Celtic Illumination, part 327, Long live the King of Ireland.
To discover in your mid-thirties that you not only have a mother and father, but that you have eleven brothers and sisters is quite something. It is exciting but at the same time scary. I didn’t have much information to go on, the address for my father on my birth certificate was in Dun Laoghaire, outside Dublin and I had no address for my mother. The only positive link I had with mother number two was the social worker who was actually keeping in regular contact with me and asking me to send photographs of myself and my family to her so she could pass them on to mother number two. Irene and myself had long talks about whether I should try to contact her, despite the best efforts of the social worker, who like most social workers would be going nowhere fast. From the social workers reports, concerning my birth, we could see that it was my maternal grandparents who were insisting that I should be left in Belfast with the nuns, so not my mother’s decision. In the end we decided that I would try to find my mother and basically say, ‘Hello, I’m here, if you need me or want to meet me.’
Pat was very helpful, along with her sisters, who used their connections to help me in my quest. I knew I was an O Neill, perhaps the most respected name in Ireland, so it was a good start. After a while I discovered the name of the village that my parents were living in, but more importantly it was in County Tyrone, the homeland of the O Neill’s. I was a member of the most famous branch of the O Neill clan. Suddenly I was no longer a deformed little boy that no one wanted to buy; I was a member of the leading clan in Ireland. As the social worker continued communicating with my mother I began to research the famous O Neill’s, I needed to know more.
This is where I discovered the link between the O Neill Clan and the mythical Irish figure Labraid Lamh Dheary, Labraid of the Red Hand, where the Red Hand symbol originated. This of course is now commonly held as the Red Hand of Ulster symbol used by many associations ranging from the crest of the GAA, the Gaelic Athletic Association, to the Red Hand Commando’s, a Loyalist murder gang. Although the symbol is also known as the Red Hand of O Neill, which brought about the war cry of the O Neill clan, ‘Lamh Dhearg Abu!’ meaning ‘Red Hand to victory.’ I began to look deeper into the history of the red hand and discovered that there are three main stories concerning its origin. The first story is perhaps the best known where it was said that each of the four provinces of Ireland was a Kingdom and the province of Ulster was without a King. A race was held and the first person to touch the shore of Ulster would be crowned King.
The story can vary from a King with three sons to different princes from elsewhere on the island, but basically it is always a race, with the first person to touch the shore, or touch the land of Ulster, to be crowned King. The race is held and one fellow sensing that he might not win cuts off his left hand and throws it over the finish line. He wins the race and is crowned King, there is also a suggestion that he was an O Neill. The only thing correct about this story is that the fellow cut off his left hand for the Red Hand symbol has always been of a left hand. There is much debate these days about whether the symbol should be a left hand or right hand; well let me set the record straight. The correct Red Hand symbol was, is and always shall be, of a left hand. When the British invaded Ireland they tried to convert the population from paganism to Christianity and so told people that it would be more Godly to have a right hand depicted, which is where the right Red Hand version came in to play.
The second most popular story about the origin of the Red Hand symbol is that the O Neill clan used to hire out their army to act as mercenaries. They would travel far and wide fighting for whoever paid the most, as all good mercenaries do. It is suggested that at the end of each battle the O Neill Clan would collect the left hands of the enemy dead, by the sack full, and would be paid per hand. This story makes no sense whatsoever, why would they choose to cut off someone’s left hand, why not their head? The only reason I could think of, for them to cut off the left hand of their dead enemies, is if they already had the red hand symbol as their clan coat of arms. There is another little story that floats about and falls in with the stories about the giant Finn Mac Cool that two giants were fighting, why I have no idea, but one giant cut the others hand off and this resulted in a red bloody hand print on a rock which in turn becomes the symbol we all know today. A six year old may believe this but as we all know, if you cut someone’s hand off, they are not very likely to leave any sort of handprint anywhere, a bloody stump mark from their wrist perhaps, but not a hand print.
And so we come to the third story concerning the origin of the Red Hand symbol and in particular the connection with the O Neill Clan and why the symbol on their shield it is known as the Red Hand of Ireland. Quite simply the Chief of the Clan O Neill, the King of Ireland was chosen by God. Now please remember that we are talking about an Irish King who would follow, maintain and uphold the Brehon laws. Nowadays when you mention King many people automatically associate that position with wealth, but in Ireland the King is a leader and more importantly is chosen by the clan council of O Neill’s. So it’s not a job for life, if you are no good the council can and will remove you and put another in your place. So there may be three or four people available from which the council can choose a new leader but to be one of the chosen few there are a couple of qualifying necessities. First of all you have to be an O Neill, born of the Tyrone O Neill’s and only those born with a deformity on their left hand, only those marked by God, can form the pool from which the High Chief of the Clan O Neill, the true King of Ireland is chosen.
So you can imagine the excitement when I was born in Belfast. Some people may suggest that no one wanted to buy a baby that was deformed, but I don’t think the nuns had put me up for sale, I think they had informed the double top secret cabal who from that moment organised my life so that when the time came I could step forward and make my rightful claim on the throne of Ireland. I really had been protected by a battle hardened snatch squad of Carmelite nuns who knew that I wasn’t some deformed little bastard but that in fact I was their future King. I am sorry to have given you all a history lesson today, but I did say that I would prove, without doubt, that I actually am the High Chief of the Clan O Neill and therefore the true King of Ireland. For those of you who quibble, or question my authority, please take it up with God, for wasn’t it he himself who chose me in the first place?
It will come as no surprise to you all to learn that I was now inundated with telephone calls asking me to appear on television in Northern Ireland. The BBC wanted me to fly into Belfast and while sitting on the Black Mountain, overlooking Belfast, wanted to interview me, with me looking all windswept and interesting. Unfortunately it wasn’t about me being King. I had been able to narrow down my search to my mother’s family, that’s mother number two. I had a handful of numbers and people that I could call so I did. The second person I spoke to would have been my cousin. I had to explain to her who I was and she explained that there was a rumour about me in the family, but that I had been a secretarial course. This would have been the excuse mother number two would have given for her absence from her village.
I now had the exact location of my mother and father; I even had their telephone number at my fingertips. It ripped my head apart wondering what to do, whether or not I should contact them. After all I wasn’t a threat, I just wanted them to know that I was all right and hoped they would be too. In the end I decided that I was making far too much of the situation, this was my mother we were talking about. I dialled the number and found myself speaking directly with mother number two. In the back ground I could hear children so I asked that if it was not a convenient time if she could give me a time that would be more convenient I would call again so that we could speak without interruption. To hear your own mother say that, yes it wasn’t convenient, but that it would never be convenient, was a little bit of a shock. But it wasn’t the first time I had a parent say to me, don’t ever contact me again, don’t phone, write or visit.
It took a week or two before a letter came through Maria, the social worker in Belfast, from mother number two stating that she wanted to have nothing to do with me and I was not to contact her again. I was still getting used to the idea that I had parents and brothers and sisters so to lose them all before I had even come to terms with finding them, put me in a little head spin, to say the least. And as for the BBC, well the social worker had gone to university with some BBC producer who now wanted to make a programme on people searching for their birth parents in Northern Ireland, now that the law had changed. They wanted one person who had found their parents and who was having a fantastic time catching up with them. There was another person who was still searching for their parents and who would describe their feelings and emotions as they went through the process. And then there was the third person, me, who had actually found and contacted their birth parents and who had been told to stay away.