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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White Star Line’s ‘First Titanic’: RMS Tayleur

173 years ago on January 19, the RMS Tayleur, White Star Lines biggest fastest ship, departed Liverpool on her maiden voyage that was to end in disaster days later. From the archives.

A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND

The Tayleur. Sank on her maiden voyage January 1854

In the 1850s the Australian Gold Rush was in full swing with thousands clamouring for passage. From 1852 to 1857, 226,000 left Britain to seek their fortune – 60,000 of whom were Irish. It is estimated that in a single month in 1853, 32,000 people departed Liverpool for Australia’s gold fields. Large, fast ships therefore were urgently needed to meet demand on this route.

On October 4, 1853  thousands cheered as a new iron hulled ship slipped from her dry dock into the water for  the first  time, in Warrington on the River Mersey. The ship was named for the Tayleur family who owned the iron foundry that had previously built paddle steamers. (In the 1820s the Tayleur iron foundry in Warrington, England had produced sections for Telford’s famous Menai Straits Bridge, well known to tens of thousands of Irish emigrants travelling onwards from Holyhead in Anglesey…

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‘Doing a line’ 1940s style: A family marriage

Our parents, Berard and Maude Gallagher holidaying in the Dingle Peninsula c 1980s with their cocker spaniel Kerry

Our parents, Gerard and Maude Gallagher holidaying in the Dingle Peninsula c 1985 with their cocker spaniel, Kerry

Back in the day when a ‘joint’ was a point in the body where bones met and ‘getting stoned’ was something that happened to bad people in the Bible, our parents, like hundreds of other young couples, ‘did a line’. Even now, this expression is in use by older folk in rural Ireland to describe a couple who are ‘seeing’ each other or dating. I was reminded of the expression on a recent trip to Donegal when someone asked me ‘Didn’t you do a line with ‘so and so’?’ And it had nothing at all to do with the modern drug/ cocaine notion of ‘ doing a line’

Our father, Daniel Gerard Gallagher (actually Gerald on his birth certificate) lived in Carrigart County Donegal for most of his life. He had been appointed Postmaster in the local Post Office in the village after the unexpected death of our grandfather James D. Gallagher in November 1944. Dad, at the age of  22, became the youngest Postmaster in Ireland.

From 1924 to 1984 in Ireland, Post Office, Telephone and Telegraph services were provided by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. In these days the local post office operated the telephone system. Incoming and outgoing calls were connected, outgoing and incoming telegrams were transcribed between telephone exchanges, down to local level. Telegrams were usually either forwarding money or bringing awful news to families, such as ‘John died today’.   A small rural village had a limited number of subscribers, yet a full national and international service was provided to them via the local post office.

Even into the mid 1960s there were very few telephone subscribers in our village. In my memory in the 1960s, the telephone numbers ranged from Carrigart 1 only up to Carrigart 14. Carrigart 1 was the Post Office, Carrigart 2 was the Garda barracks, Carrigart 3, Lady Leitrim, 4 was the North Star Hotel, 5 was Charlie Mc Kemeys,Potato exporter, 6 was the Carrigart Hotel, 7 was Andy Speers Drapery Shop,  8 was Joe Gallagher of Umlagh, 9 was Griffins Drapery shop, (very posh with an extension to the house at Roy View,) 10 was the Chemist Miss Green. I think 11 was Mandy Gallagher, 12 Foxes Bar in Glen and 13 McIlhargeys Glen Post Office. 14 was the Parish Priest. And that was it. Telephones were a luxury yet were an important part of the fabric of social life.

Village telephone exchanges were connected to a main telephone exchange by means of telephone lines, in the form of wires and poles, much indeed as can still be seen today in many places, although wires have been replaced by thicker cables.  All calls from local numbers to anyplace beyond the surrounding villages had to be routed through the local post office, and onwards manually to the head telephone exchange in Letterkenny, and vice versa for incoming calls. These were pre direct dialling days!

Our mother, Sybil Maude Clinton hailed from Newtownforbes, County Longford where her parents had lived at the local railway station for a number of years. Her father, Christopher Robert Clinton, was Station Master there. Mum had left home at an early age to be trained as a telegraphist, and this work brought her eventually to the telephone exchange in Letterkenny Head Post Office where she worked as a telephonist.

And so these two got to know one another literally ‘on the line’ when connecting incoming and outgoing telephone calls and  transmitting telegram messages . There was always time for a friendly chat when the business had been done and so their friendship developed across the telephone lines.

Our Dad, Gerard Gallagher with his sister Eileen to the right as viewed and A.N.Other at the Minister's Gates c, 1940-ish

Our Dad, Gerard Gallagher with his sister Eileen to the right as viewed and A.N.Other at the Minister’s Gates Carrigart, 1940-ish. And the photobombing doggie!

