Category Archives: Life in the 1960s

Home thoughts at Midsummer 2015

Many decades have passed since I was last able to call Donegal ‘home’ in the physical sense, of having a house and an address and family and siblings there. Since those distant days in the 1950s and 1960s I have lived in various places, all of them a long way from Donegal. Yet when people ask,’Where are you from’? I reply without hesitation ‘Donegal’ even though I spent less than one-third my life there.
But this is where I grew up, where I walked to National School, where I progressed through the then important life’s rights of passage, such as communion and confirmation. This is where I learned to read, learned to play, learned to ride a bike, went to collect the milk in a can from Wee Rodgers in Tirlaugan or from McKemeys out the road. This is where I was terrified of Mary Tammy’s geese who chased me, and where Charlie Ward’s donkey once bolted down Figart with myself and my older  brother on board.

Carrigart in the 1960s. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Carrigart in the 1960s. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

This is where my younger brother’s dog was killed one Sunday morning by a car speeding to get to Mass on time. This too is where I collected water from the well out at the back of Figart or from the ‘spoot’ (spout) in later years. This is where Patrick McElwee dropped dead one summer evening when bringing his cow down from Figart to be milked. This is where I went to see him slumped against the rectory wall.

This is where my friend Norah and I, each armed with ninepence on a Friday night,went to the visiting cinema or what we then called ‘the pictures’. This is where we sat patiently on hard benches waiting for Keeney to load up the reels – and sometimes a reel ran out and the next one had to be rewound before the show could continue. This is where I first saw Laurel and Hardy,The Three Stooges, lots of Westerns and and my first 3D film.

This is where I learned to polish brass, loving  Mrs Duffy’s beautiful brass kettle; learned to knit at Mary Mandy’s fireside as she made very exotic and delicious vegetable marrow jam; this is where I learned to churn butter out at Shelia McBride’s in a big old wooden churn. This is where my baby brother died on a warm June afternoon. This is where I bought my first pop record, had my hair back-combed by Meta and went to dances in the North Star Ballroom, with a gold waspie belt and my dress resting  on stiff petticoats. This is where I first fell in love and bought my very first pop record.  This above all is where I learned to love nature, the sky and the stars, the pounding Atlantic Ocean, fabulous scenery.

It is Midsummer and invariably thoughts turn to Donegal and those long, long summer evenings when we stayed up late. Days of 17 and a quarter hours were for living and playing. The sun will stand still at the summer solstice this year at 16. 38 pm. UTC on Sunday June 21st. But this year we have an extra treat to mark Midsummer, in the form of an unusual Planet Dance. Tonight, June  20th just after sunset the dazzling Venus will form a triangle with Jupiter and the crescent Moon in the western sky, I like to think, to help us celebrate Midsummer!

In Donegal sixty years ago, our midsummer celebration was held on the 23rd of June, St John’s Eve. This is a post from my archive in 2011, about what happened in our village then, in those long, happy hazy crazy days of summer!

June 23rd: Midsummer Irish Style

This post is one of a series looking at ancient traditions in Ireland.

Midsummer, or St. John’s Eve (Oiche Fheile Eoin) was traditionally celebrated in Ireland by the lighting of bonfires. (The word ‘bonfire’, according to my Etymology dictionary is a word from the 1550s meaning a fire in the open air in which bones were burned). This custom is rooted in ancient history when the Celts lit fires in honour of the Celtic goddess Queen of Munster Áine. Festivals in her honour took place in the village of Knockainey, County Limerick (Cnoc Aine = Hill of Aine ). Áine was the Celtic equivalent of Aphrodite and Venus and as is often the case, the festival was ‘christianised’ and continued to be celebrated down the ages. It was the custom for the cinders from the fires to be thrown on fields as an ‘offering’ to protect the crops.

Midsummer bonfires are also a tradition across Europe. In Latvia, for example, the celebration is called Jāņi (Jānis is Latvian for John); in Norway they celebrate ‘Sankthansaften’.

