Schools Folklore Collection – A treasure trove for family historians?

Between 1937 and 1939, the Irish Folklore Commission set up a scheme in which over 100,000 schoolchildren collected local lore and history from older generations in their locality. Most of the topics are to do with local history, folktales, legends, proverbs, songs, customs and beliefs, games and pastimes, crafts and local monuments. These stories were collated by the local National School teachers in 5,000 schools across all 26 counties in what was then the Irish Free State. This material forms part of one of the largest Folklore Collections in the world, which is in the care of University College Dublin. The Schools Collection is now being digitized by Dúchas.ie and is being rolled out online. Although not all of it has been transcribed, it is searchable by place, family name, school, topic. Many of the entries are in Irish. (I hope that these can be translated in due course so that overseas researchers may reach the wealth of information on the heritage, culture and way of life in the parishes of their ancestors.)

I spend many hours idly browsing through this collection and recently was totally astonished to discover some members of our own family. Our uncle had gathered folklore and  his informants were none other than his parents, our maternal grandparents!

This was their story on Local Marriage Customs

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The original entry in the Dúchas.ie collection

Most marriages take place from Christmas to the beginning of Lent, which time is called Shrove. June was thought a lucky month for marrying in, and May, July and August were thought unlucky. Friday, Saturday and the 28th December were thought to be unlucky days.

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Wren Boys An Irish Christmas Tradition

On December 26, Irish have celebrated ‘Wren Day’ for generations past. A look again at this post.

A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND

A Troupe of Wren Boys in Ireland (Image Creative Commons) A Troupe of Wren Boys in Ireland (Image Creative Commons)

When I first came to live in Limerick some 30 years ago, I was totally astonished to have dozens of musicians and dancers arriving into my house throughout  St Stephen’s Day, 26 December. From about 10 am onwards, they arrived. The earliest were  small groups of local children with their musical instruments, often as young as 5 or 6 years of age. The great cultural network of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, active across much of Ireland, ensures that there are musicians in abundance of all ages to take part in events. In parts of Ireland, St Stephen’s Day,or Lá Fhéile Stiofán in Irish, is known as ‘Lá an Dreoilín’, meaning the Day of the Wren or Wren’s Day. Announcing their arrival by loudly playing the bodhran (an Irish drum) as they make their way towards the door, and with barely enough time to shut the startled…

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Remembering Gaga Clinton

It was a Saturday evening in December when the phone rang. I went downstairs to answer it. Someone wanted to speak to our mother. I ran up to tell her and she returned from the phone crying. The call was to tell her that her father was ill. An hour or so later I answered the phone again. This time whoever it was said that our Gaga had died. I ran to get our mother and she was deeply upset. It transpired that Gaga had in fact dropped dead in his kitchen and the first call saying he was ill was to soften the blow for her. She needed the blow softened as just over five months earlier our 15 month old baby brother had been accidentally killed. A lot of sorrow for any mother and daughter to deal with in a short period of time. The date was Saturday December 19th 1959.

My last post here was on the occasion of the anniversary of the death of our paternal grandfather, James D. Gallagher. We never knew him as he died before any of his grandchildren were born, but we did know our maternal grandfather Christopher Robert Clinton. He was ‘Gaga’ to all of his 17 grandchildren (although I cannot be sure that all of them were born while he was alive). It is nice to have special memories of him, although the younger grandchildren do not have any. Our sister for example was aged 3 when he died and does not remember him at all.

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Christopher Robert Clinton at Newtownforbes Railway Station c.1958

On Christmas mornings in the early 1950s, we used to leave Carrigart in County Donegal after breakfast and head for Newtownforbes in County Longford to spend time with our grandparents. This journey of at least 3 hours on modern roads and in modern cars would likely have taken 5 hours or more in our little Ford Prefect. One of my earliest and happiest memories is of sitting in the back of the car next to my older brother, with my treasured hexagonal concertina, that had been dropped off Santa’s sleigh only hours earlier. It had three buttons (and three notes!) and I vividly recall grown-ups pleading with me to ‘give it a rest’, but I am certain that I proudly played it for every mile of that long journey to Nana and Gaga’s house!

