Category Archives: My Oral History

Memories: A picture paints a thousand words

Carrigart Hotel today. (Image courtesy of Donegal Cottages

Carrigart Hotel, County Donegal.(Image courtesy of Donegal Cottage Holidays.com)

The Hotel in Carrigart, County Donegal is an iconic building that dominates the village where I grew up. It was an integral part of our young lives as we originally lived in what was an extension of the building and we later moved across the street. The red-roofed structure in this picture was our barn, to the rear of our ‘new’ house.

There have been many reincarnations of postcards of the village in the heart of a tourist area, but very few feature this beautiful building, the probable reason being that the bend in the main and only street, means it is not possible to capture the entire village in one shot.

 

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This beautiful building is listed on the Donegal County Council  Protected Structure Inventory as ”Detached four-bay three-storey Victorian Hotel with dormer windows with elaborate carved detailing to their surrounds. Later extensions to east and west.” 

This photograph was among my late father’s most treasured possessions. I believe it was taken in the early 1950s when the premises was owned by Dermot Walsh. It shows distinctive round steps leading to the main door, a petrol pump and behind it, Walsh’s Bar with Walsh’s shop attached. The bar and shop had separate entrances as can be seen in the photo. I think that the cars are Ford Prefects (any correction most welcome) and would have been crank started. (My Dad owned one of these cars – ours had the registration number of ZL 108.) I particularly like the bicycle in this picture, cleverly and securely parked by placing one of the pedals on the footpath!
At that time this petrol pump was the only petrol pump in the village, although Griffins added one in later years. It was situated in an enclosed gravel area and sometimes for a dare we would run through here. Obviously it was an area that was for some reason out-of-bounds for small people, otherwise we would not have bothered! The petrol pump was operated by a big lever so that the person ‘dispensing’ the petrol had to work hard cranking away until the proper volume of petrol was delivered. My father often told the story of the day an important visitor to the nearby and very posh Rosapenna Hotel stopped by for petrol. He had one of the biggest cars ever seen in the locality. The visitor left the engine running and went into the hotel while the car was being filled up. A small crowd gathered while James Boyce cranked away furiously. After some time, the visitor returned to find that James, in spite of cranking away like mad, had not yet managed to fill the tank. He turned to the visitor and said: ‘She’s bating (beating) us so she is, she’s bating us’, meaning that because the engine was running, petrol was being used as fast as it was being pumped in! In reality it was because the tank was so big, it took ages to fill it!

I have great memories of happy times spent around the hotel…hours spent with Maggie Greer who single-handed did all the laundry. I loved standing with her in the wash-house that smelled of suds as the sheets swirled round in the big washing machines. I went with her to the clothes line where she hung them out on the long lines with her poor gnarled hands. I loved to see all those sheets billowing and flapping in the breeze! I spent more hours with her as she did the ironing, expertly smoothing and folding each sheet into rectangles as though they had just come new from the shop.

To my mother’s annoyance, I also spent time with Tommy Gavigan who bottled the Guinness for the hotel. The huge wooden Guinness barrels lay on their side and he pushed a tap into them from where he filled each bottle. It was then placed on  a machine to be capped and I helped him wet and stick on the labels. In return he would cut a sliver off his block of Plug tobacco for me to chew. It is easy to understand why my mother was not too happy to have a 7-year-old chewing tobacco! Tommy also took care of the cows and did the milking in the byre on his little three-legged stool with a metal bucket to catch the warm milk. Afterwards, he might throw me up on top of a cow to sit on her back as she went back out to the field.

The Carrigart Hotel has stood on this site for over 100 years. It was built by Michael Friel in about 1910, although he had a smaller hotel  prior to this. According to the 1911 Census the hotel boasted 64 rooms with 28 windows to the front and 18 outhouses that included piggeries,stables and a harness room. On Census night, in addition to Michael Friel’s wife and family there were 8 boarders on the premises, including a Dr MacCloskey the local doctor, cooks, servants and a lace instructress!

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Friel’s Family and Commercial Hotel

The rather grainy photograph above was taken sometime before the 1930s. The name ‘Friel’s Family & Commercial Hotel’ is attached to the railings that run along the roof. I do not recall these railings or the rooftop ornamentation. In 1934 ownership of the hotel passed to Miss Mary Anne McGuire, who was the sister-in-law of Dr Mac Closkey, recorded as a boarder in 1911 census. Subsequently the hotel passed into the hands of the Walsh Family who operated it until it was sold on again in recent years.

Carrigart now

Carrigart Hotel as it is today

The photo in my Dad’s possession evoked lots of pleasant memories for him, just as indeed it does for me. It is a pity that the hotel is no longer in use, but it is still a place for gatherings in the village, still a place where good memories are made, memories that  hopefully will last as long as the pleasant memories I have, and that my father before me had, of this lovely building.

 

With special thanks to

Donegal Cottage Holidays  for permission to use their photograph – more beautiful photos can be seen on their site

Petie McGee who sent me the picture of the Friel’s Hotel

Mulroy Drive website posted this picture taken in 1951 on the hotel steps. Agnes Duffy McCahill recalls the occasion and listed the names via Eileen McDevitt.  Thanks Agnes!

Image may contain: 8 people, people sitting Eileen Mc Devitt That photo was taken the Sunday evening that Frank Sweeney who worked in the Carrigart Hotel left to get married to Bridie O Donoghue who worked in Griffins shop. He was waiting for the bus that left Carrigart to go to Letterkenny at 4.50 pm.

