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.
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 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.
Railway cottages in Altamount Street where our grandfather was born
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.