Category Archives: Ireland

The HMAS Sydney Memorial, Geraldton, Western Australia.

A very impressive dome-shaped structure perched high on a hill presides over the town of Geraldton in Western Australia. Passing through on a whistle-stop visit recently, it was a good decision to go and investigate. What we discovered was a stunning and very poignant war memorial with a difference, as it stands to the memory of the crew of an Australian warship that vanished in 1941.

The Dome of the Sydney War Memorial, high above Geraldton.

When HMAS (His Majesty’s Australian Ship) Sydney II failed to return to Fremantle as scheduled on November 20, 1941 there was not too much concern. A troopship, Zelandia, which had been escorted by Sydney, had arrived a day later than expected in Singapore and so it was thought that Sydney was simply running behind schedule. She had also been ordered to maintain radio silence. Concern grew however when she had not arrived by Sunday evening, November 23 and signals were sent ordering her to report her position. But she did not respond. In spite of aerial searches which began some days later, there was no sign of her. And so began a mystery that lasted for 67 years.

About the same time that Sydney vanished, German sailors from the Kormoran were rescued by a number of ships and some other members of the crew came ashore on lifeboats. They claimed that their ship had been sunk by a ‘raider’. The Australian Government withheld the news that Sydney was missing until November 30th, while the relatives became more and more anxious about their loved ones. Finally, a statement was released confirming that HMAS Sydney was ‘presumed lost’ following engagement with a ‘heavily armed enemy raider, which she sank by gunfire’. The nation was stunned as the ship had been thought of as a ‘naval Titanic’ – invincible and indestructible.

HMAS Sydney, a light cruiser, was built in the world-famous shipyards of Newcastle – upon- Tyne in 1933 and was launched in 1934. Originally HMS Phaeton, she was renamed HMAS Sydney when bought by the Commonwealth of Australia. She was the pride of their fleet.

HMAS Sydney on the slipway September 1934 (Image http://www.navy.gov.au/)

HMAS Sydney saw much action. She was involved in the bombardment of the Libyan port of Bardia in June 1940 and sank the Italian destroyer Espero just days later while on convoy escort duty. In July of that year, she came under fire from Italian warships and then disabled the Italian Bartolomeo Colleoni. She returned home to Australia in triumph after many successful engagements with the enemy. She undertook further convoy duties both overseas and off the coast of Western Australia. The port of Geraldton welcomed her on three visits, the last one being between the 18th and 20th October in 1941 just a month before she vanished, when the crew fielded teams against the locals in a variety of sports. Her last goodwill visit was to the people of Geraldton and they would not forget her. There was total shock in the town when the announcement came that she was lost. Stories about her were handed down through the generations so that she remained very much in the minds of the locals.

Crew of HMAS Sydney, Alexandria, Egypt Sept 15, 1940 (Image RAN Archives)

645 men went down on HMAS Sydney, and 80 of the 397 strong crew of the German ship were also drowned in the incident. The loss of 645 Australian men represented a loss of approximately 1/3rd of the total Navy personnel lost in the entire conflict. The war which had been played out in faraway lands of North Africa, and Europe had arrived on Australian shores. Fueled in large part by the silence of the authorities, all sorts of theories abounded as to the location and the fate of the Sydney. It was not until 1957 that the Royal Australian Navy offered any explanation and that was based largely on the accounts of the survivors of the Kormoran. And who would believe Germans? And could it really have been the Japanese who dispatched her?

Meanwhile, in Geraldton, there was talk of a Sydney memorial in the 1960s. These plans came to naught, but eventually came to fruition when the Geraldton Rotary Club took on the project to construct a memorial to the men who had visited the town shortly before they went to their watery graves. And so the very poignant Memorial was constructed atop Mount Scott in 1988.

It consists of five quite different but equally poignant elements.

Dome of Souls – one stainless steel seagull for every man on board

Within is the impressive ‘Dome of Souls’ created with 645 stainless steel gulls, representing the spirits of those lost at sea, arranged in a massive dome that can be seen far below in the town and in the busy port. This feature was constructed from stone for every state of Australia, marking the fact that the crew were from all states.

A semi-circular black granite wall, the Wall of Remembrance, wraps around the site. It is engraved with the story of HMAS Sydney in images and with the names, rank and homebase of every crew member who served at the time of her disappearance.

