Category Archives: Ireland

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.



Filed under Family History, Ireland

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?



Filed under Ireland, Irish Heritage

Remembering Hugh Coyle- a gentle giant

On this day, 13 July, 1911, a son was born to Hugh Coyle, car driver, in Milford, Co Donegal and his wife Mary. Hugh Coyle from Milford, and Mary McBride had married on 14 November 1902 in the parish chapel of Mevagh. Hugh’s father Patrick was deceased at that time, and Mary’s father, also named Hugh, was a farmer in Devlinreagh, Carrigart, County Donegal.

In the 1911 census taken in April, we see that Hugh and Mary had four children – Ellen (Nellie) born in 1903, Bridget (Bridie) born in 1905, Patrick (Paddy) born in 1907 and Kathleen, born in 1910. Baby Hugh arrived in July and Anthony (Tony) arrived in 1916.  Hugh Senior is invariably described as being a ‘Car man’ or ‘Jarvey’ on all official records. In the1901 census he was a car man in the service of Hugh McDevitt, hotel proprietor in Milford.

I don’t know when the young Hugh Coyle came to Carrigart, but he did so at a relatively young age. The earliest photo I have of him was probably taken in the early 1930s.

hugh early30s

Our Uncle Séan Gallagher, Hugh Coyle and Uncle Jim Gallagher at the front.

Hugh served as an apprentice shopworker at Mc Elhinneys shop in Milford. This very positive and glowing reference is dated 1937, which may well be when the then 25-year-old moved to work in Carrigart. In any event, we can tell from photographs that he was friendy with our family and he was to fall in love  with and marry one of them!

hugh reference

The next photo I have of him is with our father when both of them were in the Local Defence Force. This photo is dated 1940.

hugh and dad

Hugh Coyle on the left with our father Gerard Gallagher c.1940

The next photo I have is easily dated for it is the wedding photo of Hugh with our Aunt Eileen Gallagher in 1945.

hugh di wedding

A very happy Mr and Mrs Hugh Coyle on their wedding day

On the 19th of July 1946, their first child, Mary Patricia was born in Carrigart, just 6 days after her Dad’s 35th birthday.  By this time Hugh was working in Derry as Mary Patricia’s birth certificate gives his address as 23 Orchard Street, Derry adjacent to the famous St Columb’s Hall, and beside the city walls.  The joy of their new arrival was to be short lived as Mary Patricia survived but a few months. However they went on to have a son in the following year and a few years later a daughter was born.

di and high

An undated photograph of Aunt Eileen and Hugh in the back yard of the family home in Carrigart.

hugh and gallaghers

Our Uncle Jim Gallagher, Hugh Coyle, Uncle Séan Gallagher and friend Charlie Gallagher. Again undated.

Hugh worked in Letterkenny for a time, in what I think was the Rainbow Bar, but they eventually emigrated to Glasgow and lived in the Pollokshaws Road.

hugh di ca nd g

A happy family photograph

Every year, the Coyles came home to our house for the summer holidays and it was always great to see them. My abiding memory of Hugh is that he was a very gentle, quietly spoken and kind man. It often strikes me that even as a child I loved these qualities in him.

In Glasgow, he was able to take a passionate interest in the Glasgow Celtic Football team which he loved. In 1970 they reached the final of the European Cup but they were defeated by a Dutch side which would have been a great disappointment.  The following day on May 7,1970 on his way home from work, the gentle and kind Hugh died suddenly and tragically within feet of his own front door. He was only 58 years of age.

I recently came across a few photos of Hugh that I had not seen before and as it is his birthday I thought it would make a nice tribute to put a few of them together.

We remember him with love today and always. We were the better for having known him and it is an honour to have a page for him in our Family Story Book.

Hugh Coyle, born July 13, 1911, died May 7, 1970

Mary Patricia Coyle born July 19,1946,  died September 5, 1946



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Filed under Family History, Ireland

Postcards from the Irish National Stud

IMG_3932Ireland enjoys a worldwide reputation for producing top class thoroughbred horses that consistently achieve international success. The largest producer of thoroughbreds in Europe, Ireland ranks as the fourth largest in the world. This success is attributed to our temperate climate and calcium-rich soil that is good for young animals. It has long been on my ‘to do’ list to visit the Irish National Stud in Kildare and I finally managed to tick this box the other week. What a treat it was on a beautiful sunny day!

