Category Archives: Family History

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.

image

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.

IMG_4902

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.
IMG_4896

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.

Ashdown-Park-Convent-Church-600x380

The Convent of Notre Dame

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

IMG_4906

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.

The-Carp-Filled-Lake-Ashdown-Park-Hotel-Prestigious-Venues

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!

IMG_4912

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.

IMG_5323

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


IMG_5413

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.

IMG_4907

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.

IMG_5329

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.

IMG_4904

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.

IMG_4913

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.
IMG_1112

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.

IMG_1113

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

9 Comments

Filed under Family History, Ireland

Discovering our grandmother, Mary Friel

IMG_8987

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.

IMG_8959

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.

IMG_6478

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.

image97.jpeg

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.

IMG_6792

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’

 

 

 

 

7 Comments

Filed under Family History, Ireland

A Family Milestone

Our Family Elder and his pushchair

Our Family Elder and his pushchair (go-car)  in a hay field

Proud parents of their firstborn JDG

Proud parents of their firstborn JDG

Family History is by its nature historic, but of course present day events will too become history as soon as they have passed. With this in mind, I thought it appropriate to mark a family milestone on these pages, in the hope that it may be of interest to the upcoming generations when and if they choose to look us up!

Our grandparents James D Gallagher and Mary O’Friel were married on September 20th 1915 at Edeninfagh Church outside Glenties, County Donegal. (about which, more later) .

Marriage portrait of our grandparents JD Gallagher and Mary Friel

Marriage portrait of our grandparents JD Gallagher and Mary Friel taken in September 1915. Note that she is holding her ‘marriage lines’ as they were known.

They went on to have five children, who were our parents, aunt(s) and uncles. Aunt May was born in 1917, Aunt Eileen in 1919, our father Gerard was born in 1921, Uncle Sean arrived in 1923 and finally Uncle Jim arrived in 1925.

These five children in turn went on to have their own children, which is our generation. As Aunt May was a Religious Sister she did not have any family. Aunt Eileen had three children, our Dad had six ,Uncle Sean had four and Uncle Jim had one. All of that generation have sadly left us. Their 14 children make up the ‘present generation’ of Gallaghers. Unfortunately, Aunt Eileen’s first little daughter died just weeks old in 1946. She was the eldest in our layer of Gallaghers. The next-born was our brother who was born in Newtownforbes, County Longford in February 1947 and therefore he holds the title of ‘Family Elder’, being the eldest grandson and eldest surviving grandchild of JD and Mary. Of the 14 grandchildren only 12 of us survive as our baby brother, the youngest in our family also died in 1959 at the age of 15 months.

Unfortunately our Gallagher Grandparents did not know any of us as they both died very young, some years before any of us were born.  In fact when our grandmother died her own 5 children were aged  5, 7, 9,11 and 13.  So this is a nice time to remember both of them as our current ‘Elder’ who also bears the initials JDG, celebrates a big birthday.

The birthday boy, JDG, watched over by a proud father (and a younger sister) at the back of Figart in 1948

Our grandparents would now be great great grandparents to a number of beautiful little children, as our generation of siblings and first cousins have become grandparents too.

Tramore with a younger sister and brother in 1959

Tramore with a younger sister and brother in 1959

Two family portraits..one pre 1956 the other in 1959

So as we look back a number of generations and look forward at the newer couple of generations, it seems a good time to acknowledge our current family elder! Happy birthday JDG!

11 Comments

Filed under Family History, Ireland, My Oral History

Eileen Ann Gallagher 1919 – 1999

On this day, February 7, 1919, which also fell on a Tuesday, our grandparents, James Gallagher and Mary (Nee Friel) welcomed their second child into the world. Eileen Ann was born in Glenswilly, the younger sister of the then 20 month old May Isabella. Their father was at  that time a National School teacher in Templedouglas near Churchill, County Donegal.  Our Aunt Eileen Ann, was named after her maternal grandmother and her mother’s younger sister, both of whom were Annie.

Three Gallagher children with their Aunt Annie and three cousins in Fanad, probably in the late 1920s. Aunt Eileen ('Di') is on the extreme left

Three Gallagher children with their Aunt Annie and three McAteer cousins in Fanad, probably in the late 1920s. Aunt Eileen (‘Di’) is on the extreme left with Aunt May on the extreme right (thesilvervoice)

After Templedouglas our grandfather moved to Ballyheerin in Fanad where he taught for a while and he eventually got a school in Carrigart.