The Waiting Woman, whose wait was never to end.

At the front of the site is a bronze sculpture- ‘The Waiting Woman’ holding her hat and gazing out to sea hoping to see the ship sail into view. My grandchildren were particularly taken with her as she looked so real, and spoke of her for days afterwards!

Towering above Geraldton is a life-size ‘Stele’ or memorial to the Sydney

Behind her is a representation of the bow of the ship – an actual size stone monument, a representation of the bow towering above, with the plimsoll lines marked out. This is also clearly visible for miles around.

But the mysterious story of HMAS Sydney was not to end there. On March 16, 2008, using modern technology, she was finally discovered on the sea bed, more or less where the German sailors had said she was. It was obvious that the Komoran had inflicted catastrophic damage. She lay in 2,468 metres of water.

And so another element was added to the Geraldton Memorial – an illuminated Pool of Remembrance in black polished granite. Etched on the edge of the pool are 644 gulls. At the centre is the 645th gull, two metres high with a wingtip pointing to the precise coordinates where HMAS Sydney lies on the sea bed. The pool was dedicated in 2011, on the 70th Anniversary of the loss of this ship and all hands. She and they are forever and beautifully remembered in Geraldton.

The 645th Gull with wingtip touching the coordinates where Sydney rests.

Anyone who visits this Australian National Memorial will be touched and saddened by this story that rolled on for decades. This memorial stands not only in remembrance of the lost ship and her crew, but in recognition of the determination of the people of Geraldton in making sure they are never forgotten.

Further reading

http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-sydney-ii

 

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Paddy Vaughan – one of a kind.

On March 17, 1931 Paddy was born. Today on March 17, 2019 he is no longer with us, having called time on February 13th last, just 32 days or so before his 88th birthday.

Paddy Vaughan 1931 – 2019
(image via Brendan Vaughan)

Every neighbourhood has a small number of people who make a disproportionate contribution to their community. They may selflessly volunteer time for local initiatives or charity work; they may be genial local sports personalities, or people dedicated to older people, or to their church. Either way they all make a great difference to other people around them. Beyond that there is a handful of others – ‘characters’ who are magnets for people around the place – their neighbours, fellow parishioners, people from neighbouring parishes and occasional visitors. An acquaintance of thousands, and friend of many from near and far, from all walks of life. Such was Paddy Vaughan.

Paddy was for many years our door neighbour, when they lived at the top of the street and before they moved up in the world, to the top of Figart. My younger siblings lived in their house, because they were of a similar age with Paddy’s children. My other brother and I were a few years older. At the time my family took the emigrant boat, there were five Vaughan children. Paddy was a handyman – if you needed anything done, he was the man. He cruised about on his motorbike dispensing handiwork, local gossip and wisdom in equal measure. He drove lorries to the hill to get the turf as as well as driving the local big cars for the owners.

Paddy making a St Brigid’s Cross
(Photo via Brendan Vaughan)

Paddy had an encyclopedic brain and an astonishing memory. He certainly could spin a yarn and knew more about people in the parish than anyone. (It could be said that maybe he knew more about them than they knew about themselves.) He was no saint and there was more than a bit of divilment about him. A great entertainer too, who probably never knew just how good he was at lifting spirits and having the craic. This is why so many liked and enjoyed his company and sought him out whenever they could. There was a constant stream of callers to his house, people looking for good company and a good chat. He was a one-stop-shop for knowledge and well being.

Last year again, I was fortunate enough to have a wee visit with him in September. My cousin Gerry Coyle was with me and Paddy had not seen him in many decades, yet he knew him instantly! I was totally astonished and Gerry was totally chuffed.

September 2018 Me, Paddy and Cousin Gerry

Paddy’s death has left a huge void in the community and in the hearts of his friends. But that is as nothing compared to the loss to his 11 children and to his grandchildren.  Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

If a parish can commemorate a local midwife, a local doctor and a local historian because of their expertise and service to the community, I would like to think that it could include an ‘ordinary’ man in their roll of honour, a man who served so many in the community so well for so long. Paddy Vaughan, Character, Entertainer, Oral Historian, Memory Man, Friend and Companion to hundreds.

Now that was community service!


 bheidh a leithéid ann arís.

