Monthly Archives: May 2017

C. Y. O’Connor, a tragic genius

He then rode his horse out to Robb Jetty in Fremantle and there rode into the sea and shot himself – the tragic story of C.Y O’Connor, Irishman, Engineering genius, on the 120th anniversary of the opening of Fremantle Harbour in Western Australia. From the archive.

A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND

C.Y.O'Connor statue at entrance to Fremantle Port C.Y.O’Connor statue at entrance to Fremantle Port

At the entrance to Fremantle Harbour, south of Perth, is an imposing statue some 12 feet high, of a man who changed the face of Western Australia during a period of ten years or so at the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries. This is Charles Yelverton O’Connor, Engineer-in-Chief in the colony from 1891 to 1902. At the base of the statue are plaques depicting his most notable engineering achievements – Fremantle Harbour, the Darling Scarp Railway Tunnel, and the Mundaring Weir, the starting point for the world-renowned Goldfields water supply.

Adjacent to the statue is a further tribute from his Engineering peers and the Port Authority.

Revered for his genius, he is commemorated, respected and admired particularly in Western Australia, yet is practically unknown in his native Ireland, his home for 21 years, and a land that remained close to his…

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May 30, 2017 · 3:04 pm

Aunt May: A life well lived.

This is an auspicious week in our family as it is the week in which we remember the centenary of the birth of our Aunt May.

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James Gallagher and Mary Friel with their firstborn, Mary Isabella Gallagher in 1917 (copyright thesilvervoice)

Our grandmother, Mary Friel, as was the tradition, made the trip back from Glenswilly to her parents home in Pollaid, Fanad, to give birth to her first child, Mary Isabella. (known as May) We know from the birth certificate that Mary’s sister Susan was present at the birth, and later that day, Thursday, May 17, 1917, we can tell from the baptismal record that her brother Francis and another sister  Annie, made their way with the newborn baby to St Columba’s Church in Massmount to act as sponsors at her Baptism.

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Aunt May at some months old –  date unknown. (family photograph copyright thesilvervoice)

The second and third children of the family were born in Glenswilly, in 1919 and 1921. The family then moved to Ballyheerin, Fanad where the next two siblings were born in 1923 and 1925.
I have not been able to establish when exactly the family moved to Carrigart, but Aunt May was Confirmed there in1926 as we can see from the the certificate below.
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This is to certify that Miss Mary Gallagher received the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Church of St. John the Baptist, parish of Mevagh, County Donegal, from the hands of the Most Rev Dr McNeely Lord Bishop of Raphoe on the occasion of his visitation in the year 1926. Signed John Cunningham P.P Carrigart 24th Nov 1937.

Aunt May was aged 10 when she was Confirmed. It is hard to know what her life was like in the subsequent few years. Her mother Mary became seriously ill and underwent surgery followed by a time recuperating away from home before finally passing away in July 1931 when Aunt May was only 14 years of age. Her father James was a school teacher and it is very likely that Aunt May as the eldest, played a pivotal role in managing and rearing her younger sister and brothers, the youngest of whom was only 6 years old when their mother died.

She told me that it was her wish to join the Sisters of Nazareth and to become a nurse. She had planned to enter the religious life at age 18. However, it was not until 1938, when she was 21 years old, that she made the journey to the Novitiate of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Ashdown Park, in Sussex where she was no longer Mary Isabella Gallagher, but rather Sister Patricia Mary.

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The Convent of Notre Dame

Corpus Christ Procession in 1939. Aunt May would have taken part in this procession.

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It must have been very worrying for her family knowing that she was near to London after the outbreak of the Second World War but she was evacuated to Birkdale Lancashire in 1940 where she stayed for 10 years. Far from the nursing career that she had wished to follow, her duties included being sacristan and sewing work which must have been a terrible disappointment for her, but without doubt, she accepted her lot as ‘God’s will’.

Her father was planning a visit to her in 1944 and went so far as to have a photograph taken for his passport/travel permit. However, it was not to be, as he died in November 1944 having contracted Typhoid Fever. Aunt May said that she was in Retreat at the time and she did not therefore receive the news of his death until well after the event. She was undoubtedly very close to her father and her siblings seemed to have had a more distant relationship with him. After their mother died she saw to it that they had all they needed. It was hard on them emotionally when she left to join the nuns, never to be home again, as was the rule at that time.

