Monthly Archives: March 2016

Easter Monday in Dublin …A stroll in Stephen’s Green

There is a song that goes :

For Dublin can be heaven
With coffee at eleven
And a stroll in Stephen’s Green.

Such was the case for us on Easter Monday 2016, as we ambled about ‘The Green’ as it is known. We were in Dublin, Ireland’s Capital City, for events commemorating the Rising against British rule in Ireland, which took place on Easter Monday April 24 1916. St Stephen’s Green, a beautiful Victorian park in the centre of Dublin was one of the pivotal sites seized by the Irish Citizen’s Army on that fateful day. Under the command of Michael Mallin, the Green was seized, trenches were dug and barricades were erected.

Shelbourne Hotel as seen from inside Stephens Green

Shelbourne Hotel as seen from inside Stephens Green- Image Library of Congress.

On that evening the British Army moved troops into The Shelbourne Hotel and the nearby Hibernian Club, and on the next day from these vantage points, they fired down on the rebels in the Green. It is said that fire was temporarily halted to allow the Green’s groundsman feed the local ducks! The Irish Rebels eventually had to retreat to the nearby Royal College of Surgeons which had been occupied by Irish Citizen Army forces, led by Commandant Mallin and Countess Markievicz.  After surrendering on 29 April,both were tried and sentenced to death. Mallin was executed while Markievicz’s sentence was commuted.

The \fusiliers Arch at Stephens Green with bullet damage from British trioops who were firing on insurgents in the Green

The Fusiliers Arch at Stephens Green with bullet damage from British troops who were firing on insurgents at the Royal College of Surgeons.

All was quiet on Monday as we commemorated those events from almost a century ago.

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Events in the Green included concerts and a vintage circus, all of which took place in beautiful springtime sunshine, with families and individuals lapping up the atmosphere.

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Outside the buildings were draped for the occasion

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The Royal College of Surgeons, where insurgents were based in 1916

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The lovely Unitarian Church on Stephens Green

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Damian Shiels, historian,outside the Royal College of Surgeons where he was scheduled to deliver a talk in the Reflecting the Rising series to commemorate the events of 1916.

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Postboxes were painted red for the commemoration, reverting to the British mailbox colour. Irish post boxes are green nowadays.

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People wandered about having a good time. The Irish flag is green, white and orange, although we often see green, white and gold flags, which are incorrect. The green white and orange is an all inclusive flag that symbolises peace between the green, Catholic Irish and Protestant Irish, represented by the orange.

Back in The Green,these two memorial busts epitomize for me the discourse that is Ireland, the contentious issues that to this day divide. To me they are powerful in that these memorials stand as equals in one of Ireland’s most prestigious sites, one that was pivotal on that Easter Monday in 1916.

On the left is Tom Kettle, who having joined the Irish Volunteers went on to enlist in the British Army (Ireland was at that time part of Britian and tens of thousands went to war in British uniforms). He was killed at Ginchy, during the Battle of the Somme in September 1916. On the right is the revolutionary nationalist Constance Markievicz a suffragette and a socialist, who was on active service at Stephens Green on Easter Monday 1916. I love that they are both of equal stature in this very special place. It was a good day to be strolling in Stephen’s Green.

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Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Ireland, Irish at War, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Living in Ireland

A St Patrick’s Day bird’s-eye view of my childhood

On these pages, I often record childhood memories of growing up in a County Donegal village in the 1950s and 60’s. I also often struggle to find pictures of this place that truly impart the geographic character and splendid location, the real sense of place where we led Huckleberry Finn type lives as children. Here we roved in packs, perhaps gone for hours playing Cowboys and Indians; 6 and 7 years old Belle Stars and Annie Oakleys often hid in Gallagher’s cornfield with Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill, Kit Carson and Roy Rogers seeking them out, while war cries of Crow and Blackfoot Indians resounded over Figart sending chills down the spines of everyone within hearing distance. These war cries emanated from loud shrill whooping sounds that were embellished by rapid covering and uncovering of the mouth – truly blood curdling stuff!  Here too we gathered up empty pea and bean tins, jam pots and sauce bottles from Kiely’s yard and set out our shop stall behind Speers or in whichever shed we could find a space; here we children  ambled over the Barrack Brae to October Devotions on dark nights (where were the adults!?) , often with only shooting stars and Will O’ the Wisp skipping along Logues Burn down  on the Lee for company; here we went bathing (never swimming!) when the tide came in to the safe inlet behind the village; here we sleighed down a snow-covered Figart on our homemade sleighs, not sitting one behind the other, but lying one on top of the other for more speed, and Cathal McClafferty or Séamus Gallagher would shout when it was time for us to tumble off, before the sleigh went over the edge onto the stones below; here we dug man-traps in the Planting beside the church and concealed them with branches in the hope that another unsuspecting child might fall in; here we headed off on our bikes or trikes for a day out ( I personally, at about 4 or 5 years of age, rode my red tricycle into Island Roy and could not get back as the incoming tide had covered the road); here we wandered in and out of houses for an apple, a drink of water or just to say hello!  All of these childhood activities took place without the supervision of adults.