Growing up in the northern part of Donegal in the 1950s, Bonfire night was surely the highlight of our year! To us, it was Bone- fire night. For days we piled our fire high down on the shore, with every bit of flotsam, jetsam, old timber and rubbish we could find. We did actually use a lot of bones on our fire as on the verge of the shore was a slaughter-house (an abattoir in more genteel circles) so naturally there were many cattle bones lying about… from horned cows heads to bits of legs and hip bones etc. They made welcome fuel for our great pyre!

Midsummer in Donegal was wonderful with the sun not setting until very late at about 10.15 pm.  We were allowed to stay up late, waiting for the sun to set so that we could enjoy the lit fire. An adult would light it at the proper time, as dusk was setting in, and we were thrilled by the intense heat and the crackling sound of the splitting timber as the flames leapt joyfully high into the still balmy air.

In Thomas Flanagan’s book, ‘The Year of The French‘, set in 1798, mention is made of the midsummer bonfire:

”Soon it would be Saint John’s Eve. Wood for the bonfire had already been piled high upon Steeple Hill, and when the night came there would be bonfires on every hill from there to Downpatrick Head. There would be dancing and games in the open air, and young men would try their bravery leaping through the flames. There would even be young girls leaping through, for it was helpful in the search of a husband to leap through a Saint John’s Eve fire, the fires of midsummer. The sun was at its highest then, and the fires spoke to it, calling it down upon the crops. It was the turning point of the year, and the air was vibrant with spirits.’

In Ireland, Bonfire night is still celebrated to an extent in Cork and in counties west of the Shannon as well as in northern counties. Cork city council has stepped in, in recent years to provide a safe environment for children and families and this year is organizing 15 events across the city. Ráth Carn in the Meath Irish-speaking district (Gaeltacht) also celebrates Bonfire night with a huge fire, feasting, music and dancing.

The old traditional Midsummer bonfires  seem however, to be a thing of the past now in Ireland. If you have any recollections at all of having attended one, or you know of someone who has attended one, please do let me know – I would love to hear from you!

References

Flanagan, Thomas 1979. The Year of the French

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Filed under Ireland, Ireland Seasons, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish Traditions, Life in the 1960s, Living in Ireland, Oral History, Social History Ireland

Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?

November 22 1963 was just another day – except that it was  a Friday. Friday was a  special day in our school. It was bath night and the following day being Saturday, there would be only a half day of classes, and we would have Tuckshop. With 11 weeks of the term already passed, we would  get home in another 4 weeks, so life was GOOD. Such were the thoughts of  a 15-year-old boarder in the St Louis Convent,Dún Lughaidh, Dundalk, Co Louth, Ireland on that day.

Three years earlier in November 1960, I had sat up all night with my father watching the results of the American Presidential Election. In a Donegal village, we sat into the small hours in front of our small black and white television watching what has turned out to be one of the most famous American election nights in history. It was the first presidential election in which Alaska and Hawaii  would participate, having become the 49th and 50th states the previous year. More importantly from our perspective, thousands of miles to the east of the USA, we were wondering if the charismatic, young , handsome Irish catholic could possibly be elected to the most powerful office in the world. It was riveting viewing with Kennedy’s initial commanding lead being hoovered up by Nixon as the hours passed. I will always remember that moment in the small hours when ‘Kennedy Wins’ came up  on the screen and my Dad’s total delight at the outcome. ‘ I don’t believe it ‘  I don’t believe it’  he exclaimed!  When he got over the initial excitement and disbelief, he explained to me how significant an event this was  – to have a Roman Catholic man, a man of Irish descent – elected to such high office was a great triumph for Catholics and for Ireland. That Kennedy’s paternal great grandfather had left Wexford in famine times and his maternal great grandfather had left Limerick in the 1850s, made the success even more significant. The Irish had ‘arrived’ and the sense of pride was palpable.

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Inauguration of President John F Kennedy, January 1961. Image Wikimedia Commons

A few years later, in June 1963 President John F Kennedy made the first visit of an American President to Ireland. Thousands flocked to see him and his every move was televised (apparently at his own request, as later transpired).  His young age and his good looks made him an instant ‘pop star’ in Ireland where our own President was in his 80s and speaking of ‘maidens dancing at the crossroads’. This was the first time that many of us had actually heard and realized that an Irish person could be proud of their deprived origins and could succeed. As a consequence,and astonishing as this may seem nowadays, pictures of the revered  and very handsome President  John Fitzgerald Kennedy, sometimes with his wife Jacqueline, were placed on walls in Irish homes alongside religious pictures of The Sacred Heart or of  a favoured Pope.