The Irish National Stud and Gardens belongs to the people of Ireland. Established in 1900 by Colonel William Hill Walker, a wealthy and somewhat eccentric Scotsman who bought 1,000 acres in Tully Co Kildare to establish a stud farm.

4401A8C7-806B-47AC-AAFE-06C5041CFF2FThis statue of Colonel Walker, unveiled by President Higgins in 2015, portrays him looking at the items in the tree of life that interested him. In addition to racing, we can see signs of the zodiac which informed much of his horse breeding. He was also interested in gambling as indicated by the playing cards!

E96EE547-52BB-4DF4-8692-A4A2952F8883Col. Walker also loved horticulture and it was under his direction that the world famous Japanese Gardens were created here between 1906 and 1910, by the Japanese Craftsman, Tassa Eida.

Having enjoyed some success in racing circles, including winning the prestigious Epsom Derby, Walker gifted his stud farm to the British Government in 1915, to form the basis of the British National Stud. Their success continued with the stud producing the winners of all classics and in 1942, Sun Chariot, born and bred at Tully, landed the fillies’ Triple Crown – the 1,000 Guineas, Oaks and St. Leger – for King George VI. However, in 1946, the by now independent Irish Republic took over the ownership and running of the redesignated Irish National Stud. Although the acreage of the stud has now been reduced by about a hundred acres because of road building, this place continues to produce top class bloodstock that makes their mark the world over. Many famous racehorses are retired here, excellent stallions stand here and foals are bred here.

Of the retired horses, or ‘Living Legends’ as they are known, even I as a non-racing person, recognized many of the names.


This lovely fellow is Hurricane Fly, trained by Willie Mullins. He is the holder of the world record for most Grade 1 races won by any racehorse. His paddock mate is Hardy Eustace, a very famous 21-year-old.

In the paddock are another three retired ‘living legends’, including Beef or Salmon, seen below on the right. Beef or Salmon was trained in Limerick by Michael Hourigan. Also here are Kicking King and Rite of Passage. These are world-class racehorses, living out their retirement in luxury on buttercup filled meadows!  Until his death a few years ago, the world-famous Vintage Crop grazed here too –  he was the 1993 winner of the Melbourne Cup – the first foreign-trained horse to do so.  All of the ‘living legends’ are geldings and are people friendly lovers of sugar cubes. (Unlike the stallions that would attack)


In a paddock nearby are some of the new season foals standing with their mothers. All foals have a birthday of January 1st, regardless of when they are born. This determines the categories of races they may enter.

In addition to the Japanese Gardens, the grounds are beautifully enhanced by St. Fiachra’s Garden just opposite the paddocks of the retired famous boys. These gardens were looking great at the time of my visit and are delightful for walking and are formed on a reclaimed wetland.

Here too are some reconstructed Beehive huts similar to those found in Kerry.

But it is hard to beat nature in all her glory!


This route leads to the area where the Stallions are kept. Potentially very dangerous animals, they are contained between two layers of fencing.


Invincible Spirit in his buttercup rich paddock

Meet Invincible Spirit – he is grazing there in his meadow the background. This is the current king of the National Stud whose offspring can sell for millions. With stud fees of €120,000  a session, he is kept busy and covers many mares, making him the highest earner hereabouts, providing 80% of the total annual income of the stud.


The stabling is ‘high end’ as these horses are living in the lap of luxury with this yard named after the famous Sun Chariot.

And so to the Museum. I was thrilled to bits to find Arkle here – although it was only his skeleton. Arkle was a remarkable racehorse, a real legend, one of the greatest racehorses that ever lived, one that we were familiar with in the 1960s and one that had a personal impact on our house. My younger sister Eva recalls someone coming to look for her one day when she was about 8 or 9.  We children tended to roam about and wander from house to house in the village, coming home only when we were hungry about mealtime. She was eventually located and told that our father wanted her at home immediately. She hesitated thinking she was in trouble of some sort, but when she reluctantly arrived at the house she was informed that she had won a white Bush Television in a draw because she had chosen Arkle as her horse, who had gone on to win whatever the race was. And here was the wonderful Arkle, the main exhibit in the museum, who provided us with a TV when they were something of a rarity in our neck of the woods.


The skeleton of the legendary Arkle – he supposedly loved to drink Guinness.

