Category Archives: Living in Ireland

Postcards from the Wild Atlantic Way: Kilalla to Downpatrick Head

Making my way for the first time ever along the beautiful north Mayo coastline I had many ‘wow’ moments as I turned corners to meet with spectacular views. This part of Mayo is one surprise after another and was an eagerly awaited part of my 3,000 kilometer trip along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.

My first stop was at Killala, a picturesque little village with a 12th Century Round Tower that vies with the nearby 16th Century Church and steeple.

Killala Round tower and church

Killala Round tower and church

The scenic little harbor looks across at the sandy shore of Bartragh Island once owned (and possibly still owned) by premier golfer Nick Faldo who had plans to make a championship standard links there.

Killala is a popular tourist destination, with many attractions such as pristine beaches, walks, fishing, historic sites and archaeology and the bay itself is a treasure trove for birders with many unusual species to be seen here.

Further along the coast is the breathtakingly magnificent Lacken Strand – a huge expanse of sand sheltered by high sand dunes. The Lacken Salt Marsh is a protected area of special conservation  and the tidal bay again hosts many wading birds. It was near here on August 22, 1798 that General Humbert landed at Kilcummin Harbour with over a thousand French troops, in support of the United Irishmen Rebellion against the British.

One of the most remarkable features between the road and the sea just beyond Lacken Strand on the minor coast road, is the prevalence of long narrow strips of land running towards the coast. The Rundale System of farming predates the Famine in Ireland and was a method of land management determined by land quality, that was shared out and rotated among many families. The parallel lines of these fields can be clearly seen on the map above by enlarging it slightly. Just a short drive along the coast I arrived at the excellent B & B accommodation (Creevagh Heights B & B ) overlooking the Atlantic Ocean which I had selected for its proximity to Downpatrick Head.

I first heard of Downpatrick Head during one of our Atlantic Storms when photographs of huge waves breaking over it made the news. (See here for Irish Independent News). It was late evening when I arrived in the area but as the weather forecast was poor for the following day, I decided to go and have a look around. There was a lack of ‘wild’ on my entire trip along the Wild Atlantic Way as there was hardly a breeze, so I saw none of the spectacular wind-driven seascapes that I love so much. As it turned out, the rugged beauty of this particular spot was best enjoyed in calm conditions given that I was alone when exploring a hazardous landscape. The sign at the entrance to the head announced that the site was unsuitable for children and that dogs should be kept on leads! I couldn’t help wondering why there would be such signs, but very soon I was to find out that it was indeed good advice!

 

I was pleased to note that there was some fencing on the site and that some wire mesh had been inserted on the ground –  I presumed this was to prevent walkers slipping on wet grass. As I stood on it I  became aware of noise beneath my feet and on looking down I was horrified to find myself looking into a dark chasm with a heaving mass of water. I was standing on top of a blow-hole!

This site is a lesson in coastal erosion. The cliff tops look soft and crumbling and the blowholes are testament to the fact that waves cause caves to penetrate the cliff and the tops eventually collapse. There was a constant sound here that can only have come from the waves rumbling beneath the land I was walking on, which gave me a definite uneasy feeling. I walked on up the hill towards a large grassy mound, and what looked to me like a possible hill fort, but when I  arrived there I was astonished to find that the mound of earth is a man-made raised walkway that surrounds a vast blowhole known as  Poll a Sean Tine ( Hole of the old fire or old wave).

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The cavernous hole has been made accessible to the public by the installation of a protective steel fence and reinforced plate-glass. It must be some spectacle to be here when the thunderous waves are throwing vast plumes of spray high into the air.

There is tragic history here too. When the 1798 Rebellion failed, English troops were rounding up rebels and their French helpers. Locals descended into the hole with ropes and hid on ledges below. The Redcoats however stayed in the area for longer than expected, the weather changed, a storm blew up and many were drowned.

All calm at Poll a sean Tine

All calm at Poll a Sean Tine

The name Downpatrick Head derives from Saint Patrick  of course. There are ruins of a 5th century monastery here, with the ruins adorned (spoiled) by a statue of St Patrick. It seems that the usual and only acceptable representation of the Saint is sporting 17th Century ecclesiastical garb.

