OPINION: Donegal men's role in the USA

Meehan's Muses with Paddy Meehan

Paddy Meehan

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Paddy Meehan

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editorial@donegaldemocrat.com

OPINION:   Donegal men's role in the USA

"Wild Atlantic Words" Charlie Garratt, Ann Garratt, Darren Gallagher, Malachy Sweeney, Sally Neary, Marie Hannigan and Clarrie Pringle.

During my recent rambles travelogue around the USA I wrote on the fact that I visited West Point Military Academy and mentioned Irish emigrant Martin Maher who worked there for 50 years.
Since that, a series of coincidences occurred which I appreciate.

Last week Sky television screened among my all time favourite movies , ‘The Long Gray Line’, starring Tyrone Power (Martin Maher) and Maureen O’Hara (Mary O’ Donnell). Filmed on location at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point with superb scenery, more significant, the fact that during my travels there, I walked the Academy areas on the Hudson river shown in the film.
Not only that but the film relates a fantastic story of Irish immigrant Martin Maher the main character, from Tipperary who in 1898 secured a waiter’s job at West Point.
Two years later he enlisted in the army, going through the ranks and ended up a swimming instructor and ‘Master of the Sword’. Many of the well known U.S. high ranking soldiers and generals taught to swim by the Tipperary man.
But wait until you read this one.Another young Irish immigrant also came to work at West Point, named Mary O’Donnell who married Marty. Where do you think she was from? Meenacreave, Annagry Co Donegal.
Sadly their first baby, a boy, died at infancy and they could not have any more children, so both took it upon themselves to look after the young Corps of Cadets throughout the years. Many who eventually became household names - for instance, five star generals Dwight Eisenhower later President of the USA, George Patton( Battle of the Bulge) etc.
Again, coincidentally last week I received a very nice letter from Muses reader Annette O’Donnell who now resides in Inver but originally from Annagry.
I couldn’t believe my luck. Annette writes that the above mentioned Mary O’Donnell was a distant relative of her family and the ruins of her old home still to be seen in the Meenacreave area. Better still, Annette also enclosed a photo of the grave, pride of place at West Point, of Martin and Mary Maher which proudly shows Martin born in Ballygrine, Tipperary and Mary born in Meenacreave, Co Donegal.

A Unique Area
I am not going to go into boundary areas as to where the Rosses starts and finishes, but just going to merely state a well known fact. The general Gaeltacht area of West Donegal is indeed a fascinating one, whose sons and daughters contributed immensely to the history and advancement of the United States of America.
For instance, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Army, the highest ranking military officer in the U.S. Armed Forces, retired in 2015.
His grandfather John Devenney left Ranafast in 1926 and caught the emigrant boat to the USA. Martin, a fluent Gaelic speaker, spent every summer of his youth in the Ranafast Gaeltacht. There's scope for a Heritage Centre in the area to capture reflect on all these people..

“The place was buzzing”
Is gra geal mo chroi thu, Thir Chonaill, a stor’,’Do lui mar bheadh seoid ghlas san fharraige mor”.
The words of the ancient ‘Sean-Dun na nGall’ as excellently sung by Mountcharles lady Eithne Sneedon at the book launch in the Manhattan lounge Donegal Town last week of the ‘Wild Atlantic Words’.
A collection of short stories by ‘Meas’ a creative writing group, many of these well known local authors, Darren Gallagher, Ann Garratt, Charlie Garratt, Marie Hannigan, Sally Neary, Clarrie Pringle, Malachy Sweeney. These 21 spell bounding stories, from Malachy’s, ‘The Bee’s Knees’, Sally Neary’s ‘Pilgrims’ to Ann Garratt’s ‘The Phoenix’ provide a unique insight into a part of Ireland where people once gathered around turf fires to indulge their love of storytelling, a craft which lives on through Meas writers today.