19 years after the 9/11 hijackings, another look at the site of the Shanksville Crash site in Pennsylvania. The eerie silence of the landscape, pierced only by a whistling strong breeze, has remained with me. I am very pleased to have this record of the crash site, now utterly changed by the massive memorial that is now there.
On September 11, 2001, United Airlines Flight 93 departed Newark, New Jersey, one of the main New York airports, for San Francisco, California. It was 8:42 am. 37 passengers and 7 crew settled down for the almost 6-hour flight. About three-quarters of an hour later, at around half past nine, 4 hijackers entered the cockpit and took control of the plane.
Aware that something was wrong, passengers and crew phoned family and friends on the ground and were told that passenger planes had been flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre at 8.46 am and 9.03 am. A third plane was crashed into the Pentagon Building in Washington D.C. at 9.37 am. Realizing that their flight was in all probability being used for the same purpose, the passengers and crew of Flight 93 decided to take action.
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.
After months of so called ‘cocooning’ as we sheltered from Covid-19, it was with some trepidation that we headed north west to my home county of Donegal for a holiday. Our chosen location had been determined by a road marathon that had been cancelled due to the pandemic, but we decided to go anyhow. And what a great decision it was!
We were located in the south-west of Donegal, about 15 km from the town of Ardara, along a maze of narrow roads, with only sheep and babbling brooks breaking the silence. Our house was spacious and very comfortable,with all mod cons,apart from internet or a telephone signal. A huge basket of turf was provided for the fire, to add to the coziness and to the sensual experience of being in Donegal, where delicious turfsmoke permeates the air.
So this was going to be a time for enjoying nature and wilderness, a time for walks and fresh air and wide open spaces.The vastness of the empty landscape was sheer paradise. apartment.
Just a short distance in either directon was the fabulous Donegal coastline and the Wild Atlantic Way with a choice of secluded little coves for sitting, or vast exapnses of relatively unoccupied beach for vigorous walks.
This particular region is well known for its spectacular historical features.
The Pilgrimage route or ‘Turas’ at Glencolumkille comprises engraved standing stones, tombs, wells and ruins of an ancient church and would take several hours to complete.
Not quite as ancient, but even more poignant for me are the many remains of old buildings in the area, where families once lived and once toiled.
There is an abundance of beautiful native flowers thriving in grasslands.
And not only delicate blossoms….. Fuschia hedges abound
Donegal is also known for its lovely hydrangeas, widely planted outside houses.
A socially distanced trip to the fishing village of Killybegs, for roadside Fish and Chips beside the busy harbour was a ‘must do’. The fresh-from-the-sea flavour is a dream!
The most dramatic feature in the area has to be the waterfall outside Ardara. It was in full flow after a night of rain when we visited.
This was my first extended trip to this part of Donegal. There is so much to see, so much to do – and this is just a sample of what is on offer.
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
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.
Today I read a comment by a recently retired and highly respected broadcaster and journalist. He referred to receiving a compliment for wearing a face covering, and this caused him to shed ‘the first tear of the day’.
The ‘first tear of the day’. This stopped me in my tracks, because I have developed a habit of noting when it comes – sometimes on waking, but more usually about noon or early evening. I wonder how many others can identify with it?
This pandemic has chipped away at our resilience and confidence. It is hard to avoid the emotion of it, the sorrow for the overwhelming loss it has brought to so many people in so many ways.
In spite of the easing back and lifting of restrictions, many have become more fragile. Feeling low, unable to sleep, being overcome by stories of personal loss or simply bursting into tears for no apparent reason- these are the milestones of the day.
But tears do bring comfort. Whether in a short overspill, a quiet eye-stinging cry, a heartbreaking weep or a convulsive sob, they do ease the emotional pain.They soothe our raw edges, so we can keep going for another while.
The Government has now launched the In this together initiative in recognition of the impact this pandemic is having on the mental health of the entire nation. As part of that wellbeing campaign, the RTE Concert Orchestra and Sibéal Ní Chasaide have come together virtually to record ‘Mise Éire’ which you can hear here.
We will grow out of this hard place.
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.
A few years ago I came across the headstone of a young local man who had been killed in the First World War. He had also been decorated twice for bravery. He was Sgt James Fisher who grew up in Umlagh, in our parish of Mevagh, Co Donegal.
My original post can be seen below. Just recently I was contacted by Alastair Wilson, whose father Alexander was a first cousin of James Fisher. I subsequently did some more research and came across a number of newspaper articles in which James is mentioned. The first of which announced that ”A Brave Carrigart Boy” had been awarded the extremely high-level award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallantry.