The Snug, Bradley’s, Barrack Street, Cork. Image courtesy Brian Mac Domhnaill

In this image,  two  pictures  of  John F Kennedy hang on the walls of  The Snug in Bradley’s Bar, Barrack Street Cork. The ‘snug’ as seen here was once the living room of the Bradley home and has remained unchanged despite the change of use. There was once a Sacred Heart picture in this room but that was removed when it became a pub.

Frank O'Donoghues House (5)Another image from Brian MacDomhnaill, whose interest in photographing abandoned houses led to the discovery of this picture of the Kennedy ‘s in an abandoned house in County Carlow. Interestingly, the photograph was taken in the deserted home of a  catholic priest.

Five months after the momentous and triumphant visit to Ireland,on that November Friday, we boarders in Dundalk were enjoying our 7 pm supper. Supper was generally considered the most enjoyable meal of the day in our convent school, where we seemed to be in an almost permanent state of hunger. We probably had  a bowl of baked beans and lots of bread and not so much butter, but the beauty of beans lay in the fact that butter was not required. After supper, we followed our daily routine of filing out of the refectory in total silence and making our way to the convent chapel for rosary. Along the ‘route’ prefects stood to ensure that silence was maintained, with the head girl standing by the window at the entrance to the chapel. As I approached the chapel door, Hanna, the head girl, beckoned me over and whispered to me that President Kennedy had been shot. I was reeling and in disbelief as we filed into our chapel seats but thought it was probably not serious.

At the beginning of prayers, it was announced that President Kennedy had in fact been shot dead. Not only that, but the nun said the consequences were potentially catastrophic with the almost total certainty of World War 3. The inference was that President Kennedy was martyred because he was a Roman Catholic and who but Communists would do such a thing. This, we were told, meant that our brothers and male relations would be called upon to fight the Russians, Catholics against Communists.  The Bay of Pigs missile crisis was still fresh in memory and the Communist threat was never far from our thoughts – didn’t we pray several times a day for the ‘conversion of Russia’?

Our school had 90 boarders aged between 12 and 18 – all of us many miles from home, with the only communication being by letter and a weekly telephone call on the one telephone in the school – a treat for those whose family were fortunate enough to have a telephone at home- many did not. As the Rosary began, someone started to cry. Very quickly,another began sobbing and in a matter of minutes total hysteria had gripped the assembled throng. This was undoubtedly brought about by the shock of the terrible news, but in no small measure by the announcement that  we were at war and all our male relatives – fathers, brothers, uncles, would have to stand up and fight and in all probability be killed. I can still hear the shrieks of one or two girls who were totally traumatized, as we were urged to pray and pray and pray.

My memory of that fateful day is frozen in time in that chapel and it did take several days for us to be reassured that all was well  and that perhaps our male family members were safe. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested shortly after the shooting and he himself was shot dead on Sunday November 24.  On the following Monday afternoon we  got to watch the funeral on the school black and white television.  Images that stand out from the event are of the elegant veiled figure of Mrs Kennedy, her two small children the other Kennedy brothers, and the black riderless horse , with boots reversed, signifying the fallen leader.

300px-JFK's_family_leaves_Capitol_after_his_funeral,_1963

President Kennedy’s Family. Image Wikimedia Commons

JFKRiderless Horse

The Riderless Horse Image Wikimedia Commons

 A Guard of Honour of Irish Cadets was in attendance from Ireland at the request of Mrs Kennedy.

Irish Cadets

Irish Cadets form a Guard of Honour at the graveside. Image Irish Examiner

Many years later I stood at the simple grave of President John F Kennedy at Arlington Cemetery, overlooking the vista of  Washington D.C.  A simple Eternal Flame burns at his final resting place as a lasting memorial.

