Remembering members of our family is part of my ‘mission’ in life as the self appointed curator of the family history. So many close relatives have lived, loved, been loved and died, and are never ever remembered again. I like to try to find out about them, even if I never knew them, and keep them relevant by remembering them on anniversaries of birth, marriage or death.
There is one I did know and one whose death is never far from my mind. The 30th of June is here again and once more I am torn between updating a blog post about the death of our baby brother aged 15 months in 1959, or simply leaving it alone.
Last year, 2019, marked the 60th anniversary of his death and I tried but just could not make it to the end of a post to mark his anniversary. However, a couple of recent events have prompted me to update my post.
Canice, sitting on my lap, was having a bad day when this photograph was taken as he was teething and was out of sorts. He wasn’t much interested in sitting still anyhow and he was unhappy throughout the session.
Just a matter of days later he died. He had crawled under the wheel of a mail van, parked just outside our house, and was fatally injured when it moved off. In recent times I have found some newspaper reports of his death.
This was the death notice published on Wednesday July 1. He died on a Tuesday afternoon and the funeral was on Wednesday, straight to the graveyard. There was no funeral liturgy for children at this time.
An inquest was held in the local hotel in July. I recall my father being deeply distressed following the inquest. He requested that the inquest be reconvened to put on the record that absolutely no blame whatsoever attached to George Fisher, the driver of the mail van. George was in our house twice every single day and he was such a kind gentle man. There was no way he could have spotted Canice under the van. and Dad did not want any cloud hanging over him.
The Acknowledgement was carried in the Irish Press in August 1959
Our mother kept Canice’s baby shoes and his beloved blue duck. I acquired them after she died in 1999. (The leather shoes need some conservation work after 61 years)
Some years ago while on holiday in Donegal and visiting Paddy Vaughan’s house I was shown two items that the late Mary Vaughan had kept and treasured. She had washed and bandaged and laid Canice into a coffin and had kept his Nappy Pin. It was at this time that I first saw the death notice that had appeared in the papers too.
Some weeks back I received a package in the post containing the pin and the death notice that Kevin Vaughan had looked after while his parents were alive.
It had actually never occured to me before that it must have been a very traumatic experience to have to lay out a badly injured small child. I believe Mrs Duffy helped with the sad task.
And reading the newspaper reports Joy Speer must also have been traumatized by what she saw – it was her screams that led my mother out to see what had happened. The local sergeant had chided my mother for lifting the body – apparently she should have left it where it lay to allow for a proper investigation. At this time there was no such thing as psychological support to people had to deal with their traumas as best they could.
Sophie McGroddy came to our aid that day and supported my mother and all of us. Breege Cullen who worked in the Hotel looked after me that evening and night. Both were brilliant.
The pandemic lockdown led me down a number of ‘rabbit holes’ sorting old photographs and letters. Among the boxes were a number of old postcards of the parish of Mevagh where I grew up. Postcards were essentially the ‘text messages’ of their time and it was almost mandatory to post one to friends, neighbours and relatives from your holiday resort. Bounded on the east by Mulroy Bay, on the west by Sheephaven Bay and by the Atlantic to the north, the parish of Mevagh, on the Rosguill Peninsula, is a very popular holiday destination and dozens of postcards would be bought, written and sent from here every summer.
There were three villages in the parish – Glen, Downings and Carrigart. My old postcards are mostly of my own village of Carrigart
This is a selection, with some personal memories associated with them. It is interesting to see how the things have changed the years! Most notable of course is the absence of cars.
The postcard on the left shows the street devoid of vehicles and just above the North Star Hotel on the right is what we knew as ‘The Planting’. This was a small wood that was a magical place for children to play. We swung out of trees like Tarzans and and Janes; the bigger boys would dig holes and conceal them with branches and vegetation so that anyone treading on them would fall in; here we played ‘hide and go seek’ and Cowboys and Indians. It was a marvelous adventure playground and amenity in the village.
