Wild Geese Stories: Beyond the Call of Duty

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Remembering the Special Operations Executive Agents: ‘Beyond the call of duty’

Tucked away on a farm in Britain sits a barn where adventure crossed with danger during the Second World War. Gibraltar Farm near the village of Tempsford was home to 13,000 Special Operations Executive agents who launched espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance missions throughout occupied Europe.

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The barn on Gibraltar Farm in Tempsford, UK which launched Special Operations Executive agents’ espionage missions across occupied Europe.

Many of these were women, some from Ireland, who answered the call to adventure and aided the French Resistance movements on the continent.

This year local villagers, lead by surgeon Tazi Husain, are building a memorial to honour the 3,200 women who from the site.

‘These were brave people. They were driven to the barn with the windows curtained so they didn’t know where they were taking off from’

Two of these women were Mary Herbert and Patricia Maureen O’Sullivan. Both were originally from Ireland and these Wild Geese flew by the full moonlight into the uncertain abyss.

Mary Herbert was the first member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) to join the SOE. Patricia Maureen O’Sullivan was parachuted into occupied France in March 1944 and the courage she displayed during her covert operations earned her the respect of her commanding officers. She received an MBE for her ‘patience, perseverance and devotion to duty’.

Local historian Bernard O’Connor says ‘they deserve to be remembered in their own right’. A sentiment we fully agree with. The memorial in Tempsford will be unveiled next month and will keep this sensational story alive for generations to come.

Men of Action: Remembering Irish Designer David Collins

The world bid farewell to David Collins earlier this week. The highly talented Irish designer and architect was widely loved and is sure to be missed, but he certainly left a lasting impression on the world.

Graduating from Dublin’s Bolton Street School of Architecture, he fell into the world of interior design by chance after a friend hired him to work on his home. His grandfather was involved in housing and his father was an architect so David felt that design was ‘in his genes’. This started David on a path of extraordinary achievement in design and he soon became a titan in the industry.

His work caught the eye of chef Pierre Koffmann who hired him to refurbish his restaurant La Tante Claire in Chelsea, London. Collins set up the David Collins Studio in 1985 and more high profile jobs quickly followed.

David has created the interiors for Claridge’s Bar, The Connaught’s bar, The Wolseley and many other London institutions.

David also attracted the attention of major retailers who wanted him to add his own spin to their stores. These included Bergdorf Goodman, Harrods, Jimmy Choo and Alexander McQueen. His touch can certainly be felt throughout the city.

The fashion world has been remembering him over the past week. Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman shared how his influence stretched even further than architecture:

‘As well as being responsible for designing many of the most influential London restaurants and bars of our age, he was a dear friend of many at Vogue. His work merged luxury, glamour and heritage in an inimitable fashion and his company was always of the first and most enjoyable order’

The Gilbert Scott Restaurant at The St Pancras Renaissance Hotel
The Gilbert Scott Restaurant at The St Pancras Renaissance Hotel

He was an expert at marrying history and modernity, displayed superbly in his work at The Gilbert Scott restaurant in the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. Speaking about the project he said:

‘Our design is a subtle intervention. Heritage buildings need to be considered carefully: the furniture, the palette, the artwork – the restaurant needs to be contemporary and acknowledge the significance of its surroundings’

Many stars flocked to his funeral this week, including Madonna who delivered a ‘beautiful speech’ during the service.

His legacy is a monument to design and comfort. For generations people will enjoy his work, perhaps in subtle ways when they appreciate the surroundings they have found themselves in, but he is still making an impression all the same.

Men of Action: Napoleon's Irish Legion


Screen shot 2013-07-22 at 17.12.27After The Wild Geese® left Ireland in 1691 they fought gallantly for their adopted communities. With ferocity and courage hey stood their ground on the battlefield, fighting for every cause but their own.

Patrick Sarsfield’s famous last words were ‘Oh, that this were for Ireland’. Sarsfield and many of the original Wild Geese did not see Ireland again after their departure, but in the early 1800s their descendants were given the chance to return home.

