Today, Monday, 16 October 2023, marks 21 years to the day since I became a father, something I’m enormously proud of and very, very happy about. However, it is also a bittersweet day, because the (other) person who made that possible (in addition to my beautiful wife) is not here to celebrate this milestone with us. As some of you may know, our beautiful son, Jake, who was born on Friday, 25 October 2002 only lived for 9 days.
Among the many thoughts that crossed my mind during those agonising early days without him, was the prospect of not being able to celebrate the many firsts in his life, which would also be firsts in ours. These include his first Christmas, his first birthday, taking his first steps, his first day at school, his first school concert, his First Holy Communion, learning to ride a bike, his tenth birthday, his Confirmation, becoming a teenager, learning to drive, school graduation, turning 18, 20 and many, many more.
However, the one milestone that has always stuck out for me, as one I actually feared, was the occasion of his 21st birthday. I’m not entirely sure why, to be honest, but I’ve definitely always had it in my head as being that little bit different to the others, in a way that loomed large on the horizon.
Perhaps it’s because, in Irish culture, reaching this age often signals a formal passage from childhood to adulthood, where parents feel a sense of accomplishment (or success) for having gotten a child to that point in their life which, in our case, may not be the case.
We are, of course, blessed to have other children in our lives and have the good fortune and privilege of celebrating many of the above milestones with them. However, at the time of Jake’s passing those feelings were impossible to escape, and I guess they never fully went away.
Celebrate the Journey
You can’t go far in life without hearing at least one version of the saying about life being about “the journey, not the destination”. I’ve definitely seen my fair share of examples of this playing out in my personal and professional life, across a wide spectrum of areas.
However, the example that stands out the most is actually happening today. While it’s true that the firsts in Jake’s life were incredibly hard to endure without him, it’s equally true that each one has served as a welcome reminder of him. They gave us a reason to remember him, either alone or together with our extended family or lifelong friends. Without Jake in our life, those occasions would never have happened and the memories we created would not exist today.
Therefore, in his own special way, he shaped our journey anyway and it’s with the benefit of a lot of hindsight that we can be immensely grateful that today is not a destination – it’s just another part of the life journey that he continues to guide us along.
Tuesday, 6 December 2022 was a significant day in Irish history as it marked 100 years since the Constitution of the Irish Free State came into effect (on Tuesday, 6 December 1921). The free state was not the same thing as the Republic of Ireland that we know today, though, and was merely designated as a dominion of the British Empire (following the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922).
Therefore, while it was an independent entity from the United Kingdom (a significant development in its own right), the fact it was still a part of the British Empire made it an unpopular outcome for many of those involved in the centuries-long struggle for Irish freedom and independence.
The Irish War of Independence
Predating the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922 was the Irish War of Independence, which took place from 1919 to 1921. Also known as the Anglo-Irish War, this came about as a result of the fallout from the Easter Rising of 1916 and was fought between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and British forces still occupying the island of Ireland at that time.
This is not to be confused with the Irish Civil War, which took place later (June 1922 to May 1923), following the establishment of the Irish Free State, which was still a part of the British Empire.
It would be another 15 years before a new constitution was adopted in 1937, when the state was renamed as Ireland, effectively becoming a republic in its own right. However, it was not until 1949 that the official republic declaration would be made, following the Republic of Ireland Act of 1948.
Therefore, as we commemorate the significance of this day in our chequered history, we should also remember all those whose visionary and brave efforts made such a thing even possible. My Grandfather, Edmund (Neddie) Mernin, was one of those people and this is his revolutionary story.
Neddie Mernin: The Irish Revolutionary
Edmund (Neddie) Mernin, was born in October 1892 near Villierstown, Co. Waterford in Ireland. He was the eldest of 14 siblings (8 boys and 6 girls), the youngest of which was born in 1915, and 7 of whom emigrated to America during the 1920s.
Neddie spent most of his career in the Irish Forestry Department as a Timekeeper at Dromana Wood (near Villierstown) and lived his entire life in Villierstown, marrying Mary (Mai) Foley from Affanne, Cappoquin in 1933. They had 10 children of their own (7 boys and 3 girls), one of whom died in infancy.
Neddie was a member of Battalion 3 in the West Waterford Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), serving his home village, his county and his country proudly and fearlessly from 1917 to 1921.
He was also not the only member of the extended Mernin family to play an active role in events during that time with Lily Mernin also operating as a spy for Michael Collins in Dublin Castle, supplying critical intelligence that helped shape numerous offensives.
While attending a commemorative parade in Dublin with my own daughter in 2016, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising of 1916, we happened upon a conversation about my Grandfather and his involvement in the events around that time. As I was not entirely sure of the specifics myself, I asked an uncle about it, who duly produced some active service papers that revealed some fascinating insights into a world that few of us knew existed until then.
The papers, which numbered 5 in total, were crafted as part of an application for an Irish army pension in the 1950s and contained detailed accounts of my Grandfather’s revolutionary activities before and during the War of Independence, the period from April 1917 to July 1921.
