About  Leo and the McKern's

I only met Leo five times. The most remarkable part about being a McKern is the story of the history of the McKern Clan. It tells you a lot about how lucky one is to be alive at all. Perhaps it might be best if I let Leo tell the story...


The only information about forebears I have came from a very distant relative called Uncle George, who ended his days in Buenos Aires at a great age and who spent many of the last of them constructing a family tree which, unfortunately, I have never seen. George had gone to South America when quite young as an engineer assisting in the construction of the railway system, and I had written to him at the suggestion of another distant relative; this was a delightful female McKern, part of the family that had never left the British Isles, who wrote to me when I was at the Old Vie. She informed me first that as our surnames were spelt in the same way we must be related, because every McKern, wherever they lived now, belonged to one family, and that Uncle George would be most anxious to hear from me, as he knew nothing of the Australian branch of the family; so I wrote and put him in touch with Pop, who gave him the information he required for his genealogical project.
I found it interesting enough that there were McKerns living all over the world, and all related, but even more so to know that we had all come from the Maclans, the MacDonalds

of Glencoe and the victims of that famous massacre. (See John Prebble's splendid book on that subject.) The Maclans seemed to have been a troublous lot, specializing in the theft of cattle, but their fate was unwarrantably savage.
Nearly forty of the clan, while hosts to the Earl of Argyll's Regiment under Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, were murdered at night by their guests, the elder Maclan shot in the back as he struggled into his breeks. Abuse of the unwritten rules of hospitality, if this can be so described, smudges the Campbell escutcheon to this day.
I first saw Glencoe before I had learnt of this family connection, and when told of it I felt an almost physical shock, and my memory of that first sight rushed back because of the inexplicable and strange feeling I experienced then.
We had a very old and cheap car, I think the first, which took us more or less successfully on our first trip to Scotland, and we came into the glen from the upper end in the east; and the first view shook me so unexpectedly, as sudden as a blow, that I stalled the car.
The prospect down the valley, with its precipitous sides and under a pall of cloud, was the most chilling and threatening landscape I had ever seen. I had been startled, amazed, or swept with pleasure by unexpected vistas many times, but this place infected me with what I can only describe as dread; and as we drove down deeper into the glen on a narrow road through great rocks, the feeling increased. A sense of entrapment grew with the steepening walls on each side, and it was with considerable relief that we reached the gentler prospects at the Loch Leven end.
So strong had been my reaction in Glencoe that I was simply bewildered; I had never been so affected in this way before, or indeed since, and I had no possible explanation for it, even to myself. Had I known of my direct descent from the inhabitants, then such a feeling could not only be explicable, but put down to a stimulated imagination. But the fact is that I did not know.
At some time after the massacre, male survivors crossed to Ireland, possibly the elder ones, and settled there; presumably adopting a phonetic spelling and the Irish 'Me'. One of the definitions of 'kern' is 'a lightly armed Irish foot-soldier' but
28 Just Resting
whether this has anything to do with the altered spelling I don't know. McKern's Printing Works still exists in Limerick, but there has been no McKern there for a hundred years; it was curious to visit there. My father showed me many years ago the indenture papers to the printing trade belonging to the first Australian migrants, the two sons apprenticed to their mother who apparently ran the printshop in Limerick in the 18405; these were the typesetters of the first Australian edition, as I am one of the reprints.
I have always had the impression that my father's family did not entirely approve of his choice of wife, which did not prevent their marriage being a happy success; I can remember being taken to my paternal grandmother's house many times, but Mum seemed never to be with us. Grandma lived in a comfortable house on the North Shore of Sydney at Roseville, an aptly if unimaginatively named suburb, for indeed roses seemed to thrive in that particular place. I remember that the street was not surfaced and a small stream ran where a gutter would be, so that each house had a tiny wooden bridge in front of the gate. Grandma lived in bed, cared for by Pop's three sisters who remained spinsters all their lives. It was a strangely religious Protestant family, rather genteel, and the house had an atmosphere certainly lacking in ours, where beer was drunk and bets placed on unreliable horses over the telephone to an S.P. (starting price) bookmaker (illegal). Although Pop loved and respected his sisters, I feel that he was glad to have escaped the family, with a long tradition of church sidesmen.
Grandma died quite soon, but I still used to visit my aunts. I liked them all; Gertrude had been a member of 'The Grey Battalion' of nursing sisters in the 1914-18 war and had seen much overseas service and had been decorated many times; Muriel was a tiny hunchback, a sweet lady, and Florence was the eldest with a warm straightbacked authority. They all clasped their hands over their stomach and all wore metal-rimmed glasses with little gold chains pinned to their blouses. An uncle I never knew had died on service; Pop and another brother were both unfit, Pop because of colour-blindness, which aborted his attempts to serve on the railways. He had a certificate of which he and I were proud; a diploma for Roots . . . and Branches 29
thirteen branches of engineering from technical college. He started his own domestic and commercial refrigeration maintenance company with a sleeping partner who supplied the money; Pop worked like a dog until his partner walked out, and even harder afterwards until demand declined through technical advancement in construction. Then, late on, he was employed by Triefus, an industrial diamond company who treated him with appreciation and generosity, and he was quite happy. I am grateful to them.

Norman and Alan, my elder brothers, worked with him until he abandoned engineering. My brothers and their children I have lost contact with; I was a black sheep, we never had common interests, and since 1946 I have been a long way away.

--"Just Resting" Leo McKern

That's the sad story. Leo never imagined I guess that we might want more contact. My dad Norman never had time for his little brother which is no surprise, he didn't have much time for his children, either. But that is a story for another time. I'm going to put a bit more about the family up and a few pics and I'd love to hear from any of the family.

A few pics