The Belfast Newletter also reported the brave actions that led to the prestigious award.
Without doubt James was very brave indeed and his parents would have been very proud of him. A pride that would, needless to say, have been tempered by fears for his safety.
And their worst fears did come to pass just months later, as news of his death reached them.
This newspaper article also refers to actions some months earlier in May 1917 for which James was decorated yet again, adding a bar to his Distinguished Conduct Medal. This double award is quite rare and is a measure of just how courageous James Fisher was.
Sadly, as can be seen from these cuttings, many families would have been impacted by these news reports of family members killed, missing, taken prisoner or wounded.
James Fisher was killed but his body was never recovered. TheTyne Cot war cemetery in Belgium has about 12,000 graves. Unfortunately, James is not among them. His name is one of 34,991 listed on the wall at the end of the cemetery. This wall commemorates those who died after August 1917 and who have no known grave. (The Menin Gate in Ypres commemorates those who died before August 17th 1917).
Alastair Wilson visited Tyne Cot and photographed the name of his cousin James Fisher on the memorial wall. I am very pleased to add this image to this post about James. Thank you Alastair!
British Newspaper Archives
This is the original post:
Discovering a Carrigart man on the centenary of his death
Just the other week, I came upon a grave in Trinity Churchyard in Carrigart, my hometown, on which was recorded a World War 1 death. Amazing to think that I grew up in a parish in north Donegal and never heard about a young local man who by the age of 23 had received two bravery awards and had given his life in the 1st World War
This family headstone in the Trinity Churchyard in Carrigart, records the deaths of three sons, two of whom predeceased their parents. One of these had two bravery awards and was killed in France in 1917.
So what is the story of James Fisher? Who was he?
James was born in Umlagh outside Carrigart on December 10, 1893, the eldest son and third child of James Fisher and his wife Helen McIlwane.
The 1901 census tells us that parents James and Helen were living in Umlagh with their 7 children, Rachel aged 10, Margaret 9, James 7, Kezie 5, Alexander 4, John 2 and David 6 months and James’ brother John. The census record can be seen here.
By 1911, David, born on October 9, 1900, had died in 1905, Rachel and Margaret were no longer living at home, but the family had 5 new members. The household at that time consisted of father James, mother Helen and John senior as well as young James, now 17, Kezie who was 16, Alexander who was 14, John who was 12, and new arrivals Annie aged 9, Margery 7, Catherine Susan aged 5, Aaron who was 3 and another David, then only 2 months old, born on January 21, 1911. The 1911 census record for the family can be seen here.
James enlisted in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and then transferred to the Machine Gun Corps, specializing in, as the name suggests, machine gun duties. In 1916 Lance Corporal James Fisher was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, (the DCM,) for gallantry and the news was carried in The Derry Journal in September of that year.
For conspicuous gallantry in action. When his seniors had become casualties he took command of the gun team and pushed forward. Later he took his gun into a shell hole, caught the enemy in the open , and drove back their counter attack.’
The Distinguished Conduct Medal
James was a very brave young man as he was again recognized for gallantry winning another Distinguished Conduct Medal or ‘Bar’. The 207th Machine Gun Company was attached to the 3rd Australian Division between October 1916 and October 1917 and it was during this time that he won the second award. The citation for his second or ‘bar’ award of the DCM is as follows:
‘A/Corpl James Fisher D.C.M. For conspicuous gallantry on the night of 17/18 May 1917, when in charge of a Machine Gun in very exposed position on ?? the enemy attempted a raid of ? Gap at the same time heavily bombarding ? . No 18679 Corporal J Fisher at once opened fire on his S.O.S target ‘D’ Gap(?) and continued to fire although shells were bursting all around his position, and in spite of the fact that he received blows on the head and in the small of the back from shrapnel. Owing to the protection of his steel helmet and belt respectively, the only injuries received were bruises. His sub-section(?) officer tried to persuade him to be relieved at the gun, but he stuck to his post till the situation became normal, although in a dazed and deafened state. After the raid was over he wanted to stay with his gun, but was ordered by his officer to go to Section Headquarters for the night. Besides materially helping to repel the raid, the example set to the N.C.O.s and men of this Company will have a far reaching effect‘
This recommendation is recorded is the 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Australian Division on 22 May 1917.
