Paddy Vaughan, a local legend.

Today March 17, is St Patrick’s  Day in Ireland. Many male children born on this day have Patrick as their Christian name. One of those, living in the village that I call home in the north of County Donegal, will mark his 87th birthday today on 17 March 2018.

He is not known as Patrick at all, but as Paddy. Not only Paddy, but for many, many years of my life, he was ‘Young’ Paddy as his father was also Paddy, or ‘Old’  Paddy. ‘Old’ Paddy –  or to be more accurate ‘Ould’ Paddy in the Donegal pronunciation – died not long before Christmas in 1967 and I am not sure when ‘Young’ Paddy became known as simply ‘Paddy’ Vaughan.

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10 year old Paddy


Paddy was well known for his ‘tall tales’, many of which were totally outrageous, some of which were totally unbelievable and all of which were hilariously funny. He had a most astonishing imagination. He took no prisoners and spared no one when it came to the ‘main characters’ in these wild imaginings.

Vaughans were our next door neighbours in Carrigart, and in the way of it in small villages, Paddy was almost a member of our family. He often came with us on Sundays to visit our father’s extended network of aunts and cousins in Fanad.  With his trademark cap and ever present pipe, he would drive Pat Gallagher’s big Dodge into which we would pile to go to Fanad, or for an annual trip to the funfair and the Helter Skelter at Portrush. When our aunt came to Ireland for the first time in 18 years in the 1950s, Paddy drove us all the way from Carrigart to meet her in Athlone. Quite a trip back then.


Paddy with our father and two of my brothers on a Sunday outing to Fanad. 1965

Our father thought the world of Paddy and they seem to have spent a lot of their time laughing and enjoying each others company. For years Paddy took to the street when the wind got high. Strong wind was a feature of life in north Donegal as gales were common especially in winter. Paddy would don his crash helmet and leave the house at the first sound of strong wind. He  was fearful of the chimney being blown off the house so felt it was safer to be outside. It was a wonder that he was never struck by flying slates!

Paddy always thought outside the box. Our brother Noel and his buddies, Andrew Speer and John Boylan, got lost when they were tiny wee boys of three or four. They had been missing a few hours when word came that they were sighted crossing the lee and headed for the sandy hills. The search moved there with everyone spread out calling their names. I can still see Paddy Vaughan way to my left on his big bicycle. Nobody would think of riding a bicycle on grass,through the impossible terrain of sand dunes and rabbit holes, but Paddy did. And he found the three little strays on the Rosapenna golf links, about to make their way to the shore at Tramore. There’s no doubt that the outcome could have been much worse but Paddy was the hero of the hour.

In September last I spent some time with Paddy. He is a fountain of knowledge and has the most amazing capacity for remembering details and people and events. I was absolutely gobsmacked when he said that he was there in the same room when our grandfather became ill. He said that our grandfather, J.D. Gallagher, was sitting next to the fire when he suddenly got sick. A short time later he would be dead, having contracted typhoid fever. Paddy said that two brothers from Carrick died of typhoid at about the same time.  Paddy would have been a teenager then but would have known our grandfather quite well as he taught him at school. J.D. spent a lot of time in Vaughan’s house too as he collected stories from Paddy’s grandmother, as can be seen here.

Paddy is now enjoying life as one of the village elders and his memory is legendary. We wish him the happiest of birthdays, with many more to come and the good health to enjoy them.




Filed under Ireland

Postcards from Limerick City – Around Pery Square

On a recent flying visit to Limerick to attend an event in the Limerick Literary Festival, I enjoyed a short but fascinating walk from the car park to the venue at the City Art Gallery in Pery Square.

Daniel O’Connell, (1775-1847), born in County Kerry, was a barrister and a politician who  campaigned for Catholic Emancipation. Many main thoroughfares in Ireland are named after him, for example in Dublin, Ennis Co. Clare, Sligo and of course Limerick. The O’Connell Monument in Limerick dominates the area known as The Crescent, where it rises from a water feature. (Beloved of pranksters who like to add washing up liquid from time to time to create copious quantities of suds). This figure of Daniel O ‘Connell was erected in 1857 and was the first outdoor public statue of the Irish hero.

I walked along Hartstonge Street and have often wondered how it got the name. Well it seems that Sir Henry Hartstonge, 3rd Baronet (1725-1787) was a Member of the Irish Parliament for Limerick County. He was born in Bruff, Co Limerick and married into the Pery family.

One of the most impressive buildings in Hartstonge Street is The Leamy School, built between 1841 and 1845 from a fund set up by Willam Leamy as can be seen on the plaque below. The bequest was for the education of poor Protestant boys but by 1880 it had become a National School for Catholic boys.

