Eileen Forrestal.

Eileen Retracing Her Grandfather's 1922 Tour

Eileen Forrestal isn't so much recreating history as replaying it by retracing it.

Eileen, who is currently living in Sligo and is a retired anesthesiologist, is embarking on a speaking tour of the United States.

She will be retracing the footsteps of her paternal grandfather, John Forrestal, (Sean MacCaoilte) who made a journey across America between March and May of 1922.

Sean had been sent across the Atlantic by Michael Collins to advocate to Irish America for acceptance of the Anglo Irish Treaty.

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Sean, according to Eileen, arrived in New York on the Aquitania on St. Patrick's Day and ultimately spoke in 20 cities across 13 states over the following 52 days, traveling by train between one city and the next.

"I plan to adhere pretty much to his schedule, completing in Philadelphia in mid-May," Eileen told the Echo. 

"While this was a political mission, with an attempt to avert Civil War in Ireland, and tragically failed in that regard, the personal aspect is equally tragic," Eileen said.

The story is told in a book written by Eileen's cousin, Dr. Anne Forrestal, Sean’s only other granddaughter. The book is entitled "Fierce Tears Frail Deeds" and was published in 2021.

"This book is based on the letters Sean wrote daily to his wife documenting his journey abroad, and the impact on his family at home," said Eileen.

"My grandmother, while pregnant with her fifth child, my father, was caring for their children, two of whom were becoming increasingly ill with TB.

"Because of this, Sean cut short his trip before Philadelphia, but he was too late. Brendán, aged 8, had just died. Seanín, aged 2, died a few weeks later. My father, Gearóid, was born in July. Michael Collins was shot in August. Civil War broke out and Sean, worn out, bereaved and broken hearted, succumbed to the disease in October, aged 37."

Sean MacCaoilte

According to Eileen, Sean’s final poem, “The Bequest,” was published in An Saorstat, the Free State newspaper, on Collins’ death, so immortalizing his beloved chieftain’s last words “Forgive Ye them my death.”

"My dad contracted TB in his early thirties, and spent three years in hospital, until the discovery of Streptomycin. My mother had been his nurse," said Eileen.  

"I published my own book in 2021, 'The Courage To Shine - Find Your Voice and Discover the Healing Power of Your Words,' a personal memoir of overcoming a stammer and finding the courage to forgive the past, and speak up, and say what I wanted to say."

Eileen said she had not entered public or political life because of her stammer.

"I chose instead a career in medicine, and specialized in anesthesiology, where I remained, ‘hidden and silent,' for more than twenty years.

"My grandfather, the father that my father never met, has been my inspiration all my life. And it is only now, at 65 years of age, when I should be enjoying my retirement, that I feel inspired by this opportunity, especially in this time of turbulence and turmoil in the world, to present again the importance of a new conversation for peace, freedom and forgiveness in the world."

Eileen is convinced that, had he lived, Sean would have been the first Irish ambassador to the United States.

On her tour, Eileen will be effectively his ambassador. She will present "Forgiving the Past: Honoring One Family's Civil War Experience" at the American Irish Historical Society in Manhattan on Thursday, March 28 at 7 p.m.