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After her return to Ashdown Park, set in hundreds of acres of Ashdown Forest, (and home of Winnie the Pooh) she was in charge of the novitiate where novices learned the ropes.  Now too her youngest brother James (Seamus, Jim) had moved to London and was within visiting distance of her. His frequent visits to Ashdown to visit her must have made a big difference to her life, having endured life so far away from her family. He and his family made frequent trips to Ashdown and in time her sister Eileen too would visit.

Post Vatican 2, rules were relaxed and she was now free to travel although she initially had to stay in a convent. Her first trip back to Carrigart was after her Silver Jubilee. Our house was thronged from morning to night with people coming to visit her. The visit of a nun was quite an event so not only did she have visits from people who knew her, but also from people who had never met her before. I think by the end of her visit she had received a lot of ‘offerings’ in envelopes!

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Aunt Mays return to Mulnamina Glenties o the home of her Aunt Maggie (seen here on her left)  and Uncle John. Also here are her sister Eileen, nephews Noel and Damian, niece Eva and children of her 1st Cousin Danny O’Donnell

Vatican 2 allowed for changes in the nun’s habit. Gradually, the long heavy serge skirt, the long black Rosary hanging from the waist and the wimpole were replaced by much more practical clothing. Over a period of a few years most  members of her congregation were wearing ‘ordinary’ clothes.

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Visit from niece Cathy Coyle and Jim and Nancy at Ashdown. With the ‘new look’ in clothing


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Aunt May visits her brothers house..here with her sister Eileen, niece Cathy and sister in law Nancy

In 1969 the convent in Ashdown was sold and Aunt May began a new career at the teacher  training college run by her order in Bearsden, outside Glasgow. The change would have been very dramatic as she left behind a life of good China cups and silver and embroidery and deer walking across the lawn . After 23 years enjoying the rolling parklands and forests of Sussex and the quiet life of a convent, the hustle and bustle of irreverent students in what was something of a concrete jungle was a complete shock to her system. On the upside, she was now near her sister Eileen and they exchanged visits frequently. As College Bursar she made great friends with the students and as she was such a talented Flower Arranger she was often asked to arrange wedding flowers for them.

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At one of her friends weddings

One of the highlights of her life was the visit of Pope JOHN Paul II to the college at the end of May 1982.  She was Sacristan and had charge of preparing the convent chapel for the visit. A truly great honour for her.

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Aunt May greets Pope John Paul II at the convent in Bearsden.

After the visit, the Vatican dispatched hand signed copies of the official photograph of the Pope kneeling in prayer in their chapel.

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A large gathering of family and friends helped her celebrate her Golden Jubilee in 1990.  Brother arrived from the USA, another brother from England and a smattering of nieces and nephews and their families made for a great occasion for her.

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With the Golden Jubilee cake

After retirement from her Bursar career she became the Sacristan for the College Chapel and she was so good at her work that students from the local seminary were sent to be trained by her in sacristy work. In all Aunt May spent 26 years associated with St Andrews College. She then moved to a house in Kingsborough Gardens for four years before making her final move to a retirement home for the Notre Dame sisters at Craigend on the banks of the River Clyde.
I loved to visit her here and enjoyed her flowers and sitting in the garden that she so lovingly tended. Her trusty secateurs resided in a box outside her bedroom door!
She enjoyed reasonably good health for a number of years but never really recovered from a fall that resulted in a broken hip.  My frequent visits were usually just for an overnight, flying from Shannon to Prestwick on a Saturday, hiring a car and driving to Dumbarton and home again on Sunday. On my last trip she had been transferred  to hospital on the very day I arrived. I don’t think she ever knew I was there but I stayed at the hospital from Saturday through to Thursday when I had to return to Ireland. She frequently asked for her brothers, but other than that she was not conscious.
She died on Thursday May 10th 2007, and was buried at the local cemetery in Dumbarton in the plot belonging to the Sisters of Notre Dame.
Aunt May led an unremarkable life in many ways. She cared for her younger siblings for a number of years, she made a huge sacrifice to enter a religious life in the knowledge that she would never see home again. But things changed for her with new locations, and new challenges. She adapted to them cheerfully. The freedom to visit family whenever she wished and to go on holidays often to Carrigart with her sister Eileen were undreamed of delights. On visits to our homes, she challenged us in many ways with her fussing, but at the back of it all she was a very loving and lovely lady – not perfect but good enough for us to be proud to call her Aunt May.
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Normally religious sisters are buried with their bronze cross in the coffin. In her case it was overlooked and the Sisters very kindly asked me to take it in remembrance of her. She wore it daily for over 40 years. It travels everywhere with me and I am very proud to own it.