St Patrick in 17th Century garb at his 5th Century Church

St Patrick in 17th Century garb at his 5th Century Church

This area was an area of significance long before the arrival of Christianity as the ancient landscape predates Patrick. Legend has it that Crom Dubh, a pagan god, occupied this area and St Patrick came to confront him. Crom Dubh tried to throw Patrick into the ‘eternal fire’ but Patrick drew a cross on a stone and threw it into the fire which collapsed into the sea thus creating Poll a Sean Tine. Crom Dubh retreated to his fort but Patrick  hit the ground with his crozier and created Dun Briste or Broken Fort, a sea stack that stands about 100 metres from land. It’s a great story and possibly the first recorded ‘belt of a crozier’ by an Irish bishop!

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Dun Briste or Broken Fort is a sea stack that has been separated from land by wave erosion. There are remains of two dwellings and farm walls apparently still to be seen on the stack.

The effect of erosion is plain to see here with the soft top soil falling away. Up here there are no protective fences, so great care is required. It is a good demonstration of the danger of venturing too close to the edge!

But the discoveries continue.

There is a Lookout Post here, one of many around the coast of Ireland dating from about 1939. At these lookout posts in 1942-43, ground markers were etched out spelling EIRE and with a number  – this one is 64 – to alert  aircraft to the fact that they were now over neutral Ireland. These markers are now being restored at many of the 82 locations around the coast. This one at Downpatrick Head was recently restored.

As darkness was falling I made my way back to the carpark, over the fascinating tufted surface of seapinks and wondered what it would be like to return to this fascinating and special place on a good windy day. Downpatrick Head is a ‘signature’ point on the Wild Atlantic Way and was one of the highlights of my entire trip. I will be back!

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A soft tufted carpet of sea pinks

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Killybegs Fishing Fleet without ‘the ship from hell’

 

Expert Fisher

Fishing expert

Travelling along the Wild Atlantic Way there are many ‘side stories’ that grab attention. Such is the case in Killybegs in South Donegal. Killybegs is Ireland’s largest fishing port, the safe sheltered deep water harbour  located in the waters of Donegal Bay.

Two things surprise me…the sheer size of these boats that go hunting fish for our tables, and the sheer number of them in the harbour, that are not at sea. They are big and they are colourful, and presumably in harbour as they may have already taken their quota of a particular species as allowed under European rules, or because the species they fish may not in season. The size of these boats would make you wonder all the same how long the seas can continue to produce the huge quantities of fish that these super vessels can haul in at any one time.

It is good to know that fishermen at sea are much safer than in days gone by, as these vessels are built to withstand heavy seas and are equipped with an impressive amount of electronics, radar, Internet and GPS systems.

Vehicle of Atlantic Dawn Group

Vehicle of Atlantic Dawn Group

Seeing this service vehicle of the Atlantic Dawn Group on the quay, I was reminded of a shameful period in the history of Irish Fishing. Back in the 1990s a Killybegs fisherman Kevin McHugh, aided and abetted by the Bertie Ahern government and funded by Irish  banks, commissioned and purchased the Atlantic Dawn super trawler. At 144 metres long and 14,000 tons it was and remains the largest and most technologically advanced trawler in the world. Feted by politicians on its arrival as ‘one of the proudest moments in Irish history’ this giant could process 400 tons of fish every 24 hours and had storage capacity of 7,000 tons. There was one problem however, it was so big that it did not have nor could it be issued with a fishing licence for European waters. Amid  much political wrangling and dealing, the Atlantic Dawn was registered as a merchant ship to enable it to side step fishing licence rules. With her nets hundreds of metres wide and sonar systems to detect shoals of fish it soon became clear that she would fish the full annual quota allowed in a matter of weeks. And so a deal was drawn up with the government of Mauritania in South Africa to enable her to trawl there and avoid all rules, regulations and legislation put in place to protect fishing stocks. Atlantic Dawn stripped the fishing grounds of Mauritania depriving hundreds of subsistence fishermen of their livelihoods. They dubbed her ‘the ship from hell’. Following a coup in Mauritania she was impounded and banned from fishing in these waters. Following the death of McHugh in 2006, the Atlantic Dawn was sold and renamed the Annelies Ilena. Ironically she was arrested for overfishing and the case was heard in Donegal courts and is ongoing. Many of the ships tied up in Killybegs are owned by the Atlantic Dawn Group.