Here again is my blog about Paddy for his 87th Birthday in March 2018.

Paddy Vaughan, a local legend.

Today March 17, is St Patrick’s  Day in Ireland. Many male children born on this day have Patrick as their Christian name. One of those, living in the village that I call home in the north of County Donegal, will mark his 87th birthday today on 17 March 2018.

He is not known as Patrick at all, but as Paddy. Not only Paddy, but for many, many years of my life, he was ‘Young’ Paddy as his father was also Paddy, or ‘Old’  Paddy. ‘Old’ Paddy –  or to be more accurate ‘Ould’ Paddy in the Donegal pronunciation – died not long before Christmas in 1967 and I am not sure when ‘Young’ Paddy became known as simply ‘Paddy’ Vaughan.

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10 year old Paddy

Paddy was well known for his ‘tall tales’, many of which were totally outrageous, some of which were totally unbelievable and all of which were hilariously funny. He had a most astonishing imagination. He took no prisoners and spared no one when it came to the ‘main characters’ in these wild imaginings.

Vaughans were our next door neighbours in Carrigart, and in the way of it in small villages, Paddy was almost a member of our family. He often came with us on Sundays to visit our father’s extended network of aunts and cousins in Fanad.  With his trademark cap and ever present pipe, he would drive Pat Gallagher’s big Dodge into which we would pile to go to Fanad, or for an annual trip to the funfair and the Helter Skelter at Portrush. When our aunt came to Ireland for the first time in 18 years in the 1950s, Paddy drove us all the way from Carrigart to meet her in Athlone. Quite a trip back then.

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Paddy with our father and two of my brothers on a Sunday outing to Fanad. 1965

Our father thought the world of Paddy and they seem to have spent a lot of their time laughing and enjoying each others company. For years Paddy took to the street when the wind got high. Strong wind was a feature of life in north Donegal as gales were common especially in winter. Paddy would don his crash helmet and leave the house at the first sound of strong wind. He  was fearful of the chimney being blown off the house so felt it was safer to be outside. It was a wonder that he was never struck by flying slates!

Paddy always thought outside the box. Our brother Noel and his buddies, Andrew Speer and John Boylan, got lost when they were tiny wee boys of three or four. They had been missing a few hours when word came that they were sighted crossing the lee and headed for the sandy hills. The search moved there with everyone spread out calling their names. I can still see Paddy Vaughan way to my left on his big bicycle. Nobody would think of riding a bicycle on grass,through the impossible terrain of sand dunes and rabbit holes, but Paddy did. And he found the three little strays on the Rosapenna golf links, about to make their way to the shore at Tramore. There’s no doubt that the outcome could have been much worse but Paddy was the hero of the hour.

In September last I spent some time with Paddy. He is a fountain of knowledge and has the most amazing capacity for remembering details and people and events. I was absolutely gobsmacked when he said that he was there in the same room when our grandfather became ill. He said that our grandfather, J.D. Gallagher, was sitting next to the fire when he suddenly got sick. A short time later he would be dead, having contracted typhoid fever. Paddy said that two brothers from Carrick died of typhoid at about the same time.  Paddy would have been a teenager then but would have known our grandfather quite well as he taught him at school. J.D. spent a lot of time in Vaughan’s house too as he collected stories from Paddy’s grandmother, as can be seen here.

Paddy is now enjoying life as one of the village elders and his memory is legendary. We wish him the happiest of birthdays, with many more to come and the good health to enjoy them.

pexels-photo-631497.jpeg

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Postcards from Geraldton Western Australia

Geraldton was one of our overnight stops on a road trip north to the Shark Bay Area. Some 425 kilometers north of Perth, it is an important modern port handling the export of wheat and ores from the mining industry. Established in the mid 19th century, the town of Geraldton has some lovely historic buildings reminiscent of early colonial times.

The old railway station
Set back from the newish main thoroughfare, this appears now to be a car park!

Marine Terrace seems to have been the original main street but now runs parallel to a thoroughfare nearer the sea. Beyond the Railway Station, there were some lovely buildings. With no time to investigate their history, it was enough to look and enjoy their beauty.

Also here are some modern memorials to historic events. A section of the coast near here is known as the Batavia Coast after the flagship of the East India Company that foundered on rocks off this coast in the 17th century.

