of Arklow and Vinegar Hill, he first took to the Wicklow Mountains, where he and others waged a long-running and effective guerilla campaign against British forces.


He made a habit of dramatic escapes even there. One of the ballads about him describes a shootout at what is now the Dwyer McAllister Cottage (Sam McAllister being an Antrim republican who sacrificed himself to distract the enemy) after it had been surrounded by soldiers.

Another song claims Dwyer also fought his way out of St Kevin’s Bed, a cave in the side of a cliff near Glendalough, whose previous best-known resident was the eponymous hermit.

But one way or other, the on-the-run rebel somehow lasted long enough to be in on the planning for Robert Emmet’s uprising of 1803. Then that went off prematurely before he could join it.

So s few months after the debacle, he finally accepted terms that would have allowed him safe passage to America. Instead of which, the British incarcerated him in Kilmainham Gaol, before in 1805 deporting him to New South Wales.

Although technically a free man there, he remained a figure of suspicion to colonial rulers, especially NSW governor William Bligh (formerly of the Bounty), who tried to put him back in prison.

But Dwyer survived that too and went on to become chief of police in (the Australian) Liverpool, now a suburb of Sydney, until a series of misfortunes landed him in debtors’ prison, where he caught the dysentery that killed him, aged 53.

Getting back to the cottage-escape ballad, one of the song’s lines warns its hero: “Sleep not, but watch and listen; keep ready blade and ball.”

And if the stories are right, Dwyer had always been ready in that way. But a century later, in a more peaceful era, it was readiness with a cricket ball and the blade of a bat that earned the rebel’s much-initialled descendant his reputation.

Were this a movie plot, J.E.B.B.P.Q.C Dwyer would ideally have become a fast bowler for Australia, revenging his ancestor by terrorising English batsmen with bouncers.

Alas for drama, he was a medium-pacer, and never quite good enough for international level. The height of his career saw him move to England, where he played with Sussex and once took nine wickets for 35 runs against Derbyshire.

Perhaps unconsciously channeling the post-1798 guerilla, Wisden Cricketers’ Alamanack says Dwyer-the-bowler could be “deadly on his day” and that he sometimes also “hit hard and well” as a batsman, scoring 63 from 82 balls once against Surrey.

But Sussex dropped him in 1909 when his form dipped and he died three years later in Crewe, aged only 36. The cause of his early demise is unrecorded, at least in anything I can find. Nor can I enlighten readers about the other mystery of Dwyer’s life: his parents’ motivation in christening him as they did. The “Placid Quirk” bit alone must be an intriguing subplot.

Even in the possession of initials, said to say, his was not quite a world beater. His Wikipedia entry also includes a cross-reference to one A.R.R.A.P.W.R.R.K.B Amunugama, or Amunugama Rajapakse Rajakaruna Abeykoon Panditha Wasalamudiyanse Ralahamilage Rajith Krishantha Bandara Amunugama, a Sri Lankan cricketer still living but notable mainly for the length of his name.

As for Michael Dwyer, he is buried in Sydney under a memorial that proclaims him the “Wicklow Chief”. But his stone monuments could today also be said to include the Military Road, by which you can drive across the mountains from South Dublin to Aughavanagh.

That was built between 1800 and 1809 to assist the British army in its fight against the local insurgents, previously untouchable. The first of a series of accompanying forts was built at Glencree and, in an act of historic closure, is now a Centre for Peace and Reconciliation.

Speaking of closure, I might conclude by mentioning the most famous junction on the Military Road: the Sally Gap.

Because, if the “Gap” part of that name is obvious, there is some debate about where the “Sally” derives. But suggests a sylvan origin, even if there are few trees up there now. The root Irish word is “sail”, apparently, meaning “willow”: something with which cricket bats have been long synonymous.