In the country of the Golden Harp
Breton Refugees in Ireland
The Irish adventure was well and truly beginning.
The arrest and expulsion of Dr.Moger, the Breton refugee, by the British authorities, had aroused strong feelings in Welsh public opinion. A number of Welsh and British newspapers had echoed these feelings, publishing articles and letters from their readers. “Wales does not even have the right to welcome and entertain whoever it likes,” had cried out Gwynfor Evans on the radio. Welsh sympathy for Breton refugees had been enhanced by it. However the incident made the situation even more precarious for the few Bretons still in Great Britain, in more or less legal positions as I had been. Also, not long after, those who had not succeeded in finding a steady job or regular work, this being a condition for a residence permit, also finally left for Ireland. This was the case of Feutrenn and Yann L’Haridon. The first refugees in Wales, Bob Le Helloco and Gildas Jaffrennou, were the only ones who succeeded in passing mostly unnoticed and settling there. It was probably decided to turn a blind eye where they were concerned.
After his stay in Cenarth, Bob Le Helloco had joined Gildas Jaffrennou at Harlech College. The College obtained a grant that subsequently allowed them to attend the Coxham College of Art, near Bath. They completed three years of studies there: enabling them to find positions as professors of Art and Design afterwards, the former in Darlington in Devon, where he settled in 1953, and the latter in Kent. Gildas Jaffrennou obtained British nationality and both switched back to their original names. They were both acquitted in Paris a few years later, purged in absentia by court martial. At one stage Bob contemplated, as I did, the idea of returning to Brittany where he could have taken up his profession as lawyer again. But he had taken a liking to artistic activities and to a calmer way of life; the accumulation of new legislation in France since 1945 discouraged him. He decided to settle permanently in Darlington where he appreciated the surroundings and peace of the countryside.
Contrary to the way things work in France, where education is strictly centralised through the Ministry of Education, schools, educational establishments and universities are free to establish their own programs in Great Britain, and also to recruit their own professors on the basis of qualifications. Many years later, Gildas Jaffrennou was even elected Mayor and member of Deal City Council, a small town in southern England where he had taught.
A few days after my forced and hurried return to Ireland, I prepared another issue of our small press bulletin detailing the events leading to my expulsion in order to feed the press campaign it had triggered off. I also had to see about sorting out my situation as political refugee and the conditions of my stay in Ireland. The problem was considerably simplified by the fact that I was far from being the first Breton to apply for asylum there. The Bretons themselves had already been preceded by a number of other refugees from various European countries, fleeing war and repression.
Cearbhuil O’Dalaigh arranged an interview for me with Abraham, one of the senior civil servants attached to the Ministry of Justice, in charge of foreigners’ services. I explained my situation to the latter, the sentence in absentia that had been issued in France and my recent expulsion from Wales. I left him with my expired true-false passport, which was replaced on the spot with a foreigner’s residence permit.
I had confided also in Cearbhuil O’Dalaigh and Paul Shorman, both important members of the St.Vincent de Paul Society, regarding my family situation. One of the more immediate urgencies was to bring over Marie-Madeleine and the children with a view to a permanent settlement in the country. They both indicated that the St.Vincent de Paul Society would take charge of Rozenn and Jean’s school expenses to start off with, as both were of school going age: that spring of 1948 Rozenn would be turning seven, and Jean six, some months later. But it was first necessary to find a roof for them and a means of earning a living.
I managed to find some private French classes, through newspapers advertisements. One of my first pupils was a chef’s apprentice, employed in the kitchens of one of the big Dublin Hotels, where only French was spoken, he told me. He therefore felt it was essential for him to learn it. One of his first questions was to ask me for the translation of ‘Merde, which he felt must be a very important word as it was used a lot in the kitchens! The Welsh section of the BBC, by way of helping me, had asked me to prepare to prepare a fortnightly report on the political and cultural situation in Brittany. I also succeeded in having some articles printed in the ‘Irish Independent, which mainly dealt with Europe’s national minorities. I had never lost contact with my friend Francois Dausset, who had started an organisation in Paris for international exchanges and travel and, who now asked me to be their representative in Ireland. It involved the placement of young French people au pair or as paying guests with Irish families, for which I would earn a commission. All of this did not amount to much, but it could all be developed and extended.
Madame Clarke was a French lady who had lost her Irish husband and lived with difficulty from the preparation of pork liver pâtés, which she sold to some of the best grocery shops in Dublin. She wished to return to France and, in order to finance her journey, wanted to sell her clientele, her recipes and her small kitchen equipment for a modest sum. I had certainly very little aptitude or liking for cooking, and Marie-Madeleine had not much more than I had. But this could also be developed. I told her I was interested and at her place, under her direction, I prepared my first liver pâtés and my first hare pâtés; I would deliver them personally to the clients.
At the time, although grocery shops in Ireland were better stocked than their counterparts in Great Britain, they were remarkably lacking in cheeses, vegetables, lettuces, fruits and any other products that were out of the ordinary. It was only a few years later that the food and agricultural industry finally developed. On the other hand, the market was well supplied with meat, milk, butter and potatoes. I was surprised to find that pork was more expensive than beef or mutton and that veal was unknown.
The end of the school year was approaching and I had to find a place for us to live. It was out of the question for us all to live at Daisy Bank, which Jacques de Quelen was about to leave. Yann Goulet wanted to have the place for himself and his family. Thomas De Bhaldraite, who had become professor of Irish at University College Dublin, was spending three months’ holiday west of Galway, in that part of Connaught where Irish was still the everyday language. Many years previously he had been a member of the Breton students’ circle at the Cité Universitaire in Paris. He had offered to place his house in Dublin, which would not be occupied for those three months, at the disposal of Breton refugees who would thus act as caretakers. It was therefore decided that I should avail myself of this offer, which would allow me to bring Marie-Madeleine and the children over, until I found another place to stay in Bray at the end of the tourist season, when rentals for furnished accommodation would be more affordable.