This photo is of our father and Aunt Eileen on the right. Unfortunately we don’t know who the other lady is. This was probably taken in the 1930s

Dad with older sister Eileen in Carrigart

Dad with older sister Eileen (on the right) in Carrigart (and photobombing doggie) (thesilvervoice)

In 1945 ‘Di’  married Hugh Coyle of Milford County Donegal. A gentle giant, lovely  soft-spoken man

The tall dark and handsome Hugh Coyle of Milford and Di were married in 1945

The tall dark and handsome Hugh Coyle of Milford and Di were married in 1945.(thesilvervoice)

Hugh and Eileen began married life in her family home in Carrigart. Their first child arrived in 1946. Sadly little baby Mary Patricia died when only a few months old, probably as a result of a colon blockage. For all of her life, Di kept a little piece of lace or gown that was associated with their little daughter. Interestingly her death was never registered (nor indeed was the death of our brother who also died as a child in 1959).  She is buried alongside our grandfather, our brother and our parents in Carrigart.  Hugh and Eileen eventually moved to Letterkenny and Derry before finally settling in Glasgow with their other two children.

Aunt Eileen was always  known to us as ‘Di’ as we could not pronounce her name when we were younger. She was also my godmother. This was done by proxy as she was not actually present at my christening. Hers was always the first  birthday card to arrive and we kept up frequent correspondence throughout her life. Her letters and cards remain among my most treasured possessions. Every summer she and her family would travel back home to Carrigart for the annual holidays on the ‘Glasgow Fare’.  How we loved to see them descend from the Swilly Bus! She would bring tins of roasted peanuts and Scottish oat cakes and Petticoat Tail shortbread and beautiful clothes from Marks and Spencer and all sorts of treasures that seemed extraordinary to us who lived in the country. Exciting outings to Tramore and Downings were guaranteed when she was in town. And how she cried when it was time to leave again and head by bus and boat back to Glasgow!

When I was aged  8 our father and I headed into Derry and caught the boat to Glasgow for a visit. I remember the captain giving me a Goldgrain biscuit that was warm to the touch because of the heat in his cabin; I remember being shown a submarine that sailed alongside us as we headed out of Lough Foyle; I remember being down in the very smelly hold of the ship with Dad and a man named Joe, a friend of my father, who was responsible for the well-being of the cattle who were being exported to Scotland and I remember getting locked into the lady’s toilet as I could not open the door and had to be rescued! Dad was not a bit pleased about that!

Pollokshaws Road with tenement flats

Pollokshaws Road with tenement flats

Glasgow was amazing to 8-year-old eyes with its (relatively) tall beautiful warm sandstone buildings. How I loved the sound of the  clanging bells of trams as they swung around the corner of Eglinton Street!  It was here that Di introduced me to my very first fish supper in a great fish and chip shop on the corner of Devon Street. We walked hand in hand in the fabulously named Sauchiehall Street and browsed the market stalls in the Barras in The Gorbals where she bought me a toothbrush. Hugh, Dad, my older cousin and I paid a cultural visit to the Art Gallery in Kelvingrove where we youngsters were reduced to uncontrollable tittering as only 8 and 9 years olds can be, at the first time ever sight of nudes!

Di at paternal family home in Mulnamina Glenties in the 1960s with our brother Damian.

Di at paternal family home in Mulnamina Glenties in the 1960s with our brother Damian. (thesilvervoice)

The thing that struck me most in later years was how hard it must have been for emigrants to these big cities to leave the rugged coastline and beautiful sandy beaches, the wide open fields edged with scented  hawthorn and quiet country lanes for clanging trams, dark spiral staircases leading to flats one on top of another in the tenements of large industrial cities, with no private open spaces, only a shared courtyard in which to hang clothes to dry or watch children play. How hard must it have been to leave the grave of a little daughter behind in windswept Donegal? Although  tenements provided very high density housing, the flats or apartments were very spacious inside with large high-ceiling rooms. Di used always laugh at a by-law that dictated that women could not clean the windows of these buildings, presumably in case they fell out onto the street below! But it was not all gloom and doom. ‘Up the stairs’ lived Bridget Connor (nee Coll)  from Carrick in Carrigart, who was a cousin of Hugh’s. At every turn were Donegal people who had also taken the boat in search of better times. I remember Di telling me that you could always recognize Fanad men by the clothes they wore – a brown suit with particularly wide trouser legs! Still, it was a hard life. On Mondays Di loaded up her little pram with washing and headed out to the washouse to do the weekly family laundry as the flat did not have any clothes washing facilities. The notion of a wash house was strange to me as were other terms such as ‘close’ for the common entrance to a number of flats, and ‘the dunny’ for the basement at the bottom of the spiral staircase that led to the communal courtyard.

Di was a bit of a worrier but she had a lovely sense of humour and a wicked laugh. She was deeply religious, a fact that sustained her when Hugh died suddenly in the 1960s. She loved tweed and every year made sure to buy herself a skirt length of tweed when she came back to Donegal, to keep her warm and cosy during Scottish winters. She loved nice china and had a lovely collection of beautifully embroidered tablecloths. Pride of place was held by a blue willow pattern tablecloth given her by Mrs McCloskey of Carrigart  on the occasion of her marriage in 1945. I often wonder whether this much treasured cloth has survived all these years. It was either discarded or given to charity after her death.