It looks like these photos may have been taken on two different days, but from almost exactly the same spot at the ‘bottom’ of the street, outside of what would become the North Star Ballroom. Of interest is the figure sitting on the summer seat at Andy Speer’s house – I wonder who that was? The Lucan Ice Cream sign was at Diver’s shop who sold wafers and ice cream sodas made with ice cream and soda in a tall glass. This lovely little shop also had a library where we could borrow books. Julia Diver was very generous with the size of the ice cream wafers. At this time the only other shop that sold ice cream was Walsh’s at the top of the street and they had a metal device that marked the HB block of ice cream into threepenny portions. Pure misery for children. (Especially if it was my Dad who was dispensing it in Walsh’s, they were particularly mean- or so we thought!)
The postcard on the right records a ‘tour or excursion bus’ being in town. Usually these arrived in July and August when the ‘marching season’ in the north of Ireland was at its height and catholics would go on excursions to avoid the often sectarian marches in Derry. The tourists took tea and refreshments at the North Star before moving on. Often more than one would arrive at the same time. The only time I ever recall our front door being closed was when the tour buses were in town. We had a number of strange incidents where total strangers felt entitled to walk straight onto our house just because the door was open!
This next postcard features a photograph taken outside from what was then McElwees shop, McElwees sold newspapers. Patrick and sister Annie operated the shop. In later years, a sister Maggie Ellen came to help out in the shop when Annie was in poor health. I remember this shop especially for the tins of biscuits with glass lids, that could be lifted up to select your biscuits and put them in a paper bag. They also sold bars of French Nougat (or nugget as we called it).
Next door was Kiely’s, another shop. I recall it as a dark place with a distinctive smell. Madge never seemed to be in the best of humour, but it was worth risking her bad form to get a Peggy’s Leg.
The car (an Austin A 40?) is parked opposite McGettigan’s. They sold spirits and when I was growing up the shop was run by sisters Birdie and Mary Rose McGettigan. This shop had a beautiful old wooden counter. They also sold ‘conversation lozenges’ – a type of hard sweet with messages written on them. I don’t recall any of the messages, but they were good value and a bag would last ages as they were so hard!
Next door, with the shop sign just visible, was Martha Speer’s. This shop was heaven as it was here that we bought our comics – Dandy, Beano, Beezer,Topper, Tiny Tots, Victor – and magazines every Wednesday. It was this shop too that first sold potato crisps in the village – the plain ones with sachets of salt in a little blue bag. We used to go there to buy them and if she had none, Martha Speer would tell us that there was a shortage of the right kind of potatoes, or even that the potato crop failed.
One of the McClafferty’s is sitting on the window at their butcher shop with a bike parked alongside. Joe McClafferty had a butcher shop her with a big wooden chopping block. We spent much time in McClaffertys as my brother was friends with Cathal. Their kitchen was always warm and Sarah was very welcoming. She had a washing board and I remember when she got a modern glass one that would rip your knuckles as well as cleaning the linen! When I think of her I think of her washing board and Sunlight soap.
McCoach’s lovely ivy covered house is beyond that surrounded by the hedge and with some trees growing in the front garden.
In the distance is a building with a corrigated roof – this was the Chemist shop. Paddy Doherty was the chemist when I was very young and he spent a lot of time in our house. When he moved on, Miss Greene was the pharmacist. This was the place where babies were weighed on the scales with a big straw basket. She invariably offered children a Glucose twist out of a big jar on the counter.
There are delivery vehicles at the North Star Hotel and the lovely ‘Planting’ dominates the street.
This is a very strange postcard indeed! Who would want to send a postcard like this from your holidays! The woman sweeping the street beside the picket fencing is Mary Josie Griffin Sweeney. Griffins shop sold all sorts of drapery, including Donegal Handwoven Tweed. They had a beautiful display of Beleek fine bone china is the window too. This distinctive and almost translucent china came in very interesting shapes.
