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Threads to the Tomanys of Ireland

Background is the official tartan of Monaghan County, Ireland

As strange as that may seem, no American Tomany has ever visited Ireland; I don't count 40 minutes on the ground at Shannon, refueling - we never left the plane!
I had the opportunity, of course, while stationed in Germany - but made a conscious decision NOT to do so, for a good reason.   Since my father had plenty of siblings, there should have been many of my Tomany cousins around in Ireland.   However, I had no idea if any of them were active with Sinn Fean - or even their names. (Monaghan is a border county.)   Since Ireland is not part of NATO, I would require a new AF form to serve as a passport, and checking around, it seems that I would be duty-bound under NATO rules to turn over any info I obtained about the IRA.   I resolved the conflicted loyalties by staying away.

The name, Tomany, is relatively rare - and people almost always pronounce it wrong if they haven't heard it spoken.   I have been contacted by (probably) unrelated Tomanys in Australia (who pronounce the name the same way) and in Scotland, of all places.   (The Scottish Tomanys turned out to be living just a few miles west of where the Burns family lived in Scotland, on the Glascow-Edinburgh roadway.)   Ailsa (Tomany's) unrelated TOMANY webpage displays what is to me a strange chart with some very familiar names - whom I do not know at all.

The Tomanys appeared to be "black Irish" - that dark-haired variety that would go gray early, (usually before age 30) and changing to white sometime around age 50.   No red hair and freckles here!   Jim once theorized that the black Irish were descended from survivors of the Spanish Armada shipwrecked off the Irish coast long ago - but it is unlikely, especially so far inland.

It seems that the smallest administrative division used in Ireland is called the townland - and County Monoghan contains a townland with that name.   (Galway contains three townlands with Tomany in the name - so, it appears that the name is centuries years old in Ireland.)   Of course, the connection, if any, between the townland and the family name is unknown to me.

It has taken A LOT of work to get this, but how else could kids hear the voices (and accents) of grandparents who, in some cases, died decades before they were born?

The loud, obnoxious kid's voice is my own as a child (7 to 10 years old).   Jim, then a teenager, did his best to conceal the fact of this "candid" recording - so he doesn't say much on it.   Both my father and mother appear in it (the accents should be apparent), sometimes shouting over my silly theatrics before the microphone.

NOTE: these files are not yet available.
Christmas, late 1950s   MP3 - Approx. 3 min - 730kb

Shorter WAV clip   WAV - Approx. 30 sec - 1.5Mb

Even these little bits of audio have a story behind them. The original was recorded near Christmas of 1956 ('57? '58?) on Jim's marvelous new Peerless tape recorder, surviving until this day on a small 3" reel of thick, very brittle 1/4 tape.   Unfortunately, recorders of that era played backwards from today's standards - but a big reel-to-reel stereo machine I bought in Thailand (1970) had the capability to play it in both directions.   (Whew! - There's three continents again!)

Packy Tomany and the IRA

While the term, "IRA" is today more associated with indiscriminate actions against civilians (just as "the other side" also deserves the same "terrorist" tag), it hasn't always been that way.

In the last half of the "teen" years in the twentieth century, there were two powerful forces at work for the independence of Ireland, and they had markedly different ideas concerning how it should be accomplished.   One was Sinn Fein, my Irish grandfather's choice, which sought a long-term political settlement with British.   The other were the Irish "volunteers" - his son's activist choice - who had resolved to drive the British Army and Special Police out of Ireland by force, if necessary.

The political method could be a long and distasteful path with no guarantees of true freedom and self-determination.   They believed that small concessions from the colonialists could be bought over time, and were convinced that eventually, Ireland would gain independence through diplomatic means.

However, the war in Europe was straining His Majesty's forces; even Irish regiments had been committed to the battles in Belgium.   If ever there were to be a para-military expulsion of the British from Ireland, the time was now, when their attention was focused elsewhere.   As is always the case, prosecuting war is the burden of the younger man, and it wasn't long before leaders arose to take command of a lot of young rebels and direct their frustrations over a bleak future into strategy against an enemy.   Eamon de Vallera and others could waste their breath talking logic to the British - but Michael Collins would wrest what freedom could be had - using the barrel of a gun.

Packy's father must have understood.   One night, when his youngest son returned home very late and snuck into bed, the old man might have thought he had been drinking - and queitly checked on "the boy".   Still awake, though pretending to sleep, Packy froze as his father examined the revolver he had hurriedly placed beneath the pillow just seconds before.   The older man replaced the gun - and never said a word about it.

By the early 1920s, the new organized IRA had won important battles, far from the newsworthy military losses in Dublin.   (Martyrdom defending against bad odds may win converts to the cause - but it will never win a war.)   Packy and four others had been sent to occupy a castle whose British lord had been "encouraged" to vacate the premises.   Brave and bloodied veterans all, they settled in for the night, setting up a watch to guard against intruders.   However, it wasn't long before the strange noises of long-dead ghosts came mysteriously from inside the castle walls!   Bullets may be just the thing necessary to prompt the black-and-tans - but they would be useless against a bedevilled spirit.
The band of defenders promptly occupied a perimiter defense, instead - and slept under the stars, rather than inside the haunted place!

Packy's greatest claim to fame (at least, of the ones he told his sons about), was making his hero, Michael Collins, laugh.   By 1922, the IRA had won freedom for most of Ireland, made formal by Sinn Fein's political victories.   Collins, the commander, was to make a visit, and Packy was selected as one of the men who would form an honor guard.   With a bit of quick instruction in the "manual of arms" from a former British Army soldier, the rag-tag detail lined up on the loading platform which was to be Collins' podium, Packy at the end, near the stairs.   (   He would be the first to "present arms" in salute, as the military hero of the revolution passed.   )   Now, I imagine that the British method is hard enough to accomplish when you've had plenty of training: all of that flashy stomping, shouting, and rifle-waving... but these rebels had very little.   It came as a total surprise when Collins aproached the top of the steps, and Packy's final stomp kicked his other heel over the edge, toppling him down the stairs, rifle and all.

There may well have been other IRA exploits by my father as young man - but sadly, these are lost threads in our history.   As a Vietnam veteran, I know there are things that aren't shared with young sons.   War - formal, undeclared, or revolutionary - always leaves a mark .