However his luck ran out and Sergeant James Fisher, DCM bar Service No. 18679, was killed on September 25, 1917, probably at the Third Battle of Ypres. At this time it appears that the Machine Gun unit was no longer attached to the Australian forces. James probably died around Polderhoek Chateau Ridge on the morning of September 25, 1917, when the British were about to launch their own attack.
In a History and memoir of the 33rd Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps, the events of the fateful day are recorded;
‘By 12 midnight on the 24th-25th September …the 207th Machine Gun Company..was ordered to be in position by 1 a.m on the morning of the 25th, about 159 yards behind our front posts.. About 3.30 on the morning of the 25th, the enemy opened a bombardment of hitherto unparalleled intensity upon our front.
The 207th Company, which…was close behind our front line grouped in batteries, opened fire with sixteen guns at almost point blank range into the massed hordes of the enemy. The enemy was concentrated behind Polderhoek Chateau Ridge… Low flying enemy aeroplanes soon, however, detected (them) and both by machine gunning and directing artillery upon the 207th Machine Gun Company, the enemy inflicted very severe casualties amongst the gunners’
The body of James Fisher was never found, possibly blown to bits. He is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial for the missing, as his grave is not known. He is one of 34,992 young men whose remains were never recovered and whose names are inscribed on this wall.
At the time of his death, James was owed £45/10/5 plus a war gratuity of £16/10/0 which sum was paid to his father on November 15 1919. Not much consolation for the terrible loss of a beloved son.
When researching this post, I made a table of the men from our parish of Mevagh, either born there or who had lived there at one time, and was astonished to find so many who had died between 1914 and 1918. This data has been extracted from the County Donegal Book of Honour, The Great War 1914-1918. These records are confined to deaths in the years 1914 to 1918 only and do not include, for example, a Mevagh man who is buried in Clontallagh who died in 1919.
The statistics are quite startling. In 1914, 2 men from our parish died, 3 died in 1915, 1 in 1916. In 1917, 9 died – 4 of them in a 4 week period alone (and one on the same day as James Fisher) – and 7 died in 1918.
It would be interesting to cross reference the data in the book with the civil records and census records now online and to include those who died from wounds after the 1918 cut off date. and to find their military records.
Sergeant James Fisher D.C.M (Bar) of Umlagh is the most decorated of these Mevagh men and he lost his life 100 years ago. He deserves to be remembered as a son of our parish, as indeed, do all of these men who lost their lives in that conflict.
There is, I understand, a commemorative plaque in the Carrigart Presbyterian Church. I must try to get a photo, if that is allowed.
THE PITY OF WAR!
County Donegal Book of Honour, The Great War 1914-1918.
Australian War Memorial at https:/www.awm.gov.au/collection/R1590453
Another week. It was a hard week as day 54 was crossed off my calendar.
I normally sleep very well, but for a number of consecutive nights, sleep either eluded me completely or was fitful.
It is hard enough getting through ‘normal’ days punctuated by rest of 7 or 8 hours of respite. But a solid block of 24 hours, alone with your thoughts, is not a safe place, not a good place to be. It becomes overwhelming – full of grief for those who have been claimed by this virus, full of sorrow for the bereaved families and friends we were powerless to support, full of sadness that our traditional funerals have become little more than body disposal exercises. And full of an overwhelming sense of loss for roads not taken and the heartbreak of lost and damaged relationships.
Such dark feelings border on depression. Interestingly, many friends tell me that this week has been a challenging one for them too, many of them in totally different situations to mine, yet all dragged down by deep anxiety that can be difficult to analyse.
Yet, there is a crack in everything letting the light in, as Leonard Cohen says. An unexpected phonecall, a video of a quest for bluebells along a woodland path, the sound of laughing children, a photo sent by a friend. And not least, the news that short outdoor exercising will be permitted from May 5.
This too will pass, so we must ring the bell that still can ring.
I hope you enjoy this live performamce of Anthem , beautifully presented by Leonard Cohen and a host of musicians.
Anthem by Leonard Cohen
The birds they sang At the break of day Start again I heard them say Don’t dwell on what Has passed away Or what is yet to be Yeah the wars they will Be fought again The holy dove She will be caught again Bought and sold And bought again The dove is never free
Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything) That’s how the light gets in
Here in Ireland, everyone who is compromised by health issues and those aged over 70 must stay at home, with food and medication being delivered by family members or teams of volunteers.This is called ‘Cocooning’ and this will be a series of short posts from inside the cocoon.