A Tale of Two Granddads

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War of Independence

There is an amazing Irish website that has been launched called Bureau of Military History, where you can search archive records and find first-hand accounts of the struggle for Irish Independence between the years 1913-1921.

I found my mum’s father’s testimony easily.  He was William McCabe (Liam) – Company Captain, Fianna Eireann, Ballybunion.

Reading his own words, it  reminded me of all the amazing stories my mum told me of his life as a young man during the struggle for independence (and the subsequent civil war, which wasn’t recorded in this affidavit).  (I suppose memories were still raw about the civil war even in 1955 when the witness statement was recorded).

It brought my granddad to life for me again and it was so amazing to read his own words and to see his signature confirming these were in fact his words.  I felt really proud of him – and what an interesting life he led, when he was half the age I am now!!!

It wasn’t all romantic.  My grandfather, during the Civil War, was imprisoned, went on hunger strike and his body was so damaged, that it never recovered.  He died in his early sixties, a year after I was born – so I never really met him, although Mum used to say that he loved brushing my blonde hair – see proof that I was blonde at some stage!!!  Even though my mum was prone to exaggeration – I couldn’t have had much blonde hair by the age of 1!!!

Out of curiosity I searched for my other granddad John J Waldron of Tuam – and I found him too, but not his own account.  He was mentioned in a negative way by Sean O’Neill, Irish Volunteer, Tuam 1913 – 1921.  On Page 96 of his Witness Report Sean mentions my granddad Waldron as being one of the men “who gave bail” in the Tuam area.

War of Independence

Apparently this was looked down on – as giving into the “British Law” and that it “created a bad precedent for other Volunteers”.  So my granddad Waldron was arrested, but he had a business to run at the time so paid his bail to get out of prison, provide for his family and get on with his life.

He kept his head down, living to the very ripe old age of 91.  I remember him well and very fondly.

Both of these men took very different paths.  Were they happy with the decisions they made during that time??

William never got to know or meet many of his grandchildren, he was in constant bad health when his own children were growing up and must have missed out on so many experiences due to ill-health, which was a legacy of his exploits when he was younger.

But he left his mark – today nearly a century after he joined na Fianna as a boy of 14 in 1913. I can read his words on-line, share them on Facebook and have friends as far away as Australia (Kerrie) taking time to read what he had to say.  I feel such pride that he played his part in the War of Independence.  We needed people like him to step up, despite the consequences.

My brother (who is called after the rebellious William McCabe) had thought about the decisions our granddads took.  Liam posed a great question to me in an email :“What if instead JJ had refused to recognise the courts, gone on a personally catastrophic hunger strike, become an invalid, and died much younger than he should? “ 

My brother is a wise man.  The testimonies throw up a lot of intrigue; double dealing, with a lot of the big wigs managing to come out profiteering out of these terrible times.  He finished his profound email to me with a quote “These ‘ histories’ are like bikinis. What they reveal is intriguing. What they conceal is crucial.”

I’d love to have had my granddad Waldron’s own account of what went on, knowing what he was feeling when he had to “take the bail”.  I will never know.

That’s why it’s important that we try and be remembered in a true way.  To stand out from the crowd and make sure our voice is heard.

Both my grand fathers were brave men and I am proud of both of them, but I really just have the history of one of them!

I know we give him a hard time but that’s why Greg is right to keep writing, good and sometimes griping, as he did in today’s blog post.  I mightn’t always agree with him, but he is a rebel in his own way and he’s never shy about publishing his stories and feelings – his great, great grandchildren will definitely know what he was thinking of during our economic “war”.

Don’t be silent ….record what you are thinking for your children and grandchildren to see years from now.

It’s never been easier ..

Deirdre Waldron is a partner of Fuzion

Fuzion are a Marketing & PR firm with offices in Cork and Dublin

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