The school closed in 1953. Frank McCourt, (1930-2009) the Irish-American writer, attended this school for a short time in the 1940s. Frank McCourt won a Pullitzer Prize for his book, Angela’s Ashes a memoir of his early life, part of which was spent in Limerick. The Frank McCourt Museum is housed in this building, where there is a bust of him near the entrance.


The old school with the words ‘National School’ in Irish in Gaelic script above the entrance.

Next to the school is a tall building known as Oznam House which is occupied by the Charity, the St. Vincent de Paul Society. This was once the home of Joseph O’Mara (1864-1927) a tenor of international fame who was granted the freedom of the city in 1908.


Of later vintage, built c.1920, is the Mechanics Institute, with various trade plaques on the buidling.


On the opposite side of the street, in a totally different style, is the former Aras Fhianna Fáil building dating from c. 1900 with more old Gaelic script – the Irish words for the Fianna Fail Centre.


And so we arrive in Pery Square, so named after the politician Edmund Sexton Pery. In fact it doesn’t seem to be a square at all, but it does have some fine buildings. The terrace of six Georgian houses, known as the Pery Square Tontine* Buildings, was constructed  c.1835 – 1838 and is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in Ireland. Four of the houses have entrances at the front, while Numbers 1 and 6 have entrances at the gable ends of the terrace.

Tontine Buildings Pery Square Limerick

Georgian buildings are so very recognizable by their magnificent front doors.

An exquisite Georgian door

The house with the red door is Number 2 Pery Square which was lovingly restored. The house and gardens were to become a Georgian Museum. Unfortunately it is only used for special events, but it would be nice to think that tourists could access this wonderful part of Limerick heritage more freely at some point in the future.

Restored No. 2 Pery Square 

Number 2, restored by Limerick Civic Trust.

Plaque Georgian House and Garden

This writer has to declare an interest as in 1998 a certain young student archaeologist was asked to undertake an exploration of the gardens and spent many happy weeks discovering paths and exploring a privy on the site. As so often happens, his name in the literature is phonetic rather than accurate, but we know who he is.


Extract Limerick Civic Trust Souvenir Pamphlet

This boot scraper is typical at entrances to Georgian Houses – every country home should have one!


Boot scraper Pery Square 

While Number 1 Pery Square is now a delightful boutique hotel, the other houses in the block seem to be in commercial use.  The magnificent street has a church at each end. This is St Michael’s Church of Ireland c.1984  at the southern end, with beautiful wrought ironwork on the outside.

St. Michael’s Pery Square 

Detail from the gates at St Michael’s. Such beautiful metalwork!


On the opposite end of the streetscape is the Catholic Dominican Church of St Saviours, erected c.1815 and reworked between 1860 and 1870

The former Dominican Church St Saviour’s and Tait Clock

To the right of St Saviour’s is the 65 foot tall Tait Memorial Clock erected in 1867.  It pays tribute to Alderman Peter Tait the Scottish entrepreneur who owned the nearby Tait factory, which supplied the British Empire with military uniforms. When 50,000 caps, greatcoats, jackets, trousers, shirts, blankets, boots, stockings and haversacks were ordered by the Confederate government fighting in the American Civil War, Tait had to navigate the Confederate blockade to deliver his goods. Peter Tait was also Mayor of Limerick between 1866-68. The memorial clock was raised by public subscription.

The street also has two memorials. The Celtic Cross Memorial commemorates deceased members of the Irish Defence Forces and the War Memorial commemorates thousands of Limerick  men who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars. This latter memorial was first raised after the First World War in the 1920s but was blown up in the 1950s. When the replacement was erected in the 1960s it included Limerick men lost in in WW2.


Overseeing the entire scene is the lofty memorial to Thomas Spring Rice (1790 – 1866), son in law of Pery.  He was from Mount Trenchard in Foynes an had the title Lord Monteagle of Brandon. This monument was erected in 1829 on a raised mound in the People’s Park, which was formerly Pery Square. He was the Member of Parliament for Limerick from 1820 to 1832 and was held in some esteem by his tenants mainly due to his benevolence during the Famine years.

Spring Rice Monument

Spring Rice – another view

Apart from Spring Rice, the most eye catching item in the People’s Park is the very colourful recently restored fountain.

The ornate and restored fountain

Built in 1877, the 2009 restoration is another example of the excellent work of Limerick Civic Trust and Limerick Council.


This Children’s Remembrance Memorial with little footsteps in bronze is in a memorial garden to the ‘Little Angels’ of Limerick, opened in 2002.


Richard Russell Memorial entrance

The main entrance to the park is dedicated to Richard Russell, a prominent local businessman in whose honour the park was opened in 1877.

Just next to the main entrance is the Limerick City Gallery of Art, my destination on this occasion. Dating from 1906 it was the Carnegie Library, one of 2,509 built with money from the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.