Our mother was quite glamorous . This photo was taken on Whit  Sunday in 1944. Our father owned this photograph, and we can see that he had her marked with an ‘x’  to let others take a look  at her!

Mum and another lady at Port na Blagh Dunfanaghy on Whit Sunday 1944.

Mum and another lady at Port na Blagh Dunfanaghy on Whit Sunday 1944.

The romance blossomed across the telephone lines for a number of years. Dad was  a very shy man, while Mum was much more confident. Dad, for all of their lives together remained in total awe of our mother. I remember him often telling us that he once cycled all the way from Carrigart to Letterkenny to meet her as a surprise. This was a distance of some 20 miles with some serious hills to overcome on the way to Milford, through Ramelton and onward up to Letterkenny. No mean feat for a man on a high nelly pushbike!  And I hope the weather was fine! He added ruefully that as he ascended the hill into Main Street in Letterkenny, he got ‘cold feet’ and turned round and pedalled the 20 miles back to Carrigart without seeing her. I often think on this very touching story and how it must have felt for him!

The happy couple, on this day 71 years ago

The happy couple, on this day 71 years ago

True love prevailed however, and on a cold Wednesday on January 16, 1946 they presented  themselves at St Andrew’s Church, Westland Row,Dublin to be married. Our mother was days short of her 28th birthday and our father had celebrated his 24th birthday weeks earlier. It is not clear why they chose to travel to Dublin for the marriage. Why didn’t they follow tradition and marry in the bride’s local church? When I asked him Dad said that his father had not been long dead and that it was ‘the way’ that people would marry away from their home place. His father had died in 1944, some 14 months  earlier, so it is unlikely that this was the reason. He also often said that his first cousin Fr Art Friel, a catholic priest, was scheduled to carry out the ceremony in Dublin,  but that due to bad weather he was unable to get off Tory Island to get to the ceremony.

The bridal party with the bride, groom, best man Sean Gallagher, brother of the  groom and bridesmaid Eva, sister of the bride.

Bride, groom, bridesmaid and best man

Bride, groom, bridesmaid and best man

In any event it appears to have been a lovely occasion  as  can be seen from the photographs on the wedding day.

Wedding party

Wedding party at the wedding breakfast at Wynn’s Hotel in Dublin

In attendance were, front row, left to right

Our Uncle Sean Gallagher, Best man;  Dad the delighted groom; Mum the happy Bride; Bridesmaid, Sister of the bride, our Aunt Eva; brother of the bride, our Uncle Tom with Aunt Eva’s small son, Micheal Henry in his lap.

Back Row, left to right:

Phelim Henry, husband to Aunt Eva, the bridesmaid; Uncle Bobby, brother of the bride; Uncle Jim, brother of the groom; Kathleen Henry, sister in law of the bridesmaid; Uncle Kevin, brother of the bride; our grandmother, Jane Clinton, mother of the bride and her father, our grandfather, Christopher Robert  Clinton.

We are indeed fortunate to have these photographs. There are many questions about why they chose to wed in Dublin, a long distance from either of the home places in Longford or Donegal. What we do know is that our mother, for all of her life loved chrysanthemums and it’s lovely to see that she had them on her wedding day! We can almost smell their beautiful fragrance! And what beautiful outfits for a post War wedding…what colours did the bride and bridesmaids wear? We will now never know. We do however hope that they enjoyed their beautiful two tier wedding cake!

The honeymoon was spent in County Wicklow and they then returned to live most of their married lives in Carrigart County Donegal.

We remember them especially today, on the 71st anniversary of their happy day.

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Schools Folklore Collection – A treasure trove for family historians?

Between 1937 and 1939, the Irish Folklore Commission set up a scheme in which over 100,000 schoolchildren collected local lore and history from older generations in their locality. Most of the topics are to do with local history, folktales, legends, proverbs, songs, customs and beliefs, games and pastimes, crafts and local monuments. These stories were collated by the local National School teachers in 5,000 schools across all 26 counties in what was then the Irish Free State. This material forms part of one of the largest Folklore Collections in the world, which is in the care of University College Dublin. The Schools Collection is now being digitized by Dúchas.ie and is being rolled out online. Although not all of it has been transcribed, it is searchable by place, family name, school, topic. Many of the entries are in Irish. (I hope that these can be translated in due course so that overseas researchers may reach the wealth of information on the heritage, culture and way of life in the parishes of their ancestors.)

I spend many hours idly browsing through this collection and recently was totally astonished to discover some members of our own family. Our uncle had gathered folklore and  his informants were none other than his parents, our maternal grandparents!