Neil Friel Mickey Duffy Tommy Gavigan Nora Friel Andy Speer Miss Metcalf Frank Sweeney Dr Sharkey -Locum she thinks. Miss Maguire Sophie Mc Groddy Bridget Durnan Danny Mc Elhinney Michael Mc Ateer Jim Gavigan Mary Billy ??? M

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Filed under Ireland, Living in Ireland, My Oral History

Retirement: Smelling roses, enjoying brandy and learning to spit!

This is the third and final post on this trilogy on Retirement. My last two posts (here and here ) were  concerned with the very serious matters of mandatory retirement and the financial and social deprivation that were for me, the immediate fallout. March 2016 will see the 3rd anniversary of my compulsory retirement. The road was indeed a rocky one, and full of potholes, but now that I have travelled along it for a while, I have slipped into a ‘Third Age’ mentality and somehow seamlessly adapted to a life without the early morning alarm clock!

Some years ago my friend moved to live in London and I was amused by this little ditty that hung in her bathroom. Nicely framed, it was strategically placed so that any visiting females could not miss it.

WARNING!

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

——–Jenny Joseph.

During the early weeks of retirement I read this poem again several times. Cares and woes can certainly knock the stuffing out of anyone. Should I let them do just that and should I then go about running a stick along the railings, driving everyone mad? Clack, clack, clackclackclackclack clack, clack clackclackclack? A possible option, for sure!

BUT, this was NOT for me! I needed to re-evaluate, to re energize, to REINVENT myself if need be. And so I took every single opportunity to be away from home or in the company of others. During my first summer of ‘retirement’ I plied the length and breath of Ireland attending conferences and talks, popping into Museums and Galleries, going to beautiful places near home that deserved investigation, discovering things I did not know, rediscovering things I did know. If there were free events, so much the better. The budget was stretched as tight as a bodhran skin, but one or two fewer visits to the hairdressers was ok, and I never really minded beans on toast as a meal, and miracle of miracles—you do need fewer clothes when you don’t have to go to work! So on went the jeans and the comfy jacket…. and away I went!

A trip to Australia to spend time with my daughter and her family worked its magic…maybe this retirement isn’t so bad after all, with no worries about using up precious leave! The following year, having reached my 66th birthday I became eligible for free travel travel in Ireland and this opened up a whole new world…a day away in Dublin to go to the theatre, a day strolling around Galway, a day shopping in Cork or a day enjoying the festival in Tralee…all for free!

It took about a year to adjust to not having to rise at 6.30 each morning. During that transition year I discovered the gift of TIME that I now have in abundance. I use it as far as I can to improve my changed life. There is time to seek out and select bargains, time  for long slow cooking and tasty recipes, time to walk, time to read, time to spend hours in the swimming pool, time to exercise, time to catch up with friends, time to do some volunteering work, time to study and learn new things, and time to smell the roses!

I have not yet spent my pension on brandy, but I do have time to enjoy the occasional glass and as for ‘learning to spit’ – I am working on that – figuratively speaking of course!

(Clipart Image)

I plan on wearing purple!

 

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Filed under Age Action Ireland, Ageism, Ireland, Living in Ireland, My Oral History, Older Generation, Poetry, Retirement Age, Seniors

Retirement: A lament

This is the second of a trilogy of posts about my personal experience of mandatory retirement.

In my earlier post I mentioned that in Ireland Irish Labour T.D.(Member of Parliament) Anne Ferris, has tabled a Bill to abolish the mandatory retirement age. This Bill would prohibit employers imposing compulsory retirement ages on their employees. As a member of Age Action, I was asked to make a submission at the Public Hearings of the Committee stage of the Bill at Leinster House, the seat of our Parliament, the Oireachtas. This post can be seen here. Telling my story of compulsory retirement in Leinster House in November last, stirred painful memories of that difficult time, yet it was a bittersweet occasion. For the very first time, here I was, in a roomful of people who did not necessarily see retirement always as a happy huggy joyful state, but rather one that can create problems for many. It certainly was empowering to be there with people who shared my view or, at least wished to hear about the impact of compulsory retirement on someone forced to leave a job simply because of a birthday.

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Almost all discourse around retirement is that it’s ‘A Wonderful Thing’, a much yearned-for blissful state, that fills dreams for years leading up to the happy day. A quick Google search yields happy, light-hearted images of the joys and preoccupations of retirement, as can be seen in these illustrations. It’s all about having fun and doing fabulous things,or perhaps doing nothing at all, if that is more meaningful!

Only a few months ago I met a former colleague on the street in Limerick. ‘Oh’, she gushed, ‘Are you loving being retired? Are you having a fabulous time? Oh, how lucky you are not to have to go in to ‘that place’ every day!’ She meant very well and was being kind, but was rather taken aback and puzzled at my response. I am tired of the pretence and ‘going along’ with the happy chirpy notion of retirement that is NOT my experience, I responded: ‘None of the above’. I loved working there, I miss my friends and I miss the money’. The poor woman did not know what to say –  ‘Ah, you don’t mean that at all’, she said. But I did mean every word of it for that is the reality of MY retirement.

d7ae2973ca013f30fb42ad3867d35c82There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that many people, possibly the most, cannot wait for retirement. With children reared and gone and the mortgage paid off,the prospect of many years of hard work coming to an end is very appealing. This was and is particularly true in my workplace,where colleagues who had been in service for decades,often since leaving school or college,are eager for retirement after 40 years service,or very close to it. Dreams of travelling, doing voluntary work, spending more time with friends and family,long weeks soaking up summer sunshine, all on the list of new adventures just waiting to be enjoyed.

