Postcards from Dublin..while waiting for the train

While waiting for my train this week before returning to Cork, I took advantage of the  lovely Spring sunshine to stroll around the area beside the Irish Rail Dublin terminus at Heuston.

We rush in and rush out of this building, eager to catch a train or a bus or a tram, too busy to appreciate where we are. The magnificent building that is Dublin Heuston train  terminus was originally constructed to conceal the train sheds and platforms.

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Dublin Heuston from John’s Road

Dating from 1846, it was designed by an English architect, and designer of many railway stations, Sancton Wood (1815-1866) . It is in the style of an Italian Palazzo and is highly decorated.

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Dublin Heuston Station

Constructed on behalf of the Great Southern and Western Railway company it was originally known as Kingsbridge. Our mother, being from a railway family, always referred to this place as Kingsbridge.

It was so named as the terminal is adjacent to a cast iron bridge crossing the Liffey that was known as King’s Bridge which was constructed in 1823 to commemorate the visit in 1821 of King George IV. In 1923  the bridge was renamed Sarsfield Bridge and in 1941 it was renamed Séan Heuston Bridge.

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Séan Heuston 1891-1916

Séan Heuston was born in Dublin and joined the Great Southern and Western Railway as a clerk in Limerick at the age of 17. He was transferred to Kingsbridge in 1913. He became one of the leaders of the 1916 rising in Ireland against the British. He was the youngest man executed for his part in the Easter Rising against British Rule. He was shot by firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol in May 1916.

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Name plaque on Séan Heuston Bridge

The bridge has many very nice ornamental ironwork panels.

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The view from the Séan Heuston Bridge down the Liffey is dominated by the famous Guinness James Gate Brewery, seen here on the right bank of the river.  The famous Harp logo can be seen on the darker building, amid the high tech steel structures on the site.

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Across the road from Heuston Station is the very impressive Dr Steevens Hospital. Now an administrative building for the health authority,  the hospital was founded in 1720 by the sister of Dr Richard Steevens (1653-1710), under the terms of his will.

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The building facing Heuston Station

It’s quite amazing to think that patents accessed the hospital through these impressive doors almost 300 years ago

Guinness Brewery, founded in 1759, donated small bottles of stout to the patients from the brewery next door. The tradition of giving hospital patients a daily stout persisted well into the 20th century in many Irish hospitals.

There is always something interesting  to discover in Dublin!

 

 

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Misneach – The Ballymun Sculpture

952606F4-3DD0-4FF9-86E5-DDAC1382F421This post has taken years to get to publication! The original draft was made years ago when I first heard the intriguing story of a new sculpture of a young girl on a horse unveiled in Ballymun, a suburb of Dublin’s northside. Ballymun would not immediately spring to mind as a location for bronze street art. It was here that several high-rise blocks were built to rehouse people from the inner city.  The high rise developments were totally unsuitable and with no amenities the area gradually became known for its many social problems. The high-rise blocks were demolished and replaced with houses. A sculpture was commissioned as part of the Ballymun Regeneration Project.

John Byrne is an Irish artist and winner of many awards for his work. At a recent event at the National Museum of Ireland, John was one of the speakers, along with my son, Damian  Shiels, an historian of the Irish in the American Civil War and Dr Emily Mark-Fitzgerald, a specialist  in commemoration and public art. As he began to speak I realized that he was the man who had conceptualized this wonderful Ballymun project. I was anxious to discover where it is located as several half-hearted attempts to locate it by driving slowly around Ballymun had failed to find any trace of it!

John’s story was as intriguing as the sculpture itself. How did a young bareback horse rider from Ballymun wearing a hoodie top and runners, come to be on the horse of a 19th century Viscount?

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Years ago there was a celebrated equestrian statue standing in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. It had been erected in 1880 as a memorial to Limerick- born Viscount Field Marshall Gough. There was much public debate at the time as to where the statue should be located but eventually a site was chosen in Dublin’s Pheonix Park.

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Gough’s monument in the Phoenix Park (Image Wikimedia Commons)

The inscription on the monument read

In honour of Field Marshal Hugh Viscount Gough, K.P., G.C.B., G.C.S.I., an illustrious Irishman, whose achievements in the Peninsular War, in China, and in India, have added lustre to the military glory of his country, which he faithfully served for seventy five years. This statue [cast from cannon taken by troops under his command and granted by Parliament for the purpose] is erected by friends and comrades’

The monument was designed by the renowned Irish sculptor John Henry (J.H) Foley. His better known works include the Daniel O’Connell Monument on Dublin’s O’Connell Street, Fr. Mathew in St Patrick’s Street in Cork, Prince Albert in the Albert Memorial in London and Stonewall Jackson in Richmond Virginia, as well as Burke  and Goldsmith at the entrance to Trinity College, Dublin, to name but a few.