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By this time  however questions were being posed about the nature of his Presidential Campaign and his personal behaviour Although  his personality has been diminished and his image no longer graces the walls of Irish homes, the myth lives on, frozen in time by an assassins bullet on that Friday, a half  a century ago in November 1963.

Do you remember where you were when you heard that news?

I am very grateful to Brian Mac Domhnaill for sending me his photographs of  the pictures of the Kennedys that hung in Irish homes.

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Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Ireland, Irish American, Irish Diaspora, Irish History, Irish Traditions, Life in the 1960s, My Oral History, Significant World Events

A blue duck and little brown shoes

It is a Tuesday afternoon, just after 3 o’clock.  For some reason not at school on that day, the 11 year-old girl is  in the kitchen with her mother who is  preparing dinner for brothers who are about to return home from school. Suddenly there are shrieks from children leaving another school across the road, and looking out the window they see  children covering their faces and running. Her mother runs out  to see what  is going on. Within seconds there is a chilling scream that causes her to run  to the front door too. There she meets her mother coming in, carrying her baby brother, blood pouring from the side of  his little blonde head. Her mother is screaming : ”The baby is dead; the baby is dead; the baby is dead , the baby is dead.” Frozen together in the hallway, she touches the limp body in her mothers arms; she tries to wipe the blood out of his hair and feels it warm and  mixed with gravel, flowing through her fingers. She wipes her hand on her red and white striped dress.

Back in April I read a very poignant post on the wonderful blog site  Seeking Susan ~ Meeting Marie ~ Finding Family.  It was a surprising and pain filled post about the loss of a son from measles.  Here  she wrote about  remembering her baby on his birthday, many years later.  It occurred to me then that perhaps babies are often not remembered in the same way as parents, grandparents etc., other than by bereaved parents.

I wondered about writing this post after that, but then changed my mind several times, thinking it would be too morose.

This morning at 6 am I had just woken up when my sister from Australia texted me: ‘Is Canice’s Anniversary today?’ Again I thought about the blog, and again decided against. Some hours later when I logged in to my PC there was a post from Jean Tubridy, wonderful writer of the  blog  Social Bridge, who wrote here about memory and remembering those we have lost. Quoting Melvyn Bragg remembering his late mother she wrote:My mother is secure, in the future, in my memory. And she’ll be secure in my children’s memories. And  although she might fade in their memories. I’ll be secure in their memories and I’ll carry that memory and it will pass on like that. So there  is that sort of future, which is interesting to think about.”

It was after reading this that I decided that I ought to go ahead with the post. Too many signs – and who would remember a baby that they never knew, who had not had his own children to remember him, who had never known his nieces and nephews, whose footprint in life was so miniscule that only his immediate family, the closest of  those to him, can possibly remember.

I was  the 11-year-old whose baby brother, Canice John Gallagher, the youngest of 6 in our family, died on June 30 1959 at the age of 15 months.   Born on 31st March 1958, he was  a happy little baby, but had been teething in the past few weeks,which made him grumble a little. He had a little blue rubber duck that he loved when in his bath. He had just had a new pair of trousers – beautiful little striped red and yellow and green shorts and had little brown leather shoes, with the toes well-worn from creeping along!  Not yet able to walk, Canice had  apparently crawled out onto the road and under a lorry that was parked in front of our house.  When it moved off he was killed instantly.

DSCF0941

The house we lived in, in 1959. The front door has been replaced by a window – the second from the left on white part.

The next 24 hours are almost a  total blur, but  I crept into the sitting room when there was no one around to look at him in the little white coffin, resting on top of  the Singer sewing machine. The funeral took place the following day and every week afterwards, usually on a Thursday, my mother prepared bunches of flowers for his grave  and  I cycled to the graveyard with them.  I protested regularly, to no avail. Sometimes I would have to go looking for the flowers on my bike –  there were a few deserted  and abandoned old cottages that had beautiful roses, and I would pick these and she would tie them into a bunch and I would put them on his grave.  This pattern continued for over 2 years until I went  to boarding school.

Years later, after my mother died, we were replacing the headstone on the grave and I decided to look for death certificates. I was shocked to be told that there was no death certificate for Canice as his death had never been registered!

