This is an introduction to a story I’ve researched and pursued for two years. Thirty years ago, my father found a letter in an old piece of office furniture. Twenty eight years later I get the letter, an incredibly literate, graphic and dramatic description of the burning of Lahinch, a revengeful act carried out by the infamous Black and Tans in 1920, during the Irish war of Independence.
So, after conducting a heap of research about the event and the events surrounding the event, I decided the most compelling aspect of the story is the author of this intriguing letter. Most of that research was done in the National Library of Ireland, an austere but magnificent old Georgian building, or the Internet, through the archives of Clare County Library and the Clare County Archives.
ThEre, in the Local History Section, run by Peter Beirne, I deposited the original copy of the letter, probably the only eye witness account of that fateful night, September 20 1920.
But trawling through libraries and labyrinthine internet sites can never match the power of human contact. So I took off to Lahinch on Ireland’s Atlantic coast on a wing and a silent prayer. I got up that first morning and hitchhiked to Ennstymon, a neighbouring town also devastated by the Black and Tans that night in 1920, to check out the local library. I had a coffee in a local cafe but the library search was a bust, there was nothing there.
So I hitchhiked back to Lahinch and caught a ride with Maria Vaughn and after I told her my story she said I needed to talk to her husband, Michael who introduced me to his 85 year old father, Eamon, who was a mine of information and pretty soon I have a whole list of people to talk to and a story begins to emerge.
One of those was Maire Falvey, the grand niece of the letter’s author, who opened up a whole new perspective of the woman she was named for and has always admired.
I’m not going to tell you the story now but I guarantee, it’s sensational and at the centre of it is an astounding matriarchy of strong, well educated, independent Irish women in the early decades of the 20th century. And I’ll tell you this, too. Telling this story is the greatest honour of my life, so far. Almost 100 years since that fateful night and almost 100 years since her death, I want to elevate Maire O’Dwyer to the heroic level she deserves.