If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?

If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it? --Albert Einstein

Saturday, October 3, 2015

General James Longstreet: Defying the Stereotypes

General James Longstreet
What do Civil War General James Longstreet and U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond have in common?

They both served their country, they were both Republicans, and they were both born in Edgefield County, South Carolina. That’s not far from where I live.

On the surface, they seem mighty similar. But on closer inspection, they are radically different.

James Longstreet was second in command to Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg. While he highly respected his superior, Longstreet held a different philosophy regarding war tactics. He petitioned strenuously for Lee to move to a defensive position between the Union Army and Washington, D.C. where they could find “ground to their own liking.”

Lee was an aggressive leader who, like General George Patton of World War II, had much success, yet high casualties. These traits did not serve him well in this pivotal battle. Analysts believe his command style did not suit the situation at Gettysburg, but Lee was unable to adapt. He, against the advice of many of his officers, decided to attack the middle of the Union forces on July 3, 1863.

Longstreet was reluctant to lead an assault he did not believe in, and reportedly asked to be replaced, but Lee refused. The "Gettysburg" film clip below shows Longstreet’s vision of what has become known as Pickett’s Charge. A vision that proved devastatingly true.


After the war, Longstreet committed the unpardonable sin in the eyes of the “Lost Cause Movement,” which romanticized the Confederacy. He publicly criticized Lee’s leadership at Gettysburg in his memoirs. Worse than that, he became a Republican after the war. This was not Strom Thurmond’s Republican Party (the party infamous for its Southern Strategy). No, this was Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party. Longstreet served in the administration of Ulysses S. Grant. He advocated equal rights for blacks. For these reasons, he was vilified by his former compatriots.
Longstreet's statue at Gettysburg
In 1998, the above statue of James Longstreet was one of the last to be erected. Compare it to that of Robert E. Lee. Rather than set upon a massive pedestal as are most generals' statues, it is tucked into the trees and at ground level. 

Robert E. Lee

I wonder which took more courage for Longstreet—fighting the horrific battles of the Civil War or daring to hold unpopular beliefs among his own people.

Strom Thurmond, Longstreet’s fellow native son of Edgefield, fathered a black daughter while he labored to obliterate civil rights for African-Americans. Who showed integrity? Who pandered to white racist fears for his own advancement?

I know whom I admire.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Seamus an Chaca

Don’t dump on the Irish or you may go down in history as “Seamus an Chaca,” translated as James the Shit.
A Catholic monarch in 1688, King James II of England put the Protestant powers in a tizzy by granting all Christians the right to worship as they pleased. A big hit with the Irish, but a job killer for James.

The Protestant establishment called on William of Orange, a Dutch Protestant, to invade and eliminate James the Free Love Hippie Flower Child. Within the elite, James was not a popular guy and had little support. It might've had something to do with him ogling their wives "mightily." Even his daughters, Mary and Anne, jumped ship and sided with William of Orange (Mary’s husband). James lost the throne and moved to France.
Pope Alexander: "What? Louis 14
was a douche."
Two years later, the Dethroned One returned via Ireland with an army of French regiments, bolstered by the Irish, often armed only with farm implements.

In 1690 on the River Boyne, north of Dublin, they hit a formidable wall composed of William of Orange’s forces, the Dutch Blue Guard, along with many Dutch Catholics. The kick in the Irish gut was William’s key ally—Pope Alexander VIII (not a fan of the French king, Louis XIV).
During the Battle of the Boyne, James’s forces were overwhelmed and the French cavalry organized a hasty, but orderly retreat. Meanwhile, King James Two hauled his butt to Wexford, then slinked back to France.

Kiss it, James.
This vanishing act did not sit well with the Irishmen who'd fought fiercely with no more than pitchforks in hand. Hence, on the Emerald Isle, James is forever associated with a stinking pile of excrement.