DSCF0867

Our family plot is in this graveyard

So today, 54 years after the event, he is remembered with love, and with as much grief as on the day that we lost him.   His  little blue duck and his little brown leather shoes are in my drawer.

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Photograph taken just days before Canice died. I am wearing the red striped dress that my mother had just made for me. Canice is just behind me, being held by my brother.

Fortunately, we had a very rare family photograph taken just days before he died, so we have his picture, his duck  his shoes, and  above all his memory,  to treasure.

Today too we remember the kind and gentle man who was the driver of the lorry –  he was totally blameless and unaware of what had happened, but his life, like ours, changed forever on  30 June 1959.

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Filed under Life in the 1960s, Living in Ireland, My Oral History, Social History Ireland

50 years of Blowin in the Wind

In May 2011 I wrote a post in celebration of Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday and the impact he had on me as a teenager. The original text can be seen here.  50 years ago today Bob Dylan first performed Blowin in the Wind. Then aged 15, I clearly recall the first time I heard it and how it fed into the worldwide social happenings of the world and stirred the conscience of a generation. Most particularly it provided a vehicle for our rebellious spirits. The original post is below.

Bob Dylan and his Harmonica in 1963. Image Guardian.co.uk

Being a teen in Ireland in the early 1960s was a fascinating time. The Irish television service had just been introduced in 1961, although those of us who lived near the border with the six counties of Northern Ireland had enjoyed the BBC for  several years before – all in black and white of course!

One of the abiding memories from my teens was at age 15, racing into the living room and being stopped in my tracks by Martin Luther King on the television, delivering his ‘I have a Dream’ speech, in Washington D.C. I was rooted to the spot. I also vividly recall the news reports of the war in Vietnam, the ‘FLOP-flop, FLOP-flop,FLOP-flop,FLOP-flop’ sound of Huey helicopters flying at terrifying angles and offloading their human cargoes of young men just a few years older than myself – either crouched and running,being carried on stretchers or in body bags. Never before had anything like these scenes been witnessed at a distance, by any generation. The impact on us was remarkable.

Dylan and Joan Baez. Civil Rights March Washington D.C 1963. Image wikipedia.com

Dylan and Joan Baez. Civil Rights March Washington D.C 1963. Image wikipedia.com

At the same time music was evolving, leaving behind the big band and orchestral sounds and becoming much more exciting and exhilarating. For a huge number of teenagers and young adults in the 1960s, Bob Dylan was phenomenal. With his guitar and harmonica and ‘drawl style’ of singing, he was unique. ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘The Times  they are a-Changin’ captured the mood exactly. They not only added an authenticity to the events, they challenged us not to remain complacent.

That Bob Dylan helped motivate an entire  generation to become socially aware, is probably an understatement.  Although he disliked the tag ‘protest song’, this is exactly what his compositions were to an emerging generation who were seeing things in their own homes that had only ever been read about in the past. His social commentaries were powerful motivators in making people question social inequality and the human cost of the Vietnam conflict. Not only that, his songs were like nothing we had heard before.  They had beautiful melodies, they were poetic, they had a social message. They were anthems of the time, most especially for the Civil Rights movement in the USA and for the anti-war movement, both of which, with the inspiration of Bob Dylan, became international movements.

For those of us emerging into adulthood in the sixties, Bob Dylan was a true icon. His poetry was inspiring; his message was beyond love-songs, beyond ‘ be-bop-a-doo-dah’ banality. His place in the politics, history and culture of the 1960s  enabled us to admonish those who perpetrated injustices in a way that had not been seen before and  not has been seen since.

How many roads must a man walk down, before you can call him a man?….. How many times must the cannonballs fly, before they are forever banned?…

How many years can some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free?… How many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry?

How many deaths will it take till he knows  that too many people have died? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind

The answer is blowing in the wind.

Blowin still 50 years on.  Bob Dylan –  you changed me…you changed the world !

 

Filed under Life in the 1960sLiving in IrelandSocial Change

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Filed under Life in the 1960s, Living in Ireland, My Oral History, Social Change, Social History Ireland

Martin Luther King in a Donegal living room

Stone of Hope Memorial

Stone of Hope Memorial to Martin Luther King, Washington D.C.

