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Story of Boy George's tragic Irish ancestors captures public imagination

Boy George described the story of his Irish ancestors as an 'Irish lament'

CULTURE Club singer Boy George said the tragic story of his Irish ancestors, including an uncle who was executed during the War of Independence, unfolded like "an Irish lament".

However, the grim details revealed in the genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are? did not reflect the full scale of misfortune that befell his family, particularly that of his great aunt Annie Glynn and her husband Thomas who was executed in Mountjoy prison just days after their baby had died.

The episode centring on Boy George - real name George O’Dowd - began by tracing his Dublin grandmother Bridget Margaret Kinahan, who was brought up in a punishing industrial school after being taken from her poverty-stricken family.

Historian Caitríona Crowe explained how children were often separated from their families for spurious reasons and far from 'wandering the streets' as the family believed, Bridget was taken from outside her home, from a tenement family, her parents in ill health at the time.

But it is the story of the singer's great uncle, Thomas Bryan, a member of the Irish Volunteers, that has really captured the public interest since being broadcast on on BBC on Wednesday.

Arrested and tried under martial law for his part in an attempted ambush in Drumcondra, before being hanged, the London-born singer visited both his cell and the gallows.

He also read a letter sent from prison by Bryan to his father-in-law in which he speaks of his fears for his unborn child, stating: "It is our women who suffer the most."

The state funeral of Boy George's great uncle Thomas Bryan executed during the War of Independence

Their baby survived just one day, dying four days before Thomas was killed on March 14 1921, and leaving his wife Annie grief-stricken and destitute, having previously relied entirely on her husband's income for survival.

“Such an incredible story. It’s mad that no-one ever talked about it. They will now. I’ll make sure of it," Boy George said.

Bryan's military pension file, which did not feature in the programme, reveals further details of Annie's poverty and desperation after his execution.

The military files described her as a "frail and delicate-looking woman who appears to be in poor circumstances".

Her husband had previously handed over his entire wages as an electrical engineer "with the exception of a few shillings which he retained for cigarettes etc".

Boy George at the grave of his great aunt Annie Bryan. Screen grab from BBC

After his death she was forced to rely on the support of the White Cross, which provided financial assistance to republican families.

Annie lived in a tenement in Mountjoy Square and was being treated for anaemia when in 1924 she was granted a pension of £90 a year for her husband's service.

She died in 1930 aged just 30, the cause of death given as heart failure caused by acute tuberculosis, and the State paid her funeral expenses of £21.

She is currently in a grave in Glasnevin cemetery in north Dublin with just a small marker.

Her husband was originally buried in an unmarked grave within Mountjoy Prison.

Boy George during Who Do You Think You Are?

One of the executed republicans known as the Forgotten Ten, following a campaign in October 2001 their remains - including that of republican martyr Kevin Barry - were removed and given a state funeral before being re-interred at Glasnevin.

The programme earned widespread praise on social media for its powerful telling of a remarkable story, with many viewers saying they were moved to tears.

Sinn Féin senator Niall Ó Donnghaile was among those to tweet his reaction, saying: "Really interesting albeit very tragic insight into our history. Fair play to @BoyGeorge for holding it together!"

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