Journey of a First-Time Novelest: Part II
Gearoid and Maud O'Sullivan
Irish Government Backs Writer in War on Wikipedia!
Yes, the headline may be a teeny bit dramatic, but it grabbed your attention, didn't it? Besides, it happens to be true. In fact, thanks to the intervention of the Irish government, the protagonist of my literary/historical novel, my beloved ancestor Gearoid O'Sullivan, is no longer a zombie!
That's right. My last frustrating years-long attempt to correct and add additional information to Gearoid's biography on Wikipedia seems to have stuck. This is in contrast to prior attempts to make corrections on Wikipedia, which failed when my phantom editor/stalker chose to revert Gearoid's corrected bio to its original, incorrect status.
I took great personal affront at the fact that Wikipedia had my poor great-great few times removed cousin Gearoid dying in 1994, when he actually died in 1948, eight years after the death of his first wife, Maud. Somewhere between 1940 and 1948, he managed to remarry a woman named Mary, but I cannot find a trace of their marriage record.
Maud, by the way, was the sister of Kitty, the woman engaged to Michael Collins and portrayed by Julia Roberts in the film Michael Collins. (Don't worry Gearoid, your day will come. Liam Neeson is cute and made a great Michael Collins. However, I think we can persuade Johnny Depp to portray you in the film they make about you - as he has already mastered a fairly respectable Irish accent in several films and sort of looks like you when you were younger and possessed your dangerous black Irish good looks.)
Irish Government Steps In!
Yes, the above subhead is true - in fact more truthful than most things you will read on Wikipedia. The truth about Gearoid has been proven definitively by the Irish Government and her loyal public servants who maintain a biographical database of all current and former members of Ireland's two houses of Parliament, known as the Houses of the Oireachtas. The "Parliament" comprises two governing bodies: the Dail, or lower house, and the Senate, or upper house. Sound familiar to you Americans? Well it's not . . . but that's a post for another day.
A Bugged Hubster Write to the Government
Some time back I wrote the following note to the reference library of Ireland's esteemed governing body:
Hello. I am a descendant of Gearoid O'Sullivan, one of the original members of the Second Dail. I am a writer as well and have been researching Gearoid's life and times for a book. In the course of researching him, I have come across quite a bit of misinformation. For example, the Wikipedia entry claims his death occurred in 1994. I know for a fact that he died in 1948, on Good Friday, ironically, but cannot put my hands on a copy of his obituary. I remember seeing a newspaper clip covering his funeral - a state funeral in which the Irish Tricolor that also draped Michaael Collins' casket was used to cover Gearoid's. I try to correct the information in Wikipedia, but the page editor keeps changing it back because I do not have "evidence" to prove my claim.
I am wondering if within your library, you have any records of Gearoid that may help me prove my claim definitively? I also wouldn't mind anything else you came across, as he seems to be "the man in the shadows" despite the various positions he held and the pivotal roles he played
in Ireland's history. Thank you so much for any assistance you might be able to provide.
(Side note: Even though I did this very thing, I think it's presumptuous to thank someone for a favor they haven't actually granted yet, don't you?)
But in this case, I was not acting "in great haste" (inside joke Michael Collins fans will get) in expressing my gratitude. Not only did the exceptionally helpful information assistant within the Houses of the Oireachtas Library & Research Service send me a load of helpful information - she also checked the service's database and discovered that Gearoid's biographical data was incorrect there! As it was this information - probably entered incorrectly decades ago - that my censor relied upon to undo my edits on Wikipedia, I was more than pleased to learn that the information has now been corrected. I can only imagine my censor's response when he smugly went to the Oireachtas database to once again "prove" me mistaken, only to learn that it was he who had been mistaken all along. Ha!
(Incidentally, if you have ever been to any type of public agency in the states - Motor Vehicles comes to mind - you would be as impressed as I have been to discover how kind and helpful even the most overworked public servant in Ireland has been during the course of my research.)
Not a book I'd recommend
Patriot Deserves His Due
Of course, my quest to correct misinformation about Gearoid doesn't end there. I solemnly vow to fight until I am sure that Gearoid is remembered properly. He was a brave Irish patriot who fought in 1916, inspired by his idealism, a man who risked life and limb and who stood on the rooftop of the General Post Office in Dublin amidst fierce shelling in order to raise the rebel flag. He deserves nothing less than an honest biography.
However, it's hard enough to research a figure who did indeed operate in the enormous shadow of the more charismatic Michael Collins, Gearoid's cousin and best friend. My hunch is that Gearoid liked it that way. I think he liked the secrecy and "cloak and dagger" activities that allowed him to slip in and out of hairy situations unrecognized; in fact, I've recently learned from reading the book "In Great Haste," by Leon O'Broin - which compiles the letters between Kitty Kiernan and Michael Collins - that Gearoid used the name "George" during the many secret missions he ran during Ireland's War of Independence (and with a decidedly Irish name like Gearoid, one can see why).
A Researcher's Nightmare
But alas, it's my misfortune that the most widely plagiarized Web site in the world - Wikipedia - happens to have had my subject's biographical data all wrong for lo these many years. This, of course, encouraged others to copy and repeat mistruths about Gearoid. And that leads me to wonder if anything one reads online is even remotely true.
So you might perhaps understand my dismay when the $20 book I'd ordered from Amazon finally arrived. Now I could overlook the fact that, for the price, it was a pretty flimsy publication with largely photocopied pages held together by staples. But what I could not overlook was that the entry on Gearoid, my Gearoid - the sole reason I'd purchased the book - was an exact reproduction of the Wikipedia page I'd been trying for several years to correct. (By the way, since I returned it as a "plagiarized book," this publication has apparently increased in value and is now selling for $32.97 - go figure.)
I will say that Amazon was very responsive when I asked them to take the book back, even sending a UPS delivery man right to my house, free of charge and (oops, better check ) crediting a refund to my credit card. The book, in case you want to snag it, is: Cumann Na Ngaedhael Politicians: W. T. Cosgrave, John A. Costello, Richard Mulcahy, Kevin O'Higgins, Eoin Macneill, Walter L. Cole. Cumann Na Ngaedhael , by the way, was the forerunner to the political parties Fine Gael and Sinn Fein.
Even Cambridge Gets it Wrong
You would think, however, that an institution as venerable as the Cambridge University Press would get it right about Gearoid. (I think they desperately need too experienced unemployed copy editors such as myself). Cambridge's Dictionary of Irish Biography, although quite extensive and no doubt a daunting enterprise, reports that the children Gearoid shared with Maud were, in fact, the fruit of his brief second marriage to Mary. I'm sure poor Maud's ghost - although invisible - probably still bears traces of the stretch marks acquired during four pregnancies and is pacing around in fury right now.