Tuesday, January 22, 2013

You Can't Choose Your Relatives

     I conduct genealogical research using material from the Yale University library, I really do.   Just saying that makes me feel positively scholarly!  Not finding the book in question locally, my youngest, who is enrolled at RIT in Rochester, borrowed it from Yale through the RIT library for me.  “The O’Dwyers of Kilnamanagh” was written by Sir Michael O’Dwyer, and is a fascinating read.  Actually I found the “Sir” business a little off-putting.  How does a Roman Catholic from Tipperary become a Sir?  And why would he want to?
     I enjoyed reading the book which seems very well researched, and recommend it to anyone with O’Dwyer ancestry, but still, that “Sir” nagged at me.   So I decided to read up on Sir Michael.  His obituary describes him as “an Irishman to his backbone”; of course that assessment came from an English acquaintance.  The more I read, the less eager I was to claim him as a family member.  I already had doubts after reading in the aforementioned book that he thought Ireland was really better off under British rule.  Turns out, before Sir Michael wrote the book he was the appointed Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab; that troubled British outpost in India.  The 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre occurred during his tenure and unbelievably, he described that shooting of unarmed civilian protestors, as “a correct action”.  Shortly after that he was relieved of his post.  Real retribution came about twenty years later when in 1940 he was assassinated in London by Udhan Singh, an Indian national in retaliation for the massacre.
     Just three years previous to the atrocity in India, educated Irishmen, not so different from O’Dwyer, had taken over Dublin’s GPO and declared Ireland’s independence from the very empire Sir Michael served; and for their trouble they had been executed by that empire.  How to account for the disparity?  And for the fact that even some Dubliners in 1916 disavowed the men in the GPO who struck for Ireland’s freedom?  Did they too believe they were better off under foreign rule, or had they just given up and accepted the status quo?  I think the latter is probably the case, the result of centuries of subjugation.
     If I truly were a scholar, I might be better able to understand the differences in perception.  But for now, I see little to connect Sir Michael to my O’Dwyers who were dispossessed peasants from a small upland community in South Tipperary.  I’m sure we descend from different branches.

No comments:

Post a Comment