In his battle against the British Empire, Napoleon Bonaparte turned to Irish soldiers serving in Europe. He created the Legion Irlandaise to help lead an invasion of Ireland, recognising their skill on the battlefield, defiant hearts and abundant courage. They were at the core of his plans, at the head of an invasion force of 20,000 soldiers. The French and Irish cause was aligned. It was time for The Wild Geese® to return home.

Unfortunately the invasion did not go according to plan. Napoleon’s forces could not break through the British blockade and fierce weather sent the ships back to the shores of France. Once again, The Wild Geese® had to wait.

But ever the survivors the Irish Legion marched on. It received it’s own flag in 1804 and in 1805 it expanded into a full regiment, receiving troops from Ireland, Germany and Poland. It was the only foreign legion in the French army. Irish_soldier

The regiment fought in many battles and were a particularly prominent force at the Siege of Astorga (21 March – 22 April 1810) when they lead the charge that captured the Spanish city. Undeterred from the failed attempt to return home, the soldiers in the regiment maintained a high level of commitment. The regiment’s drummer boy continued to beat his drum during the invading charge, even though he was critically wounded. For this, he was given the Legion of Honour.

The regiment was also awarded the French Imperial Eagle – a symbol of military importance.

In his memoirs, Napoleon wondered: ‘Had I gone on an Irish expedition rather than on the Egyptian one (1798 – 1801)… what would England be today? What would the continent and the political world be like?’

The tales of Irish soldiers have never been forgotten.

Men of Action: Irish Tour de France Winner Keeps It In The Family

The ninth stage of the Tour de France is one of the toughest. Its 165km distance is characterised by a mountainous course, culminating in 5 high climbs.

But Dan Martin was not deterred. The Irish cyclist was caught in a two man sprint with Jakob Fuglsang but emerged the victor of this very tough Pyrenean stage, making him the 5th Irish rider to win a Tour de France stage in its 100 year history.

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Image from kei-ai via wikimedia

The last Irish rider to win the ninth stage was Stephen Roche in 1987 – Dan Martin’s uncle.

Stephen Roche has described this as a tough stage, but one which hold great opportunity:

‘I don’t like to see riders waiting for the last climb to attack, it makes racing monotonous. But this stage offers terrain where someone could blow the race apart from a long way out’

Keeping it in the family, Roche’s own nephew blew the race apart this year. ‘Its wonderful that Daniel won here,’ Roche explained, ‘He’s a good guy and he deserves it because he’s really worked hard to get it’.

Like The Wild Geese® , for Dan attaining a victory meant championing his own strengths:

‘I was confident in the final stretch because I know I have some speed. I know I had to be ahead in the last two corners and, when I saw that I was, I knew I could win. Luckily I had the legs to finish the job’

But also like The Wild Geese® , there was a strong sense of camaraderie in the race. Dan praised the work of his Garmin-Sharp teammates David Miller, Ramunas Navardauskas and Jack Bauer.

‘We’re a bunch of friends in the team rather than teammates, and I think that shows how well we work together. We’re always willing to give everything to help each other win and I think it’s a special team for that’

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Image from Flowizm via Flickr Creative Commons

But it was Dan’s competition that helped ensure his ninth stage victory. The final leg of the stage was neck-and-neck between Dan and Jakob Fuglsand, riding for Astana.

‘I was very lucky to have Jakob with me because he was super strong and we shared the work. We really wanted to destroy the race… luckily I had the legs to finish the job’

Men of Action: Walking In The Air

At 1,500 ft above the Little Colorado River Gorge in northeastern Arizona, Nik Wallenda wowed the world. As a professional tightrope walker, Nik walked across 2-inch-think steel rope to cross the dry river bed on the Navajo Nation, near the Grand Canyon.

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Nik Wallenda’s path across the Little Colorado River Gorge in Northeastern Arizona (Image from Lwp Kommunikaco via Flickr)

Nik battled ‘unpredictable’ winds of up to 30 mph, and had to steady the rope as he made his journey, which was broadcast by the Discovery Channel.

