Category Archives: Family History

Three Gallagher Brothers

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

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

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

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

They are sorely missed.

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Remembering our mother on the centenary of her birth

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Maud Clinton on the wall at Newtownforbes Station c. late 1930s

100 years ago, on Saturday January 19th 1918, in Kishawanny, Co Kildare, our grandparents, Christopher Robert Clinton and Jane Williams welcomed their first child into the world. She was our mother and was christened Sibyl Maud at Holy Trinity  Church in Derrinturn on January 27th with William Clery and Bridget Clery as godparents.

IMG_3054As was common practice – certainly in the early 20th Century – she was known by her second name, Maud, a name that recurs time and again in her paternal grandmother’s family, right down to this day.

She was the eldest of 5 children, two girls and three boys. At the time of her birth, her father was a foreman at Carbury Station, where his father was Stationmaster. It was possibly at the home of her grandmother in the townland of Kishawanny that she was born, but they may also have lived nearby. Her brother was also born in Kishawanny in 1920.

The probable site of  the home  of our mother’s grandparents in Kishavanna, Co Kildare.

Kishawanny, usually called Kishavanna by locals, has a small number of houses. According to Griffiths Valuation, the site of this house is on the same plot as the home of  Jane’s grandparents, our mother’s great grandparents.

As an employee of the Midland Great Western Railway, her father had to relocate and we next find the family living at Railway Cottage, Mullingar, where, three more siblings were born. Family lore has it that they also lived in Goresbridge Co. Kilkenny. This photograph was in our mother’s collection, marked ‘Goresbridge, Co Kilkenny’. It is possibly where the family lived.

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Goresbridge Co Kilkenny. Was this the family home?

The family moved to Newtownforbes Co. Longford, when their father was appointed Stationmaster here. We know they lived there in the late 1930s as an entry in the Schools Collection from Duchas.ie has a contribution from one of our mother’s brothers.  It was here too that our mother received music lessons at the local Convent of Mercy. She was an accomplished pianist and had a wonderful ear and could play anything after hearing it just once. Two of her sons are dedicated musicians.

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Station House Newtownforbes, Co Longford. Date possibly 1930s

Our mother did not often talk about her relatives, but her Granny Williams was an exception. Her maternal grandmother, who lived at Kishavanna, was an important figure in her life. She spent summer holidays with her, and often spoke about ‘living ‘ with her. Perhaps her grandmother lived alone and there was an element of caring for her. In any event Granny (Kate) Williams died on November 22 1933, at the age of 68. Our mother would have been just 15 years old.

Her father was a wonderful gardener as can be seen from the photos above. He was usually to be found in his vegetable garden tending to his vegetables. He won awards for his beautiful flower beds and our mother inherited her green fingers from him. I can still hear her saying ‘Daddy loved Alyssum’ or ‘Daddy wouldn’t have Red Hot Pokers about the place’. He was the guru when it came to growing and she quoted him on a regular basis!

She embarked on a career as a telegraphist. As the eldest she was expected to send money home to help with the younger children. There would not have been much left after paying rent. Unfortunately we do not know much about where she did her training or where she worked. She may well have worked in Longford town initially, but she  was in Dundalk during World War 2 as she spoke of fear of bombs and she spoke of running for shelter. A bomb was dropped on Dundalk in July 1941, but we don’t know if she was living there then. As a wireless telegraphist she used Morse Code.

Sligo was the next posting for her and she had fond memories of living and working there as a telegraphist.

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Photo we believe taken in Sligo early 1940s

She was then posted to Letterkenny and it was here that she made contact with our father who was appointed postmaster in Carrigart following the sudden death of his father in 1944.

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1944 at  Port na Blagh Co Donegal

In January 1946 they were married in St Andrews Church Westand Row. See post here.

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Number 1 son arrived arrived 13 months later and this we believe is a photo taken with him in 1947. (If it is not him, then it must be me!)

After 10 years of marriage there were six of us. Our mother knitted all our jumpers and cardigans, she sewed dresses and trousers. She made rugs from old sacks with rags stitched on, she made curtains, she covered chairs, she baked bread and cakes, she made pancakes, she crocheted and did artwork on mirrors. And she permed my hair (to my horror). She knitted and darned and sewed in every spare minute and played the piano. And always there were flowers inside and outside the house.

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She also had time for fun–this photo was taken at an annual dinner dance at the Port na Blagh Hotel. I  remember this dress so well – it was a beautiful soft pink with a huge wide skirt that went on forever! For the following year’s dance, it was dyed black and looked fabulous.

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The Annual Dinner Dance at Port na Blagh Hotel c. 1956. From left to right Johnny Sweeney, Mary Josie Sweeney, Mum and Dad.

