An Irishman's Diary


The visitor to West Cork can still see the ruins of the vast pseudo-medieval mansion at Castlefreke, overlooking Ownahincha Strand, Galley Head and Carbery's supposed "Thousand Isles". It was to this beautiful spot in 1890 that the ninth Lord Carbery brought a young bride. On their arrival, they were met by a crowd of 1,000 tenants, workers and townspeople. A torchlit procession to the castle was organised by the parish priest, the schoolmaster and other worthies. "Clonakilty Wrastler" porter was poured and fireworks in blazing tar barrels completed the festivities.

The couple's only child, John Freke, succeeded to the title of Lord Carberry on the untimely death of his father in 1898. He was to become an archetypal eccentric Anglo-Irish Lord, playing a little-known role in the War of Independence on the side of Irish freedom. Indeed, he may have been the last of that breed.

Some of his attitudes may have been inherited from his beautiful mother who was a naturalist and writer (A Farm on Loch Gur). She reasoned that if Queen Victoria could learn Hindustani phrases, she herself could learn Irish. She took her lessons from a local man named O'Brien.

Lady Carbery eschewed the narrow-minded ascendancy class of the "fishing, shooting and hunting" genre of whom Gifford Lewis wrote: "The ascendancy of the end of the 19th century was an enormous confidence trick, shored up by faithful servants and good horsemanship."


The widowed Lady Mary remarried an interesting gentleman, an ophthalmic surgeon called Kit Sanford, who had built the Cork Eye Ear and Throat Hospital - known locally as "de Iron Trote". In 1910, when John was 18, Castelfreke caught fire while the family were in Cork city at Sandford's Mansion on Patrick's Hill. They motored home, being among Ireland's early car owners. The Royal Irish Constabulary, following a telegraph from Cork, cleared the road for the Carbery party who arrived as the staff brought out most of the furniture. The fire was initially confined to the roof, having been started by a defective chimney. Later the house was fully restored.

Mary showed a socialist streak and in her own words was a "rebel at heart". She once said that she was more a nationalist than a unionist and her son inherited her attitudes: he once offered, via a nationalist priest, Fr O'Brien, to fund a unit of the Irish Volunteers.

Cat and canary

As a boy he displayed strange traits. His mother once asked him to be kind to the cat. He told her later that he had been very kind to the cat - "I gave it the canary." He also lined up a frightened gardener from whose cap he blew away an apple using an air pistol. At the age of 14 he went to Cork secretly and bought his first car. Later he acquired his own aeroplane with which he gave aeronautical exhibitions to the bewilderment of the citizens of Cork and a few years later flew at the Clonakilty and Bandon Shows. At the outbreak of war in 1914 he enlisted in the Royal Naval Air Corps, bringing along his own aircraft.

After the war he displayed his nationalism by publicly flying the Tricolour over magnificent Castlefreke. He sold the 1,100-acre estate in 1919 at a fraction of its worth - the drop in value a result of the intensifying Tan War. He did flying displays and paid for trips to raise funds for Sinn Fein. Was he the first aviator in the cause of Irish republicanism? His last act before leaving Castlefreke forever was to shotgun-blast the portraits of his ancestors on the grand staircase.

He spent a short time in the United States, where his application for citizenship was refused because he had been involved in bootlegging. Thereafter he affected an American drawl.

Around 1920 he purchased a farm in the White Highlands of Kenya, known as Happy Valley by its denizens in recognition of the Greek Happy Valley. Its members were younger sons of the British Aristocracy - misfits like Carbery and a large smattering of American and Europeans such as Karen Blixen, whose book Out of Africa inspired for the film of the same name starring Robert Redford.

In 1921 Lord Carbery rejected his last British connection by having his name changed by deed poll to plain "John Evans Carbery" from John Freke Evans, 10th Lord Carbery. He outraged the colony in 1938 by proposing a toast at the Muthainge Club of: "To hell with England, long live Germany." He also spent a year in jail for irregular currency transactions. Characteristically he claimed that it was the "best year of my life".

Air crash

His disastrous first marriage ended in divorce on the grounds of his cruelty. He subsequently married an aviatrix named Maia, by whom he had his only child, Juanita. Maia was killed in an air crash in 1928. Many of the Kenya set believed it was suicide.

His final wife was a beautiful South African named June. A contemporary said of her "that she was a terrifyingly unnatural blonde; deep bass voice; tough as boots. But a wonderful person, warm-hearted and totally unjealous. Cut her in half and you would find mostly gin." They had terrible rows. Once, having flown away for a few days, he returned home unexpectedly to find her gone with her current lover. He loaded his plane with rocks and when he finally caught up with them on the open plain he bombarded their car with stones.

June Carbery and her stepdaughter were mainly responsible for saving Sir Jack Delves Broughton from the gallows after the notorious murder of Josslyn Hay, Lord Erroll in January 1941.