Limerick City Gallery of Art

I loved these little figures clinging on to the building.


The little people of the City Art Gallery

Last but not least is my favourite treasure in this fascinating part of Limerick…


The only surviving gas light in Limerick city

This image of St Michael’s with the Tontine block at the right,shows the last remaining gas lamp in existence in Limerick. From the 1820s and up to 1902, the gaslighter with his ladder would go from lamp to lamp lighting each one and would return each morning to extinguish them. A perfect discovery to end my spare 15 minutes in this part of Limerick.

It’s amazing what you  can find in no more that 250 paces!



Further information

*  ‘Tontine’ defined by Oxford English Dictionary as: An annuity shared by subscribers to a loan or common fund, the shares increasing as subscribers die until the last survivor enjoys the whole income.

For information on the Peoples Park and for excellent information about Limerick from the Limerick’s Life website click here 

Publication by Limerick Civic Trust on opening of No.2 Pery Square



Filed under Ireland, Irish Heritage

Postcards from Dublin..while waiting for the train

While waiting for my train this week before returning to Cork, I took advantage of the  lovely Spring sunshine to stroll around the area beside the Irish Rail Dublin terminus at Heuston.

We rush in and rush out of this building, eager to catch a train or a bus or a tram, too busy to appreciate where we are. The magnificent building that is Dublin Heuston train  terminus was originally constructed to conceal the train sheds and platforms.


Dublin Heuston from John’s Road

Dating from 1846, it was designed by an English architect, and designer of many railway stations, Sancton Wood (1815-1866) . It is in the style of an Italian Palazzo and is highly decorated.


Dublin Heuston Station

Constructed on behalf of the Great Southern and Western Railway company it was originally known as Kingsbridge. Our mother, being from a railway family, always referred to this place as Kingsbridge.

It was so named as the terminal is adjacent to a cast iron bridge crossing the Liffey that was known as King’s Bridge which was constructed in 1823 to commemorate the visit in 1821 of King George IV. In 1923  the bridge was renamed Sarsfield Bridge and in 1941 it was renamed Séan Heuston Bridge.

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Séan Heuston 1891-1916

Séan Heuston was born in Dublin and joined the Great Southern and Western Railway as a clerk in Limerick at the age of 17. He was transferred to Kingsbridge in 1913. He became one of the leaders of the 1916 rising in Ireland against the British. He was the youngest man executed for his part in the Easter Rising against British Rule. He was shot by firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol in May 1916.


Name plaque on Séan Heuston Bridge

The bridge has many very nice ornamental ironwork panels.


The view from the Séan Heuston Bridge down the Liffey is dominated by the famous Guinness James Gate Brewery, seen here on the right bank of the river.  The famous Harp logo can be seen on the darker building, amid the high tech steel structures on the site.


Across the road from Heuston Station is the very impressive Dr Steevens Hospital. Now an administrative building for the health authority,  the hospital was founded in 1720 by the sister of Dr Richard Steevens (1653-1710), under the terms of his will.


The building facing Heuston Station

It’s quite amazing to think that patents accessed the hospital through these impressive doors almost 300 years ago

Guinness Brewery, founded in 1759, donated small bottles of stout to the patients from the brewery next door. The tradition of giving hospital patients a daily stout persisted well into the 20th century in many Irish hospitals.

There is always something interesting  to discover in Dublin!




Filed under Ireland, Irish History

Misneach – The Ballymun Sculpture

952606F4-3DD0-4FF9-86E5-DDAC1382F421This post has taken years to get to publication! The original draft was made years ago when I first heard the intriguing story of a new sculpture of a young girl on a horse unveiled in Ballymun, a suburb of Dublin’s northside. Ballymun would not immediately spring to mind as a location for bronze street art. It was here that several high-rise blocks were built to rehouse people from the inner city.  The high rise developments were totally unsuitable and with no amenities the area gradually became known for its many social problems. The high-rise blocks were demolished and replaced with houses. A sculpture was commissioned as part of the Ballymun Regeneration Project.

John Byrne is an Irish artist and winner of many awards for his work. At a recent event at the National Museum of Ireland, John was one of the speakers, along with my son, Damian  Shiels, an historian of the Irish in the American Civil War and Dr Emily Mark-Fitzgerald, a specialist  in commemoration and public art. As he began to speak I realized that he was the man who had conceptualized this wonderful Ballymun project. I was anxious to discover where it is located as several half-hearted attempts to locate it by driving slowly around Ballymun had failed to find any trace of it!

John’s story was as intriguing as the sculpture itself. How did a young bareback horse rider from Ballymun wearing a hoodie top and runners, come to be on the horse of a 19th century Viscount?