Weibbe Hayes

Weibbe Hayes became a hero after he led a group of survivors of the shipwreck against mutineers after the ship ran aground. I was pleased to ‘meet’ him as I had already been very impressed by the Batavia exhibition at the Shipwrecks Gallery in Fremantle on a trip a few years back.

Surviving timbers of the Batavia at the Shipwrecks Gallery Fremantle. (Image Shipwrecks Gallery)

I have been fascinated for some time by posts from a fellow blogger, Jessica Barrat, who writes about historic events and collects great newspaper clippings about life in Western Australia. She had recently been sharing gems about cases of Bubonic Plague in Geraldton in the early 1900s – not that long ago! My favourite was a report that seaweed was being spread on the streets to reduce infection!

Jessica’s blog is at https://thedustybox.com/ and her twitter account is @jessb3. Well worth a follow!

It would have been wonderful to have had a little more time in Geraldton to explore its historic connection. My time in Geraldton was literally a couple of hours – but surely a teaser for a return visit to this most historic town, with stories of shipwrecks, famous carpets of spring flowers and an abundance of 19th century history.

Wildflowers on Geraldton from the everythinggeraldton website

I will be back!

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The elusive Grandaunt Eva Maud Clinton

For most of my life, ‘Aunt Eva’ as our mother called her, was depicted as a tragic figure. Invariably described as being very beautiful she was the eldest sibling of our maternal Grandfather, Robert Clinton. Our mother referenced her whenever she heard of a wedding being arranged for the month of May. It was, she declared, an unlucky month to get married and she knew, because didn’t aunt Eva get married in May! I recall having a heated discussion with my mother over the date of my own wedding which had been ‘penciled in’ for the first Saturday in May. So as not to tempt fate, the point was conceded and the date moved back to the last Saturday in April.

So who was this Grandaunt Eva and what became of her?

With the arrival of Irish genealogy records online, it should be easy to unravel the mystery! Unfortunately, that was not the case. In the first place, the marriage of her parents, John and Amelia has not yet been found. The quest continues! (Amelia was from the Church of Ireland while John was Roman Catholic so there are many possibilities.)

In the 1901 census, we have our first sighting of Eva Maud as a fourteen- year- old, living with her parents and four siblings in Cleaghmore, Ballinasloe, Co Galway. See here.

According to the census she was born in Co. Mayo, yet there was no sign of her in birth records. The first birth certificate to be uncovered was that of our grandfather, Robert Clinton in 1889, so Eva Maud as the eldest must have predated this. By sheer fluke, her arrival was discovered – not with the names Eva Maud, but with the given names of Bridget Evaline! Did Amelia quickly learn that only Saints names were allowed in the Catholic Church and did she feel aggrieved that her firstborn daughter could not be named after her own sister Eva Maud Judge, for whom she had stood as witness in her marriage three years earlier? We shall never know!

Civil birth entry Bridget Evaline Clinton (NLI)

1911 Eva was a 22-year-old shop girl in Ballinasloe, boarding in the house of Merchant Daniel Hogan in Society Street. See the census record here. Her birthplace was given as Co Westmeath, and the age does not tally, but there is no doubt that this is the right person.

Society Street Ballinasloe c. 1900 (NLI)

By this time in 1911 her family had moved on Carbury Co Kildare, where her father John was now Stationmaster and she had 6 siblings. She stayed behind in Ballinasloe. I wonder if she often visited the family while they lived in Carbury?

Carbury Station, home of our great grandparents, parents of Eva Maud. (Image thesilvervoice 2017)

Although I have not yet established exactly when the family relocated to Carbury, we do know that our great grandfather John Clinton died there just before Christmas in 1920 after an illness of 11 months. It is highly likely that Eva would have visited him there during his illness.

The next ‘sighting’ we have of Eva Maud was at her marriage on 2 May 1927 in St Fintan’s Church, Howth to Thomas McLoughlin, a shop assistant of St Peters Terrace Howth. Again the name Bridget E. appears on the cert.

The marriage certificate of Eva and Tom.

At the time of the marriage, Eva was living in a big two- storey house, Brackenhurst, Howth probably owned by the Bamford family, drapers in the town, who are likely to have been Eva’s employers.

