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In the early years of the last century there was a remarkable number of Irish men in London. It contained Padraig O Conaire, Michael Collins, Sam Maguire, Roger Casement and Robert Lynd. O Conaire was a civil servant. Collins was secretary to a big American company. Maguire, as far as I know, was also a civil servant. Casement was then a member of the British Foreign Service. Lynd was a journalist.

O Conaire had been born in Galway city but became a brilliant writer in the old language. Eventually he quit the Civil Service and came to live in the Dublin area. It was a mistake and he died a very poor man.

Once, when he applied for promotion in the Civil Service, he had to take an examination that contained one foreign language. He chose Irish. The Civil Service advertised for somebody who could set and mark the papers and so Patrick Conroy suddenly became Padraig O Conaire. And he set and marked the Irish papers. He did very well.

Michael Collins came back to Ireland to take part in the Rising. He was very able. He survived the executions and became a leading figure in the War of Independence. When the first Irish government was formed, he became Prime Minister in all but name. Collins was assasinated by some of his neighbours in West Cork. His loss was immeasurable.

He had the authority to bring all parties together. We will never know how good he might have been. My father, God rest him, knew him well. And even though they were on opposite sides in the Civil War, he admired him greatly.

Sam Maguire was a native of West Cork and had been a member of the Fenians. He was a member of the Church of Ireland and we are told that he died of a broken heart. There is no such condition but he died very embittered because he saw that his fellow Protestants would be second-class citizens in the new State.

Casement was then at the height of his fame for his work as a British consul. He was knighted for exposing scandalous working practices in South America and in South Africa. He had a great future but he threw it all away when he attempted to put together a body of Irish prisoners of war in Germany to take part in the Rising.


He got only one recruit, a man called Patrick Bailey. With his great friend Robert Monteith and Bailey, he set out from Germany in a submarine. They went to shore in a rubber boat and Casement and Bailey hid in an enclosure for cattle while Monteith walked into Tralee a few miles away to make contact with the local IRA.

He gave them very clear information about Casement's whereabouts. They set out in a high-powered car -- but the RIC got there before them.

Casement was tried for high treason, for which there was only one penalty. George Bernard Shaw spoke eloquently in his favour but in vain. He went to the gallows.

Robert Lynd was born into a Belfast non-conformist family but he learned the Irish language and emigrated to London. He taught Casement the Irish language and was eventually recognised as the best essayist in the English language since Oliver Goldsmith.

He took no active part in politics but he was greatly admired by his fellow Irishmen. James Joyce and his wife had their wedding breakfast in Lynd's house. Joyce sang but we have no recording. All in all, it was a good time to be Irish in London but fate had marked down a sad ending for all but one of those we have mentioned. Lynd was the exception.

The year 1922 was the worst in Ireland's history. Men who had fought side by side in the War of Independence were now bitter enemies. The Civil War had one disastrous effect: it left the new State with two main parties, Fianna Fail and Cumann na Gael -- later Fine Gael. Neither had any philosophy: they were divided only by the bitterness bequeathed by 1922. Indeed that bitterness is still with us. Fianna Fail will become a new party. The future of our politics is very open.

Fogra: Gerry Kiernan was honoured recently by the local Athletics Club in Castle Island. No man deserved it more.