A Family Milestone

Our Family Elder and his pushchair

Our Family Elder and his pushchair (go-car)  in a hay field

Proud parents of their firstborn JDG

Proud parents of their firstborn JDG

Family History is by its nature historic, but of course present day events will too become history as soon as they have passed. With this in mind, I thought it appropriate to mark a family milestone on these pages, in the hope that it may be of interest to the upcoming generations when and if they choose to look us up!

Our grandparents James D Gallagher and Mary O’Friel were married on September 20th 1915 at Edeninfagh Church outside Glenties, County Donegal. (about which, more later) .

Marriage portrait of our grandparents JD Gallagher and Mary Friel

Marriage portrait of our grandparents JD Gallagher and Mary Friel taken in September 1915. Note that she is holding her ‘marriage lines’ as they were known.

They went on to have five children, who were our parents, aunt(s) and uncles. Aunt May was born in 1917, Aunt Eileen in 1919, our father Gerard was born in 1921, Uncle Sean arrived in 1923 and finally Uncle Jim arrived in 1925.

These five children in turn went on to have their own children, which is our generation. As Aunt May was a Religious Sister she did not have any family. Aunt Eileen had three children, our Dad had six ,Uncle Sean had four and Uncle Jim had one. All of that generation have sadly left us. Their 14 children make up the ‘present generation’ of Gallaghers. Unfortunately, Aunt Eileen’s first little daughter died just weeks old in 1946. She was the eldest in our layer of Gallaghers. The next-born was our brother who was born in Newtownforbes, County Longford in February 1947 and therefore he holds the title of ‘Family Elder’, being the eldest grandson and eldest surviving grandchild of JD and Mary. Of the 14 grandchildren only 12 of us survive as our baby brother, the youngest in our family also died in 1959 at the age of 15 months.

Unfortunately our Gallagher Grandparents did not know any of us as they both died very young, some years before any of us were born.  In fact when our grandmother died her own 5 children were aged  5, 7, 9,11 and 13.  So this is a nice time to remember both of them as our current ‘Elder’ who also bears the initials JDG, celebrates a big birthday.

The birthday boy, JDG, watched over by a proud father (and a younger sister) at the back of Figart in 1948

Our grandparents would now be great great grandparents to a number of beautiful little children, as our generation of siblings and first cousins have become grandparents too.

Tramore with a younger sister and brother in 1959

Tramore with a younger sister and brother in 1959

Two family portraits..one pre 1956 the other in 1959

So as we look back a number of generations and look forward at the newer couple of generations, it seems a good time to acknowledge our current family elder! Happy birthday JDG!

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Happy Valentine’s day – from St Valentine, Dublin, Ireland

From the 2013 Archives..for the day that’s in it!

A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND

Red_rose_closeup Red Rose – Symbol of love . Image Wikimedia Commons

The red rose – a great symbol of love! February 14th is  a day when cards and tokens of love  are exchanged by lovers, spouses and partners. It  is almost a rite of passage for young teenagers to buy or make cards in quantity and send them anonymously to the objects  of their desires –  or if all else fails –  to send them to themselves, so as not to feel excluded when the peers arrive with barrowloads  from every male in the area. We could be forgiven for thinking that Valentine’s day is an invention of Hallmark Cards, as tens of millions of Valentine cards are bought each year, but would we be correct? As well as cards, millions of flowers will be handed over as tokens of undying devotion to loved ones to mark the annual Love-day,  the Feast of St Valentine.

But where did the tradition come from? Valentine’s…

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To Australia,with hope – March 1841

Five years after my previous visit I was delighted to be able to shown this exhibition to one of my granddaughters in Fremantle yesterday.

A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND

On March 28th 1841, brothers Henry and Robert de Burgh, aged 24 and 18 respectively, sons of Thomas de Burgh, Dean of Cloyne, Oldtown, County Kildare set sail for the Swan River Colony in Western Australia. Although well-educated, their father had not been able to set them up in business, so they decided to try their luck in the new colony where land was freely available. With the help of their mother who had independent means, they purchased  equipment and goods to enable them to begin farming in the new world.

