Category Archives: Social History Ireland

Lenten Traditions in Ireland: Black Fast days and Salted Women!

In the late 1930s in Ireland the Irish Folklore Commission set about enlisting National Schools (Ireland’s Primary level schools) to help gather folklore. The idea was that the schoolchildren would get stories from parents, grandparents and neighbours about traditions, legends, superstitions, pastimes, trades, cures and any aspect of life in the local area. The children recorded these stories on exercise books. Schools all over the island (all 26 counties) took part in the project that lasted several years. Over 50,000 schoolchildren from 5,000 schools took part,resulting in over half a million pages of manuscript, known as The Schools Collection, or in Irish,‘Bailiúchán na Scol’. This wonderful collection is online at http://www.duchas,ie/en. Although not yet fully transcribed, and with much of it in the Irish language,there is a wealth of information here, including some stories highlighted today by Duchas on Twitter. (@duchas_ie).

Since Lent began yesterday, Duchas has highlighted some references to the penitential Lenten season. The day before Lent is Shrove Tuesday, known as Pancake Tuesday or Mardi Gras in other cultures, then we have Ash Wednesday, Chalk Sunday and Salting Monday. Ash Wednesday, Spy Wednesday (the Wednesday before Easter) and  Good Friday were known as’ black fast days’. In other words only a small amount of food was permitted.  I had not heard of the Chalking Sunday mentioned below,  and love the idea of being salted to be preserved! After all we preserve  fish by salting, so why not women too! Here is an extract from The Schools collection on Lent, beautifully written in the hand of a pupil in Tubbercurry, County Sligo.

Lent School collection

Lent Schools2The actual entry can be seen here.

More about The Schools Collection

The Schools Collection has an extensive amount of information on traditions and social history. Looking at my own County Donegal village, I found three schools that had submitted material to the collection. Manor Vaughan school right in the  village has contributions describing the number of houses in a townland, how many houses were thatched or slated and common names as well as nuggets of information long since forgotten. This record is one such and is an invaluable snapshot of the townland of Aughalatty in the late 1930s.

Not all were in English however. Mulroy School, where my grandfather was the teacher, also participated. The Mulroy transcripts are in Irish. My grandfather seems to have written the stories collected himself, so we don’t know if he merely transcribed them or if he actually collected them from the contributors. He has several contributions from a Mary Vaughan then aged 67 and I wonder if she might be the old woman I  remember in a black shawl when I  was growing up in Carrigart in the 1950s.

Schools collection 3

My grandfather James Gallagher (Séamus O Gallchobhair) recorded this story about Landlords as recounted by Máire Ní? Bhaughan, Mary Vaughan , aged 67.

The Schools Collection can be searched here and some patience is required. It can be explored by county and by name and by topic. It is a work in progress, but even at this stage it is a rich treasure trove of social history and may even be of help to people trying to trace family history. It is a site that this blog will return to as often as possible, as I continue to explore my own social history through these fascinating pages. In the meanwhile, as I am single and the first Monday in Lent approaches, I am hoping that someone might consider throwing salt on me to preserve me a while longer!

Further information:

Visit the Duchas website at http://www.duchas.ie/en:

 

 

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Countryside, Irish Culture, Irish Traditions, Living in Ireland, Social History Ireland

Tait’s Clothing Factory: Flowers in the rubble.

In June last there was an ‘Open House’ event in Limerick City, showcasing the historically important Tait’s Clothing Factory, ahead of the redevelopment of the site, to provide much needed housing in this part of the city.

The site today

The site today

It was a great honour to stroll through this significant industrial heritage site of international importance. Opened in 1853, the clothing factory became the biggest clothing manufacturer in the world, supplying military uniforms to the British Army,the Canadian Volunteer Militia and to the Confederates in the American Civil War. Many hundreds of Limerick men and women were employed here, up to the time it closed in 1975.

Sir Peter Tait was born in Lerwick Scotland in the early 19th Century and arrived in Limerick to join his sister in 1838. He was an astute and successful business person who became Mayor of Limerick in  three successive years from 1866 to 1868. During his thirty years in the city Peter Tait provided employment to hundreds of people who serviced contracts for military uniforms.

On the day of my visit,at first sight, it appeared to be a desolate site, but on closer inspection I was pleased to see an abundance of wildflowers amid the rubble. I was struck by the similarities with the poppy fields of the world war battlefields, and could not help but think of these beautiful wildflowers as a testament to the men and women who sewed and stitched the uniforms that went to the Crimea and to the United States, many of which became shrouds for their unfortunate wearers.

These are a few of my snaps in memory of all of them. Tomorrow in Limerick, as part of Heritage Week, there will be a day long seminar on Tait’s Clothing Factory,past and future, entitled  ‘A Testament to Time’. These wildflowers are a testament to all those whose lives were affected by the work carried out here.

