An historic act of heroism dominated Callan Heritage Week.
Gasps of admiration greeted the unveiling of an oil painting by Mick Dawson.
The painting captures the final moments in the life of Captain Mark McGeoghegan who died fighting in a hopeless bid to save the town.
The artist skilfully re-enacts a dramatic scene from a battle that raged for three days in February 1650 when the most feared man in Britain, Oliver Cromwell, came knocking on Callan’s door.
Fethard and other nearby towns had already fallen, either without a shot being fired or following token resistance so the all-conquering Cromwell assumed Callan would be another walkover.
But although the town’s governor, Sir Robert Talbot, opted to surrender, a sizable number of locals refused to give in so easily.
Talbot and over a thousand troops abandoned their weapons and left the town after he received assurance from the invaders that they’d be let walk away unharmed.
But Captain Mark McGeoghegan who commanded the garrison at Skerries Castle in West Street, saw this as barefaced treachery and vowed to fight on.
The castle was besieged for up to three days, with wave upon wave of Roundhead soldiers storming the fortification.
The hundred or so soldiers inside were joined by townspeople, some of whom had fled there thinking it safer than their homes or the streets, and others to join the fight.
The defenders beat back the attackers, at first with musket-fire, and then, when the enemy started to gain entry to the caste, with oil and boiling water that the women flung down from earthenware basins.
When their ammo ran out they fought with pitchforks, clubs, rocks, and anything they could lay hands on.
But the captain and his band of heroes were hopelessly outnumbered. As the siege progressed, Cromwell arrived on the scene.
ALMOST EVERYONE WAS KILLED
The attack increased in ferocity, troops egged on by the charismatic presence of their master.
The defenders were overcome, and almost everyone in the castle, soldier and civilian, was killed.
Captain McGeoghegan was among the last to die, and in the painting Mick Dawson shows him in heroic pose outside the entrance, a sabre in one hand and a pistol in the other, enemy soldiers on all sides, and the castle in flames behind him.
A few defenders survived the siege because they’d been left for dead by the enemy, including the captain’s wife who had killed several of the attackers. Tradition has it that she lived to a very old age.
Local historian Philip Lynch hailed the painting as a chilling depiction of what happened on that dark day in Callan more than three and a half centuries ago.
Joe Kennedy of Callan Heritage Society complimented Mick on his work.
THE CAPTAIN AND BRAVE DEFENDERS
He was especially impressed by the impeccable research he had undertaken to ensure accuracy when reproducing the uniforms of the Cromwellian soldiers, the weaponry of the time, and his impression of what Skerries Castle would have looked like in the throes of its destruction.
Today only a fragment of its walls remains standing, and on this a plaque has been erected in memory of the captain and the brave defenders.
Mick’s experience with the Defence Forces gave him a keen sense of the military aspect of his project, and this shines through in the painting.
He had other paintings on display too, luscious landscapes and studies of some of the rare characters that knocked about Callan in bygone days.
A striking composition shows a group of men lined up against the railings of the old Friary Church in Mill Street. They are waiting patiently for the Cosy Inn pub, opposite the Friary, to open.
GIFTED SINGER AND SONGWRITER
Apart from painting, Mick is a gifted singer/songwriter, and has promoted Callan’s cultural gems via music as well as visual art.
His new CD, aptly circulated during Heritage Week, includes songs inspired by the milestones of local history, such as famine days at the workhouse, the faction fights that used to rip Callan apart, and the stranger than fiction story of the King’s River.
In his address, Philip Lynch expressed the hope that statues celebrating notable figures with Callan connections would be erected in the locality, to honour people like Fenian poet John Locke, and James Hoban, who was born a stone’s throw from the town.
A monument was also long overdue, he opined, to commemorate the men and women from the district who fought for Irish independence.
He said we must not take our hard-won freedom for granted, pointing to Mick Dawson’s painting as a stark reminder of the past.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE FLAG
Philip unfurled the Flag of Callan (see picture) at the entrance to historic Abbey Meadow, which contains the ruin of an Augustinian Church that dates to the 15th century.
He explained the significance of the flag. The centrepiece with its triple castle motif displays the Norman Coat of Arms.
Over this can be seen a hand that has let go of a crown, symbolising the drowning of an Irish king, Niall Caille, in the local river in about AD 844.
The flag’s background is also rich in symbolism. The colours are blue, black, and amber.
These celebrate both the Callan GAA colours and those of the county, reminding that John Drennan of Conway Hall, Kells, presented the first black and amber jerseys to the Kilkenny County hurling team in 1911, and the choice of the Fair Green in Callan for the staging of the first ever football game held under GAA rules, in 1885.