Category Archives: Family History

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!

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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.

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‘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.

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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

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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.

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Remembering our grandfather

Our grandfather James Gallagher c 1944

Our grandfather James Gallagher September 1944

Continue reading

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Gallaghers of Mulnamina, Glenties

The view from the top of the lane

The view from the top of the lane over looking a misty Gweebarra Bay

Earlier this year I made a return trip to the birthplace of our grandfather James Gallagher in Mulnamina, near Glenties in County Donegal. Our grandfather never knew any of his 14 grandchildren as he had died before any of us were born, yet he loomed large in our lives as we were frequent visitors to his family home, where his elder brother John and his youngest sister Maggie lived for all of their lives and who always had a warm welcome for us.
This was a place of wonder to us growing up, and we loved to visit on warm summer Sundays. Uncle John and Aunt Maggie had never married and were the last surviving members of their family of ten siblings. Situated on the side of a hill overlooking the Gwebarra Estuary, the house was well sheltered from storms and prevailing winds. There was no running water and no electricity and the kettle hung over the open turf fire on a crane. Soon after our arrival a fresh cake of bread, made in a flat oven with embers on top of the lid,was produced for our tea. There was always a choice of  homemade jams too. We piled in on a form at the table (no chairs at the table, only forms) and loved eating the fresh bread covered with beautiful jam, while  sitting there in the flag floored kitchen with the lovely scent of burning turf.

The lane up to Mulnamina

The lane up to Mulnamina

Our car was parked at the bottom of the lane, as it was not possible to drive up the steep hill, so we ran up the rest of the way. We ran across in front of the house next door, through the gate and into the warm kitchen to announce our arrival, and then away out again to explore. There were a few outhouses – a turf shed, a cow byre and a hen-house that I remember, a dog who slept in a fabulously fashioned stone kennel, a beautiful pale donkey and a long path that wound up the hill to summer pasture where the cows grazed and where white heather grew. White heather was said to be ‘lucky’ and Aunt Maggie would send Uncle John with us up ‘the mountain’ along the well-worn cattle path in search of it. Sometimes we found some, sometimes we didn’t, but we always enjoyed the search! And on every visit we implored Uncle John to go up with us, just to look for some.

In later years we learned that this was the house of our great grandparents, Daniel and Isabella Gallagher. As children it never occurred to us that anyone other than the people we met had lived there! So, who were they and what could we discover about them?

Daniel Gallagher son of John Gallagher of Mulnamina and Isabella nee Mulloy, daughter of John Mulloy of Strasallagh, Glenties were married on February 2, 1874. The Roman Catholic marriage register shows that they were first cousins. Dispensation had been granted in respect of 4th degree of consanguinity to enable them to marry in the church. The witnesses were Conal and Bridget Gallagher.

gallaghermulloymarriage

The Latin marriage register entry, number 223, for our great grandparents, at the Roman Catholic Church in Glenties.

Daniel and Isabella had 10 children.

Ellen, born December 2, 1874 in Strasallagh. (I wonder if Isabella went home to her mother, as was the tradition in Ireland, for the birth of her first child)

John was born August 19, 1876 in Mulnamina, the place of birth of all subsequent children)

Ann born Jul 18, 1878

Mary born on June 4, 1880

Bridget arrived on June 1, 1882

Catherine born May 22, 1884

James born March 15, 1886

Sarah born September 28, 1888

Rose born August 12, 1890

Margaret born December 28, 1893

The next reference to them we can find is on the 1901 census, which can be seen here.  I remember the extraordinary emotion of seeing our great grandfather’s beautiful writing and his signature on the census return, when I first laid eyes on it a few years ago when the Irish census became available online. We can see that the elder two children, John and Ellen are not at home on census night, and that the family spoke both Irish and English. The household return shows that they had a 2nd class thatched house with three rooms and 3 windows plus 3 out buildings  –  a cowhouse, a fowl house and a piggery.

Ellen, Mary and Bridget are absent on the night of the 1911 census, which can be viewed here. Annie has been married for a year and is now Brennan. We don’t know if she was still living at home or possibly returned to her mother to give birth to her first child, or simply visiting. In this census we learn that Isabella had 10 children during 38 years of marriage and that all are still living. The house is still thatched and a barn has been added to the outhouses.

The house had been slated at some stage, and I certainly do not recall it being thatched, but it is still the original house with its three windows, one in the kitchen and one in each of the two bedrooms. The kitchen was in the middle of the house with the bedrooms at each end. It is odd to think that many were born here, that all of them lived here, and that some of them died here – here in this wee house that we knew so well.

Quorn stones from the house in Mulnamina, used to make flour. These belonged to Daniel and possibly his father before him.

Quern stones from the house in Mulnamina, used to make flour. These belonged to Daniel and possibly to his father before him.

