In 1803 we sailed out to sea
Out from the sweet town of Derry
For Australia bound if we didn\’t all drown
And the marks of our fetters we carried.
In the rusty iron chains we sighed for our wains
As our good wives we left in sorrow.
As the mainsails unfurled our curses we hurled
On the English and thoughts of tomorrow
from Back home in Derry by Bobby Sands MP (1954 – 1981)
It would be difficult to think of a more stark contrast between the place where Red Kelly was born and baptised in the green of Co. Tipperary and his final resting place in the orange dirt of Avenel, Victoria. As he waited for deportation to the other side of the world, having seen no travel brochures, no Google maps, no photographs even of the place that was to be his new ‘home’, or rather prison, it is hard to imagine how he must have felt. Of course many had already sailed, no doubt stories abounded about the conditions aboard ship and the hell of Van Diemen’s Land that was waiting. But Australia may as well have been the moon. I couldn’t help but shake my head and wonder, well that and constantly go on and on about it…of course.
Things develop slowly in Ireland, at least that’s how it feels, much like our plans which gently mulled and strengthened as time passed. Since a plane ticket to Oz was not to be, it crept into consciousness that my trusty companion Audrey and I could extend our Kelly investigations further into Ireland. And so we stirred the pot more purposefully, cast in some wishes, investigated locations and finally booked tickets. We had been to St. Mullins in 2008, with a poet called Mollie- wandered round the graves of the 1798 revolutionaries and sat amongst legions of Byrnes that went before and after. This was the home of Joe Byrne senior prior to his deportation in 1834 for being a bit of a rebel. Imagine! What’s there to complain about? Starvation, religious oppression, landlords exacting huge tithes and a priesthood that promises your dessert in heaven- I’d rather my chocolate fudge sundae now thanks. Bloody trouble makers eh?
Patrick Byrne left there with his brothers to make a new life in Monaro in1849. Summonsed by their father, but I imagine willingly escaping the potato faminewith an enthusiasm for spreading roots that has fuelled Irish immigration throughout the centuries. It is a quiet gentle place; the wind carries sounds in and out of earshot between the hills, but that’s about it for entertainment really, well unless you stay in the pub or count confessional I guess. It felt good to be back there- the sort of place where nothing much changes in a decade or a century never mind a short year, but after this we were treading new ground…
This time there was another Holy Grail. A pig shed. Location: Ballysheehan Status: Site of a cunning theft (until they were caught of course) of 2 pigs valued £6 in December 1840, and soon to be a Ned Kelly visitor attraction. Maybe.
Before I start I have to say thanks to the Fethard (Foih Ard) Historical society, without whom it none of this would have been possible…oh ok we would just have looked even more like English idjuts wandering around without a clue. Some dignity then, however misplaced. In 1988 they undertook a Ned Kelly Walking Tour of the area- seeking out places relevant to his background and bringing together some of the Kelly descendants in the area. It provided a kind of reference point for us – and some photos for identification purposes. The town of Foih Ard is a beautiful mix of medieval walls, pagan goddess worship, disaffected youth and old Irish town provincialism; though sadly not a tea shop open on a Sunday morning. Perhaps Lonergan could have brewed us up some…but he didn’t offer. However, fortified by a night on the wine and rebel songs (oh alright and a bit of Bruce Springsteen) in a Kilkenny pub we intrepid investigators set forth.
Places: John Kelly was baptised as you will all know in Moyglass and spent his childhood in the family home in Clonbrogan- essentially his life in the area was contained within a small space, surrounded by fields, trees, and not much else. A hard rural life dictated by seasons, gruelling feudal hangovers and the sometimes bad luck of the Irish. Map thanks to Fethard Historical Society site.
John Kelly\'s Tipperary
So first stop was Moyglass- We had seen pictures of the school house which now stands on the site of the old church there, but we had no way of guessing that in fact in this sleepy and very tiny village we were going to bump into Ned, who you will be pleased to know now also has a pub named after him.
Perhaps ‘where it all began’ might be a little overstating the facts…
There was nevertheless something touching about all this, that in the middle of nowhere, a century and some past, with no fanfare, no ‘tourist attraction’ road signs and no retail opportunities, there was an echo and a tribute to a man on the other side of the world. A pride in ‘one of our own’, in a son of Ireland who became the famous outlaw, the expression of change, hope, or sheer anger and bloody mindedness. People don’t ‘end up’ in Moyglass- it is not on the road to anywhere except other places the same. One has to be determined to find it amongst the green that seems to be about to subsume everything and to drive with some trepidation down very thin roads with hairpin bends. That seemed to me to make this incongruous sight all the more heart warming.
I wasn’t intending on a history lesson, since you are all, I am sure, familiar with the facts of the matter regarding Red- so just some musings of the places that make up part of the story from this hemisphere.
The now abandoned and overgrown Police station in Mobarnan where Red was taken with Patrick Regan following their arrest for stealing ‘seven fat cows’. Not sure if the bovine rotund-ness was a factor in the prosecution. A little spooky frankly.
And the court house at the medieval town of Cashel where Red Kelly heard that he would never be a free man in Ireland again. From the cells here, he was taken to Dublin and then across the sea. The court house is still standing, and still in use. Though I would hope that the sentences are more befitting of the crimes these days.
And lastly Kilmainham Jail, Dublin, famous amongst other things as the place of execution for the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, but also as the last bit of Irish soil that many deportees stood on. It is much like Melbourne Jail just bigger- the planning permissions evidently the same.
We simply couldn’t find it in amongst the stud farms and big houses along a modern dual carriageway- but that didn’t seem to matter so much in truth. I suspect when it reincarnates it will not be so hard to identify- maybe you will just have to follow the flashing lights and chink of the tills.
The remains of the cottage will be surrounded by what organisers say will be a \”modern interpretation of a convict transport ship\” and a four-storey replica of Ned Kelly\’s famous helmet will be built at one end.
It is of course true that Ned is much in demand, people identify with something that is important and rightly so. Others I suspect want to ‘have a piece of him’ and the Gang, whether it is for monetary gain, status or maybe even reflected glory and prowess. Hasn’t it always been so? From the postcards of Joe hanging on that door in Benalla onwards, that is just how it is perhaps for people who shape history, their public place in the world of course has a price. Many I am sure would still choose that despite the difficulties for themselves and their families in the future. Maybe there are just some things that need doing, regardless of personal considerations.
The world would be a poorer place if they did not act.
But, matters of personal taste and my own interest aside, I hope that there is someone, some people in Ireland who will look out for Ned in all of this. (Brad perhaps you need to get over here!) One hopes that they will be taking lessons from Bob Hempel’s Glenrowan animatronics show (or Denheld\’s Glenrowan Information centre interpretation), as to how NOT to do it, I also hope that Audrey and I will be back to check.