Sources: "The Battle of the Boyne." BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 01 Oct. 2015. <>.                         
Murphy, Colin. "Seamus an Chaca." The Priest Hunters:. Dublin: O'Brien, 2013. 33-36. Print.    
Photo: "Carfania & Marcolf: Different Positions for Mooning Judges." Purple Motes. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Oct. 2015. <>.                                               

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Seven reasons NOT to time travel to the Middle Ages

Time travel is an intriguing concept that, according to scientists, Einstein’s E=mc2 makes feasible—if you’re heading to the future. Stephen Hawking insists going back in time is impossible. Who knows? However, if the ability exists, when you go to the days of knights and ladies, be sure you don’t become a damsel in intestinal distress. Otherwise, here’s what’s in store:

         1. Should a doctor suspect you have internal bleeding, he might prescribe a tincture of ethanol mixed with a ground-up mummy robbed from an Egyptian grave. Somewhat pricy, in any case.
        2.  If struck by a stroke, however, you could enjoy powdered human skull mixed with chocolate. A little gritty, but yum!
       3. While hobnobbing with England’s King Charles II, he may offer you his personal tincture, “The King’s Drops,” consisting of human skull powder mixed with alcohol. Bottoms up! Yet, the skulls that create these scrumptious cures come from Irish burial sites, so maybe Slainte! is more appropriate.

          4.Wounded during your Gothic Getaway? A bandage soaked in human fat is the Neosporin of the day. 
       5. A good human blubber massage will ease the gout you’ve picked up, pigging out at all those fabulously fatty feasts in the Great Hall.
         6. While not easy to procure, still-warm human blood makes an amazing energy drink. If you’re traveling on a budget, you can linger after an execution and, for a small fee, purchase a steaming cup of hoodlum hemoglobin.
        7.  Before you return, the Franciscan friary’s recipe for human blood marmalade is a marvelous souvenir.

        As Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci said, "We preserve our life with the death of others. In a dead thing insensate life remains which, when it is reunited with the stomachs of the living, regains sensitive and intellectual life." Who are we to argue?


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Freedom of Thought

In 1968, my sophomore year of high school, Huckleberry Finn set me free.

I grew up as a Catholic with lots of questions.  I believed deeply in a loving God, but so much doctrine seemed fraught with injustice. “Why can’t unbaptised babies go to heaven? They can’t help it if their parents don’t go to church.” “If a person lives where they never even heard of Jesus, how can they get to heaven?” “If someone grows up poor and in a bad neighborhood, is it right they are judged the same as someone with good parents and a comfortable home?”
My mother found my questions annoying, maybe even disturbing. Huge sigh. “I don’t know, Mary Beth,” she would say. “That’s something you can ask God after you die.” I was dismissed.

Between my shyness and the distress my mother displayed, I didn’t even broach the subject with the nuns. They might have deemed me a smart-ass or some other variety of troublemaker. There were no answers to be found from my catechism classes, weekly sermons, or family. I learned to keep my thoughts to myself, but the internal struggle continued.

Did God love all his creation or just some of us? Could some have been set up to fail? What about the ones my church taught were definitely going to hell? My heart ached for those people. Did that mean I loved them more than God?

That question disturbed even me. I was horrified by these thoughts and stashed them into all-too-shallow graves. Before long, they would dig themselves out, causing me to cringe in the humiliation of my heresy.

Then came tenth grade English and the thirty-first chapter of Huckleberry Finn, the story of a boy escaping civilization with a runaway slave, Jim. Ken Burns calls Chapter Thirty-One the “moral climax” of the story. Huck learns that Jim has been captured and will be returned to slavery. The boy becomes ashamed that he has done something as vile as helping a runaway slave, that he was “stealing a poor old woman’s n--- that hadn’t ever done [him] no harm.”

He felt certain he would burn in hell. Once he wrote a letter to Miss Watson detailing Jim’s whereabouts, he felt free from sin. Yet warm memories of their trip down the river and the many kindnesses Jim had bestowed on Huck tortured the boy.

“It was a close place. I took [the letter] up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right, then I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up.”

The potency of these words—only powerful because Huck truly believed he would go to hell—slammed me in the heart. What more can you sacrifice for the love of another than your immortal soul? It is the ultimate act of love.

