During those boring days of lockdown, I went on a journey. I travelled across centuries and countries to research my family history.

There, I came across so many stories, 500 pages wouldn’t do it justice.

I’ve a great-grandmother whose life story could be Fivemiletown’s. She was from a Protestant farming family, with Northumbrian heritage. In her twenties she married a Catholic man – my great-grandfather.

Then just before the First World War, in 1912, she died in childbirth. Thomas Dagg, a very famous Church of Ireland minister, was at her bedside when she passed away.

Like the period of time she lived in, so much of her life is a mystery. Though her siblings were ordinary farmers, she left money and houses in her will. Yet nobody knows where she’s buried.

I’ve always thought that if I could have half a dozen people from my family as dinner guests, she’d be one of the first choices.

It’d be hard to pick the rest, but if it was this weekend, in the spirit of dignified remembrance, I’d go for a couple of very interesting guests.

They never met one another, but they share a space in history, both in fact and fiction. They’re the two men in uniform in the group picture (with my apologies for it not being the clearest photo ever).

My cousin, the artist Jordan Breen, created this for me – an imagined scene of some real people coming together across history.

That image also features my maternal grandfather, paternal grandmother, a couple of uncles and my maternal grandmother, in the background, as a child looking at her dead mother.

Unlike the others, the two figures in uniform are young men that I never knew about until very recently.

One’s an American, and the other’s an Irishman. They both had involvement in World War Two.

The American pilot is probably the highest flyer in my family’s history. His name is Charles Sharkey and he was born in 1921.

He was the great-grandson of a stonemason named Patrick Sharkey (1815-1901), who lived at Carrickaheenan, Brookeborough.

Somewhere on the Sharkey side, there was a good-looking ancestor. They were a very dark-haired and handsome family. Old pictures testify to that, and the young pilot’s story adds more fuel to the case.

During the war, Charles Sharkey flew planes for the Chinese National Aviation Corporation. That was a force created by the Western Allies to provide supplies to the beleaguered Chinese in their fight against Japan.

But he’d another role at the same time as flying these supply routes. Like I said, the Sharkeys had a streak of good-looking genes.

As such, Charles became the comic-book poster boy for America’s Camel cigarette brand in the 1940s. This meant that he’d appear in comic strips as a kind of chain-smoking Marvel superhero.

But he wasn’t just a pretty face, it seems. He was also said to be a very good pilot, and outside of work, he mixed in celebrity circles.

Reportedly he was very good friends with many politicians and military leaders of the day.

These included the family of Chiang Kai-shek and others associated with the creation of today’s Taiwan, after the Communists defeated the Nationalists in the Chinese Civil War.

Sadly, Charles Sharkey never got to see how that part of history ended. After the war he stayed in Shanghai, with a Russian wife, flying passenger planes in that time of peace.

But life would soon change for all concerned in his story – as China rapidly crashed towards civil war, Charles Sharkey died in an air crash, striking a mountainside in a place called Tsingtao.

He never got to see the creation of Taiwan, or the letters that a young John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts would write on his family’s behalf as his local member in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Sharkeys of Lawrence, Massachusetts never got the body back. They’d never hear from his Russian wife again either.

The last that’s known of her is that she was in Shanghai before it fell, vowing that she’d rather die than live under the Chinese Communists.

History is a brutal thing when told in such stark terms. And it was brutal too for another son of Brookeborough soil, whose family had farmed out the Lisnaskea road for generations.

The second airman in Jordan Breen’s picture has another sad story – perhaps a story that’s a ballad of sadness to rival that of poor young Willie McBride in ‘The Green Fields of France’.

This is a J. Breen of another generation, a boy who was no relative of the Sharkeys, but a cousin of their cousins.

Young Joe Breen didn’t have poster boy looks, and never got the chance to marry a Russian beauty. According to family stories, he was just a kid who loved tractors.

Born in Brookeborough in 1926, Michael Joseph Breen attended the local national school before switching across to the new Saint Mary’s Primary School in 1940.

That’s 1940. Primary school. Yes, 1940 – still in school as the dark shadows of war gathered in Europe.

A couple of years later, his family left Brookeborough, with most of them starting a new life on a farm in Kildare.

One of his older brothers had gone to England though, and joined the Allied Forces, serving in the tropics of Burma (now Myanmar) in the early 1940s.

Meanwhile, some time around late 1943 or early 1944, when he was still 17, Joseph lied about his age and signed up as an Air Gunner in The Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

He joined the 21 OTU (Operational Training Unit) flight squadron which was formed to be part of the night bombing missions against the Germans, and they were based in a town called Moreton-in-Marsh in Gloucestershire.

There, on February 11, 1944, just after his 18th birthday, he died.

That happened in a training accident when he was part of a crew on a Wellington Bomber X3215 that crashed into a tree.

Like Charles Sharkey, he’d died as a pilot without ever fighting. At least, the American poster boy got a chance to see the world.

Though it’s all very tragic, I’m sure it’d make for very interesting dinner table conversations. But what would we talk about?

War? Peace? Remembrance? No.

I think me, my great-grandmother and those two young airmen might just talk about The Impartial Reporter, actually.

That’s because three of us would have read it, and the fourth, the American, might laugh at the idea of ever appearing in such a faraway paper.

Then again is Brookeborough closer to Massachusetts than China?

Paul Breen is @CharltonMen on X (formerly Twitter).