I therefore advised Marie-Madeleine to prepare her departure for the beginning of July and to bring with her, in the large wickerwork trunk she had already used to come over to join me in Swansea, all our meagre possessions. Together with our three little ones she would take the boat from Fishguard to Rosslare, which meant that she would have the help of D.J.Williams in Fishguard and, after an overnight journey on the boat, would be able to catch the train in Rosslare direct to Dublin. That train used to go through Bray on its way to Harcourt Street in Dublin, a railway line and station that ceased functioning later on. It used to stop at Ranelagh, the last stop before the center of Dublin, a short walk from Cullenswood Gardens where Thomas De Bhaldraite’s house was situated.
A few days before the arrival of Marie-Madeleine and the children, I left Daisy Bank to settle into the house in Ranelagh. I did not have much to bring with me, apart from my suitcase, my briefcase and my papers. I had called on Job Hirguair and Charles le Gaonac’h to help me welcome the family and carry suitcases and trunks from the little station to the new house. The handcart belonging to the station enabled us to easily cover the distance. What a joy it was to see all four of them again! Marie-Madeleine as attractive as always, though tired after the journey, Rozenn, a calm little girl full of life but already thoughtful, Jean, a bundle of energy as always, Erwan, a lovable chubby baby who still had to be carried frequently. He had just turned two years old. However my joy was still mixed with worry and apprehension as to the uncertainties of the immediate future.
De Bhaldraite’s house was relatively small but comfortable, situated in a calm little street near the centre of Ranelagh, a suburb close to Dublin within a half hour’s walk from the centre of the city. The house was close to being luxurious compared to what we had experienced so far since the beginning of our exile. A small front garden and a larger one at the back were easy outlets for the children. A fairly large kitchen, a living room and dining room on the ground floor, a bathroom and three bedrooms upstairs provided for us comfortably. Though our stay would be short, as we had to leave by the middle of September, it gave us a breathing space and a chance to recover our equilibrium.
It also made it possible for my parents to come and visit us during the summer for a couple of weeks. I had not seen my father for three years! They had travelled via England and accompanied by Rozenn and Jean I went to meet them early one morning at Dublin harbour, for the arrival of the boat from Liverpool. They had brought me some financial assistance, and in spite of my usual occupations I was able to show them around Dublin, which neither of them had been to before. The private French classes were at a standstill during the summer season: but I continued to prepare and deliver my pork pâtés and see to the placing of young French people as au pair’s or paying guests. Thanks to a bicycle I was able to obtain, I continued to search Dublin for a boarding school where my two older children could start at the beginning of the next school year. I finally found one in Mount Sackville in Chapelizod, near Dublin, on the other side of Phoenix Park. Sisters of St.Joseph of Cluny, an originally French order, ran the boarding school. The nuns accepted them both for September. This would at least simplify our accommodation problems when the time came to leave Cullenswood Gardens. Neither Rozenn nor Jean had been to boarding school before and we were dreading a little this first experience, as they were still very young to be separated from their parents. But it would have the advantage of giving them a feeling of stability that had been lacking these past two years because of our successive moves. They already both spoke fluent English, which was the language used in Mount Sackville. Alas! Two months had been enough for them to have practically forgotten Welsh, as we both continued to speak to them in French, their maternal language.
1948 Yann Fouéré with his family, reunited in Ireland, taken by Jacques de Quelen.
September came quickly and the beginning of the school year. As soon as we had settled Rozenn and Jean in their school, which coincided with the return to Dublin of the Bhaldraite family, we moved to Bray. On leaving Daisy Bank, Jacques de Quélen had found a “Basement Flat” to rent. This was the name given to accommodation situated partly underground, below street level. The furnished Basement Flat of the adjoining house belonged to two elderly ladies who lived in the upper part of the house. It was also available after the season. I decided to rent it for the modest price of thirty shillings a week. Thus towards the end of September 1948 we settled into Claremount Terrace and became Jacques de Quélen’s close neighbours. Around the same time I had the good fortune of finding a temporary post standing in for a professor of French at Belvedere College, a secondary school run by the Jesuits, right in the centre of Dublin, on the far side of Parnell Square. At the rate of nine pounds a week plus my midday meal, it was practically a fortune. But I was careful not to abandon my pâté business or any of my other activities. The post at Belvedere College was only temporary and there was no guarantee of it being renewed for the first term of 1949.
When I settled in Bray in autumn of 1948, the situation of Breton refugees had well nigh stabilised . However, they were all still struggling to make a living, in spite of the help from friendly Irish families. Delaporte even had to take his overcoat to the pawnshop on one occasion! After the July 1947 Celtic Congress, Delaporte withdrew to Cork, where Millarden had entrusted him with the editorship of the Celtic Times. This publication came at the right time to replace our little press bulletin Breton National News Service, which I had been obliged to abandon through lack of time, owing to the many daily tasks necessary to ensure our survival. Unfortunately Millarden’s project was not a success:, it was costing him money and he finally tired of it. A typical Breton, in spite of his practical nature, he quickly got carried away. Like many others of our compatriots, he would start a business or a project which most of the time had no future. What the Bretons are mostly lacking in, is a spirit of perseverance. They tire quickly of the daily tasks and efforts that are required for any activities whose output and results seldom attain the hopes and dreams that inspired their inception. The association with Ireland where imagination and improvisation play an important role in history, society and daily life, was not conducive to curing this shortcoming. Millarden finally gave up the Celtic Times. The last edition under his direction is dated November-December 1952. The Scotsman he gave it to,Thomas Mac Neill, proved to be incapable of ensuring a regular publication and only published one edition in the space of a year. He undoubtedly realised that the project needed a lot of work and was not profitable: he passed it on to another Scotsman named MacPherson, who also only published one edition in March 1954, under a reduced format. That was the last one. It was this disappearance that incited me a few years later, when my personal situation had stabilised, to create with Alan Heusaff in 1959, the press bulletin Breton News, which coincided with the foundation of the Celtic League and had its first edition in 1960. Breton News continued to be published until 1972, after 70 editions: it was subsequently more or less replaced by Carn, the official three monthly publication of the Celtic League with Alan Heusaff as secretary, whose name remained linked to that organisation. The Celtic league had previously published, between 1963 and 1972, a series of annual brochures whose first editor was Cenvein Thomas. The Scotsman, Frank Thomson succeeded him: thus over time continuity of international information was established and a necessary link in the English language concerning the problems relating to Celtic nations with their respective struggles.
