The Family of Field-Marshall Sir Bernard Law Montgomery
from 'Romantic Inishowen' 1947 by Harry Percival Swan
Much has been written and told about Field-Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, most colourful military figure of the war, but little is known about his early life. The News Chronicle sent its Special Correspondent, Louise Morgan, to Donegal to learn more about him. At New Park, a big rambling house built in 1776 by his grandfather at Moville, on the lovely shores of Lough Foyle, she found the answers.
If ever children were prepared for the new democracy it was the Montgomery family. But the preparation was given unconsciously, and against a background of almost primitive Christian fervour.
Their parents were one of the most happily-married of their generation. The mother was Maud Farrar, one of the five daughters of the famous Victorian, Dean Farrar of Canterbury, who wrote the moral schoolboy tale, Eric or Little by Little.
Two months before her seventeenth birthday, in 1881, Maud was married to Henry Montgomery, Vicar of St Mark's, Kennington, anything but a fashionable parish. He came of an old Irish family, was 34, more than twice her age, and had been one of her father's curates. They were engaged when she was only fourteen. It was a great love match until his death at 85. Any child with parents as happy as these was bound to have a happy start in life.
The sixteen year old wife faced a gigantic job. Children came very quickly, and at twenty-four she had five. Bernard was the fourth. The job was all the harder because there was very little money. When Henry came into his Irish estate, much land had to be sold, leaving barely enough to keep New Park, the family home. But even at sixteen, Maud had a remarkable and original organising capacity. Every hour was an operation in management by his "little general" of a mother.
She may have had to retire now and then from a skirmish, but she never lost a battle. She made use of everything at hand, however unconventional. Getting a job done, not following the traditional method, was the essential thing. She served delicious dishes which cost nothing and when her guests discovered the base was "vermin" (rabbit) they were at first scandalised, and then asked for the recipe.
The boys also had to get their own tea, eat in the schoolroom and clear up. They loved doing all these things, and learned important lessons while enjoying themselves.
Moville knows how much Field-Marshall Montgomery owes to his mother, and pays her the affectionate tribute of expressing it humorously. An old boatman on hearing the news that Monty was making Field Marshall Rommel run, commented with a broad grin: "No wonder; he's not his mother's son for nothing".
An insight into social life in Moville is found in the diary of Jane Harvey, who spent August 1876 in Drumaweir near Greencastle. One of the big events of the summer season was the Moville Flower Show, which was promoted mainly by the gentry. The Regatta took place on 8th August and enjoyed a wider appeal. After listening to the band of the 91st regiment of Highlanders, in the evening Jane went to a ball at Kilderry, Muff, which ended at 5.20 am.
She knew Ferguson Montgomery, a keen sportsman who organised games of tennis and croquet for the ladies on the front lawns of New Park, watched by his parents, Sir Robert and Lady Montgomery. Jane's son James preferred cricket, however, and he played a weekly match at Pennyburn. Bathing took place at Drumaweir and afterwards everyone boarded the Harts's boat for Moville. In the evenings Lady Montgomery was busy organising concerts and games of whist in the schoolhouse or parlour for her guests.
On Sundays Jane attended both morning and evening church services and listened to the sermon of the young Henry Montgomery, later Bishop of Tasmania. She described him as impressive but felt he did a better job in the morning. When her holiday ended, she took the evening steamer from Moville back to Derry.
Montgomery Circles Over Moville
Flying in his personal silver-winged Dakota from Long Kesh aerodrome, near Lisburn, to Londonderry, on Saturday to receive the freedom of the city, Field-Marshall Montgomery gave directions for the plane to circle low over Moville, his home town in County Donegal.
The Dakota dived to within a hundred feet. Twice it circled low over the town, and the Field-Marshal, with an eager light in his eyes, saw New Park, his old home.
"It looks just the same", he said, "my dear old Irish home".
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