This was their story on Local Marriage Customs

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The original entry in the Dúchas.ie collection

Most marriages take place from Christmas to the beginning of Lent, which time is called Shrove. June was thought a lucky month for marrying in, and May, July and August were thought unlucky. Friday, Saturday and the 28th December were thought to be unlucky days.

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Wren Boys An Irish Christmas Tradition

On December 26, Irish have celebrated ‘Wren Day’ for generations past. A look again at this post.

A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND

A Troupe of Wren Boys in Ireland (Image Creative Commons) A Troupe of Wren Boys in Ireland (Image Creative Commons)

When I first came to live in Limerick some 30 years ago, I was totally astonished to have dozens of musicians and dancers arriving into my house throughout  St Stephen’s Day, 26 December. From about 10 am onwards, they arrived. The earliest were  small groups of local children with their musical instruments, often as young as 5 or 6 years of age. The great cultural network of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, active across much of Ireland, ensures that there are musicians in abundance of all ages to take part in events. In parts of Ireland, St Stephen’s Day,or Lá Fhéile Stiofán in Irish, is known as ‘Lá an Dreoilín’, meaning the Day of the Wren or Wren’s Day. Announcing their arrival by loudly playing the bodhran (an Irish drum) as they make their way towards the door, and with barely enough time to shut the startled…

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Remembering Gaga Clinton

It was a Saturday evening in December when the phone rang. I went downstairs to answer it. Someone wanted to speak to our mother. I ran up to tell her and she returned from the phone crying. The call was to tell her that her father was ill. An hour or so later I answered the phone again. This time whoever it was said that our Gaga had died. I ran to get our mother and she was deeply upset. It transpired that Gaga had in fact dropped dead in his kitchen and the first call saying he was ill was to soften the blow for her. She needed the blow softened as just over five months earlier our 15 month old baby brother had been accidentally killed. A lot of sorrow for any mother and daughter to deal with in a short period of time. The date was Saturday December 19th 1959.

My last post here was on the occasion of the anniversary of the death of our paternal grandfather, James D. Gallagher. We never knew him as he died before any of his grandchildren were born, but we did know our maternal grandfather Christopher Robert Clinton. He was ‘Gaga’ to all of his 17 grandchildren (although I cannot be sure that all of them were born while he was alive). It is nice to have special memories of him, although the younger grandchildren do not have any. Our sister for example was aged 3 when he died and does not remember him at all.

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Christopher Robert Clinton at Newtownforbes Railway Station c.1958

On Christmas mornings in the early 1950s, we used to leave Carrigart in County Donegal after breakfast and head for Newtownforbes in County Longford to spend time with our grandparents. This journey of at least 3 hours on modern roads and in modern cars would likely have taken 5 hours or more in our little Ford Prefect. One of my earliest and happiest memories is of sitting in the back of the car next to my older brother, with my treasured hexagonal concertina, that had been dropped off Santa’s sleigh only hours earlier. It had three buttons (and three notes!) and I vividly recall grown-ups pleading with me to ‘give it a rest’, but I am certain that I proudly played it for every mile of that long journey to Nana and Gaga’s house!

In later years, when the family had become too big for long journeys to Longford on Christmas mornings, we each received a Christmas card written by Gaga, individually addressed and stamped, and containing a ten-shilling note. He had beautiful clear and recognizable handwriting. The cards duly arrived on Friday December 18th 1959 as they had done for some years before, and were received with great excitement. Little did we know that these would be the last we would ever receive from him, as the next news of him was about his death the following day. These treasured cards were carefully put away and although I am not sure where my one is, I do have the one written to our parents, and our sister still has hers.

Gaga was a great man for children and we loved to visit. He was Station Master in Newtownforbes, so we had wonderful times when we went there. Both my older brother and myself were born in this house, so it was home from home to us. We went for walks along the railway line with him and he would lift us up and press our ears against the telegraph poles to hear the wind singing in the telegraph lines; he would let us ‘issue tickets’ in the ticket office, play hide and seek in the wooden floored waiting room and let us make pretend telephone calls on the old wall mounted phone. He loved gardening and would often be found out there in his garden tending flowers and vegetables with his big dog Rex, by his side.

old-phone

Old wall mounted phone

Our Gaga, Christopher Robert Clinton, was born in Altamount Street in Westport County Mayo to John Clinton, Railway Porter and Amelia Gertrude Judge on February 2, 1889.

He died on December 19 1959 at the age of 70, just days after sending out his Christmas cards. I often wish that my own children and grandchildren had met him. He is remembered with much love, particularly at this time every year.

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Remembering our grandfather

Our grandfather James Gallagher c 1944

Our grandfather James Gallagher September 1944

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