Westmeath,King John and Magna Carta


This week marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of one of the most historic documents of world history. On June 15th 1215,at Runnymeade in England,King John signed what became known as Magna Carta-the Great Charter. The significance of Magna Carta is that it laid down,for the first time,limits on the power of a king over his subjects,established the idea that a person could only be imprisoned following a trial by his peers (jury trial),and that the king could not tax his subjects without their consent-or the consent of their elected representatives.

The Charter promised that justice would not be bought or sold,or denied to any person. While most of Magna Carta has long since been repealed and the document was denounced by the then Pope and ignored by many subsequent rulers,it laid the basis for modern democracy. The idea that no-one is above the law remains at the heart of all democracies today-including our own Republic.

The Fifth Amendment of the American Constitution is drawn directly from Magna Carta and many of those who drew up the U.S Constitution in the 1780s were of Irish origin The laws administered here in the courts of Westmeath and the Dail in which this county is represented are ultimately derived from Magna Carta. Those who first signed the document included the Archbishop of Dublin,Henry de Londres,and William Marshal,Lord of Leinster.

King John is generally regarded as the worst king in English history-cruel and greedy. He was appointed as Lord of Ireland in 1185 by his father,King Henry II.and it was intended that he should be crowned eventually as King of an Ireland seperate from England and linked with England only as part of a French speaking Empire which also included much of France and parts of Scotland,Wales and modern Belgium.

Because all his older brothers died without heirs this plan never became reality and John ended up ruling both England and Ireland in 1199. His record as a ruler in Ireland was actually a lot better than in England. He was reasonably competant and fair in his dealings with the native Irish.

He dealt with local rulers such as Cathal Croav Dearag of Connacht as equals and generally kept his word in the agreements he made with them. Among his achievements in Ireland was his decision to make Dublin the national capital and to introduce an Irish coinage-bearing pictures of native wildlife such as salmon.

He had Dublin Castle built as an administrative centre and also had the Castle at Athlone built-recognising the huge strategic significance of Westmeath’s second town as a gateway to the West along the Shannon in the heart of the country. As Lord of Ireland,he would have been involved in the granting of the right to the burgesses of Mullingar to hold a Fair in 1207-the earliest known grant of a fair to the town.

King John actually visited Westmeath in 1210. He arrived in Ireland in June to wage a campaign aimed at putting manners on the rebellious Anglo-Norman Barons of Meath and Ulster. Walter De Lacy,Lord of Meath (Westmeath was then part of the Liberty of Meath),and his brother,Hugh De Lacy,Lord of Ulster,were becoming too powerful and were upsetting the political stability of Ireland.

John occupied Trim,the capital of Meath and met with Cathal Crobderg O Connor at Ardbraccan. John’s campaign was not one of English v Irish;the Irish rulers such as O Connor were largely fighting alongside the King. John also visited Rathwire-then an important Anglo-Norman settlement with a castle and manor.John was there on August 10th and had another meeting with Cathal Crovderg.

He then moved north to deal with the rebellious Anglo-Normans of Ulster. By the end of August he had succeeded in his campaign and returned to England.King John died in 1216 and was succeeded by his 9 year old son Henry. King Henry III would reign for fifty six years and would issue further charters granting fairs to Westmeath towns such as Mullingar.
He also issued what is considered the definitive version of Magna Carta in 1225,

The Charter was extended to Ireland in February 1217 by William Marshal-Lord of Leinster,who was acting as a Regeant on behalf of the child king. This was intended to extend to the peoples of Ireland the same rights as had been granted to the King’s English subjects. It marked the beginnings of Common Law in Ireland-the legal system under which we still live.
King John was the only reigning English monarch to visit Westmeath.
By Ruth Illingworth



In 1900 and 1901,James Joyce visited Mullingar. He never forgot the town.

James Joyce visited Mullingar in the summers of 1900 and 1901 with his father. His father,John Joyce,had been employed by Westmeath County Council to sort out and update the electoral rolls for Mullingar. James Joyce,then just 18,worked with his father in the Court House.
He probably stayed in what was then Phil Shaw’s Photographers,(now Fagans’ Office Supplies) ,on Pearse (then Earl) Street. When he came to write “ULYSSES”,more than a decade later,Joyce had Milly Bloom,the 15 year old daughter of Leopold and Mollie Bloom,working in Shaw’s learning “the photo business.”.