‘It took every bit of me to stay focused that entire time. My arms are aching like you wouldn’t believe

‘It was a dream to come true. This is what my family has done for 200 years, so its part of my legacy’

Nik is 7th generation aerial performer and last year he crossed Niagra Falls, earning him his 7th Guinness World Record. This is clearly in his blood. The Legend of The Wild Geese® has taught us that courage is often on the path to achieving your dreams. It took him only 22 minutes to cross the river, displaying an unprecedented amount of courage.

Wild Geese Stories: Michelle Obama Flies 'Home'

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Barack Obama wasn’t the only one making an impact in Northern Ireland this week. The President flew into the country with his family and Michelle Obama has once again proved why the world sees her as an inspirational ambassador for the United States.

The First Lady roused the student audience just before the President’s address on Monday, telling the next generation they have the power to forge their destinies and ‘we expect great things from you’.

‘Standing here today, I have never felt more optimistic… we believe in each and every one of you, that is exactly why we are here’

In his speech on Monday, the President also reminisced about his visit to Ireland in 2011, where he discovered that his great-great-great grandfather came from Moneygall and moved to New York in 1850. ‘It was a magical visit,’ the President said in his speech, ‘but the only problem was it was far too short’.

So Michelle took advantage of the trip and flew with her two daughters across the boarder to Dublin. They met with university professors at Trinity College and explored the family’s Irish ancestry, discovering that one of the President’s ancestors, John Kearny, was Provost of Ireland’s most prestigious university in the eighteenth century. Another link in the Legend of The Wild Geese® .

The visit was important as it marked the ongoing relationship between the US and Ireland. Provost of Trinity College Dr Patrick Prendergast said:

‘As a country, America has welcomed many of our graduates over the years where a large number of our alumni are living. Our graduates who play a critical role in shaping the knowledge of the economy are our diaspora’

After a private tour of the Wicklow mountains, Michelle attended a performance of the world famous Riverdance. She addressed the crowd, representing her family and the dreams of the original Wild Geese:

‘It’s good to be home. You are surrounded by such a beautiful country’

The family shared a lunch with U2’s Bono at Finnegan’s pub in Dalkey, outside of Dublin, before travelling back to Northern Ireland to meet the President.

Men of Action: Obama Outlines 'Future We Can Build Together'

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Image from wikimedia

Barack Obama delivered a rousing speech this week, celebrating the progress made in the Northern Ireland Peace Process and outlining its implications for the rest of the world and the ‘future we can build together’.

The Good Friday Agreement was a monumental move towards peace for the country in 1998. It has served as inspiration for many nations across the world, including the USA.

The President enthused:

‘So many of the qualities that we Americans hold dear we imported from this land – perseverance, faith, an unbending belief that we make our own destiny, and an unshakable dream that if we work hard and live responsibly, something better lies just around the bend’

The President delivered his speech to groups of students, tomorrow’s leaders, who greeted his words with a thunderous applause. The Irish fortitude that we celebrate is clearly still alive today. The Wild Geese® themselves persevered and believed that they could make their own destinies. Indeed they did.

From their example and Obama’s words, anything is possible.

The President ended with a reminder of the link between Northern Ireland and the USA.

‘You are the blueprint to follow, you are the proof of what is possible, because hope is contagious.

And you should know that so long as you are moving forward, America will always stand by you as you do’

Men of Action: Soldiers of Fortune on the Beaches of Normandy

Image from DVIDSHUB, via Flickr Creative Commons
Image from DVIDSHUB, via Flickr Creative Commons

Today is the 69th anniversary of the D-Day Landings, one of the largest and most complex military operations of the modern age. Thousands of soldiers were involved in the operation. Whether they fell on the beaches or survived to tell their tales, each of them are heroes to be remembered.

Amongst the force stood soldiers from Ireland who recognised a cause to be fought and played a pivotal role in the landings. Like The Wild Geese® these were soldiers who took flight and fought a cause far from home.

One of the soldiers was Sean Deegan, who was a part the amphibious landing.

‘I was a soldier of fortune, not a political soldier. When we got to Germany, we found out it was a worthwhile cause’

He joined the British RAF, but was trained in the use of a Harley Davidson on the battlefield, which he rode into battle on June 6th 1944.