Years ago there was a celebrated equestrian statue standing in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. It had been erected in 1880 as a memorial to Limerick- born Viscount Field Marshall Gough. There was much public debate at the time as to where the statue should be located but eventually a site was chosen in Dublin’s Pheonix Park.


Gough’s monument in the Phoenix Park (Image Wikimedia Commons)

The inscription on the monument read

In honour of Field Marshal Hugh Viscount Gough, K.P., G.C.B., G.C.S.I., an illustrious Irishman, whose achievements in the Peninsular War, in China, and in India, have added lustre to the military glory of his country, which he faithfully served for seventy five years. This statue [cast from cannon taken by troops under his command and granted by Parliament for the purpose] is erected by friends and comrades’

The monument was designed by the renowned Irish sculptor John Henry (J.H) Foley. His better known works include the Daniel O’Connell Monument on Dublin’s O’Connell Street, Fr. Mathew in St Patrick’s Street in Cork, Prince Albert in the Albert Memorial in London and Stonewall Jackson in Richmond Virginia, as well as Burke  and Goldsmith at the entrance to Trinity College, Dublin, to name but a few.

Gough’s horse was not created especially for him as it was was cast from an existing mould made by Foley some years earlier in 1858, for the equestrian statue of Viscount Hardinge. Obviously this magnificent animal was suitable for the most prestigious military men.


Viscount Hardinge of Lahore, in Calcutta in the 1860s  (Image Wikimedia Commons)

The Gough Memorial, with a copy of Hardinge’s horse, stood proudly in the Phoenix Park for some decades. However, it eventually attracted the attention of militant Irish Republicans who made a number of assaults on it. In 1944 Gough was decapitated with a hacksaw and his sword was removed. It was some time later that the severed head was found, at low tide, embedded in mud in the River Liffey.


Irish Press April 11, 1945

The head was reattached but just over a decade later the right hind leg of the horse was blown off by explosives. Apparently he was then jacked up with bits of timber.

The final demise came in June 1957 when a loud explosion blew Gough and his horse from the plinth, with man and beast blown to bits. There was much genuine lamenting as the statue was considered to be the ‘finest equestrian monument in Europe’ by any commentators.

Vincent Capriana a Dublin poet, recorded an attempt on the monument in his well known bawdy poem (which some readers may find offensive).


There are strange things done from twelve to one
In the Hollow at Phaynix Park,
There’s maidens mobbed and gentlemen robbed
In the bushes after dark;
But the strangest of all within human recall
Concerns the statue of Gough,
‘Twas a terrible fact, and a most wicked act,
For his bollix they tried to blow off!

‘Neath the horse’s big prick a dynamite stick
Some gallant ‘hayro’ did place,
For the cause of our land, with a match in his hand
Bravely the foe he did face;
Then without showing fear – and standing well clear –
He expected to blow up the pair
But he nearly went crackers, all he got was the knackers
And he made the poor stallion a mare!

For his tactics were wrong, and the prick was too long
(the horse being more than a foal)
It would answer him better, this dynamite setter,
The stick to shove up his own hole!
For this is the way our ‘haroes’ today
Are challenging England’s might,
With a stab in the back and a midnight attack
On a statue that can’t even shite!

The remains of Gough and his lovely horse were put into storage and were eventually sold on to a distant relative of Gough’s. He restored the monument which now stands in Chillingham Castle, Northumberland in the north of England, safe from the matches of Irish Republicans.


Gough in his new home in Northumbria (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Enter John Byrne. John decided that he would like to copy the famous Foley horse, return him to Dublin and place him in Ballymun.  He and his team worked with the new owner  of the monument and made a polystyrene mould of the horse, which was sent to the foundry. He then held auditions to find a young Ballymun person to complete his sculpture. There is a tradition among young people in the area of keeping horses and riding them bareback. A young rider named Toni Marie Shields, then aged 17 was chosen as the model for the statue that was to be the centre piece of the regenerated Ballymun town.


The bronze sculpture entitled ‘Misneach‘, the Irish word for courage, with the casually dressed local bareback rider.


The sculpture is 1.5 times bigger than lifesize.


But the saga of Gough’s Horse does not end here. If you visit Ballymun town centre today Misneach will not be anywhere to be seen, much less be the centrepiece to the revitalized town.


The fabulous sculpture Misneach

Misneach became a victim of the economic collapse in Ireland. It was decided that it would be erected in a temporary location to save  the expense of moving it again when the Metro North train link to Dublin airport through Ballymun was built. The Metro Rail link never went ahead although every now and then it gets a mention by politicians.

So where is Misneach? It stands proudly in the grounds of Trinity Comprehensive School in Ballymun, so easy to miss completely!  Perhaps one day it will be the centrepiece of a vibrant new area. It is a most beautiful piece of public art and well worth seeing. And how lovely to think that Toni Marie, in her tracksuit and runners, proudly sits bareback on a horse designed for two Viscounts!