In his novels,Joyce also mentions the Greville Arms Hotel,the Westmeath Examiner,the Railway Station and the Royal Canal. He visited Leavington Park ,now the home of novelist and artist J.P Dunleavy.
In his novels,Joyce also mentions the tragic Mary Molesworth,Countess of Belvedere,locked up by her jealous husband for 30 years,while he lived alone at Belvedere House,and the Hill of Uisneach,sacred centre of Ancient Ireland. While in Mullingar,Joyce wrote a play “A Brilliant Career.” While the play was never published,it was his first literary work.
A chapter of his first novel,”Stephen Hero”,is set in Mullingar. A poetry anthology owned by Joyce,now in Yale University,is inscribed “Mullingar .July 1900.”

An advertisement for “Teas,Teas,Teas”,which appeared in the window of a bar called Connellans,beside the Court House on Mount Street,where Joyce and his father used to eat, was transposed by Joyce to Dublin and is noted by Leoplod Bloom as he walks through the city centre on June 16th,1904,in “Ulysses.”
After 1901,Joyce never returned to Mullingar and would soon leave Ireland for good. But Mullingar remained in his memory. He never forgot the town.

The Bloomsday celebrations in Mullingar 2015 will be dedicated to the memory of local Joycean scholar,Leo Daly (1920-2010),who devoted much of his life to exploring the ways in which Mullingar influenced Joyce’s writings,and who highlighted those influences in his book, “JAMES JOYCE AND THE MULLINGAR CONNECTION..



An era in the cultural history of Mullingar truly ended on April 2014 when it was announced that Hubie Magee was retiring after a record 57 years as Director of Mullingar Town Band. His daughter,Kim,will take over as Band Director and Hubie has been given the title Band Director Emiritus. Hubert Magee has enriched the lives of thousands of Mullingar children,teens and adults over the last six decades. Under his directorship the Band has won numerous prizes and commendations at concerts across Ireland and abroad. Membership of the Band has risen to over 150 and the Band is an integral part of the musical and social life of Mullingar.

That Mullingar still has a Town Band is very largely due to Hubie Magee. The Band has been around since 1879,when it was founded by local Roman Catholic priest,Father Poland. Father Poland was Director of the Holy Family Confraternity and the Band started life as the Mullingar Confraternity Band. Many of the Band members were British soldiers who had played with the various regimental bands stationed in the Army Barracks. The link between the Band and the Confraternity continued until the 1940s. It was then handed over to a Committee and became the Mullingar Brass and Reed Band. The Band played at functions such as the annual commemmoration of the Easter Rising. But few new peole joined and by 1957 the membership had dwindled to four. There seemed little hope that it would continue. But then,Hubie Magee was appointed Director.

Hubie was playing clarinet in the Band. He spent six years in Dublin where he studied clarinet, piano harmony, and composition.He also holds diplomas and fellowships in clarinet,band mastership and conducting from Victoria College of Music,London. Over the last six decades he has brought his professional talents and outlook to the running of Mullingar Town Band. When Hubie became the Director,the Town Band was barely in existence. Hubie began to recruit new young members. One of the biggest changes he made was to bring in girls. Because of its origins in the Confraternity and the military,the Band had been an all male affair. There had never been any female members. Times were changing however and the girls began to come in. The Band practise rooms in the Market House began to fill up. One of the new girl members was my sister,Elizabeth Illingworth,who played clarinet.

By the mid 1970s,the Mullingar Town Band was growing in numbers and professionalism.In 1974 the Band took part for the first time in the International Youth Band Festival at Pumerand in the Netherlands. International travel became a regular feature of the Band year and ,by the early years of this century Mullingar Band was taking part in an international exchange with the Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh,North Carolina,U S A. Increasingly the Mullingar Town Band was returning from national and international competitions with gold medals and other awards.

Hubie had set himself the target of having 100 members in the Band by the time the centenary came round in 1979. He achieved this goal and the Band has continued to grow since then. Afine new Band Hall opened to accomodate what was now both a Marching and Concert Band-with the Marching Band now known as The Celtic Crusaders. New uniforms were introduced along with majorettes. There was no occasion of note in Mullingar at which the Band under Hubie’s direction did not play a part. They were there for the Golden Jubilee of the Easter Rising , and for the Golden Jubilee of the Cathedral too.

The Band was on hand to serenade the homecoming Westmeath football teams after their victories in 1963,1995 and 2004. They were on hand to welcome the Lebanese Special Olympics Team in 2003 and to mark the birth of the new Millennium in 2000. When Fleadh Ceoil na hEireann came to town in 1963,the Band was there and when the Army left the Barracks for the last time in 2012 the Band was there to bid them farewell.

