100 years ago — one family rejoiced, and another grieved

In his weekly column John Arnold talks about the significance of August 27 for two Cork families
100 years ago — one family rejoiced, and another grieved

Jimmy Geary, on the right of picture, who was 100 last week pictured with his great friend the late JIm Griffin.

LAST Thursday was the 27th day of August in this year of 2020. People gathered at two venues in East Cork on that day. Both gatherings were to honour heroes. Two men were being remembered and spoken about in a reverential manner befitting of the occasion and the date.

One gathering was recalling a death and the second a birth but both led back to the same date — 100 years earlie, Friday, August 27, 1920.

The War of Independence was being waged in this country. The Lord Mayor of Cork, Tomas McCurtain, had been murdered in his home earlier that year.

Now, in late August the headlines on The Cork Examiner’ that day read “Letting Him Die”, “Victims Wonderful Fortitude” and “Brighter & Conscious but Weaker”.

These were all references to the Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence McSwiney, on hunger strike in Brixton Prison — he was to die on October 25 after 74 days without nourishment.

They were troubled times in Ireland, in Cork and East Cork and throughout the countryside as brave Irishmen fought to fulfil the dream of 1916. Into that turmoil a baby was born on that fateful day, August 27, 1920. In Clonpriest Church on February 27, 1906, 26-year-old Mary Supple married Jeremiah Geary - he was 16 years older than his bride which was not unusual back then. The couple settled down to farming at Cleary Road, Gortroe near Youghal.

It was 100 ago last Thursday that their son James or Jimmy was born and he is still hale and hearty after reaching the Century mark. One of a big family Jimmy Geary grew up in an Ireland going through the War of Independence followed by the bitter Civil War. He loved country pursuits especially hurling and hunting. A GAA club was affiliated in Gortroe when he was 12 but met with little success. As a hurler Jimmy Geary had few equals both in terms of strength and style. His fellow parishioner and renowned hurley maker Willie Sloane joined the Carrigtwohill Club - then one of the best in the County, and Jimmy Geary also played for Carrig during the 1940’s when their home parish had no affiliated Club.

With the threat of War looming during The Emergency Jimmy was one of many who joined the ever expanding Irish Army. In the Defence Forces his hurling talent didn’t go unnoticed. Limerick’s most famous hurling son Mick Mackey served for five years also in the Army. An annual All Army Championship was played up to All Ireland Final level in those years. Mackey put together a formidable hurling team to represent the Southern Command and with Gortroe’s Jimmy Geary on the team they won the All Ireland on two occasions. Mackey, Ring and Dungourney’s own Jamesy Kelleher were the three hurlers who ‘made’ the GAA. Jimmy Geary is probably the only man still alive to have swung a camán on the same team as Ahane’s Mick Mackey. Jimmy was a naturally fit man. When based with the Army in Cobh he would regularly run or jog back to Gortroe.

Jimmy married Molly Griffin as a ‘cliamhain isteach’ into the Griffin farm in Gortroe and here they reared their family of 12 children.

When a Hurling Club was reformed in his native parish in 1951, Jimmy fell in with St Ita’s in the East Cork Junior B grade championship. They struggled to put out 15 in the first round but improved as the campaign progressed. For the final against Cobh Jimmy was centre field in the first half. Team mentors Owen Bermingham and Willie Sloane switched him to centre back in the second half in the fear of a Cobh onslaught. As the song says;

He hurled the ball left and right in their faces

And showed all those Cobh boys learning and skill

St Ita’s won their first ever Championship title that day, defeating Cobh by 5 2 to 3 5. The St Itas GAA Club went through ups and downs over the years -like most Clubs. Thankfully Jimmy Geary has lived to see his beloved St Itas become an established and prominent hurling club in East Cork Gaeldom supplying Seamus Harnedy to the Cork team.

As Jer and Mary Geary were celebrating the birth of their son in the closing days of August 1920 another East Cork couple were in mourning for the loss of their son.

Patrick Buckley and his wife Mary (nee O Keeffe) lived at the Grand Lodges in Ballyedmond on the road from Midleton to Lisgoold. They had five in family including John or Sean as he was known, and Batt who were both members of Sinn Fein and the Irish Volunteers in Midleton.

On that fateful Friday, the day Jimmy Geary was born, an IRA ambush took place on a lorry-load of British Military — the Cameron Highlanders, at Cahermone just outside Midleton. A Private Hall was killed in the ambush, which took place around two o clock in the day. Later that evening military forces called to the Buckley home — led by an RIC officer.

A new headstone in Lisgoold cemetery to John (Sean) Buckley who was killed 100 years ago, Aug 27 1920.
A new headstone in Lisgoold cemetery to John (Sean) Buckley who was killed 100 years ago, Aug 27 1920.

Sean and Batt Buckley were arrested and taken away — supposedly because they were suspected of being involved in the ambush; neither of them were.

The brothers were first detained in Midleton. Later on that Friday evening they were placed in a military lorry to be taken to the barracks in Cork city. The brothers were tied together with a rope, back to back.

During the journey to Cork, an Officer discharged his revolver with fatal consequences. Sean was shot dead, the bullet went through his body and lodged in his brothers back. The following note was sent to the Buckley home at Ballyedmond ‘Your son John in trying to escape from military custody today on the way to Cork was shot. He died from wounds. Patrick (this should be Bartholomew) is also wounded in the shoulder. Inquire at Military Hospital, Cork.’

That phrase, ‘shot while trying to escape’, was used repeatedly by the British authorities during the War of Independence to justify cold-blooded murder.

Sean Buckley was buried in the family plot in Lisgoold cemetery on Sunday, August 29. Five bands took part in the vast procession which took well over an hour to pass a given point and certainly extended over two miles (Cork Examiner report)

So at the end of August a century ago the Gearys rejoiced and the Buckleys grieved.

So it came to pass on last Thursday as a happy joyous gathering took place in Youghal to wish Jimmy Geary a Happy Birthday a century after he was born, they marvelled at his health and happiness. As a family they gave thanks for a very special character. To paraphrase his friend Liam Gleeson ‘from the hunting fields of East Cork to the hurling pitches of Munster the name of Jimmy Geary is revered’.

At the other end of the barony of Imokilly last Thursday a little group gathered in prayer and remembrance at a graveside in Lisgoold. Sean Buckley loved his country and paid the ultimate sacrifice for doing so. Murdered most foully a new headstone in his memory was unveiled last Thursday evening.

Thursday the 27th day of August in the year 1920 when a life ended and a life began. Two men who never met but are joined inextricably by that date.

We salute you, Jimmy Geary and remember you Sean Buckley.

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