Taking a mortgage on the brig the ‘James Matthews’, they filled the cargo hold with all manner of  goods that could be sold on arrival in Fremantle on the Western Coast of Australia. Their cargo included 7,000 slates as well as farming implements. They departed from London – on board were three passengers, including the 2 de Burgh brothers, plus a crew of fifteen.

The ‘James Matthews’ under sail. Image Museum of Western…

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Eileen Ann Gallagher 1919 – 1999

On this day, February 7, 1919, which also fell on a Tuesday, our grandparents, James Gallagher and Mary (Nee Friel) welcomed their second child into the world. Eileen Ann was born in Glenswilly, the younger sister of the then 20 month old May Isabella. Their father was at  that time a National School teacher in Templedouglas near Churchill, County Donegal.  Our Aunt Eileen Ann, was named after her maternal grandmother and her mother’s younger sister, both of whom were Annie.

Three Gallagher children with their Aunt Annie and three cousins in Fanad, probably in the late 1920s. Aunt Eileen ('Di') is on the extreme left

Three Gallagher children with their Aunt Annie and three McAteer cousins in Fanad, probably in the late 1920s. Aunt Eileen (‘Di’) is on the extreme left with Aunt May on the extreme right (thesilvervoice)

After Templedouglas our grandfather moved to Ballyheerin in Fanad where he taught for a while and he eventually got a school in Carrigart.

This photo is of our father and Aunt Eileen on the right. Unfortunately we don’t know who the other lady is. This was probably taken in the 1930s

Dad with older sister Eileen in Carrigart

Dad with older sister Eileen (on the right) in Carrigart (and photobombing doggie) (thesilvervoice)

In 1945 ‘Di’  married Hugh Coyle of Milford County Donegal. A gentle giant, lovely  soft-spoken man

The tall dark and handsome Hugh Coyle of Milford and Di were married in 1945

The tall dark and handsome Hugh Coyle of Milford and Di were married in 1945.(thesilvervoice)

Hugh and Eileen began married life in her family home in Carrigart. Their first child arrived in 1946. Sadly little baby Mary Patricia died when only a few months old, probably as a result of a colon blockage. For all of her life, Di kept a little piece of lace or gown that was associated with their little daughter. Interestingly her death was never registered (nor indeed was the death of our brother who also died as a child in 1959).  She is buried alongside our grandfather, our brother and our parents in Carrigart.  Hugh and Eileen eventually moved to Letterkenny and Derry before finally settling in Glasgow with their other two children.

Aunt Eileen was always  known to us as ‘Di’ as we could not pronounce her name when we were younger. She was also my godmother. This was done by proxy as she was not actually present at my christening. Hers was always the first  birthday card to arrive and we kept up frequent correspondence throughout her life. Her letters and cards remain among my most treasured possessions. Every summer she and her family would travel back home to Carrigart for the annual holidays on the ‘Glasgow Fare’.  How we loved to see them descend from the Swilly Bus! She would bring tins of roasted peanuts and Scottish oat cakes and Petticoat Tail shortbread and beautiful clothes from Marks and Spencer and all sorts of treasures that seemed extraordinary to us who lived in the country. Exciting outings to Tramore and Downings were guaranteed when she was in town. And how she cried when it was time to leave again and head by bus and boat back to Glasgow!

When I was aged  8 our father and I headed into Derry and caught the boat to Glasgow for a visit. I remember the captain giving me a Goldgrain biscuit that was warm to the touch because of the heat in his cabin; I remember being shown a submarine that sailed alongside us as we headed out of Lough Foyle; I remember being down in the very smelly hold of the ship with Dad and a man named Joe, a friend of my father, who was responsible for the well-being of the cattle who were being exported to Scotland and I remember getting locked into the lady’s toilet as I could not open the door and had to be rescued! Dad was not a bit pleased about that!

Pollokshaws Road with tenement flats

Pollokshaws Road with tenement flats

Glasgow was amazing to 8-year-old eyes with its (relatively) tall beautiful warm sandstone buildings. How I loved the sound of the  clanging bells of trams as they swung around the corner of Eglinton Street!  It was here that Di introduced me to my very first fish supper in a great fish and chip shop on the corner of Devon Street. We walked hand in hand in the fabulously named Sauchiehall Street and browsed the market stalls in the Barras in The Gorbals where she bought me a toothbrush. Hugh, Dad, my older cousin and I paid a cultural visit to the Art Gallery in Kelvingrove where we youngsters were reduced to uncontrollable tittering as only 8 and 9 years olds can be, at the first time ever sight of nudes!