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As we remember her on the centenary of her birth, it is an honour to place this memorial to her on the World Wide Web. Aunt May Gallagher/ Sr Patricia Mary may have led an unremarkable life, but she lived it well.  She was truly a remarkable woman. I miss her still.

 

Note: The Convent of Notre Dame at Ashdown Park is now a leading luxury hotel. You can see some images of the house and the beautiful Harry Clarke stained glass windows, including one that has 35 shades of blue, which were installed by the nuns on their website.  Click  here

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Discovering our grandmother, Mary Friel

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Our Grandmother Mary Gallagher née Friel (Image thesilvervoice. Date unknown)

Our grandmother Mary Friel died many years before any of her grandchildren were born. We knew about her, as when we went from Carrigart to visit the many relations in Fanad in the next peninsula, a visit to her grave at Massmount was part of the itinerary, and was either the first or last port of call. Discovering her has taken a lifetime, as information about her is so scarce, and that is due in no small measure to the fact that she died so young, also her name is not recorded on the family headstone. Thoughts have turned to her now as we are about to commemorate the centenary of the birth of her eldest child, our Aunt May, and so I tried to piece together the story of her life. So who was she? What do we know about her?

Mary Friel was born on May 22 1882, the 2nd youngest of 8 children of John Friel, Carpenter, and Annie nee Coll of Pullid in Fanad. In 1896, her older sister Hannah or Nora, died at age 22 of consumption, or ‘phthisis’, which of course was Tuberculosis.  It must have been heartbreaking for the 14-year-old to stand at the grave of her older sister at Massmount graveyard.

Some five years or so later, the 1901 census has three of the Friel sisters residing at a shop in Balloor, Fanad owned by John Friel – possibly their father or another relation.  Older sister Katie, a seamstress aged 22 was the head of the household, with  Susan aged 19, a shop assistant and 17 year old Mary, also a seamstress. We see that all three girls were bilingual. By this time oldest sister Unie (born January 1871)  was married and living at Araheera with her husband John Friel and two of their children plus an extended family of in-laws.

1901 Census – 3 Friel sisters in Baloor Fanad

The second son of the family and one of only two Friel boys, Arthur (known as Art), joined the priesthood and in 1911 we find our grandmother Mary, together with her youngest sister Annie living with him at his home in Tangaveane, Graffy, near Glenties County Donegal. Art, Mary and Annie were close in age and presumably shared a close relationship. (The census form is filled out in the Irish language). It would not have been unusual for the sisters of a priest to act as his housekeepers.

1911 census – completed in Irish

The next event that I have been able to verify is the marriage of Mary and our grandfather James Gallagher on September 26 1915. They would have met because Fr. Art was the curate in the parish in which our grandfather had lived and worked as a school teacher. Fr Art, or Uncle Art as he is referred to in our family, officiated at their marriage in the church of Edeninfagh, Glenties and youngest sister Annie was one of the witnesses.

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The marriage photograph of Mary Friel and James Gallagher 1915.

Last summer for the first time I visited the church in Edeninfagh and found it quite emotional to be standing in the same place where they all gathered to celebrate the marriage. The church is in the hills of Donegal in a very quiet location.

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Edeninfagh Chapel in the misty hills of Donegal

The interior of the church, where our grandparents made their marriage vows.

Our grandfather was now teaching at Templedouglas National School in Glenswilly, so Mary would have moved there with him.  When expecting their first child, Mary, as was customary, returned to her mother’s home to give birth in May 1917. Again her youngest sister Annie was called upon to be godmother to their eldest child, our Aunt May.

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James Gallagher and Mary Friel with their firstborn, Mary Isabella Gallagher in 1917

Our aunt Eileen and our father Gerard were both born in Glenswilly in 1919 and 1921 respectively. The next location we have for them was at Ballyheerin, Fanad  where our grandfather was the local school teacher and it was here that they welcomed their next two sons Sean and Jim, into the world in 1921 and 1923.