In later years, when the family had become too big for long journeys to Longford on Christmas mornings, we each received a Christmas card written by Gaga, individually addressed and stamped, and containing a ten-shilling note. He had beautiful clear and recognizable handwriting. The cards duly arrived on Friday December 18th 1959 as they had done for some years before, and were received with great excitement. Little did we know that these would be the last we would ever receive from him, as the next news of him was about his death the following day. These treasured cards were carefully put away and although I am not sure where my one is, I do have the one written to our parents, and our sister still has hers.

Gaga was a great man for children and we loved to visit. He was Station Master in Newtownforbes, so we had wonderful times when we went there. Both my older brother and myself were born in this house, so it was home from home to us. We went for walks along the railway line with him and he would lift us up and press our ears against the telegraph poles to hear the wind singing in the telegraph lines; he would let us ‘issue tickets’ in the ticket office, play hide and seek in the wooden floored waiting room and let us make pretend telephone calls on the old wall mounted phone. He loved gardening and would often be found out there in his garden tending flowers and vegetables with his big dog Rex, by his side.

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Old wall mounted phone

Our Gaga, Christopher Robert Clinton, was born in Altamount Street in Westport County Mayo to John Clinton, Railway Porter and Amelia Gertrude Judge on February 2, 1889.

He died on December 19 1959 at the age of 70, just days after sending out his Christmas cards. I often wish that my own children and grandchildren had met him. He is remembered with much love, particularly at this time every year.

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Remembering our grandfather

Our grandfather James Gallagher c 1944

Our grandfather James Gallagher September 1944

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Gallaghers of Mulnamina, Glenties

The view from the top of the lane

The view from the top of the lane over looking a misty Gweebarra Bay

Earlier this year I made a return trip to the birthplace of our grandfather James Gallagher in Mulnamina, near Glenties in County Donegal. Our grandfather never knew any of his 14 grandchildren as he had died before any of us were born, yet he loomed large in our lives as we were frequent visitors to his family home, where his elder brother John and his youngest sister Maggie lived for all of their lives and who always had a warm welcome for us.
This was a place of wonder to us growing up, and we loved to visit on warm summer Sundays. Uncle John and Aunt Maggie had never married and were the last surviving members of their family of ten siblings. Situated on the side of a hill overlooking the Gwebarra Estuary, the house was well sheltered from storms and prevailing winds. There was no running water and no electricity and the kettle hung over the open turf fire on a crane. Soon after our arrival a fresh cake of bread, made in a flat oven with embers on top of the lid,was produced for our tea. There was always a choice of  homemade jams too. We piled in on a form at the table (no chairs at the table, only forms) and loved eating the fresh bread covered with beautiful jam, while  sitting there in the flag floored kitchen with the lovely scent of burning turf.

The lane up to Mulnamina

The lane up to Mulnamina

Our car was parked at the bottom of the lane, as it was not possible to drive up the steep hill, so we ran up the rest of the way. We ran across in front of the house next door, through the gate and into the warm kitchen to announce our arrival, and then away out again to explore. There were a few outhouses – a turf shed, a cow byre and a hen-house that I remember, a dog who slept in a fabulously fashioned stone kennel, a beautiful pale donkey and a long path that wound up the hill to summer pasture where the cows grazed and where white heather grew. White heather was said to be ‘lucky’ and Aunt Maggie would send Uncle John with us up ‘the mountain’ along the well-worn cattle path in search of it. Sometimes we found some, sometimes we didn’t, but we always enjoyed the search! And on every visit we implored Uncle John to go up with us, just to look for some.

In later years we learned that this was the house of our great grandparents, Daniel and Isabella Gallagher. As children it never occurred to us that anyone other than the people we met had lived there! So, who were they and what could we discover about them?

Daniel Gallagher son of John Gallagher of Mulnamina and Isabella nee Mulloy, daughter of John Mulloy of Strasallagh, Glenties were married on February 2, 1874. The Roman Catholic marriage register shows that they were first cousins. Dispensation had been granted in respect of 4th degree of consanguinity to enable them to marry in the church. The witnesses were Conal and Bridget Gallagher.

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The Latin marriage register entry, number 223, for our great grandparents, at the Roman Catholic Church in Glenties.

Daniel and Isabella had 10 children.