Gough’s horse was not created especially for him as it was was cast from an existing mould made by Foley some years earlier in 1858, for the equestrian statue of Viscount Hardinge. Obviously this magnificent animal was suitable for the most prestigious military men.

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Viscount Hardinge of Lahore, in Calcutta in the 1860s  (Image Wikimedia Commons)

The Gough Memorial, with a copy of Hardinge’s horse, stood proudly in the Phoenix Park for some decades. However, it eventually attracted the attention of militant Irish Republicans who made a number of assaults on it. In 1944 Gough was decapitated with a hacksaw and his sword was removed. It was some time later that the severed head was found, at low tide, embedded in mud in the River Liffey.

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Irish Press April 11, 1945

The head was reattached but just over a decade later the right hind leg of the horse was blown off by explosives. Apparently he was then jacked up with bits of timber.

The final demise came in June 1957 when a loud explosion blew Gough and his horse from the plinth, with man and beast blown to bits. There was much genuine lamenting as the statue was considered to be the ‘finest equestrian monument in Europe’ by any commentators.

Vincent Capriana a Dublin poet, recorded an attempt on the monument in his well known bawdy poem (which some readers may find offensive).

GOUGH’S STATUE by VINCENT CAPRANI

There are strange things done from twelve to one
In the Hollow at Phaynix Park,
There’s maidens mobbed and gentlemen robbed
In the bushes after dark;
But the strangest of all within human recall
Concerns the statue of Gough,
‘Twas a terrible fact, and a most wicked act,
For his bollix they tried to blow off!

‘Neath the horse’s big prick a dynamite stick
Some gallant ‘hayro’ did place,
For the cause of our land, with a match in his hand
Bravely the foe he did face;
Then without showing fear – and standing well clear –
He expected to blow up the pair
But he nearly went crackers, all he got was the knackers
And he made the poor stallion a mare!

For his tactics were wrong, and the prick was too long
(the horse being more than a foal)
It would answer him better, this dynamite setter,
The stick to shove up his own hole!
For this is the way our ‘haroes’ today
Are challenging England’s might,
With a stab in the back and a midnight attack
On a statue that can’t even shite!

The remains of Gough and his lovely horse were put into storage and were eventually sold on to a distant relative of Gough’s. He restored the monument which now stands in Chillingham Castle, Northumberland in the north of England, safe from the matches of Irish Republicans.

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Gough in his new home in Northumbria (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Enter John Byrne. John decided that he would like to copy the famous Foley horse, return him to Dublin and place him in Ballymun.  He and his team worked with the new owner  of the monument and made a polystyrene mould of the horse, which was sent to the foundry. He then held auditions to find a young Ballymun person to complete his sculpture. There is a tradition among young people in the area of keeping horses and riding them bareback. A young rider named Toni Marie Shields, then aged 17 was chosen as the model for the statue that was to be the centre piece of the regenerated Ballymun town.

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The bronze sculpture entitled ‘Misneach‘, the Irish word for courage, with the casually dressed local bareback rider.

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The sculpture is 1.5 times bigger than lifesize.

 

But the saga of Gough’s Horse does not end here. If you visit Ballymun town centre today Misneach will not be anywhere to be seen, much less be the centrepiece to the revitalized town.

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The fabulous sculpture Misneach

Misneach became a victim of the economic collapse in Ireland. It was decided that it would be erected in a temporary location to save  the expense of moving it again when the Metro North train link to Dublin airport through Ballymun was built. The Metro Rail link never went ahead although every now and then it gets a mention by politicians.

So where is Misneach? It stands proudly in the grounds of Trinity Comprehensive School in Ballymun, so easy to miss completely!  Perhaps one day it will be the centrepiece of a vibrant new area. It is a most beautiful piece of public art and well worth seeing. And how lovely to think that Toni Marie, in her tracksuit and runners, proudly sits bareback on a horse designed for two Viscounts!