‘Believe it or not, I had thought that all my dreams had come true when they trained me on a Harley Davidson. Then I find myself on one of these little landing crafts waiting to go in, and I’m thinking to myself “what have I done?”

‘It was horrendous, there’s no other way of describing it’

Deegan’s story is even more touching when he goes on to describe the bonds he made before the combat.

‘When there’s danger around you, you become very pally with people. It’s a different sort of friendship that you experience. I’ve never really experience that sort of friendship in civilian life’

We imagine this is the type of camaraderie original The Wild Geese® shared in 1691, shoulder to shoulder.

Sean Deegan survived the war, although many of his friends did not, including two who travelled from Ireland Tim O’Neill and John O’Reilly. He became a Franciscan friar and chose the name Bother Columbanus. You can read more of his story here.

It’s important to remember their courage today. We raise a glass to them.

Men of Action: Irish Hero Saves 3 With Broken Paddle

Image from N. Tackaberry, via Flickr Creative Commons
Image from N. Tackaberry, via Flickr Creative Commons

Many of The Wild Geese® were ordinary men who faced adversity head on. Knowing what was the right thing to do they followed that path without hesitation. Last week another Man of Action flung himself into adverse circumstances because it was the right thing to do.

Mark O’Mahony heard cries for help off the coast of Ballydehob in West Cork and, seeing distressed splashing over a kilometre out at sea, he raced to get his kayak and paddled towards the commotion, while his wife called for help:

‘I assumed people were in the water. I got into the kayak but I only had a broken paddle, so I was struggling to get out’

Despite having a broken paddle it took Mark 15 minutes to reach those in trouble: three young men who’s boat had sank. They had tried to swim the 1.5 km back to shore, but the powerful swirling currents prevented them from reaching the shore.

‘I found the first guy and he was trying to swim to shore. He was about 200m from the other two, who were further out’

Mark managed to secure the man and started to bring him to shore, while the lifeboats that his wife had called headed towards the other two. All three men were saved and transferred to Cork University Hospital. One of the men was stabilised after being treated for water ingestion and hypothermia. The other two men were also treated for hypothermia but made a full recovery.

Baltimore RNLI official Michael Cottrell said that their recovery was due to the quick actions of Mark and his wife:

‘[Mark] should take a lot of the credit. He made a great effort to help and surely saved their lives. Those lads owe him a lot’

We’ll certainly be raising a glass to Mark and his wife! Well done!

Men of Action: The Last Crusade, Remembering A Real Life Adventurer

At just 15 years old John Goddard overheard a family friend express regret that he had not done more in his life. Determined to avoid this mistake, he drafted a list of all the things he wanted to achieve and experience in his lifetime.

Some goals on this ‘Life List’ were modest, like becoming and Eagle Scout and learning to play polo. Others were pumped with ambition and paved the way for John Goddard to become one of the world’s most renowned adventurers. It is thought that he was a real life inspiration for the much loved character Indiana Jones and some of the items on his ‘Life List’ that he ticked off go a long way to explaining this.

John Goddard was the first man to explore the entire length of the Nile and Congo rivers, determined to journey some of the world’s longest rivers. He climbed two of the world’s largest mountains, including Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Matterhorn, learned to fly a plane, skydived and even broke records during the Second World War, hitting a speed record of 1,500 mph in an F-111.

Ticked Off: Mt Kilimanjaro (image by Tambako the Jaguar via Flickr Creative Commons), the matterhorn (image by Nick-D via Wikimedia Commons) and an F-111 jet (image by Marcel Wiseweg via Wikimedia Commons)
Ticked Off:
Mt Kilimanjaro (image by Tambako the Jaguar via Flickr Creative Commons), the matterhorn (image by Nick-D via Wikimedia Commons) and an F-111 jet (image by Marcel Wiseweg via Wikimedia Commons)

He was born in 1924 in Salt Lake City and wrote his ‘Life List’ in 1940. Goddard passed away in May 2013, having checked off 120 of his original 127 goals. He said during an interview in the 1990s:

‘There’s something about the human spirit that when you accept a challenge and work on it and have deadlines and capture your potential, it’s astounding what you can do’