Mullingar is now famed nationwide as a musical town. Many of the most talented musicians in this town spent time in the Band . That is one of the reasons why Mullingar owes Hubie Magee a big debt of gratitude. He drew out musical talent where it existed and provided disciplined education for all who came through the band. And like all great teachers he never forgot his pupils-remembering their names even decades after they had moved on. Hubie has always seen his work and the job of the Band as being threefold; To Entertain,To Educate and To Elevate.

That he has most surely done during his close on sixty year stint as Band Director. He is now to be succeeded by his daughter,Kim. She now makes history by being the first female Director in the 135 years of Mullingar Band. Hubie opened the bandhall doors to girls and,so it is appropriate that his succesor should be a woman. Kim Magee is a very worthy successor to her father.
Band Director Emiritus Magee deserves the thanks of all the people of Mullingar for his years of dedicated service to the town. Hope that he has a very long and happy retirement.

by Ruth Illingworth Historian


Larry Ginnell was one of the most remarkable political figures of the early 20th century. Born into a humble labouring family in Westmeath,he rose through his own efforts to become a qualified barrister,a Member of two different parliaments and a leading figure in the Dail Government of 1919-21 and a diplomat representing Ireland in the Americas. Even his bitterest political enemies acknowledged him to be a man of integrity and sincerty.

Larry Ginnell was born in Delvin in April 1852. His father was a farm labourer. Ginnell grew up in the immediate aftermath of the Famine. The Tenants Rights League had been set up just a couple of years before his birth and the battle to secure legal protection and equality for the tenant farmers of Ireland was underway during Ginnell’s youth. Agricultural recession in the 1870s led to widespread poverty among small farmers and widespread evictions. Ginnell was 27 when the Land League was founded. The welfare of small farmers was to be one of the abiding concerns for Ginnell throughout his political career.

Like most men of his class and generation ,Ginnell had only a primary school education. He educated himself thereafter. Moving to London he worked as a Private Secretary to the leading Irish Home Rule MP,John Dillon from 1886 to 1891,and also worked as a Research Assistant to the leading Liberal Party politician,John Morley,working at the British Library. He studied law and was called to the English Bar in 1893. One of his great interests was the old Irish legal system-Brehon Law,and he published a book entitled;”The Brehon Laws;A Legal Guide”,in 1894. He was also working in journalism at this time and was a founding member of the Irish Literary Society in 1892.

At the start of the 20th century he was back in Ireland. Distressed by the Parnell Split and the subsequent weakness of the Irish Home Rule movement,he was a founding member of the United Irish League (U.I.L) in 1898,along with William O Brien. In 1900,John Redmond became leader of the League and of a new united Irish Party at Westminister,supporting Home Rule and the rights of tenant farmers and labourers.In 1903,the Wyndham Land Act extended the right ot buy for tenant farmers.However,there were still issues unresolved,such as estates and ranches where the landlord refused to sell,or areas where huge tracts of lands were let to graziers,while small farmers had almost no land and labourers had no land at all.

Larry Ginnell first stood for election to parliament in the 1900 General Election in North Westmeath. On that occasion he was not elected,as the Roman Catholic clergy and local Home Rulers through their support behind another Nationalist candidate. However,in January 1906,Ginnell stood again for Parliament and was elected. He would represent the people of North Westmeath in parliament,first in London and then in Dublin,for the rest of his life.

Within months of his election,Ginnell had begun the campaign which would make him a national figure and alienate him from many within the Home Rule Party. In October 1906,at a rally of small farmers at The Downs,near Mullingar,he called for cattle to be driven off the rich farmlands of the ranchers. “The land for the people.The road for the bullock.”,was the slogan he used. He told his listeners to”.They take up the hazel stick and drive” Many did indeed take up the stick and drove cattle off the ranches and onto the roads. Cattle drives took place across the Midlands and beyond. The courts were filled with men charged with cattle driving. Parts of the country were soon in the grip of what was essentially a class war between the ranchers and land hungry small farmers.

Ginnell himself was arrested in 1907 and spent some months in prison. His political colleagues were not happy with his actions.Many of the ranchers were themselves Home Rulers.Ginnell became increasingly alienated form the Home Rule Party-few of whom shared his radical agrarian and nationalist views. In 1909,he queried the use of funds within the Party and was expelled from the Party. Re-elected to Parliament in the two 1910 General Elections,he sat as an independent Nationalist for the next 6 years. The land agitation gradually died down The cattle driving campaign cannot really be said to have achieved much,but it may perhaps have had somr influence on the Birrell Land Act of 1909 which introduced compulsary purchase on estates where tenants all wished to buy.