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Filed under American Civil War, Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish at War, Irish Diaspora, Social History Ireland

Home thoughts at Midsummer 2015

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

Carrigart in the 1960s. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Carrigart in the 1960s. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

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

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

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

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

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

June 23rd: Midsummer Irish Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Flanagan, Thomas 1979. The Year of the French

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

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

Shamrock and Celtic Crosses

DSCF5335

A typical Celtic Cross Memorial at Karrakatta Cemetery

I recently enjoyed an extended trip to Australia. During my time there, I was struck by the strong connection to Ireland expressed by Irish ex-pats, the great pride they have in their Irishness, and the esteem in which many of these Irish emigrants are held by Australians.I hope to share some of my great and unexpected experiences in the coming weeks. Towards the end of my visit, I had to visit Karrakatta Cemetery, just outside Perth, in Western Australia in search of a particular grave.

This is a vast cemetery, covering some 98 hectares, with a mausoleum, a Crematorium, a Commonwealth Graves Commission Section , and a  Dutch War Graves section, in which the victims of the WW2 Japanese bombings in Broome are buried. (I have written about these latter two in an earlier  post here.) Since it opened in April 1899, Karrakatta Cemetery has been the last resting place for over 201,000 people,  and 189,000 cremations have been carried out here. On this visit I was looking for the  grave of an Irishman.The cemetery is divided into denominational areas  representing 37 different religions and ethnic groups. Prior to my visit I had identified the grave I wished to see online,and made my way to it along the well laid out paths, with the help of a map.

I returned by a different route and was surprised  to see so many Celtic Cross monuments close together, in an older part of the cemetery, I was in the Roman Catholic section, yet I was struck by the sheer number of these very Irish headstones. There are many different styles of  Celtic Cross  here, yet all embellished with Shamrock. There are no more Irish symbols than the iconic Shamrock and the Celtic Cross.

Gaynor Family Grave

Gaynor Family Grave

The majority of the crosses bear the IHS Monogram at the intersection of the arms and the upright sections, yet  it appears to be absent on  this very fine example in Gaynor Family monument, above

DSCF5360

Grave of the Cullity Family from County Kerry

My friend Chris Goopy, has a blog entitled Irish Graves – They who sleep in Foreign Lands where she accepts images of Irish graves for publication. She has published a number of images I sent from Karrakatta, on which an Irish origin  – town or County – was clearly stated. The Cullity’s from County Kerry memorial above is included on her website.

DSCF5338

A broken Celtic Cross lies abandoned

DSCF5340

One of my favourite Celtic Crosses on the McCarty grave ( Update 14/09/2017: Thanks to Ann Young who has pointed out that the name on this tombstone is in fact HEGARTY  and not McCarty

The majority of these  Celtic Cross headstones did not have any mention  and not Mcof Ireland, but they surely are strong testament to the Irishness of the people who lie beneath them. There is  quite a variety of  Celtic Crosses but all have Shamrock entwined on or carved into them, requiring a certain amount of skill by the monumental masons.DSCF5357Even on plain headstones, the family names are resoundingly Irish. The sheer number of them is quite remarkable. In this photo above 7 Celtic Cross headstones can be seen. DSCF5359 As with the O’Dea headstone above, this image has a representation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a Catholic symbol included in the design , with the image surrounded by Shamrock on the O’Callaghan memorial.DSCF5355 The Hon Timothy Quinlan was born in Borrisokane Co Tipperary in 1861 and emigrated to Australia with his family at the age of 2 years. His very Irish memorial records his rise to the top of Western Australian political life.DSCF5348Three different Celtic Crosses. DSCF5347 This memorial towers above the others, and exceptionally shows a harp, another iconic Irish symbol. (The one depicted here is the reverse of the official Irish symbol).  John Hardy was a native of County Antrim and a veteran of the Crimean War. He emigrated to Australia in 1866, at the age of 42,and ended up as a Pensioner Guard at Fremantle prison. His full (and colourful) military record can be seen here.

DSCF5351 These headstones with their Celtic Crosses date from the very early 20th Century. As such they would either be Irish-born or children of Irish-born emigrants who went here in search of a new life. The Daly monument here shows the link to Cork Ireland, in contrast to the image below of  a tragic pair of young men, possibly brothers and young  emigrants, or sons of Irish  emigrants , who lost their lives in accidents. Their headstone is a simple one yet included the Celtic Cross and Shamrock as testament to their origins.

DSCF5344

Emigration was no protection from grief and heartbreak. This Cantwell headstone is as sad as the monument to a 26-year-old wife below.

