The Late, Great George Harrison

Irish Voice
By Frank Durkan

MY earliest memory of George Harrison is in a grocery store in
Kilkelly, Co. Mayo owned and operated by my aunt Josephine O'Dwyer
and her husband John J. Byrne.

The Harrison family lived in a little village called Shammer about a
mile outside of Kilkelly. It was, and is, a picturesque place to be
sure, nestling among rock-encrusted hills, shimmering lakes and
barren landscape. It was typical of the land from which millions of
our people were forced to flee because it could barely sustain life
for a man with a wife and family.

In a sense the lucky ones were those who were forced to emigrate. The
sole inheritor of the barren soil was destined to live a life of
unrewarding toil and bitter hardship.

The Harrison household was located not far from the home of one
Martin Casey, a member of that generation of Irishmen which grew up
in the early 1900s chaffing for too long under the British yoke and
roused to a fury by the savagery of the Black and Tans. Casey and
many young men and women of the Kilkelly area "took to the gun,"
waging what became known as the War of Independence.

Casey distinguished himself as a local commander, and one of his avid
pupils was the young and impressionable George Harrison, barely four
years old when the "Tan War" was raging in full fury.

George had vivid memories of the jackboot and rifle butt being used
against the hapless population, and his parents' home was a frequent
target of the military. In retrospect, some might say with good

George was as active as any youngster could be and helped out to the
best of his ability until the Treaty of 1921. He actively favored the
Republican side in the subsequent civil war.

He immigrated to the United States in 1938, smarting under the
impression that the treaty was a betrayal of the concept of total
Irish freedom. He harbored that feeling until he drew his last breath
on Wednesday, October 6, 2004.

George worked diligently and hard, and was able to finance the
emigration of his parents and his brother Patrick in 1949. His father
originally was a stone cutter in New Hampshire and had gone back to
Ireland in the 1880s.

George was obsessed with the plight of what he considered to be the
crime of poverty. His sympathies and energies were channeled to help
all those less fortunate than himself.

He never denied his association with the "Liberal Left," and regarded
any government as being repressive which did not put the welfare of
the poor at the top of its agenda. He was concerned about the Jews in
Europe in the 1940s, the Blacks in America in the 1950s and 1960s,
the Cubans under Batista and the South Africans living under

His voice and his pen were forever used to rail against those who
could alleviate suffering and who refused to do so. In these
endeavors he was fiercely dedicated and forceful.

Northern Ireland, of course, was one of his prime concerns. He was
keenly aware of the discrimination against and the disenfranchisement
of the Catholic minority and he castigated the governments, both
British and Irish, and the various churches for their failure to act
responsibly and effectively on behalf of the downtrodden.

When violence flared as reaction to British oppression in Northern
Ireland, it came as no wonder that George Harrison actively engaged
in supporting what indeed can correctly be described as a rebellion
against British authority. This included George's active support for
the rebels in the form of gunrunning to the Irish Republican Army in
the North, an activity which he engaged in for a quarter of a century
at great personal risk to himself.

Nobody was better qualified to help arm the insurgents than George,
who served for four years in the United States Army as a member of an
artillery regiment.

He was indicted, of course, and acquitted in the Federal Court in
Brooklyn in 1981 in a now famous trial along with his friends and
colleagues Mike Flannery, Paddy Mullen, Tom Falvey and Danny Gormley.

Whereas others might have been intimidated in the face of the
government in bringing serious charges, George continued his verbal
onslaught on all forms of imperialism. No later than last week in the
Irish Voice, George, in his 90th year and in frail and failing
health, took time out to express himself forcefully and vividly on
the subject of American politics, his concern being his perceived
erosion of the Constitution of the United States by the present
administration in Washington.

In testimony at George's trial, the late John Kerry O'Donnell told
the court and jury: "There isn't a church in County Mayo that hasn't
a roof that wasn't put on it by George Harrison." Though not a
religious man in the traditional sense, George was a far better
Christian than most people I know.

He was brilliant, intelligent, forceful, dedicated, charitable and
true to his instincts that the less fortunate citizens deserve the
most attention. His passing makes this world a lesser place.

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