Monday, 27 August 2012

Author’s First Book Leads To Fight To Save The Spitfire

A Lancashire author who has spent years getting inside kids’ psyche through his day job – as a theme park designer – has published his first children’s book, and sparked his part in an unexpected quest to save a British icon.
Ian Hewitt’s book ‘The Ghost of Cameron Crowe’ is an unashamedly nostalgic tale, darkly illustrated, and, says the author, perfect for reading under the duvet by torchlight.

His tale charts the story of a war hero. The hero is the WWII Spitfire and the story-telling style is of intimacy delivered wrapped in blankets and lit only by the flames of fire and candle. Nostalgia hangs in the air as the story begins and continues in percussive heart-beat rhythm because, it is the night before Christmas, and this time there’s a twist.
Deciding to talk to the people best placed to help launch the book Hewitt approached The Spitfire Society: a band of aviation purists who’ve never got over their first love and are now the aircraft’s white knights.

Hewitt’s book signing at the Tribute to the Spitfire Festival in the gardens of Polesden Lacey House in Surrey was an unmitigated success and now he’s been asked to step inside a very elite inner circle to help ensure the future for the most charismatic fighter plane of all time.
He said: “I am so in awe of these men, and they are mostly men, who have dedicated themselves not only to preserving these machines and keeping them in the skies, but to building future generations of enthusiasts. They want to make sure the glamour isn’t lost as we recede over time from those who knew the nimblest WWII war horse first hand. I am absolutely privileged to have been asked to be involved. There’s a much, much bigger story to be told about the plans they have to keep the Spitfire aloft, but now is not the time, nor am I the person to steal their thunder.”

What is certain is that there is a pressing need for funds and awareness building ,the ghost of Cameron Crowe will be making its contribution, albeit posthumously.

The book, available from Waterstones, Amazon and priced at £20.00 has been beautifully illustrated by Kayleigh Radcliffe with images that wander wildly between pipe and slipper comfort and Grimms Fairy tale edge. It is suitable for children aged from 5 to 105 but aimed at the 5-11 years market.

About the Author:

1. Where were you born/school/where do you live now

Born Chorley Hospital 1965, Went to The Bishop Rawstorne School, Croston, I live in Mawdesley, Lancashire

2. This your first book?

This is my first Book, but far from my first story. I have been making up children's stories since my first child was born fourteen years ago. "What do you want tonight guys made up story or readie story?" Made up stories usually won.
3. Where did the story come from?

One of the other versions of me is a singer songwriter. I love the folk tradition for telling a tale within the song. Most of my songs are about real people and events. Towards the end of writing my album Dugdales Flowers I began to dabble with making up people and writing about them.

Then one day I wrote a song called The Ghost Of Cameron Crowe. I would calm an audience down and tell the tale, and they would oblige by stopping dancing and sitting quietly as I unfolded that tale. Then as the song began, they would remain seated and listen to my story set to music.

I think that this is reflected in the rhythm of my book, each page is an open poem. And the story a sonnet to the Spitfire.

4. Tell me why you love spitfires?

The Spitfire is the Peter Pan of the Second World War. It is elusive, dangerous, cheeky, yet noble. It is shrouded in romance, whereas the brave men who flew them have aged it has not. It is a beautiful piece of design. And when you talk to the men that flew them and of course to those that still do fly Spitfires, you will notice a rye glint in their eyes, as if they are recalling a special time with an old friend.

5. What is the relationship with the Spitfire Society and why is it important to keep this icon in the skies

Since writing The Ghost Of Cameron Crowe I have struck up a friendship with David Spencer Evans, Chairman of the Spitfire Society. An absolutely charming chap with a wonderful sense of fun. The Society aims to continue to build the Spitfire as a national and commonwealth icon, my role will be to advise in the communicating of this icon to young people. There are exciting plans afoot with regard to the Burmese Spitfires (but that is not for now, there will be announcements over the next few months).

The Spitfire and the stories of the men who flew them are a wonderfully important way to connect young people with the older generation.

The old man before you casts a shadow of a titan.
6. What do your own kids think of the story?