Yet, I saw this through the eyes of one who grew up watching the Civil Rights Movement battle injustices on the daily news. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been gunned down only months before.

The original audience in 1885 had no such perspective; many likely still subscribed to the beliefs about slavery and the nature of black people with which Huck was surrounded. How many early readers still believed Huck’s attitude was sinful?

That led to my moment of enlightenment—Truth is not determined by popular consent. Belief by everyone you know does not constitute Reality. I believed God rejoiced at Huck’s decision and He would rejoice as heartily if I, too, would think beyond what we call “conventional wisdom.” Even Biblical interpretation is subject to human fallacy.

Perhaps God smiled warmly on my questions. I was no longer a heretic. I became free and I remain free. I ponder the nature of God and humans. My worldview does not conform fully to any one religion or denomination, but is always based in love.

Twain’s masterpiece has been controversial since its publication in 1885. Then it was banned as “immoral”, “suitable only for the slums.” They made no mention of the racial stereotypes and epithets that concern censors of today. Yet all these protectors of youth have neglected to examine the permission the book gives its readers to think their very own radical thoughts.

Like Huck. Like me.

NOTE: This article was reworked from a previous post on my private blog.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Word Histories: In Defense of Rush

A Man of the Ages
Off the bat, I admit this defense is slow in coming. The controversy I hope to put to rest occurred over three years ago, but is there any statute of limitations on rectifying slurs against a man’s character?
You may remember 2012 when the question of contraception as a standard healthcare benefit was being hashed out in the public discourse. A law student from Georgetown University, Sandra Fluke, argued passionately that this must be universally covered.
Rush Limbaugh made a simple comment taken completely out of context. Commenting on Ms. Fluke, Rush said—and I quote, “What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right?”
Oh, the flap that followed! So many were appalled at this “attack” on the character of the young woman.
But consider that Rush is a man of the ages. The term “slut” only took on the current sexual context in 1966. Yes, you read that right—1966! And Rush is so much older than that. He, I’m sure, is aware that the word has a wide and varied history that has nothing to do with this vulgar definition.
The word came into being in the 14th century as a description of a “dirty, slovenly, or untidy woman.” Chaucer referred to an untidy man as one. Basically, the word described a lazy slob, man or woman. If a kitchen maid kneaded her bread poorly, the little hard pieces in the loaf were called “slut pennies.” So, come on. It’s not what you were thinking.
In fact, Samuel Pepys, a pretty well-respected guy from the 1600s, wrote in his famous diary, “My wife called up the people to washing by four o'clock in the morning; and our little girl Susan is a most admirable slut, and pleases us mightily, doing more service than both the others, and deserves wages better.”
While some of you with wicked minds might find this strange, Pepys was merely being playful with the word, like calling his child a scamp or a rascal.
Which is no different than the misunderstood Rush Limbaugh. Surely, he was calling Sandra Fluke a “scamp” or “rascal” who pleased him mightily. After all, he’s just a big, cuddly grandfather figure.
Shut up, Rush.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Book Review: The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

I don’t know what I expected when I started The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, but what I got wasn’t it.

Author Jonas Jonasson’s writing style keeps the reader at a distance from the characters, using minimal dialogue or even names. I was strangely drawn in, nonetheless.
The whole thing was much like Forrest Gump in its absurd situations, that only worked for Forrest, I think, because he was mentally handicapped and of pure heart. He had no idea what he went through was phenomenal.

Here, we have an exceptionally intelligent woman who is able to pull off the most astounding things because she can hide her intellect behind the face of a black woman who grew up cleaning latrines. This enabled her to be invisible. No one in the time frame story could fathom a person like the young South African, Nombeko.

While many of the events in the story challenge common sense, it works because Nombeko is so understated. Nothing much rattles her; she uses logic as she maneuvers among crazy people and emotional basket cases. Her calm manner and dry sense of humor enabled me to swallow it all.
I thoroughly enjoyed the great detail of actual world events starting in the 1960s to the present. Jonasson is either brilliant, a great researcher, or both.

