Monthly Archives: April 2018

Spring in an Irish country churchyard

My lunchtime walk today was to a little churchyard on the tidal estuary of the Owenacurra River, near where I live. A church built c. 1550, and already in ruins by 1615, is a feature of this place. Originally part of the demesne of Ballynacorra House, the graveyard has many interesting headstones and grave markers.

The focus of my walk today was to enjoy the emerging spring flora in this peaceful sheltered spot and I was not disappointed!

Blue bluebells, white three-cornered-leek, often mistaken for wild garlic with its distinctive garlic scent, cover the ground in great drifts, while apple and cherry blossom create a bee-loud glade.

Smaller clumps of wildflowers are scattered about

So many beautiful vistas here.

What a beautiful location for a relaxing stroll!

Further information

HistoricGraves have conducted a survey of this important graveyard and transcriptions can be seen here.  Ballinacurra Graveyard


Filed under Ireland

Sensational Silver Surfers 2018

I am always thrilled to get an invite to attend the annual Age Action Silver Surfer Awards! I attended this year’s awards on Tuesday last in the Eir building in Dublin. The sponsors are internet providers Open Eir who excelled in hosting a real celebration of older internet users and those who support them across the country.

I was absolutely blown away by the achievements of the nominees and in awe of the way that silver surfing has developed over the years. It was especially great to see so many  ‘older’older people feature as finalists! My very first Age Action Silver Surfer event was 7 years ago when I was a winner in my category. Since then the categories have changed, people are no longer on dial-up. With fast internet speeds available, smartphones and a myriad of apps, the internet has become even more user-friendly and life-enhancing for older people.

John Church, Age Action’s CEO, opened the proceedings welcoming the finalists who are challenging ageist stereotypes and making the internet work for them.

Carolann Lennon CEO of Eir commended the ways the finalists are embracing connectivity and building online communities as well as improving their own lives.

The Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for Mental Health and Older People, Jim Daly T.D. began the ceremony. He said that by developing technological skills older people increase their independence and confidence. He praised the Age Action Getting Started programme and Eir for providing a nationwide mobile and broadband service that enhances lives. Hi

Broadcaster, fashion designer and TV  personality Brendan Courtney was the host for the awards ceremony.

The finalists in each of the six categories were loudly praised and warmly welcomed by the audience.

Getting Started IT Award – Awarded to an older person who is new to technology and
has overcome challenges to become an IT user.

Tom with his assistang and trusty Guide Dog!

Tom Langan from Renmore County Galway was the winner. Tom is totally blind yet he embraces technology in many ways – he listens to Audio Books on Audible, converts printed word to either sound or braille using KNFB reader, connects with sighted volunteers for visual assistance using  ‘Be my Eyes’ app and uses a dedicated GPS system suitable for visual impairment to get about. He encourages and assists other visually impaired people to get the most from their devices.


Hobbies on the Net Award

Margaret Byrne from Tallaght Co Dublin took this award for her crochet, jewellery and knitting activities on Facebook and her blog ‘The Crafty Irish Girl‘. She connects with the craft-making community and shares her patterns and ideas with her readers as well as providing online tutorials! She loves Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram. A busy, busy lady!

IT Tutor of the year.

Many individuals and groups volunteer with Age Action. They offer thousands of hours tuition on the Age Action Getting Started programme, helping older people to get online.  Individuals can be school going teenagers or seniors themselves or may be part of a workforce. There were three awards in this category. The Schools Award went to the girls of the Dominican College, Griffith Avenue, Dublin. I have a particular soft spot for intergenerational interaction and I was delighted for them!

The individual IT Tutor or of the year was Marie Hogan, from Birdhill Co Tipperary. Marie began tutoring when working in Milford Day Care centre and has continued her excellent work in the Tipperary Nursing home where she now works.

The winners of the Corporate Award were the volunteer tutors from the VMware company in County Cork who have given over 1500 hours of their spare time to the Getting Started programme.

All these volunteers are at the heart of the Age Action programme to help older people become comfortable users of technology.  Their contribution is priceless!

IT Enthusiast Award

This is for an older person who embraces the internet or technology with a sense of fun and adventure and 76-year-old Mary Dunne was the winner. Mary is a member of the Ardee County Louth Active Retirement Group and thanks to her, 80% of the membership of that group uses the internet! She handles group bookings in Ireland and across Europe and is a big fan of Pinterest when looking for ideas to decorate her local church. Her 6 children and 16 grandchildren are all on Whats App and Mary likes to use Bet Finder for backing horses! Mary is a promoter of internet safety and aims to alleviate fears of some older people around using the internet. A worthy winner!

The Community Champion Award is for an older person who uses the internet to the benefit of their community locally or nationally.

