Once-great family laid low by war
Lifestyle – One-hundred members of the extended Persse family from around the world served in the Great War. Author Gerry Kearney tells THOMAS HACKETT how their story inspired his new book.
The impact of the First World War on one of Galway’s most famous families is brought to life in a new book, In Days that Were: The Great War and Beyond. The book by Gerry Kearney chronicles the harrowing Great War experiences of the prominent Anglo-Irish Persse family from South Galway and their descendants.
The Persses suffered tremendous loss during the war, as their sons served in some of the bloodiest battlefields of the conflict. Of those who fought, 18 men of Persse heritage would never return.
Gerry’s book starts in Galway and its reach is broad as it records the lives of more than 100 people from around the world who had Persse blood in their veins and fought in WWI.
The book features names from Ireland, England, South Africa and Australia – what they all have in common is that they’re descendants of Dean Dudley Persse (1625-1699), a Church of Ireland clergyman who established Roxborough estate near Kilchreest, Loughrea, in 1685.
“He was the first of the Persses to ever come to County Galway”, notes Gerry.
The Persse family went on to play a pivotal role in the history of Galway City and County – and probably became best-known for establishing Persse’s Distillery in Nuns’ Island in the 1840s. One Ireland’s most successful distilleries at the time, its label proudly displayed ‘as supplied to the House of Commons’. It closed in the early 1900s, but the ruins of the distillery can still be seen today.
The most renowned family members included celebrated playwright Lady Augusta Gregory of Coole Park, near Gort, who was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival, and Sir Hugh Lane, who opened the world’s first modern art gallery in Dublin.
Lane was tragically killed when Germans torpedoed the Lusitania in May 1915, mere weeks after another Persse descendant, William Hugh Cornwallis Trousdell, was lost at sea following the sinking of another passenger ship, the SS Falaba.
“That was a real case of absolute murder, it was nasty stuff,” says Gerry of the Falaba incident.
His fascination with the Persse family history began while he was researching a previous book.
“I was doing a piece on my wife’s family called The Taylor Family of Ardrahan Post Office and, while in the graveyard of Kilchreest, I noticed many graves with the name Persse,” he explains.
He was hooked.
In Days that Were captures the history of the Persse family from the Tudor period of the 16th Century through to the Crimean War, the Great War and the Irish revolutionary period.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
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Nurses call in Chief Fire Officer on ED overcrowding
The nurses’ union has formally urged the Chief Fire Officer to investigate 17 alleged breaches of the fire regulations as a result of chronic overcrowding in the emergency department at University Hospital Galway.
It’s the second time the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has done so since Christmas, fearing the lives of staff and patients are being put in grave danger.
The emergency department was busier than normal last week, with between 222 and 251 patients turning up to be seen per day. On Wednesday of last week there were 53 patients waiting on trolleys, according to figures released by the Saolta Hospital group. That went down to 47 on Thursday and Friday.
This week has seen little let up. On Monday and Tuesday the number of people who could only get a trolley was down to 36 and 38 respectively.
Local area representative of the INMO, Anne Burke, said as a result of very high attendances at the temporary emergency department, management had opened a transit area where between 12 and 14 people could be accommodated in cubicles.
Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie. You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.
Comer has eyes on the prize
If you Google Damien Comer, the first entry the search returns is a dedicated Wikipedia page, which declares: “He’s better than David Clifford”.
And while Wikipedia as a source of fact isn’t necessarily always reliable, who are we to argue with it?
But whatever about comparisons with Kerry greats, the Annaghdown clubman is certainly up there among Galway’s finest ever footballers.
Winning a first All-Star last season, from his third nomination, was proof of that. It was a special personal accolade, but he’d trade it in a shot for a Celtic Cross.
“It was nice to get but if I finish my career not having won an All-Ireland, I’ll be very disappointed,” he declared.
Comer hints that the 2022 All-Ireland final loss to Kerry last July was not one of his better games in maroon, and it’s one he thinks about regularly.
“Yeah, I would yeah, I’d think about it a bit. But I try to forget it as well, because it wasn’t a good day for me, personally, anyway.
“You try to forget about it and yet you have to try to learn from it and improve on the mistakes you made, and stuff you didn’t do that you should’ve done, and different things that you can bring to this season.
“It’s one that’s hard to forget about really because we were there for so long. Sixty minutes in, neck-and-neck, and then they just pulled away, so it was disappointing,” he said.
Damien Comer has teamed up with Specsavers to encourage people to take a more proactive approach to their eye and hearing health. There’s a full interview with him ahead of Sunday’s National Football League Final, is in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie. You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.
Galway publican reflects on traumatic journey that ended with his abuser in jail
Galway businessman Paul Grealish remembers the moment back in 2000 when he was given a sheet of paper and asked to write about his life. He was on weekend-long self-development course that he’d been sent on by his brother John. At the time, John was managing director of their family business for which Paul and their sister, Joan, also worked.
“The course was probably done in an attempt to make it easier to manage me,” says Paul with a laugh, adding that he “was tough to manage” back then.
He was enjoying the course – until he received that blank sheet.
“I got about four or five sentences in, writing about my early life. Until I got to the primary school part . . . I was in tears,” he remembers. “I was so used to compartmentalising things, I didn’t see the danger.”
In the early 1970s, aged nine and ten years, Paul had been beaten and sexually abused by his teacher, Brother Thomas Caulfield, at Tuam CBS primary school.
He had repressed those memories for nearly three decades.
“You bury the memory, and you bury it as deep as you can. There’s an awareness of something terrible there but it’s too frightening for you to actively remember.”
Paul was so terrified of those memories that he’d lost all recollection of his childhood. He couldn’t tell his story.
He was meant to show it to one of the course leaders – a counsellor, he thinks. Instead, Paul put the nearly-blank sheet before the man and explained what had happened.
Realising Paul’s plight, that man gave him a list of phone numbers for counsellors in Galway.
“Every now and again, I’d look at it and think about ringing them but I didn’t,” Paul says.
However, the abuse that had robbed Paul of his childhood and blighted his adulthood with feelings of guilt and self-hatred refused to stay buried. Finally, he knew he had to deal with it. That journey began in the early 2000s and Paul finally got closure earlier this month when Caulfield was sentenced to 27 months in prison – with the final seven suspended – for his crime.
Read Paul’s full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie. You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.