Ginnell was a rather lonely and isolated figure at Westminister where his passion and integrity was admired but where he was seen as an austere and uncongenial personality. He was frequently in trouble with the Speaker over his lack of respect for rules of procedure,and he was suspended from the House on more than one occasion. He bombarded Ministers with questions on Irish and other issues and became known as,”The Member for Ireland.” Alone among the Irish Nationalist and Unionist MPs,he was a strong supporter of votes for women.

He married in 1882 but his wife died following a stillbirth in June 1883.In January 1902,he remarried. His second wife was,Alice King,daughter of a Mullingar doctor. Larry and Alice had no children. In 1918,Alice Ginnell,who shared Larry’s radical nationalist views,would make history by becoming the first female Election Agent in British or Irish history.
As well as his political work,Ginnell also continued with his legal and writing careers. He was called to the Irish Bar in 1906 and he wrote a book about the so-called “Grant” of Ireland to King Henry 11 of England in 1156 by the English born Pope Adrian,which formed the legal justification for the subsequent invasion of Ireland. Ginnell believed that the Papal document was a fake . He presented Pope Pius X with a copy of his book.

When the First World War began,Ginnell was bitterly opposed to John Redmond’s call for Irishmen to join the British Army and fight alongside Britain. He regarded the war as an imperialist conflict which had nothing to do with Ireland. He was accused of being pro-German and his speeches were censored and he was watched by Special Branch . He denied being pro-German and was probably closer to the “Neither King nor Kaiser” viewpoint than to genuine pro-Germans such as Casement. He defended people imprisoned in Britain as conscientious objectors and helped mothers rescue their underage sons from the military.

Following the Easter Rising,Ginnell fiercely attacked the British Government in parliament over the executions of the Leaders and the murder of civilians during the Rising. He called the Prime Minister,Herbert Asquith,a “murderer”,and was suspended once more from Parliament. He visited prisoners in British jails and relentlessly questioned ministers about the treatment of Irish prisoners. By the end of 1916 he had become the first MP to join Sinn Fein.

He canvassed for the Sinn Fein candidates in the landmark Roscommon and Longford by-elections in 1917 and withdrew from the House of Commons for good in July that year.,changing hid title to MIP (Member of the Irish Parliament.). He was arrested ,imprisoned,released and then re-arrested by the authorities in 1917 and 1918 and was in prison in England when the 1918 General Election was called. Constituency changes meant that his constituency now covered all of Westmeath. He was easily elected i as part of the Sinn Fein landslide. He was unable to attend the historic first meeting of Dail Eireann in January 1919,but was able to attend the April 10th meeting,which he found a moving occasion.He was one of only two TD’s too have served in parliament before.

Ginnell was appointed as Director of Propaganda for the new Dail Government.However he was soon in jail again and his job was passed on to Demond Fitzgerald. His health was now poor and,in June 1920 he took a year’s paid leave. He moved to America to act as a representative of the Dail Government there. In the elections to the Second Dail in May 1921,he was returned unopposed by the Westmeath voters. He went to Argentina in July 1921 to try and get the Argentinian Government to recognise the Irish Republic. He was now the Dail emissary to South America and he also visited Peru for the celebrations marking the centenary of Peruvian independence.

Ginnell opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty and tried to register his vote by telegram from America,against the Treaty when the vote was taken in the Dail. He was not,however,permitted to register his No vote. When the Treaty was ratified and the Provisional Government was set up he refused to recognise it and remained loyal to De Valera and the other Republicans. He was made a member of a Council of State set up by De Valera . In the General Election of 1922 he contested his Westmeath seat for the seventh time and ws once more elected-taking the third seat in the 4 seat constituency. He was the only Anti-Treaty TD to attend the first session of the Third Dail in September 1922.

However he was soon evicted after he repeatedly disrupted proceedings to demand to know whether the new Dail was an All-Ireland body and whether TD’s from the Six Counties could take their seats in it. He would never return to the Dail. Returning to America he was involved,along with Robert Briscoe in an attempt to take over the Irish Free State Diplomatic Mission in New York and in efforts to win American support for the Irish Republic to which he still gave allegiance.
Larry Ginnell died in Washington on April 17th 1923,at the age of 71. His remains were returned to Ireland ,where thousands turned out to pay their respects in Dublin and Westmeath.

