The remoteness and isolation of the Comeragh Mountains has been exploited over the centuries by a number of hardy and arguably reckless men to escape either authority or society’s demands. Probably one of the more famous of these was Jim Fitzgerald, more widely known as the Lackendarra hermit. His mostly untold story is both tragic and uplifting.
Jim was born in 1883 in Castlereagh near Lackendarra on the west side of the mountain where he lived with his grandparents, Brigid and Martin. As with so many other men of his generation he joined the British army in 1914 and subsequently fought in some of the bloodiest battles in Mesopotamia, which is better known today as Basra in Iraq. When he returned to Castlereagh in 1918, both his grandparents had died and he found he had to contend with a hard, austere society whilst suffering from severe shellshock.
Unable to settle, he tramped around the countryside until he found a suitable place in Kilclooney, near Coumshingaun Lake saying, “They make new things to kill each other and then when some of them are dead the rest of them cry. I don’t want to be killed, up here I’m safe and happy.” Jim lined the gap in the rocks where he slept with sheep’s wool and he built a hut out of mud, rocks and tar barrel tops to serve as a “kitchen”. He lived off his army pension and every fortnight would spend it on food and also on a few bottles in Flynn’s pub in Clonea. The local community embraced him as one of their own and would check on his wellbeing, particularly if rocks had been blasted or there had been a thunderstorm as this could cause him great distress.
Ironically for his self-imposed exile, Jim also became a bit of a tourist attraction and was interviewed by Wide World Magazine in 1954. By this time it seemed he’d found a bit of serenity as he is quoted as saying, “I want to be at peace with the world and where can one find greater peace than in this elevated land from which I can see five counties on a fine day.” He died three days after his 76th birthday in 1959 after living in the mountains for almost 40 years.
This blog was written by Emily Shakespeare, Waterford's Sense of Place Officer. If you know of any interesting characters in your community’s history please give her a call on 051 396069, email on email@example.com or why not register on their social network.
Thanks to Seán & Síle Murphy’s Waterford Heroes, Poets & Villains (1999) and Lackendarra DVD, directed produced and written by Tommy Fitzpatrick
The HERCULES Sense of Place pilot project for County Waterford was established to support job creation through the development of community tourism products built on a ‘Sense of Place’.
As part of the project, University of Wales Trinity Saint David is launching an online PG Cert in Heritage Tourism: A Sense of Place beginning in October of this year. For more information please contact the Hercules team on 051 396069.
The project is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Ireland Wales Programme 2007 – 2013 (INTERREG 4A) and is partnered with University of Wales Trinity Saint David and Waterford County Council. The project will run until June 2013.