The interesting thing here, and not something I had ever heard mentioned, was that the groom was a widower. Not only that but he had at least two children by his first marriage, so our Grandaunt Eva became stepmother to two relatively young children.

The little house in St Peter’s Terrace, Howth where Eva and her family lived.

Tom McLaughlin was born in Howth on September 6, 1882, the son of a Fisherman. He married Catherine Ward on January 18,1915, and I have located two children born to them – Joseph born in October 1915 and Philomena born September 1916. (Catherine was a widow at the time of her marriage to Tom as her first husband John Ward, who she had married on December 25, 1911, died of Typhoid Fever in January 1914. Catherine was the daughter of a sailor, her maiden name being Sisk). In any event, Tom and Catherine would not enjoy a long happy marriage as she died in St Vincent’s Hospital on June 15, 1924 only some 9 years later. The cause of her death was Endocarditis.

Death cert of Catherine (NLI)

Death Announcement, Catherine. Irish Independent

So a new life beckoned with the marriage of Eva and Tom, who would also be a mother to the children.

But alas that was not to be. Only 140 days later, Eva would be dead. The official family version of her death had been that she died in childbirth. The death certificate tells a slightly different and very sad story.

The death certificate of Eva Clinton McLaughlin (NLI)

She had been just two months pregnant and had the very serious condition of an ectopic pregnancy. She died in Holles Street Maternity Hospital, not aged 34 as stated, but aged 40, with Peritonitis cited as an additional cause. We can only hope that she did not suffer too much. But my mother was right, May was a very unlucky month for her marriage.

The death announcement from the Irish Independent.

And so Thomas McLoughlin had to bury another young wife. But where? Family lore has it that Eva was buried in the old Abbey in Howth, but no grave has ever been located. Our mother was only 9 years old when her Aunt Eva died, but her death left an indelible mark on the family. It is very disappointing that we have not been able to identify her burial place. The search continues.

Somewhere there is a photo of Eva Maud as I recall seeing it. If any family members can add any information to this post, I would be thrilled to hear from you! For now, we remember the 132nd anniversary of the birth and untimely death of our elusive grandaunt.

NOTE:

Thomas married for a third time on January 7,1929. His wife was Emma J Stephens. Thomas died on March 24, 1956, but I have been unable to establish where he is buried.

There is a headstone in Deans Grange cemetery for an Emma J McLoughlin who died in 1993 and I believe this is possibly Thomas’ widow or possibly their daughter. More research required!

Fingal County Council has an extensive online database of burials but the Old Abbey records begin in the 1960s.

So the hunt for grandaunt Eva Maud or Bridget Evelyn goes on.

I would like to thank the legend that is S.Wilson for the info on Aunt Eva’s residence of Brackenhurst in Howth. His excellent site is at https://www.swilson.info/

UPDATE FEB 8 2019

I have been in contact with family of Thomas McLoughlin who have provided the following information:

Emma Josephine Stevens married a brother of Thomas Mc Loughlin after Thomas died. The headstone above in Dean’s Grange is Thomas’ brother John and his two wives.

While aware that Thomas had been married three times, the identity of Thomas’ second wife, our great aunt Eva was not known to them.

References

NLI BDM Records

Census NLI.ie

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New Year’s Day in the desert!

The beautiful Australian Christmas tree. ( Nuytsia floribunda )


On a return trip to Western Australia, I was excited to be visiting the Pinnacles Desert for the first time, a long time entry on my bucket list.

We headed up along the Indian Ocean Drive- the very name promising ocean views in abundance. In reality, we saw very few as the road was slightly inland and away from the coast. Nevertheless, it was interesting to witness the different types of ‘bush’. Some stretches had copious quantities of the very beautiful Australian Christmas trees, in full bloom at Christmas time.

Related image
Australian Christmas Tress.

This is not what it seems however as it is a parasite, possibly the largest in the world! It is a member of the mistletoe family (Loranthaceae), but growing as a tree rather than a shrub attached to trees, such as we find in the northern hemisphere.

We then drove on into veritable ‘forests’ of iconic Grass Trees. And Guess what – In keeping with Australian idiosyncratic things, they are neither grass nor trees!

Image result for how old are grass trees

Living for hundreds of years they produce a great seed head up to 4 meters long. They can withstand the infernos of bushfires and will simply grow again after everything else has been destroyed in the searing heat. Tough little customers!

