By Robert A. Mosher
|Science fiction writer H.G. Wells|
(First published 4/1/12) Arlington, Virginia -- I should confess right now that I am a time traveler. Not in the sense of H.G. Wells and other science fiction writers, though I am a big fan of H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, James Blish,Harlan Ellison, Robert Heinlein, and many other authors of that genre. In addition to science fiction, I started at a rather young age reading military history -- the stories of battles, campaigns, wars, generals -- mankind at war.
This was when I began to travel through time. As I grew older, pursued a career, and traveled, I began to visit locations about which I read. As I walked across battlefields or through ancient city streets, I tried to see them as they were, to pierce the curtain of what is there now. Sometimes it almost works. More than a decade ago, I toured Moscow with a local expert on the Napoleonic wars in Russia and venues in that city visited by the French emperor during his brief residence there. As we followed the footsteps of the first French troops up the Arbat toward the Kremlin, we paused at Arbatsky Ploschad/Arbat Square, where my guide said the French finally had sight of the gates to the Kremlin itself. As Russians fired upon them from those gates, the French set up their artillery right at this same spot and began firing at those Russians to drive them away. I could hear the wooden axles of the gun carriages and caissons squeaking out in their need for grease, the creaking leather harnesses, and the jingling sound of the metal chains that held many of these pieces together.
Marshall Ney supporting the rear guard during the retreat from Moscow. Painting by Adolphe Yvon (1817-1893)
My interest in Ireland actually began to really develop, as I suspect it did for many, from hearing the music of The Clancy Brothers. I was fascinated by the stories told in the songs they sang and tried to learn the history behind them (to the possible despair of my mother’s Scots-Irish ancestors, buried in County Tyrone).
The General Post Office, Dublin (Wikicommons)
Eventually, I would be able to visit many of these locations -- Toomb Bridge, Antrim Town, Vinegar Hill, and such. One of the most interesting was the field at Ballinamuck, County Longford, where Jean Joseph Humbert surrendered his French troops to the Lieutenant-Governor of Ireland, Lord Cornwallis. This came after I had visited Yorktown, Virginia, where Cornwallis surrendered his army -- by proxy -- to George Washington, and before my subsequent visit to the battlefield south of New Orleans, where Cornwallis’ aide at Ballinamuck, Pakenham, would be killed under the gaze of Jean Paul Humbert -- by then a resident of New Orleans and unofficial aide and adviser to General Andrew Jackson. An historical trifecta! But, for many years, Dublin held less interest for me (as did the American Civil War until I became a Civil War reenactor in 2000), and remained merely another waypoint on visits to other points in Ireland. So why change now? In part, the calendar has prompted my reassessment. I’ve done a lot of reading in the past year or more, much of which I’ll discuss here, which has definitely increased my interest. As a military historian who has walked many battlefields, the streets of Dublin still offer one of the best opportunities to walk a relatively unchanged urban battlefield (especially compared to Stalingrad or Berlin). And the men and women of 1916, and their deeds, are an amazing mixture of romantic and realist; zealot and poet, and one might even say warrior and the priest.
So later this month I plan to be walking the streets of Dublin looking for the footprints and the landscapes seen and left by those who fought in the 1916 Rising – and I will share that experience here as I plan, experience, and reflect upon this journey. I hope you will join me, and The Wild Geese, “on the one road.” WG