My father, the Black Sheep

Living

ANOTHER ERASonia Kelly’s father, Henry ‘Harry’ Alexander McMullin, on the road to the city of Kandy in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Sonia Kelly

My father’s name was Henry Alexander McMullin. I do not know where he was born, probably somewhere in Sligo. His father may have been a Police Commissioner, but again, I do no know exactly, except that it was something to do with the Police. His mother lived in England, in London, where I saw her once.
I don’t know why he went to Ceylon, it was the thing to do in those days. Many Europeans went to India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), then the ladies in the event looking for husbands. My mother’s family had a business near my father’s family in Sligo, and when she went to Ceylon, she obviously met ‘Harry’ and they married.
He was a partner in a tea plantation and had a business manager called Robinson (Robbie), from Ballynahinch Castle, near Roundstone. The Robinsons were unpopular landlords, having bought Ballynahinch after its previous owner, ‘Humanity Dick’, went bankrupt. Presumably they ordered lots of evictions, but Robbie was in Ceylon so did not have anything to do with that practice. He seemed to disappear after my father came home to live in Connemara. Although he was my Godfather, I do not remember meeting him.
During the Second World War, maybe there were not too many people suitable as ‘officers’ so my father, who was a very good-looking man, could have been conscripted for National Service. Anyway, he refused to join up, and thereafter was known by the family as ‘The Black Sheep’.
Most people are not lucky enough to choose their nationality before they are born, and my father was one of the unlucky ones. He had never explained to me his country of origin, but perhaps instead reverted to impressing my subconscious, as when dozing off in my bed the word ‘Etruscan’ suddenly came to mind. I had never heard it before and had no idea what it meant.
I was then trying to make sense of the connection, and it was easy to imagine my father as an Etruscan citizen. Not quite so easy to imagine the rest of the family as beautiful citizens of this lost civilization, which existed on the west coast of Italy, was absorbed by the Roman Empire and then later disappeared as a separate entity.
But the situation has developed since I remembered that my Aunt Baby had a guesthouse in Easkey, County Sligo. While I was staying there as a teenager, I was introduced to a guest whose father was a Black Sheep of his family, as he had stayed at home and had not gone to fight in the war. It is only now since I learned about the Etruscans that I realise the possibility of the Etruscans being composed of the Black Sheep of every country.
There is a lot of mystery regarding the origins of this body of people who had been in existence since around 1,200 BC and who settled in the centre of Italy as long ago as 600 BC, but they have not yet been identified as the possible Black Sheep of the Western world. According to some expert they seemingly originated in Turkey, and half of them left the country during a famine and ended up in what is now Italy. Maybe there was a trend in Turkey where some did not want to fight, so their culture thus became established in exile. It is quite likely that the Black Sheep could be equated to Ireland’s Wild Geese. At least, I like the idea of my father being a hero of sorts.

Author, poet, entrepreneur and regular Mayo News contributor Sonia Kelly, who is now in her late 90s, founded Cloona Health Centre in Westport in 1973