In each case, the carefully preserved (and now laminated) documents show the start and end date of each period of service, the unit, district and operational commander served, as well as details of the duties carried out. Here is a catalogue of what these service papers contained:
1 April 1917 – 31 March 1918
Spanning a total of 365 days, this period was served mostly in the Villierstown Company of Waterford Battalion of the Irish Volunteers (a.k.a. IRA). The districts covered included Villierstown, Kereen, Aglish and Ballinameela and the Commanding Officer was Ed Walsh from Curraghroche, near Cappoquin, Co. Waterford.
The period was spent mostly carrying out military duties and orders, which included:
Drilling, route marches, military manoeuvres and parades in connection with army conscription activities.
Other references cited on the service papers for this period were Ed Walsh (Company OC, Curraghroche, Cappoquin), Jas Mansfield (Dungarvan) and Pat Whelan (Brigade OC, Dungarvan). Our assumption is that the term OC meant Commanding Officer.
1 April 1918 – 31 March 1919
This was largely a continuation of the previous period, spanning a similar duration and serving in the same unit, covering the same districts under the same Commanding Officer, Ed Walsh.
The period was also mostly spent carrying out military orders, including:
Drilling, military manoeuvres and military duties in connection with an Election in 1918.
The same people were noted as additional references on the service paper for this period.
1 April 1919 – 31 March 1920
While still a continuation of the previous service period, spanning a similar duration and serving in the same unit, the only district noted on the service paper was Villierstown. The Commanding Officer remained the same, however, and was recorded as Ed Walsh from Curraghroche.
However, by this time the War of Independence had formally begun and the duties recorded on the service papers took a more serious tone. They noted military orders and discipline, including:
Outpost duty during an Income Tax office raid in June 1919 and (also on outpost duty) in connection with the burning of Villierstown RIC station in November 1919.
In this context, RIC refers to the Royal Irish Constabulary, which was the British administered police force in Ireland from 1822 until 1922. The RIC would be better known in Irish historical folklore as the Black and Tans, in deference to the main colours in their uniform. Specifically, though, the term Black and Tans actually refers to constables that were recruited into the RIC as reinforcements during the War of Independence, not the entire police force itself.
For this period, only Ed Walsh (Curraghroche, Cappoquin) was noted as an additional reference.
1 April 1920 – 31 March 1921
While still a continuation of the previous service period, spanning a similar duration, the unit recorded on the service papers was Third Battalion and the districts covered included Villierstown and Cappagh. Ed Walsh (Curraghroche, Cappoquin) was once again recorded as the Commanding Officer for this period.
Once again, against the backdrop of the War of Independence, the duties recorded continued along a serious (and dangerous) vein, noting military orders and discipline which included:
Taking part in the destruction of Villierstown Courthouse (including books and documents) in September 1920, raiding for shotguns, ferrying comrades (November 1920) and the destruction of Coolrue and Geosh bridges.
Additional references cited on the service papers for this period included Ed Walsh (Company OC, Curraghroche, Cappoquin), Matt Lynch (Ballingown, Cappoquin) and someone whose surname was Shanahan (Aglish, Cappoquin).
1 April 1921 – 11 July 1921
The final service paper spanned a shorter period of just 100 days, recording the unit as Company III Battalion, Waterford Brigade, I.R.A. (presumably the same one as before) and covering the districts of Dromore and Curraghroche. The Commanding Officer was once again Ed Walsh.
With the War of Independence still ongoing the activities recorded included being subject to military duties and discipline, involving:
Total destruction of Coolrue and Geosh bridges, building a dump at Dromore for the concealment of arms, cutting a trench with felled trees at Curraghroche (June 1921) and preparation for an expected arms landing at Helvick, near Dungarvan, Co. Waterford.
The additional references cited on the service papers for this period included Ed Walsh (Company OC, Curraghroche, Cappoquin), Tom Cotter (Aglish, Cappoquin) and Matt Lynch (Ballingown, Cappoquin).
Neddie Mernin died peacefully at his home in Villierstown in February 1983, aged 90, where he had lived his entire life without ever being admitted to a hospital.
At his funeral, which was attended by a number of Irish Government officials, his coffin was draped with the Irish Tricolour and was adorned with his military service medals. A Firing Party drawn from the First Motor Squadron, Fermoy, Co. Cork also fired three volleys over his grave as The Last Post was sounded by a Bugler from Dungarvan FCA (part of the Irish Army Reserves at that time).
I can still recall the solemn, crisp air being pierced by the deafening shrill of the shots being fired over his coffin. Mixed among the tears of sadness shared by the thousands of people present were tears of pride and gratitude for one of so many brave souls of their time.
It is only with the passage of time, on seeing the Republic of Ireland flourish as a continued and modern democracy, that we can truly learn to appreciate the bravery and fortitude of men like Neddie, as well as the many women that supported and aided them all along the way.
– Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
I wish to thank Michael “Feeney” Mernin for giving his permission to share details from Neddie’s active service papers in this way, as well as thanking John Mernin for providing numerous historical actuaries that complemented Neddie’s story.
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