The interesting features of this postcard is the man with the shovel mixing something and the man crossing the street with a plank. There seems to be a pile of sand deposited near the railing of the Celtic Cross Leitrim memorial too. I wonder what was being constructed ? The Ford Prefect is parked outside Walsh’s Bar which was adjacent to the shop.
On the bottom right of the card, alongside the picket fence, is Griffin’s display of beautiful Donegal Tweeds. Griffins Drapery and Speers Drapery next door, displayed their tweeds outside at the front of their shops in the tourist season. Both shops also had upstairs showrooms. I think I see a display of postcards on sale at Griffins too. This was taken on a busy day in town!
In the centre of the postcard is the Carrigart Hotel. An iconic building in the village dating from about c 190, it had distinctive semi circular steps at the front door and . It was attached to a bar and grocery shop. This was an Esso petrol pump – the only one in town. This lovely original building is listed in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage here.
Carrigart had its own professional photographer in John McClafferty. John sadly died at a young age in 1981. John produced several postcards of the village.
The postcard on the left, probabaly shot on another day of tour buses, shows a busy street. McCoach’s ivy clad house with trees as seen above, has been replaced by Boyce’s Supermarket, Martha Speer’s shop is selling ice cream as well as comics and other groceries. The postcard on the right is probably the first attempt at showing off some of the lovely architecture of teh parish. The Carrigart and Rosapenna Hotels, a fine view of the beautiful Holy Trinity Church and a streetscape that shows the design of the estate village with uniform roof lines. Two more petrol pumps have arrived in town outside Griffins, together with some street lighting.
This set of old sepia postcards were produced by The Irish Tourist Association Photo – Copyright. Printed in Eire, they have ‘Ref./A and Ref , B on the reverse.
They feature scenes of Mulroy Bay, an important and beautiful feature of the parish of Mevagh.The image to the left is where the Atlantic Ocean meets the bay, on the top right is the causeway into the Leitrim Estate at Mulroy and the bottom right photo seems to be taken from a house near Bunlin. All these views are within a few miles of the village.
The scenes on the right are as in the previous images. The top left view is of the Needle’s Eye – a rock formation near the shore of Downings Bay. Interestingly this does not seem to feature on modern cards at all. It was a popular spot for us years ago. The bottom left seems to be a view of Mulroy Bay from Cratlagh Woods and the centre piece seems to be a view from the Cranford area.
This is rather lovely after all the black and white offerings! Mulroy Bay is an absolute treasure -a sheltered waterway with many lovely wooded islands. Sadly the fabulous views of Mulroy Bay from the Mevagh side have become obscured by vegetation in recent decades. I think this may be a view from near Cranford.
The legend on the back of this postcard is an advertisement in itself! It reads: ‘Mulroy Bay is one of the most beautiful of all the bays around the Irish coast. Along its shores tiny peninsulas run into the sea- some richly clad with fir and pine and gorse- protecting the snug little coves between. From the high ground magnificent views are obtained of the bay, with its numerous wooded islands and much-indented shores. The beauty and charm of County Donegal will cast its spell over you and draw you irresistibly.’ And of course, lots of Foxgloves in summer!
The remainder of my collection are local views.
I like this one as it has the stooks of corn in the fields. Nothing much would have changed here except for the method of farming.
I like the stacks of turf here – I wonder if the turf was cut here or merely stacked here ?
I wonder is this from a painting or is it a photograph that has been coloured? The things to note here are that the road is not tarred and the Youth Hostel is not shown. So this may possibly be from the end of the 19th Century
This is among my favourites. The An Oige Youth Hostel was designed by the famous architect Edwin Lutyens as a hunting lodge for the Honorable Robert and Mrs Phillimore of London c 1907. After her husband’s death, Mrs Phillimore continued to visit the area. In 1910 she had the Cross erected so that the poor people could pray here and not have to walk two hours each way to the chapel in Umlagh for Mass. Canon Gavigan who was parish priest at the time, refused to bless it or have anything to do with it. No doubt he so decreed from in front of his warm fire very near to the chapel. In 1937 the Lodge was gifted to the An Oige Association and is in use ever since as a Youth Hostel. It remains a listed building.
