Monthly Archives: January 2017

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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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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