But not by all. In the early days of the then New Year of 2013, I had feelings of fear and dread that pervaded my every waking moment. The realization that my working life would grind to a halt in just three months filled me with panic. Anyone facing compulsory retirement and who lacks the means to continue in a comfortable lifestyle will await the dreaded date and the official dismissal letter with a heavy heart. Rather than being an occasion for celebration, it is in reality a very dark time. How would I pay the mortgage and Health Insurance? How could I manage Doctors bills and carry out repairs to the house? How would I keep warm all day-long at home when I was used to being in a comfortable centrally heated office? How would I meet other financial commitments? Would I have enough money for food, and the right type of food, to keep me well?  Could I afford to run a car? All these things milled about in my head for weeks and months, gnawing away at me, keeping me awake at night. The bank was unsympathetic about mortgage repayments, which would run for some years after my reduction in pay. They would, they said, deal with any arrears issues as they arose but sent me out a letter with heavy black print stating that I could lose my home if mortgage payments were not made as they fell due. Not only that, they also advised that I was already in arrears and every few weeks for a period of 15 months the threatening letters arrived, in spite of phone calls and hours of discussion. As it turned out they had made a mistake and there were no arrears, but that did not even warrant an apology.

But it was not only about loss of income.The loss of  a way of life, the daily interaction with friends and colleagues was of equal importance to me. Living alone in a rural location I had all the peace and quiet I needed after work or at weekends. Working in an office with over 500 people was rather like living in a small village for part of my day and I enjoyed the camaraderie of it all. Not only that, I also enjoyed the daily drive of 45 minutes or so each way, to and from the office.

In March 2013, in the days following compulsory retirement from my job of almost 20 years, I wrote the post below.  There are many aspects to forced retirement, similar I daresay to compulsory redundancy. The difference is that my job still existed, but I was no longer eligible to do what I had done well for a long number of years simply because it was my birthday. the prospects of finding work in Ireland once you have passed the age of 55 are practically non-existent. The terrible reality is that this ageist stance by employers is accepted as being ‘ok’. And the state is the worst offender. In 2008 Ireland’s most experienced detective, Assistant Commissioner Martin Donnellan mounted a High Court challenge to the law that made him retire at age 60. He lost.

The loss to me was at many levels, financial for sure, and at a social and personal level that bewildered me for a long time afterwards.  These were my thoughts at that time. The original post can be seen here.

The rising sun was turning the sky the deepest reddish pink as it edged towards the horizon to the east. I watched it for almost the entire journey and wondered how long it might be before I travel this road again and witness the dawn.There was no other traffic at this  early hour, so I was able to drive reasonably slowly to savour the journey in the quiet of this cold, clear  spring morning.

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The River Maigue and Castle Desmond in September

Crossing the bridge on the River Maigue has been a highlight of my life on each  morning that I have commuted across here for the past 20 years. Sometimes it is mysteriously misty, sometimes it is golden and lit by the rising sun, sometimes it is moonlit, most times it is just ordinarily beautiful.

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River Maigue and Desmond Castle in August

I  arrived very early to the office as there were things I needed to do before the buzz of new arrivals – drawers to be emptied, confidential papers to be shredded, files to be organized and a day’s  work to be done.  I (exceptionally!) walked up the 8 flights of stairs to  take a look again at the streetscape below. I continued on to the top floor  to get a cup of coffee and to look east wards again at the rose coloured  sky forming a beautiful canvas for the tall spire of St John’s Cathedral and the tops of the city buildings.

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The River Shannon on a beautiful misty morning

I have had an extraordinary bonus of enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery in Ireland every time  I looked up from my desk to see the River Shannon coursing below.

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The moody and ever-changing River Shannon flows by my office

I had developed a habit in recent times of taking photographs, as the River looks different almost every time you look at it.

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The Shannon is a very fast flowing river. The Abbey River flows into it on the lower right.

Being tidal, the river is constantly changing, rising and falling some 18 feet twice a day. In winter when there is heavy rain we may not see the stony river bed for months on end.

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Morning light on the Shannon

Colleagues arrived. There was debate about the news items of the day that impinge on everyone, including the new property tax – the pincers tightening yet again! Morale was not high on that particular day, but after some light-hearted banter we ‘got on with it’. I was surprisingly busy with phone calls to make, notes to write up.

 

View from my desk. (Copyright A .Gallagher)

View from my desk.

So this was it! One of my lunch group reminded me that it was time for lunch and I said that I had to pop out and that  I might be a while. (I was doing some research on Antarctic Explorers then , and ‘borrowed’ the quote!).

At about 1.45 pm I logged out of my computer, gathered up my security passes, placed them in an envelope, put on  my coat and walked away from my good friends, and hundreds of colleagues (most great, many very good and a small forgettable  few).  I was  walking away from a job that I loved, with tons of mental stimulation, camaraderie and social interaction as well as  wonderful scenery and the daily joyrides that were my commute to and from work. I had already hinted to close friends that they would not be given advance notice of my exact day of departure, and I was grateful that my managers respected my need for privacy. So I was able to ‘exit’ quietly.