In August 1963, when I was 15 years of age, I was running to do something in the kitchen. (We tended to run in those days instead of walking!) Passing by the open living room door where my father was watching the news on television, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the rousing words ‘I.. HAVE… A DREAM ‘.I was aware that there were ongoing civil rights issues in the USA at that time, and the name Martin Luther King was familiar. I had not however ever heard him speak before and I was riveted to the spot.

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Martin Luther King Jnr at the Civil Rights Demonstration in Washington DC on August 28 1963

This was Martin Luther King, the voice of Black America, delivering a speech in which the spoken word became a servant of his cause. It was beamed across the world and affected the lives on many of the millions who watched, including myself, a teenager in County Donegal, Ireland.

It has been revealed in a book, Behind the Dream, by Clarence Jones, a close associate of King,  that when he was delivering the speech a singer who had performed earlier in the programme called out ‘tell them about the dream Martin, tell them about the dream.’  King put his speech to one side and so the ‘I have a dream’ part of this speech was not scripted, but was delivered spontaneously  and from the heart with raw emotion.

Martin Luther King was  assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee  on this day 45 years ago,  April 4, 1968. He was 39 years old. His messages of justice and equality, his rhetoric and his inspiration live on, resonating across the decades.  He delivered many memorable speeches, but it is ‘I have a Dream‘ that made him a household name across the world.

MLk memorial

One of the inscriptions on the wall at the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington D.C. These words are from his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1964

This is the full text  of ‘I have a Dream‘ delivered at the march on Washington, DC, August 28, 1963.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

References:

http://www.nobelprize.org

http://www.nps.gov (Memorial Pictures)

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Filed under Life in the 1960s, Oral History, Public Speaking, Social Change, Social Justice

St Patrick’s Day:Badges,Shamrocks and ‘Going Green’

adare shamrock

A bowl of ‘Shamrock‘ on a restaurant table in Adare, Co. Limerick this week

St. Patrick’s Day…When half the world turns green and the other half is out parading –  or so it seems! Airports, rivers, waterfalls, tourist features, buildings, beer and people the world over – all in green livery for the ‘big day’. From Pyramids to Google Doodles– they are all ‘at it’!  But, it is far from all of this that we were reared!

Trifolium.dubium

This little 3 leafed plant looks like the Shamrock that we used to pick for St Patrick’s Day. It grew tight to the ground and was difficult to pick the little sprigs.

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations  in my small village in Donegal were traditionally simple. Apart from obligatory Mass and school being closed, nothing else much happened. I have tried to recall the events of a typical St Patrick’s Day when I was growing up. I remember being dispatched to find some  shamrock a week or so before the big day and again on the day before. The double harvest was required as we had small purpose made boxes in which shamrock would be posted to relatives abroad in England, Scotland or America,(no customs restrictions in those days!) and then people at home needed fresh Shamrock to wear on St Patrick’s Day itself.

Shamrock is  a very specific plant that can be found growing in certain places. I recall a roadside bank, and a particular field  where I used to gather quite a bit. The stems creep along the ground and I have vivid recollections of having cold and sore fingers from trying to uproot  stems with a bit of length, so that they could be pinned onto  a coat or lapel. The wet mud would compact under fingernails and it was often quite painful! I also recall being sent back out to get the real thing, when tired of the pulling, decided to just pick clover instead –  much easier to harvest as the stems did not cling so tightly to the cold wet earth!

clover

This is clover and earned me a clip on the ear if it was brought home for St Patrick’s Day

Clover is a much softer plant with the leaves on longer stems than ‘proper’ shamrock. Clover usually had  a white mark in the centre of the leaves.

Oxalis

Oxalis is not Shamrock either !

As well as wearing Shamrock, we children had a St Patrick’s Day badge. These were bought in the village shop for about 4 pence and consisted of a length of  green, white and orange ribbon. Some had a gold paper harp attached. Several designs were usually available and these were worn with great pride. Later at Mass, the very lively hymn ‘Síor Glór do Naomh Padraigwas sung.

Traditional-irish-stipatricksidayibadges

St Patrick’s Day badges c. early 20th century, from the Museum of Country Life. Image Wikimedia Commons.