Ellen, born December 2, 1874 in Strasallagh. (I wonder if Isabella went home to her mother, as was the tradition in Ireland, for the birth of her first child)

John was born August 19, 1876 in Mulnamina, the place of birth of all subsequent children)

Ann born Jul 18, 1878

Mary born on June 4, 1880

Bridget arrived on June 1, 1882

Catherine born May 22, 1884

James born March 15, 1886

Sarah born September 28, 1888

Rose born August 12, 1890

Margaret born December 28, 1893

The next reference to them we can find is on the 1901 census, which can be seen here.  I remember the extraordinary emotion of seeing our great grandfather’s beautiful writing and his signature on the census return, when I first laid eyes on it a few years ago when the Irish census became available online. We can see that the elder two children, John and Ellen are not at home on census night, and that the family spoke both Irish and English. The household return shows that they had a 2nd class thatched house with three rooms and 3 windows plus 3 out buildings  –  a cowhouse, a fowl house and a piggery.

Ellen, Mary and Bridget are absent on the night of the 1911 census, which can be viewed here. Annie has been married for a year and is now Brennan. We don’t know if she was still living at home or possibly returned to her mother to give birth to her first child, or simply visiting. In this census we learn that Isabella had 10 children during 38 years of marriage and that all are still living. The house is still thatched and a barn has been added to the outhouses.

The house had been slated at some stage, and I certainly do not recall it being thatched, but it is still the original house with its three windows, one in the kitchen and one in each of the two bedrooms. The kitchen was in the middle of the house with the bedrooms at each end. It is odd to think that many were born here, that all of them lived here, and that some of them died here – here in this wee house that we knew so well.

Quorn stones from the house in Mulnamina, used to make flour. These belonged to Daniel and possibly his father before him.

Quern stones from the house in Mulnamina, used to make flour. These belonged to Daniel and possibly to his father before him.

The little house is now unoccupied and is gradually disappearing under encroaching foliage. The first view of it as I reached the gate was so familiar and the fuchsia bushes were looking splendid on what was a very wet day.

Through the gate with bated breath

Through the gate with bated breath

Unfortunately I was not able to get even the length of the house as the vegetation was too dense and as I was alone I did not want to risk having a fall.

It is strange to think that when we played here as children we had no idea in whose footsteps we were walking nor of the family history that had unfolded here. We walked in the same yard and same fields  and paths where our great grandparents had walked and worked and loved and laughed. We had played in the same places where all of our great aunts and great-uncle and grandfather had played, where they did their schoolwork by candle light or by the light of a tilley lamp, where they collected apples and eggs, and heard the sound of badgers and spoke in Irish and English. And we did not know that we were walking on paths made smooth by our ancestors.

The next references to our great grandparents and their family are to be found in death records. Four of those who lived here, also died here.

First was Isabella who died on 16 November 1925, almost 92 years ago. She was 76 years old and had been in poor health for a few years. Cause of death was chronic bronchitis and heart failure. Ellen’s husband Andrew Mc Dwyer was present at death.

Only 9 months later, their 6th child Kate died on 2 September 1926. She had suffered from TB and cardiac failure for several years. Her brother James, our grandfather, who was then living in Carrigart, was present at death. Her death may well have been expected if he made the journey back to Mulnamina in her last days. Kate was 42.

Daniel died on July 16 1929  at the age of 87, after only a short illness of influenza that developed into pneumonia. He died after 5 days. His eldest son John was present at death.

Many years later on February 26, 1966, Uncle John died just five months short of his 90th birthday. The cause of death was cerebral thrombosis and senility.His nephew Danny O’Donnell was present at death.

Uncle John Gallagher c.1964

Uncle John Gallagher c.1964

These four coffins made their last journey back down that lane that we loved to run up. The tragedy is that we do not know where Isabella, Kate and Daniel are buried as it seems no-one thought to ask.  It is very strange also that neither my father nor his siblings remembered these grandparents, although the eldest Aunt May was 12 years old when Daniel died. John is buried in the new graveyard in Glenties with Maggie who died in 1979 in Dungloe hospital.

The lane from Mulnamina

The lane from Mulnamina that took them on their last journey. ‘God rest them all’, as our father used say.