While this book is certainly unusual—quirky really—I enjoyed it.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Robert Todd Lincoln--A Life of Synchronicities

Robert Todd Lincoln as a
young man--rather dashing!
I heard an odd bit of trivia concerning the eldest son of Abraham Lincoln.

I’ve always heard lots about poor Willie, who died while in the White House, and Tad, called a “notorious hellion” by observers. They say he even charged people to see his father, but that’s a bit off-topic.
Robert was the only son to reach adulthood and was enrolled in Harvard during the Civil War years. Mary Todd kept him out of the war until the final months when he was made a captain and served on Grant’s immediate staff. Understandably, this embarrassed young Robert Lincoln. As it should have.

Abe and Mary Todd invited Robert to accompany them to the Ford Theater the night of his father’s assassination, but he declined. Once tragedy struck, the son rushed to his father’s side and was with Abe Lincoln at the time of his death.
Notable, but not odd. On to some eerie coincidences. Robert Todd Lincoln was present at two presidential assassinations and I’m not counting his father’s.

As James Garfield’s Secretary of War in 1881, Robert was with Garfield at the Sixth Street Train Station in Washington, DC when the president was shot. The leader hung on for eleven weeks, then died.
Twenty years later, President William McKinley invited Lincoln to accompany him to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. There, an anarchist shot McKinley in the abdomen, resulting in his death about a week later.

Robert Lincoln was later invited to another presidential event, but before anyone else could say it, he responded, "No, I'm not going, and they'd better not ask me, because there is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present."
There have been four fatal assassinations of presidents of the United States in our history. Robert Todd Lincoln was in attendance or arrived shortly thereafter for three of them.

Now for good measure, one more odd coincidence. While in college, Robert Todd Lincoln was jostled on a crowded railroad platform in Jersey City until he was crushed against the train. In later years he wrote, “In this situation the train began to move, and by the motion I was twisted off my feet, and had dropped somewhat, with feet downward, into the open space, and was personally helpless.”
Run, Robert! Run!
Suddenly, a rescuer grabbed his coat collar and hauled Lincoln to safety. He turned to thank his rescuer, only to find it was the famous actor, Edwin Booth.

Robert told of the incident to a colleague on Grant’s staff who happened to be Edwin Booth’s friend. The friend wrote Booth of the incident, who remembered it, but had had no idea the young man was the president’s son. They say it was a comfort to him in later years after his brother, John Wilkes’s dirty deeds.
Robert Todd Lincoln lived to the ripe old age of eighty-two--not the rock star his father had been, but witness to some of the most momentous events of his lifetime.

An intelligent Forrest Gump, you might say.

NOTE: This article was reworked from a previous post on my private blog.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Word Histories: Gorilla

Hanno! What an asshat.
I wanted one of my characters in Aroon to call someone a gorilla. They couldn’t. The word as we know it today didn’t exist in 1750 when my book takes place.

An American missionary to Liberia, Thomas S. Savage, first acquired bones of a new species of ape. In 1847, Savage and naturalist, Jeffries Wyman, presented their findings to the Boston Society of Natural History where they gave the skull and bones the scientific name of Troglogdytes gorilla.

Savage and Wyman got the word “gorilla” from Hanno the Navigator, a Carthaginian explorer of the fifth or sixth century B.C. who took 60 ships through Pillars of Heracles (Strait of Gibraltar) and down the West African coast. How far south he traveled is controversial. It seems Hanno and his Carthaginian colleagues made changes in the distances and directions of his account to conceal the true routes. They were determined to remain masters of the seas.
You know what they say about Carthaginians.
One strange excerpt of his logbook states that they came to an island “inhabited by a rude description of people. The females were much more numerous than the males, and had rough skins: our interpreters called them Gorillae. We pursued but could take none of the males; they all escaped to
"My bad."
the top of precipices, which they mounted with ease, and threw down stones; we took three of the females, but they made such violent struggles, biting and tearing their captors, that we killed them, and stripped off the skins, which we carried to Carthage: being out of provisions we could go no further.”