The smaller fishing boats are dwarfed by their big neighbours.

 

imageThe pier at Killybegs was upgraded to accommodate these larger vessels and nowadays visiting cruise liners call into Killybegs to allow passengers visit some of the local attractions.

Much of the catch landed here is exported to the continent.

Spanish Truck waiting to load the catch

Spanish Truck waiting to load the catch

At any fishing harbour there is a reminder of how cruel the sea can be and what a dangerous occupation fishing is. This is the Killybegs memorial to those lost in this area.

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Postcards from the Wild Atlantic Way: Glencolmcille- a place apart

imageTucked away at the end of a valley in south Donegal is the unique and beautiful little village of Glencolmcille. It is easily missed by the tourist as the village is on a spur road that leads only to Glencolmcille. Apart from the scenic location, the village is renowned for the wealth of archaeological evidence of settlement dating from 3,000 B.C, a strong musical tradition, as well as being a haven of peace and tranquility.
The road into the village gives an idea of the remoteness of the village. I love these wild rugged empty spaces.

Then you see it way below where the land meets the sea…

Glencolmcille at the end of the valley

Glencolmcille at the edge of the sea

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The village is tucked under Glen Head with its Martello Tower and the church dominates the village

The world famous feature of Glencolmcille is ‘An Clachán’ cluster of replica buildings that depict life over about three centuries. This museum development was the brainchild of the local priest, James McDyer who spearheaded a campaign for the development of small community based industries and tourism  in a bid to stop the constant migration from the area. When he arrived in the area in 1951 there were no proper roads, no electricity service and no water supply. He was the champion of Glencolmcille and indeed a thorn in the side of officialdom as he relentlessly sought to improve the lot of the people in this deprived area.

Among the clusters of small buildings are a school, a grocery shop as well as a number of typical houses of times gone by. My favourite has to be the school as it so closely resembles the school I first attended in the 1950s at the age of 3, complete with slates for learning to write.

Outside there is a replica Sweat House..I am not sure of the purpose of this, possibly to cure ailments?

A Sweat House

A Sweat House

I loved the collections in the houses, all telling if times that were, long before the advent of electricity, when families had to be self sufficient.

Beds were usually placed near the fire for warmth.

The kitchen dresser held all the China and sugar bowls and jugs

And we had similar washstands to these, these were in use before running water became available.

There’s so much to see and to do at Glencolmcille, it is easy to see why people return time after time. For now though, I have to keep heading south along the Wild Atlantic Way, but I leave here promising that I will return one day.

 

 

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What’s in a name?

Gwebarra Bay, near my great grandparents home.

Gweebarra Bay, County Donegal. this photo was taken not far from my great grandparents home.

Our names are who we are. This grouping of words define us in society from birth to the grave and everything in between, including education, chosen careers, marriage, parenthood, pensions and accomplishments, as well as who our parents were, and who our ancestors were. Nicknames or pet names are common in every family and can be either totally different to the given name or a version of it. For example my eldest granddaughter is called Bibi by her younger siblings, even though she is Sophie, and I was always known as ‘Wee A’ pronounced ( ‘aaah’)  in our family. In fact I used think it was my real name!

Then there are common substitutes in Ireland. My great-aunt Margaret was known as Peg and signed herself thus. Delia was used for Bridget or Una or Uney for Winifred. This goes beyond shortened version of names, such as Dan for Daniel or Mandy for Manus. Formal registration normally adopts the formal version of first names as in Edward for Ted or Patrick for Paddy or Pat. There is no issue here as we are generally familiar with the substitute names.

