Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Scots-Irish: Scots-Irish Books

The Scots-Irish: Scots-Irish Books: Three centuries of life in a Tyrone parish. A history of Donagheady from 1600 to 1900, by William Roulston (USD $ 12.95) Format Ebook.  ...

Monday, May 19, 2014

McCain... IRA Man? Nay...

In 1984 having a Gaelic surname could cause travel complications.  On my 1984 trip over, not only did I meet Muhammad Ali, but I also was questioned by United States security "agents" when I was returning back to the USA.  On 12 October, the IRA had planted a bomb in the Grand Hotel, in Brighton, England, because the Conservative Party conference was being held there.  Their target was Margaret Thatcher. Prime Minister Thatcher narrowly escaped injury, but five people were killed, including two high-profile members of the Conservative Party, and 31 were injured.  It was bloody business.

In September 1985, Patrick Magee was found guilty of planting the bomb, detonating it, and of five counts of murder. Magee received eight life sentences.The judge recommended that he serve at least 35 years. Later Home Secretary Michael Howard lengthened this to "whole life". However, Magee was released from prison in 1999, having served 14 years under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

As for me, I was making the return flight to the USA in early September of 1984.  Security was understandably heightened.  Macs and Os doing unusual things on international flights were suspect. I was making a connecting flight between Aer Lingus and Delta back in Newark and was running late.  Aer Lingus, being the sports they used to be, whisked me through customs by some semi-secret door, and presto I was making my way toward the Delta aircraft.  Then "security" caught up with me.  It was Federal agents, I forget the brand name, but they had guns and the whole business.  You see, the IRA bombers were thought to be leaving the UK and trying to make for the USA and here comes this man name Barry McCain (a suspiciously Irish sounding name) that is being allowed to go around the customs station and placed directly on his flight. 

Well, the Federal agents were, with their guns, expecting a hard core IRA man, but instead got an educated Mississippi Redneck of Gaelic ancestry  The interrogation should have been taped as it was not without its points of humor. Back then there were clever people working as these Federal agents, it took the older man with gray highlights in his thinning hair about thirty seconds to realize exactly who and what I was, he began to grin. Now the younger ones, full of piss and vinegar were not ready to give it up, but gray hair trumps.  He allowed me to pass and even helped me get to my plane in time.

Meeting Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali September 1984

One day I met Muhammad Ali.  t was 11 September 1984 on one of my many trips over to Ireland.  I was flying out of Newark, New Jersey, to Shannon, in County Clare, Ireland.  I had an hour or so to kill so was just sitting in the waiting area of my loading gate.  I notice a large black man come into the area and take a seat.  Now I recognized him immediately, it was Muhammad Ali.  And do not ask how I knew, in my age group, one knows Muhammad Ali.  I had seen him on television many times dating back to the mid 1960s, he was iconic to say the least.  I was a fan of his, had always pulled for him in his bouts.  I liked his style in the ring and also his rebel spirit. I was intrigued that he was by himself.  I got up from where I was sitting, walked over and sat down beside him and say, "hello Muhammad, what brings you here."

I am six foot two inches and fairly well built, so I was not overly impressed with his size, but I did notice the easy way he moved, the way athletes move, fluid and with power there. There were introductions and we talked.  I told Muhammad I was a native born Mississippian, to which he smiled broadly.  This grew into a conversation about ethnicity, the War Between the States, race relations in the North, in the South, things in Ireland, etc.   Muhammad was friendly, talkative, and liked my up front casual nature with my Southernness.  He told me he had great respect from the white Southern male as he found dealing with them straight forward and honest.  He was interested in my travel to Ireland as I told him I was hunting for ancestors.  We also had fun talking about the pilot, who was female.  In fact, the airline people told me at the time this was the first woman trans-Atlantic pilot when I went to check in.  For some reason they wanted me to know.  Muhammad made some good natured humorous remarks about our upcoming flight and female pilot. We had about twenty minutes to talk and were having a very good time.  Then the local airport security realized they had a major celebrity in their midst. A guard appeared, then two, then several of Muhammad's entourage came up, I suppose they had been checking luggage or something.  Within five minutes around twenty people were gathered around him, within thirty minutes there were near a hundred as word got out that he was there.  It was no longer possible to talk to him at this point, and I wished him well and got up to leave.  Then, for some reason, I decided to ask him for an autograph, just to prove to others the conversation had taken place, as a rule, I do not ask autographs from famous folk I meet, but I did this time.
11 September 1984

Monday, May 12, 2014

Francis McKane and the Lisbon Maru

As mentioned earlier, both Senator McCain’s father and grandfather, and my own father, served in the Pacific Theater in WW II.  It is a large part of the Mississippi McCain legacy.  One of the McCain cousins located by the McCain DNA project is Joseph Patrick McKane of Glasgow, Scotland, a well-known physician.  As we got to know one another he told me the remarkable story of his own father in the Pacific during WW II.  Joseph’s father was Francis McKane.  Francis joined the military during the Depression years in Scotland.  He served in the Royal Artillery and shipped out to Hong Kong in 1938 where he rose to the rank of Senior Sergeant.

Francis McKane

The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 and on the next day they attacked Hong Kong and Francis McCain was in the thick of it. He volunteered to act as spotter for his artillery battery, which placed him in an obsolete biplane flying into the face of the fighting to observe the effects of his unit’s artillery fire.  His battery was the last one to fall in the defense of Hong Kong and he became a prisoner of war.  In September 1942, 1816 prisoners that had been captured when Hong Kong fell nine months before were loaded on the Japanese transport Lisbon Maru 

Hong Kong Under Japanese Attack
 The Lisbon Maru was called the Hell Ship as the POWs were kept in conditions of filth, disease, and malnutrition. They were being transported to Japan as slave labor. On 30 October, 1942, the Lisbon Maru was spotted by the US Submarine Grouper off of Shanghai. The sub maneuvered during the night and then the next morning fired six torpedoes and immediately came under attack from Japanese patrol boats and aircraft.  The Grouper dived deep and quickly left the area. One of its torpedoes struck the Lisbon Maru. The US sub of course had no idea there were Allied prisoners of war aboard.  The Lisbon Maru began taking on water and the prisoners were locked below decks with no food or water and stifling heat.  On 2 October the ship finally sank and there was a chaotic dash by the prisoners to try to escape. Some made it over the side, some escaped through port holes.  Francis McKane was among the prisoners that managed to get off the sinking ship.  The Japanese were shooting the escaping men and many never had a chance to get off the ship and drowned; some 846 men died that tragic day.  The prisoners that reached the water swam three miles through shark infested waters, eventually making their way to a small island. The men that reached the island were again taken prisoner by the Japanese on 5 October.  They spent the rest of the war as slave laborers in Japan.  Francis worked in the shipyards in Osaka. Over 200 died during the first winter from diphtheria, diarrhea, pneumonia, and malnutrition. 

The bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki came just in time to save Francis McKane and the surviving prisoners who were by that time walking skeletons, with their numbers shrinking daily.  Even with the Japanese capitulation he had a long road to get back home.  He was taken by hospital ship to Canada first.  Doctors in Canada told him that he would not survive, that malnutrition and disease had so damaged his body that they had little hope of his recovery.  Francis did survive and return back to Scotland to have a family and his son Joseph, joined the McCain DNA project and found his cousins, including the Mississippi McCains.