Not only did Ireland introduce Steeplechasing to the world, but we see in the museum that we also introduced showjumping – the first showjumping competition in the world was held in Dublin in 1868. In 1937 Ireland became the first country to have three successive wins and win the 2nd Aga Khan Trophy outright  In 1937. (Switzerland had previously won the 1st trophy outright by winning three times, but not successively) .


The Aga Khan Trophy

This jockey weighing -in chair was interesting and very ornate!


The visit to the National Stud was fascinating and so very worthwhile! Absolutely educational and in such wonderful surroundings.

Our father was ‘mad’ about horses and often drove about the country with my young daughter ‘looking; for horses in fields. They were often seen up on ditches peering at them or hanging over farm gates admiring them. He never put a bet on a horse in his life, but he loved them and passed that on to my daughter who became an accomplished rider, showjumper and dressage contestant. I am not sure if Dad ever got to the National Stud, but today on Father’s Day, I dedicate this post to him. He would love it. So would you!


Filed under Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Living in Ireland, My Travels

Postcards from the Wild Atlantic Way – Mizen Peninsula Co Cork

We left East Cork on a wet and miserable Sunday morning, heading to West Cork with its wonderful scenery. The weather cleared. The sun shone.  It was a perfect day for drifting along the coast enjoying the moments. Here was the Wild Atlantic Way in all its glory! After a wonderful breakfast in Budds of Ballydehob, we headed to Barley Cove to stretch our legs. The magnificent beachscape here and sand dunes were created by a tsunami in the aftermath of the great Lisbon earthquake in the 18th Century.

Next stop was Mizen Head itself with its rugged landscape, pointing out into the Atlantic Ocean at Ireland’s most south-westerly point. The visitor centre here forms the entrance to the Mizen Signal Station, built on an island in 1905. Access is via a very secure walkway and bridges with a number of easier walks to viewing platforms. Everywhere you look the cliff scenery is spectacular

The walkways allow for close encounters with birdlife and a close-up view of some spectacular geology.

It takes about 10 minutes to walk down – longer to walk back up via the famous 99 steps!

The signal station with keepers quarters was severely damaged in the storms of last winter and they and the Marconi Radio Room were still under repair at the time of our visit. All the more time for us to enjoy the fantastic views of Dunlough Bay and out towards Sheeps’ Head and the Beara Peninsula. Afterwards, we meandered towards Three Castle Head. Access to the site is via a working farm, unsuitable for our dogs, unfortunately, but we enjoyed the lovely countryside.

  • This is what we missed – next time, hopefully!


    Three Castless overlooking Doulough – Image Wikipedia.

    We then headed towards Crookhaven via Browhead with its interesting fieldscapes. Traces of 19th Century copper mines remain here.

    From the pier in Crookhaven…an old quarry works can be seen.

  • We headed back via the famous church in the townland of Altar. This Church of Ireland building was erected between 1847 and 1852, at the behest of  Rev. William Fisher, who gave work to the poor people of the area, with funding from Famine Relief. He named it ‘Teampol-na-mbocht’  – the Irish for Church of the Poor.

    Nearby is a fine example of a Wedge Tomb

  • It was a beautiful end to a beautiful day, overlooking Toormoore Bay.


Filed under Ireland, Wild Atlantic Way

Postcards from Mount Congreve, Waterford, one of the great gardens of the world

The gardens at Mount Congreve, Waterford, consist of around seventy acres of intensively planted woodland garden and a four-acre walled garden. The owner, the late Mr Ambrose Congreve, was inspired by Mr Lionel de Rothschild’s exceptional garden at Exbury in Hampshire, England.

It was here that he indulged his passion for Rhododendrons, Magnolias, Camellias and indeed many other plants from every continent in the world.

With over 3,000 different trees and shrubs, more than 2,000 Rhododendrons, 600 Camellias, 300 Acer cultivars, 600 conifers, 250 climbers, hundreds of magnolias, hundreds of wisteria and countless herbaceous plants, this is a truly magnificent site and what is more, these wonderful gardens were gifted to the people of Ireland after the death of Mr Congreve.

My Blogging friend, Social Bridge lives in this area and has long tempted me to come to have a look….and what a magnificent look it was! My most excellent guide knows every inch of the place and she was the best company on my visit!

I am posting these images ‘as they come’ so you too can take a virtual walk and enjoy this magnificent place.

My wonderful guide!

My wonderful, knowledgeable and inspirational guide!