I was born into a family having one of Ireland’s most common surnames. In the 1901 census, we have almost 20,000 with this surname with in excess of 2,000 named Mary and about 1,600 named John. A nightmare, if a family historian does not know the location of their family! Even if we know for example that the family came from County Donegal, there are still over 900 incidences of Mary recorded on the 1901 census in that county. So researching my Gallagher family would have been almost impossible but for the fact that at least five first cousins that I knew about were named Isabella. So where did that come from?  My father and his siblings never knew the surname of their paternal grandmother or where she was from. We knew that their grandfather was Daniel. Of the 16 houses in their townland in 1901, there were no fewer that 12 Gallagher families, but only one had a Daniel married to an Isabella. I was fortunate in that I knew the townland as I had often visited there as a child.  In 2001, I asked my father to give me the names of his father’s siblings and he wrote them down on the back of an envelope. This envelope is now a treasured possession!

The back of an envelope

Priceless information written by my father on the back of an envelope,  in 2001.

 

The 1901 census for my paternal great grandparents

The 1901  census for my paternal great grandparents and their children including my grandfather. Uncle John, mentioned on back of the envelope above is ‘missing’.

So I was very fortunate to have all this information to hand for my paternal forebears, making research a bit easier.

The absolute delight of having a maternal line with reasonably unusual surnames cannot be described. Add to that the relatively unusual first names such as Amelia, Robert, Richard, Eva, Maud…..not a John or a Mary in sight!  Oh joy unbounded! In total contrast with my challenging paternal family research, this was going to be a joyride.  With fewer than 1,000 with the surname in 1901 and only 50 or so recorded in the 1901 census in Westmeath, this had to be a doddle. Famous last words! My grandfather’s family was relatively easy to find on the census as they were railway men and they had slightly unusual first names. BUT there was still a hurdle. My grandfather was named Christopher Robert, his brother was Richard William. However, they were referred to by the second given name –  my grandfather being Bob and his brother was Willie! Who would have thought!

Then there is a traditional girl’s  name in our family that has come down 4 generations that we know of. This is Eva Maud.. and we have my great-aunt on the 1901 census. But where is her birth certificate? Where is her baptismal record? Where is her marriage certificate? These cannot be found, or could not be found until last week! Last week I discovered that Eva Maud was baptized and registered as BRIDGET EVALINE! Bridget Evaline???? I can only presume that Eva Maud was not acceptable to the catholic church as baptism names and a compromise had to be made. I am basing this guess on the fact that my  younger sister Eva, had to have the name Mary added at baptism as the priest insisted that a  saint’s name be included. Eva, whoever she was,  apparently was no saint!

So certificates have been requested to see can we have evidence for going back another generation.  So what is in a name?  Not a lot on one side of my family at least… as things are not always as they seem!

Swinford Railway Station where my maternal greatgrandmother lived until her death in 1953

Swinford Railway Station, now disused, where my maternal great-grandmother lived until her death in 1953.

 

 

 

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Postcards from South Tipperary

The Golden Vale at the foot of the Galtee Mountains

The Golden Vale at the foot of the Galtee Mountains

Today I found myself on an unplanned visit to the south of County Tipperary, which was looking great in the warm spring sunshine. Located in an area known as the Golden Vale, famed for rich pasture and resulting exquisite dairy products, the rolling countryside is backed by the Galtee Mountains.

The Church of the Assumption Lattin, Co Tipperary

The Church of the Assumption Lattin, Co Tipperary

The small village of Lattin is dominated by the Roman Catholic Church of the Assumption that was built in 1863.

The interior of the church  is splendid  with a very imposing marble main altar, with a Pieta and beautifully carved figures. The ceiling is vaulted and beautifully simple.

The High Altar, RC Church Lattin Co Tipperary

The High Altar, RC Church Lattin Co Tipperary

The classically simple ceiling is a perfect foil for the wonderful stained glass windows in the church.

In the village of Lattin there is what can only be described as a spectacular graveyard, that is mainly on a mound to the west of the village. Apparently this area has been inhabited for thousands of years and certainly the headstones go back a number of hundreds of years.

image More research required on that mound!

I particularly loved this little stile leading into the graveyard.

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I was fascinated by the grotto beside the graveyard that doubles as a memorial to locals who died in the cause of Irish Freedom!

