‘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.


Filed under Family History, Ireland, My Oral History

30 responses to “‘Doing a line’ 1940s style: A family marriage

  1. What a lovely post with such great photos. Your mum certainly was a looker! Your Dad was rather handsome, too. He looks a bit like some of my Sligo cousins with the soft features. When I was young we had no telephone and exciting news came by telegram. To be perfectly honest, all the neighbors knew the news as it happened in our little gossipy community. When party lines became popular, the gossip got even more interesting… ☘

  2. What beautiful memories and photos! Your parents made a fine looking couple with a great love story. I remember not having a telephone. We live out on a ranch and my father paid to have telephone lines to connect us and then it was a party line.

    • It was a life long love story too which is nice to know. Telephone lines were hugely important and life changing, even if party lines! Unlike nowadays of course, telephone calls were only made as necessary. Not many were for the sake of a little chat! Thanks for your comment..much appreciated!

  3. A lovely story, it’s great to have the photos to look back on. Lovely memories.

  4. So many wonderful memories, wrapped up in love… your Dad sounds a lot like mine re being shy. Dad was the same, he didn’t dance and Mum loved to dance, so he would escort her there, see she was safely inside and come back at the end of the night. He had a bike, but used it only to leave and to ride back, then would walk Mum home after the dance, pushing his bike.
    I often wonder what the conversations were like…Mum was always bubbly. Dad would have been more reserved.. did he ask who she danced with? Did she tell him just to make him jealous?
    So many questions, but ones I would never ask as I respected that they were to do with their own memories.Sometimes, I wish I had though.

  5. Such a beautiful tribute to your parents. You can see how your father seems in awe of her, and her confidence. Poor man, 20 miles x 2 to no effect.

    As they had their honeymoon in Wicklow I wonder if that’s why they married in Dublin? ive always thought it traditional that people married in the bride’s parish…does this mean we have to cast our net wider?

    • It is a mystery to me really why they chose Dublin as everyone in the wedding photograph lived in Longford or Donegal. As I drill into the family history vaults I may discover a recent family death on our mother’s side that may have determined that they not marry locally. Another possibility is that Dublin was probably much more accessible from both places and would have had lots of accomodation for those who needed to stay overnight. A mystery for the moment! Thank you for dropping by!

  6. I really enjoyed reading this. Amazing to think there were so few telephones.
    I sent a link to mum as I think she’d enjoy your carrigart memories.

    • Thank you Tric! Mum might also know who the other woman is in the photo of Dad at the minister’s gates! Isn’t the story of the telephone quite something? My grandchildren when watching old films where someone in need of help dont understand that people did not always have a phone in their pocket!

  7. A lovely post, SV. They were very much of an age with my own parents and the cycling and ‘doing a line’ certainly resonate.
    I love that photo with the mark on it! That’s what I call a treasure and your father obviously thought your mother was a true treasure.

  8. Peter Gerrard, Coolbawn, Nenagh

    The church where they were married was St. Andrew’s Westland Row, I think. It was one of the first “grand” churches built after Catholic Emancipation, c 1830. It was designed by Francis Johnson, noted architect.
    There’s no church on Westmoreland St.

  9. A really lovely post Angela. Thoroughly enjoyed it 🙂

  10. What a sweet story! Love your mum’s glamorous photo. 🙂 I hope we can always preserve colloquialisms like “drop a line.” Language is such a rich part of history.

  11. Your Mum was beautiful. Am I to understand though that the telephone calls were unpaid for 🙂 A great love story and lovely photos.

    My own Mum got Mass at St Andrew’s the time she came over to see me when I was living in Dublin.

    • Thanks for the lovely compliment! Phone calls were paid for either by billing the subscriber, or in the case of people coming into the post office to phone the vet or the AI man, these were paid for at the counter and there was a private booth inside the post office. Eventually a telephone kiosk was erected in our village street in the 1960s that had the old ‘A’ and ‘B’ buttons and you were unceremoniously ‘cut off’ after three minutes!

  12. Just came across this wonderful post. What a wonderful story, and one I am familiar with second hand. My mom was born and raised in Kilcar (next to Killybegs). On my first trip there in 1983 (well technically the second but I don’t count it since I was a baby) my grandmother had only just gotten a phone….for the first time! Talk about culture shock! Different now of course, but I actually really appreciate that bit of firsthand memory for myself.

    • Thank you so much and I am pleased that the story resonated with you ! Memories are wonderful and even more cherished when we plug into them unintentionally! My great uncle was once a parish priest in Kilcar and is buried right by the church door. It’s a beautiful place. Thank you for dropping by!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.