Julia Prendiville, a young wife who died at the age of 26

Julia Prendiville, a young wife who died at the age of 26

Julia sadly appears to lie alone in her grave. Inscribed at the  base  is this verse that provides an insight into the choice of a  Celtic Cross emblazoned with Shamrock as a permanent memorial for graves of Irish in this sandy place, 10.000 miles from home. It reads:

”A Celtic Cross raise o’er me,

and the Shamrock round it twine;

‘Twill tell the land that bore me

that the dear old faith was mine”

 

Further Information:

The IHS symbol

Hon. Timothy Quinlan Biographical Note

John Hardy Military Record 

Irish High Crosses 

Karrakatta Cemetery

 

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Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora, Social History Ireland

God, she struck me till she tired of it

“God, she struck me till she tired of it”  These were the words of Hannah Herrity, describing one of the many beatings administered by her father’s second wife.

The story of Hannah Herrity, produced by Dunfanaghy Workhouse

The story of Hannah Herrity, produced by Dunfanaghy Workhouse

Hannah Herrity lived through the hunger and deprivations of the Famine in Ireland. She told  her life story to a Mrs Law who befriended her and who wrote her story exactly as Hannah recounted it. These oral history manuscripts recording  the life of  “Wee” Hannah as she is known, now form the basis of a  permanent exhibition in the Dunfanaghy Heritage Centre, located in the old Dunfanaghy Workhouse, County Donegal.

Dunfanaghy Workhouse, Co. Donegal

Dunfanaghy Workhouse, Co. Donegal

Hannah Herrity was born in Derryreel, just outside Falcarragh, County Donegal, Ireland in 1835 or 1836. She was the eldest child of a local travelling tailorman and his wife Susy. In the early years of the Famine (probably 1847 or 1848) Susy died in childbirth with her 5th child. Hannah describes how her poor mother suffered and tells of her being laid out with the newborn baby beside her and how she felt her father’s tears of sorrow falling on her hair and face…Hannah would have been about 9 or 10  years of age.

Hannah’s father married a neighbour girl to care for the four surviving children, but as Wee Hannah recounted,”God help us, it was the black day for us he took her”. She was subjected to many beatings – neighbours would rescue her and allow her to stay at their home, safe from the enraged stepmother.

The soup pot at Dunfanaghy Workhouse

The soup pot at Dunfanaghy Workhouse

At the height of the Famine, Hannah sometimes had  to go to get the ‘broth’ in the village, each family having a ticket depending on the number in the household. She staggered and crawled home with it, too weak with hunger to walk properly, and so ravenous that she was tempted to help herself to the contents.  There were four houses that had land to grow oats in Hannah’s locality, otherwise people like the Herrity’s went hungry. Hannah did not seem to get her fair share of rations at home and often the neighbours would give her food, knowing that she was being starved by her stepmother. Two of her younger brothers died during this time.

Following a particularly severe beating and fearful that she might be killed while he was away, Hannah’s father arranged for her to go into service with a kind old lady in Doe who fed her and kept her happily for three years. After the old lady passed away, Hannah went to work for an unkind man who paid her badly and worked her hard and did not give her sufficient food and here her health began to fail. Eventually poor Hannah had to leave employment and had to walk over 60 miles (100km) to the hospital in Lifford where she remained for a year, and where, even though she was sick, she had to work.

Eventually Hannah ended up in Dunfanaghy Workhouse. She  described the horrors of life there with a particularly cruel matron ..”well there’d be maybe seven or eight dead in the morning..And god help us, she would strip the bed clothes down off them, and they’d be pulled out on the floor..the weemen said you’d hear the head of the corpse cracking down the steps till it was put in the dead house below”

A Seven Body Coffin as used at the Workhouse. The bottom slid open so it could be reused

A Seven Body Coffin as used at the Workhouse. The bottom slid open so it could be reused

Hannah survived the awful experience and spent many years afterwards travelling about from farm to farm taking work where she could get it,wandering the roads around Sheephaven Bay,finding kindness in some houses, and none in others. Eventually she could no longer work and took to begging.

Engraved glass on the door to the Dunfanaghy Workhouse Heritage Centre

Engraved glass on the door to the Dunfanaghy Workhouse Heritage Centre

She came to the attention of  Mrs  Law, wife of the local member of Parliament, who arranged for a one- room cottage to be built for Wee Hannah in Parkmore, and here she lived out the remainder of her life in relative comfort. The neighbours were good to her and saw that she did not want for anything. Mrs Law  interviewed Hannah and recorded the story of her eventful life exactly as Hannah told it.

Hannah (Heraghty) Herrity appears on the 1911 census, as the head of her little household in Parkmore. Here we can see where she applied her mark to the census record as she was unable to read or write. She died in 1926 at about 90 years of age. Thanks to Mrs Law, Wee Hannah’s story  is heard by hundreds of visitors to the Dunfanaghy Workhouse, a real reminder of the brutality of life for  the poor in 19th Century Ireland.