However our lifestyle of wandering freely came under serious threat when three of our number went missing for almost an entire day. John Boylan, son of the local Garda (Police) Sergeant, Andrew Speer whose poor mother was not in good health and there was talk of not telling her for fear of inducing a relapse, and my brother Noel, had failed to return home at mealtime. I believe they were aged about 4 or so. Search parties were got up and we spread out and combed every nook and cranny. Hopes were raised when word of a sighting of three small figures crossing Logues 9-hole Golf Course and headed towards the sandy hills was reported. The sandy hills was an area of ‘bent’ grass and deep sand dunes that backed Tramore beach.Tramore was not a safe place for small boys. The sandy hills were often used by people walking to Tramore, and it was not difficult even for older people to get lost in here. I was aged about 7 or 8 at the time, but I have a clear memory of the sense of urgency and concern about finding them. The search party headed through the sand dunes, shouting out their names.

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Paddy Vaughan, with his cap as-ever slightly askew, arrived on his big bicycle with straight handlebars and made his way through the undulating terrain. I can recall people saying  that it was a bit silly to be taking a bicycle into the sandy hills, yet there was serious concern for the safety of the boys and to find them before they hit the Atlantic Ocean. The hero of the day was of course Paddy on his bike: He discovered the three who had been playing with shells on a green of the Rosapenna Golf  Links just as they were about to head towards Tramore! The tired trio were safe and unscarred by their great adventure, albeit a bit hungry! Thankfully too,after due reprimands and awful warnings, our escapades continued and we were still allowed to wander about the hinterland as truly ‘free range’ children!

Yesterday, March 17, Saint Patrick’s Day was celebrated and marked all over the world and in countless towns and villages across the breadth and length of Ireland. As is the case, these events are photographed, and nowadays with the advent of drone photography, we can sometimes get aerial views of our local landscape. This aerial footage of my native landscape has evoked in me a rush of memories that cram themselves into every second, memories of times past, memories of a different world where children were raised by the village, and we were safe to roam and wander.

I am grateful to a reader of my blog who alerted me to the fact that Donegal Daily featured drone footage of the St Patrick’s Day Parade in my home village, footage that evoked all of these memories. I am grateful to my blog follower ‘Mulroy’ for bringing this to my attention!

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Filed under Ireland, Living in Ireland, My Oral History

International Women’s Day 2016

imageInternational Women’s Day, March 8, is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The theme for 2016 is imageThe requests for individuals,corporations, public and private sectors to embrace this has gone global, and many companies have already signed up.

All over the globe events are taking place to mark International Women’s Day and in particular to highlight the need,the imperative,for equality. It is easy to find out what is happening in your local area for IWD2016, but, if like me, you are not able to take part in these organised events, it is still possible to make a mark, to advocate for parity for women from the comfort of your own home.

I am speaking of course of KIVA, that wonderful organisation that enables communities worldwide through micro loans. I am directing my loans towards women in communities who are less fortunate than those of us in the first world. I belong to a Kiva group called Genealogists for Families, inspired to do so by my friend Pauleen Cass, but you do not need to be affiliated to any group as you can lend as an individual, for as little as $25. Most times this amount will be returned to you and you can either claim the repayment or recycle the money to the benefit of another community. I like to recycle the money to women in poor communities, to supply basic needs such as toilets,or medical facilities. In this way we can take positive steps to ensure that women in poor underdeveloped countries can take steps towards parity of esteem and equality in their social structures. Whatever you do to celebrate, I wish you a happy International Women’s Day!

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Memories: A picture paints a thousand words

Carrigart Hotel today. (Image courtesy of Donegal Cottages

Carrigart Hotel, County Donegal.(Image courtesy of Donegal Cottage Holidays.com)

The Hotel in Carrigart, County Donegal is an iconic building that dominates the village where I grew up. It was an integral part of our young lives as we originally lived in what was an extension of the building and we later moved across the street. The red-roofed structure in this picture was our barn, to the rear of our ‘new’ house.

