Maurice Leo Aylward 1909

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MAURICE AYLWARD (1909 -1969)

Born in Knockmoylan, Mullinavat, Co. Kilkenny, on May 14th. 1909.

His name appears in the Ballyhale Baptismal Register where his sponsors were Thomas Aylward and Hanora Grant. The School register has him starting school on May 19th 1913. Secondary School saw him attending Mt. St. Josephs in Roscrea. It is said that his time in Roscrea was paid for by the Coonan family in the hope that he would become a priest. When he decided that this would not be his vocation, he left Roscrea and wrote to his sponsors about his decision.

As a young man, his development was fashioned in the complicated political aftermath of 1916,  the early death of his father in 1918, the Civil War and the regime of the Black and Tans.  He left for Australia on 17th August 1929 from the Port of London on the ship ‘Orsova’ and initially stayed with his uncle Dick Raftis.  His brother William had left for Australia seven years earlier and we have a photo of the two of them in Melbourne with their Uncle Dick Raftis and his daughters.

In Australia, politics continued to interest Maurice. He became very involved in the Labour Party and held some responsible posts, before becoming disillusioned with some of their policies and leaving the party. Later he moved to New Zealand in June 1939. A passenger list for the USS ‘Monterey’s’ voyage to San Francisco (via New Zealand) has a Maurice Aylward born 1909 departing Melbourrne bound for NZ on 26 June 1939.

During the 2nd World War, he was very involved politically in forming an organisation of Irishmen in New Zealand, into an Association to resist conscription, on the basis of Irish neutrality. The Association was called the Eire National Association and in 1940 Maurice was chosen as the Secretary. When an Irishman was arrested for refusing to serve in the Army, a lawyer was engaged to represent him in court, where he claimed his Irish citizenship demanded his refusal to serve. In court Maurice is reported to have said; “I will defend New Zealand to the last but I refuse to wear the uniform of a British soldier and fight overseas for them". When pressed further for his reasons, he outlined his experience as a young boy, where he witnessed in his own kitchen at home, his mother being harassed at gun point by British soldiers, seeking information on the whereabouts of her oldest son Patrick who formed part of the local resistance. He told the court that following such visits by British soldiers, their farmyard was regularly littered with the heads of their own hens and ducks.

In 1944, the Association sent him on a mission to Ireland & England to argue their case with the authorities. In November 1943 there is a passenger list for the ‘Port Dunedin’ leaving Wellington to sail for the UK.  M L Aylward is listed as the only passenger. As this was war time this was most likely a merchant ship not carrying passengers.  Having arrived in Southampton, it is reported that he was arrested and spent a night in jail.  In Ireland we know he met representatives of the Irish government if not De Valera himself. 

There is also an entry on the passenger list for the ship ‘Akaroa’ which departed Liverpool in February 1945, listing a Mr. M. Aylward travelling to New Zealand.  Quite a few priests are travelling on the same ship possibly returning to Australia and New Zealand after the war.   This was his only trip to the land of his birth.  En route to Ireland by cargo ship, while anchored in New York, he jumped ship to pay an unannounced visit to his late brother Patrick's family (Nicknamed "Dexter") in the Bronx. (Patrick Aylward who captained Kilkenny in the All Ireland hurling final of 1922). He located them by contacting the Carmelite Parish, where they lived. He stayed talking until 4 am and left to re-join the ship.

Patrick’s grand-daughter Mary recalls the story from her mother, Claire: “How she would not let him in, as a smart teenager from NYC knows how to refuse entrance to any strange men”.  It must have been quite shocking to have a relative from NZ arrive on your doorstep unannounced with WW2 in full swing. Her mother would laugh as she explained that Uncle Maurice was refused entrance until he quoted his whole Family Tree, including distant cousins. Then and only then was he allowed in.    But it was quite the opposite when it was time for him to leave. Claire stated that everyone cried as Uncle Maurice left, as they instinctually knew that they would never see each other again. He was the first familial connection she had every truly had to her deceased father Dexter and the first time she physically met a family member from her Irish roots. She said it was one of the most important nights of her life.

A Munster Express newspaper cutting records a family celebration for him in Knockmoylan, during his visit.  "Home from New Zealand. Mr. Maurice Leo Aylward, Knockmoylan, Ballyhale, who is home on business from New Zealand, after an absence of 15 years, is secretary of the Eire National Association in Wellington, which was organised at the outbreak of war for the purpose of safeguarding the rights and interests of Irish Nationals in New Zealand in keeping with the status of Eire as a neutral State. Mr. Aylward arrived home last December having travelled through the United States.

A son of Mrs. and the late Edward Aylward, he is brother of Mr. Bob Aylward, well known Carrickshock hurler; Garda Ed. Aylward, Dublin; Mr. William Aylward, Melbourne; Mrs. P. Hartley, Slieverue; Mrs. Frisby, Waterford; Mrs. Kenneally, Cottierstown and Sr. Frances Clare, St. Mary's Convent, Lincolnshire. He won the Kilkenny County Junior Hurling Championship with Carrickshock in 1928 and subsequently played in Australia, where the GAA has a firm foothold. Mr. Aylward, who is a regular reader of the Munster Express in New Zealand, intends to return again to the latter country, when he has concluded his business visit to Eire early in July".

Maurice was also a committee member of the Wellington Irish Society.  He served as Assistant Hon, Secretary from 1943 to 1944 and was Vice President from 1944 to 1946 before serving as President from 1946 6o 1947.    Apart from his political and Irish social activities we know that Maurice worked at different times as a farm manager or farm contractor.  He was also quite skilled at preserving meat that had been slaughtered (called a freezing hand in NZ) and as a fencing contractor for many farms.

In 1969, just a short time before his death, he was visited by his sister Kathleen. She recalled that not knowing that he had cancer, he had planned to visit his homeland in Feb. 1970. However, he died in hospital in Opunake where he lived, on December 6th. 1969 after suffering a heart attack.  He is buried in Opunake in the New Lawn cemetery. From the cemetery you can see Mt Taranaki - a beautiful resting place.  The executor of his will was his friend Richard Thomas Hogan, a farmer of Opunake.

Peter Burke a New Zealand journalist, has written an excellent book entitled “True to Ireland”, published in Wellington and Dublin in 2019, which details the story of the Eire National Association, founded to resist conscription into the British Army in WWII.

Additional Information
Date of Birth 14th May 1909  
Date of Death 6th Dec 1969  

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