As we drove on, vast sand dunes of snow white sand loomed on the horizon – looking for all the world like snow-capped hills in Ireland. These enormous dunes, up to three or four storeys high, are used for sandboarding and for 4 Wheeled drive adventures.

Sandboarding. (Image West Australia tourism)

Sandboarding in the sand dunes.

A stop to exercise three energetic girls in Lancelin offered a wonderful view of the Indian Ocean as we enjoyed a lunch of delicious ‘Sweet lipped Snapper’ I didn’t try the lips but the parts I did eat were superb!

The Indian Ocean with Lancelin Island Nature Reserve in the background.

Our destination, Nambung National Park, was a little further on and was marked by the contrasting sand colour – where snow white sands meet the yellow sands of the Pinnacles Desert – as can be seen here.

The Pinnacles Desert is well named for the hundreds and hundreds of pinnacles of every shape and size that stand here.

Statues in the sands

There are a number of theories as to how these were formed, but one thing is certain – there is evidence of seashells in them, so perhaps, as in the Burren Co Clare, water dissolved the limestone to create these magnificent sculptures, some of which are up to 3 meters high. More explanations can be seen here.

The site is quite extensive and a very user-friendly route for vehicles has been marked out with minimal impact on the site. It would be difficult for pedestrians to see the entire site, especially in very high temperatures.

A fascinating landscape and well worth a visit! Ideal for children whose vivid imaginations see beyond the ‘tombstone effect’ and can create wonderful monsters and stories in the blink of an eye!

Images; the silvervoice

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A family treasure

img_1856This beautiful object is a hallmarked sterling silver hair comb that belonged to our grandmother Mary Gallagher, nee Friel. (See earlier post here ) It was given to me by her second daughter, my aunt Eileen, in the 1980s. Aunt Eileen had very generously given, to the best of my recollection, one of her mother’s possessions – a watch, a ring, a pendant and a hair comb – to each of four granddaughters – Cathy, Nuala, Eva and myself.

It never ceases to amaze me how few family artifacts pass down through the generations of ordinary people, but I am so honored and pleased to own this part of our family history.  The hallmarks tell us that it was made by silversmiths, Reynolds &  Westwood in Birmingham in 1905.

But how did she come to have it? Who gave it to her?  Was it a gift from her parents? Had it belonged to her mother? A gift from a beloved sister? From her husband, our grandfather? On the birth of one of her children?  Or was it a possession that was handed on to her when one of her family passed away?  The manufacture date is useful in that it can only be connected to her family members alive after that date. As she and our grandfather married in 1915, it is possible it was a gift from him – perhaps instead of an engagement ring? – but even that date is ten years after it was made.

We will never know.  We have three photographs of her. One taken at her marriage in 1915 and another after her first child was born in 1917. The watch, the ring, and the locket are clearly visible in these, but as the hair comb would have been worn at the back of her head, we don’t know if she was wearing it or not!

gallagher wedding snap

Our grandparents’ wedding photograph. 1915. Locket, watch and ring are clearly visible

 

j d and m 1917

1917. Following the birth of her first child, our Aunt May

It is in fact quite a serious ‘comb’ with long prongs that would have been inserted into wrapped up long hair to keep it neat. I have not seen one of these being worn, nor can I find any instructions on how to use it. It is however very beautiful. In days before hair bobbles and hairclips, they would have been quite commonly seen as hair ornaments.

The third photograph we have of her is one that she wore in the locket. She appears to be much younger and certainly had a fine head of hair.

mary gallagher

I often think of her sitting at the dressing table in the bedroom that I knew so well, tossing her hair, gathering it up and then picking up the comb to insert it and arranging herself. I often think of her, just looking at it and perhaps smiling as it is such a lovely thing. I often think of her holding it, admiring it, cleaning it. And I wonder if her five young children ever hung around her, watching her doing her hair.

So when would she have worn it – every day or for special occasions?

Did she wear it when living with her sisters? Did she wear it when she was a housekeeper for her brother the priest in Glenties? Did she wear it on her wedding day?  It’s impossible to tell from the photograph.