The very impressive winner of this award was 98-year old David Rowe from Sandyford in Dublin. David keeps a close eye on planning applications in his area on behalf of An Taisce. He prepares submissions for policymakers and contributes articles to his local community magazine as well as designing covers. He has edited 8 books since his ‘retirement’ and uses IT for the benefit of a number of voluntary organizations.  David is a real treasure in his community!

One of my favourite awards is the Golden IT Award for someone over the age of 80 who uses technology to enhance their life.

From Carrigtwohill, Co Cork Gordon Lawson came to grips with technology in his 80s. Now aged 99, Gordon enjoys staying downloading music, online banking and social media to stay in touch with friends and family. As Secretary of his local church group he keeps minutes up to date and has downloaded flight simulators to keep in touch with his former career as a pilot with the RAF!  Gordon loves to help others by using technology and he coordinates the delivery of the Meals on Wheels service locally, even delivering meals to people older than himself!

From these 6 category winners, an overall winner of the OpenEir Age Action Silver Surfer Award was selected. And the overall winner was…

Margaret Byrne, who had picked up the Hobbies on the Net Award!

IMG_3600.jpgNot only does she do her craftwork online, but she also campaigns for survivors of mesh implant complications through her online support group ‘Mesh Survivors Ireland’ which she co-founded. (Mesh implants were seen as a ‘cure’ for postnatal incontinence, but many women who received them have been incapacitated as a result). The group provides support to 250 members through online contact as well as at meetings and through support groups. Margaret’s campaigning has led the Minister for Health Simon Harris to agree to carry out an investigation into the impact of mesh implants.


Congratulations Margaret and congratulations to all the category winners and the nominees – all are truly inspirational as they continue to challenge the ageist stereotype. These wonderful role models are improving their own quality of life and make a huge difference to their communities.

I hesitated to make this post as the quality of the images is not great, but I decided to go ahead in celebration of the wonderful work of the Age Action Getting Started Programme. Age is no longer a barrier and if you or someone you know could benefit from free one to one tuition to broaden their horizons and to connect them to the world, please do contact Age Action by clicking on the link above.

For excellent images of the event see here.


Filed under Age Action Ireland, Ageing in Ireland, Ageism, Digital Inclusion, Ireland

Three Gallagher Brothers

Today Apil 18, marks the anniversaries of our father Gerard who died on April 18 2006 and his younger brother Séan who died on April 18 2012. The youngest of the three brothers Jim, died on March 28 2014.

This photo was taken on the Dingle Peninsula in July 1984.

dad sean jim.jpg

Left to right;  Our Dad, Gerard, or Jerry as he was known locally (December 1921- April 2006); Uncle Jim, or Seamus as he was known in England, (March 1925 – March 2014) – he died just days after his birthday; Uncle Séan, known in New York as John (November 1923 – March 2014).

They all grew up in Carrigart, Co Donegal, with their older sisters May and Eileen. Dad was born in Glenswilly and the younger boys were born in Ballyheerin in Fanad. Uncle Séan emigrated to the USA in 1948 and Uncle Jim emigrated to London in the same year.

They are sorely missed.


Filed under Family History, Ireland, My Oral History

Postcards from London: Walking on the dead of Whitechapel.

With a passion for Family History, I spend a considerable amount of time in graveyards and cemeteries. Many friends with similar interests are often perplexed to hear of burial grounds where it is proposed to  ‘lawn over’ or reuse graves. This challenges deeply held beliefs in many cultures about burials, mainly to do with dignity and respect. Although we have a number of really old and now closed graveyards in Ireland (that double as quite unique wildlife and natural habitats), we sometimes have burial grounds uncovered during development. We also have ‘reconfigured’ gravesites such as those at Ireland’s best-known necropolis, Glasnevin in Dublin. They refer to some of these as ‘gone over graves’, where a plot, already occupied, comes up for sale.

The was a recent exhumation of over 60,000 remains in St James’s Park in Camden to make way for London’s new High-Speed Rail System – See here.  The recreational park under which they have rested for almost 150 years boasted a tennis court as part of the amenity. In all probability, we must be walking and playing on the graves of the millions of dead who inhabited the earth for aeons before us. Yet we don’t often come face to face with this reality. I did, on a recent trip to London.


It is always great to return to the east end area of London, where I worked once upon a time. The Whitechapel Road runs into Aldgate, one of the historic entrances to the City of London. This is Jack the Ripper territory and although most of the little lanes and the smog are long gone, one’s step does quicken when walking through this area after dark! On the night of my arrival, I made my way from the underground station to the apartment of my friend, taking a shortcut through a graveyard. It was a little disconcerting to see groups of young lads in behind a tomb, presumably trading or partaking of something illicit, so I sped along. I returned the following morning to see what had become of this graveyard as it had changed quite a bit from the place I remembered.


Altab Ali Park – spot the tomb!

