An Unusual connection between Breaking Bad and ‘Eva of the Nation’

The grave of Mary and Kevin O’Doherty at Brisbane’s Toowong cemetry

The grave of Mary and Kevin O’Doherty at Brisbane’s Toowong cemetry

Most of us are mad jealous that we cannot claim some kind of connection with Caherlistrane. A new book by Mary J Murphy*  manages to link the north Galway parish with an extraordinary number of writers, artists, singers, poets, actors, and historical personalities, that leave all other parishes in Ireland bereft of personality and character. There can be no other competition. We are all characterless by comparison to Caherlistrane.

Mary manages to include among Caherlistrane’s rich heritage, connections to Seamus Heaney, Michael Harding, Little John Nee, Oscar Wilde, Emily Lawless, Anne Enright, Mrs Eileen Costello, Eva O’Flahety, John F Kennedy, Douglas Hyde, Michael Collins, Seán Mac Dermott, WB Yeats, Darrell Figgis, Dr Kathleen Lynn, Julie Andrews, Sinéad Cusack, Eilish O’Carroll (Winnie in Mrs Brown’s Boys ), Maria Walsh, Rose of Tralee, and, wait for it, Elvis Presley!  And if that is not enough, there is the actor Vivian Nesbitt, whose great-great-grandmother was the famous Mary Anne Kelly, known as ‘Eva of The Nation’. 

Miss Nesbitt is understandably very proud of her ancestor, and has written a play The Bark and The Tree, which won awards in New York. It was presented in Headford last year. Vivian came to Headford for the occasion, and was given a royal reception. Not only is she an actor, but also a writer, singer, and NPR radio host. But the excitement in county Galway was that she appeared in the run-away successful crime drama  Breaking Bad, which is also set in her home town, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Surpisingly there is a tenuous connection between Breaking Bad and Eva of The nation. The phrase ‘breaking bad’ is a southern American colloquialism meaning to ‘raise hell’, and in her own poetic way that is exactly what ‘Eva of The Nation’ did.

A firebrand!

Eva was  born at Killeen, near Portumna, in 1825. As a child she came to live in Caherlistrane’s Lisdonagh House, the home of her maternal grandparents, John and Mary O’Flaherty, who had strong nationalistic sympathies. She was a precocious and a romantic young girl. At 15 years of age she sent her first verse to Charles Gavin Duffy, who with Thomas Davis, and John Blake Dillon, founded the radical nationalist newspaper The Nation.

Eva’s poems make us cringe with embarrassment today, but at the time they struck a chord. She was considered something of a firebrand. She contributed a stream of poems, laden with melodramatic invective against the ‘tyrant Britain’. It is not known if Britain took any heed of her vituperation, but the readers of The Nation loved it. 

Down Britannia, brigand down!

No more to rule with sceptred hand:

Truth raises o’er thy throne and crown

Her exorcising wand.

And much more in this vein.

At 18 years of age, she went to Dublin to visit the newspaper, but found its editors and staff in high excitement. Dublin Castle had arrested a group of ‘United Irelanders’ including Dillon, who were to be tried under the Treason/Felony Act. Somehow Dillon managed to escape. He turned up at the Kelly’s house at Portumna. But he was betrayed. Just before the police raided to house, he escaped, and eventually made his way to America. Eva wrote: ‘He had only gone off a short time when we were that night invaded by police, and the magistrate. Our house was ransacked from top to bottom.’

In the meantime Eva fell in love with Kevin O’Doherty, a lawyer’s son, and a young trainee surgeon who had begun his medical career treating fever victims. He was also on trial for sedition. But the jury took pity on him as he was unwell during his trial, and would not come to a verdict. He was to face a retrial, and this time urged to plead guilty to lessen his sentence. Instead he met Eva and  made a lover’s pact: he would remain true to his principles, and let the retrial take its course; she would always be true to him, as he would be to her. Somehow, some day they would meet again.

In June 1849, Kevin was sentenced to t10 years transporation, and sent immediately to Australia. 

‘How I glory, how I sorrow,

How I love with deathless love,

How I weep before the chilling skies,

And moan to God above.’

Passion for Ireland

O’Doherty remained completely true to Eva. John Mitchel, who shared his exile, described him as ‘sometimes gloomy and desponding and the mood is on him for a few minutes. There dwells in Ireland (I should have known it well, though he had never told me ), a dark-eyed lady, a fair and gentle lady, with hair like the blackest midnight; and in a tangle of those silken tresses she has bound my poor friend’s soul; round the solid hemisphere has held him and he drags like a lingering chain.’

Six years later O’Doherty came back to Ireland illegally and claimed Eva as his wife. For a time they lived in Portumna, while O’Doherty completed his studies to become a surgeon. It was too dangerous; an arrest could have been made any time. Instead they emigrated to Australia where O’Doherty commenced a successful medical career in Brisbane, and was later elected to both Houses of Parliament for Queensland. The family prospered; and they supported Irish causes where they could, but Eva’s passion for Ireland still smouldered. Apparently she did not all together approve of her husband’s ‘toasting the Queen’ on occasions.

When James Stephens founded his Fenian newspaper, The Irish People, in 1863, she sent a long poem, which regrets she is far from the action of Ireland’s struggle for freedom, but if only as ‘a faint shadow’ she offers her presence (this is only an extract ):

Oh! Ye dead - ye well beloved dead!

great souls fond hearts, that once were linked with mine,

Across the gulf that yawns between us dread,

I fling the longings that invite a sign

a faint, faint shadow of your presence.

Eva’s memoirs were still unfinished when she died from influenza in May 1910, aged 80 years. She is buried alongside her husband at Toowong Cemetery in Brisbane, under a monument paid for by the Irish community:

Physician and muse, man and wife

They came from Ireland’s shores.

Through adversity their light shone brightly.

Inspiring all on whom it shone.

Next week: More on Caherlistrane’s people.

NOTES: * Caherlistrane, by Mary J Murphy, Knockma publishing, now on sale €20.

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