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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

'Polish War Hero'

Polish war hero’s part in the struggle for Irish freedom.

Piotr Krysztofowicz and Michael Purcell outside The Tavern in Castle Street.

THE YOUNG Irelanders’ rebellion may have had outside help from a Polish war hero, and history may have to be rewritten thanks to a discovery by a Carlow historian.

Well-known local historian Michael Purcell believes that he has evidence showing that Polish patriot and military hero Józef Szymanowski came to Ireland to help organise the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848.

The astonishing discovery is contained in a handwritten police report by an undercover agent in Carlow dating from the night before the 1848 rising. And its significance might have gone unremarked had it not been for Michael’s lucky encounter with Piotr Krysztofowicz, a Polish man living in the Castledermot area.

Piotr, a civil engineer, was working on the redevelopment of Deighton Hall in Carlow town when he met Michael.

On seeing the document, he immediately recognised the name ‘Simosky’ as a rough translation of Polish war hero Józef Szymanowski, who fought for his country’s freedom at the end of the eighteenth century.

“The document is part of the Benjamin Disraeli papers – he was the high sheriff of Carlow at the time and uncle to the British prime minister of the same name. I knew it was important but I didn’t realise how significant it was until I met Piotr,” Michael told The Nationalist.

“Piotr pointed out who Simosky might be. He would have changed his name when he came over here, or we would have, as people wouldn’t have been able to pronounce it. This guy was a military strategist and this is the first indication that Poland was offering to help Ireland. It’s a turn up for the books; they offered to help us fight for our freedom.”

After trying “any possible spelling of any other name”, Piotr knew there was no other man this could be.

“There is only one man who could do such a thing, with that tactical knowledge. It’s very exciting. No other man at the time had the ability to teach warfare … it has to be him,” added Piotr.

The document in question is a handwritten account of an undercover investigation that took place at the Castle Tavern bar, Castle Street on the night of 28 July 1848.

In his report, Constable John Roddy from Tullow gives a full account of his orders to “proceed to a public house situated at Castle Street … to watch a suspicious person therein said house, to pay particular attention to his conversation and to take notes of it”. Constable Roddy arrived at the bar at 11pm, dressed in plain clothes, and “took lodgings there for the night”.

While in The Tavern, he observed a man “calling himself Joseph Simosky”, a native of Poland, with whom he ended up sharing a bed for the night, as would have been the custom at the time.

In the course of their conversation, before and after going to bed, Constable Roddy discovered that the Pole had been “drilling the people in Limerick for two months and was also drilling them in Clonmel and that he came to Carlow for the same purpose”.

Simosky also let slip information about his plans to attend a meeting in Carlow before making his way to Dublin “on the same business”.

Then, suddenly wary of his confidante, Simosky starts speaking in code, despite already having revealed too much information. “He asked me ‘if I would pass off the sword’. I replied: ‘To be sure I would’,” continues Constable Roddy’s statement.

“He said: ‘I was not right, that he would pass it off with both hands’ and that if I would meet him at the meeting on Monday he would set me right.” Simosky warned “that it was dangerous to be any other way, as there would be a general rising of the people in three weeks”.

“He would tell me more only I was a stranger and he thought he could not depend on me,” continued the report. According to Michael Purcell, the Polish native “must be drunk at this stage … he tells him a bit much”.

“It’s really interesting as well that the RIC man went to bed with him to get more information. He knows he’s going to talk, which he does. Simosky trusts him, even though he didn’t give the answer to the code, but he’s after giving him all the information already.”

Simosky’s part in the Young Irelanders’ rebellion was further cemented when Constable Roddy continued “that Poland fought for liberty and that Ireland would do the same and that he would give them a hand”, before noting that “he said, too, that if I went to the meeting, I would hardly know him as he would appear there in uniform”.

Constable Roddy’s statement was sworn and signed on 29 July 1848, the very same date that the Young Ireland movement failed in its rebellion at Ballingarry, Tipperary.

“No historian in Ireland has ever been able to make a connection to Poland. This was the RIC suppressing the rising before it took off,” added Michael.

In further documents discovered, Michael Brophy, a historian from the 1900s, claims that Simosky was “a Polish envoy from Rome, who became involved in political activities in order to offer support from Poland”.

According to Brophy, Simosky was held in Carlow jail and there are suggestions that he was buried in Felon’s Plot in the jail. “He was arrested and brought to trial. The second document says he was held in Carlow jail and indicates he was buried in Felon’s Plot at the jail. It was made to look like he left Carlow, though. This adds further mystery to it all,” added Michael Purcell.

“January 1900 seems to be the last known reference to Szymanowski. At that point, he was in Rome to meet the Pope. We knew no more about him after this, until now.”

History books may have to be rewritten as a result of this extraordinary document and the efforts of Michael Purcell and Piotr Krysztofowicz.

Source: Michael Purcell c.2012

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