McMurdo’s Camp

Hibernian Holmes

Every March 17th, we recognize St. Patrick’s Day, when everyone seems to have a little of the Irish blood in them, or maybe the Irish spirit(s).  What about Sherlock Holmes?  He had family who were country squires, and some French relatives, but there is no obvious connection to the Emerald Isle, even though Holmes passed himself off as an Irish-American in his last case.  But were there other Irish connections in Holmes’ world?  Of course!  The Irish are everywhere.

It looks like the novel The Valley of Fear (VALL) is the most Irish-rich of all the stories in the Canon.  With the main character, Jack McMurdo, aka Birdy Edwards, aka John Douglas, we see Irishness manifested in many ways.  At his introduction we are told he is a pleasant brown-haired young Irishman.  Then at Shafter’s, we learn the young Irishman is of a different calibre than the other boarders, and he charms his landlord’s daughter Ettie with his glib Irish tongue.  Shortly later, upon his meeting Councillor McGinty, he is told he has an Irish tongue in his head.   Then after a stand-off with Ted Baldwin, McMurdo blames his hot Irish blood for the altercation.  Near the end of his Vermissa assignment, he meets up with Ettie, and the dancing Irish devilry is gone from his eyes, as he prepares earnestly for the final stages of his assignment.  The scene plays out in the house of the widow McNamara, an easy-going old Irish-woman, his new land-lady.  McGinty himself was probably Irish, too, but that is not stated.   Later in his life we find that McMurdo, then known as Douglas, is said to have emigrated to America from Ireland when he was a very young man. He had prospered well after his stint with the Pinkertons and in the gold-fields of California.

In The Red-Headed League (REDH), Pope’s Court looked like a coster’s orange barrow.  The red-haired pawn broker should not have thought there were so many red-headed men in the whole country as were brought together by that single advertisement. Every shade of colour they were – straw, lemon, orange, brick, Irish-setter, liver, clay; but there were not many who had the real vivid flame-coloured tint.

Sir Charles Baskerville’s head was of a very rare type, half Gaelic. Hound of the Baskervilles (HOUN)

In The Adventure of the Crooked Man (CROO), Colonel James Barclay, a gallant veteran, commanded The Royal Mallows, one of the most famous Irish regiments in the British Army. Of course, Col. Barclay had not been so gallant in his handling of Henry Wood.

In The Adventure of the Illustrious Client (ILLU), Colonel Sir James Damery hired Holmes on behalf of the illustrious one.  Damery had gray Irish eyes, from which frankness shone.  He also had a large, bluff, honest personality, a broad, clean-shaven face, and a pleasant, mellow voice.

In His Last Bow (LAST) the German spy, Von Bork, takes credit for stirring up a “devil’s brew of Irish civil war, window-breaking furies, and God knows what to keep (England’s) thoughts at home.”  Von Bork and Baron Von Herling, the Chief Secretary of the German Legation prepared to meet Altamont, whom they believed was a bitter Irish-American spy, but was actually Sherlock Holmes engaging in some post-retirement service to his country on the eve of the World War.  They observed that their most pan-Germanic Junker is a sucking-dove in his feelings towards England compared to the Irish-American Altamont.   Holmes explained how he started his pilgrimage at Chicago, graduated in an Irish secret society at Buffalo, gave serious trouble to the constabulary at Skibbereen (a town in Cork), and got himself identified as a potential spy for the Germans to use against the English.   Holmes as Altamont was described as a tall, gaunt man of sixty, with clear-cut features and a small goatee beard, which gave him a general resemblance to the caricatures of Uncle Sam.

In The Adventure of the Cardboard Box, Jim Browner did the deed, cut off the ears, and sent them to Miss Cushing from Belfast.  A red-herring in the story is the medical students, who came from the north of Ireland.

There are some other mentions of Irish-sounding names in the Canon, but which are not specifically being identified as  Irish:

McCarthy, the murdered neighbor and his son, the erroneously accused, in The Boscombe Valley Mystery (BOSC).

There was an establishment known as McFarlane’s carriage-building dep’t adjacent to the Suburban Bank and the Vegetarian Restaurant in The Red-Headed League.

In The Five Orange Pips (FIVE), McCauley had the pips set on him and was cleared.

The Noble Bachelor’s wife met her original husband Frank in ‘81, in McQuire’s camp, near the Rockies, where her father was working a claim. (NOBL)

John Hector McFarlane, Holmes’ young, pale, palpitating, wild-eyed, and frantic client in The Adventure of the Norwood Builder (NORW).

McLaren on the top floor, a brilliant fellow and one of the three students. (3STU)

Fitzroy McPherson, the science-master, met his end down on the admirable beach in The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane (LION).  Likewise, his dog.

Patrick Cairns, a harpooner and a man of gigantic strength, was the true murderer of Peter Carey in The Adventure of Black Peter (BLAC).

Kennedy, the famous Westminster electrician, was the business partner of Cyril Morton who married Violet Smith, the Solitary Cyclist (SOLI) after she inherited her fortune.

Fitzroy Simpson, one of those damned touts, hung around the stables at King’s Pyland, but could not have caused curry to be served the night Silver Blaze went missing.  (SILV)

Kilburn, a neighbourhood or district with an Irish-sounding name, to which Jem Ryder carried a goose with an empty crop, to see Maudsley, his criminally inclined friend.  Note:  there is a city in England called Kilburn, but it is up near Manchester and too far to carry a goose in one night.  The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle (BLUE)

Reilly, the Vermissa lawyer, who handled legal affairs for McGinty and the Scowrers, in The Valley of Fear (VALL).

Also in VALL, McMurdo told Jacob Shafter that he got the address in Chicago, from a man by the name of Murphy, who in turn had had it from someone else.

Elsie Patrick, an American lady who was staying at a boarding-house in Russell Square  and married Mr. Hilton Cubitt, of Ridling Thorpe Manor, Norfolk.  Her father, old Patrick, was a clever man and had been a gang boss in Chicago.  He invented the dancing men code.  The Adventure of the Dancing Men (DANC)

In The Hound of the Baskervilles (HOUN), Murphy,  a tipsy gipsy horse-dealer, was on the moor at no great distance when Sir Charles died. He heard cries, but could not tell or remember the direction.

Futher information received: We posed the question, about more Irish references, in the Holmes Internet discussion group The Hounds of the Internet, and received an interesting addition.  The group heard from Mr. Peter Liddell, who has written a scholarly article about Watson’s service in India.  Watson’s unit’s full correct name was “The 5th Regiment of Foot (Northumberland Fusiliers)”.  The history of this regiment shows that it was first constituted in 1674 (on the 8th of August) as The Irish Regiment.  In 1685 it was transferred to the British establishment and on 1st July 1751 it became the 5th Regiment of Foot.

The entire article is available on the Holmesian.net Forum under the general title “The Chronology of A Study in Scarlet”, appearing in the section “The Dispatch Box”.  We heartily recommend it to readers of McMurdo’s Camp.  You do not have to be a member of the discussion group to view the postings.

To our loyal readers and fans of McMurdo’s Camp: If you know of or can find any Irish connections in the Canon that we did not list, we would appreciate hearing from you.  Just click comments at the lower right.

1 Comment »

  1. I happened upon your article while trying to find out if there was a Holmes Irish connection. I started thinking about this when I saw the recent film and pondered the Dubliners song which played during the “fight pit” scene.

    Comment by Anonymous — November 24, 2011 @ 1:07 pm


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