'And To Watch the Sunbeams Dancing O’er the Wicklow Mountains High'

From "The Wicklow Mountains High" by Jim McGonigle.

One of the things I'm always on the alert for while driving along the roads of Ireland is any sort of roadside historical marker. The Irish have populated their cities and countryside with markers both simple and ornate to commemorate their rich history. Perhaps this is because for centuries a foreign government did not allow them to celebrate their own history.  And since I'm always the one who's driving, it's not always possible for me to see them all (and live). So to keep us a bit safer, my wife, Lindy, also serves as a lookout for these monuments.

As we traveled south though the Wicklow Mountains on R-115 on our way to Shillelagh on our June 2014 foray to Ireland it was Lindy who noticed this monument (pictured below, and to the right) which was to our left, high on  the eastern side of the road.

There was a path (shown above) of 100 yards or so through the beautiful, serene heather fields leading up the hill to it. Looking out over the majestic Wicklow Mountains, with a few white balls off in the distance denoting the location of wandering sheep, it would be hard to find a more peaceful spot on earth. But the monument had little connection to the peace it's location presented to those who walk up to it. On the front it read:




The date seemed curious, as the ceasefire that ended the Civil War was months earlier. The last name, Lemass, was certainly a well known one in the period. Was Noel related to the well known Republican of the period, and later Taoiseach, Sean Lemass? As is so often the case when we stop at these roadside monuments, it creates questions that make you want to know the full story of what happened there.

The first thing I found out was that Noel was, indeed, the older brother of Sean, who was one of the founder-members of Fianna Fáil in 1926 and was Taoiseach from 1959 to 1966. Both Sean and Noel had fought in the Imperial Hotel during the Easter Rising of 1916, with the 3rd Battalion, Dublin Brigade IRA. Noel was wounded and spent time in Dublin Castle hospital before recovering. He later helped train volunteers in south Dublin County.

When the Civil War began both he and Sean supported the anti-treaty side and were in the Four Courts when it fell. Sean managed to escape, but Noel was taken prisoner. Noel was able to escape and made his way to England, where he remained during the Civil War. He returned after the ceasefire  ended, or was supposed to end, the Civil War in May 1923.

Noel (left, in his uniform) returned to his job as an engineer at the Dublin Corporation, no doubt thinking that he'd now live out the rest of his life in peace. And perhaps he would have, had his last name been something other than Lemass.  Some suffer for the "sins" of their father's. Noel may have suffered for what someone on the Free State side perceived as the sins of his brother.

On July 3rd he was kidnapped outside of MacNeils Hardware shop, at the corner of Exchequer and Drury Street. Unless someone who was involved in abducting and killing him over 90 years ago wrote a confession that comes to light sometime in the future, we'll never know exactly when he died, or who killed him. Nearly all sources point to a kidnapping by Free Staters, however.

His body was found by Civic Guards on October 13th near the spot where the monument now sits, on Featherbed Mountain. He had likely been brutally tortured during his time in captivity, as he had a fractured left arm and his right foot was missing. He had died from three gun shots to the head.

Like so many Irish nationalists before him, Lemass was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, with many well known Republicans of the era, including Constance Markievicz and Maud Gonne, in attendance.

The original monument on Featherbed Mountain had a Celtic cross on top, which was destroyed by vandals, replaced, and destroyed again, showing that the memories of those awful days for Ireland are not forgotten. But no matter what side one may come down on regarding the issues that caused the Irish Civil War, deaths like that of Noel Lemass can't be considered anything other than a tragedy not just for his family, but for the nation of Ireland as a whole.

Related Links:

Captain Noel Lemass memorial, Dublin Mountains

Who killed Noel Lemass? (Discussion on politics.ie.)


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Tags: Civil, Freedom, Irish, Lemass, Noel, Struggle, War, Wicklow

Comment by Jim Curley on July 17, 2014 at 12:21pm

Sean Lemass was said to be the father of modern Ireland. A strong proponent of ties to mainland Europe, a trend that ended with Ireland joining the EEC in the Seventies.

Comment by Gerry Regan on July 18, 2014 at 4:41pm

Any idea of the perps of that dreadful murder? Seems so cowardly. There is someone alive today who can likely identify the killers. That's a startling sense.

Comment by Jean Sullivan Cardinal on July 20, 2014 at 1:01pm

Thank you for posting.

Comment by Roberta Foran on July 24, 2014 at 10:44am

Intriguing story. Thank you for posting this.

Comment by Fran Reddy on July 24, 2014 at 11:15am

Interesting story.. very sad.

Comment by Terence O'Grady on January 30, 2015 at 4:37pm
It's so tragic to think of the Civil War. We lost our brightest and our best. May God and the Irish People forgive them all; on each side


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