Mandatory retirement is no longer allowed in many countries. Most people can now work for as long as they want, without fear of discrimination but here in Ireland it is ‘statutory’ for some employees who commenced employment prior to 2004 to retire at age 65.  It seems extraordinary that a person can go to bed at age 64 as an asset to the workforce, doing a good job efficiently and well for many years, yet wake up on their 65th birthday as unemployable. This is of particular significance in a country that is in the throes of an economic depression with huge numbers of people seeking non-existent jobs. Of course my ‘mandatory’ departure date did not come as any surprise. Long term contingencies were very quickly rendered useless however by the rapidly changing  social and economic conditions in Ireland in recent years – not least of which has been that my once geographically  closest family members have relocated to a place 10,000 miles away.

Officially ‘on holiday’ for another week, I plan on spending that time lamenting the loss of the social interaction of a large office and delighting in the friendships I made there. It is too early to reinvent – time enough for that in the weeks and months ahead. For now, I will relish the light-hearted moments and laughter that were bound to come along every day, as well as the quippy and often black humour that abounded in the place.

I will  recall the always cheerful early morning  greeting of the delightful woman in the canteen, for whom nothing was too much trouble! I will delight in the memory of companionship at early coffee, when you would not know who might happen along on an early break, and I will still ‘hear’ the very familiar footsteps of a special friend coming along the corridor, always looking beautiful and armed with her designer shopping bag and with her lively daily greeting of ‘Bonj’ before she rushed away to her ‘career’.

At lunch, we had time to bond – shepherded along by our ever precise and delightful clock-watcher, always in good humour and who managed to organize us all in the most charming way. Bringing up the rear was  our ‘Drama Queen’ who regaled us with stories ranging from her amateur drama society escapades to a too-close ‘encounter’ with shampoo on a shop floor, to the hazards of Roman toe ( or was it Greek?). These two, together with the above mentioned career girl and myself made up the hardcore lunch table. If we arrived slightly early we might join our ever thoughtful, ever smiling, quietly spoken elegant and wise friend, who always has time for whoever is in her presence.  From time to time we would be joined by the  ever-cheerful woman of the West  with the hearty laugh and oodles of common sense, or the witty ‘cuttie’ (girl) from further north who always had a sideways but pleasant view on life to make us smile. Sometimes another quiet but stalwart friend might join us – IF she remembered it was lunchtime – but invariably 20 minutes late! There are several others who fall into the ‘very special’ category and whose company was always well worth seeking out and one or two ‘long distance’ colleagues who had left our particular place. These too are a huge loss to me, and I am forever grateful for all of them.

I will miss all of this. I will miss these very special friends who were part of my days, part of my weeks, part of my joys, part of my tribulations, part of my highs, part of my lows, part of my hoots of laughter!  We have lived through births, marriages, deaths, personal trials and challenges both IN and BECAUSE of  friendship. I will not ever be able to replace any of this. It  is of its time and of its place.  Now is a time to remember. Now is a time to be glad for all of it. Now is a time to shed a tear or two.  Now is a time to smile at these memories.  Now, and always, I  will lament their passing.

The terrible reality is that this ageist stance by employers in Ireland is accepted as being ‘ok’ at a state level, at national level, as well as by ordinary people who seem to accept that to be a certain age is ‘too old’. Life and society have changed.People enjoy better health and longer lives; societal relationships break up and break down; people have children later in life. There are a myriad of reasons why people should not be compelled to retire at age 60 or 65 so long as they are fit to do the job.

Those of us who had to retire have had no choice but to get on with our lives as best we can. There is no doubt but that there is something to be said for having leisure time in abundance, but what we ask for is a choice, to stay part of the workforce for as long as we must, and for as long as we can do a good job and continue to contribute to society and avoid being a drain on it.

 

References:

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/senior-garda-challenges-compulsory-retirement-age-of-60-1.1216158

 

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Filed under Age Action Ireland, Family History, Living in Ireland, My Oral History, Retirement Age

To tell of times that were..

Forget-me-not. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Forget-me-not. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Recently  I had news of the death of a lady  from my home village in County Donegal. Having moved away many years ago, I had met her on perhaps two or three occasions in the past decade or so. Yet the news of her death made me feel particularly sorrowful. As the days passed and memories flooded back, I came to realize that the reason for my sadness was that her passing more or less closes the curtain on the memory of our late father’s fun-filled younger days over 70 years ago in that relatively isolated Donegal village.

Dad was born in 1921, the third of 5 children, each separated in age by 2 years. As electrification had not yet arrived, candles,oil filled Tilley lamps and blazing turf fires lit the long winter evenings of their youth. Cars too were scarce and bicycles – often the ‘high Nelly’ type were the preferred mode of transport. In a small community young folk made their own  entertainment. There were three Gallagher families in particular that forged deep and life long relationships, (although our family was not related to the other two). With others in the village they played badminton in the local hall, played golf on Logue’s 9 hole golf course, attended horse racing on the strand, played cards, kicked football on the Lee, told stories by the fireside, went out on the Mummers at Christmas and enjoyed the annual arrival of Duffy’s Circus. Touring repertory and variety players would arrive from time to time and put on shows that would be remembered for months afterwards.

Poetry was a big part of their lives and they tried to outdo one another with great recitations! Poetry came easily to them as they had to learn it by rote at school from the age of about 7 or  8, in much the same way as we learned our times tables in later years.The poems our father recited and quoted on a regular basis included

There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu,

There’s a little marble cross below the town;

There’s a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew,

And the Yellow God forever gazes down.