The little house is now unoccupied and is gradually disappearing under encroaching foliage. The first view of it as I reached the gate was so familiar and the fuchsia bushes were looking splendid on what was a very wet day.

Through the gate with bated breath

Through the gate with bated breath

Unfortunately I was not able to get even the length of the house as the vegetation was too dense and as I was alone I did not want to risk having a fall.

It is strange to think that when we played here as children we had no idea in whose footsteps we were walking nor of the family history that had unfolded here. We walked in the same yard and same fields  and paths where our great grandparents had walked and worked and loved and laughed. We had played in the same places where all of our great aunts and great-uncle and grandfather had played, where they did their schoolwork by candle light or by the light of a tilley lamp, where they collected apples and eggs, and heard the sound of badgers and spoke in Irish and English. And we did not know that we were walking on paths made smooth by our ancestors.

The next references to our great grandparents and their family are to be found in death records. Four of those who lived here, also died here.

First was Isabella who died on 16 November 1925, almost 92 years ago. She was 76 years old and had been in poor health for a few years. Cause of death was chronic bronchitis and heart failure. Ellen’s husband Andrew Mc Dwyer was present at death.

Only 9 months later, their 6th child Kate died on 2 September 1926. She had suffered from TB and cardiac failure for several years. Her brother James, our grandfather, who was then living in Carrigart, was present at death. Her death may well have been expected if he made the journey back to Mulnamina in her last days. Kate was 42.

Daniel died on July 16 1929  at the age of 87, after only a short illness of influenza that developed into pneumonia. He died after 5 days. His eldest son John was present at death.

Many years later on February 26, 1966, Uncle John died just five months short of his 90th birthday. The cause of death was cerebral thrombosis and senility.His nephew Danny O’Donnell was present at death.

Uncle John Gallagher c.1964

Uncle John Gallagher c.1964

These four coffins made their last journey back down that lane that we loved to run up. The tragedy is that we do not know where Isabella, Kate and Daniel are buried as it seems no-one thought to ask.  It is very strange also that neither my father nor his siblings remembered these grandparents, although the eldest Aunt May was 12 years old when Daniel died. John is buried in the new graveyard in Glenties with Maggie who died in 1979 in Dungloe hospital.

The lane from Mulnamina

The lane from Mulnamina that took them on their last journey. ‘God rest them all’, as our father used say.

Postscript:

Our father, his sisters and brothers had no idea who their Gallagher Grandmother was, not even her name. They ‘thought’ she may have been Doherty from Lough Finn. They seemed to know nothing about her at all, in spite of the fact that as youngsters they spent summer holidays in Mulnamina. I recall our father asking one of his first cousins, Bella Brennan, if she had any idea who she was and she didn’t know. The subject often came up about who she might have been, but she remained a mystery woman. Fascinating now in hindsight as at least four and possibly five of her grandchildren were named Isabella after her! I am absolutely delighted that my own 6-year-old granddaughter Isabella, proudly carries her great great great grandmother’s beautiful name. I hope she would be pleased!

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Discovering landmarks and Family History on Blacksod Bay, County Mayo

Continuing along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, rain and low grey cloud were my only companions as I headed into this remote Irish-speaking part of County Mayo. Although visibility was reduced it was still possible to enjoy some lovely sights. The Irish-only road signs were something of a challenge at first, even though I am used to our bilingual signs here in Ireland and Irish-only signs in Donegal, and other Gaeltacht areas, these places were not familiar to me. However, once I figured out that ‘An Fod Dubh’ meant ‘Blacksod’ and that therefore ‘Chuan and Fhóid Duibh’ was Blacksod Bay, I chugged along happily in the beautiful Mullet Peninsula that protects Blacksod Bay from the worst of the Atlantic weather.

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Trá Oilí or Elly Beach

This eye catching beach is one of many big sandy beaches in the area. It sports the Blue Flag, one of the world’s most recognised eco-labels, indicating that it complies with a specific set of criteria on water quality, information points, environmental education, safety and beach management. Raining or not, this is a good beach for swimming!

Tír Sáile – the North Mayo Sculpture Trail –is the largest public arts project ever undertaken in Ireland.  Several of these sites are located here on the Mullet peninsula. This work is entitled ‘Deirbhile’s Twist’ and I like that it was formed by raising large granite boulders already lying around on the ground and arranging them into an eye catching feature. This is located at Falmore which is a beautiful location, even in the mist!

Saint Deirbhile (Dervilla) is a local saint who arrived at Falmore in the 6th Century. Arriving by donkey she was pursued by an unwanted suitor who,so the story goes, was very attracted to her beautiful eyes. Rather drastically she plucked them out to discourage him and he left, heartbroken. Water gushed from the spot where her eyes fell and after bathing her sockets her sight was restored. The ruins of her convent are here near the seashore with Deirbhile’s Well nearby. Modern day pilgrims believe that water from the well can help cure eye complaints and they come here for special devotion on August 15 each year.