Mum was very friendly with Agnes McFadden (Aggie Big Pat) who would come to our  house every Thursday when they would exchange English Sunday newspapers and eat sandwiches and drink tea. Lena McGinley was another good friend and laughter was a huge part of these two friendships.

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Mum and Dad with two of the younger children – numbers 4, and 5 . c 1959-60

All of this came to a grinding halt when her youngest child, our brother, was killed just after 3 pm on Tuesday June 30 1959. He was 15 months old. It is unimaginable for any mother to have to pick up her dead baby off the road with a horrific head injury. See post here .

1959 still had not finished with her. Less than 6 months later and just before Christmas her beloved father, who she absolutely idolized, died suddenly. See post here.

These events were to have a terrible impact on her, and some years later having moved to England they carved out a new life with a new love –  her Cocker Spaniel, Kerry, who she adored and who was her faithful companion for over a decade.

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

Mum, Dad and the faithful Kerry on tour. c.1980s

After they returned to Ireland on retirement, more hounds were added and beautiful gardens evolved yet again. I have never seen such a wonderful collection of Fuchsias which she loved. Bird tables and feeders abounded, roses scented the air, Clematis twined, flowers made a stunning display, and Dad kept horses in his field.  Grandchildren came and went in droves, as did her good friend Ethna who was always a special guest who they loved to see coming!

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Family reunion at Carrigart c. 1986

Although she had some health issues later in her life, our mother was very resilient and continued with her gardening, bird feeding, seed ordering, piano playing and reading. So many books!

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Visit from USA by Dad’s brother Séan and wife Mary in 1998 – the last photograph

August 1998 brought the death of her last remaining sibling, her sister Eva and it distressed her greatly. I can still her her crying out in grief –  ‘They are all gone, they are all gone’. As the eldest of the siblings she had not expected to be the last one. At Christmas 1998 she was in good form but only days into the new year she began to show signs of  confusion and restlessness. Some weeks later she was transferred to hospital on a Sunday evening. She became very lucid and kept addressing Granny Williams for a couple of days. The doctor thought she might last 24 hours and suggested the family be called urgently.  As our sister, her youngest child, was in New Zealand there was no way she could get home in 24 hours. But she left New Zealand anyhow and headed to Shannon Airport, a journey of two days. The palliative staff said they had seen patients defy the odds to ‘wait’ for someone.  Eva arrived in to Shannon Airport at 1 pm on Wednesday and she and I stayed on the night watch  while the others went home to bed. She died at 6.10  am on Thursday  morning, 25 March 1999 as a blackbird sang his heart out just outside her room window.

Our mother was born 100 years ago today, 19 January 2018.

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Last Christmas Cards

Christmas Cards are said to have originated in 19th Century England when Henry Cole, who later became the first director of  London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, and his friend John Horsley designed the first one in 1843.  It had two outer panels showing the better-off bestowing gifts on the poor,  and a large central panel portraying a family  partaking of Christmas fayre. (Even the children enjoy quaffing the mead by the look of it!)

The First Christmas Card

The world’s first commercially produced Christmas card, designed by John Callcott Horsley for Henry Cole in 1843

By the 1880s the practice of sending Christmas cards had risen in popularity. The introduction of cheaper postage and development of printing technology meant that cards and postage were within the financial reach of many.  In the USA Yale anthropologist Micaela di Leonardo shows that the practice thrived amid postwar industrialization and the demise of the family farm. ‘‘As people dispersed geographically, women assumed responsibility for “the work of kinship” and became caretakers of extended family connections. Christmas cards were a convenient way for them to nurture relationships among their husbands, children, and distant relatives.”

Meanwhile a German immigrant to the United States, Louis Prange produced affordable cards for the mass market and then in 1915, John C. Hall and two of his brothers created Hallmark Cards, who are still one of the biggest card makers today.

In recent years the Christmas tradition of sending greeting cards appears to be succumbing to the instant and free communication platforms of social media.  I can recall having a list of 120 or so to write and dispatch perhaps 5 years ago.  It was an ‘excuse’ to greet those who had touched our lives, yet who were no longer in our immediate circle.  It was lovely to hear from them and to know all was well. Now, however,  the cost of postage has become a major consideration, while at the same time the cost of cards continues to decrease with 3 for 2 offers.  We can now purchase Christmas cards for charitable causes dear to our hearts, such as for dogs for the disabled, cancer charities, the homeless and so on, yet in spite of the reduction in the cost of cards, the increased cost of postage has become an issue in continuing the tradition. Who doesn’t love to receive a handwritten envelope containing good wishes?  Christmas cards lined up on the mantel are as much a part of Christmas as the Christmas dinner, but more than that, they are a link with friends and family who and may be far away and may be treasure for family historians.