It is often said that the designation of March 17th as the Feast Day was an ‘Irish solution to an Irish problem’  as it falls slap bang in the middle of Lent, when most  Irish would be abstaining from sweets, alcohol and other niceties.  Being a feast day, Lenten rules of abstinence and mortification did not apply, so it was certainly a ‘feast day’ with a difference. The tradition of ‘drowning  the shamrock’ appears  to go back for several hundred years. This is variously described as alcohol being poured over a shamrock in the bottom of a glass, or shamrock being floated on top of a glass. Either way, the alcohol was quaffed, and presumably the drowned plant went with it. Public Houses were forbidden to open on St Patrick’s Day from the early 1900’s up to the 1970s, in an attempt to curb excessive ‘shamrock drowning’. Irish people are of course aware that neither a ‘closed door’ nor licensing regulations are of much consequence when there is serious shamrock drowning to be done.

St Patrick’s Day is a relatively modern feast day, having been so designated as recently as the 17th Century. It is recognized in many Christian traditions, including Anglican and Eastern Orthodox as well as Catholic. It has now turned into a world-wide festival of Irishness – interesting,  given that St Patrick was not even an Irishman! St Brigid would have been much much more appropriate as a National Saint but for two major failings – serious enough that she was tentatively associated with a pagan pre Christian deity,  but worse still – she had a gender issue – she was after all only  a woman and therefore highly unsuitable for such a prestigious position. The foreign Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland in 432 AD. This is contested as it is believed that there were groups of Christians in Ireland before he ever arrived. Many places in Ireland contain his name, the most famous being Croagh Patrick, a mountain in Mayo and a place of Pilgrimage, and there are many holy wells that bear his name although it is highly unlikely that he visited all of them.

StP

Patrick misrepresented in 17th century ecclesiastical garb, with equally misrepresented serpents

It is rather odd that he is depicted wearing a Bishop’s Mitre and green church vestments that were not invented until several hundred years after his death. This is a dishonest portrayal of the truth of who he was . Another myth prevails that he drove the snakes out of Ireland as apparently there were none here in the first place.

Whatever the truth and the fiction, St Patrick’s Day in the early 21st century is far removed from the simple religious celebration of the Ireland  of  50 years ago.  It is now a world-wide celebration of all that is Irish and it continues to reinvent itself. For the past number of years Ireland has had parades and the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Dublin have now become an annual festival. The famous New York St Patrick’s Day Parade first took place in 1762 and it is thanks to Irish emigrants in far flung places that the tradition has been kept alive. While we do have to tolerate the  stereotypically awful  ‘begorrahs’ and ‘top of the mornin’ and red bearded leprechauns, not to mention the emerging excruciating ‘St Patty’s Day’, we Irish are immensely proud that the world celebrates us so enthusiastically each year.

St Patrick is the lynchpin for Irish identity right across the world, for believers and non believers.  The blurred boundaries between a national saint’s day and a national Ireland day are easily forgotten when we witness the enthusiasm and the joy and fun as people party for Ireland all over the world.

For academic and fascinating scholarly information on St Patrick, a visit to Terry O’Hagan’s  blog voxhiberionacum. is a must.

This post originally posted in March 2013  was updated in March 2014

Lá ‘le Pádraig sona daoibh!

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Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Emigration from Ireland, Home, Humour, Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Diaspora, Irish Heritage, Irish Traditions, Life in the 1960s, Living in Ireland

Meeting Eithne

In June 2011, I put the name ‘Eithne’ and a slightly unusual surname into a search on Facebook. Two pages were returned – one person from Belfast was not who I was looking for, but the second one showed promise. And so I emailed – ”Are you the person who was with me at the St Louis Convent Boarding school in Dundalk, Co Louth, Ireland?” And back came the response –  ”Yes, I am ! ” This was one of the amazing moments I have enjoyed since becoming ‘e-inclusive’ as the EU likes to call it! Imagine! Finding someone who was a very special part of my life almost 5 decades ago!

