Aughakine to Dinant via Normandy
Frank Joe Sheridan is arguably one of the most colourful
characters ever to have emerged from North Longford. He
also has a remarkable life story to relate with the highlights
including a near death experience during the second World
War and a pioneering career in business subsequently.
Coming into the world on the 9th April , 1920 at the height
of the War of Independence, Frank Joe Sheridans life
was always going to be dramatic.
Born in Aughakine, Aughnacliffe, the youngest of seven children,
Franks mother tragically died three days after giving birth.
However, little Frank Joe was not short of adult support;
General Sean McEoin, who was using the Sheridan home as
a safe-house from the British at the time, was Frank-Joes
godfather when he was baptised, days later, and he also
had two very supportive aunts who also looked after him
as a young boy.
For a brief period, in his very early years, he went to
stay with one of these aunts, Mary Reilly, in Granard, and
went to school in Springtown, however, after this brief
sojourn, he went back to Aughakine to his father, who owned
a medium-sized farm, and also worked as a blacksmith,
carpenter and wheelwright.
Frank Joes education continued at Aughnacliffe NS,
where he loved to play football at the back of Whittles,
as we used to say around here, because we had no proper
pitch in Colmcille at the time.
At this stage, the primary school hadnt been amalgamated,
with the boys and girls still attending separate buildings,
and Frank recounts how he loved when it was amalgamated.
In fact, everyone did!.
Indeed, he says, overall, his memories of these days are
very fond, even of his teachers, Master Fitzpatrick ( or
Fitch , as he was referred to) Mrs OReilly,
who all Colmcille people, will know was Phil (the
Rock) Reillys mother, and Violet Doyle.
One of Franks memories of this time is being brought
out by Miss Doyle who pointed at an airplane in the sky
and said, in irish Is eitlean é.
Indeed, whilst that may have been the first time Frank saw
an aircraft at first hand, it certainly would not be the
After this, Frank spent a brief period in the Latin School
in Moyne, but his possible path to the priesthood was thwarted
by the girls bike he had to cycle there
on. He admits, I could never see myself as the Bishop
of Ardagh & Clonmacnois, although he recalls that
a fellow student, Francis Ginty, who owned a Raleigh
went on to become a Bishop in London, and , years later,
married himself and his wife, Mairin at the Sacred House
Church in Hampstead!.
However, a bike did feature in what would become his next
major career move. At fifteen Frank Joe wanted to start
earning a wage but unfortunately times were tough in Longford,
and there was little work in the neighbourhood.
Frank Joe remembers seeing posters in the old Post
recruiting volunteers for the new army that De Valera had
just started up - Volunteer Force.
He and five other young lads from Aughakine all cycled into
Granard on an Ash Wednesday with the sign of the cross
sill emblazoned on our foreheads, as Frank recalls.
It was some sight with three of the lads cycling the bikes
and the other three on the bars.
There, he was accepted into the army, and then spent the
next year travelling and training, spending most of the
time in Athlone, but also travelling to Finner Camp in Donegal
and The Curragh. However, after about 12 months, a lot of
the Volunteer Force were let go by De Valera (his feared
Coup dEtat had not taken place), and so it was time
for Frank Joe to decide what the next move should be. Of
the six young boys who had cycled into Granard the fateful
day, three went to America and three went to the British
Army. Frank fell into this latter group.
Promoted to Lance Sergeant because of his military training
in Ireland, Frank Joe joined the Royal Engineers, who were
stationed in Chatham. This decision was actually taken by
the British army themselves who, on hearing that Franks
father had been a wheelwright and blacksmith, decided that
this was the regiment for him!
In 1937, he was posted to Floriane, in Malta where he spent
four and half years and got to see quite a lot of the Mediterranean.
Much of this time was spent inspecting and repairing fortifications,
from Gibraltar to the Suez Canal.
About two months in, he took three months leave, which he
describes as the best holiday of my life, travelling
around all of Ireland with some of his army friends. But
then, after Russia signed the non-aggressionpact with Germany
in 1939, all leave was cancelled and Frank Joe received
a telegram ordering him to report back to Chatham.
Apart from anything else, this interfered with some of this
romantic plans; he had intending to return to Malta via
Paris and meet up with a sweetheart en route. She was a
Gowna girl studying in the Sorbonne. Alas, the meeting had
to be cancelled, and Frank says that the young woman subsequently
went on to become a nun!
Quite a different future lay in wait for Frank Joe.
Our war started in 1940 he says, when Italy
joined the war and Malta was bombed to blazes.
But the real fighting started when the siege finished in
June 1942, and Frank Joe was posted to North Africa where
the famous German Erwin Rommell had much recent success.
