Charles J McGuinness

Adventures of a sea-man.

Charles J. McGuinness, (1893 - 1947), left his home in Meadowbank Avenue, Derry, aged 15, for a life at sea.

As a teenager he worked on various ships in America and on the South Seas. After fighting in Belgium and Africa during World War One, McGuinness returned to Derry where he became involved with the IRA. He married Klara Zuckerkandel in Berlin in 1922.

His political allegiances proved as changable as the seas he traversed. During the Spanish Civil War, McGuinness defected from the republican side to join forces with the fascists. He wrote several articles about his experiences in Spain which were published in 1937. McGuinness also travelled to the South Pole and Russia and is thought to have died at sea.

Sailor of Fortune was published in 1935. Behind the Red Curtain, a chronicle of McGuinness’ travels in Russia was published in 1936.

'Ebrington Barracks is an immense institution consisting of a prison, long rows of barracks, magazines, hospital, and stables. On one side stretched the parade grounds, where the military drilled for our benefit. Artillery manoeuvres took place on another expansive green - it seemed as huge as a prairie the night I crawled across it on my belly. …

'We were allowed brief visits from friends, and it was in this way that I managed, through a visitor to another prisoner, to send word to a very dear girlfriend in Derry. I gave her full instructions as to what paraphernalia I should require for my escape, and she returned two days later, her part of the program brilliantly fulfilled.

'When my fair visitor called she brought with her a bottle of wine, a flask of whisky, and a very heavy, oblong cake.'

McGuinness describes his escape from Derry’s Ebrington Barracks in the Boy’s Own, Sailor of Fortune - Adventures of an Irish Sailor, Soldier, Pearl-Fisher, Pirate, Gun-Runner, Rebel and Explorer. Published in 1935, the book tells of the sea-man’s travels to far off lands where, if he wasn’t risking life and limb rum-running in America, he was championing the harassed forces of Chiang Kai Shek in China, or some such other adventure.

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