(The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God , by J Milton Hayes)

And..

No stir in the air, no stir in the sea,

The Ship was still as she could be;

Her sails from heaven received no motion,

Her keel was steady in the ocean.

Without either sign or sound of their shock,

The waves flow’d over the Inchcape Rock;

So little they rose, so little they fell,

They did not move the Inchcape Bell.

(Inchcape Rock by Robert Southey )

And, from  Tennyson’s ”Charge of the Light Brigade”:

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
(My father was still reciting this poem to my son, almost 80 years after he learned it).

In the 1920s and 1930s these young folk had a small band that played at dances in the local hall. Much of their musical  inspiration came from a crackly valve wireless that was run off a wet battery,like the one that filled the deep sill of our kitchen window.

I recall my father telling me how good a badminton player Annie was, but it was her reputation as a pianist that was second to none. He often spoke of their great music sessions. He played drums that were still in our house decades later. He had the full kit – snare drum, cymbals, drumsticks, drum brushes, the wooden block and the big base drum with pedals that operated the wooly beater. ”Top of the Pops” was different back then  –  if they heard a song or tune on the wireless that they liked, they sent away to McCullough Pigot in Dublin for the sheet music.

Wind up gramophone

Wind up gramophone (Image Wikimedia commons)

Shellac gramophone records were ordered to play on their wind up gramophone players so they all learned the melody and the lyrics. Dad was a good singer and he sang away to himself for all of his life! One of his favourite songs  was Abdul Abulbul Amir. We children were totally mesmerized by the exotic sounding names and the incomprehensible words, – such as Mameluke, skibouk, and truculent sneers, but that only added to our glee on hearing him sing! Written in 1877 by Percy French, one of Ireland’s most prolific songwriters, what appeared to be a light-hearted ditty was in fact a skit on the war between the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire and was a deadly serious tale! The great thing about Abdul Abulbul Amir was that  it sounded equally impressive whether spoken or sung,  and we delighted in either!

On his last visit to his home village in 2005, just eight months before he died, Dad and I  called to see his long time friend Annie. To the best of my recollection her piano had pride of place in her home, but the abiding memory of the day was how they both laughed and laughed as they remembered singing and playing Abdul Abulbul Amir. And so, the reason for my sadness is the evocation of beautiful memories that I saw a decade ago, remembering times stretching  back into the mists of time some 70 years before.

Annie’s love of music was honoured at her funeral with the singing of her favourite song from way back then – not the skittish Abdul Abulbul Amir, but the more appropriate and beautiful Tennessee Waltz that she loved.

Our father had several phrases that he repeated very often.When thinking back on events in his life and on those who were no longer with us, he would say – ”Ah! To tell of times that were…God rest them all.”

God rest them all indeed.

Listen here to ABDUL ABULBUL AMIR sung by Frank Crumit in 1927

Abdul Abulbul Amir Lyrics

The sons of the Prophet are brave men and bold
And quite unaccustomed to fear,
But the bravest by far in the ranks of the Shah,
Was Abdul Abulbul Amir.

Now the heroes were plenty and well known to fame
In the troops that were led by the Czar,
And the bravest of these was a man by the name
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skavar

One day this bold Russian, he shouldered his gun
And donned his most truculent sneer,
Downtown he did go where he trod on the toe
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.

Young man, quote Abdul, has life grown so dull
That you wish to end your career?
Vile infidel know, you have trod on the toe
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.

Quoth Ivan, “My friend, your remarks, in the end,
Will avail you but little, I fear,
For you ne’er will survive to repeat them alive,
Mr. Abdul Abulbul Amir!”

So take your last look at the sunshine and brook
And send your regrets to the Czar
For by this I imply, you are going to die,
Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

Then this bold Mameluke drew his trusty skibouk,
With a cry of ‘Allah Akbar!’
And with murderous intent he ferociously went
For Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

They fought all that night ‘neath the pale yellow moon;
The din, it was heard from afar,
And huge multitudes came, so great was the fame,
Of Abdul and Ivan Skavar.

As Abdul’s long knife was extracting the life,
In fact he was shouting, “Huzzah!”
He felt himself struck by that wily Calmuck,
Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

The Sultan drove by in his red-breasted fly,
Expecting the victor to cheer,
But he only drew nigh to hear the last sigh,
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.

Czar Petrovich, too, in his spectacles blue
Rode up in his new crested car.
He arrived just in time to exchange a last line
With Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

There’s a tomb rises up where the Blue Danube rolls,
And graved there in characters clear,
Is, “Stranger, when passing, oh pray for the soul
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.”

A Muscovite maiden her lone vigil keeps,
“Neath the light of the pale polar star;
And the name that she murmurs as oft as she weeps
Is Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

(many more verses are sometimes quoted)

 

 

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Filed under Family History, Home, Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Living in Ireland, My Oral History, Older Generation, Oral History, Social History Ireland

International Women’s Day – Make it Happen with Kiva!

