Friday 18 October 2019

From Duhallow to the Áras

Sheila Fitzgerald

It was a truly special moment when the descendants of Seán Moylan, Johnny Jones, Jim Riordan, Dan Browne, Michael D O'Sullivan, James Cashman, Denny Mullane and Rodger Kiely saw the painting for the first time in the fabulous setting of Áras an Uachtaráin. 

"Each of you is here today as a representative and a descendant of one of the eight men depicted in this painting, it is a very special day when all those who have come to visit and view the painting share a direct link with the men portrayed in it," the President said. 

"They were men prepared to risk their lives in the War of Independence and men who were part of a great revolutionary generation that would change Ireland's history forever. It was a generation inspired by idealism and the promise of a better Ireland," President Higgins added. 

"Their stories are ones of great bravery, aspiration and determination, of principles and beliefs powerfully transcending any sense of personal safety. In this painting, your forefathers stand as a coherent group, looking out towards a dangerous horizon, but seeing a new and re-imagined Ireland. The painting is a compelling portrayal of courage, idealism, honour and patriotism. 

"By your presence here today, we are reminded that these men were sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, and uncles. They were heroic citizens but they were also your forebears, who were prepared to make sacrifices for all Irish citizens," President Higgins added.

He went on to pay tribute to Seán Keating and other great artists whose works, he said, act as an important mirror, reflecting back at us the society and time in which they were created.

"His legacy is a great one, in which your ancestors have played an important role." the President said. Sheila Jones of Phaeton Publishing in Dublin, and formerly of Newmarket, spoke on behalf of the group. Sheila is the daughter of Johnny Jones, who is one of the eight men depicted in the painting.

"First of all, I want to thank President Higgins and Mrs. Higgins for having us all here today to view this painting by Seán Keating of our ancestors, it was a lucky break for all of us that this first version of Keating's Flying Column painting was gifted to Áras an Uachtaráin, because the Áras, from the beginning, did right by it, seeing it not just as a work of art but as 'a historical document', and classified it in this way when all the principals were still alive and could give first-hand information about it" Sheila said.

"Viewing the painting now is something of a bittersweet experience for some of us, given how history would fall out after it was completed. But it does capture a high point in the men's lives - when they were young, still idealistic, proud of what they had already achieved, when their weapons briefly had become no more than artist's props, when they were enjoying the disorienting experience of being put up in the Clarence, and when, of course, they had full confidence they were going to win. There was going to be an independent, egalitarian Ireland," she said. 

Sheila went on to outline how the civil war and its outcome changed everything for them.

"Two of the men, Michael Sullivan and my father Johnny Jones, had to leave the country for their safety, and sadly, Michael Sullivan, the figure on the far left of the painting, never came back to Ireland," she explained. 

"For those men who were able to stay here, life was made very difficult. Jimmy Cashman, Dan Browne, Roger Kiely, Jim Riordan, Denny Mullane, and even Seán Moylan had to adapt to a changed life in a hostile official Ireland that was certainly not the Ireland they had fought for," she said.

"Still, taking into account everything that happened in those years, the men could have had a worse war. They did, after all, survive. They married, they had children - look at how many of us are here today - and, of course, they are in this historic painting. 

"Because of Seán Moylan, whom they were so lucky to have as a commander, and because of the plucky Seán Keating and his willingness to thumb his nose at the establishment, they have become, even though they were on the losing side in the civil war, the faces of the revolution. And that is a very great honour," Sheila added.