That is disgusting. I would imagine they came across actual gorillas that the explorer thought were rough, hairy people. Seriously, Hanno? The skins they stripped from the females were taken back to Carthage where, it is said, they remained on display for 350 years until Carthage fell to Rome.
The term “gorilla” came from Hanno’s native interpreters, leading Online Etymology Dictionary to speculate it was an African word. When Thomas Savage and Jeffries Wyman encountered this new species, they decided the creatures were the ones described by Hanno centuries ago.

I guess gorillas were Sasquatch of the 1800s.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A Monument to Freedom

One month from today is the fiftieth anniversary of a major turning point in the Civil Rights Movement—the assault on the Edmund Pettus Bridge known as “Bloody Sunday.”

Nearly two years ago, my husband took me on a surprise trip to Alabama. After an evening at the Monroeville Courthouse watching a local production of To Kill a Mockingbird, we headed north toward Montgomery. At Exit 167 on Interstate 65, we turned west on U.S. Highway 80, the route marchers took from Selma to the statehouse in Montgomery—a 54-mile trek along the highway.
Once off the exit, I was struck by a National Park Service sign that announced the “Selma to Montgomery National Historical Trail.” This was it. The road those courageous men, women, and
children had hiked, risking all. I was overwhelmed and moved to tears—tears that fell intermittently during the entire drive to Selma.

As the trip progressed, my husband, Wendy, and I speculated on what such a long walk (it took five days) would be like. We had only a month earlier entered the Cooper River Bridge Run, a 10K in Charleston, South Carolina. Even though I was a walker, the 6.2 miles generated painful shin splints. How did these people do it?
“They were in their church clothes,” Wendy said. “And dress shoes.”

Shoes worn by Juanita T. Williams
during the Selma to Montgomery March
Oh, my Lord. We wore comfortable clothes and shoes designed for optimum support on a walk only a fraction of the distance. They wore wingtips. Juanita T. Williams, activist, donated her leather loafers to the Smithsonian Institute. The blisters and open sores must have been agonizing.
After driving nearly an hour, my breath caught in my throat. The Edmund Pettus Bridge. The site of such brutality that the rest of the nation could no longer turn away in apathy.

We parked the car and, hand in hand, began to walk across the landmark as my emotions again simmered to the surface.
The bridge's sidewalk was surprisingly narrow. A thin metal rail provided the only barrier between me and the swirling waters of the Alabama River. My moderate fear of bridges kicked in and I insisted on walking on the road side. However, there was no shoulder between it and the cars, and my husband worried I would be struck by a passing vehicle. They were moving at a pretty good clip. Finally, we compromised with me walking behind him, a foot or so away from the road, as we continued to hold hands.

“How did they fit on this sidewalk?” I asked.
Reviewing the films with that in mind, I saw that they walked in twos, careful not to step into the road. I know they wanted to follow all laws, hoping to prevent excuses, it turns out, the authorities did not need.

We reached the end of the bridge. The National Park Service website describes what happened there in 1965.
"As they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, they were met by a column of State Troopers and local volunteer officers of the local sheriff's department who blocked their path.

The non-violent protesters were told by Maj. John Cloud that they had two minutes to return back to their church and homes. In less than the time allotted, they were attacked by the Law Enforcement Officers with nightsticks and teargas. According to several reports, at least 50 protestors required hospital treatment. The brutality that was displayed on this day was captured by the media; however, the media was held back as the protesters retreated, where the violence continued for some time."
Reproduction of MLK's
Birmingham jail cell
What was then Haisten’s Mattress and Awning Company is now the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute. Its collections feature the history of the nonviolence movement as a whole, including the works of Gandhi and Mother Teresa. A replica of Martin Luther King’s cell in the Birmingham jail moved us, but what struck us most was the exhibit that ran throughout the museum. The footprints of Foot Soldiers for the movement.

