George Lennon

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George Lennon (1900–1991) was an Irish Republican Army leader during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War.

IRA career

As a young member of Na Fianna Éireann, Lennon, with companion "Barney" Dalton, was arrested for activating an explosive device (I.E.D.) along the Dungarvan quay. West Waterford O/C P.C. O'Mahony listed him, in October 1914, as a fourteen-year-old "Adjutant" in the newly formed Dungarvan Volunteers. An Irish Republican Brotherhood circle of twenty, organized by O'Mahony, included Lennon, Pax Whelan and Dan Fraher, all later prominent during the War of Independence. After the Easter Rising, in which he stopped a train in a futile search for arms, he left Abbeyside School just prior to his sixteenth birthday. Initially imprisoned as a seventeen-year-old at Ballybricken Prison, Waterford City, he was "on the run" for nearly a year before being captured and sentenced at Lismore Court House to Cork Male Gaol. Incarcerated with Charlie Daly of Kerry, he was released prematurely, due to ill health at the time of the third outbreak of Spanish Influenza, in May 1919. He served as West Waterford Vice O/C under O/C Pax Whelan. With Liam Lynch on 7 September 1919, he took part in an attack on British troops at Fermoy's Wesleyan Church. In May 1920 he participated in "one of the fiercest of all barracks attacks..." directed at the Royal Irish Constabulary in Kilmallock, County Limerick. After this he was attached to the East Limerick Flying Column (the first organised of "men on the run") and took part in a series of attacks on Crown forces including Bruree, Co. Limerick and Kildorrery, Co. Cork. He also served with the West Limerick Column and, at Liam Lynch's request, helped organise the famed Cork No. 2 Column portrayed in Sean Keating's iconic Men of the South.

In October 1920 he took command of the West Waterford Flying Column as the youngest leader of an active service unit. Operating from the Comeragh Mountains] and the Drum Hills, Lennon, with Great War veteran John Riordan, planned and led the Piltown Cross ambush on 1 November 1920 (the date of the execution, in Dublin, of Kevin Barry) in which a British Army unit was overwhelmed and armaments seized. In January 1921 the flying column took part in the unsuccessful Pickardstown ambush near Tramore and the Burgery ambush in March 1921. Capturing childhood acquaintance RIC Sergeant Hickey, he had him executed as a "police spy". In all, Lennon was involved in some 17 engagements, not including gun-running activities and arms seizures. The activities of Lennon's column resulted in nearly a thousand British soldiers being deployed to Waterford, along with over two hundred RIC and Royal Marines.

After the Truce of 11 July 1921, he served as County Waterford IRA Liaison Officer, seized the former Cappoquin] RIC Barracks and led his men into a generally non-receptive Waterford City. In January 1922, staying at Vaughan's Hotel with I.R.A Chief of Staff Liam Lynch (shot 10 April 1923) of Cork and Charlie Daly ( "Drunboe Martyr" executed 14 March 1923) of Kerry, he was present at the Mansion House when the Dail voted to accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty. In the subsequent Irish Civil War, he took the anti-Treaty side and fought at the Battle of Waterford of July 1922 (See Irish Free State offensive) against former comrade and East Waterford Commanding Officer Paddy Paul. The first and last shots of the battle were fired from his command at Ballybricken Gaol. Retreating westward he subsequently resigned in a letter to Liam Deasy when it became obvious that the war would prove ruinous for Ireland.

In America

He emigrated to New York in 1927 where he was business manager and contributor ("George Crolly") to the short lived art/literary magazine The Irish Review edited by Ulster poet Joseph Campbell. An earlier Irish Review had been published in Dublin by executed 1916 martyr Joseph Mary Plunkett. Listed as managing editor in 1934 was brother in law George H. Sherwood. The magazine included portrayals of the works of Sean Keating and Power O'Malley, born Michael Augustine Power in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford.

Out of his New York City apartment he campaigned for pensions via the West Waterford Brigade Old I.R.A Men's Association.

Return to Ireland

He returned to Ireland in 1936 when he worked for the Irish Tourism Association (I.T.A.), directing the "Irish Topographical Survey" viewed as " one of the most important and lasting projects carried out" during the war years. He also served as the County Waterford representative on the executive of the All Ireland Old I.R.A. Men's Organisation. His last position in the Free State was Secretary to The National Planning Conference (1943–1944) which mounted a Mansion House exhibition 25 April to 5 May 1944. Per Sean O'Leary (Sense of Place: A history of Irish Planning) "he appear(ed) to have grown disillusioned with the reaction to the Conference...." His return to Ireland was detailed in the novel "Dead Star's Light" (1938) written by [(Una Troy Walsh [1] under the nom de plume of Elizabeth Connor. Troy and her husband Joe Walsh (brother in law of Sean Keating, RHA) were subsequently effectively expunged from the roles of their Clonmel parish church.

Although he listed many clerical antecedents, including Roman Catholic Archbishop Primate (1835–1849) William Crolly, he was critical of the "special position" of the Catholic Church in Free State Ireland.He also spoke out against the Church and the Ancient Order of Hibernians for their position relative to the Fascists in 1936 Spain. He was married outside the Church in 1939 to May Sibbald, former secretary to Government Minister Sean MacEntee, Fianna Fáil T.D. May was the sister in law of An Phoblacht assistant editor Geoffrey Coulter. In violation of the Ne Temere decree, his only child, Ivan, was baptised as a Presbyterian in Dun Laoghaire.