My final two postcards are of the Boatyard on Fanny’s Bay which is in turn on Mulroy Bay. The boat building yard was established in 1910 by the Congested Districts Board. This area had a thriving herring fishing industry and Downings remains a significant landing port to this day.
As the COVID-19 statstics in Ireland continue to decline, rules for ‘cocooners’ are being eased on a phased basis and the horrid term ‘cocooning’ is falling out of use.
After 100 days we take tiny little steps back to a new normal. A ‘normal’ that is as yet unknown and possibly fraught with danger. As the ‘lockdown’ is phased out I will end this series of posts with some reflections on the rough road travelled.
The biggest tragedy is the loss of the 1,715 men women and young adults in the Republic of Ireland who did not make it through this awful time. They range in age from 17 to 103. The loss of each one is a tragedy and a huge void in the lives of those who knew and loved them. I knew and loved a number of them. Across the water in the UK, so connected to us through our diaspora, the statistics are overwhelming – to date, 42,461 people have died – an incredible number. This includes 545 people who have died in Northern Ireland. These are awful numbers to try to deal with.
The artist Juan Lucena painted this beautifully poignant image in remembrance of those who had to leave without saying goodbye.
The plight of our elderly in residential care was shocking. Over 50% of our deaths happened within these ‘safe havens’. This was an immense failure of our state – and not only ours- the scandal was repeated in other jurisdictions with some rhetoric containing the chilling phrase- ‘they were going to die anyway’. Dying alone without the presence of family members and without the comforting support of funeral rituals has been a huge trauma of these times, particularly here in Ireland where such rites of passage are a very important part of our lives. I will never forget the image of a lady watching the funeral of her husband of 60 years on an iphone.
One of the rawest of moments of these 100 days came from Dorothy Duffy who wrote a poem honoring her sister Rose who had died alone in a nursing home as a result of COVID 19. Rose and Dorothy are of Irish descent, living in England.
Listen, if you can, to Dorothy’s heartfelt words. This is the transcript of her poem.
My sister is not a statistic
Tomorrow, when the latest Deathometer of Covid is announced in sonorous tones, Whilst all the bodies still mount and curl towards the middle of the curve Heaped one atop and alongside the other My sister will be among those numbers, among the throwaway lines Among the platitudes and lowered eyes, an older person with underlying health conditions, A pitiful way to lay rest the bare bones of a life.
My sister is not a statistic
Her underlying conditions were Love Kindness Belief in the essential goodness of mankind Uproarious laughter Forgiveness Compassion A storyteller A survivor A comforter A force of nature And so much more
My sister is not a statistic
She died without the soft touch of a loved one’s hand Without the feathered kiss upon her forehead Without the muted murmur of familiar family voices gathered around her bed, Without the gentle roar of laughter that comes with memories recalled Evoked from a time that already seems distant, when we were connected by the simplicity of touch, of voice, of presence.
My sister is not a statistic
She was a woman who spanned the seven ages. A mother A grandmother A great grandmother A sister A Friend An aunt A carer A giver
My sister is not a statistic
And so, she joins the mounting thousands
They are not statistics on the Deathometer of Covid
They are the wives, mothers, children, fathers, sisters, brothers, The layers of all our loved ones If she could, believe me when I say, she would hold every last one of your loved ones, croon to and comfort them and say – you were loved. Whilst we who have been left behind mourn deep, keening the loss, the injustice, the rage. One day we will smile and laugh again, we will remember with joy that, once, we shared a life, we knew joy and survived sadness.
You are my sister…….. and I love you.