Westmeath County Council,Mullingar Rural District Council and other Local Bodies adjourned their meetings as a mark of respect. He was buried in his native Delvin.
Larry Ginnell was a man of integrity and sincerity,inflexible at times and a man who probably would never have been comfortable serving in a government. His life of service to the people of Ireland gives the lie to the lazy cliche that politicians are only in power to enrich themselves and get power. Larry Ginnell showed that politics can be a noble profession practised by honourable people.
Ruth Illingworth



On Sunday,March 23rd 2014,a large audience in All Saints’ Church heard the distinguished Northern Irish politician,Seamus Mallon give an eloquent talk on the Peace Process and Northern Ireland today. The former Deputy First Minister and former Deputy Leader of the S D LP talked about the challenges facing the still deeply divided society that is Northern Ireland-a place where historical grievences and memories still run deep and where the extremist wings of Nationalism and Unionists now share power and look after the interests of their respective communities with little regard to the interests of the other side.

Introduced by the Rector of All Saints’ Revd Alastair Graham, as “The man who put Market hill on the map”, Mr Mallon gave his audience a stark insight into the realities of life in a divided society where two communities who have each inflicted great hurt on the other,live side by side. As he pointed out ,neither the leaders of Unionism or of Nationalism are going to lead their followers to Lough Neagh and get them to jump in! Neither community is going to go away.
Mr Mallon spoke with bleak honesty about how difficult it is for him personally to love the men who have gathered outside his house to shout abuse at him and wave flags. He talked about the legacy of discrimination and bigotry endured by Roman Catholics in the North over many decades .He also talked about visiting the homes of police officers killed by republicans.

Mr Mallon talked amusingly about how Northern Ireland has about five national anthems-including the British and Irish ones,as well as “God Save Ireland”, Ireland’s Call and the Orange Ballad “Dolly’s Brae”. He talked about the importance of community and how important it is. He talked about the racism which has appeared in Northern Ireland in recent years and expressed his unhappiness at the way in which some immigrants are suffering economic exploitation.

One of the most interesting parts of the talk was when Mr Mallon admitted to feeling hurt at what he sees as the way in which the moderate parties-the S D L P and the Ulster Unionists, were betrayed by the then Irish and British governments and the extremists-the DUP and Sinn Fein,were brought in. He felt that the position of then Ulster Unionist Leader,David Trimble was effectively cut from under him. Mr Mallon was particularly critical of the fact that Decommisssioning of paramilitary weapons was not made an obligation,feeling that this made life impossible for Trimble and also undermined the rule of law and the distinction between lawful and illegal armed forces .It was clear from his comments that Mr Mallon has little trust or respect for Messrs Blair,Aherne or Clinton.

Mr Mallon praised the work of clergy across the religious divide in the North who worked tirelessly for their communities,while acknowledging that some Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy had behaved in a tribal and unchristian manner. In reply to one question from the audience,he agreed that the Christian duty to love ones neighbour was very important and essential- a question of Humanity as much as Christianity.

A former teacher,Mr Mallon gave his audience a lesson on literature-reading from the works of a number of poets,including Wilfred Owen,Louis McNiece,Rudyard Kipling, John Hewitt and our President,Michael D Higgins. The poems he read reflected a loathing of war and mindless tribalism and a reminder of the common humanity we all share .
Mr Mallon expressed distaste for the way in which the present D U P and Sinn Fein coalition are running Northern Ireland and also shared his worry that the abolition of the Housing Executive will lead to abuses of the system in a situation where DUP and Sinn Fein are allocating jobs to their own supporters. He gave an amusing anecdote about a case in which a councillor gave one applicant for a house the front door key to a house and gave another applicant the backdoor key to the same house!

Mr Mallon talked about a possible future scenario in which the British withdraw from the North and the Unionists and other Parties come down to Dublin seeking to become part of the State here only to be told “you have a nice big parliament building up there. Go back up”. Mr Mallon also posed the quest[om as to whether the Irish Republic is a nation or a state. He appears to believe that the British may leave Northern Ireland at some point in the not too distant future and that the North may still explode again as it did in 1968.

The former Deputy First Minister stated that one aspect of the Peace Process which he felt had been a great success was the policing issue-the creation of the PSNI and the reforms of the Northern Justice system. He praised the role of the Police Ombudsman in the North and expressed concern at what he saw as an attempt to undermine the Garda Ombudsman by the Commissioner and the Minister. Tlking about the way in which the justice system had been undermined in the past in the North,Mr Mallon stated,very strikingly,that the Justice system belongs to the people and that it is the role of lawyers,police and politicians to administer the system for the people. Justice belongs to the people.

