I write often about my family roots in Meath and Cavan to the appalling neglect of my Dublin ancestors. The travesty is all the greater as my grandmother’s East Wall heritage connects me to revolutionary grandees.
o, last Saturday I took part in the Sean O’Casey Festival walking tour on the East Wall where O’Casey grew up, led by the wonderful local historian Joe Mooney.
The first stop was Seaview, a beautiful house on Church Road. Seaview no longer has an ocean view, its name wistfully reminiscent of the area’s existence due to land reclamation beginning in the 1820’s.
My grandmother, Sally Nugent, was born in this house in 1906 and the comings and goings there made a big impression Up down-like TV series.
East Wall was a hotbed of Irish revolutionaries and trade union activity and Seaview was run as an open house. Stories of Fluther Good, Skin-the-Goat, the O’Hanlons of Mullaghbawn, Jack Nalty and Constance Markievicz flow from the house.
The story began when James, Barney and Michael Nugent and their wives moved to Dublin from Mullaghbawn in south Armagh in the late 19th century.
They were horse dealers and James, my great-grandfather, bought Seaview and a stud farm at The Ward, Co. Dublin. They sold horses to the German, Austrian and British armies and to the Dublin Tram Company. James had nine children, including seven daughters, the youngest of whom was Sally. One daughter, Kitty, married Tom Taaffe and fathered the Taaffe racing dynasty.
Seaview awards Sean O’Casey tour for Fluther Good The plow and the stars was not made up but a real man working for the Nugents. He took offense at his portrayal in the play as it associated him with Rosie Redmond, the prostitute.
Our cousin Lucy Brennan, a Toronto poet who is still wonderfully alive at 90, describes Fluther as one of Seaview’s most enduring and colorful personalities.
“Although he was said to go berserk when drunk, you couldn’t have found a harder worker than Fluther when sober. I remember my brother telling me that he had never seen so many scars on a man’s head from being hit by the heavy batons of the police, who somehow had to fight back.
“But he was a small man – only about 1.5 meters tall. No womanizer, my grandmother wanted him to sue O’Casey for that misrepresentation, but wiser minds prevailed. There’s a good chance he’d turned up insane over the drink and thrown himself and his case out. His wife Lizzie stood by him through hell and high tide.”
A sadder case was Skin-the-Goat, James FitzHarris’ nickname appearing in it Ulysses. He drove the decoy car for the Invincibles, the gang responsible for the Phoenix Park murders – the murder of Lord Cavendish and Henry Burke in 1882. He was found guilty of conspiracy and sentenced to life in prison. But he was released early and returned to Dublin penniless in 1900.
Skin-the-Goat regularly visited Seaview, where my great-grandmother Lucy fed him. She once asked him who else was involved in the killings, but he told her: ‘Mrs Nugent, the British offered me 30 pieces of silver to name them. If I haven’t told them, I’m unlikely to tell you.”
He eventually died in a Dublin workhouse in 1910 and was buried in Glasnevin.
Then there was Jack Nalty. He was a fabulously handsome East Wall union activist who had the honor of dying on the last day of action of the Anti-Fascist International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War in 1938. A plaque commemorating his death was unveiled in 2018 on the 80th anniversary of his death. Nalty’s sister Peg married Barney Nugent, son of James, and their son Jim was Jack’s spit.
South Armagh has always been the home of the Nugents and my father and all the cousins have fond memories of their summer holidays there.
In return, South Armagh came to East Wall, including the O’Hanlons of Mullaghbawn, as a Nugent had married an O’Hanlon.
Mick O’Hanlon was one of Michael Collins’ men who carried out the Bloody Sunday attacks that sparked the Croke Park shooting. He was father to Rory O’Hanlon, the politician of Fianna Fáil, and grandfather to Ardal, the actor.
Mick’s revolver with his initials on it was found in Seaview when it was cleared years later. Other revolutionaries like Frank Aiken hid in The Ward while trying to escape while Constance Markievicz drew the pretty picture (left) of Molly Nugent, Lucy Brennan’s mother.
But despite all these close ties to revolutionary and socialist heroes, these ideologies were never mentioned within the family.
I used to assume that while the characters were employed, loved, and protected by the Nugents, the Nugents themselves were not ideological.
In fact, like many Irish families, they turned out to be quite divided, and someone came up with the easy way out of banning politics as a topic of discussion entirely.
English or German, Socialist or Republican, all politics were left on Seaview’s doorstep.
East Wall has suffered from neglect in the past and is now being corporatized by the Docklands.
However, it remains a wonderful community and owes much to the East Wall History Group for their activism and advocacy for this large part of Dublin.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/my-connection-to-irelands-great-history-revisiting-literary-figures-revolutionary-ideals-and-the-house-in-my-which-grandmother-was-born-42031332.html My connection to Ireland’s great history: reunions with literary figures, revolutionary ideals and the house where my grandmother was born