Shoes of civil rights workers
Not only were shoes featured at this museum, but also at the Martin Luther King Visitor Center in Atlanta. It’s a powerful metaphor. It took the baby steps and grand strides of thousands of people to cross that bridge and lead the rest of us to the freedom King dreamed about.
Two weeks following Bloody Sunday there were not 600 marchers ready to cross Edmund Pettus Bridge. There were 25,000. And with a court order, they completed that march to Montgomery—five months before President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

Yes, the Edmund Pettus Bridge is a shrine. To determination. To courage. To justice.
And I was humbled to be there.

Photo of shoes from

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Cruel and Unusual

A portion of F.W. Byrne's "Execution of Robert Emmet in
Dublin in 1803"
In 1766, Father Nicholas Sheehy was hanged, drawn and quartered, then decapitated by the state. This was his penalty for a murder he clearly did not commit.

During my research, I recently found a book, The Case of Fr. Nicholas Sheehy, edited by Ed O’Riordon that compiles the known accounts of this tragedy. I immediately ordered this treasure trove.
While corresponding with Mr. O’Riordon, he forwarded me an article he recently wrote for the South Tipperary Nationalist newspaper. In it, he considered the horror we feel as ISIS beheads innocents before our very eyes. “It is,” he writes, “the stuff of nightmares.”

Even as I compose this post, the fates of a Japanese journalist and Jordanian pilot are teetering between freedom and a barbaric death. O’Riordon quotes the reactions of two British Prime Ministers. David Cameron called the actions “despicable and barbaric” while former PM John Major referred to “thirteenth century barbarism.” All true. It sickens every one of us. Many news outlets (thank God) refuse to show the videos and I, for one, will not watch.

Yet, nearly 250 years ago, Father Nicholas Sheehy, a parish priest of County Tipperary, dared to stand up for the poor and struggling against powerful landowners considered by one historian “lunatic fringe.” Convicted of a trumped-up murder charge, the priest’s execution was swift and brutal.

O’Riordon brings this home as we think of today’s news reports. “We should hold on to those feelings of terror and dread and use them to understand the feelings of the people of South Tipperary when Fr Nicholas Sheehy P.P. was hanged and beheaded in Clonmel, in front of his parishioners and family, in 1766.”
Not the thirteenth century. Only two and a half centuries ago. Under British law.

Unbelievably, that was not enough. The priest’s severed head was staked in front of the jail for TWENTY YEARS for all to see as they walked the streets—as a ghoulish warning.
This was not uncommon practice then for true or perceived criminals. About ten years earlier in Boston, a slave named Mark was hanged for murdering his master. His rotting body was placed on display for twenty years. It is said Paul Revere passed these remains on his famous ride.

While we are appropriately horrified by what is going on in Syria and Iraq, it would serve us to remember that, but for a handful of generations, go we.
And yes, it was every bit as horrific.

NOTE: The above picture is from the cover of Ed O'Riordon's book "The Case of Fr. Nicholas Sheehy". While it does not depict Sheehy's execution, Robert Emmet's was similar.

Monday, January 19, 2015


If you touched an item belonging to someone long deceased, would you sense his spirit? Could you experience her presence? My encounters tell me sometimes yes, sometimes no. I invite you to share your views on this subject.

The historical figure on whom I base my book, Aroon, is Father Nicholas Sheehy of Clogheen and Clonmel, who was executed on March 15, 1766 for treason. It’s not simple, but basically, like Martin Luther King, Jr., he urged the poor Irish to stand up for themselves as men.
I visited the tomb of Father Sheehy in 2005. Did I feel something? Yes. Was it overwhelming? No. Nevertheless, standing in the ancient graveyard on that misty day, while unseen ravens squawked from overhanging trees, I felt something. I was there for a reason, I believed, called to be in this place, and I would return.

