St Michael’s Cemetery Athy was the scene of an unusual gathering last week when a group of Latvians accompanied by the Latvian Ambassador to Ireland visited the grave of Latvian born Konrad Peterson.
Some years ago I had written of Peterson’s connection with Athy. Subsequently I received a phone call from an Irish Embassy official seeking further information on the man whom unfortunately I never had the privilege of meeting. Late last year I received an email from a Latvian journalist who was engaged in writing Konrad Peterson’s biography. We exchanged information and later in the year I received an invitation to participate in a presentation scheduled for the Stephen’s Green embassy of the Latvian government. Unfortunately I was already committed and could not attend but last week my journalist contact gave me advance notice of a group visit planned for Peterson’s last resting place in St Michael’s Cemetery. It was there I met the Latvian Ambassador Peteris Elferts, the Latvian journalist Sandra Bondarevska and the other Latvians who had come to pay their respects to a hero of the Latvia nation.
I first came across references to Konrad Peterson in the writings of Todd Andrews whose autobiographies ‘*********Dublin Made Me***** and ********Man of No Property*********** gave an interesting insight into the troubled times which followed the 1916 Easter Rebellion. Konrad Peterson who had to flee Latvia in 1907 during the Latvian Revolution of that year came to Dublin to join his uncle Charles Peterson of the pipe firm Kapp Peterson. He enrolled as a student in University College Dublin and I am told was a participant in the events surrounding the 1913 Dublin lockout.
Konrad was a friend of the Gifford sisters, two of whom were to marry men whose names figure high in the story of the 1916 Rebellion. Muriel Gifford married Thomas McDonagh and her sister Grace married Joseph Plunkett the night before he was executed in Kilmainham Jail. Another Gifford sister Mrs. Sidney Czire who wrote under the nom de plume ‘John Brennan’ gave a detailed statement to the Bureau of Military History in which she referred to the help given by Konrad Peterson to Irish republicans protesting against the visit of the British King and Queen to Dublin in 1911. ‘John Brennan’ also penned the book **********The Years Flew By************ dealing with her involvement with Irish Republican activists during the War of Independence.
Konrad Peterson married an Irish girl, Helen Yates, sometime after he received his naturalisation papers in May 1915. The couple returned to Riga, the city of Konrad’s birth, soon after Latvia got independence in November 1918. In Latvia Konrad Peterson is remembered as one of the many young men involved in the 1907 Revolution and as a friend of one of Latvia’s greatest poets, the socialist Janis Rainis.
Peterson subsequently return to Ireland following a meeting with Tod Andrews at a conference in Sweden. Andrews, appointed by the Fianna Fáil government to head up Bord na Mona, became aware of Peterson’s previous links with Irish republicanism and invited him to take up a management position with Bord na Mona. Konrad Peterson was to manage Kilberry peat works for many years during which time he lived in Church Road in the house now occupied by the Casey family. Indeed the late Paddy Casey succeeded Konrad as manager of the Kilberry Works following the latter’s retirement.
Last week a small group of Latvian people, headed by the Latvian Ambassador to Ireland, paid tribute to Konrad Peterson who died in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Athy aged 93 years on 16January, 1981. For some time previously he had resided with his daughter and her husband Dr Dermot Murphy in Whitecastle Lawns, having returned from Canada where all three lived for a time following Konrad’s retirement from Bord na Mona.
Konrad Peterson’s involvement in the Latvian Revolution and the later rebellion in Dublin gives him a unique place in the respective histories of both countries.