Inscrpition at the Grotto, commemorating locals who died for Ireland

Inscription at the Grotto, commemorating locals who died for Ireland

On my way back home, I passed through some beautiful countryside.

Nearby is the town of Galbally nestled under the Galtees which has another monument to fallen locals.

Just a mile or so further on, I came upon the fabulous Moor Abbey. What a gem in a most beautiful place, the beautifully named Glen of Aherlow!

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The Abbey was founded in the 13th Century and was finally abandoned in 1748.

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My journey home was delayed by about ten minutes as  a couple of hundred dairy cows were being moved from winter quarters to the rich green grass of the Golden Vale!

This area of Ireland is off the tourist track, but it is really worth a visit, or at least a detour, as it has some spectacular scenery and gems of villages and happy surprises round almost every corner!

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April Snow on the Galtees

*This post is dedicated to John Halligan, aged 97, father of my friend Annette, whose funeral took place today in Lattin Co. Tipperary. May he Rest in Peace.

 

 

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Easter Monday in Dublin …A stroll in Stephen’s Green

There is a song that goes :

For Dublin can be heaven
With coffee at eleven
And a stroll in Stephen’s Green.

Such was the case for us on Easter Monday 2016, as we ambled about ‘The Green’ as it is known. We were in Dublin, Ireland’s Capital City, for events commemorating the Rising against British rule in Ireland, which took place on Easter Monday April 24 1916. St Stephen’s Green, a beautiful Victorian park in the centre of Dublin was one of the pivotal sites seized by the Irish Citizen’s Army on that fateful day. Under the command of Michael Mallin, the Green was seized, trenches were dug and barricades were erected.

Shelbourne Hotel as seen from inside Stephens Green

Shelbourne Hotel as seen from inside Stephens Green- Image Library of Congress.

On that evening the British Army moved troops into The Shelbourne Hotel and the nearby Hibernian Club, and on the next day from these vantage points, they fired down on the rebels in the Green. It is said that fire was temporarily halted to allow the Green’s groundsman feed the local ducks! The Irish Rebels eventually had to retreat to the nearby Royal College of Surgeons which had been occupied by Irish Citizen Army forces, led by Commandant Mallin and Countess Markievicz.  After surrendering on 29 April,both were tried and sentenced to death. Mallin was executed while Markievicz’s sentence was commuted.

The \fusiliers Arch at Stephens Green with bullet damage from British trioops who were firing on insurgents in the Green

The Fusiliers Arch at Stephens Green with bullet damage from British troops who were firing on insurgents at the Royal College of Surgeons.

All was quiet on Monday as we commemorated those events from almost a century ago.

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Events in the Green included concerts and a vintage circus, all of which took place in beautiful springtime sunshine, with families and individuals lapping up the atmosphere.

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Outside the buildings were draped for the occasion

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The Royal College of Surgeons, where insurgents were based in 1916

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The lovely Unitarian Church on Stephens Green

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Damian Shiels, historian,outside the Royal College of Surgeons where he was scheduled to deliver a talk in the Reflecting the Rising series to commemorate the events of 1916.

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Postboxes were painted red for the commemoration, reverting to the British mailbox colour. Irish post boxes are green nowadays.

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People wandered about having a good time. The Irish flag is green, white and orange, although we often see green, white and gold flags, which are incorrect. The green white and orange is an all inclusive flag that symbolises peace between the green, Catholic Irish and Protestant Irish, represented by the orange.

Back in The Green,these two memorial busts epitomize for me the discourse that is Ireland, the contentious issues that to this day divide. To me they are powerful in that these memorials stand as equals in one of Ireland’s most prestigious sites, one that was pivotal on that Easter Monday in 1916.

On the left is Tom Kettle, who having joined the Irish Volunteers went on to enlist in the British Army (Ireland was at that time part of Britian and tens of thousands went to war in British uniforms). He was killed at Ginchy, during the Battle of the Somme in September 1916. On the right is the revolutionary nationalist Constance Markievicz a suffragette and a socialist, who was on active service at Stephens Green on Easter Monday 1916. I love that they are both of equal stature in this very special place. It was a good day to be strolling in Stephen’s Green.