Raymond Delaporte , who had assisted Millarden with the Celtic Times, found a post as professor in the school founded by Terence Mac Sweeney, the heroic Mayor of Cork who died on hunger strike in a British goal at the time of the national war of liberation. Raymond’s wife, Madeleine, soon established a hairdressing salon under the name of Madame Duval; she had the necessary training for the running of this business. It was fair game to take advantage of the well-established French reputation in fashion and beauty treatments. The hairdressing salon in Cork flourished.
In Dublin, Alphonse Le Boulc’h had set up his own business; he had opened a small workshop for car repairs near the Piatt’s place, in a spot that was very difficult to get to, practically under the bridge over the river Dodder in Clonskeagh. He remained the only boss and only worker there during the few years that the business lasted. He settled permanently in Ireland, as he married a widow who was not without means and provided him with the necessary additional material security. She soon asked him to give up his work, as his hands were too dirty when he came home and he was invariably late for his tea. The primitive shed with its rusty corrugated iron roof that was both his workshop and his garage was knocked down shortly afterwards by the city authorities who were laying out gardens along the banks of the Dodder. There is no trace of it now. From then onwards, Alphonse became a well known character of Dublin harbour, where nearly every day he wandered about on his bicycle and fulfilled the role of unofficial “Consul” of Brittany for the Breton fishermen and sailors who docked there. From Guilvinec to Concarneau and Lorient to La Turballe, most of the fishermen knew him. Free of charge, he acted as their interpreter and facilitated their dealings with the harbour authorities. The services of this man condemned to death by the French, were even used by the French Embassy on occasions to appease or sort out differences between the Breton fishermen and the coastal authorities for illegal fishing in Irish territorial waters. Some boats, as a precaution, even took to flying the Breton flag instead of the French flag when they drew near to Irish waters, although it did not bestow them with immunity.
Yann l’Haridon also settled in Dublin. After his stay in Wales, with the same difficulties that I had experienced for the renewal of a residence permit, he had thought it wiser to return illegally to Paris. From there he came to Ireland at the beginning of 1949. He lived there by taking on a variety of jobs including that of taxi driver. The studies in pharmacy that he had started were hardly conducive to this sort of activity. He finally married an Irish girl and with his wife set up a small business cleaning office buildings. He died in Brittany, having returned there after the death of his wife.
Germain Breton had been an important executive of the Parti National Breton in Loire Atlantique. Through the other refugees, he met Helen O’Shaughnessy, who lived in Delgany not far from Bray, and was the niece of the ardent Breton militant Comtesse Saint-Pierre. Helen had settled in Ireland where she had married. Thanks to her help, Germain had found work on a farm in Wicklow. He delivered milk from the farm, which was hard work as he had to get up in the middle of the night, a much more exceptional occurrence in Ireland than on the continent. He would get up when many Irish people, who are fond of staying up late, would be going to bed. He finally found work as live-in gardener of a large property in Dundrum, near Dublin. His employer was more than happy with his work. His wife, a rather mystical and eccentric person, came to join him: she succeeded in dragging him off to Tangier in Morocco, where one of her “gurus” lived. After a short while, Germain, who was of a calmer spirit, preferred to return to Ireland alone and take up his work again. He also had free lodgings there in a small house at the entrance to the property, which was rather dark but reasonably comfortable.
If Germain Breton was the calmest, most gentle and most accommodating of the Breton refugees, Gwion Hernot had the most drive, the most energy and the most enthusiasm. He had retained all the militant fervour that he had displayed in the ‘Jeunesses du Parti National Breton’ and in the ‘Bagadou Stourm’. He possessed a natural ease and was a fine figure of a man, accentuated by his great height that prevented him from passing unnoticed. He became engaged to a young Irish girl, an embassy secretary, Roisín O’Doherty, and finally found a post as full time professor of French at St. Clonleth College in Dublin. He was unfortunately the victim of a fatal accident in 1950, whilst horse riding on the outskirts of Dublin.
Gwion Hernot had teamed up with Charles Le Goanac’h, one of the ex leaders of the P.N.B., originally from Plonevez-du-Faou, who was close to the Delaporte brothers, his neighbours from Châteauneuf. Gwion and Charles were still sharing a place in Dublin when the former lost his life. They had already shared a Basement Flat in Buckingham Street when they first started up, and were making frames for Jacques de Quelen’s photos.
They were sharing a small noisy place in North Circular Road when I first arrived in Ireland and was Yann Goulet’s guest. We would pool our information and some of our efforts. Through his profession as an Insurance Agent and also as “klasker bara”, or fund-raiser for the P.N.B., as he described his functions of militant, Charles was well used to public relations. He was the most sociable of us all, the most open and helpful. He made a living from French classes and a numerous variety of other temporary work for one or other of our Irish friends. He was still sharing a place with Gwion, this time a basement in Merion Square, right in the centre of Dublin, when the latter’s tragic death occurred. A policeman was waiting in front of their place that day to advise him of the death of his friend. Charles naturally took over Gwion’s post as professor of French at St. Clonleth .
Jacques de Quélen was, along with Charles and Raymond Delaporte, one of those I had known the longest, since the struggle before the war and the ‘Ar Brezoneg er Skol’ campaign. We were also all around the same age. Dr. O’Kelly and his family had taken in Jacques, when he arrived in Dublin after his landing in Cork by boat. He had set out to do photography and started by going from house to house offering to touch up and colour old family photographs.