They love it. I have always made up bed time and car journey stories for them. It’s odd to think that the first time they heard dad tell the story of The Ghost Of Cameron Crowe was three years at the Ingleton Folk Festival when it was still just a song. And then just a few months ago my wife Sarah sat them down at bedtime and read them The Ghost Of Cameron Crowe the tale that became a song the song that became a story the story that became a book the book that will become a Hewitt clan Christmas tradition.

7. What age is it aimed at?

I have had very enthusiastic feedback from Junior school teachers, who tell me that The Ghost Of Cameron Crowe is a wonderful book to read to a group. It leaves space for interpretation and discussion. It introduces a historical element and builds tension and excitement.

The book is intended for the 5 to11years market, however parents and grandparents alike have been drawn to reading The Ghost Of Cameron Crowe for themselves.

8. Tell us about your collaboration with the illustrator, why choose her? Is it her first book illustration>?

I was talking to a number of illustrators, but nothing inspired me. Then one day I was introduced to an eccentric young lady called Kayleigh. We began talking about art, design and the creative process. Upon this subject, like water to a flower, Kayleigh Radcliffe bloomed, her shyness gone, her eyes a fire. I took her business card and days later checked out her web page....pow!...There it was. The thing that I had been looking for ....the odd dark soul of Grimms fairytales wrapped in a cloak of Beatrice Potter.

I knew at that very instant that Kayleigh was my illustrator. And so began very easy natural journey into the soul of Cameron Crowe.

The Ghost Of Cameron Crowe is Kayleigh’s first book commission, I’m currently writing her second.

9. How long did it take you to write?

Forty six years...

I wrote the song in an evening then honed the tale over a six month period of music festival performances. Then sat down for a week and wrote the book. Searching for Kayleigh took four months. Once found, the illustrative process lasted a further four months. Artwork printing and binding was a six week journey.

So all in all The Ghost Of Cameron Crowe took one year, twelve weeks and one evening of those forty six years.

10. What is your writing pattern – organised, set times, sporadic, written in a stream of consciousness or constantly re-editing

I’m very ritualistic. I need to be alone in my house, in my office, in a zone. I like to write in artificial lamp light with a cup of tea going cold to my left. And I walk around and around, delivering lines and conversations, that feel more like I’m recalling them rather than writing them.

11. Your wife is a school teacher, did she give you a useful sounding board?

Anybody who is married to a school teacher will tell you that there is no time for outside projects. Of course Sarah inspires and encourages me on all my journeying.

I handed her my finished manuscript and dared her not to like it.

12. Your current favourite read?

Tim Willocks – The Religion

13. How old are you (sorry). You can lie if you must.

I’m eighty four.

14. Is the story ‘out of time and place’ did you write it with a calculated dollop of nostalgia?

As I walk around holding my conversations, I am in that place where they occur, I recalled my own childhood, and my grandfather, and rolled us back to my father’s childhood.

I had a wonderful upbringing that is impossible to not be nostalgic about. A granddad with a shed full of motorbikes another with a head full of war, grandmother’s that baked and tended gardens. A mother full of love and a father that needed to change the world.

Yes The Ghost of Cameron Crowe is nostalgic.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Analysis of John McDonnell's Will - what did it mean for the family?

We have seen below the complete transcript of John McDonnell's Will from 1916 (for which I thank my mom's cousin Phylis Devlin for the photocopy).

The evidence contained in the Will appears initially to support the belief that on his deathbed the 76 year old blind man from Dublin left all of his money, four properties and his shares to a single grand daughter, 6 year old Catherine Whelan. 

On further reading, the Will is quite detailed and somewhat complex, yet leaves some crucial areas which are vague and open to interpretation. On the basis of what we know about the life of John McDonnell, a disabled man who climbed his way out of Victorian institutions to become a respected business man and politician, I believe that even on his death bed, unable to write or sign his name fully, this was a man who had very well thought-through ideas about what he was doing and had considered carefully the best way to go about it.

We should firstly understand the context of the time and the local environment in which he was setting out his Will in November 1916.

