Intriguing local stories in newly published book on Irish diaspora

What does a US presidential hopeful, a manager of Barcelona FC, a cousin of the inspiration for Zorro, and a war general who died in battle and was subsequently pickled in a cask of rum and shipped back to Ireland for burial all have in common?

Firstly, all of them had strong links to Westmeath, and secondly, their intriguing and largely unknown stories have been included in a new book exploring the lives of men and women whose pioneering journeys beyond the Irish shore played a profound role in world history.

In his new publication, 'The Irish Diaspora: Tales of Emigration, Exile and Imperialism', acclaimed writer and historian Turtle Bunbury shines a spotlight on stories like that of Al Smith, the grandson of immigrants with strong links to Moate and Tubber, who was one of at least eight Irish-American Mayors of New York.

In 1928, he became the first Irish Catholic to run for president, losing to Herbert Hoover. He went on to oversee the building of the Empire State Building, the world's tallest skyscraper, which was conceived as a way to boost New York’s morale in the gloomy aftermath of the Wall Street Crash. At Smith’s request, construction of the project commenced on St Patrick’s Day 1930.

According to an Irish Times column in 2019, Smith visited Ireland in 1937 during a visit to Europe, and while here, he went to Parkwood, Co Offaly, near Moate, and met second cousins, relatives of his grandmother, Marie Marsh, who had married Thomas Mulvihill from nearby Tubber and emigrated in 1841.

The cover of Turtle Bunbury's new book.

Other figures of local interest include Fred Young, founder of the Gurkhas, the fearsome Nepalese fighters who have been part of the British Army for close to 200 years. His daughter-in-law Georgina–Maria Ferguson Murray lived at Killinure House, near Glasson, now part of the site that's home to the Glasson Lakehouse hotel.

Then there's the intriguingly titled Don Patricio O’Connell, sometime captain of Man United and manager of Barcelona FC, who was born in Westmeath but reared in Dublin. He led Real Betis to a Spanish league title and saved Barcelona from bankruptcy before fading into obscurity, dying penniless and largely forgotten until relatively recently.

Another story details the life and contribution of Fulgencio Nugencio of Guesmedia, aka Gilbert Nugent, of Mullingar, one of the earliest Irishmen in Central America.

He appears in the story of his cousin Don Guillén Lombardo de Guzmán, the Wexford-born inspiration for Zorro, who was destined to die at the stake during the Mexican Inquisition.

Then there's a chapter following the story of Richard Coote, 1st Earl of Bellomont, who is thought to spent part of his childhood at Piercetown, around 18 kilometres north west of Mullingar.

During his twenties, Bellomont killed a man in a duel and married an heiress. As Governor of New York, he would become the duplicitous nemesis of the piratical Captain Kidd.

One of the most interesting tales from Westmeath concerns Ned Pakenham, the Westmeath-born British commander, who was among those killed at the battle of New Orleans in 1815.

General Pakenham’s body was subsequently pickled in a cask of rum and shipped back to his home country for burial. He had grown up in Tullynally Castle, near Castlepollard in the north of the county.

Andrew Jackson, the son of an Antrim couple, who defeated him in the battle, went on to serve two terms in the White House and is frequently ranked as one of US's most successful if controversial, presidents.

In his ever-popular warm and engaging style, Turtle Bunbury shares the stories of a fascinating range of people who made their name outside of Ireland including missionaries, explorers, philanthropists, inventors, tycoons and warriors, as well as a composer, a doctor, a would-be assassin. Along the way, you'll meet Eliza Lynch, First Lady of Paraguay, John Philip Holland, father of the submarine in Argentina, Brendan Bracken, Churchill’s spin doctor who had hailed from Tipperary, Nellie Cashman, Angel of the Wild West and Dr James Barry, the Caesarean pioneer medic and many, many more.

The Irish Diaspora: Tales of Emigration, Exile and Imperialism by Turtle Bunbury is published by Thames & Hudson