Goodbye Dearest Heart – this short book is ‘almost’ a reflection of Joseph McKelvey’s life. Bright interludes, with lots of dark, misty areas of speculation. This is not a reflection on the author, but more to do with the period and the fact that so many people could not read or write, records were often lost (or more frequently destroyed in fires and military actions).
The period from 17 November 1922 to 22 January 1923 saw (between 77-81) people executed, however a considerable number of others were sentenced to death by military tribunals to act as a deterrent to those
Joseph was an intelligent man who was fortunate to have two parents who both worked and whose work required an element of education; his father was a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary and would achieve the rank of sergeant, his mother (Rose O’Neill) was a Post Office employee. Joseph studied to be an accountant, gaining part of his qualifications for this profession.
Joseph’s involvement in the Irish War of Independence (1919-1928) is detailed in this book (Goodbye Dearest Heart), and in websites listed at the end of this review, and whilst the journey to being a follower to being a leader is detailed, for me the area I wished we had more detail on is that of his repudiation of the Treaty and his support for the anti-treaty in March 1922.
Almost 6 months to the day of his capture, to be precise 8 December 1922, Joseph with Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows and Richard Barrett were executed by an Irish firing squad in Mountjoy Prison. Before his execution he wrote a short, but poignant letter to his mother (hence ‘Goodbye Dearest Heart). It is a clear legible hand, but refers little about his past, and reflects his love and worries about the family. What is also doubly sad is that both the father, Patrick McKelvey, and son Joe McKelvey were laid to rest in Belfast MilltownCemetery, one a British soldier and one as a member of the IRA – 30 graves apart.
Patrick McKelvey, whilst having been in the IPF, was during the war posted to the Northumberland Fusiliers having enlisted in the special reserves of the British Army. And during 1917 he enlisted in the Special Reserve of the British Army. His headstone thus being that of a British soldier. Joe was buried in Milltown Cemetery with a funeral oration given by anti-treaty republican Sean Lemass, who was to become the Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) at a later date.
As I have said earlier, Goodbye Dearest Heart, is a short booklet. It was for me a way into an era on which I know little, and will undoubtedly lead me to research and read more on this period of Irish history.