1916 was the year of the Easter uprising in Dublin and across Ireland. The rebellion, famously centred around the General Post Office on Sackville (now O'Connell) Street had been ruthlessly beaten down by the British army and security forces. Many on both sides of the short lived conflict had died or been wounded, many of the rebels had either been executed or imprisoned and the whole of central Dublin was in disarray. Liberty Hall at Beresford Place for instance, a place that we know was close to the hearts of John McDonnell and his son John as members of the Union movement, was also wrecked during the 1916 uprising.

Aftermath of 1916. Beresford Place, Dublin, showing the wreckage of Liberty Hall,
headquarters of Connolly's ITGWU and also of the Irish Women Workers' Union founded
by Jim Larkin's sister Delia. 

We know that John McDonnell was very involved in politics in Dublin. He successfully stood as a Poor Law Governor on the mandate of Sinn Feinn, he corresponded with Ireland's leading politician John Redmond on the employment rights of blind people and there is strong anecdotal evidence in the family that he gave money to Roger Casement who was executed in London in 1916 for smuggling arms into Ireland in the run-up to the uprising. Without doubt, the old man John McDonnell would have deeply affected personally by the events of that year which took place within a ten minute walking distance of his home on Bolton Street. 

Incidentally, the list of rebels inside the General Post Office between 24th and 30th April 1916 includes the name John McDonnell. It seems unlikely that this was our g-g-grandfather or his son of the same name, as I think this information would have been passed down through the family, so it could be a coincidence (there is also someone with the surname Whelan on the list). Though it has been indicated to me by a third party in Ireland (see my posts on the National League of the Blind) that both of our John McDonnells and possibly an extended family of McDonnells in Dublin were collectively involved in trade union activity alongside the well known Irish trade union leader Jim Larkin.
Recruitment poster for the British
Army in Ireland published 1916

At the end of 1916, Dublin and Ireland were in a state of continuing revolution. Though the uprising had been suppressed both swiftly and brutally and its most obvious leaders executed or imprisoned, a new group of leaders including De Valera and Collins were already planning a more sustained campaign which would evolve into a full blown war of independence. My guess is that as he lay on his deathbed in November 1916, at his bedside was his longtime political ally Nicholas McCluskey who signed as a witness to the Will (McCluskey lived at 47 Bolton Street and was a man previously named on John McDonnell's campaign posters), the old blind man would have been aware that the suppression of the uprising that year was far from being the end of Ireland's efforts to gain independence. He therefore wasn't about to hand over some quarter to third of his hard earned estate to what he perceived to be a violent occupying government by way of death and inheritance tax.

The other significant point about the historical context of 1916 is that Britain and Ireland as a whole were, on all other fronts, at war with Germany in the killing fields of northern Europe. Prior to 1916 about 90,000 young Irish men were enlisted into the armed forces of the United Kingdom. 25,000 Irish recruits had died in the Great War compared to only 64 rebels killed in the uprising. But whatever their loyalties, this was not a good time to be a young man in Ireland or across the United Kingdom generally and the life expectancy of pre-teenage and teenage boys in this era must have been dramatically lowered. A reason therefore to choose a grand daughter as heir over a grandson?

John McDonnell's Will initially states that all of his estate goes to his wife Catherine and that on her death it goes to his grand daughter Catherine Whelan and if anything should happen to her then it goes to a second grand daughter Mary Whelan. However, further on in the Will he describes his wife Catherine as being 'feeble minded' and therefore unable to look after her own financial affairs, significantly in my opinion, he says that she will need the assistance of their daughter and son-in-law Annie and John Whelan to administer things like the collection of rent and the handling of his Marconi shares, as well as the daily care of his widow.

Annie and John Whelan (my great grand parents) are therefore named as executors of the Will as opposed to beneficiaries. Giving them a large amount, if not full control of the estate for as long as the widow Catherine was alive and until their daughter Catherine reached the legal age to inherit which would have been at least 18. Had the estate gone directly to Anne and John Whelan, they would certainly have had to pay more inheritance tax on everything. By delaying the date of someone officially inheriting his estate, was John McDonnell therefore buying time, 12 years of it to be precise, for the family to move money around for the benefit of all?