Ballyheerin – the house with the slate roof in the centre of the picture, partially hidden behind the field, where our grandparents lived and where Sean and Seamus were born

In 1925 our grandmother experienced the loss of her mother Anna Friel, nee Coll and the following year in 1926, her father Sean (John) died.  In November 1928 her youngest sister Annie passed away at the tragically young age of 43, leaving a young family. These sorrowful events must have been very hard for our poor grandmother to endure.

The Gallagher family with their 5 children moved to Carrigart at a date that I have not yet established, but probably in the late 1920s,  when our grandfather became school principal at Mulroy National School. Our father used say that they looked at Ballyhogan House as a possible rental when they moved to Carrigart, but that his mother (always referred to as ‘Mama’ by all of her children) felt it was too far from the village and so they moved into the house at the top of the street, probably belonging to Mary Anne Maguire, proprietress of the Carrigart Hotel at the time.

Information and anecdotes about our grandmother are few and far between which is astonishing in itself. Aunt May, the eldest in the family told me that she was an excellent seamstress and made beautiful quilts, including one that had the rising sun as a centre piece. With hindsight I have a vague recollection of such a patchwork quilt on my bed when I was very young, but it is only in recent years that I have come to appreciate that I actually lived in the same house where our grandparents had lived and indeed where our grandmother died.  Apart from possibly the quilt, I have no memory of anything about them in the house, no photograph, no belongings, no memories at all.  Aunt May also told me that she and her mother used go to ‘the spout’ outside Carrigart village to collect buckets of fresh spring water.

Mary became ill when the children were quite young and according to our father, she spent a lot of time with her brother Fr. Art who was then a curate in Falcarragh. The curate had a housekeeper and could presumably look after his sister in her illness. Dad said he remembered visiting ‘Mama’ at Uncle Art’s house in Falcarragh and that they could only see her for a very short time as she was very tired.  She seems to have been there for a long time, but young children do have a different perspective of time. He recalls that they were upset that she could not go home with them. According to our neighbour, Mrs Duffy, our grandmother had undergone surgery for breast cancer in Dublin some time before she died. It was she who told me many years ago that she had breast cancer.

I once sat in on a discussion between most of Dad’s siblings and they all recalled being taken to her sick-bed in Carrigart one by one to say kiss and say goodbye to her. I cannot begin to imagine the trauma for the children, nor indeed for a mother having to go through such a deathbed scene. They all recall her saying/asking ‘what will become of poor little Seamus’ who was her youngest child, then only 6 years of age.

Aunt May told me that she herself  was a daily Mass goer and she remembers well on the Saturday morning arriving back home from Mass to be told that her mother had died. This was July 25 1931 and the children were then aged, 6, 8 10, 12 and 14 with Aunt May being the eldest.

The death certificate, which I only recently acquired, shows the cause of death as ‘Carcinoma of the liver, following amputation of breast. (9 months)’. It is very possible and highly probable that our grandmother suffered greatly during her illness. The limitations to pain relief almost a century ago do not bear thinking about. Her death must surly have come as a great relief to older people that her suffering had come to an end, but her children were bereft.

Obituary August 1931 – no mention of the five children!

When our grandmother died the old graveyard in Carrigart was full and the new graveyard had not yet been acquired, so her body was returned to Fanad to be laid to rest with her older sister Nora, her mother and her father, just yards from the grave of her youngest sister Annie. Aunt May seems to be the only one of the siblings to recall the funeral, so perhaps the others remained at home. She told me that after the funeral they went to a nearby establishment for a meal and it was here that she saw and ate baked beans for the first time in her life!

It was this grave that we visited every time we visited the many relations in Fanad. The inscriptions were in Irish and it never occurred to me then that her name was not on the memorial. The grave was opened again just a year later as her eldest brother Francis died in August 1932. His name is transcribed below that of his parents, followed by his wife.  A son of Francis and his wife are also buried here.

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The Friel Grave at Massmount Graveyard.

In recent years our father and his brothers had a plaque placed on the grave in memory of their mother, but it remains my wish to have her name inscribed on the headstone with her sister, mother, father and brother. At the time of writing Mary Friel has great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren. I like to think that they and their descendants would like to know about her. This is all we know.

As our father would often say..’Poor Mama ….God Rest them all’

 

 

 

 

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