Eithne hails from County  Monaghan, a county bordering  Northern Ireland to the south,  and I was from County  Donegal,  a county that also borders  Northern Ireland to the  north-west, so  we already had something in common!   We two Ulster women found ourselves deposited as 13 year olds in a convent boarding school run by the St. Louis Sisters in Dundalk Co Louth – many miles from Eithne’s Castleblayney  home and even more  from mine in faraway Carrigart, County Donegal.

school

Some of the dormitories were in the Castle on the left

It was 1961. Boarding school had serious disadvantages –  nights of lonely crying into the pillow as we faced into three terms of endless weeks  missing family and friends and home; months of rising at 7 am; months of cold water for washing ‘everywhere two skins meet’; months of seemingly endless  study; months of endless  praying. Add to the mix:  no boys ; no privacy as only curtains separated our ‘alcove’  sleeping spaces – each containing  a single bed, a chair, a locker with a towel rail  topped by a green plastic basin and beaker,  as well as a single  wardrobe. This was ‘home’ for up to 14 or 16 weeks at a time, three times a year, for 5 long years.

Me: 2nd row from Front, 3rd from right

Me: 2nd row from front, 3rd from right; Eithne: 5th row from front, 3rd from left

School was defined by rules, long silences, prayers, study, long regimented walks, retreats, breaking rules, operas, dance lessons, still no boys, even more study, hours of silence, tuck shop on Saturday with Toffo de Luxe and chocolate; mashed parsnips, and  first Sundays of each month in silence for up to 17 hours!

louislist

School Prospectus

Here we learned life long skills in the art of sharing:  how to divide a three week old  quarter sandwich into five portions with the tail of a steel comb;  how to dissect a small chocolate Turkish delight sweet  into 6 minuscule portions so everyone could share the last remaining morsel of luxury; how to eat a chocolate cake so that only crumbs remained, then pen a letter of complaint to the manufacturer returning the crumbs, stating that  it tasted of petrol. The plan worked sometimes and we got a replacement cake! The demands on teenage hormonal girls were truly extraordinary, and – it has to be said –  were also character forming. There was one huge advantage: friendships that formed in these  adverse conditions ran deep and true.

A couple of St Louis Nuns

A couple of St Louis Nuns – the delightful Sr Colmcille on left.

Eithne and I spent happy summer holidays at each others homes in Donegal and Monaghan. Her home was so exotic –  she lived in a fairly large inland  town compared to my small village, her family had a shop and a pub no less  – and her mother was just the nicest woman ever you met!  There was a very beautiful lake nearby where we talked and we walked, lay in the sun  and eyed up the local talent.  On visits to Donegal, Eithne fitted into our lives  like a hand into a glove, and here too we eyed up the local talent and walked and talked on our big deserted beaches. Sadly Eithne changed schools in 1964 when  she left to go to school elsewhere, while I remained in the Louis for a further 2 years.

Life continued to send us in different directions – in Eithne’s case she emigrated, became a nurse, married and moved between England , Scotland and Holland. In my case I also emigrated to England  and with many changes of address we drifted apart. A lifetime later Eithne, after the Facebook search,  was coming to Ireland for a visit and so we arranged to meet for lunch last summer!

It was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I boarded the bus – what would we talk about?  Would we have ANYTHING to talk about? What if lunch  is just too long? As I approached the meeting point I saw her….later I was intrigued that I had recognized her from the back, as she was facing away from me, but there was something so familiar about her standing there, as though I had seen her just a few days before. I called her name and she turned round….

And so it was  – lunch stretched to almost 4 hours of non stop banter and reminiscing. Life stories were recounted  including births marriages and deaths of family members we each knew well. We looked back with a great sense of fun  at the quite severe existence we endured in the Louis, and how we laughed as we recalled the fun we had when rules were being broken.

Life has certainly thrown some challenges to both of us in the intervening 48 years, but we have survived.  I am thrilled to have sent that email, to have rediscovered a friend, to discover that  true friendship is enduring and can pick up where  it left off, no matter how many decades have passed!  I rediscovered a kind, gentle, caring person with a lovely sense of humour – what more could a friend wish for ?

Thanks Eithne, so  glad to be able to call you ‘friend’!

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Filed under Irish History, Life in the 1960s, Living in Ireland, Oral History