At the end of the talk,Revd Graham said that everyone in the audience would always remember that they were there that night to hear Mr Mallon speak and talked about how Mr Mallons’ sincerity could not be hidden. The large audience, then showed their appreciation for Mr Mallon by giving him a standing ovation. All present felt lucky to have had the opportunity to hear one of the architects of the Peace Process, here in Mullingar


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Imagine if Mullingar Cathedral was razed to the ground by religious or atheist fundamentalists. Imagine if St Brigids’Well was bulldozed out of existence or Belvedere House burned.In Iraq and Syria today,in the areas controlled by ISIS,a campaign of cultural genocide is underway,aimed at eradicating the cultural heritage of the Assyrian,Armenian and other Christian peoples who have lived in the region for almost as long as Christianity has existed,as well as the cultures and very existence of the Yezidi religion(some of whose followers live in Westmeath),the Shia Muslims (considered by ISIS to be heretics) and the Alawite people of Syria-an offshoot of Shia Islam.

What is happening today in Iraq and Syria is a tragedy of global proportions because it is not just Iraqi and Syrian heritage which is being destroyed -it is the heritage of all of humanity.

Historic links between Westmeath and Iraq/Syria go back some 2,000 years. Traders from Phoenicia,an Empire which covered much of modern day Lebanon and parts of Syria visited Ireland and may even have attended the great 15 day Fair which was held at the Royal Assembly Site and sacred centre of Ancient Ireland,the Hill of Uisneach.

A few centuries later the Vikings traded with the High Kings of Ireland at Lough Ennell. Coins minted in Baghdad c 800 AD,when Baghdad was one of the largest,richest and most cultured places in the world have been found in Lough Ennell. Early Christian illuminated Manuscripts from the Midlands region such as the Book of Durrow may have been influenced by similar Manuscripts produced in Syria in the 6th-7th centuies by monks of the Syriac Church. Monks from the Syrian region appear to have settled in parts of Ireland-including the Midlands,in the 7th century.

During the Crusades in the 1095-1300 Period,Christians from across Western Europe waged jihad to try and gain Christian control back over the Holy Land and other parts of the Middle East. Some of the Crusaders may have come from Ireland and the Dominicans in Mullingar raised funds locally for the Crusade campaigns. The Crusaders established short lived Christian kingdoms in areas of modern day Syria,Lebanon and Israel. The Knights Hospitallers Order established hostels to look after soldiers and pilgrims on their way to and from these kingdoms. One such hostel-known as the Frankhouse,was in Mullingar on the site of what is now the Annebrook Hotel.

In the early 20th century,new connections were established between Westmeath and Iraq/Syria when the First World War brought thousands of Irishmen serving in the British Army to what was then called Mesopotamia-modern day Iraq. In 1916-18,British forces deployed to Mesopotamia to try and drive out the Turks who had ruled the region for 400 years. Men from Westmeath’s “local ” regiment-the Leinster Regiment were involved in the fighting along the Tigris River around the city of Kut in the spring of 1916. One of the Westmeath men who saw service in the region was Private Edward Roe from Coole who was a witness to the end of Turkish rule ib Baghdad in March 1917.

As he prepared to enter the historic city,he recalled reading the “Tales of the Arabian Nights as a child and being beaten at school for having failed to do his homework because he had been reading instead about the adventures of Sinbad and of Ali Baba! Fr Bernard Farrell from Mullingar Parish served as a military chaplain in the southern Iraqi city of Basra in 1917-18 and on one occasion,he met the son of an RIC Inspector from Mullingar,who wrote to his father,telling him that,”I never thought that when I said goodbye to Father Farrell in Mullingar three years ago,we would meet on the banks of the Euphrates.”

One of the most famous military figures in the First World War was T. E Lawrence-known to history as “Lawrence of Arabia. ” He helped to lead the Arab revolt against Turkish rule across the Middle East. and was one of the first British soldiers to enter Damascus following the French and Arab capture of the Syrian capital in October 1918. Lawrence was the son of Sir Thomas Chapman of South Hill, Delvin. His Great-Uncle,Montagu Chapman was M.P for Westmeath in the 1870s and the Chapman family had lived in Westmeath since the 16th century.