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Theme for IWD 2015

Theme for IWD 2015

International Women’s Day 2015 is on Sunday March 8th, with a theme this year of ‘Make it Happen’!  Unable to attend any of the very many events happening across the world, I wondered how I as an individual might ‘Make it Happen’.  No sooner had I begun wondering than an email arrived, announcing that I had received a repayment  on a loan I had made through Kiva. That’s it, I thought! By donating the money I saved through not attending a real live event, I can ‘Make it Happen’ for  women less fortunate than myself. Kiva is a microfunding, not for profit organization that facilitates loans to low-income entrepreneurs and students, male and female, in over 70 countries. It is possible for those of us with limited means to make a difference as the smallest loan amount is  25 USD . Kiva Zip,a sister organization granting interest-free loans to people in USA and Kenya, accepts loans from as little as $5. Ordinarily you will be repaid- it is such a thrill to get an email saying ‘You have received a repayment of 19 cents!’ When your loan is  repaid, you can claim back the money or relend it again to another person or project.  So for International Women’s Day, I have decided to focus my loans on women in underdeveloped countries, to ‘Make it Happen’ for them. Traditionally these women who have incomes, however small, are empowered to change their lives and educate their children, thereby benefiting their entire communities.

The first International Women’s Day was celebrated in March 1911. It had its origins in America a few years earlier where women had come together to protest against poor working conditions, resulting in a National Women’s Day being declared by the Socialist Party of America. Subsequently at an International Conference for Working Women in Copenhagen, attended by delegates from 17 countries, and including the first 3 women elected to the Finnish Parliament, a proposal to have a special day each year to focus on women’s issues was met with unanimous approval.

Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark observed the first International Women’s Day in March 1911. More than a million men and women attended rallies in support of women’s right to work, right to vote, right to hold public office. In 1913, Russian women observed International Women’s Day campaigning for peace and in 1914, other European countries joined in.

In 1917, amid great unrest in Russia caused by millions of casualties, terrible food shortages, and with many women removed from farms to work in the factories, International Women’s Day prompted 90,00 workers to strike and the army at Petrograd to revolt. Attempts to end the unrest were not successful and Tsar Nicholas II abdicated some days later. The new provisional government granted universal suffrage with equality for women.

Down the decades, the movement has continued to grow and has become a worldwide event, celebrating social, political and economic changes for women, highlighting inequalities and raising money for charity.  In 25 countries it is an official holiday while in China Madagascar and Nepal it is an official holiday for women only. In many countries from Bangladesh to Guinea, from Vietnam to Iceland, from Afghanistan to Zambia, events will take place on March 8th to mark International Women’s Day. The top 5 countries for International Women’s day activity to mark the centenary on March 8th are the UK, Canada, Australia, the United States and Ireland. Details of events across the globe can be found on the International Women’s Day site here.

What better day to log in to  Kiva and make a small loan to help our sisters across the globe!

Happy Women’s Day!

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Filed under International Women's Day, Ireland, Significant World Events, Social Justice

Postcards from Rathkeale, Co. Limerick

Rathkeale, County Limerick is a town on the road between Limerick and Kerry, just 2 minutes off the N21. The town sits on the banks of the picturesque River Deel which makes its lazy way towards the River Shannon.

The opening of the town bypass some years ago has removed the bumper to bumper traffic that clogged the streets, and it is now possible to look at and enjoy this historic town at leisure.
The name Rathkeale is derived from the Irish Rath Gael meaning Gael’s Fort. This ancient fort was named in the Book of Rights (in Irish Leabhar na gCeart) which details rents and taxes due to the King back in the year 900.

The Holy Trinity Church dates from 1831, or possibly 1825, and was erected on the site of an earlier church. It is a very attractive building, with a lofty square tower, set in well-kept grounds.

The graveyard has some very old headstones, dating from the 1700’s. Buried here are many Palatine families who settled here in the early 1700’s, with their very distinctive family names, such as Bovenizer,Teskey, Shier, Sparling.

04-DSCF5911 Some inscriptions can be seen here  http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~joanne/monumental_inscriptions.htm.

Here too is the very imposing Massy Vault, built about 1800 and restored in the early 1900s.

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Right beside the Holy Trinity Church is Rathkeale National School, catering for Church of Ireland children.

10-DSCF5930Further up the street there are some fine period houses with lovely features.

The town benefitted from the Andrew Carnegie library grants in the early 1900s and the refurbished library now also houses an arts centre
15-DSCF5934At the top of the street is the very impressive 19th Century  Town Hall, with belltower, clock and imposing steps. It tells of a time when Rathkeale was a prominent county town.

The Old Town Hall, Rathkeale

The Old Town Hall, Rathkeale

The ruins of an Abbey founded by Gilbert Hervey  for the Augustinian Canons of the Order of Arosia in the year 1280 dominate the limerick side of the town. In 1436, St. Mary the Virgin allegedly  worked several miracles here. The monastery was suppressed in 1542. The ruins were lovingly restored by the local community in the 1970s and are a great asset to the town.

 

The town has some fine buildings…

and interesting laneways…

And interesting  shop window where English Soccer Clubs and horses have parity  with Virgin Marys

Further down the street is a house with a plaque commemorating Séan Finn who fought in the Irish War of Independence. He was killed on March 30 1921 near Foynes, Co Limerick.

Plaque commemorating Séan Finn, who lived at this house died 30March 1921

Plaque commemorating Séan Finn, who lived at this house died 30March 1921

Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church dominates the entire landscape. It is a high gothic-style structure built on a hill, with a high spire. The church dates from about 1864 with the spire having been completed in 1881.

The church interior is cathedralesque, with high ceilings, ornate pillars and stained glass windows.