In order to welcome his wife Andrée and his son Youenn, only six months old at the time, and still remain close to his clientele, he had at first rented a small bed-sitter in Merion Row, right in the centre of the city. His wife and son had arrived in February 1947, after having traveled across Wales in the conditions I have described. The exceptionally harsh temperatures they endured during their journey had caused Youenn to catch bronchial pneumonia that was only checked thanks to the vigorous care of Dr.O’Kelly, who immediately had the baby admitted to the Harcourt Street Children’s Hospital. The conditions under which the couple and their baby lived were difficult and uncomfortable. Oscar Mac Uilis, one of the regular attendants at our Celtic congresses, offered them the use of his house by the sea in Dalkey during the summer holidays of 1947. Youenn completed his recovery there. It was then after the arrival of Yann Goulet and his family, during the second half of 1947, that the two families rented Daisy Bank, the house in Bray where I had been welcomed in March of 1948.
1948 – Andrée de Quélen and Marie-Madeleine Fouéré with her 3 children seated, and Youenn de Quélen in the foreground.
Jacques had taught his wife the art of touching up and colouring photographs, but this could never be much more than an extra income. He was lacking the capital that would have enabled him to set up a well-equipped studio and business. He was therefore very happy to find a post replacing Miss Fox, an Irish friend who was retiring, teaching French at St.Gerard’s, a private school in Bray. The boarding school was mainly popular with the children of wealthy families. He wanted to remain in Bray and when relations deteriorated between the two families in Daisy Bank, he decided to rent the basement flat in Claremount Terrace and I became his immediate neighbour. We saw them quite often: both of our youngest children were about the same age and we helped each other out in various small ways.
Jacques de Quélen
Jacques was a straightforward, unpretentious and stoical fellow. His features and bearing bore the distinction of his lineage: but he never mentioned his degree of noble descent that, in actual fact, would have impressed the English far more than the Irish. Unwittingly probably, he was faithful to his family’s motto, E bep amzer Kele – A Quelen carries on no matter what – and faced up to all the blows that fate dealt him, with apparent indifference. The separation from his older children, Patrick and Hervé whom he had left behind in Brittany in the care of his sister in Locarn, and Mona, (comma!) entrusted to the care of his wife’s mother, Madame Le Restif, was certainly very distressing for him. Fortunately however, he had an optimistic nature. He was convinced that these blows dealt by fate would come to an end. After all, the long lineage of his ancestors had seen worse, throughout the revolutions, coups d’États and wars. His wife Andrée also shared his stoicism and patience, and endeavoured to help him in his efforts and his work.
It was whilst we were in Claremount Terrace that Jacques de Quélen and I had a visit from Joseph Chardronnet, a member of the Oblate Fathers, whom I had not met before. In spite of his stern appearance, he was and still is a true priest, loyal to his faith, his opinions, his friends and his country. We were delighted with his visit, which was a great comfort. It demonstrated that we had not been totally forgotten in Brittany, at a time when many Bretons did not even dare to write to us directly, for fear of the police surveillance that was still in place.
At the time that I arrived in Ireland, another Breton refugee, a colourful character who kept to himself, was already there. He considered himself to be a Breton militant, though he was not recognised as such by the others. Ernest Le Landais, who was called Nenesse by everyone, had once assiduously associated with Breiz Atao militants in Saint Malo where he lived. Everyone was a bit wary of him, though without calling his sincerity into question: his financial affairs were obscure and dubious, and it was said that he never paid the numerous debts that he incurred. He could have been described as an opportunist with an eye for making a profit. During the Occupation he had joined l’Organisation Todt, in charge of recruiting workforces for the needs of the German army. He had undeniably gained by it, as after the routing of the German army, he had arrived in Dublin by plane from Zurich, a luxury that none of us could afford at the time. It was not surprising that the Swiss did not want him.
Elegant, friendly and handsome, always well dressed; he had started earning a living in Dublin by working in the café-nightclub Four Courts, under the very French name of Georges de Villeneuve. Wearing the famous straw boater and the bow tie around his neck, he sang imitating Maurice Chevalier to perfection. The number was a great success: though the repertoire and program had to be changed around sometimes. In the modest furnished apartment in Mount Street that he occupied, Nenesse had started making yogurts and then chips in packets, foodstuffs that were unknown at the time in Dublin’s groceries and cafés. He had brought a young woman out from Marseille, probably to help him, who was not his wife but was very much in love with him and joined him with her little daughter. I had occasionally been one of his salesmen to try and complement my meagre resources. I quickly gave up as I never saw the commissions he so generously promised. Had he been more scrupulous and straight in his affairs he could have made, if not a fortune, at least a very good living. A few years later Irish manufacturers made profits from the products he had initiated. Nenesse finally left for Tangier, where business was probably even shadier but maybe easier. None of us were ever able to work out the real reason for his departure, nor did any of us ever hear of him again.
The last ones to arrive, nearly all of them thanks to the “true/false” passports, were mainly a number of members of the Formation Perrot, most of them already heavily sentenced in absentia by the French tribunals. They had been obliged to go into hiding on the continent, exposed to the risks and precariousness of that situation. From one stage to the next after their departure from Alsace, fighting a rear guard action alongside the German army, the remaining men of the Bezen, as their supporters called them, finally reached Tübingen and partially regrouped. They were officially demobilised under their nom de guerre after the routing of the German army in April 1945. At first Célestin Lainé, Alan Heusaff, Louis Feutren, Ange Peresse and a few others remained grouped around Tübingen, and then they dispersed. Most of them found temporary, precarious work in the countryside of English and American occupied zones: at all cost they had to avoid the French occupied zone. After various adventures and much poverty shared with the German people around them, Ange Peresse and his wife Germaine managed to settle down permanently in Munster in Germany with their three sons, Budoc, Hamon and Gerhart. However many of the others, who had no family to take care of, could not see any outcome to their situation other than to return.