Sheephaven Bay and Dunfanaghy from Horn Head. Image Wikimedia Commons

Sheephaven Bay and Dunfanaghy from Horn Head. Image Wikimedia Commons

Outside Dunfanaghy there are three graveyards – the Catholic one and the Protestant one and  between the two is the Paupers Graveyard where victims of the Famine are buried.  Wee Hannah Herrity lies beside her friend Mrs Law in the Catholic part.

 

I am truly grateful to Dungfanaghy Workhouse for sending me the beautiful image below of the marker in the Famine Graveyard. It is a very fitting tribute to those who are interred here in a ‘no-man’s land’ between the two other graveyards. Basic, stark and rugged – such was their lives and deaths.

imageWee Hannah’s story played out in the general area where I grew up. I lived  some 14 miles from her home and at one time my great uncle was a catholic priest in Falcarragh and my grandmother was his housekeeper. I wonder did they know her?  Hannah worked out at Horn Head at one time, a beautiful headland that I saw every day from my bedroom window. At one point she told of being out in the snow and falling into a drain in my own Rosguill area. Growing up, we never heard of a person like  Hannah, making her way alone through life in such deprivation and hardship.

On the day of our visit to Dunfanaghy Workhouse last year torrential rain made photography difficult.  A future project will be to take photographs of Hannah’s Places for this blog.

Dunfanaghy Workhouse is well worth a visit. Here you will hear Hannah’s story in her own words. The exceptionally friendly and helpful staff are very knowledgeable about the area and they have an excellent coffee shop!  ‘The story of Wee Hannah as told to Mrs Law’ is available in their shop. Visit their website at http://www.dunfanaghyworkhouse.ie

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Discovering Castle Oliver, Limerick, Ireland

Castle Oliver – where’s that?  A couple of Facebook posts made me wonder – thank you, Bridget Elliott and Seamus Quaide! And so on a balmy day last summer I headed off to discover this beautiful building, nestled under the Ballyhoura Mountains near Ardpatrick, County Limerick.

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Entrance to Castle Oliver

The entrance is guarded by a pair of fearsome looking griffons. This a relatively recent entrance, lacking the grandeur of the original gate lodges, but is nevertheless pleasant and certainly not your average gate!

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One of the original entrances to the Castle Oliver Estate

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Another of the older entrances to Castle Oliver, no longer in use

Crossing in front of the very spectacular house, veritable herds of rampant griffons protect the magnificent structure!  The setting is stunning  with an uninterrupted view of the Ballyhoura Hills in the ‘front yard’ so to speak, with the immediate area around the house  laid out in manicured terraced lawns, fringed by woodland near the house. A carp lake, sunken garden and fountains complete the picture.

Imposing  house, made from local sandstone

Imposing house, made from local sandstone, beautifully located

This house bears testament to two women – sisters Isabella and Elizabeth Oliver Gascoigne, talented artists who designed stained glass windows and  glass panels. Isabella was also an accomplished woodturner. They built this house in 1843 mainly for lavish country entertaining. Many locals were engaged in the building of the house during the Famine, and so avoided the ravages of hunger. Ownership of  the estate  changed several times over the decades, and it was eventually divided up into lots and sold off to pay bank debts. The house  fell into decay and  at one stage had a large tree growing out through the roof. All but 15 acres or so surrounding the house were sold off . It was almost a total ruin when it was purchased by the current owners, the Cormacks, in 2006.  Roofless  and windowless, they set about turning the shell into a beautiful home for themselves and their three young children. 

I love the elegance of the house with all its architectural detail – I have a passion for interesting chimneys  and had lots of them to look at here !

In the large entrance hall there is a beautiful stained glass window. Some  of the original panes had survived and thanks to old surviving photographs it was possible to recreate the window in its entirety.  Isabella and Elizabeth had designed this feature.

Working from old photographs it has been possible to create an interior that reflects many of the  features of the original house. Some small portions of original decoration  survive as on the dining room ceiling below.

The most beautiful room in the house, in my opinion, is the ballroom, with stunning views of the countryside and a magnificent ceiling. Here too can be seen some of the original artisan work at the fireplace.

Lavishly furnished bedrooms fitted out with carefully sourced period pieces, many with a history all of their own, add to the ‘sense of place’ of this lovely house.

All great houses had a wine cellar. Castle Oliver is no exception and it boasts one of the largest ever built in these parts, with room for tens of thousands of bottles!

Castle Oliver is a gem in the Limerick countryside. How wonderful to see beautiful houses such as this being loving restored and  open to the public, so we can share the splendour and grandeur that was such an integral part of our society in days gone by.

Further reading:

For opening times see http://www.castleoliver.ie/

http://www.abandonedireland.com/Castle_Oliver.html

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Countryside, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Social History Ireland