For more about  the sculptor see

http://www.john-byrne.ie/biog.php

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Before and After ‘The Post’

Memories almost overwhelmed me in the cinema during the opening moments of the Stephen Spielberg film ‘The Post’, starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. The sound of Huey helicopters is synonymous with the Vietnam War, a helicopter war that ‘wop-wop-wop-wopped’ from our television screens in the 1960s. The ‘wop-wop-wop-wop’ was the background music to the images of young men pouring out of these choppers being ‘inserted’ into fields in Vietnam. The ‘wop-wop-wop-wop’ was the background music to young men now with old faces, haunted expressions and staring eyes climbing back into them to be evacuated to safety. It was the relentless background sound effect to the crouching running stretcher bearers loading up casualties. It was the dirge to which thousands of bloodied and broken dead bodies of young men, in the hitherto  unheard of ‘bodybags’, were loaded from battlefields and whisked away to be shipped home in boxes. ‘Wop-wop-wop-wop’.

And so the film began with the Hueys. ‘The Post’ tells the story of the publication of the Pentagon Papers, secret United States government reports of the political and military involvement in Vietnam that had gone on from 1945 to 1967. Daniel Ellsberg, a former Marine, who had worked on the reports, decided that the public needed to know that the government had been misleading and lying to them for decades about the reality of the war. It was a war that they could not win, yet it was peddled as ‘holding back the tide of Communism’. In reality, tens of thousands of lives were lost or destroyed because the United States needed to ‘save face’. Ellsberg copied the secret report and gave it to the newspapers- The New York Times initially,  and when that newspaper was gagged by the Courts, the Washington Post continued the exposé. It is a fascinating story and well worth seeing.

It occurred to me that many of those viewing this film would not have any clue as to the extent of negative feeling about this conflict in far-off Asia. As I sat there I was reminded of those days and how I became involved in the world-wide protests and demonstrations of the 1960s and 1970s.

Roll back the clock a few years, to 1963. In August of that year I vividly recall walking into our kitchen at home and being rooted to the spot as Martin Luther King delivered his inspirational ‘I have a dream’ speech on TV. It was at this exact point in time that I became aware of what was not right with the world. In modern parlance we would say that I was ‘radicalized’. This was a time when African Americans were struggling for equal rights with their fellow white countrymen. News programmes were dominated by race riots and protests, with students and young people taking to the streets for a fairer society, often risking imprisonment or even serious injury.

It was difficult to avoid being ‘political’ in those days where everything was changing. Music had changed with the arrival of ‘pop’, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and of course Bob Dylan. Fashion had changed with the arrival of Mary Quant, mini skirts and Carnaby Street and there was now a television set in most homes adding a new dimension to world events.

As 16 year old pre-leaving certificate year students in an Irish convent school in 1965 we were allowed access to newspapers in order to prepare for our examinations. Every day there was coverage of the Vietnam War. I remember well seeing a headline along the lines of ‘Vietnam War Escalates’. Visuals and sounds were added by the news on the TV. It was shocking to see these young lads a few years older than ourselves being shipped out, and to see what could happen to them. I was always eager for the news the following day to see what was happening and followed all events closely. I was of course delighted that the Vietnam War came up on the English examination paper in 1966!

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Helping a wounded soldier to the medical facility. (Image Creative Commons)

I emigrated to England in 1966. My new work colleagues in the medical research laboratory were of a similar age and a political view was as important as being up to date with fashion and music. So we talked a lot about political and social issues, and of course the war in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, in 1967 Che Guevara, a young Argentinian revolutionary was executed by the United States in Bolivia. A major figure of the Cuban Revolution, his stylized image become a symbol of rebellion. With his image sellotaped to walls in millions of bedrooms, he inspired our generation. In 1968 Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, both iconic figures, were assassinated. There was a growing sense of social unrest as protests, mainly by students and young people spread across the globe. By this time there were a half million Americans in south east Asia.

Jim Fitzpatrick’s iconic image of Che Guevara. (Image Wikipedia)

Street demonstrations had a variety of themes, such as disapproval of nuclear weapons, Ban the Bomb marches, and the racism of Enoch Powell, but the hottest issue of the time was without doubt, the Vietnam War and specifically America’s involvement in it. All across the world protests were taking place – Italy, France, USA, Germany – in all  there were anti war demonstrations in 56 countries. The daily statistics at the time were astonishing as the death toll kept rising…American soldiers deaths shot up as the war intensified.