Did this plan mean that Anne and John Whelan were given full control of the estate without being forced to sell the properties and being whacked by larger amounts of inheritance tax? Did he also name Mary Whelan as back-up to his plan, bearing in mind that these were dangerous times and childhood mortality was high. Naming two grand daughters whilst ignoring his children, grand sons and other younger grand children (including my grandmother, Lily, born in 1915 - so a toddler at the time of her grandfather's death), in my opinion was not an emotional act of favoritism but a well thought out strategy in uncertain times of war on two different fronts. Here was a man determined that an occupying imperialist government, whether that be Britain or Germany, was not going to get their hands on too much of his estate.

Of further significance is the fact that the Will also lays out provision for John McDonnell's daughter Catherine (aka Lally) and his son John, the butcher who it is believed was also blind though not at birth. As with his wife, John McDonnell lays a duty on the executors to provide for them out of money coming in from rents for as long as they remained in the family home at Bolton Street. We know that John eventually married and left Bolton Street though Catherine (Lally) became long-term disabled and died at Bolton Street possibly in the late 1960s / 70s.
Two of John McDonnell's daughters - my great grandmother
Anne Whelan standing and her sister Catherine Barrett seated

The point here being that the full estate could not therefore have been finalised in terms of its ultimate conveyance to the grand daughter Catherine Whelan until these three other individuals had either moved out or died. In the meantime, did Anne and John Whelan remain in control of the estate as executors?        

In the event of John McDonnell's death on 26th November 1916, 24 days after he signed the Will on 2nd November, the Will appeared to go through probate quite quickly, as was another of his wishes and by the 15th December that same year had been processed and rubber stamped for the executors to take control. Was the speed at which the Will was taken to probate another part of John McDonnell's plan to foil the Inland Revenue and stitch things up before they had time to scrutinize his full affairs?   

A payment of £414 . 15 . 2 was paid in Estate Duty, which was still a lot of money in those times and equivalent to more than the value of at least one of his properties. But without knowing the full extent of his estate including the value of the four properties, his shares and money in the bank which was not mentioned in the Will, it is difficult to know what percentage this represented and whether or not he was successful in keeping a decent amount of money from his estate on behalf of the family.

Things may or may not have worked out as John McDonnell intended and it would be interesting to know how everything ultimately worked out in terms of the distribution of the estate. For instance when were the three excess properties sold? How long did the rents and shares continue to pay for the general upkeep of the widow Catherine and others (John and Lally)? In what year did g-g-granny Catherine McDonnell die and can we find out more about her life, character and origins? What amount did the grand daughter Kitty eventually inherit? Did the death of John Whelan in the 1940s, the male head of the family, have an impact on Anne's  continuing role as an executor?

To a large extent the answer to most of these questions is now academic and probably at best speculative, certainly on my behalf. As one of my mom's cousins recently suggested to me, "family history is a hobby". My preoccupation here has been to understand the thinking of an old man nearly 100 years ago. Hopefully my mom's generation, my own generation and the generation of my children and possibly one day their children, are no longer affected by the consequence of John McDonnell's Will, though it has been interesting to speculate about the decisions he was making even on his death bed.      

Whatever the truth about John McDonnell's intentions or whether things turned out as he planned after his death, and I may of course be completely wrong in my theory, the Will of this blind but very shrewd entrepreneur and political campaigner was as fascinating as the man himself.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Will and Grant of John McDonnell

I have previously posted up some fairly extensive research concerning the life and work of my great great grandfather John McDonnell of Dublin.

What we know about John, largely from fascinating family anecdote which came to me via my mother's cousins in Dublin and subsequently through my own online research and correspondance, is that he was a blind person born in Dublin in the 19th century, that he spent many years of his youth and early adulthood living in institutions for blind people in or near Dublin and that on leaving one of these institutions, probably St Joseph's in Drumcondra, he set up his own basket making factory and became a successful entrepreneur.

Not only did John become a successful business man, purchasing property in Dublin and at Cloghran Swords in the countryside, he was also a founding member of the National League of the Blind Ireland and chairman of the Dublin branch of the organisation for over a decade. John also became a Poor Law Guardian in north Dublin and campaigned for a better deal for blind people and poor families both locally and nationally.