Like The Wild Geese® , John Goddard reached beyond his limits and has proved an inspiration for many generations to come. Speaking at the announcement of his death, Goddard’s nephew Dennis Larsen puts it perfectly:

‘What he’s taught me is that you can make your dreams come true’

Wild Geese Stories: F. Scott Fitzgerald Still Star of The Show

The Cannes Film Festival hosted the European premiere of The Great Gatsby last week, adding even more pizzazz to an already glamourous south coast of France. The latest revision of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s renowned novel is dripping with style but aims to maintain the allure of it’s source material, still widely thought of as one of America’s all time greatest novels.

F. Scott Fitzgerald chronicler, Patrick Coleman thinks that the story is still so accessible because it’s themes of disguise resonate with us from the very beginning of adulthood, and it doesn’t hurt that the novel ‘is just so beautifully written, those sentences are stunning sometimes, and that’s what prompts these revisits to the big screen’

The latest revisit is appropriately filled with Hollywood’s elite from master direct Baz Luhrmann to leading man Leonardo Dicaprio and love interest Carey Mulligan. It’s been said that the film is oozing with style that elicits Fitzgerald’s novel.

But not at the cost of the book. The novel has been central to the production for both cast and director, as Baz Luhrmann explained:

The sensational Leonardo Dicaprio (image by foto de chaubaby, via Flickr)
The sensational Leonardo Dicaprio (image by foto de chaubaby, via Flickr)

‘Whatever the choices (for the film), it was about one thing: revealing that book

‘Leonard [Dicaprio] would almost drive me crazy, but in a good way, because he would say “Are we honouring the book?”‘

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote his own Wild Geese story. His parents both held Irish ancestry and he mapped his own journey from humble beginning to the writer of the time. Fitzgerald was a prominent figure of the ‘Jazz Age’ and pre dated the celebrity culture we know today. He was certainly a head of the curve, both as a writer and social figure.

‘He was a wild commercial success,’ explains Coleman. ‘No writer can become famous overnight, like a rock star, the way he did anymore’

The latest filmed opened a week earlier in the USA. Baz Luhrmann shared the story of a mysterious lady who attended the premier in New York:

‘She said “I think Scott would be proud of this film… and by the way, I love the music!”‘

The lady was Eleanor Lanahan, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s granddaughter. ‘So for me,’ the director continued, ‘that was about as good as it could possibly get’.

Men of Action: James Bowie – Defender of The Alamo

Staue commemorating James Bowie outside of the Alamo
Staue commemorating James Bowie outside of the Alamo

Wild Geese have flown far from Ireland since 1691. Many settled in new communities and raised families far from Ireland, writing new stands in the Legend of The Wild Geese® . No matter how far they ventured, however, their ancestry and dream of freedom for everyone has united them.

In Texas two Wild Geese fought in the Battle of The Alamo in 1836: Davy Crockett and James Bowie.

James Bowie fought as part of the Texas Militia fighting the Mexican army lead by Santa Ana for the freedom of Texas. He marched into the Alamo in San Antonio de Bexar in January 1836, originally with orders to destroy the San Antonio Mission. However, he soon decided that the Alamo would be of great significance to Texas’ battle tactics. He wrote in a letter:

‘the salvation of Texas depends in great measure on keeping Bexar out of the hands of the enemy… I have come to the solemn resolution that I would rather die in these ditches than give it up to the enemy’

Bowie pledged himself to this for the remainder of his days. He lead Texas Militia troops in the stand against the approaching tyranny during a 13 day siege. He would fight for the freedom of Texas until the bitter end. In the final days of the Alamo, he suffered pneumonia, and as the Alamo was eventually stormed by the Mexican army, it is said that he even fought from his bed, determined to stand against the enemy until his final breath.

Although the Alamo fell to the Mexican army in March 1836, the sacrifices of the brave men at the Alamo spurred on the Texas forces who defeated the Santa Ana’s army a month later in April 1836.

James Bowie, a true Man of Action, did not die in vein.

The Alamo, San Antonio Texas
The Alamo, San Antonio Texas