08-DSCF6016 11-DSCF6022 14-DSCF6025The detail on the pillars is very interesting, comprising flowers of every description possibly of some significance as it is said that the bulk of the money needed to erect this church was raised abroad.

Just down the road from the Catholic Church is the Palatine museum, housed in this beautiful cut stone railway station house that was moved stone by stone from its original location a few hundred metres away to make way for the new road. It is now the definitive centre for all things Palatine, the Palatines being a group of German people who settled in this vicinity in the 1700’s

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Just alongside the Palatine Museum there is access to the Great Southern Greenway, a beautiful walking and cycling amenity following the route of the old railway line.

1-DSCF6031And finally….before you head off to the sumptuous surroundings of Rathkeale House Hotel for a cuppa to send you on your way, I hope you get a chance to see Marilyn Monroe in her iconic pose from The Seven Year Itch on the main street.

2-DSCF6033Rathkeale has become something of a hidden gem, now that it has been bypassed. It does not always get positive publicity, but there is a lot more to it than we see in reality TV shows. Whether you are a local or a passing visitor, you could easily spend 15 minutes or an hour or so here, exploring some or all of the wonderful heritage and enjoy stepping back in time to when a town like Rathkeale was in its heyday.

When I was taking these photographs I met a neighbour, Catherine O’Sullivan in the street and when I told her what I was doing she said to me: ‘I love Rathkeale’. Now I know why.

 

 

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Countryside, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Living in Ireland, My Oral History, My Travels

Mother’s Day

Tulips and Daffodils

Tulips and Daffodils traditional Mother’s Day flowers. Image Commons.Wikimedia

These final weeks of March have, for some years now, been ‘busy’ weeks in our house in terms of celebrations. In Ireland, we have St Patrick’s Day on March 17th giving as it does, such welcome relief from the austerity of  Lent. For Catholics, Lent meant 40 days of fasting and abstinence. Why did we say 40 days, when it is actually 46  from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday? On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday we barely ate anything as these were days of Fast and Abstinence. On Fast Days we were allowed 1 small meal and 2 collations – a collation being a snack. On days of Fast and Abstinence no meat was allowed. This always amused me as most people could not afford meat every day of the week anyhow! So for Lent – no sweets, no biscuits, no cakes – and when I was growing up 60 years ago in Donegal, no dances, no cinema, no marriages, in fact not much of anything. St Patrick’s Day allowed us to ‘break’ Lent and gorge on cake and sweets, have milk and sugar in our tea and eat tons of Kimberley and Mikado biscuits.
I have a secret – my birthday happens not long after Paddy’s Day. Try as I might my birthday always always falls in Lent, and has on a few occasions even fallen on Good Friday, a dismal  day for a child to have  a birthday! This misery continued for  18 years and so for  my entire youth I was a begrudging victim of circumstance.

When I went to live in England in the 1960s I discovered several things: English Catholics did not have the same rules about Lent as we had  in Ireland. They could even eat meat on Fridays and in a diverse society there were normal happy things happening – dances, weddings, cinemas were open, people ate chocolate and potato crisps even on Good Friday! Not only this, but they heartily celebrated Mothers Day, which falls in Lent. Mother’s Day was  then unheard of in the Donegal Highlands.

‘Mother’s Day’ is not an invention of Hallmark cards, but in fact has its roots in ancient history. In Ireland, as in the UK, Mothering Sunday is celebrated on the 4th Sunday in Lent. In other parts of the world it is usually celebrated in March, April or May.

Celebrations of motherhood can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The ancient Greeks held a spring festival dedicated to Rhea, the mother of the Greek Gods Zeus, Poseidon and Hades. They also celebrated the Festival of Cybele, Mother of The Gods, at the time of the March equinox and this was later adopted by Romans who celebrated it around the Ides of March ( March 15th to 18th). Also in ancient Roman religion there is mention of the Matronalia when women got gifts from their husbands and daughters, husbands were expected to offer prayers for their wives and slaves were given a day off work.

Several Christian denominations, including Anglican and Catholic, celebrate Mothering Sunday. It falls approximately mid Lent, on Laetare Sunday (‘Laetare’ means ‘Rejoice’). On this day, there was a relaxation in the austerity of Lent. In Elizabethan times, girls who had been hired out as servants were given a holiday in the middle of Lent, so that they might visit their families. In the 16th century there was a practice of returning to the ‘mother church’ (the main church of the area), which meant that children in service would be reunited with families on that day. To prove their new-found cooking skills, they brought home a gift of a ‘Mothering’ or ‘Simnel’* cake. Dairymaids or laundry maids who had no cooking skills, would often be presented with a ’mothering cake’ by a sweetheart.

Simnel Cake - a very old Mothering Sunday custom . Image Commons.Wikimedia.

Simnel Cake – a very old Mothering Sunday custom . Image Commons.Wikimedia.

The Lenten fast was at that time very rigorous, so the cake was made with a rich mixture so that it would keep until Easter. They also picked wildflowers for their mothers as they made their way home and the wild violet became a traditional gift for mothers.

-_Narcissus_pseudonarcissus_03_-The tradition of Mothering Sunday gradually died away over the decades. It is said to have been revived during World War 2 by visiting American and Canadian soldiers who celebrated Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May. The celebration was indeed revived but the original day – the fourth Sunday in Lent – was retained in these islands. Our Mothering Sunday has now become Mother’s Day, (and is nowadays heartily celebrated in Ireland) but call it what you will, it remains a day to celebrate motherhood in general and your mother in particular. Happy Mothering Sunday to all mothers!