Postscript:

Our father, his sisters and brothers had no idea who their Gallagher Grandmother was, not even her name. They ‘thought’ she may have been Doherty from Lough Finn. They seemed to know nothing about her at all, in spite of the fact that as youngsters they spent summer holidays in Mulnamina. I recall our father asking one of his first cousins, Bella Brennan, if she had any idea who she was and she didn’t know. The subject often came up about who she might have been, but she remained a mystery woman. Fascinating now in hindsight as at least four and possibly five of her grandchildren were named Isabella after her! I am absolutely delighted that my own 6-year-old granddaughter Isabella, proudly carries her great great great grandmother’s beautiful name. I hope she would be pleased!

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Ireland’s Ancient East – A Review

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Ireland’s Ancient East, A Guide to Its Historic Treasures is a recently published guide to a newly designated tourist trail in Ireland featuring remarkable heritage sites in 17 different counties, that encompass about 5,000 years of history. Compiled and written by Neil Jackman, an archaeologist who has produced excellent audio guides for many of Ireland’s top historic sites, this guidebook has everything for the traveller to Ireland and a wealth of information for those of us who live here.

This is a beautifully produced book, packed with high quality colour photographs, with at least one on most of its 300 pages. Each of the 100 sites in the book has been photographed by the author and it is these photographs that are for me the stunning feature of the book. These are the hooks that may well tempt the traveller to go and seek out the amazing heritage across this island.

There is detailed historical information for each place as well as maps, site co-ordinates, distances from nearest towns, driving directions, site facilities, opening times, car parking, and entrance fees, if any.

The heritage sites are varied and range from castles, cathedrals, churches and caves, high crosses, tombs gardens and cliff walks, old copper mines, gardens, country homes, stone circles and workhouses, to name a few!

Maps, a detailed index, an extensive bibliography and a glossary of terms complete the book, which to me is not just a guidebook, but a handbook of Irish history and places worthy of a place in any book collection. This is a gorgeous visual and practical guide to some of Ireland’s ancient heritage, a useful handbook for those of us who have yet to discover some of our hidden gems, a worthy souvenir for any visitor to Ireland, or an exceptional gift for those of Irish heritage. I am happy to have it on my shelves!

 

Further information:

Ireland’s Ancient East published by Collins Press  €15 and also available as an e-book

Abarta Audio Guides

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Discovering landmarks and Family History on Blacksod Bay, County Mayo

Continuing along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, rain and low grey cloud were my only companions as I headed into this remote Irish-speaking part of County Mayo. Although visibility was reduced it was still possible to enjoy some lovely sights. The Irish-only road signs were something of a challenge at first, even though I am used to our bilingual signs here in Ireland and Irish-only signs in Donegal, and other Gaeltacht areas, these places were not familiar to me. However, once I figured out that ‘An Fod Dubh’ meant ‘Blacksod’ and that therefore ‘Chuan and Fhóid Duibh’ was Blacksod Bay, I chugged along happily in the beautiful Mullet Peninsula that protects Blacksod Bay from the worst of the Atlantic weather.

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Trá Oilí or Elly Beach

This eye catching beach is one of many big sandy beaches in the area. It sports the Blue Flag, one of the world’s most recognised eco-labels, indicating that it complies with a specific set of criteria on water quality, information points, environmental education, safety and beach management. Raining or not, this is a good beach for swimming!

Tír Sáile – the North Mayo Sculpture Trail –is the largest public arts project ever undertaken in Ireland.  Several of these sites are located here on the Mullet peninsula. This work is entitled ‘Deirbhile’s Twist’ and I like that it was formed by raising large granite boulders already lying around on the ground and arranging them into an eye catching feature. This is located at Falmore which is a beautiful location, even in the mist!

Saint Deirbhile (Dervilla) is a local saint who arrived at Falmore in the 6th Century. Arriving by donkey she was pursued by an unwanted suitor who,so the story goes, was very attracted to her beautiful eyes. Rather drastically she plucked them out to discourage him and he left, heartbroken. Water gushed from the spot where her eyes fell and after bathing her sockets her sight was restored. The ruins of her convent are here near the seashore with Deirbhile’s Well nearby. Modern day pilgrims believe that water from the well can help cure eye complaints and they come here for special devotion on August 15 each year.

Ruins of Dervilla's Monastery

Ruins of Dervilla’s Convent

And then on to the site I was particularly interested in – Blacksod weather station, situated at the end of the peninsula.

