WINTER 2014 / VOL. 14 ISSUE 1
Mattie’s Musings

From Carlow to Graceland

By Mattie Lennon

William Presley came from Hacketstown,
At the foot of Eagle Hill.
The stones from his house
You’ll see them in the field there still.
I’ll tell you the story,
So Listen if you can,
And I will tell you how Elvis
Became a Carlow man.
© Richie Kavanagh.

People from Co. Carlow are famous worldwide: Cardinal Francis Moran, William Dargan, Myles Keogh and John Tyndall. But how much do you hear about William Presley?

Everybody is familiar with songs by and about Elvis Presley. There’s Richie Kavanagh’s, How Elvis Became a Carlow Man and Richard Thompson’s Galway to Graceland. And I’ll bet you often gave an off-key rendition of Wooden Heart, while gyrating and throwing shapes with your pelvic area at 2 a.m. in the morning. But how much did you know about, what is the most important aspect of man or beast – his pedigree? In my neck of the woods, you’d often hear it said of a person, "If he was a greyhound pup, I wouldn’t buy him."

Elvis had a good solid Irish pedigree. His ancestors came from Hacketstown, Co. Carlow. (One journalist suggested that Elvis should have been singing Green Suede Shoes.)

William Presley, because of a land dispute in 1775, was forced to flee from Hacketstown.

William Presley lived in Hacketstown and emigrated to the States circa 1775. An Australian claims that Elvis great-great-great grandfather was German and that Elvis Irish connection might be a Mansell who also emigrated to the U.S. at the same time, meaning that Elvis Scottish-Irish roots would be on the mother's side. But Carlow historian Michael Purcell has disproved that and has some strong documentation to back up his claim

, " . . . a band of yeomen and many other evil disposed persons did riotously, routously and unlawfully make an assault and did beat, wound and ill treat him so that his life was greatly despaired of.’

The facts, printed on faded parchment records, show that the attack took place with swords and sticks and the attackers were of the Morris, Wilson and Maher families. "William sought the protection of the King in Carlow," explained Michael Purcell.

20th August 1775.

Andrew Morris of Micilannashea in the County of Wicklow, yeoman, Francis Morris of Whiterock in the County of Wicklow, yeoman, Samuel Morris of Crossin in the County of Wicklow, yeoman, Thomas Morris late of Hacketstown in the County of Carlow, yeoman, William Wilson and Thomas Mathers both late of Hacketstown, Carlow, yeomen, with many other evil disposed Persons and Disturbers of the Peace of our said Lord the King, whose Names the Jurors aforesaid are ignorant of, on the seventeenth Day of August in the fifteenth Year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the Third, by the Grace of God of Great-Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, and so forth, with Force and Arms, that is to say , with Swords, Sticks, and so forth at Hacketstown in the said County of Carlow did riotously, routously and unlawfully assemble and associate themselves together, and the said Persons being then and there so riotously, routously and unlawfully assembled and associated, in and upon one William Presley a true and faithful subject of our Lord the King in the peace of God and of our said Lord the King then and there being did make an Assault and him then and there did beat wound and ill treat so that his life was greatly despaired of and other wrongs to him then and there did Contrary to the peace of our said Lord the King his Crown and Dignity.

And, according to Michael, William could just as easily have been one of our own, A Wicklow man; Michael says, " . . . despite his address being in both Wicklow and Carlow, when push came to shove he considered himself a true Carlovian."

Fast forward to 1913 when William’s great-great grandson, Jessie, married Minnie May. Their son, Vernon, married Gladys Love Smith in 1933 and Elvis Aaron Presley was born in January, 1935. Of course if William hadn’t emigrated, we’d probably have Diarmuid O’Leary, Elvis and the Bards."

Michael Purcell’s findings have been confirmed by eminent historians Turtle Bunbury and Ivor Casey, author of Elvis in Ireland. I contacted Kilkenny man, Myles Kavanagh, who has devoted his life to the King and wears an Elvis costume every day. Myles and a few others, including Cork singer/entertainer David McCarthy, are mounting a campaign to have a plaque erected in Hacketstown to honor "the King."

This plaque would be erected in a public place where anyone could view it free of charge. A man in the Irish midlands has offered to donate a statue of Elvis and Carlow Councilor, Denis Foley told me that he is 100% behind the project. When David McCarthy wrote to Graceland to ask if there were any objections, let’s just say his letter wasn’t returned marked Return to Sender.


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