Two of my most valued possessions are ‘last’ Christmas cards from both of our grandfathers.

For as long as I could remember we each received an individually addressed Christmas card from our maternal grandfather, Gaga Clinton.  He had beautiful handwriting that we recognized so well and inside each card was an eagerly awaited fortune – a Postal Order for ten shillings.

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A ten shilling postal order like this was a ‘lotto win’ for us children

Our Gaga Clinton dropped dead in his kitchen on Saturday December 19, 1959. He had posted the Christmas cards that morning so their arrival at our house in the following week was particularly poignant.

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One of the cards sent by our grandfather on the day he died in 1959

This card was the one sent to our mother by her father  59 years ago and it has become a family treasure.

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Christmas wishes in the 1959 card

Unfortunately the wishes in the card went unrealized as the sorrow of our grandfather’s passing cast a huge cloud on our Christmas.

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Memorial card for our Gaga Clinton

Many years earlier 74 years ago, during the second World War our paternal grandfather posted a Christmas card from Ireland to his eldest daughter, our Aunt May, who was a nun in England.  The card, from Christmas 1943,  was particularly sombre.

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Front of the 1943 Christmas card

The message was particularly apt for the time.

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When our Aunt May died in May 2007, this card was found in her prayer book. Her much loved father died unexpectedly in November 1944, at the age of 59, having contracted Typhoid Fever, so this was the last Christmas card she ever received from him. She must have had the habit of saving Christmas cards for a year, which in this case paid off as she would never receive another.

Christmas cards have a special place in our family history and I have the last cards written to me by my mother and by my father as well as those from aunts. They give a unique insight into the times that were in it, and they are greatly treasured. I for one regret the demise of the personal Christmas card, a card chosen, written, addressed and posted by those who cared about us.  A loss to family history for sure.

References

https://daily.jstor.org/history-christmas-card-holiday-card/

The Female World of Cards and Holidays: Women, Families, and the Work of Kinship.  Micaela Di Leonardo University of Chicago Press
Prang’s Christmas Cards

 

 

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The Genealogy Event 2017

The Genealogy Event took place this week in Adare Co. Limerick. I had signed up for Day 2 as the range of topics were of particular interest to me and I was not disappointed!

The day began with Michelle Leonard’s fact-packed talk on using DNA to solve Family Tree Mysteries. Michelle is a ‘DNA detective’ and later she gave a second talk about her years helping to track down relatives of bodies recovered from a World War 1 mass grave in France. 1,335 Australian and 350 British soldiers were missing after the battle of Fromelles in July 1916. In 2008 a mass grave was located with remains of 250 individuals. These were re interred in a new cemetery at Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) after DNA samples had been taken from teeth. 151 of the 250 have been identified and Michelle told interesting stories of individuals she helped identify. You can read more about the fascinating Fromelles Genealogy Project here.

An extremely useful overview of Irish Newspaper Archives and how to search them effectively was given by Andrew Martin. I am looking forward to testing his tips later! The site has 70 titles and with plans to add more very soon and is a very useful resource for anyone doing family research.

Irish Newspaper Archives

Joe Buggy, a well known expert on genealogical research in North America, talked about the records available in the United States, what is available at national and state level, the different census records, and how to find naturalization and immigration records.  Joe has published a book on tracing New York Ancestors.

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His second talk was an excellent presentation on the resources available to researchers of New York ancestors and covered state census records, birth records, marriages and death certificates and where these can be located, as well as RC parish records and where Irish people are likely to have settled and to be buried, newspapers and the information they would have, one for example having lists of passenger arrivals. Joe blogs here where he has hints and tips on researching in New York.

The journalist Conall Ó Fátharta talked about issues with researching adoptions in Ireland, in particular babies placed from Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries, significant  numbers of whom were sent for adoption without the consent of the mother. Conall has concerns around the mortality rates in these places and wonders if in fact death statistics may conceal the fact that many of these children  may have been sent for adoption to well heeled families.  This is a harrowing topic, but relevant to genealogists as these children may now be trying to research their family history.  Conall blogs here .

Finally, we had Ciaran O’Reilly from the excellent Irish Famine Eviction Project.  The project has uncovered an amazing number of evictions since the project began. The map about to go online will have links to the location and name of landlord and will be a great resource for researchers wondering about their families during this time. The evictions were not solely carried out on behalf of the absentee landlords, but could have been on behalf of  local clergy, merchants, shopkeepers, business people and from all religions, including Catholics and Quakers.  Ciaran has called on anyone who knows about evictions to make contact with the site, whether they be individuals or local history groups. This research will cause history to be rewritten as long forgotten evictions come to light.

