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March 17th is a special day for Irish people all over the world. It is St Patrick's Day, the Patron Saint of the Emerald Isle. St Patrick's Day means a lot more than that for me. It is the day every year I remember the most influential male role model in my life … my Grandad Paddy Tierney.
From the age of eight I lived with my grandparents in a three bedroomed bungalow in a suburb of Dublin Ireland. The area is called Perrystown that lies between Terenure Dublin 6 and Crumlin Dublin 12. Those of you from Dublin will recognise that the even numbers signify that Perrystown is in Dublin South as opposed to the areas you might be familiar with in the movie “The Commitments” or the characters of Roddy Doyle's books most of whom hail from Dublin North.
In this small bungalow lived my grandfather, grandmother, their son Sean, my grandmother's brother Joe my mother and my brother. My sisters attended a girls' boarding school in the country and came home for holidays.
Guerilla Warfare in Ireland
My grandfather was a physically fit man all his life and he was a very disciplined man who demanded the same self discipline from those around him. He was a man of few words with the philosophy that children should be seen but not heard. He was the eldest in his family and though he was expected to take over the running of the farm in Tipperary where he was brought up he ran away from home at the age of 16 and became involved in the Irish struggle for independence from the British occupation at the time. He fought as a guerrilla soldier for the I.R.A., involved in numerous fire fights and ambushes with the British soldiers and also with the particularly cruel “Black 'n' Tans”. My grandad didn't speak much about those times like most soldiers who have been involved in war but he expressed a particular loathing for those “Black 'n' Tans”. Lloyd George the Prime Minister in England at the time of the troubles in Ireland offered pardon to prisoners in English jails if they would serve as soldiers in Ireland. They didn't have enough uniforms for these convicts so they wore the khaki tunics and black trousers that got them their name Black 'n' Tans. They were a barbarous lot let loose on the Irish civilian population and their act of savagery were never forgotten by my Grandad. I would often go to my Grandad'd closet and touch the emblem on his old army tunic with the “Black 'n' Tan” emblem over the left pocket signifying that he was one of the men brave enough to stand up against these convicts in uniform. He was part of a flying column from Tipperary and can be seen here outside the main entrance of the Glentworth Hotel in Limerick City in 1922. He met his future wife Kathleen Starr at a dance in Limerick while he was stationed there.
The Irish Civil War
After the British left Southern Ireland my Grandfather enlisted with the Army of the Free State under Michael Collins whom he greatly admired. He was involved in the Irish Civil War during which brother fought brother and he was no exception. He hated that era of his life and resented having to fight men he had fought side by side by to free his country of the British. He blamed Eamonn De Valera for this shameful chapter in Irish History. He fought against his own brothers and his wife's brothers during this conflict and he was never proud of doing so.
De Valera sent Michael Collins, the wizard and architect behind the defeat of the British to London to negotiate a treaty with Lloyd George knowing full well that the British would never agree to handing back the whole of the country to the Irish.
British colonialism is responsible for the perpetuation of local conflicts in countries all over the world due to their imperial policies which extended to always dividing any country they withdrew from.
As they had done in so many other countries, the British withdrew leaving Ireland divided and the horrible consequences of their divisive political tactics has caused civil war in nearly every country they have withdrawn from.
Realising that unless they signed the treaty which gave them the 26 counties in the South of Ireland they would then have to fight an even longer and more bitter struggle to secure the rest of the country, Collins and the others in the group, sent by DeValera ,signed the treaty.
When Collins and his team arrived back in Ireland they were called traitors by De Valera who then proceeded to tell the nation that the very popular Michael Collins had sold them out in an attempt to secure his own leadership of the country. The country divided between the pro- treaty people who followed Collins and the anti-treaty people who followed Dev, as my Grandfather called him. During the conflict Collins attempted to negotiate with Dev so that the killing could stop and on his way to that meeting Dev had him ambushed and he was shot by a sniper in his own County Cork at a place called Beal n Mblath which means the valley of the flowers in Gaelic. I saw my Grandfather's eyes well up with tears when he spoke of his hero Michael Collins and we had a photograph of Michael Collins in nearly every room in the house.
