May he rest in peace and may his wife Susan and daughters continue to find strength and encouragement in his abiding memory.)
In the beginning there was Dermot. I hope that you will forgive the somewhat blasphemous introductory sentence, but its meaning will become clear shortly. Well in fact our beginning was more like 1142 AD and a full 450 years before Christopher Columbus stumbled across that land mass now known as America. Dermot begat son of (Mac) Dermot and the rest of course is history.
When another Dermot, grandfather of Hal and myself, started gathering data for what was to become MacDermot of Moylurg, the now published and acclaimed history of our widespread family it was as something of a hobby, it was as a late retirement pastime and something with which to fill a creative void in his life. It was however to become a much more profound existential undertaking. For Dermot, The MacDermot, Prince of Coolavin, had spent most of his life (not unlike many of us in a certain sense) as an exile, a vagrant, albeit a somewhat privileged one.
Following life as a teenage boy at Stoneyhurst an exclusive Jesuit boarding school in England, Dermot spent a year on tour around Europe spending much time in France and Austria, in particular. University was at Trinity College, Dublin (where along with Samuel Becket, a class mate, he became a linguistic scholar). His college years were preparation for an illustrious career abroad as a diplomat in the service of the British Consular and Diplomatic Offices, which would take him to many far flung countries: Japan where my father Niall was born, Indonesia, Romania and Thailand were all to be home to Dermot. He spent two brief spells here in USA, firstly in Denver Colorado, during the Second World War, where as a fluent Japanese speaker his skills were put to best use broadcasting propaganda over the short wave into Hirohito's back yard. Whether anybody actually listened back in Japan is debatable although my grandfather always vehemently claimed his part in the eventual Allied Victory. Subsequently he was in New Orleans for another brief spell in the early 1950s. Retirement to Malta seemed to affirm Dermot's long lasting absence from Ireland.
Like many Irish exiles however his desire to come home and put down belated roots gradually grew and in the years following the eventual return home a fascination with the history of the MacDermots took shape in his mind. The project, as it became, was to collate as much relevant source material as possible, sift through it and deposit it all in one textual location. A book. For at least 10 years both Dermot and my grandmother Betty immersed themselves in ancient texts such as the Annals of Lough Key, in dusty property deeds and registries of births, marriages and deaths at the libraries of the Kings Inns, Dublin University and Royal Dublin Society. It was at times painstaking work requiring dedication and many, many hundreds of typescripts and hand written notes. Trips abroad to interview elderly MacDermots with valuable information were undertaken in order to safeguard the data before the eventual and inevitable demise of the holder.
It was during these periods of research that two crucial things happened which have a bearing on why we are gathered here this evening.
Firstly Dermot's growing awareness of the highly detailed nature of our family history eventually allowed him to depict an amazingly full picture of a Gaelic Irish clan going back over many hundreds of years. Remember well that Europe was in the midst of the so called Dark Ages at the time when the Cistercians monks of Boyle and Lough Key were recording in fine detail the lives of the MacDermots of Moylurg.
Remember also the nature of Gaelic Irish society and particularly family structure. In most other European societies the given family name recalled personal traits, skills and professions. In the society of our nearest neighbour England whilst common surnames such as Smith, Baker, Butcher, Black and White told in some small detail the nature of one's ancestor they could never tell us the origin. Every community across the land would have at least one family with the same given name. Every village had a baker: every town had a butcherÖ. Imagine also, if you can, the sheer nightmare in store for the poor Icelandic genealogist where surnames change with every generation with the addition of the suffix ñson to the father's Christian name: Kjartan Magnusson's son Gudjohn becomes Gudjohn Kjartansson (with the surname Magnusson disappearing): Gudjohn's son Magnus becomes Magnus Gudjohnsson (with the surname Kjartansson disappearing): but hey Magunus's son Kjartan brings us all back to Magnusson again. I hope you are following me here!! Just 3 generations and genealogical research is rendered virtually impossible. Under Icelandic rules whilst my father would certainly have still been Niall Mac Dermot, that is Niall son of Dermot, I would be Rory Mac Niall and my son Francis, Francis Mac Rory and his son would be a Mac Francis.