1964 216
1965 1,928
1966 6,350
1967 11,363
1968 16,899

I made my placard recording the number of dead young men – I think it was around the 12,000 mark – and headed off to my first demonstration at Trafalgar Square on St Patrick’s Day in 1968.  We were a happy group of young people – at 19, I was one of the youngest in our group of friends – delighted to be adding our voices to the outrage, and feeling very strongly that we were a force for good and that we could change things. After speeches we headed off chanting and marching to Grosvenor Square, where the United States Embassy was located. The police had placed a cordon around the building and prevented the crowd getting too near. Being towards the back of the crowd, we did not experience the violence that ensued with baton charges and mounted police charging into the crowd. Hundreds were arrested and many people were injured. The noise was incredible!  Martin Luther King was assassinated just weeks later in April, and in June of that year Robert Kennedy was also murdered.

In October 1968 the number of protesters on our demo had swelled to tens and tens of thousands – possibly 100,000 – and again we descended on Grosvenor Square. There were police everywhere, but the mood among the marchers was good as we chanted and sang our way along the streets.  We again stayed at the back, but the pushing and shoving was frightening, yet we chanted away adding to the noise, and looked out for one another. It was a most exhilarating experience to know that similar protests were taking place across the world.

While the reasons for being there were varied, and many groups were represented, our protests at the time were very much focused on the soldiers of our own age whose lives were laid waste and on the huge number of  innocent men women and children who were being killed and horribly maimed. Had we known at the time about the Pentagon Papers I wonder if we may have been out demonstrating more often and more forcefully?

The war raged on and although the number of casualties became fewer, more shocking images would stun us. Not least that of the little girl, 9 year old Kim Phúc,running screaming down a road having been set alight by a napalm bomb- a gel like substance that sticks to flesh and burns for at leasts 10 minutes.

Protests continued on campuses and cities across the world until finally the United States pulled out in 1975. And what if the reports in the Pentagon Papers had been known years earlier?  How many lives would not have been lost in vain? While the leaking of the papers had a huge impact on the relationship between the U.S. Government and the people of that country, the war rumbled on for more years afterwards. The contents were ‘declassified’ in 2011.

The statistics of the conflict (war was never declared) are horrible and will never be really known. It is estimated that between 1 million and 3 million Vietnamese died in the conflict, together with a further 400,000 Cambodians and Laotians. Hundreds of thousands were wounded.

the wall.JPGMany years later I stood at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. It is an astonishing sight.  Two 75 metre lengths of black marble are engraved with  58,318 names of the men who lost their lives in a war to uphold the ‘honour’ of a country. The average age of those whose names are here is 23.1 years.

And what if the reports in the Pentagon Papers had been known years earlier?  How many lives would not have been lost in vain? While the leaking of the papers had a huge impact on the relationship between the U.S. Government and the people of that country, the war rumbled on for more years afterwards. The contents were ‘declassified’ in 2011.

Vietnamese women and children in Mỹ Lai before being killed in the massacre, March 16, 1968.[62] They were killed seconds after the photo was taken.[63] Photo by Ronald L. Haeberlen (Wikipedia)

I look at these images of the wall with all those names and the faces of these lovely people about to die, and can’t help but wonder could they have been saved if we had protested earlier and more loudly.

The Pity of War.

References

The table of casualties is taken from the US National Archives at https://www.archives.gov/research/military/vietnam-war/casualty-statistics

http://www.e-ir.info/2011/07/02/was-the-european-student-movement-of-the-1960s-a-global-phenomenon/

Statistics – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War_casualties

 

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Remembering our mother on the centenary of her birth

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Maud Clinton on the wall at Newtownforbes Station c. late 1930s

100 years ago, on Saturday January 19th 1918, in Kishawanny, Co Kildare, our grandparents, Christopher Robert Clinton and Jane Williams welcomed their first child into the world. She was our mother and was christened Sibyl Maud at Holy Trinity  Church in Derrinturn on January 27th with William Clery and Bridget Clery as godparents.

IMG_3054As was common practice – certainly in the early 20th Century – she was known by her second name, Maud, a name that recurs time and again in her paternal grandmother’s family, right down to this day.

She was the eldest of 5 children, two girls and three boys. At the time of her birth, her father was a foreman at Carbury Station, where his father was Stationmaster. It was possibly at the home of her grandmother in the townland of Kishawanny that she was born, but they may also have lived nearby. Her brother was also born in Kishawanny in 1920.

The probable site of  the home  of our mother’s grandparents in Kishavanna, Co Kildare.

