A NEW book on Limerick’s famous O’Malley clan traces how a redoubtable countrywoman laid the foundations for a dynasty that has included everything from mayors and government ministers; political dissidents and writers; to priests, doctors and lawyers.
But the tramps and the sheep shearers are not forgotten in Grace O’Malley Cantillon’s The Round House O’Malleys: The Power of One Woman, which has been launched by the former minister Des O’Malley as part of an O’Malley gathering.
The author and the Progressive Democrats founder share a great-grandmother in Kate Fleming O’Malley (1820-1901), the woman in the title who Grace describes as “the tsunami in my gene pool”.
From Murroe, Kate Fleming married Michael O’Malley of Madaboy in 1845.
“She started having her family during the Famine and ended up with 12 children on 26 acres in Murroe. She could see that there was no future in that. So she plotted and planned and plotted and planned until she managed to get hold of a business in Limerick,” said Grace.
That was the Round House grocery and spirit business on High Street, which Kate had secured for a son, Patrick, by 1870.
How the business effectively ended up in Kate’s hands was “story in itself and worthy of a scene in a film like the Quiet Man”.
And it is one of dozens of stories in Grace’s book of an extraordinary family who were influential not only in Limerick but around the world.
“My father was born in the Round House, Charlie O’Malley, and he was a dentist in Limerick. He was the youngest of the eight children born there,” said Grace.
And their achievements had been built on the drive of Kate Fleming O’Malley from Murroe.
“Not only could that woman get hold of the Round House in 1870 but she supervised every penny spent out of it for the next 30 years until she died in 1901. And my grandfather had to spend it all on his siblings, putting his sisters into expensive convents and so on. He was not allowed to spend his own money. She just ran everything - and it was all for the family.”
One of eight children born to Patrick O’Malley in the Round House was another Patrick, who had two children, George and Pamela.
A former president of Limerick Chamber of Commerce, George was the owner of the Round House until the 1980s when it passed out of the family’s hands.
And the idealistic Pamela moved to Spain in the 1950s, where she joined the communist party and was twice imprisoned by the Franco regime.
The move to Spain came on foot of a romance with a married American, Gainor Crist, which would have been viewed as scandalous at the time.
“They fell wildly in love and very unsuitably, needless to say, in the Ireland of the 1940s. In Limerick it was only unbelievable. She was brought home from Dublin and locked up. Her father used to take the telephone into the car with him every day so she couldn’t get phone calls from your man,” said Grace.
Another strand of the family ended up as rubber planters in Malaya before the Second World War.
Frank O’Malley, born in the Round House in 1895, managed to get his wife and children back to Ireland just before the Japanese invasion of the peninsula.
“But he went back to look after the estates and got caught and spent three and half years in Changi Camp, the most infamous (internment) camp the Japanese had, on Singapore,” said Grace.
Grace herself taught for many years in Dublin and in Limerick, including at Laurel Hill and at LIT. She is married to the retired surgeon George Cantillon and they live in Monaleen.
The book is the fruit of many years of research, gathering old letters and photographs and documents from Ireland and around the world.
“It all started after my mother died and I found letters from a brother of my father’s who had been sent off to Australia in 1910. I wouldn’t quite say he was never heard from again because he wrote letters but we were never told about them. I only found them after she died and I transcribed them because they were falling to bits But when I read them, I realised ‘My God, what a story’. It was just amazing, so from there I went backwards,” said Grace.
It is her first venture into publishing and Grace pledges it will also be the last.
“I am 80 years of age for god’s sake,” she laughed.
Published by Lettertec, the book is on sale at O’Mahony’s, the Hunt Museum, the Celtic Bookstore and the Crescent Bookstore.
SEE LEADER 2, PAGE 18