Bernie Sears

Photo:Peter Sears, Bernie's brother

Peter Sears, Bernie's brother

Kevin McDarby

Photo:Bernie second from left at funerat at Merchants Quay, Dublin. .

Bernie second from left at funerat at Merchants Quay, Dublin. .

Kevin McDarby

A Local Postman's memories

By Séan Farragher

The Somme - the battle and the bottle - as experienced by our postman Bernie Sears almost eighty years ago.   Our National School teacher, Mr James Ferris – ‘Joe’ to us – transcribed a poem on the blackboard.


Christmas was in the offing so he explained the relevance of the poem.  It had been written at Christmastide 1917 by an Irish American who had joined the Fighting 69th and came to Europe to help win the Great War for the cause of small nations or whatever.  Mr Ferris told us that when the poet was killed by a sniper’s bullet this poem was found in his uniform. As his name did not sound Irish I made no effort to remember it – till later that is:

Kings of the Earth are men of might.

Cities are burned for their delight

The skies rain death through the silent night

And the hills belch death all day

But the king of Heaven who made them all

Is fair and gentle and very small

He lies ‘neath the straw in the oxen’s’ stall.

 Lets think of him today

Mr Ferris asked us to memorise the poem and then wiped it off the blackboard to continue with normal business.  I was never good at memorising poetry but I had an added motive for committing those words to memory.  Our local well loved postman – Bernie Sears (pronounced ‘sayers’) - had also been a soldier in the Great War – taking part in the Battle of the Somme. We had often heard him speak about his miraculous escape when a sniper’s bullet was blocked by his cigarette case which he invariably produced to show the dent.

Postman Bernie Sears

At Christmas as he delivered the post on foot he was occasionally plied along his beat with whiskey in appreciation of his diligent services during the year.  Whiskey was not his usual tipple and as often he had not taken care to cook a solid meal for himself the drink went fast to his head.  By the time he reached our village, Ballyglass – en route to Loughmask P.O - he was clearly on a high note.  My father, who highly regarded Bernie as one who had joined the Free Sate Army and supported the Treaty side, saw to it that my two older brothers Michael and Brendan accompanied him on the rest of his round to ensure that the letters were duly delivered.  During the round, Bernie - now relieved of his heavy post bag - assumed a military gait and proceeded to re-enact for them the Battle of the Somme.  From my brothers’ imitation of Bernie later that battle seemed to have consisted principally in taking one strong goose step forward and then being forced to take two staggering steps backwards!

The Plains of Picardy

Years later, when in the north of France researching the life of Père Jules Leman, the founder of Blackrock College, I visited the ruined abbey of Notre Dame du Gard by the banks of the river Somme near Amiens.  As it was the middle of winter the battlefield area had a really waste land appearance.  Though a landscape photographer I wanted to get a panorama snap of this historic battlefield.  I got up on a height, but as the bitter January wind sweeping across the plains of Picardy, it made maintaining a steady stance impossible.   I recalled poor Bernie’s performance on his postal rounds and wondered if he were not factually re-enacting the futile experiences of trench warfare in piercing wintry weather.  But there was no one around with whom to share my musings as I found myself unexpectedly in the footsteps of Bernie!

James Daly and Peter Sears RIP

I had happened to be with Bernie in Merchants’ Quay Church in Dublin when there was a ceremony to welcome home the remains of two Irish soldiers – James Daly and Bernie’s brother Peter - who had been shot in India for mutinying in protest at the atrocities being perpetrated by the Black and Tans and Irregulars at home in Ireland.  I was asked to escort Bernie up the aisle to an allotted V.I.P seat.  Not being accustomed to such a parade since his military days he apologised saying: “Fr Seán sorry that I am so unsteady.” I unfortunately murmured: “No problem, Bernie. I often saw your worse”.  I could have bitten my tongue but hoped that his hearing had been dulled by the French soixante-quinze  (French 75 mmguns -    but swattin’ cans’ to Bernie and all other Anglophones) of the Battle of the Somme.  


Instead of going on to The Neale it was decided to inter Peter’s remains with James Daly’s at Tyrellspass, Co Westmeath.   My brothers Michael and Brendan often recalled that en route to school they and others had been rounded up by the Black and Tans in the hopes of securing useful information about local republican military activity.   When they arrived late for school they were punished by Mr Ferris as he thought they were making up a tall story.   On learning the truth about the Black and Tans behaviour he apologised publicly to the school.   Little did the students know till much later about of Peter Sears’ heroic protest in far away India which had cost him his life.

Big news of the day

A final vivid memory of Bernie; as there was no radio in Ballyglass at the time and seldom a daily newspaper people often had to depend on Bernie’s arrival for any big news of the day.  One day he came to our door but with no letter in hand.  His eyes were bulging with excitement as he announced aloud: “They are at it again!”   We thought it was Biddie and Johnny neighbours - who were having one of their eternal slanging exchanges nearby. Noticing our lack of excitement he shouted:

The guns are roaring again.”  Gradually we realised he was announcing that a second Word War had begun. That meant more to him of course than to most at that time - myself included.  When I went to the local priest, Fr Egan, that day to have him sign some papers as I was about to enter the years novitiate for the Holy Ghost Fathers he made some perfunctory comments  about the testing nature of such a novitiate year.  I volunteered that one added disadvantage would be that I would be missing all the excitement of the war.   He remarked, “It won’t have really begun by the time your novitiate year is over.

Neale local defence group

When a local defence group was founded in The Neale to face up to the “Emergency” situation they called on Bernie to help with his military experience. One incident that brought the harsh reality of the changed military tactics of World War II  home to me was when I heard that my first cousin, William McCavick of Kansas City , who was my own age, had been shot down over the jungle in Burma.

Note:   We gratefully acknowledge that this very interesting piece has been extracted from the Kevin McDarby collection.

This page was added by Averil Staunton on 08/08/2011.