Fireside Miscellany: A collection of Irish Memories, Meanderings and History
by Denis O’Higgins (available from Eason Monaghan and other outlets, €10.00)
This is a collection of delightful short stories, such as we would expect to find in an issue of Ireland’s Own. They reveal that the author was born and raised on a small farm in the West of Ireland, subsequently served in the Garda Síochána, met and married his wife in Co. Monaghan, where they continue to reside.
His wife, who has contributed some of the stories, claims a relationship with the McDonald Clan whose leaders were treacherously attacked and slaughtered by the Campbells at Glencoe in January 1691.
Many of the stories begin from locations. There is ‘Mulligans Cottage’. While it stands in Co. Monaghan, its back door opens into Co. Fermanagh. For generations it has been a safe house for ‘on-the-runs’. This it was for the IRA unit which attacked the RIC barracks of Brookborough on New Year’s day 1957, resulting in the deaths of Seán South and Fergal O’Hanlon.
There are stories associated with the author’s early life as he worked on the family farm. He describes a “kicking cow” who make his milking-chore more than difficult.
The electrification of the area in 1959 was not universally welcomed. His description of a day cutting turf is meticulous in its details. He records how the life of a favourite little brown hen was cut short by a marauding fox.
Some of the stories refer to celebrities such as Pope St John Paul II and Oscar Wilde. He attends the former’s Mass in Galway in 1979 and visits the graves of two of the latter’s half-sisters who died in a fire and are buried in a Co. Monaghan cemetery.
In his stories Denis O’Higgins takes the reader down the byways of history. He links the destruction of Knockcroghery by the Black and Tans in June 1921 with the village’s famous son, Jimmy Murray, who led Roscommon to success in the final of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship in 1943 and 1944. He records how the marital difficulties of a Charles Yelverton led to an Act in 1870 under which mixed marriages celebrated by a Catholic priest became valid and lawful.
There are interesting stories about the Victoria Cross and its recipients and a fatal ship collision at Carlingford Lough from which there was but one survivor. The author’s wife traces the hectic life of Flora McDonald who assisted Bonnie Prince Charlie to escape to France.
Finally, just one quibble. In the story on Letterfrack Industrial School responsibility for the cruelty and harsh conditions suffered by those incarcerated there should also be laid at the feet of the Pilate-like parents of the boys who ended up there, society in general at that time and the Irish State. It was they who created these boys and then rejected them.