The people of Cootehill knew him as The Brigadier. A striking individual with a military bearing, a man who embodied the conflict and contradiction of the nation that produced him. Educated to be a soldier in the Empire's army Eric Dorman-Smith would turn his back on Britain, but not before changing the course of World War II.
Despite animosity between The Brigadier and superiors, like Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, the Cavan man forged a plan that ensured the first allied victory at El Alamein. This was the turning point in World War II, the first indication of vulnerability in the Nazi war machine.
So obviously he is a lauded hero of the Britain. Well, no, in fact he ended up on the opposite end of the table in the war room. His conflict with the authorities would see him change his name to O'Gowan and throw his lot in with the IRA as they waged the Border Campaign throughout the 1950s.
Journalist Pavel Barter is about to tell the story of a larger than life Cootehill man who changed the course of history.
“I’ve produced a story for RTÉ Documentary on One about Eric Dorman-O’Gowan who rose through the ranks to become a general in North Africa. O’Gowan, known as The Brigadier to locals in Cootehill, was an unconventional character who fought with his fellow officers, in particular Bernard Montgomery,” Pavel told The Celt.
Noted for his charm and intellectual powers O’Gowan was a gifted tactician, but lacked the subtle political nous necessary to thrive in the army. His frankness was his downfall and regardless of the fact he outwitted Rommel at the first battle of El Alamein, Winston Churchill fired him in the August purge.
“There is a family connection," explains Pavel. "My grandfather taught him at military college in the 1910s. He was interviewed by Lavinia Greacen for her book “Chink” [O'Gowan's nickname]. I was given the book and fascinated, not only by the family connection, but by his life. He was an incredible character. I have been working for the last two years on this documentary.”
The journalist said that one of O’Gowan’s closest friends was the novelist Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway modelled a number of his characters on The Brigadier: “They met at the end of the of the First World War. Dorman-O’Gowan had been through the mill. He served at Passchendaele, Ypres and Mons. Hemingway idolised O'Gowan and The Brigadier was an inspiration for the writer's works.”
The research for the documentary is far reaching: “I have been in the Churchill archives in Cambridge. The Anglo-Celt plays a role in the historic record of his life. It covered a good portion of his life events. He sued the local council because the lakes of Bellamont and Cootehill were polluted. I visited Bellamont House, the Palladian villa in which O’Gowan was raised and eventually died.
“Interviewees include Aogán Ó'Fearghaíl, GAA president from Maudabawn, Hugh B. O’Brien, a local historian at Cootehill, and Noel Carney, of the Dartrey Heritage Association and O’Gowan’s son, amongst others.”
The story has an international scale, but where The Brigadier is from, is at its heart: “It is very much a Cavan story,” Pavel told The Celt.
The radio programme will be broadcast as the Documentary on One: The Brigadier on Saturday, September 9 on RTÉ Radio 1 at 1pm and on Sunday September 10 at 7pm on RTE Radio 1.