At the turn of the 20th Century our great grandparents, Daniel and Isabella lived and raised their family of 10 on a small holding on the side of a hill overlooking the Gweebarra River, near Glenties, County Donegal.
There were a number of those children that we knew well, and others who were names that we only had heard as they cropped up in conversation from time to time.
One of these ‘names’ was ‘Aunt Kate’.
Catherine Gallagher was born on May 22nd 1884, the 6th child and 5th daughter of the family. All the children were born at home, usually with the assistance of a local midwife or a neighbour who had experience at births.
In the 1901 Census, taken in April of that year, Catherine is shown as ‘Cassie’, one of 8 offspring at home on that night. Interestingly, our great grandfather Daniel seems to have completed the census form, but left the column headed ‘Rank, Profession or Occupation’ blank. The Census Enumerator has entered ‘Farmer’s Daughter’ for each of the non school going girls, as can be seen by the different handwriting.
Cassie is shown as aged 15, but she was almost 17 and had finished school at that time. All the children had attended Kilkenny National School, about a 20 minute walk away. All members of the family were bilingoal, speaking both Irish and English.
In the 1911 Census here ‘Cassie’ is recorded as Kate and is now 27 years old and again denoted as ‘Farmer’s daughter” In reality, all of these girls were workers, expert knitters, seamstresses and embroiders and would have contributed to the family income as well as helping on the farm with feeding hens, collecting eggs, milking the few cows, saving hay, jam making and baking. I don’t know whether they worked from home or in a workplace.
There is mention of a Kate Gallagher from Mulnamina who was commended for sewing ‘an emroidered white petticoat’ in the Derry Journal newspaper of July 7 1913. Was that our Kate? While there were a few girls of similar name in the townland at the time, I think I am going to claim that it was her!
But we really know nothing of Kate, beyond that she spoke Irish and English, that she attended school and was the 6th born child in the family. Did she have a boyfriend? Did she go dancing? That she would have had many friends in the area is beyond doubt – cousins and neighbours frequented one anothers’ homes. Some of her sisters had married at this stage and perhaps she visited them in their new homes.
The next evidence we have for Kate is her death certificate in 1926.
We learn from the death certificate that Kate had Tubercolis, the great killer of the time and for decades afterwards, and that she had been suffering from heart failure for 3 years. It’s unlikely that she would have been well enough to leave the house for some time before her death if she was frail. The death was registered by our Grandfather James who was present at death. It was probably known that Kate was grievously ill and he travelled from Carrigart to Glenties to be with the family.
Kate’s mother Isabella had died in November 1925, just 9 months before Kate. As far as I know, Aunt Maggie the youngest of the family, had to forgo her job in Glenties when she was needed at home to look after her elderly father, ill sister and eldest brother John.
There were crowds of hazel bushes near the house and I like to think that she and her siblings had fun collecting them each Autumn, as we did decades later.
The great family mystery is: Where is Kate buried? Where are her parents buried? What graveyard are they in? It is terribly sad that there is no trace of her, no trace of them, as though they never existed.
The house is off the beaten track. Kate would have walked this laneway many times during her lifetime, to and from school and to and from homes of relatives.
It is also the lane taken on her last journey, just months after her mother went the same road. The great family mystery is: Where is Kate buried? Where are her parents buried? What graveyard are they in? It is terribly sad that there is no trace of her, no trace of them, as though they never existed.
Yesterday I found a rose named ‘Catherine’. It is deep crimson and is described as elegant, slender, beautifully perfumed and a good cut flower.
Catherine – a rose for Grandaunt Kate Gallagher …who we never knew.
1884 – 1926