John McDonnell married Catherine in 1865 and according to the 1911 census they had an incredible 16 children, only 5 of whom were alive in 1911. These included Catherine Barrett aged 31 in 1911 and John McDonnell, a butcher aged 23 in 1911. Two further children are mentioned in the 1901 census, including my great grandmother Anne McDonnell who married John Whelan in 1903 and Peter McDonnell aged 12 in 1901. According to the Will of John McDonnell, which I shall outline in more detail shortly, there was also a son named Christopher McDonnell, which could therefore account for all five of the 'surviving' children. 

John McDonnell's Will was registered at the High Court of Justice (Ireland) King's Bench Division (Probate) in 1916. The Will was ordered by Mrs C Barrett (his daughter) at the cost of £6-0 for 10 folios. It reads as follows:

" I John McDonnell of 49 Bolton Street in the City of Dublin retired Basket Manufacturer hereby declare this to be my last Will and Testament. I hereby give devise and bequeath all the property that I may die possessed of money in Bank shares and house property 48 and 49 Bolton Street and 12 and 13 Henrietta Place in the City of Dublin to my wife Catherine McDonnell for her life and after her death to my Grand daughter Catherine Whelan for her life and after her death to her sister Mary Whelan.

" I hereby appoint my daughter Annie Whelan and John Whelan her husband to be the Executors of this my last Will and Testament. They are to collect the rents of my house property and the divdends on my shares during the lfifetime of my said wife Catherine McDonnell and to support my said wife Catherine McDonnell and my daughter Catherine Barrett and my son John McDonnell as long as they wish to live in the family group and of the proceeds of said rents and dividends.

"In the case of the said Catherine Barrett and my son John McDonnell going away or getting married they are to have no more claim on my assets. My son Christopher McDonnell has already got his share and has no more claim. I also wish that the seventy five Marconi shares which I now hold are not to be sold until they reach four pounds per share unless the ready money in Bank and the rents are not able to pay the head Rents, rates, taxes and repairs of my said house property. In that case the first lot of shares which I bought at £5.5 per share are to be sold as my wife Catherine McDonnell is of feeble intellect my Executors are to collect the rents and dividends during her lifetime and keep a correct account thereof and to see after all her wants.

"My said Executors to take out Probate as soon as possible after my death and they are to keep my funeral expenses as moderate as possible. It is my wish that my daughter Annie Whelan take my wife to mass every Sunday.

"In witness whereof the said John McDonnell hereby affixed his mark this second day of November 1916 - John + (his mark) McDonnell -

Signed by the said John McDonnell affixing his mark hereto he being unable to sign his name through physical devility same having been first read to him by J J Leech when he appeared fully to undertand same and to be of sound mind, memory and understanding in the presence of us, who in his presence and in the presence of each other do hereby sign names as witnesses - J J Leech Sol, 69 Heeylesbury Street, Dublin - Nicholas McCluskey Hair dresser, 47 Bolton Street, Dublin -------------------

In the High Court of Justice in Ireland
Kings Bench Division (Probate), The Principal Registry

Being known that on the 15th day of December 1916 the last Will a copy of which signed by the Registrar is hereunto annexed of John McDonnell late of 49 Bolton Street, Dublin retired Basket Maker deceased who died on or about the 26th day of Noember 1916 at same place was proved and registered in the Principal Registry of the said Division and that the administration of the personal estate of the said deceased was granted by the aforesaid Court to Annie Whelan (wife of John Whelan) daughter of deceased and said John Whelan, Gardener both of 49 Bolton Street aforesaid the Executors named in the said Will they having been first sworn faithfully to administer the same and it is hereby certified that an Affidavit for Inland Revenue has been delivered wherein it is shown that the gross value of the personal estate of the said deceased within the United Kingdom (exclusive of what the deceased may have been possessed of or entitled to as a Trustee and not beneficially) amounts to £414 - 15 - 2 for the purpose of Estate Duty and that the said Affidavit bears a stamp of £2 - 10 - 0.