After the war Lawrence helped reshape the map of the Middle East. He was one of those who could be credited with the creation of the modern nation of Iraq. Another person involved in the birth of Iraq was the archaeologist Gertrude Bell .She was a friend of Charles Howard-Bury,the owner of Belvedere House.

Westmeath born soldiers were probably among those British soldiers and airmen who served in Iraq during the 1920s,when Iraq was a British Mandate Territory. During the early years of the Mandate,the British fought against Arab Shia tribes in the south of Iraq and against the Kurdish tribes in Iraqi Kurdistan.

On November 11th,1918,Private Edward Roe from Coole was in Iraq. In the Battalion Diary which he was keeping,he noted that the end of the First World War on that day was celebrated with fireworks and Very Lights which,” lit up the sky from Mosul to Baghdad. ” A few weeks later,Roe and his comrades celebrated Christmas Day in Baghdad. Each soldier received two pints of beer. ! Basra,where British troops were based from 2003 to 2011,is a largely Shia Muslim city in the south of Iraq.

Mosul is the second largest city in Iraq and was until last year a very diverse place with a significant Christian population-including members of the ancient Assyrian Church of the East and the Chaldean Church,which has links with the Roman Catholic Church. Since ISIS forces occupied the city last summer most Christians have fled. There are now no Christian churches operating in Mosul for the first time in 1800 years.

The Mullingar born novelist,Josephine Hart, (1942-2011) ,was married to the Conservative Party peer and Advertising Executive,Lord Maurice Saatchi. Lord Saatchi,who has visited Mullingar on a number of occasions,was born in Baghdad in 1947.His family moved to Britain in 1950. The Saatchi family belonged to the Jewish community in Iraq. Jews lived in Iraq for at least 2,500 years before being forced out by government harrassment in the 1950s and 1960s. Fewer than 100 Jews-most of them elderly were left in the country by 2003.

In his London home Lord Saatchi has a painting of his late wife’s childhood home in Mill Rd Mullingar. The painting was done by Mullingar Artist and Art teacher,May Raleigh,who was commissioned to do the work by Lord Saatchi as a birthday present for Josephine.

In the 1970s and again in the last year,soldiers from Westmeath have served as UN Peacekeepers in the Golan Heights region of Syria/Israel. Soldiers and airmen of Westmeath ancestry or with other family connections to this county served with American,British and Australian forces during the Iraq conflict 2003-2011. Iraqi citizens have worked in hospitals in the Irish Midlands Region in recent years and refugees from Iraqi/Iranian Kurdistan have lived in Westmeath since 2006.
By Ruth Illingworth ©

Editors Note : Westmeath’s Finest Soliders from Mullingar and Athlone are again stationed  in  Syria  may 2015  as part of a peace keeping Mission there .We wish them a Safe and peacefull mission while there .


A large crowd gathered at Belvedere House on Friday,May 15th for the unveiling of wall plaques in the Reception Area highlighting the major mountaineering feats of two great Mullingar men; Anthony Adams-Reilly of Belmont ,Ballinea and Charles Howard-Bury of Belvedere. The plaques were unveiled by Dr Dawson Stelfox,Leader of the first Irish Expedition to Everest in 1993,Kevin Higgins of the Mountaineering Council of Ireland and Marian Keaney,former Westmeath County Librarian and expert on the life of Charles Howard-Bury.

Dawson Stelfox was the first Irishman to reach the summit of Everest,on May 27th 1993. This was the first successful British ascent of the mountain from the north side. The route taken by Dr Stelfox and his team was the same as that taken by Colonel Howard-Bury in 1921 when he led the first reconnaisance of the mountain for the Royal Geographical Society. Dr Stelfox spoke about the remarkable achievements of Howard-Bury and his colleagues which included,not just the discovery of the North Col and north-east ridge route to the summit,but also an original survey of 12,000 square miles and a detailed photographic survey of 600 square miles in the Everest region plus the revision of 4,000 sq miles of existing mapping ,as well as the discovery of new species of plants and flowers.

Dr Stelfox read an extract from Howard-Bury’s Diaries describing sunrise over Everest and then showed a photo of sunrise on Everest taken during the 1993 Expedition. He praised Howard-Bury for his open minded attitude towards the cultures of the peolple of Tibet and the other lands through which he travelled and noted that the photos taken by Howard-Bury provide an invaluable record of the now almost lost civilisation of Tibet.

