By Helen Riddell
‘DR Aidan MacCarthy wasn’t a hero of the Irish race. He wasn’t a hero of the British race. He was quite simply a hero of the human race. His story is one of triumph of hope over evil,’ said Beara Historical Society’s Fachtna O’Donovan.
The occasion was the launch of a new biography A Doctor’s Sword by Bob Jackson which tells the story of the remarkable West Cork doctor and now he survived war, captivity and the atomic bomb.
The launch, organised by the Beara Historical Society and Collins Press, was held in Aidan MacCarthy’s former home, MacCarthy’s Bar in Castletownbere.
It was attended by his daughters Adrienne and Nicola, along with many of his old friends and neighbours. A Doctor’s Sword tells the story of how UCC medicine graduate MacCarthy joined the RAF, and became just one of a handful of people to survive the two events that marked the beginning and end of WWII. He was evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk in May 1940, and was in a makeshift bomb shelter in Nagasaki when the atomic bomb destroyed the city on August 9th 1945.
Bob Jackson first heard of Dr Aidan MacCarthy in the late 1990s, when a customer in a bar in which he worked in Cork city recounted the story of a West Cork doctor who had survived the atomic bomb in Nagasaki.
Intrigued to find out more, Bob travelled to MacCarthy’s Bar in Castletownbere where he was stunned to learn that, not only had Aidan survived the atomic bomb, but when the Japanese surrendered, he was gifted an ancestral Japanese sword by his Japanese camp commandant, whose life he saved from POWs intent on revenge.
‘I wanted to know more about that samurai sword, and after Aidan’s widow Kathleen mentioned there was a photo of the Japanese officer somewhere in their belongings, I persuaded his family to look for it,’ recalled Bob, at last weekend’s launch.
The photograph was eventually located, and Bob, along with Aidan’s daughter Nicola, travelled to Japan in an attempt to locate the family of Japanese commander. In an encounter detailed in the book, and also in the critically-acclaimed documentary film of the same name, they met the man’s descendants at a cemetery in Kyushu Island. They also met the commander’s grandson who credits his existence to Aidan’s act of selflessness in saving his grandfather.
Old neighbours of Aidan spoke of how he was always a Beara man first and foremost, remarking how he never lost his Beara accent.
David Hegarty who, like Aidan, went to school at Clongowes Wood College in Co Kildare, remembers holding the sword as a teenager.
‘I was only 15 when Aidan returned to Ireland following his release from the POW camp. I was fascinated by his story and though I knew he didn’t really like to talk about his experiences, I asked to speak to him. He agreed, which I think was down to me being a pupil at his former school. He brought me upstairs to the dining room over the family pub, and for an hour he told me his story and gave me the Samurai sword to hold.’
Fachtna O’Donovan congratulated author Bob Jackson on bringing the extraordinary story of an ordinary Beara man to a wider audience. ‘Anyone who doubts the existence of good and evil in the world should take time out to read this book,’ he said. Fr Sean O’Shea, a retired Beara parish priest, and former RAF chaplain, offered a toast to his old friend and comrade, Aidan. Raising his old RAF cap, he said: ‘He was one of our own and we are proud of him.’
A Doctor’s Sword by Bob Jackson is published in hardback by The Collins Press, price €19.99. It is available in all good bookshops and online from www.collinspress.ie