His first land battle was the, now famous, Battle of El
He then went to the island of Terceia, one of the Azures,
where there was no danger of shooting because it was
owned by Portugal. But this reasonably pleasant period,
where he worked hard, but at least wasnt in much danger,
ended after six months, and he was sent to Bulford Camp
on the Salisbury Plains, and home of the First Allied Airbourne
The Greek Island of Crete had been taken by German Paratroopers
in a matter of hours a year previous to this, and Churchill
wanted to ensure that Britain would have a similarly professional
Frank Joe was asked to join ( although by the sounds of
things, he didnt have much choice!) the Royal Engineers
Airborne Division, and his training began at Ringway Airport,
This consisted of eight jumps, three from balloons
and the rest of them from fast planes. I didnt
like the balloons so much, but I didnt mind the airplane
jumps, Frank recalls. Preferences aside, he passed
with flying colours, and was soon donning the red
beret. Once you had that on, everyone made room
for you, he says happily. He even went on to Wycoming
in the US in 1943 to train the Yanks.
And what followed is what Frank Joe describes as the real
War, when he and the 591 Parachute Squadron, of which
he was a member, landed in Normandy, in order to secure
the left flank for the land and sea forces.
He describes his task as silent fighting patrol,
done under cover of darkness, and depending for its success
on silence and secrecy. He recalls that his squadron had
to take a bridge halfway to Caen, a major town
in the area, and secure the way for the allies to liberate
another town, Ranville.
One cant even imagine what these men went through.
We had to crawl up silently, sometimes in water, and
dispatch the defenders of the bridge. The word dispatch
suggest something simple and sterile, but presumably the
work was anything but.
However, the trojan effort put in by Frank and his squadrom
on the night of the 5th of June 1944, was a great help for
the Allies who were landing, and Frank describes the 6th
June as our glory day, when the Allies liberated Ranville,
and from there went on to take Caen.
He recalls the girls who entertained us with champagne!,
and the general excitement that could be felt among the
soldiers and the liberated French.
Frank Joe also recorded similar successes in the Ardennes
region of France, when, on Christmas Day 1944, orders were
given to defend the city of Dinant; and on the German/Dutch
border where Frank and fifty of his men had to do secret
But it was the 24th March 1945 that was possibly the single
most influential day, from a personal point of view, on
Franks own military career.
Frank was due to jump into enemy territory in Germany where
troops were drafted into stop German re-inforcements coming
up the Rhine. He was just 16 days away from his 25th birthday;
the irony being, if he had been 25 he would have been too
old to jump.
In any event, he did jump, and, after escaping relatively
unscathed from many of the skirmished he found himself in
over the years, was unfortunately not so lucky this time.
He received three bullets to the face, one to the left sinus,
one to the upper jaw and another to the lower jaw.
Luckily, however, aid got to him in time, and he was brought
back across the Rhine, away from enemy lines where he was
returned to a hospital in Brussels. For security reasons,
his family couldnt be told for a long time, and Frank
Joe had to undergo three painful operations in Belgium before
he went back to Britain. This was the end of his army career,
and almost the end of the war, and Frank Joe, having entered
as a young boy of 16 was now leaving a Major, having experienced
first hand some of the major events of the twentieth century.
And, quite opposed to this being the end for Frank Joe,
he describes it as when life really started.
This was a very different chapter in Frank Joes life;
he spent five years living in England where he attended
the famed LSE (London School of Economics) for a time before
being offered a job with Mintex, a company which manufactures
brakes for cars.
He returned to Dublin in 1951, having been offered the agency
for Mintex in Ireland, and promptly set up depots in both
Dublin and Belfast. He then spent 35 years with Mintex Break
Distributor Ireland Ltd, a company which has subsequently
been taken over by his son, Brindley, although Frank Joe
still remains as chairman.
Away from wars and cars, Frank Joe also found the time to
get married; his wife was Mairin Moloney whose family owned
a bakery in Edgeworthstown. I remembered her as a
young girl, says Frank, and on his return to Ireland
in the fifties found that she had blossomed into
a very pretty young woman.
He recalls bringing her to the Spring Show in Dublin
when they were courting and they eventually married in London
in 1952, and the Church of the Sacred Heart, Hampstead.
After bringing her all around Ireland on honeymoon;
she had never really seen it, they eventually settled
down and went on to have seven children; Brindsley, who
works in the family business, Mintex; Paul who works in
IT; Farrell who works in Cairo, Egypt, Lupetja who now resides
in Texas, Catherine, who is a chemist in London, and Stephen
who is a farmer in Wicklow.
Having lived in London, then the Vico Road in Dalkey, Frank
Joe finally bought a farm around the Shankhill area of Dublin
where he still resides.
Of course, he still spends alot of his time in his native
Aughakine - every summer, he says and he is
still very much aware of the comings and goings of the people
of the community where he was born.
He is also very much looking forward to the publications
of his memoirs, over the next few months, by British publishing
Listening to the extraordinary events that make up Frank
Joes life, weve no doubt it will be a real page
By Bernice Mulligan
Courtesy of the Longford Leader
6th May 2005