The Bezen Perrot refugees at first formed a group a little apart: the quarrels and divisions that had marked the final years of the Parti National Breton in 1943 and 1944 had left their mark. A certain number of personal and individual relations were finally established between the two groups, those attached to the P.N.B. and those of the Bezen. But there was no question of Lainé associating with Delaporte and Goulet. Aside from these exceptions, cordial relations, though not always warm, developed between all these exiles from the same nation, drawn together through similar misfortune. This did not prevent certain intractable divisions from persisting, making any effort at common action or concerted planning impossible. The very existence of the ‘Conseil des Bretons de l’Etranger’ was a victim of it.
Few in fact thought about any action of this nature, each one being taken up with the fundamental and constant concern for survival. Apart from Celestin Lainé, the ex members of the Formation Perrot that Ireland took in were very young militants, who had been attracted by the struggle and the action. They had barely started out in their lives: some had not done any studies or had not been able to finish them. However they all remained with the tragic experience of their first battles, the perils they had faced, the memories of poverty, cold and hunger, that of the fugitive and the outlaw which befell them as a result of the routing out and finally the crushing of the German army.
Feutren and Luec left Germany first. Feutren as I have reported, reached Wales at the beginning of 1947. Luec continued to live illegally in France, without legal papers or social benefits for many years, living in the region of Paris in the company of Denise Guieyesse until his death, which occurred recently.
The role of scouts played by Luec, Feutren and some others had smoothed the way for the use of the “true/false passports”, to which was soon added the “true/false identity cards”. Separately or in small groups of twos and threes, those members of the Bezen who wanted to leave Germany began little by little to head west, retracing as I also had done the march of the Celts towards the country where the sun sets. This did not always take place without incidents, adventures and dangers. A small group was arrested at the Belgian border and spent a few weeks in prison there before being able to continue their exodus. Some had to walk several hundred kilometers before reaching their objectives, continuing to hide during their journey, crossing roads by crawling through drain pipes under roadways. Patrols of the Allied occupation authorities were suspicious of all documents the men had been given by any of the German services. Some of them got lost, disappeared and never returned.
Louis Feutren, Célestin Laine, Christian Hirguair, Anton Leroy, Youenn Noac’h, Maurice Lemoine, Yann Guyomar and Yann Bourc’hiz thus arrived from 1947 to swell the contingent of Breton refugees already in Ireland.
Christian Hirguair known to all as Job was the first of them that I met. He was also the youngest of the refugees and was at the time the guest of Oscar Mac Uilis, professor of Irish, and violinist from time to time. He lived in Dalkey with his governess in a large old family house, whose garden stretched down to the fairly steep rocky seashore. He was a neighbour of the Schorman family, whose devotion to the St. Vincent de Paul Society had led them to also care for our little group. Hirguair had joined the Bezen Perrot early in 1944. at the very young age of eighteen. He had joined his first cousin, an active nationalist Breton militant, whose father had been assassinated by the French Résistance because of his son’s militant activities. It was after this crime that Job had joined his cousin in action.
He was a not a visionary militant, although it was idealism and loyalty that had driven him to join the Bezenn and to take up arms against those he considered enemies of his country and of his people. He quickly found work with an electrical business. His practical mind led him to set up a small shop in Dalkey, under the name of “Christian Radio”, selling and repairing radios. Later on he brought out his aunt, Anna Hirguair, who some said was his mother. She ran his household and settled down with him. Forty years later “Christian Radio” still existed in Dalkey, though its founder has long since disappeared. Job, his friends would say, is destined to make a fortune. Maurice Lemoine, one of his friends from the Bezen who does not lack a sense of humour, would say that Job’s business could be compared to a one-way sluice gate: it allowed the money in but it never allowed it out again. Job returned to Brittany as soon as he could, acquitted by the military tribunal in Paris, owing to his young age at the time of the charges against him. Before leaving, he sold his radio business to Le Boulc’h. Unfortunately, he disappeared shortly after, the victim of a sudden death in May 1957.
Like many of those who did not want to remain in Germany, Maurice Lemoine had reached Innsbruck in Austria after his departure from Tübingen and the routing of the German army. He met Mordrel there who was also trying to cross into Switzerland or Italy. He managed to obtain false papers as a workforce deportee, in view of the return to France that he was planning. After being imprisoned for a month in Salzburg, he finally reached Nantes in July 1945. He succeeded in passing unnoticed there, in spite of the heavy sentence in absentia inflicted on him by the special courts of Rennes in January 1946. A “true/false passport”, obtained through the intermediary of Perrin and l’Abbé Henrio, allowed him to reach Paris without too much danger in August 1947. From there he reached Cork after crossing through England and Wales. After spending six months with Millarden who employed him for various work, he went to Dublin in March 1948, at about the same time as I arrived there.
For two months he peeled potatoes for Nenesse to supply the chips manufacturing business the latter had started. Nenesse only provided him with a bed and board and never paid him. Therefore, with Antoine Leroy, his friend from the Bezen who had recently arrived, he moved to the uncomfortable basement of a run down building in Cumberland Street, behind Westland Row station. They literally slept on the floor and rolled up their mattresses during the day to make some space. They tried making wooden toys with inadequate tools, and sold them to small shops and children in the area. Their immediate neighbour was a shoemaker as badly equipped to practice his trade as they were for their toy making. The business lasted six months.
Antoine Leroy went to live with Roparz Hemon who had moved into a furnished ground floor apartment in Leeson Park, in Ranelagh, and Maurice Lemoine continued to live by doing various kinds of work and from French classes, leading a difficult lifestyle, as was our common lot. He obtained his Irish citizenship in August 1955: this allowed him to return to France without being arrested and through the intermediary of his lawyer to make contact with the military court in view of removing the sentence inflicted on him in absentia nearly ten years previously. In the meantime he worked as a painter with a civil engineering firm in Paris and stayed a few months with Yvonne Galbrun before being tried again. Sentenced to four years in prison, but with immediate amnesty in March 1958, he married an Irish girl in Paris whom he had met during his stay in Ireland. He settled in Brest where he found a teaching post at the Red Cross school.
