Local Hero, Irish Style

Nobody in the family ever knew…An Irish grandfather’s political history emerges, between pints, at a local pub

Kevin Mannion had no idea he was a VIP in Clifden, until someone mentioned his grandfather.

In 1979 Mr. Mannion was in Dublin, doing a graduate program in literature. Finishing up two and a half weeks of study, he met up with a relative, an Irish senator, who’d agreed to drive him to his grandfather’s hometown of Clifden for a 10 day visit.

A Pub Night To Remember

Looking back, Mr. Mannion says his first night in Clifden remains one of the most memorable evenings of his life. Relatives in the area had been invited to meet him at Mannion’s Pub, right in Clifden’s town center. From the get-go, it was obviously not going to be a classic American story of searching to find just one live relation in the old country. Entering the pub, he was met by a battalion of Mannions and their friends – all clearly in a party mood.

Things got interesting as soon as his father’s cousin, John “John M” Mannion TD (Irish Senator), began introducing him to cousins. The introductions definitely did not go as expected.

The Bombshell

“As each relative approached me,” he recalls, “John M” would state simply: ‘This is Kevin Mannion – my cousin’s son from America’.” After about 5 minutes of light conversation, the relative would begin to walk away. Then the senator would drop his little bombshell: “Did ye know he’s Paddy the Yank’s grandson?”

The result was a bit like winning an election, without knowing you were even running. Without variation, each of Mr. Mannion’s cousins would stop dead in his (or her) tracks, spin around and say, “Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?” To which Senator John would answer: “I thought you’d see the resemblance.” Nodding his head convincingly, the relative would then say “Oh yes, now I see it.”

Again and again, throughout the night, the same scene unfolded. Told of his relation to “Paddy the Yank,” each relative would grab Mr. Mannion firmly by the shoulders with both hands, and say “Your grandfather was one of the greatest men in Clifden” (or greatest in Ireland, or in the viewpoint of at least one cousin, in the world), and then proceed to tell a different story about Paddy. Some of the stories, he says, had an oddly mythical quality. “One cousin described how my Grandfather had, in fact, ‘sheared sheep with his bare hands’.” Pity the poor sheep.

Meanwhile, the Coca Cola flowed. Because Mr. Mannion doesn’t drink alcohol, the various cousins felt they had to buy him pint after pint of soft drinks in homage of his Grandfather. Though it was obvious he couldn’t drink all the Cokes laid out before him in a month’s time, they kept bringing on more, saying “we must offer something in honor of Paddy.”

Grandad On The Run

What Mr. Mannion gleaned from his family welcome was that his grandfather had not left Ireland to seek new economic opportunity. He had, in fact, fled the country in 1921, because he’d been implicated in the assassination of a British Black & Tanner. A fugitive, he traveled back roads from Clifden to Cork ( a good long way), and then crossed the Atlantic as a stowaway. Earlier, he had spent time in Galway prison (now the site of Galway Cathedral) for some other, unspecified, revolutionary activities. Mr. Mannion’s family knew that his grandfather returned to Ireland in 1948 and received the Medal of Honor (Ireland’s highest honor) from Ireland’s first president, Eamon DeValera. But they’d never had a clue as to the events that led to this award.

He is still amazed that this episode in his grandfather’s past slipped through the family radar so completely. Just a few years earlier, Mr. Mannion had spent countless hours with his grandfather, watching him slowly succumb to cancer. A typically gifted Irish story teller, his grandfather had told him dozens of reminiscences of his life in the old country, including several confrontations with the British – but never a word about the circumstances that led to his departure from Clifden or his escape from Cork. He’d never told his own son, either. When Mr. Mannion told his father he was the son of this political legend, his response was “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Back in America, Mannion enjoyed knocking the socks off various aunts and uncles by letting them know of their connection to Paddy the Yank. As for his grandfather; we suppose he knew what it takes to be a true Irish storyteller. Even in the next world, he’d still kept a great one up his sleeve.