Kishawanny, usually called Kishavanna by locals, has a small number of houses. According to Griffiths Valuation, the site of this house is on the same plot as the home of  Jane’s grandparents, our mother’s great grandparents.

As an employee of the Midland Great Western Railway, her father had to relocate and we next find the family living at Railway Cottage, Mullingar, where, three more siblings were born. Family lore has it that they also lived in Goresbridge Co. Kilkenny. This photograph was in our mother’s collection, marked ‘Goresbridge, Co Kilkenny’. It is possibly where the family lived.

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Goresbridge Co Kilkenny. Was this the family home?

The family moved to Newtownforbes Co. Longford, when their father was appointed Stationmaster here. We know they lived there in the late 1930s as an entry in the Schools Collection from Duchas.ie has a contribution from one of our mother’s brothers.  It was here too that our mother received music lessons at the local Convent of Mercy. She was an accomplished pianist and had a wonderful ear and could play anything after hearing it just once. Two of her sons are dedicated musicians.

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Station House Newtownforbes, Co Longford. Date possibly 1930s

Our mother did not often talk about her relatives, but her Granny Williams was an exception. Her maternal grandmother, who lived at Kishavanna, was an important figure in her life. She spent summer holidays with her, and often spoke about ‘living ‘ with her. Perhaps her grandmother lived alone and there was an element of caring for her. In any event Granny (Kate) Williams died on November 22 1933, at the age of 68. Our mother would have been just 15 years old.

Her father was a wonderful gardener as can be seen from the photos above. He was usually to be found in his vegetable garden tending to his vegetables. He won awards for his beautiful flower beds and our mother inherited her green fingers from him. I can still hear her saying ‘Daddy loved Alyssum’ or ‘Daddy wouldn’t have Red Hot Pokers about the place’. He was the guru when it came to growing and she quoted him on a regular basis!

She embarked on a career as a telegraphist. As the eldest she was expected to send money home to help with the younger children. There would not have been much left after paying rent. Unfortunately we do not know much about where she did her training or where she worked. She may well have worked in Longford town initially, but she  was in Dundalk during World War 2 as she spoke of fear of bombs and she spoke of running for shelter. A bomb was dropped on Dundalk in July 1941, but we don’t know if she was living there then. As a wireless telegraphist she used Morse Code.

Sligo was the next posting for her and she had fond memories of living and working there as a telegraphist.

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Photo we believe taken in Sligo early 1940s

She was then posted to Letterkenny and it was here that she made contact with our father who was appointed postmaster in Carrigart following the sudden death of his father in 1944.

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1944 at  Port na Blagh Co Donegal

In January 1946 they were married in St Andrews Church Westand Row. See post here.

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Number 1 son arrived arrived 13 months later and this we believe is a photo taken with him in 1947. (If it is not him, then it must be me!)

After 10 years of marriage there were six of us. Our mother knitted all our jumpers and cardigans, she sewed dresses and trousers. She made rugs from old sacks with rags stitched on, she made curtains, she covered chairs, she baked bread and cakes, she made pancakes, she crocheted and did artwork on mirrors. And she permed my hair (to my horror). She knitted and darned and sewed in every spare minute and played the piano. And always there were flowers inside and outside the house.

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She also had time for fun–this photo was taken at an annual dinner dance at the Port na Blagh Hotel. I  remember this dress so well – it was a beautiful soft pink with a huge wide skirt that went on forever! For the following year’s dance, it was dyed black and looked fabulous.

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The Annual Dinner Dance at Port na Blagh Hotel c. 1956. From left to right Johnny Sweeney, Mary Josie Sweeney, Mum and Dad.

Mum was very friendly with Agnes McFadden (Aggie Big Pat) who would come to our  house every Thursday when they would exchange English Sunday newspapers and eat sandwiches and drink tea. Lena McGinley was another good friend and laughter was a huge part of these two friendships.

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Mum and Dad with two of the younger children – numbers 4, and 5 . c 1959-60

All of this came to a grinding halt when her youngest child, our brother, was killed just after 3 pm on Tuesday June 30 1959. He was 15 months old. It is unimaginable for any mother to have to pick up her dead baby off the road with a horrific head injury. See post here .

1959 still had not finished with her. Less than 6 months later and just before Christmas her beloved father, who she absolutely idolized, died suddenly. See post here.

These events were to have a terrible impact on her, and some years later having moved to England they carved out a new life with a new love –  her Cocker Spaniel, Kerry, who she adored and who was her faithful companion for over a decade.