Feutren’s stay in Wales had allowed him to organise a stopping off point for Célestin Lainé with the Daniel family in Bangor where he had also found shelter. I was advised of their forthcoming arrival in Ireland. On his arrival Célestin Lainé first saw to the publication of four issues of Breiz Atao , considering himself its legal trustee with Marcel Guieysse. He had received from Paris, through the intermediary of a Frisian nationalist, the funds necessary for the publication together with the layout for these issues that had been prepared by Denise Guieysse and her father. Lainé, a distinguished and competent chemical engineer from the École Centrale in Paris, soon found a post as chemical engineer in Galway. He owed it mainly to the Andrews family who actively supported the Breton refugees, one of whose descendants, Neil Andrews, is now a deputy in the European parliament. The small Hygea factory where Lainé found work, manufactured chemical products and detergents and was founded in Galway by D.Coyle, an important businessman of the place. He had interests in a multitude of businesses from chemical products to the manufacture of construction materials and the hotel business. Louis Feutren followed Lainé to Galway. He enrolled at the University there to continue studies he had not been able to complete in Brittany.
Alan Heusaff, who had started third level studies under a false name in Germany, also went to Galway to complete them. He registered with the same University after his arrival some time later in 1950. They both settled permanently in Ireland and married, the former with a Miss Martin, whose sister, Dame Agatha, was a Benedictine nun at Kylemore Abbey, the latter with Bridie O’Doherty, originally from Donegal and also a student in Galway. On completing their studies they both settled in Dublin. Feutrenn took over the post of professor of French at St. Clonleth after Le Gaonac’h returned to the continent in 1954. Heusaff joined the National Meteorological service. He operated from Dublin airport. Youenn Noac’h also settled in Dublin and got married there, though he first spent a long time in London.
Yann Guyomard, originally from Guingamp, joined Feutren and Lainé in Galway, shortly after their arrival in that city. He also settled down there. He got married and had a family, as Alan Heusaff did. He had departed from Tübingen with seven of his comrades. The little group had reached Gottingen, from where two of them decided to leave for France without delay; the other six reached Wolfhausen, in the American Occupation zone, after a long walk of three weeks, covering over six hundred kilometres. There were no able bodied men between the ages of thirty and seventy left in the villages and farms of the region. The Bretons therefore had no problems hiring themselves out as farm labourers. They had to leave these first places of refuge eight months later, due to the careless action committed by one of them. They took the coal trains, the only ones still operating, to reach Bavaria and then doubled back to Münster in the English Occupation zone. They were taken on as woodcutters and given lodgings in the farms around the town. They stayed for nearly three years, during which Yann Guyomard was brought to court in Münster for poaching.
From 1948, thanks to the network of “true/false passports”, departures for Belgium of the Bezen’s ex fighters became more regular. But there were not enough for everyone. Rather than wait any longer, Yann Guyomard and Yann Bourc’hiz decided to do without, taking a different route and heading directly towards France, crossing the border and the Vosges illegally by night when there was no moon. In Alsace, a contact they had been given before leaving furnished them with “true/false identity cards”. Fortunately, as a few moments after he had left them, some local French gendarmes hailed them in German. The gendarmes thought they were Germans looking to escape from their country as many of them were doing at the time.
Thanks to their new papers and this time speaking in French, they were able to explain that they were students on holidays and were thus able to carry on to Strasbourg and then Brittany without any difficulties. Their idea was to find a passage to Ireland on a fishing boat from Douarnenez. They had some friends at the harbour and amongst the fish and seafood wholesalers there. After waiting for a week they were able to board one of the last small trawlers leaving to fish off the Irish coast. The crossing was so difficult that the journey took a week. The storm forced them to put into port at Penzance, just as a similar storm in the Bay of Biscay had forced Hernot, Le Goanac’h and Quelen two years previously to put into port in Concarneau. On arrival in Castletownbere in the south of Ireland, the two Bretons went ashore after advising their skipper that they were definitely not cut out for the work of fishermen and would return to Brittany another way. They reached Galway where Lainé put them up and helped them through this initial stage. The local police gave them permission to stay there whilst they awaited the legalisation of their situation.
Subsequently, Yann Bourc’hiz settled near Dublin where he lived from various kinds of work he was able to obtain, mainly thanks to Helen O’Shaughnessy. He died in July 1953 of a stroke after a swim in the cold Irish Sea.
Yann Guyomard settled permanently in Galway. Having begun his new photographic trade with a borrowed Leica, he finally opened a photographic studio, under the name of Studio Yann, in one of the city’s main streets. After the creation of the first Irish television channel, Yann became the region’s R.T.E. correspondent and cameraman. He held this post for fifteen years until his retirement. Well known on the square in Galway and well liked, he also became the representative on the Lorient-Galway twinning committee.
As for C. Lainé, he also settled in Ireland. He only returned to Brittany on various visits to his brothers when he was allowed to do so after the circumstances used as motives for his sentence to death in 1947 had lapsed. He had lost his battle and probably felt he had done his time. He died near Dublin some years ago. His brother Albert together with Feutren, Alan Heusaff and some loyal friends saw to it that his ashes were scattered on the battlefield of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier, mingling with those of the six thousand Bretons who took up arms to defend the independence of their country on that moor of La Rencontre.
During that last term of 1948, I would set off to give my classes at Belvedere College by taking the early train from Bray that took me to Westland Row station. I would leave my bicycle in the care of Maurice Lemoine and Anton Leroy, in the basement they lived in behind the station. By doing this I was able to get from the early train to my classes in time. The college was situated on the other side of the Liffey, in a district on the north side of the city.
