Protecting Edward VII - A ‘friend of the Pope’, in Connemara 1903

King Edward VII in a relaxed mood in Connemara 1903.

King Edward VII in a relaxed mood in Connemara 1903.

Pleased with his friendly reception in Dublin in 1903, His Majesty King Edward VII determined to visit the wilds of Connemara and Kerry. Such a visit presented a number of problems for Dublin Castle, not least was security at a time when nationalism was rearing its head, and seldom lost an opportunity to express itself by demostrations and protests. I learn something of these concerns from a delightful book Memories: Wise and Otherwise. by The Rt Hon Sir Henry Robinson, Bart, KCB. (Published by Cassell and Co, London, 1923 ). Robinson was head of the Local Government Board in Ireland, and a man, who in the tradition of Somerville and Ross, saw humour in the Irish character, and indeed in the efforts of Britain to maintain control in Ireland.

Here is what he wrote about the the efforts made to protect the king and queen on their visit to Connemara: ‘Chamberlain, the new head of the Royal Irish Constabulary, was very nervous about his responsibility for the King’s safe conduct though the west. It would never have done to have had an enormous display of force, still less would it have done to have allowed the King to be molested, so he had collected an enormous force of constabulary from all over the country.

‘He spread them all along the roads disguised as tourists, under the impression that as the king’s visit might be expected to attract tourists this guard would not be noticed. But what rather spoiled this precaution was that every man was dressed alike; straw hat, Norfolk jacket, watch-chain from breast pocket to buttonhole, knickerbockers and bicycle. Every man was exactly the same distance apart, 100 yards or so, and all were lying in a carefully rehearsed loose and careless attitude beside the road in the character of the weary cyclist. But what further spoilt the effect was that when the king’s car was passing each man sprang to “attention” clicked his heels and saluted smartly, and then resumed his full length attitude until the king was out of sight, when the bikes were mounted and the procession of straw hatted tourists wended their way to Westport.

‘I was travelling in the motor with the King and Queen and he asked me who these men were who kept jumping up. I was saved from having to make an explanation, as at that moment we suddenly turned a corner and the village of Tully came into view, where an enormous crowd was assembled. The curate here was reputed to be a desperate firebrand, and a really dangerous man, and as there had been a wicked secret society here I was much afraid that we might be in for trouble, especially as we had no guard except for the sporadic tourists aforesaid. My relief was therefore intense when I was near enough to see a huge banner stretched across the road with “ Friend of Our Pope “ emblazoned on it, and underneath it the firebrand curate capering about with an illuminated address of welcome.’ 

JJ O’Loghlen

Further protection for the royal couple came from the unlikely source of JJ O’Loghlen  a well known businessman in the Cashel area at the same time. JJ  was the son of a mountain farmer, and reared in a small cabin under Cashel Hill. He was an ambitious man, and somehow managed to open a little shop where he sold everything from vegetables and grain, to boots, shirts, groceries and hardware.

He was also kind hearted, and in the lean years he never refused a loan of a sack of potatoes or of ‘yella male’ to a known customer who had fallen on a hard times. JJ’s business was altogether a credit trade: Customers drew down their requirements, and their value was noted in a book. After every fair, JJ would collect what he could from his debtors, and if money was scarce, he would accept payment in the form of eggs, fish, chickens or pigs. He admitted himself that he wasn’t very good at book-keeping, and he was sometimes puzzled by his accounts. “What I buy I put on one side of the books,” he said, “and what I give out I put on the other; but the divil of the whole of it is, that things go out of the store, and I disremember who I gave them to, and have no account of them.”

The next big step was to build a house that would reflect his growing prominence in the locality. A large house was built on the edge of the bay, the rooms were spacious, and extra rooms added to accommodate the odd tourist. But it was an immediate success. Cashel, with its lakes and rivers, is an angler’s paradise. JJ’s charges were so moderate, and the food was so plentiful and delicious, that fishermen came in droves. Soon more and more rooms were added and a substantial hotel emerged. The crowning success came when the Lord Lieutenant himself, viceroy Lawrence Dundas, stayed for three days and presented a photograph of himself to JJ as a token of his pleasure. JJ swelled with pride, and immediately changed the name of his hotel to ‘The viceroy’s Rest’.

But poor JJ didn’t have it all his own way. When a further extension to the hotel was finished he wrote to Viceroy Dundas, and invited him to do the honours and to officially open the hotel. It was something of a coup that the viceroy said he would be delighted, and would get in a bit of angling as he was about it. The viceroy was to arrive by sea, so JJ built a special pier (still known as O’Loghlen’s pier ), close to the hotel. When the big day arrived it was decorated with flags and bunting. A red carpet led the way. Alas, politics was to rear its realistic head. When the viceroy sailed into Cashel Bay in a small cruiser, and attempted to come ashore he was greeted with boos from the crowd under the leadership of the fervently nationalistic curate from Recess, Fr Michael Murphy. It is believed that no less a figure than Maud Gonne was in the crowd, and that a volley of stones was thrown at the viceroy’s boat which turned about and beat a hasty retreat.*

Commander of the Forces

During the king’s visit JJ O’Loghlen hit upon the mad idea of honouring the king with a cavalry escort. Sir Henry Robinson  describes the following scene as the royal motorcade swung round the Lough Inagh road, heading straight for lunch at Recess..... ‘We suddenly found ourselves in the midst of an amazing mob of horsemen: Farm-horses, cart-horses, ponies, donkeys, of all sizes and descriptions, mounted by men and boys in rags and tatters, black coats, flannels or home-made stuffs. Some had saddles, others none; some had reins, some straw ropes.

‘They were waiting on the high ground up the mountainside, and the moment the cars came into sight they were off down the mountainside like an avalanche, yelling, cheering, laughing, knocking each other over, and leaping over the ditch on to the road with a speed that sent most of them over the road on to the bog at the other side.

‘The guard of honour of O’Loghlen’s Royal Connemara Mixed Cavalry formed a cordon round the hotel to secure the royal party from intruders during lunch. Afterwards His Majesty commanded Mr O’Loghlen to be presented to him, who, in his capacity of Commander of the Forces, made a most profound obeisance.

‘The utterances of monarchs on momentous occasions usually find a place in history, and the notable remark of King Edward VII to the Queen, which just reached the gratified ears of Mr O’Loghlen, to wit: ‘That of all the courtiers he ever had standing around him not one of them ever made such an iligant bow as Mr Johnny O’Loghlen,’ it is hoped will duly be recorded in the annals of the Irish nation.’

Thanks to the observation of Sir Henry Robinson, it was duly recorded for posterity.

NOTES:

*The viceroy, in his own quiet way, got his revenge on Fr Murphy. After the debacle, Fr Murphy, much pleased with himself, set off for home. Rather than pass under the Union Jack hanging over the road, he went back to Recess the long way round by Tuaim Beola. However, when it came to the handing out of two much needed public works contracts, Recess was ignored. Instead the viceroy favoured Fr Flannery of Carna, who received money for ‘Flannery’s Bridge’, near Cill Chiaráin; and the planting of Ireland’s first state forestry at Knockboy.

** The Viceroy’s Rest eventually became the Zetland Hotel, after viceroy Lawrence Dundas became the Marquis of Zetland in 1902. And that’s the name of the hotel today, still a very popular destination with anglers, and it is owned and managed by Colm J Redmond.

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