There have been many reincarnations of postcards of the village in the heart of a tourist area, but very few feature this beautiful building, the probable reason being that the bend in the main and only street, means it is not possible to capture the entire village in one shot.

 

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This beautiful building is listed on the Donegal County Council  Protected Structure Inventory as ”Detached four-bay three-storey Victorian Hotel with dormer windows with elaborate carved detailing to their surrounds. Later extensions to east and west.” 

This photograph was among my late father’s most treasured possessions. I believe it was taken in the early 1950s when the premises was owned by Dermot Walsh. It shows distinctive round steps leading to the main door, a petrol pump and behind it, Walsh’s Bar with Walsh’s shop attached. The bar and shop had separate entrances as can be seen in the photo. I think that the cars are Ford Prefects (any correction most welcome) and would have been crank started. (My Dad owned one of these cars – ours had the registration number of ZL 108.) I particularly like the bicycle in this picture, cleverly and securely parked by placing one of the pedals on the footpath!
At that time this petrol pump was the only petrol pump in the village, although Griffins added one in later years. It was situated in an enclosed gravel area and sometimes for a dare we would run through here. Obviously it was an area that was for some reason out-of-bounds for small people, otherwise we would not have bothered! The petrol pump was operated by a big lever so that the person ‘dispensing’ the petrol had to work hard cranking away until the proper volume of petrol was delivered. My father often told the story of the day an important visitor to the nearby and very posh Rosapenna Hotel stopped by for petrol. He had one of the biggest cars ever seen in the locality. The visitor left the engine running and went into the hotel while the car was being filled up. A small crowd gathered while James Boyce cranked away furiously. After some time, the visitor returned to find that James, in spite of cranking away like mad, had not yet managed to fill the tank. He turned to the visitor and said: ‘She’s bating (beating) us so she is, she’s bating us’, meaning that because the engine was running, petrol was being used as fast as it was being pumped in! In reality it was because the tank was so big, it took ages to fill it!

I have great memories of happy times spent around the hotel…hours spent with Maggie Greer who single-handed did all the laundry. I loved standing with her in the wash-house that smelled of suds as the sheets swirled round in the big washing machines. I went with her to the clothes line where she hung them out on the long lines with her poor gnarled hands. I loved to see all those sheets billowing and flapping in the breeze! I spent more hours with her as she did the ironing, expertly smoothing and folding each sheet into rectangles as though they had just come new from the shop.

To my mother’s annoyance, I also spent time with Tommy Gavigan who bottled the Guinness for the hotel. The huge wooden Guinness barrels lay on their side and he pushed a tap into them from where he filled each bottle. It was then placed on  a machine to be capped and I helped him wet and stick on the labels. In return he would cut a sliver off his block of Plug tobacco for me to chew. It is easy to understand why my mother was not too happy to have a 7-year-old chewing tobacco! Tommy also took care of the cows and did the milking in the byre on his little three-legged stool with a metal bucket to catch the warm milk. Afterwards, he might throw me up on top of a cow to sit on her back as she went back out to the field.

The Carrigart Hotel has stood on this site for over 100 years. It was built by Michael Friel in about 1910, although he had a smaller hotel  prior to this. According to the 1911 Census the hotel boasted 64 rooms with 28 windows to the front and 18 outhouses that included piggeries,stables and a harness room. On Census night, in addition to Michael Friel’s wife and family there were 8 boarders on the premises, including a Dr MacCloskey the local doctor, cooks, servants and a lace instructress!

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Friel’s Family and Commercial Hotel

The rather grainy photograph above was taken sometime before the 1930s. The name ‘Friel’s Family & Commercial Hotel’ is attached to the railings that run along the roof. I do not recall these railings or the rooftop ornamentation. In 1934 ownership of the hotel passed to Miss Mary Anne McGuire, who was the sister-in-law of Dr Mac Closkey, recorded as a boarder in 1911 census. Subsequently the hotel passed into the hands of the Walsh Family who operated it until it was sold on again in recent years.

Carrigart now

Carrigart Hotel as it is today

The photo in my Dad’s possession evoked lots of pleasant memories for him, just as indeed it does for me. It is a pity that the hotel is no longer in use, but it is still a place for gatherings in the village, still a place where good memories are made, memories that  hopefully will last as long as the pleasant memories I have, and that my father before me had, of this lovely building.

 

With special thanks to

Donegal Cottage Holidays  for permission to use their photograph – more beautiful photos can be seen on their site

Petie McGee who sent me the picture of the Friel’s Hotel

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Filed under Ireland, Living in Ireland, My Oral History