After the Civil War my Grandfather stayed in the army and became a career soldier rising up the highest rank that a non-commissioned officer could attain - BQMS Battalion Quarter Master Sergeant and he was very proud of this achievement. When he retired from the army he stayed on as a clerk at Clancy Barracks near the Phoenix Park in Dublin because he was a very meticulous man and a perfectionist by nature when it came to accounting and numbers, this man did not make mistakes. He continued to work as a clerk up to the age of 72 so he could support us and ensure we had a roof over our head and I greatly appreciate the sacrifices this great man made for his country in securing her freedom and in the personal sacrifices he made in his old age to give us our security.
He had quite a substantial back garden and in that garden he grew all our vegetables. I would join him everyday after school to turn the soil and prepare the ground before planting. There was never a sound as we toiled together for hours everyday and the hard skin on my hands is a reminder of the blisters on my little hands and the valuable lesson he taught me in silence of working hard with head and heart focussed on task.
One day when I was about 9 years old and we had finished all the planting he noticed that I looked troubled and asked me what the matter was. I told him that I had no friends and that I wanted to make friends to play with but I didn't know how. He went out and bought me a football at the local grocery store. He gave it to me and told me to take it to a field. He said that if I waited in that field long enough then I would attract the friends I wanted. "Every boy loves football " he said, so the ball would be the bait. I felt very uncomfortable about doing this but I was an obedient boy and I did as I was told. I walked to a field about a mile from the house and waited there with my ball. Sure enough they came. In a trickle at first and finally there were enough for us to play a match. I was the youngest as many of these boys were teenagers but they were kind to me and allowed me a few opportunities to kick the ball during the match. I was just happy to be part of the fun and everyday that summer I returned with my ball and we played until dark. As I walked home with my ball every evening I felt so happy and grateful. My Grandad had helped me learn to create opportunity in my life and not just wait for things to happen.
When I was about 11 years old I longed to play hurling. This is an Irish sport played with a stick made of ash and a leather stitched ball called a sliotar the size of a tennis ball but more of the consistency of a cricket ball with little bounce. I used to touch the hurley sticks of the other boys who had them by their desks in the classroom and longed to own one and be part of the school team. Hurleys were expensive then and only if you were on the school team were you provided with a stick. So without a stick I couldn't practice to get on the school team. Catch 22!
My Grandad came to the rescue again. He made me a hurley from an old plank he had in the garage and I went to practice with the other boys one day after school. I knew nothing of the game and listened for every morsel of informatiion the trainer gave about how to play the game. I ran into a tackle and received a cut over my left eye for my efforts. I hoped nobody would notice and just played on until eventually my stick was broken in a clash of the ash. The trainer handed me my first real hurley stick made of ash and it felt so good in my hands. I felt like shouting with joy as I touched my stick and spoke to it of great things we were going to do. I went home and showed my Grandad and he just smiled that Grandad smile.
I then went to a nearby field every day after school by myself and I ran up and down that field belting a tennis ball till it ripped apart. I then used my grandmother's old nylon stockings to make a sliotar and I belted that some more all the while I was speaking to myself and imagining I was the star of the match and I could hear the commentary of Michael O' Hare a famous Gaelic Sports radio commentator all the while I played by myself till I could run no more.
When I returned to school that summer after the holidays I was a very fit 12 year old boy and that afternoon after school when I tried out for the school team I was man of the match and went on to become a great hurler a sport I still dream about at night. I had found something I was really good at and could feel really proud of and it all started with that old plank and my Grandad's vision for me. My Grandad never came to see me play and I don't know why but one day I was sure I saw him in the stand when I was lifted up by my team at the end of a match we played in Croke Park. He never mentioned it though and I never said anything to him about it.
My Grandfather died at the age of 82 kneeling to say his prayers in a church near that house where I grew up. At his graveside soldiers turned up in full military dress and gave him a gun salute. I was so proud of that man who was more than any father could ever have been to me.
Yesterday was Paddy's Day and I remembered my Grandad and I raised a glass to him where ever he may be. My Grandad came to me in my dream last night and I knew I had to write this hub to tell the world of how proud and glad I am to have had such a wonderful man as my very own Grandad.