Di at paternal family home in Mulnamina Glenties in the 1960s with our brother Damian.

Di at paternal family home in Mulnamina Glenties in the 1960s with our brother Damian. (thesilvervoice)

The thing that struck me most in later years was how hard it must have been for emigrants to these big cities to leave the rugged coastline and beautiful sandy beaches, the wide open fields edged with scented  hawthorn and quiet country lanes for clanging trams, dark spiral staircases leading to flats one on top of another in the tenements of large industrial cities, with no private open spaces, only a shared courtyard in which to hang clothes to dry or watch children play. How hard must it have been to leave the grave of a little daughter behind in windswept Donegal? Although  tenements provided very high density housing, the flats or apartments were very spacious inside with large high-ceiling rooms. Di used always laugh at a by-law that dictated that women could not clean the windows of these buildings, presumably in case they fell out onto the street below! But it was not all gloom and doom. ‘Up the stairs’ lived Bridget Connor (nee Coll)  from Carrick in Carrigart, who was a cousin of Hugh’s. At every turn were Donegal people who had also taken the boat in search of better times. I remember Di telling me that you could always recognize Fanad men by the clothes they wore – a brown suit with particularly wide trouser legs! Still, it was a hard life. On Mondays Di loaded up her little pram with washing and headed out to the washouse to do the weekly family laundry as the flat did not have any clothes washing facilities. The notion of a wash house was strange to me as were other terms such as ‘close’ for the common entrance to a number of flats, and ‘the dunny’ for the basement at the bottom of the spiral staircase that led to the communal courtyard.

Di was a bit of a worrier but she had a lovely sense of humour and a wicked laugh. She was deeply religious, a fact that sustained her when Hugh died suddenly in the 1960s. She loved tweed and every year made sure to buy herself a skirt length of tweed when she came back to Donegal, to keep her warm and cosy during Scottish winters. She loved nice china and had a lovely collection of beautifully embroidered tablecloths. Pride of place was held by a blue willow pattern tablecloth given her by Mrs McCloskey of Carrigart  on the occasion of her marriage in 1945. I often wonder whether this much treasured cloth has survived all these years. It was either discarded or given to charity after her death.

She died in December 1999. She and I had a very special relationship in spite of the distances between us. She above anyone else understood the challenging relationship between my mother and myself and made a huge difference to my life.  She herself lived a gentle if challenging and often lonely life yet she never had a negative word to say about anyone.

We remember and celebrate her arrival into the world 98 years ago on this very day. The world is a better place for her having been here.

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Saint Brigid and Imbolg

Another look back at the Irish tradition of St. Brigid’s Day

A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND

Saint_Brigid's_cross Saint Brigid’s Cross made from fresh rushes. Image Wikimedia Commons

On 1 February each year, Ireland celebrates the feast of ‘Mary of the Gael‘, St Brigid (Also pronounced Breege  or Bríd.) Most people of my generation will recall going to school on the  day before St Brigid’s day armed with lots of rushes that had been carefully pulled from their sheaths. There we would fold and turn the soft green stems until we had a swastika shaped St Brigid’s Cross.  The ends would be tied, the rough edges straightened up and cut and then we had it! A really simple pleasure that was very easy for even the youngest child. The Cross was then brought home and placed over the front door (on the inside) or behind a picture,  and there over the coming year it would gradually dry out and turn a straw colour as it acted as a talisman to protect the house and all those…

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“They froze to death, their hands frozen onto the oars”

Fanad Head Lighthouse guarding the entrance to Lough Swilly, County Donegal, Ireland. (Thesilvervoice).

Fanad Head Lighthouse guarding the entrance to Lough Swilly, County Donegal, Ireland. (Thesilvervoice).

 

Fanad Head lighthouse features regularly on social media because of its splendid location. Whilst it is a major tourist attraction, it has also featured in some dreadful tragedies over the years. One such was the loss of the Laurentic on this day in 1917.

