Charles McGuinness

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Charles John 'Nomad' McGuinness (6 March 1893 – 7 December 1947) was an Irish adventurer, author, and sailor supposed to have been involved with a myriad of acts of patriotism and nomadic impulses. His history is shrouded in myths and mystery, making many of its details' authority questionable.

Early life[edit]

Not much is known about the life of Charles McGuinness. His life is a mixture of truth and legend. Whatever is known about him can be found in his books, his articles, as well as popular legends of the time.

Charles John "Nomad" McGuinness was born 6 March 1893. He was raised in Lower End, Derry, Ireland. His mother, Margaret Hernand was of Spanish descent, and his father, Charles McGuinness, was an Irish ship captain. Margaret died when Charles was young. Charles had two brothers, Hugh and John McGuinness. Hugh was a headmaster of St. Eugene's in Rosemount, Derry, and John was a teacher as well.

McGuinness had three wives in his lifetime. His first wife, Clara (or Claire) was German, whom he married in Vienna then moved to New York where they had their son, Patrick Joseph. Little is known about his second wife, other than her burial in the City cemetery. His third wife was buried in Donegal.

In 1908, at the age of 15, he went to sea on the schooner Vixen. His first world trip was in 1909 on the ship Cedarbark. It went from Wales to Iquique in Chile and then on to New York. In 1910, he arrived in Sydney on The Pilgrim. The Pilgrim ended up shipwrecked off of the coast of Tahiti in 1910.[1]

Military career[edit]

The first known origins of McGuinness' military career came when he fought for the English in Africa. He was initially in the Cameroon region, but deserted in 1916 when he heard about the rebellion for independence taking place in Ireland.

He then joined the Afrikaners against the British. It was shortly after this that he is rumoured to have been captured by the Germans. He convinced them that he was on their side and fought with them for a time in their East African Campaign.

McGuinness claims in his autobiography to have been the sole survivor of a ship-wreck in Delagoa Bay near Mozambique in November 1917. As the story goes, he was aboard the S.S. Vasco de Gama, a Portuguese steamer, when the ship wrecked and sank at the mouth of shark infested waters.[2]

McGuinness finally returned to Derry in 1920. He became involved in defending the Catholics during the Derry Riots. He was made the commander of the 3rd Battalion of the Irish Republican Army's (IRA) Northern Capacity. He assisted in the escape of Frank Carty, the leader of the IRA, from Derry Gaol in February 1921.[3]

His claim to having established an "Irish navy" traces to gun running (November 1921) on the tug "Frieda," originally scheduled for Ballinagoul, Co. Waterford, forced by fog to offload at Cheekpoint on the Suir River. He successfully returned to Ballinagoul on 2 April 1922 to deliver what was reportedly "the largest military shipment ever to reach the I.R.A." In 1932-1933 he served, in his own words, as "Inspector of the Port of Leningrad" where he was "thoroughly enthused with the Socialist System of Russia" noting the Irish Free State as "a bourgeois republic with the Roman gent pulling the strings."

Four months later, he was captured and wounded in Belfast. He was imprisoned at Ebrington Barracks in Derry. His guards thought he was too weak to escape so they paid little attention to him. Friar Coyles maintains that McGuinness escaped by being smuggled out in a coffin, which is likely a fabricated story.[3]

After his trips to Antarctica, Russia and a brief stint in China, McGuinness was back in the military for the last time. He travelled to Spain to fight on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. More information about his experiences in Spain, can be found from the series of articles he wrote for the Irish Independent Newspaper.[4]

Other adventures[edit]

His adventures expanded even further from Australia to Java and then to Easter Island. During this time, McGuinness took part in riots and mutinies on many different boats. Before World War I, he was gold mining in Australia, and went on adventures to the Mediterranean, Black Sea, Africa, Mexico, the West Indies, Brazil, China, and Japan. This can be found in his account 'Nomad'.[1]

McGuinness also "hoboed" in Canada and even became part of the Canadian militia before his return to Europe. He was eventually rumoured to have become incarcerated in Venice.

From 1928 to 1930, McGuinness helped locate and evaluate the vessels used for the first Byrd expedition to Antarctica. He played the official number two role on the expedition as the first officer.[5]

Literary works[edit]

In McGuinness' lifetime, he published two books and contributed a series of articles to the Irish Republican Newspaper.

Sailor of Fortune (Nomad)[edit]

McGuinness' first book was published as "Sailor of Fortune" in the United States and published as "Nomad" in the United Kingdom. This eighteen chapter book, published in 1935 is an autobiography of McGuinness' and his travels. The memoir details his life in the army as well as his various adventures which include shipwrecks and imprisonment. [6]

Behind the Red Curtain[edit]

"Behind the Red Curtain", published in the United Kingdom in 1936 is a chronicle of McGuinness’ time in Russia where he worked as a harbour master for the Port of St. Petersburg. The usage of the "curtain" metaphor in the title may be one of the most primitive reference applied to the Soviet Union. [7]

Irish Independent Spanish Civil War feature articles[edit]

Charles “Nomad” McGuinness wrote a six piece article featured in the Irish Independent Newspaper in 1937. The introduction titled, "True Story That Will Thrill You," depicts McGuinness's account of his adventures at the time of the Spanish Civil War. The first piece, entitled "Adventures in War-Torn Spain," continues his account of this period. The second piece is entitled "Foul War on Religion." The third piece is called "Massacre in A Cemetery." The fourth piece is called "Under Fire by the Enemy." The fifth piece is called "Among those about to Die." These featured articles depict Charles "Nomad" McGuinness's adventures at the time of the Spanish Civil War. His articles mainly focus on the destruction, death, and corruption related to the war in Spain. [4]


McGuinness died on 4 December 1947. He drowned, along with Anthony A Harris the ship broker ~ Cheshire England, Ms. Young stewardess Thomas Corkish first mate ~ Wicklow and Patrick J Kelly chief engineer ~ Dublin. There were 2 survivors John (jack) Corkish (son of Thomas) and John Wheelan ~ Dublin when their schooner isaalt, a western ocean yacht, wrecked when a fierce SEly gale ran her aground on Ballymoney Strand Co. Wexford, She was Caribbean bound.


Newspaper article (the wicklow people)1947

External links[edit]

Lennons in Time by Ivan Lennon -ISBN 5 800122 517470