For more about  the sculptor see


Filed under Ireland, Living in Ireland, Public Art in Ireland

Before and After ‘The Post’

Memories almost overwhelmed me in the cinema during the opening moments of the Stephen Spielberg film ‘The Post’, starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. The sound of Huey helicopters is synonymous with the Vietnam War, a helicopter war that ‘wop-wop-wop-wopped’ from our television screens in the 1960s. The ‘wop-wop-wop-wop’ was the background music to the images of young men pouring out of these choppers being ‘inserted’ into fields in Vietnam. The ‘wop-wop-wop-wop’ was the background music to young men now with old faces, haunted expressions and staring eyes climbing back into them to be evacuated to safety. It was the relentless background sound effect to the crouching running stretcher bearers loading up casualties. It was the dirge to which thousands of bloodied and broken dead bodies of young men, in the hitherto  unheard of ‘bodybags’, were loaded from battlefields and whisked away to be shipped home in boxes. ‘Wop-wop-wop-wop’.

And so the film began with the Hueys. ‘The Post’ tells the story of the publication of the Pentagon Papers, secret United States government reports of the political and military involvement in Vietnam that had gone on from 1945 to 1967. Daniel Ellsberg, a former Marine, who had worked on the reports, decided that the public needed to know that the government had been misleading and lying to them for decades about the reality of the war. It was a war that they could not win, yet it was peddled as ‘holding back the tide of Communism’. In reality, tens of thousands of lives were lost or destroyed because the United States needed to ‘save face’. Ellsberg copied the secret report and gave it to the newspapers- The New York Times initially,  and when that newspaper was gagged by the Courts, the Washington Post continued the exposé. It is a fascinating story and well worth seeing.

It occurred to me that many of those viewing this film would not have any clue as to the extent of negative feeling about this conflict in far-off Asia. As I sat there I was reminded of those days and how I became involved in the world-wide protests and demonstrations of the 1960s and 1970s.

Roll back the clock a few years, to 1963. In August of that year I vividly recall walking into our kitchen at home and being rooted to the spot as Martin Luther King delivered his inspirational ‘I have a dream’ speech on TV. It was at this exact point in time that I became aware of what was not right with the world. In modern parlance we would say that I was ‘radicalized’. This was a time when African Americans were struggling for equal rights with their fellow white countrymen. News programmes were dominated by race riots and protests, with students and young people taking to the streets for a fairer society, often risking imprisonment or even serious injury.

It was difficult to avoid being ‘political’ in those days where everything was changing. Music had changed with the arrival of ‘pop’, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and of course Bob Dylan. Fashion had changed with the arrival of Mary Quant, mini skirts and Carnaby Street and there was now a television set in most homes adding a new dimension to world events.

As 16 year old pre-leaving certificate year students in an Irish convent school in 1965 we were allowed access to newspapers in order to prepare for our examinations. Every day there was coverage of the Vietnam War. I remember well seeing a headline along the lines of ‘Vietnam War Escalates’. Visuals and sounds were added by the news on the TV. It was shocking to see these young lads a few years older than ourselves being shipped out, and to see what could happen to them. I was always eager for the news the following day to see what was happening and followed all events closely. I was of course delighted that the Vietnam War came up on the English examination paper in 1966!

Image result for us involvement in vietnam war

Helping a wounded soldier to the medical facility. (Image Creative Commons)

I emigrated to England in 1966. My new work colleagues in the medical research laboratory were of a similar age and a political view was as important as being up to date with fashion and music. So we talked a lot about political and social issues, and of course the war in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, in 1967 Che Guevara, a young Argentinian revolutionary was executed by the United States in Bolivia. A major figure of the Cuban Revolution, his stylized image become a symbol of rebellion. With his image sellotaped to walls in millions of bedrooms, he inspired our generation. In 1968 Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, both iconic figures, were assassinated. There was a growing sense of social unrest as protests, mainly by students and young people spread across the globe. By this time there were a half million Americans in south east Asia.

Jim Fitzpatrick’s iconic image of Che Guevara. (Image Wikipedia)

Street demonstrations had a variety of themes, such as disapproval of nuclear weapons, Ban the Bomb marches, and the racism of Enoch Powell, but the hottest issue of the time was without doubt, the Vietnam War and specifically America’s involvement in it. All across the world protests were taking place – Italy, France, USA, Germany – in all  there were anti war demonstrations in 56 countries. The daily statistics at the time were astonishing as the death toll kept rising…American soldiers deaths shot up as the war intensified.