Mount Congreve is open to the public Thursday – Sunday from 11 am.  I heartily recommend a visit and I am looking forward to seeing the herbaceous summer borders in all their splendour. Oh and the cafe is just lovely!

For further information


Filed under Great Gardens, Ireland, Ireland Seasons, Irish Countryside

Being a woman in Ireland in 2018

Mammy, do you not love me?       Read on…

Yesterday morning I woke to the sound of a young mother of five children weeping from my radio. Emma Mhic Mhathuna, the girl who fronted the HPV vaccine advertising campaign in Ireland, revealed that she was informed yesterday that she has terminal cervical cancer. Emma, the 37-year-old mother, whose children range in age from 15 to 2 and a half,  is one of 209 women whose cervical smear tests were incorrectly reported, and when the results were found to be incorrect, the information was withheld from them. This is 21st Century Ireland.

Yesterday we heard from Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died aged just 35 in June of last year. They had two small children, now aged 3 and 5. Irene had two incorrect smear results. Stephen has only been told in the last couple of weeks that Irene’s test results were incorrectly reported and that when the error was discovered, the truth was kept from them. Irene is one of 17 women who were told that their smear tests were clear when they were not, and who subsequently died. This is 21st century Ireland.

This scandal broke last week when a brave terminally ill Limerick mother of two, Vicky Phelan aged 43, sued and won damages for being given an all-clear result from her smear tests that in fact showed abnormalities. She refused outright to sign a gagging clause and as a result, this entire scandal has been revealed to the nation. Vicky’s children are aged 12 and 7. This is 21st Century Ireland.

Yesterday in the Irish Parliament, the Director General of the Health System accused those questioning him of ‘hysteria’. What an appropriate word. When the errors were discovered, an internal memo in his organization was circulated in March 2016 with the following instructions:

Next steps

• Pause all letters

• Await advice of solicitors

• Decide on the order and volume of dispatch to mitigate any potential risks

• Continue to prepare reactive communications response for a media headline that ‘screening did not diagnose my cancer’.

There was no mention of any woman in that communication. The wagons were circled.

The state denied it had any duty of care towards Vicky. They fought her all the way and she had to prove that the misdiagnosis meant she would die earlier than expected. The Cervical Check took two years to inform her doctor of the ‘misdiagnosis’ and it was a further 15 months before she was informed. All of this is too late for Vicky and too late for Emma – both of whom are in advanced stages of cancer. And far too late for the women like Irene who have died. This is 21st Century Ireland.

This country has not done its women proud. While every country has its scandals, in Ireland, it seems that girls and women are at the centre of the worst of them.  Although not related to the outrageous Cervical Check issue, women across this country are talking about being a woman in Ireland. No one is accountable for what happens to them.

Young unmarried mothers were incarcerated for years in so-called Magdalen Laundries, their children were taken from them and, if they survived, they were often sold for adoption. The state colluded. No one was accountable.

Women whose unborn babies are diagnosed with fatal foetal abnormalities have to travel to England to end their pregnancies as a potential jail sentence of 14 years hangs over anyone who carries out an abortion in this country.  Similarly, with underage girls who are victims of incest, abuse and rape – any termination of pregnancy cannot be undertaken in this country.  The United Nations Committee for Human Rights has found that Ireland’s law prohibiting and criminalising abortion has violated the human rights of a woman.

Today Irish women can take little comfort from the pronouncements of one of the leaders of the Catholic church, Bishop  Dermot Farrell who has stated that abortion is ‘far worse than rape’. This is 21st Century Ireland.

The anguished words of  Emma have been ringing in my head for the past two days now often reducing me to tears – tears of anger, tears or sorrow, tears of utter helplessness.  You can listen to her here .

Last night I read the transcript of an interview given by Emma to an Irish radio station. It is the most heartbreaking thing I have read in such a long time.

This is Ireland in the 21st Century and this is what we have done to women and children up and down our country. I am so ashamed.

This is what Emma said about giving the bad news to her children:

Shuigh mé síos agus dúirt mé leo tá mé ag fáil bháis … Oisín, tá sé sé bliana d’aois, chuirceist, an mbeidh mé ag teacht ar ais, ná téigh aon áit Mamaí, nach bhfuil grá agat domsa?  Ní thuigeann sé.

I sat down and I  said to them I am dying…Oisín, he is 6 years of age, posed a question, would I be coming back, don’t go anywhere Mammy, do you not love me? He doesn’t understand.

Neither do we, neither do we.



Filed under Ireland