This is Blacksod Lighthouse, looking very unlike a traditional lighthouse, perched atop an old granite building that dates from 1864. This is a very significant place because it was from here that a weather report issued on 3rd June 1944 changed the course of history. The World War 2 D-Day landings scheduled for June 5th were delayed because of the hourly weather report lodged by Irish Coast Guardsman and lighthouse keeper Ted Sweeney, which indicated that there would be adverse conditions in the English Channel for the following few days. Blacksod was of particular significance because it was the first land-based observation station in Europe where weather readings could be professionally taken on the prevailing European Atlantic westerly weather systems. Ted’s report on June 3rd mentioned a rapidly falling barometer and strong winds which would have augured badly for the planned invasion. A further report from Ted at 12pm on June 4, said ‘heavy rain and drizzle cleared, cloud at 900 feet and visibility on land and sea very clear’. This meant that better weather was on the way for the south of England, and so Operation Overlord went ahead on June 6th 1944 with calm clear conditions in the English Channel.

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Plaque at Blacksod Lighthouse

There is a nice little harbour alongside the lighthouse, Termon Pier, which was almost totally deserted when I was there with only rain and wind to be heard and seen and a few currachs pulled up out of the water.

Winds were picking up the rain was relentless so it was time to leave. I was delighted that I had made the trip out here and discovered a few sights, in spite of the conditions.  Suddenly there was an incredible noise that almost deafened me and for the life of me I could not figure out what on earth it was.  On turning round I saw a helicopter had just taken off from right beside me, as  there is a Helicopter Landing base beside the Lighthouse!

A helicopter lifts off

A helicopter lifts off.

I left here very pleased with my foray into this area, and with the few treasures I had discovered. However, the Mullet Peninsula had one more surprise in store as not far along the road I  came upon Ionad Naomh Deirbhile, a local Visitor and Heritage Centre.

img_1292Although they were about to close I was invited in for tea and a homemade scone and here discovered the story of The Tuke Fund assisted emigrants. It is not always recognized that hunger in Ireland did not end with the famines of 1845- 1852 and 1879. Hunger and deprivation were a fact of life in poorer districts of the western seaboard in particular, with hundreds of families needing relief into the mid 1880s and beyond. James Hack Tuke (1819-1896) was an English Quaker who made it his mission to aid people suffering from starvation and deprivation in the West of Ireland. One of the features of the Tuke Fund assisted migration was that only entire families would be facilitated, thereby freeing up smallholdings for another family. The emigrants were provided with the fare and money to enable them settle in their new locations.  In 1883 and 1884, 3,300 emigrants left North West Mayo and Achill, boarding ships in Blacksod Bay.  They sailed on 10 separate voyages, for Boston and Quebec. There are impressive storyboards at the centre, where descendants of those who left here almost 140 years ago are welcomed. One such family arrived while I was there. It is reckoned that over 2 million people are descended from these North Mayo emigrants

The research on the Blacksod Tuke Emigration scheme was carried out by Rosemarie Geraghty, I believe for her thesis. Rosemarie has researched the 10 ships manifests that carried these families to their new lives in what she describes as the time of the  ‘forgotten famine’  and is absolutely delighted when descendants arrive here in search of their roots. I asked her what the charges are for family research and she said ‘They left here with nothing, we are never going to charge them to know where they came from.’ Rosemarie is ably assisted by Norah Cawley, a superb scone maker who makes visitors feel very welcome indeed. I have been to many a family research centre before, but never one like this – with such enthusiasm, warmth,  passion  and great scone making!

All of this information with family names  is available free to view, and is searchable under various headings, at http://www.blacksodbayemigration.ie . They just love to hear from anyone wherever in the world whose ancestors may have left this beautiful place over 130 years ago.

On what was a miserable wet grey cloudy day, how lucky was I to discover such wonderful silver linings at the Mullet Peninsula and on the shores of Blacksod Bay!  More treasures of the Wild Atlantic Way – Beidh mé arais arís!

 

St Deirbhile Stained Glass window at the Centre.

St Deirbhile Stained Glass window at the Centre.

References

http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/how-blacksod-lighthouse-changed-the-course-of-the-second-world-war-30319681.html

http://www.blacksodbayemigration.ie/

http://www.museumsofmayo.com/deirbhile.htm

 

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