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A St Patrick’s Day bird’s-eye view of my childhood

On these pages, I often record childhood memories of growing up in a County Donegal village in the 1950s and 60’s. I also often struggle to find pictures of this place that truly impart the geographic character and splendid location, the real sense of place where we led Huckleberry Finn type lives as children. Here we roved in packs, perhaps gone for hours playing Cowboys and Indians; 6 and 7 years old Belle Stars and Annie Oakleys often hid in Gallagher’s cornfield with Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill, Kit Carson and Roy Rogers seeking them out, while war cries of Crow and Blackfoot Indians resounded over Figart sending chills down the spines of everyone within hearing distance. These war cries emanated from loud shrill whooping sounds that were embellished by rapid covering and uncovering of the mouth – truly blood curdling stuff!  Here too we gathered up empty pea and bean tins, jam pots and sauce bottles from Kiely’s yard and set out our shop stall behind Speers or in whichever shed we could find a space; here we children  ambled over the Barrack Brae to October Devotions on dark nights (where were the adults!?) , often with only shooting stars and Will O’ the Wisp skipping along Logues Burn down  on the Lee for company; here we went bathing (never swimming!) when the tide came in to the safe inlet behind the village; here we sleighed down a snow-covered Figart on our homemade sleighs, not sitting one behind the other, but lying one on top of the other for more speed, and Cathal McClafferty or Séamus Gallagher would shout when it was time for us to tumble off, before the sleigh went over the edge onto the stones below; here we dug man-traps in the Planting beside the church and concealed them with branches in the hope that another unsuspecting child might fall in; here we headed off on our bikes or trikes for a day out ( I personally, at about 4 or 5 years of age, rode my red tricycle into Island Roy and could not get back as the incoming tide had covered the road); here we wandered in and out of houses for an apple, a drink of water or just to say hello!  All of these childhood activities took place without the supervision of adults.

However our lifestyle of wandering freely came under serious threat when three of our number went missing for almost an entire day. John Boylan, son of the local Garda (Police) Sergeant, Andrew Speer whose poor mother was not in good health and there was talk of not telling her for fear of inducing a relapse, and my brother Noel, had failed to return home at mealtime. I believe they were aged about 4 or so. Search parties were got up and we spread out and combed every nook and cranny. Hopes were raised when word of a sighting of three small figures crossing Logues 9-hole Golf Course and headed towards the sandy hills was reported. The sandy hills was an area of ‘bent’ grass and deep sand dunes that backed Tramore beach.Tramore was not a safe place for small boys. The sandy hills were often used by people walking to Tramore, and it was not difficult even for older people to get lost in here. I was aged about 7 or 8 at the time, but I have a clear memory of the sense of urgency and concern about finding them. The search party headed through the sand dunes, shouting out their names.

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Paddy Vaughan, with his cap as-ever slightly askew, arrived on his big bicycle with straight handlebars and made his way through the undulating terrain. I can recall people saying  that it was a bit silly to be taking a bicycle into the sandy hills, yet there was serious concern for the safety of the boys and to find them before they hit the Atlantic Ocean. The hero of the day was of course Paddy on his bike: He discovered the three who had been playing with shells on a green of the Rosapenna Golf  Links just as they were about to head towards Tramore! The tired trio were safe and unscarred by their great adventure, albeit a bit hungry! Thankfully too,after due reprimands and awful warnings, our escapades continued and we were still allowed to wander about the hinterland as truly ‘free range’ children!

Yesterday, March 17, Saint Patrick’s Day was celebrated and marked all over the world and in countless towns and villages across the breadth and length of Ireland. As is the case, these events are photographed, and nowadays with the advent of drone photography, we can sometimes get aerial views of our local landscape. This aerial footage of my native landscape has evoked in me a rush of memories that cram themselves into every second, memories of times past, memories of a different world where children were raised by the village, and we were safe to roam and wander.

I am grateful to a reader of my blog who alerted me to the fact that Donegal Daily featured drone footage of the St Patrick’s Day Parade in my home village, footage that evoked all of these memories. I am grateful to my blog follower ‘Mulroy’ for bringing this to my attention!

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