Formerly known as St Mary’s Park, this is now Altab Ali Park with an interesting history. It occupies a very historic site on the Whitechapel Road, itself following the line of the ancient Roman road between London and Colchester.


Entrance to Altab Ali Park

The church that stood here has had many iterations.

The first was a chapel of ease, built between 1250 and 1286. Constructed using a white chalk rubble, the area becoming known as Whitechapel, a name that has been in use since 1344.

Wrecked by a storm, it was rebuilt in 1362, thanks in no small measure to a Papal Bull negotiated by the absentee rector  – Sir David Gower, then a Canon of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin – that promised remission of sins for pilgrims who parted with their money on visiting the church.

Known as St. Mary Matfelon, it stood until 1763 when it was demolished and replaced by a red brick church.


St. Mary Matfelon 19th century  (Image  London Illustrated News)

It was found to be structurally unsound in the later part of the 19th century and was reconstructed between 1875 and 1878.


St. Mary’s c. 1878 (Image Wikimedia Commons) Note the Drinking Fountain!

Unfortunately, it was then destroyed by fire just a few years later in 1880.

Whitechapel_St._Mary's_Church_after_the_fire_1880 (1)

After the fire (Image Wikimedia Commons)

It was rebuilt again in 1882 and stood here into the 20th century until Seriously damaged by bombing on December 29, 1940.  When the remains were struck by lightning in 1952 it was finally demolished shortly afterwards.


The bombed shell of St Mary’s (Image Wikimedia Commons)

The site was used as park thereafter. During an archaeological dig by the Museum of London in 2012, remains of the original buildings were found and the park was reviatlized . It now includes a raised walkway outlining the footprint of the earlier churches, with some sections of the original masonry on view.


The path follows an outline of  one of the original churches



Fragments of the original structures alongside the paved area marking the footprint of the church.

The area is now grassed over, but what of the burials that took place here down the ages?  Unlike St James Park mentioned above, there were no reinternments. The graveyard is the last resting place for some notable men, such as Richard Brandon, the alleged executioner of King Charles 1, who died in 1649, and Sir John Cass, the educational philanthropist who died in 1718. There was a rather gruesome discovery in the church belfry in 1863 when 11 coffins and skulls of many children were discovered during repair works. It was surmised that the coffins may have been dropped through the belfry roof by families unable to afford the cost of a grave, but wanting the remains to repose in a Christian site.  In the following year, there was a further gruesome discovery when a ‘pile of bones’ was discovered in one corner of the graveyard. Newspaper reports stated that there were at least 18 bodies and that they were ‘shockingly mutilated’. Nothing seems to have come of the investigations into this and the conclusion was that these remains had been stored in a bone house.

In common with other graveyards in London, St Mary’s became very overcrowded and by the mid 19th-century burials ceased. The Gentleman’s Magazine noted in December 1850 that “St Mary is setting an excellent example to the Metropolitan parishes whose churchyards will soon be closed under the Internments Act. It was planted with trees and shrubs as it was a known fact that trees absorb and convert noxious gasses given off by the process of decomposition of the body.

The graveyard has now been cleared of headstones which have been ‘tidied’ to the perimeter.

The tomb of the Maddock Family, timber merchants, who lived here in the early 19th century is a prominent feature of the park and serves as a ‘hangout’ for socializing youths.


The Maddock Chest Tomb

And so, St Mary’s has now become Altab Ali Park, a strange name for a landmark in London. It was renamed in memory of a 25-year-old Bengali textile worker who was murdered by three teenage racists on May 4, 1978, as he made his way home from work. At that time racial tensions were running high especially in London’s east end, which had attracted a lot of Pakistani immigrants. The thugs who murdered him, spurred on by the vicious racism of the National Front, said they did it because he ‘was a Paki’.  From the tragedy has come some good- the park is the first public space to be named for an immigrant and every year in May the Altab Ali Commemoration takes place in this historic place.


20570E81-39FB-4C71-8922-3E3CB0FD17E7.jpegIn one corner of the park is the Shahid Minar, representing a mother protecting her children with the red sun behind. The Shahid Minar is also referred to as Martyr’s Monument. It has deep cultural and historical significance for Bengalis as it commemorates five Bengali students shot dead on 21 February 1952 in a demonstration in support of the right to use the Bengali language within Pakistan.

Altab Ali Park has had an interesting history down the centuries. Scores of individuals pass through here each hour, most of them unaware of what lies beneath their feet.

Set into the exterior wall by the entrance is my most favourite feature of all. It is the drinking fountain which has witnessed many changes. Although relocated, I love that it is seen almost exactly as it is today, in the image of the church of St Mary’s c.1878 above.



The Pink Marble Drinking Fountain dates from 1860. A good resting place for a bicycle.

Sources/Further Reading

The history of this site is contained on information boards at the perimeter.

British Newspaper Archives







Filed under Ireland, My Travels