She died in December 1999. She and I had a very special relationship in spite of the distances between us. She above anyone else understood the challenging relationship between my mother and myself and made a huge difference to my life.  She herself lived a gentle if challenging and often lonely life yet she never had a negative word to say about anyone.

We remember and celebrate her arrival into the world 98 years ago on this very day. The world is a better place for her having been here.

7 Comments

Filed under Family History, Ireland, My Oral History

‘Doing a line’ 1940s style: A family marriage

Our parents, Berard and Maude Gallagher holidaying in the Dingle Peninsula c 1980s with their cocker spaniel Kerry

Our parents, Gerard and Maude Gallagher holidaying in the Dingle Peninsula c 1985 with their cocker spaniel, Kerry

Back in the day when a ‘joint’ was a point in the body where bones met and ‘getting stoned’ was something that happened to bad people in the Bible, our parents, like hundreds of other young couples, ‘did a line’. Even now, this expression is in use by older folk in rural Ireland to describe a couple who are ‘seeing’ each other or dating. I was reminded of the expression on a recent trip to Donegal when someone asked me ‘Didn’t you do a line with ‘so and so’?’ And it had nothing at all to do with the modern drug/ cocaine notion of ‘ doing a line’

Our father, Daniel Gerard Gallagher (actually Gerald on his birth certificate) lived in Carrigart County Donegal for most of his life. He had been appointed Postmaster in the local Post Office in the village after the unexpected death of our grandfather James D. Gallagher in November 1944. Dad, at the age of  22, became the youngest Postmaster in Ireland.

From 1924 to 1984 in Ireland, Post Office, Telephone and Telegraph services were provided by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. In these days the local post office operated the telephone system. Incoming and outgoing calls were connected, outgoing and incoming telegrams were transcribed between telephone exchanges, down to local level. Telegrams were usually either forwarding money or bringing awful news to families, such as ‘John died today’.   A small rural village had a limited number of subscribers, yet a full national and international service was provided to them via the local post office.

Even into the mid 1960s there were very few telephone subscribers in our village. In my memory in the 1960s, the telephone numbers ranged from Carrigart 1 only up to Carrigart 14. Carrigart 1 was the Post Office, Carrigart 2 was the Garda barracks, Carrigart 3, Lady Leitrim, 4 was the North Star Hotel, 5 was Charlie Mc Kemeys,Potato exporter, 6 was the Carrigart Hotel, 7 was Andy Speers Drapery Shop,  8 was Joe Gallagher of Umlagh, 9 was Griffins Drapery shop, (very posh with an extension to the house at Roy View,) 10 was the Chemist Miss Green. I think 11 was Mandy Gallagher, 12 Foxes Bar in Glen and 13 McIlhargeys Glen Post Office. 14 was the Parish Priest. And that was it. Telephones were a luxury yet were an important part of the fabric of social life.

Village telephone exchanges were connected to a main telephone exchange by means of telephone lines, in the form of wires and poles, much indeed as can still be seen today in many places, although wires have been replaced by thicker cables.  All calls from local numbers to anyplace beyond the surrounding villages had to be routed through the local post office, and onwards manually to the head telephone exchange in Letterkenny, and vice versa for incoming calls. These were pre direct dialling days!

Our mother, Sybil Maude Clinton hailed from Newtownforbes, County Longford where her parents had lived at the local railway station for a number of years. Her father, Christopher Robert Clinton, was Station Master there. Mum had left home at an early age to be trained as a telegraphist, and this work brought her eventually to the telephone exchange in Letterkenny Head Post Office where she worked as a telephonist.

And so these two got to know one another literally ‘on the line’ when connecting incoming and outgoing telephone calls and  transmitting telegram messages . There was always time for a friendly chat when the business had been done and so their friendship developed across the telephone lines.

Our Dad, Gerard Gallagher with his sister Eileen to the right as viewed and A.N.Other at the Minister's Gates c, 1940-ish

Our Dad, Gerard Gallagher with his sister Eileen to the right as viewed and A.N.Other at the Minister’s Gates Carrigart, 1940-ish. And the photobombing doggie!

Our mother was quite glamorous . This photo was taken on Whit  Sunday in 1944. Our father owned this photograph, and we can see that he had her marked with an ‘x’  to let others take a look  at her!

Mum and another lady at Port na Blagh Dunfanaghy on Whit Sunday 1944.

Mum and another lady at Port na Blagh Dunfanaghy on Whit Sunday 1944.