The new locations map revealed by The Famine Eviction Project

It was a most interesting day with great presentations that were both informative and useful!

 

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Saluting our cousin – another family septuagenarian

This week we mark another ‘big birthday’ in our generation of our family, as our first cousin joins our elder brother on becoming a septuagenarian.  See the post to mark our first septuagenarian here

On July 26, 1947, Hugo Gerard Coyle was born in Carrigart, County Donegal to our aunt Eileen Gallagher and Hugh Coyle. Our aunt Eileen lived in our family home at the top of the street following her marriage to Hugh Coyle from Milford, which  was the next village about 10 miles away.

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Hugh Coyle and Eileen Gallagher married in 1945.

Their first baby, Mary Patricia was born July 15 1946 but sadly died in September 1946, so the arrival of a bonnie healthy wee boy in July 1947 would have been greeted with great joy. At that time our brother was 5 months old and I was expected the following March. Living in our house at that time were our father Gerard Gallagher and our mother who were married in January 1946, my brother- the 5 month old – our uncles Sean and Jim, in addition to our Aunt Eileen and her little family.  I often wonder  about the logistics of such a complicated arrangement given that the house had two bedrooms, one of which was accessed through the main bedroom, plus a small box room located off the upstairs sitting room. Still, it seems to have worked ok.

For some reason, lost in the mists of time, Hugo Gerard was known as Logie in our house, and that name followed him throughout our childhood. In later years he himself dropped the Hugo part and is very happy now to be known as  Gerry.  He was of course named after his own father Hugh and our father Gerard, so that was no bad thing!

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Cousin Gerry (known as Logie), brother and myself in a field of potatoes at the top of Figart, looking towards Tirlaughan. I think the barrel had blue limestone in it for prevention of blight on the potatoes.

Aunt Eileen (who was also my godmother) and Hugh lived with us for a while. Hugh worked in both the Rainbow Bar and the Drambuie Bar in Letterkenny, before moving to Derry and ultimately to Glasgow. But they came ‘home’ every year without fail for summer holidays during the Glasgow Fair, and so it was that this cousin was more of a brother than a cousin. The annual visit home was a much anticipated event and we enjoyed great summers with trips to the shore on what always seemed to be long hot summers!

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Aunt Eileen, myself (on our big red trike)  and Logie at the point of Figart with Island Roy in the background. About 1952. I am not sure how the trike got to the point of Figart – it must have been hard work!

We loved when they came as Aunt Eileen would take all us children off to Tramore for the day, marching us barefoot over the soft velvety grass of the Carrigart Golf Course and on into the prickly grass and bent of the sandy hills with rabbits and rabbit holes and rabbit droppings and exquisite little plants such as miniature broom and baby pansies and teeny roses. We raced ahead to the huge sand dunes so we could climb and slide and roll and laugh before heading on to the shore with our flagons of Cidona, sandwiches in greasproof- paper bags, and with packets of Kimberley biscuits to sustain us.

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Gerry, Hugh, Cathy and Aunt Eileen ( always known as ‘Di’ in our house)

Hugh had family in Milford ( brother Paddy, sister Kathleen and possibly another sister), Letterkenny (Tony) and in Downings (Nellie Birney)  and we would feel thoroughly deprived when they would catch the Swilly Bus to visit the Coyle family members. But we did have some great outings to the huge beach at Tramore! One in particular stands out. After the sandwiches and biscuits  were eaten Logie decided that it was a good idea to  catch a frog that was minding its own business on the rocks. He put it into a sandwich bag and we had mighty craic watching our jumping brown paper bag!  The dear aunt however was not amused and in total disgust, bundled us up to head back home across the sandy hills. The bagged frog came too! She harangued Logie to no avail for the entire hike until the unfortunate animal was finally released (unharmed) on the Lee where it disappeared down a rabbit hole.

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A  Sunday outing to visit relations in Fanad. Logie,our younger brothers, Paddy Vaughan next door neighbour and driver of Pat Gallagher’s big Dodge car, and our dad Gerard Gallagher. This was taken in 1965

Sometimes he came alone to Carrigart ahead of the others. There was one memorable occasion when he stood on a piece of glass when we were paddling on the shore and nothing would convince him that he was not going to contract gangrene and die. I think our mother may have brought him to his senses as she railed him for having every towel in the house destroyed with blood! He quickly forgot about the gangrene!

Cowboys and Indians, spiking Fluke on the shore, jumping burns, hide and go-seek, building dams in streams, excavating man traps, swimming, cycling and generally roaming the length and breath of the parish made up our 17 hour long summer days. Great carefree days and great happy memories! Happy birthday Logie!

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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The Convent of Notre Dame

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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

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Discovering our grandmother, Mary Friel

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’

 

 

 

 

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