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Liam Mellows: A Centennial Memorial Tribute in Ireland

Liam Mellows: A Centennial Memorial Tribute in Ireland

 

Say the name Liam Mellows in America and you will be greeted with a puzzled look, that is, unless you know your Carmelite history because the name Mellows is part of the very fiber of the Irish Carmelites in New York. The story of who he was and what he did for both the Carmelites and Ireland should always be remembered.

 

Liam Mellows, born in Lancashire, England in May 1892, was the son of an Irish-born British army sergeant . He spent much of his youth in Ireland, attending military and garrison schools.  Mellows was an Irish nationalist from an early age. In 1911, he purchased a copy of Irish Freedom, which began: “We stand for Ireland…” Those words were etched in his Irish soul. He vowed never to bow before the British and swore that he wouldn’t rest until Ireland was free.

 

As a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), Mellows was soon involved in the underground movement to foment rebellion in Ireland.  He was arrested and jailed on several occasions under the Defense of the Realm Act.  Mellows was deported to England’s  Reading Jail in March 1916. He escaped, arriving back in Ireland disguised as a priest on Easter Monday, the day of the famous Irish Rebellion.

 

To avoid being arrested on serious charges, Mellows, dressed as a nun, first fled to Cork before traveling to Liverpool where he went into hiding until he set sail as a coal trimmer under the name John Atheridge on a tramp steamer.  Six weeks later Mellows arrived in New York. His relationship with the Irish Carmelites led him to the doors of Our Lady of the Scapular Church on 28th Street in New York City.  He found a home with the Carmelites there.  He joined the faculty at the parish school as a music and Irish history teacher. He organized Irish dance and music courses for adults. The violin that he took with him when he escaped Ireland was not only a physical instrument; it was an instrument of peace and harmony for the Irish parishioners at Scapular.

 

Fr. Peter Elias Magennis, O. Carm., the then assistant general for the Carmelite’s English Speaking Provinces and a prominent figure at Our Lady of the Scapular, was the Batman to Mellows’ Robin. Together they used their oratory skills to speak up and out for Ireland‘s struggle for freedom. When asked about Mellows’ magnanimous personality, Fr. Magennis said: “Liam is the very soul of Celtic wit and humor. He attracts the young as if he were a human magnet. He plays the violin and drags the soul of the audience back again to the hills and dales of the land of Eire.”

 

When Ireland finally threw off the British yoke, the country was divided, pitting the Pro Anglo-Irish Treaty advocates against their fellow Irish Anti-Treaty proponents. Mellows was compelled to return to Ireland to aid his Anti-Treaty freedom brothers. He arrived back home, with the blessing and support, both emotional and financial, of Fr. Magennis who, at the time, had been elected the Prior General of the Carmelite Order.

 

In 1922 the treaty controversy erupted into a Civil War. Mellows was now a military leader. His forces took over the Four Courts, Ireland’s most prominent courts building, located in Dublin. When Mellows’ troops were overtaken by the Pro-Treaty forces, he had an opportunity to escape, but rather than go on the lam, he surrendered and was sent to Mountjoy Prison.  While behind bars waiting for a trial, Mellows wrote to Fr. Magennis not asking for any favors but requesting  that Fr. Magennis do what he could to take care of a young man in Mountjoy who needed to be nursed back to health. Mellows ended his letter by writing, “for your many acts of kindness to me, I cannot thank you here. Someday, please God, when we meet again, I shall endeavor to do so. Your prayers, I know, are still offered up for our unhappy country. With kind regards to you and all the Fathers. Yours sincerely, Liam Mellows.”  

 

Mellows’ prison stay was cut short on December 8, 1922 when he and three other Anti-Treaty fighters were executed by firing squad in retaliation for the murder of Sean Hales, a “pro-treatyite.”

 

Fr. Magennis was greatly angered by the execution. He said, “I received the news of the shooting of four, amongst which was my dear friend, Liam. I always knew that these Pro-Treaty sycophants were contemptible curs, but it never occurred to me that they were such vampires, drunk with their sudden greatness. Their one idea is to revel in human blood.”

 

A hundred years after Mellows’ execution, the tragic event is being recalled and remembered in Ireland. Following a December memorial service in Tula, Ireland, where Mellows went into hiding following the aftermath of the Easter Monday rebellion, his violin, which is a treasured keepsake of the New York Carmelites, was displayed at a Knockjames Church. (It was then moved to a public Liam Mellows exhibit.) The violin will make a return trip to the Provincial archives at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel later this year.

 

The Liam Mellows Centennial Committee publicly expressed how grateful it was to Fr. Mario Esposito, O. Carm., Prior Provincial, for making it possible to include the Mellows violin in the exhibit.

 

 

Sean Halpin, who arranged with Fr. Mario Esposito, O. Carm. to secure the Mellows’ violin for the year-long tribute, and Breda McNamara, of the Cnoc na Gaoithe Cultural Centre, Tulla, Ireland, present the prized violin to the cultural centre.

 

Dr. Tomas MacConmara, an eminent Irish historian, delivered the keynote speech at the opening of the Mellows tribute.

 

Amy McNamara, an accomplished violinist, played the Mellows violin at the memorial service.

 

The Liam Mellow’s memorial plaque outside St. James Church in Knockjames, Ireland details the relationship between Mellows’ violin and the Carmelites of the New York Province.

 

Liam Mellows , back row, 2nd on left. Fr. Magennis, O. Carm. center, at Our Lady of the Scapular.
The young girl in row one on the far right, was the mother of the late Fr. Paul Feeley, O. Carm.

 

 

About J. Tuan Bui

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