Since then, I started this blog, which has put me, via the internet, in virtual contact with Father Sheehy. As I wrote in my last post, a descendant of Mr. Billy Griffiths confirmed that a cure Father Sheehy reputedly left to the Griffiths did indeed exist, even to this day. She could not confirm its effectiveness, but she assured me that, as late as the 1970s, folks still sought it out.
I have had other encounters with Father Sheehy’s footprint on this earth. A young Irish student from Clonmel, County Tipperary, the very town that held the priest’s trial and execution, contacted me seeking more information about the historical figure. I told Ciera what I knew, sent a few photos, and in return, she emailed pictures of the museum’s artifacts. Relics of which I was unaware.

These items included Father Sheehy’s signature, which once again, caused me to speculate on this legend as a flesh-and-blood man. In what ways was he just like us? How was he exceptional?
Ciera was permitted, by appointment, to view this and his purple stole. She sent me the photo she took. The symbol of his station among the common people whom he died to defend. Even gazing at the item on my computer screen, I was in awe of his courage and commitment.

On this very day, I’ve received more information from an historian from Clogheen, County Tipperary, the village to which Nicholas Sheehy ministered. I will share that in another post.
The man was real. His mission was righteous. And he paid the ultimate price.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Father Sheehy's Secret Potion

The mausoleum that Father Sheehy hid in.

The Irish are known for their whimsical stories that some even believe are historical truth. While researching the martyred priest, Nicholas Sheehy, I found my share of questionable “facts”. For instance, the landowner I based much of Aroon on, Sir Thomas Maude, wore a donkey’s tail, they say, indicating his high level of jackass-iveness. (If Shakespeare can invent over 1000 words, surely I can conjure up one.)
Another interesting account, told to me by local Clogheen historian John Tuohy, pertained to the time Father Sheehy was a fugitive from the law. Considered treasonous for his associations with the Levellers, Sheehy went into hiding. By day, he huddled in a mausoleum found in the Shanrahan Cemetery where he now lies. By night, he emerged, then crawled through a small window in the adjacent farmhouse to be fed and pampered by a Protestant couple, Mr. and Mrs. William Griffiths. There, he was permitted to secretly perform his priestly duties.

The farmhouse is still there.

 When Father Sheehy finally decided to give himself up, with the provision that he be tried in Dublin rather than locally, he had little to give his gracious hosts. So, as the story has it, he bestowed upon them a secret cure for eczema and various other ailments, with the condition that it be shared freely with the common people in need. Father Sheehy’s other stipulation was that the recipe be handed down through Mrs. Griffiths, whose maiden name was Baylor, to the women in the family.

While this is a very kind account of Father Sheehy’s love for the poor and gratitude to a generous family of another faith, I was skeptical of its truth. It sounded like the exaggerations I’ve read too many times on this journey with Father Sheehy.
Then, a most unexpected communication arrived. An American woman who’d read my accounts on this blog contacted me, hoping I had more information about Father Sheehy. But she enlightened me far more than I had her.

The woman is the descendant of the Griffiths couple who hid Father Sheehy. I was stunned when she informed me that two members of her family still hold the recipe of which I’d read, known by them as “the cures.”
Father Sheehy's grave--a double tomb
holding him and another priest.
While she did not own the recipe herself, she wrote that as late as the 70s, one relative was “actively concocting and distributing the cures. They were known throughout the region and … people were coming to the door all day and all night to request various things” which her relative mixed for them, refusing any payment. Just as Father Sheehy had specified two hundred years previously.

The hairs on my arm raised as I read her email. The story was true and, quite possibly, Father Sheehy’s gratitude is still helping the common people all these decades later, to this very day.
My new friend wrote, “I can’t speak to whether they actually could be scientifically proven to work, but I certainly can confirm that they are real and that people believed that they work.” She went on to say, “We were always told that they were given to the family by a priest who the family concealed, but we hadn’t realized what a famous and interesting priest it was until recently.”

For me, this new knowledge brought Father Nicholas Sheehy out of the realm of legend and into the real, flesh-and-blood world. I felt closer to him. And more curious. If this was true, what else actually happened? (Surely not the ass’s tail.)
Thanks to another reader, I was able to learn more of the tangible existence of this fascinating man. Look for that in next week’s post.