* I have an old recipe for Simnel cake. If anyone would like to have it, please email me.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Ireland, Irish Traditions, Mother's Day, My Oral History

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 Kennedys in an abandoned house in County Carlow. Interestingly, this photograph was taken in the deserted home of a  catholic priest.

Five months after the momentous and triumphant visit to Ireland,, on that ordinary 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. 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.

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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.

jfk_grave

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

‘Let’s Roll’: Flight 93, 11 September 2001

On September 11, 2001, United Airlines Flight 93 departed Newark, New Jersey, one of the main New York airports, for San Francisco, California. It was 8:42 am. 37 passengers and 7 crew settled down for the almost 6-hour flight.  About three-quarters of an hour later, at around half past nine, 4 hijackers entered the cockpit and took control of the plane.  

Aware that something was wrong, passengers and crew phoned family and friends on the ground and were told that passenger planes had been flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre at 8.46 am and 9.03 am.  A third plane was crashed into the Pentagon Building in Washington D.C. at 9.37 am. Realizing that their flight was in all probability being used for the same purpose, the passengers and crew of Flight 93 decided to take action.

The story of  Flight 93  has been dramatized in the film of the same name and is based on voice recordings and telephone calls made by the passengers and crew to their family and friends on the ground.

Passenger Todd Beamer in a telephone conversation with Lisa Jefferson told her that the passengers were going to try to take back control of the plane and according to Lisa, the last words she heard him say were “Are you guys ready? OK.  Let’s roll.”

It is thought that they planned on ramming the cockpit door with a service trolley. The last moments of Flight 93 are not known, but at 10.03 am it crashed with the loss of all on board. The intended destination of the hijackers is not known either, but it was possibly a building in the capital, Washington D.C, only 20 minutes away. The death toll for the awful, world-changing morning of 9/11 was 2,996,  which included the 19 hijackers of the 4 aircraft. Perhaps it may have been higher had Flight 93 reached the destination planned by the hijackers.

On September 9, 2001, I was at my desk in Dublin, Ireland, when at about 2 pm local time  I noticed a news item about a plane having crashed into the World Trade Centre. We turned on the office  TV and watched the incredible events unfold over the following few hours.

Seven years later, I was privileged to visit the site at Shanksville, Pennsylvania where Flight 93 crashed – a rural, remote and peaceful place.

911 Memorial

Shanksville Memorial of the dead

At that time a  temporary memorial had been erected, the design of the permanent memorial not yet finalized. (Although still not fully completed, the first phase of the Flight 93 National Memorial was completed in time for the 10th anniversary in 2011 and can be seen here.) Even as a temporary memorial, this was a special place, with an eerie silence in spite of the number of visitors.

The location is very rural with little signs of habitation, although there are buildings quite nearby on the other side of the hill. One of the images that has remained with me is of the eyewitness descriptions from workers close by. They told of the plane flying upside down, so low that they ‘could almost count the rivets’,  how it disappeared over the hill, and, moments later – silence  – followed by huge explosions.

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The scene of the impact where Flight 93 crashed into the ground.

Traveling at 450 -480 m.p.h, Flight 93 crashed at 10.06 am.

All on board were incinerated as the thousands of gallons of fuel ignited in a huge fireball. The flight recorders were recovered from some 25 feet below ground, but no human remains were recovered. It was possible however to confirm the identities of all 44 persons using DNA  matching.

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Another view of the site of impact

At the time of my visit, a depression in the ground was the only sign that anything had happened here. Such was the extent of the explosion, debris was spread over an area of about 8 square miles and the largest piece of metal recovered was only 2 feet long.

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Shanksville Flight 93 impact site

There was a stillness about the place that defied the horror of the violence that happened here. Hundreds of acres were scorched by the fireball, and the surrounding trees burned for several hours. 

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Benches bearing names of the dead 

The temporary memorial had seats bearing the names of the passengers and crew.

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more benches….

A Park Ranger in attendance was able to answer any questions and a book containing some key point details of the events on board Flight 93 was available to read.

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The temporary Memorial Wall

Relatives and friends leave mementos such as flag s, caps, messages, jewellery and flowers on a 40-foot memorial ‘wall’.

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Some of the items left at the wall

These personal tributes, often very poignant, are carefully collected by the National Park Service at regular intervals.

At the time of my visit in October 2008, over a million people had made the pilgrimage to this site to remember those who are seen as having given their lives to save others. The 40 passengers and crew on Flight 93 are generally regarded as national heroes.

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There were 40 wooden angels, one for each of the victims, and a large cross near the perimeter of the memorial which was located about 500 yards from the crash site which is known as the ‘Sacred Ground’.

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A photograph and short bio of each of the 40 victims can be seen here.

As the 12th anniversary of 9/11 will be on Wednesday of this week, I thought that my pictorial record of the temporary memorial  from 2008 would be an appropriate commemoration of all those who lost their lives on that fateful day, and most especially to the 40 people on Flight 93 who perished  in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

I am grateful to Jane and Bob Noren, my hosts during my visit to the USA in 2008, and in particular to Jane who drove with me to see this very special place.

References 

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/08/08/1060145871380.html

http://www.history.com/topics/flight-93

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_93_National_Memorial

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Filed under My Oral History, My Travels, 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.

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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!

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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