Our parents, Berard and Maude Gallagher holidaying in the Dingle Peninsula c 1980s with their cocker spaniel Kerry

Mum, Dad and the faithful Kerry on tour. c.1980s

After they returned to Ireland on retirement, more hounds were added and beautiful gardens evolved yet again. I have never seen such a wonderful collection of Fuchsias which she loved. Bird tables and feeders abounded, roses scented the air, Clematis twined, flowers made a stunning display, and Dad kept horses in his field.  Grandchildren came and went in droves, as did her good friend Ethna who was always a special guest who they loved to see coming!

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Family reunion at Carrigart c. 1986

Although she had some health issues later in her life, our mother was very resilient and continued with her gardening, bird feeding, seed ordering, piano playing and reading. So many books!

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Visit from USA by Dad’s brother Séan and wife Mary in 1998 – the last photograph

August 1998 brought the death of her last remaining sibling, her sister Eva and it distressed her greatly. I can still her her crying out in grief –  ‘They are all gone, they are all gone’. As the eldest of the siblings she had not expected to be the last one. At Christmas 1998 she was in good form but only days into the new year she began to show signs of  confusion and restlessness. Some weeks later she was transferred to hospital on a Sunday evening. She became very lucid and kept addressing Granny Williams for a couple of days. The doctor thought she might last 24 hours and suggested the family be called urgently.  As our sister, her youngest child, was in New Zealand there was no way she could get home in 24 hours. But she left New Zealand anyhow and headed to Shannon Airport, a journey of two days. The palliative staff said they had seen patients defy the odds to ‘wait’ for someone.  Eva arrived in to Shannon Airport at 1 pm on Wednesday and she and I stayed on the night watch  while the others went home to bed. She died at 6.10  am on Thursday  morning, 25 March 1999 as a blackbird sang his heart out just outside her room window.

Our mother was born 100 years ago today, 19 January 2018.

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Last convicts to Western Australia

January 9th marks the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the last convict ship at the port of Fremantle in Western Australia.

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Drawing of The Hougoumont , the last convict ship to arrive in Western Australia. (Image Wikimedia)

The Swan River Settlement in Western Australia was established by the British in 1829. The conditions – both climate and terrain – proved  very challenging and progress was slow. By 1832 the population was a mere 1,500 and by 1850 was still less than 6,000.  The emerging colony then requested help from the British Government, thereby changing its status to a Penal Colony, like other parts of Australia, notably New South Wales and Tasmania.

The Scindian was the first ship to arrive in June 1850 with a cargo of 75 male convicts who would work the land.  They also had to set about building their own jail, as there was no building suitable for them. Over the next seventeen and a half years, 9,925 convicts were transported in 43 shipments to Western Australia, and many of these were Irish. It was thanks to these, the workers who accompanied them and later immigrants, that the colony was developed.

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The Establishment as Fremantle Jail was known. Behind these gates is a 15 acre site with blocks of cells and ancillary buildings.

The gates and many of the landings in the jail are made from iron from many of these ships.

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Gates were made from metal from the ships that transported convicts

Conditions inside The Establishment were horrendous and must have been unbearable in the burning heat of summer. There are no bars on the windows in the chapel and interestingly the 6th of the Ten commandments reads ‘Thou shalt do no murder’ instead of the usual ‘Thou shalt not kill’. The former jail is now a World Heritage Site and well worth a visit.

Many convicts were free to work outside the walls and many stayed in the area when they won their freedom, having served their time. The development of the area is due in no small part to their hard labour. The town has some wonderful period buildings..one of my favourite being the Town Hall. although I am not certain if it is the result of convict labour .

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Fremantle Town Hall, built c.1886

The town of Fremantle has some lovely street art dedicated to arriving immigrants, such as these two pieces. I particularly like the man being confronted by a dingo – an indication of the hardships new immigrants had to face perhaps.

In recent years lists of immigrants who arrived at the port have been transcribed onto ‘Welcome Walls’. The list of names makes for poignant reading and of course includes many Irish.

Crowds of young children were also landed here and very often their little lives turned out to be desperately sad and cruel.