Ruins of Dervilla's Monastery

Ruins of Dervilla’s Convent

And then on to the site I was particularly interested in – Blacksod weather station, situated at the end of the peninsula.

This is Blacksod Lighthouse, looking very unlike a traditional lighthouse, perched atop an old granite building that dates from 1864. This is a very significant place because it was from here that a weather report issued on 3rd June 1944 changed the course of history. The World War 2 D-Day landings scheduled for June 5th were delayed because of the hourly weather report lodged by Irish Coast Guardsman and lighthouse keeper Ted Sweeney, which indicated that there would be adverse conditions in the English Channel for the following few days. Blacksod was of particular significance because it was the first land-based observation station in Europe where weather readings could be professionally taken on the prevailing European Atlantic westerly weather systems. Ted’s report on June 3rd mentioned a rapidly falling barometer and strong winds which would have augured badly for the planned invasion. A further report from Ted at 12pm on June 4, said ‘heavy rain and drizzle cleared, cloud at 900 feet and visibility on land and sea very clear’. This meant that better weather was on the way for the south of England, and so Operation Overlord went ahead on June 6th 1944 with calm clear conditions in the English Channel.

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Plaque at Blacksod Lighthouse

There is a nice little harbour alongside the lighthouse, Termon Pier, which was almost totally deserted when I was there with only rain and wind to be heard and seen and a few currachs pulled up out of the water.

Winds were picking up the rain was relentless so it was time to leave. I was delighted that I had made the trip out here and discovered a few sights, in spite of the conditions.  Suddenly there was an incredible noise that almost deafened me and for the life of me I could not figure out what on earth it was.  On turning round I saw a helicopter had just taken off from right beside me, as  there is a Helicopter Landing base beside the Lighthouse!

A helicopter lifts off

A helicopter lifts off.

I left here very pleased with my foray into this area, and with the few treasures I had discovered. However, the Mullet Peninsula had one more surprise in store as not far along the road I  came upon Ionad Naomh Deirbhile, a local Visitor and Heritage Centre.

img_1292Although they were about to close I was invited in for tea and a homemade scone and here discovered the story of The Tuke Fund assisted emigrants. It is not always recognized that hunger in Ireland did not end with the famines of 1845- 1852 and 1879. Hunger and deprivation were a fact of life in poorer districts of the western seaboard in particular, with hundreds of families needing relief into the mid 1880s and beyond. James Hack Tuke (1819-1896) was an English Quaker who made it his mission to aid people suffering from starvation and deprivation in the West of Ireland. One of the features of the Tuke Fund assisted migration was that only entire families would be facilitated, thereby freeing up smallholdings for another family. The emigrants were provided with the fare and money to enable them settle in their new locations.  In 1883 and 1884, 3,300 emigrants left North West Mayo and Achill, boarding ships in Blacksod Bay.  They sailed on 10 separate voyages, for Boston and Quebec. There are impressive storyboards at the centre, where descendants of those who left here almost 140 years ago are welcomed. One such family arrived while I was there. It is reckoned that over 2 million people are descended from these North Mayo emigrants

The research on the Blacksod Tuke Emigration scheme was carried out by Rosemarie Geraghty, I believe for her thesis. Rosemarie has researched the 10 ships manifests that carried these families to their new lives in what she describes as the time of the  ‘forgotten famine’  and is absolutely delighted when descendants arrive here in search of their roots. I asked her what the charges are for family research and she said ‘They left here with nothing, we are never going to charge them to know where they came from.’ Rosemarie is ably assisted by Norah Cawley, a superb scone maker who makes visitors feel very welcome indeed. I have been to many a family research centre before, but never one like this – with such enthusiasm, warmth,  passion  and great scone making!

All of this information with family names  is available free to view, and is searchable under various headings, at http://www.blacksodbayemigration.ie . They just love to hear from anyone wherever in the world whose ancestors may have left this beautiful place over 130 years ago.

On what was a miserable wet grey cloudy day, how lucky was I to discover such wonderful silver linings at the Mullet Peninsula and on the shores of Blacksod Bay!  More treasures of the Wild Atlantic Way – Beidh mé arais arís!

 

St Deirbhile Stained Glass window at the Centre.

St Deirbhile Stained Glass window at the Centre.

References

http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/how-blacksod-lighthouse-changed-the-course-of-the-second-world-war-30319681.html

http://www.blacksodbayemigration.ie/

http://www.museumsofmayo.com/deirbhile.htm

 

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Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish Countryside, Irish Diaspora, Irish History, Mayo Emigrants