By contrast in Gaelic Ireland with its relatively immobile clannish territories life was much simpler. To be MacDermot of Moylurg or O Conor of Roscommon, O Donnell from Donegal or MacCarthy from Tipperary told precisely of where you were from. It is this historical & geographical precision which allows today's Irish clans to flourish.
The second thing which clearly became evident to Dermot, and by extension to his family, was the extended nature of our family, and specifically its widespread distribution in America. There are McDermotts, Dermotts, Dermitts, MacDiarmids, MacDormands, MacDermonds, MacDearmons, Dermodys, Darmodys, Kermodes, Mulrooneys O Moroneys and not forgetting the occasional MacDermot Roe in every state and province of USA and Canada. Today we have representatives in our small bunch not just from New York, but Connecticut, Virginia, California, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Robert and Moira have come all the way from Scotland. All of us however share one thing in common: our historical link to Moylurg and Diarmuid, our progenitor. It does not matter that you cannot link directly to him. Your name is sufficient.
This combination of our long history and the desire of so many to learn more about their background led to the foundation in 1993, with the 1st Clan Gathering in Ireland, of the MacDermot Clan Association. By 1996 and our second gathering, macdermot.com (our website) was in its infancy, our numbers had swelled to over 100 and an annual Journal kept us all informed of news and McDermott related events. Our last Gathering in 1999 was the largest and most successful. It combined with Boyle Town's 400th anniversary celebrations of the famous Battle of the Curlews, in which our ancestor Conor, King of Moylurg was responsible for inflicting defeat upon an English army for the last time on Irish soil. You may have noticed some of the images of the battle reenactment displayed on the screen this evening. It is time that we gathered again.
What I am tyrying to convey I suppose, in some roundabout way, is why we are here; why I am here several thousand miles from home. Neither the Butchers and Bakers nor the Kjartanssons and Gudjohnssons of this world would ever be sat here for this reason. Why? Because we have that sense of family and shared history which they can never pretend to achieve.
This is why we can do what we are doing this evening. We know that in some way, some way which might never be shown, that we are all MacDermots of Moylurg. We belong. You belong. Although separated by both time and space you must always remember that you have a shared history and common experience with all others who bear your name, whichever way it is spelt.
It is this knowledge which inspired Dermot and it is the same knowledge which continues to provide me with the passion and incentive to carry on the work of the MacDermot Clan Association. It is the sharing of this knowledge which gives The MacDermot Clan Association its reason for being. It is the participation in the Clan Association of McDermotts in the world which gives me the reason for and satisfaction in doing what I do for the Clan.
People at home ask me sometimes what it means to be The MacDermot. It is a difficult concept to grasp in the first decade of the 21st Century. The Irish Republic has long since turned its back on the old order and no longer recognizes, even informally, the old gaelic Irish titles. Whilst this is certainly sad and possibly misguided, to get upset too much about this blatant ignoring of a large and vital part of Irish history is also to miss the point. Republics and old orders generally do not mix well and as I remind my fellow chiefs from time to time as they search frantically for their identities, I know who I am and we know who we are. It's as simple as that. My grandfather 32x removed was Mulrooney, King of Moylurg in 956AD.
The MacDermot, once King of Moylurg and Prince of Coolavin, sees his role in 2005 as a facilitator, a virtual conduit, through which McDermotts around the world can commune with each other, share vital bits of information, and occasionally come home to Ireland to celebrate what it means to be MacDermot. Coolavin, the ancestral MacDermot home familiar to many of you, has been and will continue to be the focal point for McDermott tourists who come to Ireland to find out more about their history. It is my pledge to the clan, not only to maintain Coolavin for the future, but also to develop a permanent MacDermot archive at the house and to establish a MacDermot Foundation which will have as its mission both the complete restoration of the house and the funding of worthwhile McDermot projects, both academic and recreational in nature. This is not something I can do alone. For this to work we will need the good will and freely given effort of our world family. But I believe that if you believe in our MacDermot family we can make it work.
Finally, and on a personal note, I would like to dedicate this evening to the memories of my beloved father Niall and my uncle Conor, both taken before their time, and both of whom were known to many of you here gathered. I know that they would have both been enthusiastic supporters of today's gathering. I miss them both greatly but take much strength from the example which they gave to me and the daily support which their legacy endows.
I wish you well. May good fortune continue to shine upon you and your families, and may we all see each other again soon.