Boy George learns tragic story of relative’s involvement in Ireland’s fight for independence

Boy George on the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are?

A distant relative of 1980s music icon Boy George was a soldier in the Irish War of Independence.

The singer, whose real name is George O’Dowd, grew up in London in an Irish family and was already aware of his Irish heritage.

However, when he appeared on the BBC series Who Do You Think You Are?, he traced his Irish ancestry on his mother’s side further and learned a number of tragic stories, including one relative who was executed for during the War of Independence.

Boy George on the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are?

One of the key characters looked at in the episode was a man called Thomas Bryan, an early recruit of the Irish Republican Army. Bryan was married to Annie Glynn, who was George’s great-aunt.

Bryan was involved in the War of Independence and took part in an attempted ambush on the Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve in Drumcondra, Dublin.

Annie Glynn was pregnant when Bryan was arrested. Bryan was executed on March 14th, 1921 for his role in the ambush and tragically the couple’s baby died just four days later.

George said: “It’s amazing to think my great-aunt Annie marries Thomas Bryan and, within four months, he’s arrested and he’s in prison. But I imagine that she knew what she was getting involved in. Maybe that’s what attracted her to Thomas?”

Bryan had written a letter to Glynn’s father stating that he was willing to die for his country but added that he knew that women suffered the most.

He and his group became known as the ‘Forgotten Ten’ as they were buried in unmarked graves.

George was stunned by the story and said: “How much more tragedy can you put into a story? It’s sadder than even I could have imagined. Could it get any worse?”

Sadly, as Glynn’s story continued it didn’t get a lot better. The Irish Times reveal that Bryan’s military pension file described a life of poverty for his wife.

An excerpt from the file said that Glynn was a ‘frail and delicate-looking woman who appears to be in poor circumstances’. She died nine years after her husband.

George was taken on a tour of the prison where Bryan was locked up and also saw the gallows where he had been killed.

He commented: “It’s macabre theatre.”

George had mixed emotions after hearing such revelations. On the one hand he was saddened by the tragic stories he had heard.

However, he also felt a sense of pride that his relatives had been such a vivid part of one of the most important periods in Irish history.

He said: “It’s like an Irish lament. It’s like a really sad song… I’ve proved beyond any questionable doubt that I’m part of Irish history. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it.”

Take a look at the video below.

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Written by Michael Kehoe @michaelcalling