Jacob T Geoghegan
Assistant Registrar

Extracted by J M McDowell, Solicitor

Monday, 13 August 2012

An Irish genealogical sojourn

A gathering of descendants of John Whelan and Ann McDonnell of 49 Bolton Street, Dublin.I will add names once I have checked them all. I am centre back row in blue shirt.
The gathering took place at the Hilton Hotel, Dublin in August 2012 

Have recently returned from a family holiday to Ireland, spending a week with Theresa's mum Kitty Dwyer in Tubber, near Moate, which is on the Westmeath/Offaly border and then a second week at Finny near Clonbur, this time on the border of Galway and Mayo - an area I believe to be where my father's Irish ancestors the Flynns and Finns came from before settling in Birmingham shortly after the great famine of the 1840s.

In our first week I journeyed back from Moate to Dublin with my son Patrick where we had the enormous pleasure of meeting up with some of my mom's cousins on my grandmother's side of the family, the Whelan and McDonnell line. I have written fairly extensively about the Whelan branch of my family tree on this blog, in fact it was through this website that some family members in Dublin first made contact with me a couple of years ago, wih our recent gathering at the Hilton Hotel on the Grand canal being the first time we have ever met in person.

It was a fantastic evening, with some 14 or 15 people swapping stories, memories, photos and even fascinating old documents such as a copy of my great grandfather's baptismal certificate from 1865 and my great-great grandfather's Will from 1916. I will post up seperately about these fascinating documents shortly. In the meantime I wish to thank Gaye Mulholland for organising the evening and also thanks to everyone who turned up to meet me and Patrick (and each other) at the Hilton. A good time was had by all and your warmth and hospitality was absolutely brilliant.

Prior to our departure for Ireland two weeks ago (it seems such a long time ago now) I hastily prepared a draft family history record of my mother-in-law's family, the Stone family of Lurgan, County Offaly. Kitty is 80 this year so I wanted to give her at least a draft copy of my research up to this point, much of which has previously appeared on this website over the past 2 years. The written record requires a lot more editing work on it, but it was well received in its draft form by Kitty who proceded to fill me in during the next few days with plenty more fascinating anecdotal information. I also took the opportunity to make some notes of these oral tales as well as noting down information from many old Mass cards and obituaries from Kitty's 'biscuit tin'.

The Stone family history can be read in an attractive format on the Calameo website here:

Kilmonaghan cemetery in Offaly - the resting place of many
Stone ancestors from 19th century Lurgan

Hearne family living in Piltown area in 1901 Census

According to his baptismal certificate my great grandfather John Phelan (also Whelan) was born in Ashtown, in the parish of Templeorun and Piltown in 1865. His mother's maiden name was Hearne.

According to the 1901 census for Ireland, the following family named Hearne was living at Owning, Piltown:   

Residents of a house 8 in Owning (Pilltown, Kilkenny)

Surname Forename Age Sex Relation to head Religion Birthplace Occupation Literacy Irish Language Marital Status Specified Illnesses

Hearne John 58 Male Head of Family Roman Catholic Co Kilkenny Farmer Read and write English Married -

Hearne Joanna 42 Female Wife Roman Catholic Co Tipperary Farmers Wife Read and write English Married -

Hearne Patrick 50 Male Brother R Catholic Co Kilkenny Farmers Brother Read and write English Not Married -

Hearne Laurence 22 Male Son R Catholic Co Kilkenny Farmers Son Read and write English Not Married -

Hearne Mary 21 Female Daughter R Catholic Co Kilkenny Farmers Daughter Read and write English Not Married -

Hearne Margaret 18 Female Daughter R Catholic Co Kilkenny Farmers Daughter Read and write English Not Married -

Hearne Patrick 10 Male Son R Catholic Co Kilkenny Scholar Read and write English Not Married -

Hearne Joanna 3 Female Daughter R Catholic Co Kilkenny Farmers Daughter Cannot read English Not Married -

Birth and death of John Whelan

John Whelan's baptismal certifcate

My great grandfather John Whelan was baptised John Phelan on 31st August 1865 in the parish church of Templeorum and Piltown, County Kilkenny, Ireland. His birth date is given as 30th August 1865.

His parents were Richard Phelan and Catherine Hearne of Ashtown. Witnesses were James Walsh and Margaret Power. The priest was Rev. J Maher.

A history of Templeorum and Piltown parish

A mass card dediacted to the death of John Whelan
John Whelan died on 26th May 1942 aged 77 years. He was late of 49 Bolton Street, Dublin.