Belvedere was a Dublin day school, run by the Jesuits. The order had another college in Clongowes, in the countryside, one of the largest boarding schools in Ireland. Belvedere and Clongowes were both secondary colleges with several thousand pupils, all boys. Belvedere was comprised of blocks of buildings around rather dismal schoolyards, surrounded by brownish-red brick buildings not far from the Parnell monument situated at the extreme north end of O’Connell St., the main street of Dublin. The lay professors took their meals together in a large rather dark room looking on to the street, which was also their rest or workroom. The classes were comprised of a relatively large number of pupils and it was difficult to maintain order, particularly amongst the younger ones. For me, it was hard work for which I was not in any way predisposed. But the master of studies, an athletic priest with a stern bearing and features, was never far away. He frequently moved around the corridors, listening to the silence in the classrooms, distributing slaps on the palms of open hands with a ruler or a cane to the more unruly pupils. To do this, he would take them out of the classroom where an immediate and deathly silence descended. From inside the classroom the whistling sound of the supple cane could be heard distinctly beating down on the palms.
A number of personalities throughout the last century who had made names for themselves in politics, the arts or in letters had come from Belvedere College. One of the most famous was James Joyce, whose name had, with some exaggeration, reached literary heights at the time. But it was not advisable to speak of him other than on the quiet: one had to beware of mentioning the name of this voluntary emigrant. In 1909, Joyce had tried to start up the first cinema in Dublin. He had already emigrated to Trieste at the time. He had only returned to start up this enterprise with some capital he had received from an Italian businessman. But the enterprise was a fiasco. At the same time, the Irish censors blacklisted his first works. He finally left Ireland and never set foot there again. In a way he was an ex pupil of the College who had not turned out well.
I had plenty of work to do during this last term of 1948. The preparation of my French classes and corrections of the homework took up most of my free time. I spent my days off every week making and delivering the pâtés. Saturdays and Sundays were often spent writing my articles and correspondence. The welcoming of young girl au pairs and the placing of paying guests in Irish families was expanding. It became increasingly necessary to maintain these activities at the beginning of 1949, as the professor of French I had replaced at Belvedere had returned to his post: I was therefore deprived of this fixed salary that represented the best part of my income.
On her side, Marie-Madeleine tried to find temporary work as a model for fashion shows, or as a representative for beauty products. A fashion shop in Mary St. and a hairdresser in Grafton St employed her part-time. Little Erwan could not be left alone when I was obliged to go out and the baby-sitters available were hardly satisfactory. None of them, including the young French au pair girls, seemed to have that conscientiousness and sense of responsibility necessary for this simple task. All of these jobs, both Marie-Madeleine’s and mine, were in reality only a means of dealing with our immediate needs and preventing us from dropping on the wrong side of that tortuous and uncertain dividing line separating poverty from destitution.
The apartment or basement flat of Claremont Terrace was comprised of a large room, brighter than the others though it was below street level. This street was a fairly large one with only single storey private residences. We had made our living room in the large room and I had fixed a long shelf under the window ledge that I used as my desk. I had also stripped from the walls and the few pieces of furniture a number of hideous pictures, poor-quality colour prints and artificial flowers that were gathering dust. The kitchen on the other hand, situated at the back of the house, was very dark and the light had to be on all the time. The same applied to the bedroom, which was quite large and we had no problem fitting in our bed and Erwan’s.
It was by no means a modern house. There was only a washbasin in the bedroom, though we did have the use of an antiquated bathroom situated off the landing between the ground floor and the first floor. In order to have hot water, one had to light the fire in the fireplace of the bedroom. The only other forms of heating were a few low powered electric heaters.
We went regularly to fetch Rozenn and Jean from their school to spend the half term holidays as well as Christmas and Easter with us. We would set up some camp beds for them in the living room. Time and weather permitting, we would take the children for long walks along the sea front between the small harbour and the imposing hill of Bray Head at the far end of the beach, or through the wooded valleys beyond the river Dargle that separated Bray Head from the small Enniskerry centre in the foothills of the Wicklow mountains. In the summer we frequently went on these walks together with Jacques and Andrée de Quelen and also with Charles Le Gaonac’h, Gwion Hernot and Germain Breton who would join us. It was thus easier to maintain the links between our small group of exiles.
One day we climbed the Sugar Loaf whose harmonious silhouette in the shape of a sugar loaf as its name indicates, stands out at the bottom of the large bay lined with beaches and the Shankhill golf course that stretches from the Dalkey cliffs to those of Bray Head. From the doors of the train linking Bray to Dublin, hugging the coast practically the whole way, I seldom failed, except when rain or drizzle hid it from sight, to admire the beauty and majestic harmony of the bay that has been compared by some to that of Naples, dominated by the volcanic cone of Vesuvius. On a fine day, the silhouette of the Sugar Loaf, blue-grey or navy-blue, outlined on the horizon over the sea, is similar to it.
I had made contact again with my friend William Walsh after meeting him by chance in Grafton St., although he could not help me very much. He lived mainly in Bective, near Navan in the Boyne Valley where he ran the farm of a fairly large estate owned by an American. He had been unsuccessful in his inquiries from the latter regarding the possibilities for my family and me about the idea of emigrating to the United States if there were better prospects of work there. I thus met his wife, the writer Mary Lavin. To help me understand the Irish frame of mind, half way between reality and dreams at times, and also its distinctive sense of humour, she had told me that when she was a little girl she was walking with Lord Dunsany one day along the banks of the Boyne. A soldier was guarding the bridge at Oldebridge that straddles the river.
“I can not allow you to cross”, said the soldier. ”We are on manoeuvres and this bridge has just been blown up by an imaginary mine.”
“Well then, you can let us pass: as this young girl and I are in an imaginary boat to cross the river.”