1964 216
1965 1,928
1966 6,350
1967 11,363
1968 16,899

I made my placard recording the number of dead young men – I think it was around the 12,000 mark – and headed off to my first demonstration at Trafalgar Square on St Patrick’s Day in 1968.  We were a happy group of young people – at 19, I was one of the youngest in our group of friends – delighted to be adding our voices to the outrage, and feeling very strongly that we were a force for good and that we could change things. After speeches we headed off chanting and marching to Grosvenor Square, where the United States Embassy was located. The police had placed a cordon around the building and prevented the crowd getting too near. Being towards the back of the crowd, we did not experience the violence that ensued with baton charges and mounted police charging into the crowd. Hundreds were arrested and many people were injured. The noise was incredible!  Martin Luther King was assassinated just weeks later in April, and in June of that year Robert Kennedy was also murdered.

In October 1968 the number of protesters on our demo had swelled to tens and tens of thousands – possibly 100,000 – and again we descended on Grosvenor Square. There were police everywhere, but the mood among the marchers was good as we chanted and sang our way along the streets.  We again stayed at the back, but the pushing and shoving was frightening, yet we chanted away adding to the noise, and looked out for one another. It was a most exhilarating experience to know that similar protests were taking place across the world.

While the reasons for being there were varied, and many groups were represented, our protests at the time were very much focused on the soldiers of our own age whose lives were laid waste and on the huge number of  innocent men women and children who were being killed and horribly maimed. Had we known at the time about the Pentagon Papers I wonder if we may have been out demonstrating more often and more forcefully?

The war raged on and although the number of casualties became fewer, more shocking images would stun us. Not least that of the little girl, 9 year old Kim Phúc,running screaming down a road having been set alight by a napalm bomb- a gel like substance that sticks to flesh and burns for at leasts 10 minutes.

Protests continued on campuses and cities across the world until finally the United States pulled out in 1975. And what if the reports in the Pentagon Papers had been known years earlier?  How many lives would not have been lost in vain? While the leaking of the papers had a huge impact on the relationship between the U.S. Government and the people of that country, the war rumbled on for more years afterwards. The contents were ‘declassified’ in 2011.

The statistics of the conflict (war was never declared) are horrible and will never be really known. It is estimated that between 1 million and 3 million Vietnamese died in the conflict, together with a further 400,000 Cambodians and Laotians. Hundreds of thousands were wounded.

the wall.JPGMany years later I stood at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. It is an astonishing sight.  Two 75 metre lengths of black marble are engraved with  58,318 names of the men who lost their lives in a war to uphold the ‘honour’ of a country. The average age of those whose names are here is 23.1 years.

And what if the reports in the Pentagon Papers had been known years earlier?  How many lives would not have been lost in vain? While the leaking of the papers had a huge impact on the relationship between the U.S. Government and the people of that country, the war rumbled on for more years afterwards. The contents were ‘declassified’ in 2011.

Vietnamese women and children in Mỹ Lai before being killed in the massacre, March 16, 1968.[62] They were killed seconds after the photo was taken.[63] Photo by Ronald L. Haeberlen (Wikipedia)

I look at these images of the wall with all those names and the faces of these lovely people about to die, and can’t help but wonder could they have been saved if we had protested earlier and more loudly.

The Pity of War.


The table of casualties is taken from the US National Archives at

Statistics –



Filed under Ireland, Oral History

Remembering our mother on the centenary of her birth


Maud Clinton on the wall at Newtownforbes Station c. late 1930s

100 years ago, on Saturday January 19th 1918, in Kishawanny, Co Kildare, our grandparents, Christopher Robert Clinton and Jane Williams welcomed their first child into the world. She was our mother and was christened Sibyl Maud at Holy Trinity  Church in Derrinturn on January 27th with William Clery and Bridget Clery as godparents.

IMG_3054As was common practice – certainly in the early 20th Century – she was known by her second name, Maud, a name that recurs time and again in her paternal grandmother’s family, right down to this day.

She was the eldest of 5 children, two girls and three boys. At the time of her birth, her father was a foreman at Carbury Station, where his father was Stationmaster. It was possibly at the home of her grandmother in the townland of Kishawanny that she was born, but they may also have lived nearby. Her brother was also born in Kishawanny in 1920.

The probable site of  the home  of our mother’s grandparents in Kishavanna, Co Kildare.

Kishawanny, usually called Kishavanna by locals, has a small number of houses. According to Griffiths Valuation, the site of this house is on the same plot as the home of  Jane’s grandparents, our mother’s great grandparents.

As an employee of the Midland Great Western Railway, her father had to relocate and we next find the family living at Railway Cottage, Mullingar, where, three more siblings were born. Family lore has it that they also lived in Goresbridge Co. Kilkenny. This photograph was in our mother’s collection, marked ‘Goresbridge, Co Kilkenny’. It is possibly where the family lived.