The romance blossomed across the telephone lines for a number of years. Dad was  a very shy man, while Mum was much more confident. Dad, for all of their lives together remained in total awe of our mother. I remember him often telling us that he once cycled all the way from Carrigart to Letterkenny to meet her as a surprise. This was a distance of some 20 miles with some serious hills to overcome on the way to Milford, through Ramelton and onward up to Letterkenny. No mean feat for a man on a high nelly pushbike!  And I hope the weather was fine! He added ruefully that as he ascended the hill into Main Street in Letterkenny, he got ‘cold feet’ and turned round and pedalled the 20 miles back to Carrigart without seeing her. I often think on this very touching story and how it must have felt for him!

The happy couple, on this day 71 years ago

The happy couple, on this day 71 years ago

True love prevailed however, and on a cold Wednesday on January 16, 1946 they presented  themselves at St Andrew’s Church, Westland Row,Dublin to be married. Our mother was days short of her 28th birthday and our father had celebrated his 24th birthday weeks earlier. It is not clear why they chose to travel to Dublin for the marriage. Why didn’t they follow tradition and marry in the bride’s local church? When I asked him Dad said that his father had not been long dead and that it was ‘the way’ that people would marry away from their home place. His father had died in 1944, some 14 months  earlier, so it is unlikely that this was the reason. He also often said that his first cousin Fr Art Friel, a catholic priest, was scheduled to carry out the ceremony in Dublin,  but that due to bad weather he was unable to get off Tory Island to get to the ceremony.

The bridal party with the bride, groom, best man Sean Gallagher, brother of the  groom and bridesmaid Eva, sister of the bride.

Bride, groom, bridesmaid and best man

Bride, groom, bridesmaid and best man

In any event it appears to have been a lovely occasion  as  can be seen from the photographs on the wedding day.

Wedding party

Wedding party at the wedding breakfast at Wynn’s Hotel in Dublin

In attendance were, front row, left to right

Our Uncle Sean Gallagher, Best man;  Dad the delighted groom; Mum the happy Bride; Bridesmaid, Sister of the bride, our Aunt Eva; brother of the bride, our Uncle Tom with Aunt Eva’s small son, Micheal Henry in his lap.

Back Row, left to right:

Phelim Henry, husband to Aunt Eva, the bridesmaid; Uncle Bobby, brother of the bride; Uncle Jim, brother of the groom; Kathleen Henry, sister in law of the bridesmaid; Uncle Kevin, brother of the bride; our grandmother, Jane Clinton, mother of the bride and her father, our grandfather, Christopher Robert  Clinton.

We are indeed fortunate to have these photographs. There are many questions about why they chose to wed in Dublin, a long distance from either of the home places in Longford or Donegal. What we do know is that our mother, for all of her life loved chrysanthemums and it’s lovely to see that she had them on her wedding day! We can almost smell their beautiful fragrance! And what beautiful outfits for a post War wedding…what colours did the bride and bridesmaids wear? We will now never know. We do however hope that they enjoyed their beautiful two tier wedding cake!

The honeymoon was spent in County Wicklow and they then returned to live most of their married lives in Carrigart County Donegal.

We remember them especially today, on the 71st anniversary of their happy day.

30 Comments

Filed under Family History, Ireland, My Oral History

Schools Folklore Collection – A treasure trove for family historians?

Between 1937 and 1939, the Irish Folklore Commission set up a scheme in which over 100,000 schoolchildren collected local lore and history from older generations in their locality. Most of the topics are to do with local history, folktales, legends, proverbs, songs, customs and beliefs, games and pastimes, crafts and local monuments. These stories were collated by the local National School teachers in 5,000 schools across all 26 counties in what was then the Irish Free State. This material forms part of one of the largest Folklore Collections in the world, which is in the care of University College Dublin. The Schools Collection is now being digitized by Dúchas.ie and is being rolled out online. Although not all of it has been transcribed, it is searchable by place, family name, school, topic. Many of the entries are in Irish. (I hope that these can be translated in due course so that overseas researchers may reach the wealth of information on the heritage, culture and way of life in the parishes of their ancestors.)

I spend many hours idly browsing through this collection and recently was totally astonished to discover some members of our own family. Our uncle had gathered folklore and  his informants were none other than his parents, our maternal grandparents!

This was their story on Local Marriage Customs

fbadab36-0fb8-4f8e-bc2f-e3a3a0df80b5-887-0000021905cf7285_tmp

The original entry in the Dúchas.ie collection

Most marriages take place from Christmas to the beginning of Lent, which time is called Shrove. June was thought a lucky month for marrying in, and May, July and August were thought unlucky. Friday, Saturday and the 28th December were thought to be unlucky days.

5 Comments

Filed under Family History, Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish Traditions

Remembering our grandfather

Our grandfather James Gallagher c 1944

Our grandfather James Gallagher September 1944

Continue reading

9 Comments

Filed under Family History, Ireland