I compared this story to remarks attributed to Brendan Behan, poet and dramatist, always on his way from one glass of Guinness to the next, wandering around Grafton St. and pubs in the vicinity. Anarchist and libertarian, but patriot, he had been a member of the I.R.A. who had got rid of him because of his notorious indiscipline and misconduct. They had finally sentenced him to death in absentia. On being advised of this sentence, Brendan took up his pen and wrote a few polite words to the leadership of the illegal organization.
“You have sentenced me to death in my absence,” he wrote. “Can I now ask you to have the kindness to execute the sentence in my absence.”
It was also while we were in Bray, where he came to find me to do the translation for a national air pilot conference, that we met Maurice, Count Fitzgerald, born to a half French half Breton mother and an Irish father, a member of one of the oldest and most famous Irish families. His house was in the upper part of Dalkey, looking over part of the Irish Sea; beyond which on a clear day one can sometimes make out the Welsh mountains and the higher slopes of Snowdon.
During those first months of 1949 there were no noticeable alterations in our situation, still particularly difficult. In April I had been able to attend the proclamation of the Irish Republic. At the time, Ireland since 1922 had only been a free state within the territorial boundaries of the twenty-six counties of the South and West. Having assumed power in 1936, De Valera had organised the adoption by referendum in 1937 of a constitution that converted the Free State to a sovereign State. This conversion had allowed Ireland to maintain her neutrality during the Second World War. The coalition government that had succeeded De Valera’s in 1948 had considered it an astute move to make some political capital by proclaiming the Republic in 1949 on the anniversary day of the 1916 Easter Rising. By doing this, Ireland left the British Commonwealth and broke the last links that still united it to the English crown.
This was a sort of posthumous revenge of Michael Collins and of the partisans of the Treaty that had put an end to the 1922 war of liberation, whilst those in favour of carrying on to the bitter end, led at the time by De Valera himself, were opposed to it and wanted to continue a hopeless armed struggle.
In the life of a people there is a time for everything and it is often necessary to be patient: violence and armed conflict can not continue indefinitely, even if at times they may appear to be useful and necessary. Through the Treaty, Ireland unfortunately still separated from Northern Ireland, had acquired the means to freedom. There had been no reaction from England: King George VI simply sent his congratulations and his best wishes to the new republic.
On that Easter Monday of 1949, I attended the celebration for this event with mixed feelings of melancholy, watching the flags being hoisted and the army marching past, listening to the playing of the bagpipes and the brass instruments, and the sound of the drums and cymbals of victory. I dreamt of La Place du Parlement in Rennes, that of the Ducs de Nantes’ castle, of the banks of La Vilaine, of L’Edre, La Loire and La Penfeld, equally decked and black with people, celebrating under our flags deployed for the return of our freedom. At the ends of O’Connell St., O’Connell and Parnell contemplated the crowds with their bronze gaze from the heights of their monuments. It was barely half a century since the latter had cried out that no man “had the right to place limits on the march of a nation“.
I had looked into the possibility of industrialising the manufacture and sale of my liver pâtés: but I soon realised that this would demand a capital that I did not have and it was unlikely I could raise. It was also a case of mastering techniques and methods that were completely foreign to me. Taken up by the necessities of daily life and the ups and downs of a material nature, I did not have the time to devote to it that was needed. The tourist season in Bray was approaching, automatically bringing an increase in the price of our furnished accommodation during the summer months, an increase that I could not afford.
We therefore resigned ourselves to another move around the beginning of June. We settled in Dunbar Terrace, into a working-class house, sparsely furnished, in a row of terraced houses, all the same. The street was quiet, bleak and without charm, but it was situated halfway between the station and the main street used by the buses. The house was tiny. Apart from the kitchen that took up half of the ground floor, extended by a lean-to onto a small yard, and a small room christened the living room, the first floor only had two attic bedrooms situated right under the roof. The toilet was in the yard in the lean-to extension to the kitchen and one had to wash and shave in the sink. Space was very limited. Under the skylight that allowed light into the larger of the two bedrooms, I set up a makeshift desk with planks on trestles. I used a couple of old empty wooden orange boxes salvaged from the grocer’s shop and placed one on top of the other as shelves for my books and my files. The width of our bed pushed against one wall just fitted along the other wall of the room. The second bedroom, even smaller, was Erwan’s. The two older children who would soon be on holidays could at a pinch sleep on mattresses in the small living room downstairs.
During the summer of 1949, aside from the preparation of my pâtés, I was particularly busy with the welcoming of young au pair girls and the placing of paying guests with Irish families. From that point of view Bray was hardly practical. Also the rents for furnished accommodation in Dublin did not fluctuate with the seasons as they did in Bray. We therefore decided to look for a larger furnished house to rent in Dublin, where we could help cover the cost by organising a “Bed and Breakfast” for casual guests, and, out of season, by letting rooms to students for the university year. At the same time it would provide the children and us with more comfort and facilities. We finally found one that was available at the end of the summer, simply furnished but comfortable. Although it had been built relatively recently, it had four bedrooms, two of them quite large that were suitable for the children and us.
It was similar to, though larger, than De Bhaldraite’s house, with a large kitchen on the ground floor, two other rooms and an entrance hall, a small front garden and a back garden. It was situated in Glenayr Road, in a quiet cul-de-sac with similar houses opening on to Bushy Park Road, a residential area situated a little aside from but about half-way between the small Rathgar centre and the larger Terenure one. Regular tramways, soon to be replaced by buses, linked both places to the centre of the city. The house also had a telephone. Marie-Madeleine was particularly pleased at the thought of not having to put Rozenn and Jean back into boarding school. Whilst still very young, having lost her father, she had been placed as a boarder in Lannion, only seeing her mother for the summer holidays, so that she had bad memories of that period of her life, which she wanted as much as possible to avoid for her children.
Rozenn and Jean, still under the aegis of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, were therefore registered as day pupils at Muckross Dominican primary school. We moved and settled into Glenayr Road around the end of August.