Goresbridge Co Kilkenny. Was this the family home?

The family moved to Newtownforbes Co. Longford, when their father was appointed Stationmaster here. We know they lived there in the late 1930s as an entry in the Schools Collection from has a contribution from one of our mother’s brothers.  It was here too that our mother received music lessons at the local Convent of Mercy. She was an accomplished pianist and had a wonderful ear and could play anything after hearing it just once. Two of her sons are dedicated musicians.


Station House Newtownforbes, Co Longford. Date possibly 1930s

Our mother did not often talk about her relatives, but her Granny Williams was an exception. Her maternal grandmother, who lived at Kishavanna, was an important figure in her life. She spent summer holidays with her, and often spoke about ‘living ‘ with her. Perhaps her grandmother lived alone and there was an element of caring for her. In any event Granny (Kate) Williams died on November 22 1933, at the age of 68. Our mother would have been just 15 years old.

Her father was a wonderful gardener as can be seen from the photos above. He was usually to be found in his vegetable garden tending to his vegetables. He won awards for his beautiful flower beds and our mother inherited her green fingers from him. I can still hear her saying ‘Daddy loved Alyssum’ or ‘Daddy wouldn’t have Red Hot Pokers about the place’. He was the guru when it came to growing and she quoted him on a regular basis!

She embarked on a career as a telegraphist. As the eldest she was expected to send money home to help with the younger children. There would not have been much left after paying rent. Unfortunately we do not know much about where she did her training or where she worked. She may well have worked in Longford town initially, but she  was in Dundalk during World War 2 as she spoke of fear of bombs and she spoke of running for shelter. A bomb was dropped on Dundalk in July 1941, but we don’t know if she was living there then. As a wireless telegraphist she used Morse Code.

Sligo was the next posting for her and she had fond memories of living and working there as a telegraphist.


Photo we believe taken in Sligo early 1940s

She was then posted to Letterkenny and it was here that she made contact with our father who was appointed postmaster in Carrigart following the sudden death of his father in 1944.


1944 at  Port na Blagh Co Donegal

In January 1946 they were married in St Andrews Church Westand Row. See post here.


Number 1 son arrived arrived 13 months later and this we believe is a photo taken with him in 1947. (If it is not him, then it must be me!)

After 10 years of marriage there were six of us. Our mother knitted all our jumpers and cardigans, she sewed dresses and trousers. She made rugs from old sacks with rags stitched on, she made curtains, she covered chairs, she baked bread and cakes, she made pancakes, she crocheted and did artwork on mirrors. And she permed my hair (to my horror). She knitted and darned and sewed in every spare minute and played the piano. And always there were flowers inside and outside the house.


She also had time for fun–this photo was taken at an annual dinner dance at the Port na Blagh Hotel. I  remember this dress so well – it was a beautiful soft pink with a huge wide skirt that went on forever! For the following year’s dance, it was dyed black and looked fabulous.


The Annual Dinner Dance at Port na Blagh Hotel c. 1956. From left to right Johnny Sweeney, Mary Josie Sweeney, Mum and Dad.

Mum was very friendly with Agnes McFadden (Aggie Big Pat) who would come to our  house every Thursday when they would exchange English Sunday newspapers and eat sandwiches and drink tea. Lena McGinley was another good friend and laughter was a huge part of these two friendships.


Mum and Dad with two of the younger children – numbers 4, and 5 . c 1959-60

All of this came to a grinding halt when her youngest child, our brother, was killed just after 3 pm on Tuesday June 30 1959. He was 15 months old. It is unimaginable for any mother to have to pick up her dead baby off the road with a horrific head injury. See post here .

1959 still had not finished with her. Less than 6 months later and just before Christmas her beloved father, who she absolutely idolized, died suddenly. See post here.

These events were to have a terrible impact on her, and some years later having moved to England they carved out a new life with a new love –  her Cocker Spaniel, Kerry, who she adored and who was her faithful companion for over a decade.

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

Mum, Dad and the faithful Kerry on tour. c.1980s

After they returned to Ireland on retirement, more hounds were added and beautiful gardens evolved yet again. I have never seen such a wonderful collection of Fuchsias which she loved. Bird tables and feeders abounded, roses scented the air, Clematis twined, flowers made a stunning display, and Dad kept horses in his field.  Grandchildren came and went in droves, as did her good friend Ethna who was always a special guest who they loved to see coming!


Family reunion at Carrigart c. 1986

Although she had some health issues later in her life, our mother was very resilient and continued with her gardening, bird feeding, seed ordering, piano playing and reading. So many books!