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When that last convict ship slipped into Fremantle on that January day 150 years ago,on board were a number of Fenian Prisoners. Their presence on the Hougoumont has kept the name of the ship alive, even though it deserves to be remembered by being associated with an end to a particular chapter in history. These Fenians, among them John Boyle O’Reilly, kept a journal during their voyage to Australia.  Their writings, are on a series of plaques, some of which you can see here, at Rockingham Wild Geese Memorial, which marks the point at which they made a daring break for freedom on the coast of Western Australia.

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There is a very strong and proud Irish community in Perth and  Fremantle who organize events on a regular basis.  Their latest FeniansFremantle & Freedom Festival is a 10-day cultural festival celebrating Irish culture and influence in Australia as well as a commemorative event to honour the Fenians and others transported to Fremantle on the last convict ship sent to Australia, the Hougoumont. Barbecues, concerts and even a street celií have been planned and events continue through this weekend. In these troubled times with great displacement of peoples across the globe, it is refreshing to see immigrants being honoured in the way that Fremantle does so well.

I have written about the arrival of the Fenians in Western Australia at these links

John Boyle O’Reilly Fenian, Convict, Poet

and the story of their escape at

The greatest propaganda coup in Fenian History 

There is a fascinating ‘passenger list’ for that final voyage of the Hougoumont here. It gives names, nature of offence  of the convicts-  these include pickpocketing, rape, insubordination, treason, murder and possession of a coin mould. – place and date of trial. It also includes names of other passengers, pensioner guards and their families and warders and their families.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish Convicts, Irish Diaspora

Women’s Christmas, January 6 -An Irish Christmas Tradition

 

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Having celebrated Christmas and the New Year, we in Ireland are not done yet! We are still counting the twelve days of Christmas at the end of which we will have the final celebration. This is of course the uniquely Irish tradition of  Women’s Little Christmas when Irish women celebrate the end of the Christmas Season.  Although celebrated mainly in counties Cork and Kerry, it is great to see this tradition being revived and celebrations happening all lover Ireland. This post from 2012 has been read over 12,000 times, and here it is again to wish all female readers a Happy Women’s Christmas! 

 

 

All over Ireland, January 6 marks the end of the Christmas season – it is the day  on which the fairy lights, the Christmas tree, the decorations and the Christmas cards are taken down and put away for another year. It is considered bad luck if decorations remain displayed after this date! January 6 has many titles – Epiphany, Little Christmas, 12th Night , Women’s Christmas, Women’s Little Christmas,and Nollaig na mBan. Such an important day to have 6 different names!

Epiphany: The 3 Kings arrive with gifts

In Ireland, ‘Little Christmas’  (‘Nollaig Bheag’ in Irish) is one of the traditional names for January 6, the feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany is a Christian celebration of the day on which the Magi arrived with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to honour the new-born baby Jesus, the day on which Jesus is revealed to the gentiles. Epiphany is one of the oldest Christian holy days that originated in the Eastern church and was adopted by the Western church in the 4th century. ‘Little Christmas’ is so-called because under the Julian Calendar, Christmas day celebrations were held in January,whereas under the Gregorian calendar, Christmas day falls on December 25.

Twelfth Night,which coincides with Epiphany has been celebrated as the end of the Christmas season for centuries. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, Twelfth Night was one of the most  important days in the Christian calendar. Twelfth Night parties were common where participants enjoyed food and drink and games. A special Twelfth cake, the forerunner of today’s Christmas cake, was the centrepiece of the party, with a slice offered to all members of the household, above and below stairs. In 1756, The Gentleman’s Magazine reported that: the king, and his entourage ” went to the Chapel Royal at St James’ and offered gold, myrrh and frankincense” on Twelfth Night.

Some years ago I found myself in County Kerry on January 6. I was astonished to see hotels crowded with women – and no men to be seen! On enquiring, I was informed that they were celebrating ‘Women’s Christmas’ or ‘Nollaig na mBan’ in Irish. This has been a long-standing tradition in Counties Kerry and Cork, when women celebrate the end of the Christmas season, the decorations are down, the long season of preparation and cooking is over  and the women folk have a celebratory meal. It is also celebrated in Newfoundland which has a strong affinity with Ireland and in some  states of the United States of America where the tradition was kept alive  by Irish immigrants.

The fascinating thing about this tradition is that, rather than dying out like so many other traditions, its popularity has begun to grow and it is now being celebrated across the country. Women in Dublin organize lunches for their women friends, Limerick women are meeting in their own homes for lovely dinners, Sligo women are coming together to enjoy female company – women only ‘get-togethers’ are being organized all over the place! Long may it continue!