Kevin Higgins from the Mountaineering Council of Ireland who grew up in Mullingar and will be best remembered by many for his role as Captain of the victorious Westmeath Minor Football Team in the 1963 All Ireland Championship,paid tribute to the climber and map maker,Anthony Adams Reilly. Adams Reilly was born in Ballinea in 1836 and grew up at Belmont House before going to school and university in England. He climbed extensively in the Alps in the 1860s,at a time when the region was divided between a number of countries and had still to be properly mapped. He climbed Mt Blanc twice in one year and climbed the mountain five more times in the next 5 years.

In 1863 he began a survey for Mt Blanc which was published by the Alpine Club in 1865. He also mapped the Mt Rosa district of Italy. His was the first correct map of the Mt Blanc chain. He climbed with all the great pioneering mountaineers of the age. His maps remained in use in France well into the 20th century and a number of features on Mt Blanc and in the area of the Matterhorn are named in his honour-including Col Superior Adams Reilly and Aiguille Adams Reilly.
He returned to live at Belmont in 1868 before moving to Wicklow and then Tipperary where he is buried at Collbawn,Kilbarren. He died in 1885 at the age of only 55. Kevin Higgins highlighted Adams Reilly’s importance as one of the key figures in the exploration and mapping of the Alps.

Marian Keaney spoke about the achievements of Charles Howard-Bury before and after the Everest expedition.She mentioned his illustrious ancestors amongst the English Tudor aristocracy,the Dukes of Norfolk and the Dukes of Suffolk. She also talked about the large amounts of source material now available on Howard-Bury in libraries and online,and the growing interest in his life.

In 2013 a group of young British and Mongolian explorers re-enacted the 1913 journey undertaken by Howard-Bury across Russia,Siberia and Central Asia to the Tian-Shan mountain range in China. (It was on this journey that Howard-Bury bought the bear,Agu, who lived at Belvedere for many years.).The 2013 expedition was entitled “One Steppe at a time”. Marian explained that googling “Charles Howard-Bury” online now brings up a vast range of material.
The Event also was shown a video from Nepal made by the Longford mountaineer,Paul Devanney. He has climbed mountains on 6 continents and was on his way to scale Everest when the earthquake stuck Nepal. He is now helping with relief efforts in the devastated country.

The wall plaques commemmorating Adams Reilly and Howard-Bury and detailing the maps they created of the Alps and Hi malayan regions were then unveiled by Dawson Stelfox,Kevin Higgins,Marian Keaney and Michael Duffy (member of the Mountaineering Council of Ireland and father of 32 marathon/Deca Ironman runner,Gerry Duffy.)
It is hoped that ,in time there may be a Howard-Bury museum of some kind at Belvedere. Mr Christy Maye,owner of the Greville Arms Hotel,brought out some of the Howard-Bury material which he has on display in the Greville Arms,including the stuffed head of Agu,the bear,to be shown at the launch.

(1) Mountaineering enthusiast Kevin Higgins, Mullingar and Kilkenny, giving an illustrated talk in Belvedere last Friday evening.

(2) From left are Jacinta O’Neill, Becka Duffy and Lucy Finnerty attending the function in Belvedere last Friday, 15 May.

(3) Left and right are Tim Lavery, CEO of the World Explorers Bureau, and Christy Maye, Mullingar at the function in Belvedere last Friday night.

(4) Dawson Stelfox, the first Irish man to climb Mount Everest, giving an illustrated talk on his own 1993 Expedition to scale Everest and on the legendary Mullingar mountaineers, Charles Howard-Bury (Belvedere) and Anthony Adams Reilly, to those attending the function and unveiling ceremony in Belvedere last Friday night, 15 May.

(5) Pictured after the unveiling of the wall panels display in the covered courtyard at Belvedere House, Gardens and Park last Friday night, 15 May, are, from left, Michael Duffy, Mullingar, the principal organiser of the event; author and historian Marian Keaney, Mullingar; Dawson Stelfox, Belfast, the first Irish man to climb Mount Everest; Peter O’Connell, Everest climber, and mountaineering enthusiast Kevin Higgins, Kilkenny and formerly from Mullingar.

(6) Among those in Belvedere on Friday evening were, left and right, Jonathan Shackleton, a great-grandson of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton,

(7) Mullingar author and historian Marian Keaney giving her talk on Charles Howard-Bury and Belvedere at the function last Friday night.

(8) Pictured at the talks in Belvedere last Friday are, from left, Dawson Stelfox, Michael Duffy and Peter O’Connell.

(9) A section of the attendance in Belvedere on Friday night last

-Ruth Illingworth
Thanks to James Wims (MCIJ) for supplying Photographs of this great night .