Visit from USA by Dad’s brother Séan and wife Mary in 1998 – the last photograph

August 1998 brought the death of her last remaining sibling, her sister Eva and it distressed her greatly. I can still her her crying out in grief –  ‘They are all gone, they are all gone’. As the eldest of the siblings she had not expected to be the last one. At Christmas 1998 she was in good form but only days into the new year she began to show signs of  confusion and restlessness. Some weeks later she was transferred to hospital on a Sunday evening. She became very lucid and kept addressing Granny Williams for a couple of days. The doctor thought she might last 24 hours and suggested the family be called urgently.  As our sister, her youngest child, was in New Zealand there was no way she could get home in 24 hours. But she left New Zealand anyhow and headed to Shannon Airport, a journey of two days. The palliative staff said they had seen patients defy the odds to ‘wait’ for someone.  Eva arrived in to Shannon Airport at 1 pm on Wednesday and she and I stayed on the night watch  while the others went home to bed. She died at 6.10  am on Thursday  morning, 25 March 1999 as a blackbird sang his heart out just outside her room window.

Our mother was born 100 years ago today, 19 January 2018.


Filed under Family History, Ireland, Oral History

Last convicts to Western Australia

January 9th marks the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the last convict ship at the port of Fremantle in Western Australia.


Drawing of The Hougoumont , the last convict ship to arrive in Western Australia. (Image Wikimedia)

The Swan River Settlement in Western Australia was established by the British in 1829. The conditions – both climate and terrain – proved  very challenging and progress was slow. By 1832 the population was a mere 1,500 and by 1850 was still less than 6,000.  The emerging colony then requested help from the British Government, thereby changing its status to a Penal Colony, like other parts of Australia, notably New South Wales and Tasmania.

The Scindian was the first ship to arrive in June 1850 with a cargo of 75 male convicts who would work the land.  They also had to set about building their own jail, as there was no building suitable for them. Over the next seventeen and a half years, 9,925 convicts were transported in 43 shipments to Western Australia, and many of these were Irish. It was thanks to these, the workers who accompanied them and later immigrants, that the colony was developed.


The Establishment as Fremantle Jail was known. Behind these gates is a 15 acre site with blocks of cells and ancillary buildings.

The gates and many of the landings in the jail are made from iron from many of these ships.

fremantle-prison gates

Gates were made from metal from the ships that transported convicts

Conditions inside The Establishment were horrendous and must have been unbearable in the burning heat of summer. There are no bars on the windows in the chapel and interestingly the 6th of the Ten commandments reads ‘Thou shalt do no murder’ instead of the usual ‘Thou shalt not kill’. The former jail is now a World Heritage Site and well worth a visit.

Many convicts were free to work outside the walls and many stayed in the area when they won their freedom, having served their time. The development of the area is due in no small part to their hard labour. The town has some wonderful period of my favourite being the Town Hall. although I am not certain if it is the result of convict labour .


Fremantle Town Hall, built c.1886

The town of Fremantle has some lovely street art dedicated to arriving immigrants, such as these two pieces. I particularly like the man being confronted by a dingo – an indication of the hardships new immigrants had to face perhaps.

In recent years lists of immigrants who arrived at the port have been transcribed onto ‘Welcome Walls’. The list of names makes for poignant reading and of course includes many Irish.

Crowds of young children were also landed here and very often their little lives turned out to be desperately sad and cruel.


When that last convict ship slipped into Fremantle on that January day 150 years ago,on board were a number of Fenian Prisoners. Their presence on the Hougoumont has kept the name of the ship alive, even though it deserves to be remembered by being associated with an end to a particular chapter in history. These Fenians, among them John Boyle O’Reilly, kept a journal during their voyage to Australia.  Their writings, are on a series of plaques, some of which you can see here, at Rockingham Wild Geese Memorial, which marks the point at which they made a daring break for freedom on the coast of Western Australia.


There is a very strong and proud Irish community in Perth and  Fremantle who organize events on a regular basis.  Their latest FeniansFremantle & Freedom Festival is a 10-day cultural festival celebrating Irish culture and influence in Australia as well as a commemorative event to honour the Fenians and others transported to Fremantle on the last convict ship sent to Australia, the Hougoumont. Barbecues, concerts and even a street celií have been planned and events continue through this weekend. In these troubled times with great displacement of peoples across the globe, it is refreshing to see immigrants being honoured in the way that Fremantle does so well.

I have written about the arrival of the Fenians in Western Australia at these links

John Boyle O’Reilly Fenian, Convict, Poet

and the story of their escape at

The greatest propaganda coup in Fenian History 

There is a fascinating ‘passenger list’ for that final voyage of the Hougoumont here. It gives names, nature of offence  of the convicts-  these include pickpocketing, rape, insubordination, treason, murder and possession of a coin mould. – place and date of trial. It also includes names of other passengers, pensioner guards and their families and warders and their families.











Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish Convicts, Irish Diaspora