Cuffe’s Background

Published in Issue 4 (July/August 2014), Volume 22

‘My [Cuffe’s] Nandi recruits after the day’s drill’.

‘My [Cuffe’s] Nandi recruits after the day’s drill’.

James Aloysius Francis Cuffe was born in 1876 at 62 Mountjoy Square, Dublin, the fourth of the eight children of Laurence Cuffe and his wife Jane McCormick. The Cuffes owned and ran the Dublin cattle market. (They are referred to in James Joyce’s Ulysses.) From an early age Cuffe wanted to be a resident magistrate. Ex-army officers with some knowledge of the law were favoured applicants. So after time spent at Mungret and Belvedere Colleges and at a college in Belgium, where he learned to speak French, Cuffe, aged sixteen, went to stay with his Macdonogh cousins in London to be tutored for his exams. He passed his law and army exams and in 1896 was commissioned into the Royal Marine Light Infantry.

In 1900 Cuffe attended the School of Musketry at Hythe, Kent. For the next few years he served with the Channel Squadron based at Portsmouth. In 1905, now a captain, he was seconded to the King’s African Rifles (KAR) in British East Africa, where engineers were building a railway from Mombasa to Uganda. Nandi tribesmen resisted this encroachment on their lands and discovered that the steel rails could be turned into very efficient spears. A punitive expedition was sent against the Nandi, whose resistance ended after their chief seer or laibon was killed, in all probability by Capt. Meinertzhagen, another KAR officer, under a flag of truce. Cuffe suspected foul play on Meinertzhagen’s part, accused him of treachery and resigned from the KAR in protest. Cuffe’s protests at the killing of the laibon and his subsequent resignation led to the insertion of the following note in his service record: ‘As to the motive that led Captain Cuffe to tender his resignation, from the evidence before them, it appears to their Lordships [of the Admiralty] that his action was indiscreet, though well intentioned’.

Cuffe returned to the United Kingdom and spent the next two years with the Atlantic Squadron, aboard HMS Indefatigable, very enjoyably touring the West Indies. In 1911 he spent a year in Germany, learning German.

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