By Aileen Atcheson
In these years of centenaries the well known heroes of the Rising and of the War of Independence are being written and talked about. And rightly so. But there are many others who are practically forgotten. They served the country in tough times, some gave their lives, others made their lives miserable and very difficult forever afterwards, and many lost loved ones. Families were decimated and homes broken up.
The McSweeneys in Cork was one such family, Terence died on hunger strike. He left a widow and a little girl, Maire Óg. Terence’s widow, a lovely looking girl from a wealthy background, was not very stable. When her husband made his will, he made his sister Mary co-guardian of their daughter. Muriel resented this.
In the summer of 1923 Muriel decided to move to Germany. She had been attending a doctor there for bad depression. They stayed for a while in a hotel and the little girl was very frightened. In January 1924 she started school. She knew German, didn’t want to leave her mother though she thought at first her mother would return for her. Of course, that did not happen but Maire Óg settled in after a while and never caused any problems. Her mother, Muriel, could not cope with life and all its problems. Her way of dealing with problems was to walk away. During the summer holidays when the school closed, Maire had to stay with her mother. Only once did they visit Ireland. They stayed with her maternal grandmother, Murphy, in a large house.
The Murphys were wealthy, as they were the whiskey distilling part of the family. After the summer holiday Maire Óg and her mother Muriel returned to Germany. The little girl never visited Ireland again with mother. She remained away from Cork and other relattions for eight years. Her aunts in Cork did not have an address for her. Muriel lived in France for most of this time and took her daughter to France for a holiday on one occasion. Another year they visited Paris and and another time she and her mother spent the school holidays in the Black Forest. Maire was ten years old at this time.
She attended a secondary school, where she was surprisingly happy. Muriel paid occasional short visits to see her. She was very anti-Catholic and tried to make sure nobody taught her daughter anything about religion. At Easter 1930 her mother moved her again. She had discovered that some of the school staff had taken Maire to Mass. She put her little girl living in a doctor’s house in Bavaria. The doctor’s wife and family were kind to her. In 1931 Muriel wanted to move her again, this time to Heidelberg. Maire refused to move and insisted on staying with the family in Bavaria.
She never met her mother again.
Her aunt Mary in Cork received a windfall from an American lady who had heard her speak publicly in America, having been sent there by De Valera to talk about the Irish situation. Maire wrote to her and asked her to come and visit. Aunt Mary and a companion travelled to Bavaria and arrived at the same time as her mother’s messenger who was to escort her to Heidelberg. Maire managed to dodge him and travelled home to Ireland with her aunt and her aunt’s companion. Muriel took Mary McSweeny to court to get custody of her daughter. After many sessions in court she eventually lost the case and Maire remained with her aunts Mary and Annie. They ran a private school in Cork which she attended.
Eventually she went to boarding school and was a brilliant student. She married a son of Cathal Brugha’s, he who had been shot at the Four Courts in Dublin at the beginning of the Civil War. On many occasions Mary and her husband tried to contact her mother and arrange a visit. Muriel refused all offers of a visit or reconciliation. She spent a lot of her time on the Left Bank in Paris. She died in England and had given instructions Maire was not to be told until her funeral was over. All this time Muriel was living on her settlement from her family; girls did not inherit the business at that time but were given a sum of money as their share. As well as that, she had the income of money her own mother, Maire’s grandmother, had left to Maire. When Muriel died, this money / the capital, was to be given to Maire.
If her father had not been let to die and in such awful circumstances, he, his wife and child would probably have remained together and had a happy home life.
The “Troubles” divided the family and inflicted misery on all of them.