When did she last wear it? She was quite ill for several years before she died. Would she have bothered with it then? Would she have worn it on days when she needed to feel good or to put up an appearance for her family who watched her suffering?  Or did it lie abandoned in a drawer for the last years of her life?img_1858

This is the only object we have in my family that our grandmother owned. It will be passed on to my daughter, her great-granddaughter in time. I would like to think that the great-great grandaughters she now has – Sophie, Isabella Freya, Lee, Mary Catherine, Mia, Freya, and Eliza Mae might in time be interested in seeing it too.

It is particularly poignant to remember her today, on the 87th anniversary of her untimely death on 25 July 1931 at the age of 49. Her beautiful silver comb will keep her in family memory, hopefully for many years to come.

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Summer in an Irish Country Churchyard – Parched or Burned?

I am fortunate to live near a country churchyard on a bank of the tidal Owenacurra river, in Ballinacurra, Co Cork. This small graveyard contains the ruins of a church dated c. 1550, a watchman’s house and some historically interesting gravestones from the 19th and 20th century.  In common with all older graveyards, ancestors rest here, flora and fauna thrive here in these special, largely undisturbed habitats.  I thought it would be interesting to observe the four seasons in this very special place. My first post is here, –  Spring, at the end of April last.   It was now time to see what summer had to offer.

Spring was cold and it was late. When it finally arrived, it produced lots of wildflowers there were lots of blossoms in the hedgerows. There is a particular concern this year that pollinating insects – and insects in general – seem to be scarce, but in recent weeks there have been wasps, bees, hoverflies, moths, and butterflies dropping in through open windows. So it was with a sense of anticipation I went down to record the magic of summertime in an Irish Country Graveyard.

I was surprised to see that the stile at the entrance was covered by a pile of scrub – presumably to be removed at a later date?- and that it had been stripped of vegetation.

Inside the gate, the groundcover plants have been obliterated. This has been a challenging summer with high temperatures and very little rain, resulting in a parched landscape.  But the lack of vegetation here goes way beyond this. It is obvious that the area has been sprayed with a herbicide. There are no birds and no insects in this now barren place, no mosses or lichens and probably no invertebrates. Birds need insects and insects need vegetation, but there is precious little of it left. There seems to be a total lack of wildflowers, and therefore no pollen or nectar and instead of the bee-loud glade I expected, there is almost total silence. No humming of bees, no birds twittering on branches, only the sound of breaking grass under my feet.

Greenery at ground level is gone.

But what can have happened here?  The sign inside the gate is clear.

This site is protected under the National Monuments Act and no spraying of chemicals is allowed. The regulations forbid the removal of vegetation from ancient stonework, as very often this very vegetation strengthens ancient walls.

The watchhouse sprayed and ivy removed.

The term ‘scorched earth’ just about describes what has taken place here. But why?  By whom? Was it authorized by the Local Authority?

This place is much loved and in constant use by local walkers and dog walkers who very often cross through the graveyard to reach the shore. Most of these people would be nature lovers who enjoy the uniqueness of the site. One walker yesterday described the work here as ‘total butchery’,  another said it is a ‘terrible shame’ while another said that it was his understanding that there is to be a burial here in the coming days. Even if there is to be an internment, it is hardly good cause to destroy an entire ecology system?

If the intention was to clean up the graveyard, this too has been a dismal failure as the place is strewn with bottles and cans . On the plus side, it appears that the walls of the 16th Century church have remained relatively intact – but the work is not yet finished so who knows what plan is in train with regard to these?

The interior of the church

Ivy remains at roof level but the base of the external wall seems to have been cleared

Small bushes have been cut and even a branch of a cherry tree seems to be in the way.

Great piles of bushes and scrub are now stacked up in various locations around the walls – what is to happen with them?  I doubt that they will be removed, but rather left to decay where they are thrown.

I do not have any expertise with regard to ancient buildings or gravestones or graveyard metal work, but I would have concerns that they are secondary to the need to remove groundcover. My limited expertise as a result of my career as a landscape designer leads me to the conclusion that a very powerful herbicide was used here and that it will take years for the soil and the site to recover from the loss of plants, wildflowers, invertebrates, lichens, mosses, insects, rodents, micro-organisms and birdlife. It appears to be too extensive to have been accidental or an unintended consequence.

It is such a shame.

Surely it is not impossible to clear up these special places and at the same time preserve the integrity of the flora and fauna that thrive here and give pleasure to so many?

 

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