The Laurentic (Wikipedia commons) The Laurentic was an ocean-going liner of the White Star Line and,like their other world famous ship the Titanic, was built at Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Launched in 1908 she was considered a ‘magnificent ship’ at 570 feet long and she could ‘do’ speed! She plied the Atlantic operating a regular service between Liverpool and Canada, sometimes calling in New York. In August  1914 before the declaration of World War 1, she was filled with refugees fleeing the European situation. In September of that year she was commissioned as a troop carrier for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and subsequently saw service in Sierra Leone, Hong Kong and Singapore.

On 23 January 1917 she departed Liverpool for Halifax, Nova Scotia, with about 479 people on board. In addition she was carrying a cargo of 3,211 gold bars for the purpose of purchasing munitions in USA and Canada for the war effort.

On 25 January she made an unscheduled stop in Lough Swilly at Buncrana  to disembark a number of men who had contracted Yellow Fever and needed medical attention. While there, it was reported that the officers went ashore to enjoy a meal at the Lough Swilly Hotel and they were all back on board again by about 5 pm to set sail across the Atlantic. They headed out of Lough Swilly and no doubt Fanad Head lighthouse was one of the last things they saw. The weather was bitterly cold at -13c (9f) with blizzard conditions.

Less than an hour after departing Buncrana, the Laurentic struck two German mines in quick succession. The engine room was disabled, power and pumps were rendered useless and the ship listed. Many were killed. In pitch darkness the life boats were launched with some difficulty due to the list. The Laurentic quickly sank in 40 metres of water. Many had been injured as a result of the blasts and those who made the lifeboats rowed for Fanad Head. Newspaper reports stated that many were found “frozen to death in the lifeboats, hands frozen onto oars”.  Buncrana’s Lough Swilly Hotel became a temporary morgue, but many bodies continued to be washed ashore for a number of weeks.

71 were interred at St. Maura’s Graveyard in Fahan, 2 at Cockhill in Buncrana, 1 in Arklow, 1 in Orkney and Memorials to those who died are at various locations including Plymouth in Devon, Chatham in Kent. The wreck that lies in 40 metres of water off Fanad Head is an official War grave site.

And what of the 3,211  gold bars? Between 1917 and 1924 the Royal Navy recovered all but 25 of them. In 1934, 3 more were discovered, so 22 remain undiscovered.

At Downings  pier in north Donegal, near my home village, is one of the guns from the Laurentic, recovered by the Downings Diving  team and presented to them by the owners of the wreck.

A gun recovered from the wreck of the Laurentic. Sited at Downings Pier in County Donegal.

A gun recovered from the wreck of the Laurentic, sited  at Downings Pier in County Donegal. (Thesilvervoice)

Next to the gun is a handsome memorial to the 354 men who lost their lives on that bitterly  cold January evening, 100 years ago this very evening.

 

2013-05-19-12-53-11A memorial cannot portray the true horror that unfolded on that January evening, just off Fanad Head. But next time I pass it by, I will recall those who “froze to death, their hands frozen onto the oars”.

References

http://www.irishshipwrecks.com/shipwrecks.php?wreck_ref=128

Wikipedia.

http://www.irishfreemasonry.com/index.php?p=1_112_HMS-Laurentic

List of burial/ memorial sites:

http://irishfreemasonry.com/list%20of%20burial%20sites.pdf

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Forgotten Irish Booklaunch, Hodges Figgis, 26th January

All are welcome to the official launch of the excellent new book that reveals the personal lives of Irish emigrants to the United States in the 19th century and the families they left behind in Ireland.

Irish in the American Civil War

I am delighted to announce that the official Irish launch of The Forgotten Irish: Irish Emigrant Experiences in America will take place in Ireland’s oldest bookshop, Hodges Figgisof Dublin, on Thursday next 26th January at 6pm. The publication will be officially launched by Dr. Myles Dungan of the RTE History Show, who has himself been a trailblazer in popularising the experiences of the Irish in America. This book, which tells the stories of 35 different 19th century Irish emigrant families, has been a particular labour of love for me. Each story is founded on information contained within the Widows and Dependent Pension Files of Civil War soldiers, which I believe is the greatest repository of social information on the experiences of 19th century Irish emigrant families that exists anywhere in the world. The publication seeks to follow some of these families in both Ireland and America in the…

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