During the "Emergency"( World War II period) he made contact with English Poet Laureate to be John Betjeman who, as a British Embassy "press attache", had earlier been marked for assassination as a spy by the I.R.A. Betjeman had written a number of poems based on his experiences in West Waterford including "The Irish Unionist's Farewell to Greta Hellstrom" which ended each stanza with the refrain "...Dungarvan in the rain".

Suffering from "reactive depression (neurasthenia or PTSD) and pulmonary disease (consumption or T.B.) attributable to military service in Óglaigh na hÉireann" (I.R.A.), he was belatedly granted an 80% "wound pension" effective 22 May 1944 in addition to his 1935 military service pension.

Unemployed in Ireland, from May 1944, he emigrated to the USA, for the final time, in early 1946 on one of the first post-war Shannon flights. In May 1947 "Dead Star's Light" was performed on the Abbey stage as" The Dark Road". In the play it was noted that in 1930's Ireland "heroes are out of fashion" and that some viewed him as "a communist, an anti-cleric, an agitator, a gun-man...." In late 1947 his wife and son reluctantly left Ireland from Dun Laoghaire aboard the Princess Maud for Holyhead, ultimately bound for New York City on the Cunarder Mauritania via Southampton.

Controversy over legacy

Due largely to Lennon's stand regarding positions taken by the Irish Catholic Church and his emigration to the US, Irish military historian Terence O'Reilly noted that "incredibly, George Lennon has until recently been effectively airbrushed from Irish history, meriting only fleeting references in a few accounts of the time, although the 1947 Abbey Theatre play and earlier novel were transparently based upon his life."

In 2009 it emerged that a Republican Sinn Féin Cumann had named the Waterford branch of its organisation after George Lennon without the permission of his family [2]. In 2010 the Lennon name was deleted and replaced by that of Thomas McElwee, a blanket protester and hunger striker who was sentenced to life imprisonment by a non-jury diplock court for the death of Yvonne Dunlop in a bomb attack.[1]

This, in turn, brought to light other issues, including the refusal by a West Waterford Republican organisation, originally established by Lennon in 1930's New York City, to allow his ashes to be scattered amongst his comrades at the IRA Republican plot in Kilrossanty, Co. Waterford. Prior to this denial, in December 2008, the Department of Defence refused a military presence at the proposed ceremony. A possible dispersal of ashes at the family's Roman Catholic parish church St. Mary's in Dungarvan was complicated by an inability to locate the plots, although 1920's newspaper accounts and anecdotal evidence clearly note his family being buried there. In that he was a founding member with Chet Carlson ("Xerography") of the Rochester Zen Center, his ashes were subsequently received by Zen Centers in Rochester and Surry, Maine. July 2014 witnessed the installation of a plaque at St. Mary's noting the presence of the remains of his parents and grandparents

Recent recognition

Portrait by Ruth Carver

In September 2009, under the auspices of the Waterford County Museum in Dungarvan, talks and an exhibit entitled "The Road to Independence" prominently noted his role in attaining a measure of Irish independence. This event coincided with the release of "Rebel Heart: George Lennon Flying Column Commander" by Terence O'Reilly and "Ulster to the Deise: Lennons in Time" by his son.[3]

In 2010, events at St. John Fisher College, Pittsford, New York, included a visual presentation ("George Lennon: I.R.A. Rebel to Zen Pacifist") and his oil portrait by Ruth Carver, previously displayed at Rochester's Memorial Art Gallery, was included in an exhibit of Irish art entitled "Forgotten Ireland". Featured, inter alia, were the works of Dublin friend Harry Kernoff, Dungarvan artist Michael Augustine Power-O'Malley and Blawnin Clancy, daughter of Joan and Tommy Clancy of the folk singing Clancy Brothers.

In early 2011 a documentary film of Lennon's life was filmed in various locales in West Waterford, including the Waterford County Museum and Mt. Mellary Abbey. The documentary, "O Chogadh go Siochain: Saol George Lennon", shown on Irish television (TG4) in September 2011, had an American premiere in the Autumn of 2011 at the Irish Film Feis, sponsored by the Rochester, New York Chapter of the Irish American Cultural Institute. Presented in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford in November 2012 was Muiris O'Keeffe's play, "Days of Our Youth", dealing with the impact upon Lennon of the 1920 Piltown Ambush and the 1921 Burgery Ambushes.In conjunction with the play, the Waterford County Museum presented a series of lectures featuring Dr. Pat McCarthy of the Military History Society of Ireland and Lennon's son who detailed his twenty-five year investigation into his father's largely forgotten role in the development of the Irish Free State. National Heritage Week 2015 saw a Powerpoint presentation of some 110 photographs entitled "George Lennon: A Forgotten I.R.A. Commandant" at the former Tramore Coast Guard Station and in 2016 at Rochester Institute of Technology's OSHER Program. 2017 saw the completion of a 272 page family history, based on the earlier 2009 work, entitled "Lennons In Time" by his son.

Sources

  • Lennons in Time ISBN 5-80012-517470
  • Rebel Heart: George Lennon Flying Column Commander Mercier 2009, ISBN 1-85635-649-3
  • The Irish Revolution, 1912-23: Waterford Four Courts Press ISBN 978-1-84682-410-4
  • Cry of the Curlew: A History of the Deise Brigade IRA and the War of independence
  • The Deise Divided: A History of the Waterford Brigade IRA and the Civil War
  • The Comeraghs: Gunfire and Civil War, Comeragh Publications, 2003

External links

  • Lennon's memoirs
  • Munster Express
  • Sunday Mirror
  • West Waterford Flying Column

Online documentary

References

  1. ^ http://www.freewebs.com/duleekmonument/hungerstrikers.htm
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