An Irishman's Diary


About this time last year an uncle of mine, Father Desmond McGoldrick CSSp, died in Toronto after a short illness. He was the last of my father's four brothers, an estimable man in many ways, and I was deeply affected by his death - especially as he and I had never really been close and in fact had had some serious blow-outs over the years.

I always felt I had disappointed him in some way or other and he never took it upon himself to disabuse me of the notion. Perhaps we were too alike. Neither of us was particularly shy about expressing an opinions and neither of us was ready to suffer fools gladly.

As a first-class honours graduate of UCD and a published author of six books on various aspects of vocation, he felt well able to adopt such a position. I, on the other hand, never having written what any serious writer would regard as an original line in my life, was not deemed worthy even of a fool's pardon.

Or so I felt.

The good news is that we made up before he died and I am proud to say it was I who made the first move towards rapprochement. He responded in generous sentiments and, in death, bequeathed me a priceless gift: my family's history as far back as years of investigation on his part could take it.

1798 Rising

It is not a glorious family history as such things go. The name McGoldrick is conspicuous by its absence in the pantheon of Irish kings and cardinals. But there is drama aplenty, and to see written down that of which I heard only wisps as a child had a profound impact. It had especial resonance as we entered the year 1998 and the preparations that were underway for the 200th anniversary of the Rising of 1798, which was as tumultuous and tragic a year for my family as for any other.

In fact, as far as the McGoldrick line itself was concerned, that was as far back as my uncle managed to go. My great-great-grandfather, one Patrick Goldrick, as he was known, born c.1793, was the sole survivor of his family, who were burned alive in their hut during the mopping-up operations that took place after the battle of Ballinamuck, Co Longford. He was, he told his son Bernard, my great-grandfather, pushed out of a window by his mother as the yeomanry began their evil work.

Patrick's father-in-law, Brian Lynch of Achadh tSioghal, was as far back as Desmond could get at all. He had three daughters, Anne, Catherine and Judy, my great-great grandmother. Patrick and Judy are buried in Annageliffe graveyard. Anne married a man called Sean Haycock, a carter. That same dreadful year that the six-year-old Patrick Goldrick was saved from death, Sean Haycock's father, whose Christian name is unknown, was wending his way home on his horse and cart when he was stopped by the yoemanry, possibly the same murderous crew. They demanded his cart, for what reason we know not, and, when he refused, they hanged him between its spars.

Familial memory

If there is such a thing as racial memory, and we all know that there is, there must surely also be familial memory for, without my ever hearing an anti-British syllable from my father, who swore all his life he had never heard one from his father either, I always knew that we were, without apology, nationalists to a man.

My grandfather, Patrick McGoldrick, a Cavan man from near Crosskeys, was in the IRB and the IRA and won a number of medals. He was imprisoned in Armagh, Sligo, and Mountjoy en route to the Curragh, invariably for making seditious speeches, and took a prominent part in the Ballytrain barracks raid and the battle of Clones, where he lived. We have a photograph of the Cavan and Monaghan prisoners in 1919, lined up like a football team. My grandfather is sitting in the centre of the front row, the captain, arms crossed and staring at the camera. He, well into his 40s, is much older than the others, who include his brother Benny, and you cannot take your eyes off him, such is his presence.

He had a bad scar on his chest but never told any of his sons how he came about it. After his death in 1958, a friend of his from those days in prison, Johnny McInerney, who owned the Erne Mineral Water Company, told Father Desmond that one night the prisoners were singing in a particularly boisterous fashion when one of the guards told my grandfather to order them to stop. He refused and the guard levelled his rifle and told him he would shoot.

My grandfather bared his chest and told him to fire away. Instead, the guard bayoneted him to the point of his life. I had never heard this story - perhaps my father felt, rightly, that a young man had no need of such knowledge in perilous times.

First World War

I'm sure it was for all the foregoing reasons that no member of the McGoldrick family ever served in the British forces, a fact that the regular occupant of this column refused to believe when I so informing him. I cannot say the same, however, about my mother's family - her brother fought in Burma during the last World War and one of her uncles survived the trenches in the first World War.

I have never felt the slightest antipathy towards those Irishmen who fought for Britain and her interests abroad, having been reared to regard them merely as misguided. They deserve to be remembered, and it was right that our President participated in the recent ceremonies without apology. But I hope the same courtesy will be extended once more to those of us who prefer to remember and celebrate with greater affection those who fought and died for Ireland.

Watching the Remembrance Day services on television, in my mind's eye I too remembered: a family's screams, a blazing croft, and a man garrotted between the spars of a cart.