Copyright Dorothy Duffy 2020
‘Sister’ can be replaced by Father, Mother, Son, Daughter, Aunt, Uncle, Cousin, Neighbour, Friend. Each one a terrible loss to the world.
The shock of the surge of deaths and infection was numbing. But there was light. The heartscalding narrative of those 100 days was wrapped in the warmth of the people, thousands of them, who made life possible and bearable in these awful times.
From refuse collectors to bus drivers, from shop assistants to food producers, from laboratory staff to cleaners, they all put their own lives on the line to keep us safe. Many of them too, among the lowest paid in our society, yet our lives depended on them. Members of our police force, An Garda Siochana, and our postal delivery workers made themselves available to check on vulnerable people, deliver groceries, get prescriptions and generally keep ‘an eye’ that everyone was OK, in particular those living in remote locations.
As we begin anew, we are facing into the unknown. We are not fully aware of the full impact of the pandemic lockdown, What will the fallout be? What emotional price has been paid by people of all ages, from small children to workers, to our most elderly?
For now we focus on the upsides. Friends and relatives who had drifted away in other directions over the years made contact with surprise phone calls, lovely cards, emails, gifts of books, videos of bluebell woods, regular WhatsApp messages. The weekly Zoom meetings with my Toastmasters Club were a real life saver for me too.
And the biggest winner of all seems to be nature – unhindered by pollution from vehicles and aircraft, birds have been singing loudly all day long, skies are bluer, bees are busier, flowers are blooming better than ever, and best of all, more people have time to enjoy the show!
We may now travel within our county, businesses are opening up again. Those of us who are particularly vulnerable, and are not yet ready to test out the ventilator equipment in our hospital intensive care units, will proceed with caution, holding fast to the two-metre distancing, hand washing and face coverings and keeping a close eye on the infection rates.
There was much surprise (and joy) that the Irish Government has gone much further than had been anticipated in easing the Covid-19 restrictions. From June 8, 2020, we can now travel much further, meet up with a small number of others outside, or even in our homes. Many shops, playgrounds, services will reopen.
As the numbers of COVID -19 deaths and new infections has continued to drop, the discourse in recent weeks has been divisive – younger people wondering why they should be socially restricted in order to ‘save’ older people; daily debates about whether health is more important than the economy – a general clamour to return to ‘normality’.
Those who stuck by the guidelines often paid a huge price. They missed the dying hours of loved ones; they missed funerals, even in the most tragic circumstances. Last week the funeral of a 5 year old who drowned took place in accordance with Government guidelines with only a small number of family members present. These, sometimes very cruel guidelines, will without doubt leave an indelible mark on families up and down the country.
We, together, all of us, have done a good job in suppressing the virus. The excruciating numbers of dead and new infections have tapered into single figures with no deaths at all on some days, and a consistently low number of new infections. The advice of medical experts has worked. The sacrifices of many who followed the tough guidelines has worked. Some however, have paid a great price as they have lost jobs, lost their businesses, businesses that will never open their doors again, lost the childcare that enabled them to go to work, lost the essential supports for special needs children and those who need care in the home. So much loss.
We are extraordinarily grateful to everyone, man woman and child, who has played a part in getting us here.
Those of us inside the dreadful ‘cocoon’ may now emerge in a meaningful way. The 2 metre physical distancing remains in place and wearing face covering is recommended, including for a ‘small number’ of visitors to our homes. (It has yet to be determined how to enjoy coffee and cake while having full face covering.)
I will be claiming my two metres for the foreseeable future and venturing out only for exercise and to marvel at beautiful crowd-free places.
No other human being has crossed my threshold for 91 days now. Personal responsibility will be the order of the day. I have no plans to let my 91 days inside this ‘cocoon’ go to waste.
Here in Ireland, everyone who is compromised by health issues and those aged over 70 must stay at home during the Covid-19 Pandemic with food and medication being delivered by family members or teams of volunteers. This is called ‘Cocooning’ and this is a series posts from inside the cocoon.