If you know of other areas where this tradition is celebrated, I would be delighted to hear about it.

Happy Nollaig na mBan (pronounced null-ag na man) to all readers!

References

Internet Archive :Gentleman’s Magazine 

bbc.co.uk

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Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish Traditions, Living in Ireland

New Year Customs in Ireland

It’s almost the New Year! The Irish word for New Year’s Day is ‘Lá Caille’ which sounds slightly different in various parts of the country – Connaught, Munster and Ulster each have their own pronunciations.  These can be heard here.

I was never aware of any particular New Year traditions when growing up in Ireland 60 years ago. A quick search on the Duchas Schools Collection* however found several references to customs that have now sadly died out. (In the Irish transcriptions the day is given as ”Lá Coille”)

 

ny5.jpgOne scholar in Kilcurry School in Dundalk tells us that church bells and fog horns of boats and ships would ring the old year out and the New Year in at 12 o’clock, whereas in another there was a practice of tolling a slow bell in the last minute of the old year before the joyful ringing in of the New.

ny1New Year memories of  Peadar Ó Cadhla  of  Ballytrisane Co. Waterford, as recorded by Maighread Ní Cadhla  (Duchas Schools Collection)

Here we learn from Peadar that the first person up that morning  makes three circuits of the house. On the first two rounds he stops at the door and says ”The Blessings of God in here”. On the final circuit he enters the house dispensing blessings to all inside who respond appropriately.

There are several references to the first visitor to the house on New Year’s Day from many parts of the country. They consistently say that if the visitor is male and dark haired there will be good luck in the house for the entire year. If the first visitor is female however there will be no luck during the year.

ny2Séan Ó Maolchaoine from Kilfenora Co Clare tells us that and if a red-haired woman is first to enter there will be no luck whatsoever in that house for the entire year. It seems that red-haired women are really bad news at this important time! The similar tradition of ‘First Footing’ (or the first foot in the house after midnight) is still common across Scotland, where the  ‘first foot ‘should be that of a dark-haired male, to bring good luck for the year.

A ‘folk belief’ or superstition is known as a ‘piseog’ or ‘pisreog’ in the Irish language. These are often associated with major events, such as May Day and many relate to farming and crops and are to do with adding to or bringing ‘luck’.  Many of these associated with New Year have now fallen out of use but they were in widespread use at the time of the Schools Collection in the 1930s.

In Kerry, Paddy Donoghue from Kilmurry school tells us that water must never be drawn from the well on New Year’s eve. It will turn to wine at 12 o’clock (which appears to be a bad thing?!) and anyone who stays up to watch the transformation will disappear! Water for the day after New Year’s Day was drawn from the well before midnight on January 1st, as anyone going to the well after this would be drowned.  It was also soin Donegal according to Hugh Cassidy of Drumbar,  who added that old people never threw anything out on New Year’s Day.  ‘All the leavings of tea’ were kept in a bucket by the dresser. Other accounts say that ashes from the fire or used dishwater must not be thrown away either as all your luck will be thrown away with them.  There was also a belief that you should never part with money on New Year’s day. These customs are associated with a wish to have a year of plenty and actions carried out on New Year’s Day would continue throughout the year.

Donegal cows and horses were given an extra sheaf of corn on the day to make them work harder and produce more milk in the coming year.

ny3There are many references to the belief that if you eat plenty on New Year’s Eve then you will have plenty to eat for the rest of the year.  In this extract, from West Waterford we learn that the doors were struck with a loaf of bread on New Year’s Eve in the belief that to do so would keep hunger away. Here too we see that the direction of the wind on the day itself was crucial..if it blows from the north Protestants will be favoured, from the south and Catholics will benefit. Also if you stay up til 12 o’clock you will see the man you will marry in the mirror. Imagine that!

One of my favourite customs was that of giving a ‘hansel’. This was a gift of money given to relations on the Monday after the New Year. It was usually a threepenny bit. The receivers of the hansel will have money throughout the year.

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The old threepenny bit – Hansel of days gone by

As 2017 draws to a close, I would like to thank everyone who has visited these pages  – over 50,300 this year. I look forward to welcoming you in 2018 and reading your own fabulous blogs. May you have a year of plenty in 2018!

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References

More information on the Schools Collection, which is part of  the National Folklore Collection can be found  here

The manuscripts are in Englsh and Irish and are easy to search and use.

 

 

 

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Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Folklore, National Folklore Collection, Schools Folklore Collection