Tag Archives: Carrigart

Mevagh Moments – Old Postcards tell a story

The pandemic lockdown led me down a number of ‘rabbit holes’ sorting old photographs and letters. Among the boxes were a number of old postcards of the parish of Mevagh where I grew up. Postcards were essentially the ‘text messages’ of their time and it was almost mandatory to post one to friends, neighbours and relatives from your holiday resort. Bounded on the east by Mulroy Bay, on the west by Sheephaven Bay and by the Atlantic to the north, the parish of Mevagh, on the Rosguill Peninsula, is a very popular holiday destination and dozens of postcards would be bought, written and sent from here every summer.

There were three villages in the parish – Glen, Downings and Carrigart. My old postcards are mostly of my own village of Carrigart

This is a selection, with some personal memories associated with them. It is interesting to see how the things have changed the years! Most notable of course is the absence of cars.

The postcard on the left shows the street devoid of vehicles and just above the North Star Hotel on the right is what we knew as ‘The Planting’. This was a small wood that was a magical place for children to play. We swung out of trees like Tarzans and and Janes; the bigger boys would dig holes and conceal them with branches and vegetation so that anyone treading on them would fall in; here we played ‘hide and go seek’ and Cowboys and Indians. It was a marvelous adventure playground and amenity in the village.

It looks like these photos may have been taken on two different days, but from almost exactly the same spot at the ‘bottom’ of the street, outside of what would become the North Star Ballroom. Of interest is the figure sitting on the summer seat at Andy Speer’s house – I wonder who that was? The Lucan Ice Cream sign was at Diver’s shop who sold wafers and ice cream sodas made with ice cream and soda in a tall glass. This lovely little shop also had a library where we could borrow books. Julia Diver was very generous with the size of the ice cream wafers. At this time the only other shop that sold ice cream was Walsh’s at the top of the street and they had a metal device that marked the HB block of ice cream into threepenny portions. Pure misery for children. (Especially if it was my Dad who was dispensing it in Walsh’s, they were particularly mean- or so we thought!)

The postcard on the right records a ‘tour or excursion bus’ being in town. Usually these arrived in July and August when the ‘marching season’ in the north of Ireland was at its height and catholics would go on excursions to avoid the often sectarian marches in Derry. The tourists took tea and refreshments at the North Star before moving on. Often more than one would arrive at the same time. The only time I ever recall our front door being closed was when the tour buses were in town. We had a number of strange incidents where total strangers felt entitled to walk straight onto our house just because the door was open!

A postcard on which it is stated ‘Actual Photograph by ”Nuviews” Dublin

This next postcard features a photograph taken outside from what was then McElwees shop, McElwees sold newspapers. Patrick and sister Annie operated the shop. In later years, a sister Maggie Ellen came to help out in the shop when Annie was in poor health. I remember this shop especially for the tins of biscuits with glass lids, that could be lifted up to select your biscuits and put them in a paper bag. They also sold bars of French Nougat (or nugget as we called it).

Next door was Kiely’s, another shop. I recall it as a dark place with a distinctive smell. Madge never seemed to be in the best of humour, but it was worth risking her bad form to get a Peggy’s Leg.

The car (an Austin A 40?) is parked opposite McGettigan’s. They sold spirits and when I was growing up the shop was run by sisters Birdie and Mary Rose McGettigan. This shop had a beautiful old wooden counter. They also sold ‘conversation lozenges’ – a type of hard sweet with messages written on them. I don’t recall any of the messages, but they were good value and a bag would last ages as they were so hard!

Next door, with the shop sign just visible, was Martha Speer’s. This shop was heaven as it was here that we bought our comics – Dandy, Beano, Beezer,Topper, Tiny Tots, Victor – and magazines every Wednesday. It was this shop too that first sold potato crisps in the village – the plain ones with sachets of salt in a little blue bag. We used to go there to buy them and if she had none, Martha Speer would tell us that there was a shortage of the right kind of potatoes, or even that the potato crop failed.

One of the McClafferty’s is sitting on the window at their butcher shop with a bike parked alongside. Joe McClafferty had a butcher shop her with a big wooden chopping block. We spent much time in McClaffertys as my brother was friends with Cathal. Their kitchen was always warm and Sarah was very welcoming. She had a washing board and I remember when she got a modern glass one that would rip your knuckles as well as cleaning the linen! When I think of her I think of her washing board and Sunlight soap.

McCoach’s lovely ivy covered house is beyond that surrounded by the hedge and with some trees growing in the front garden.

In the distance is a building with a corrigated roof – this was the Chemist shop. Paddy Doherty was the chemist when I was very young and he spent a lot of time in our house. When he moved on, Miss Greene was the pharmacist. This was the place where babies were weighed on the scales with a big straw basket. She invariably offered children a Glucose twist out of a big jar on the counter.

There are delivery vehicles at the North Star Hotel and the lovely ‘Planting’ dominates the street.

Another Postcard published by Wm Doherty & Sons Bridgend

This is a very strange postcard indeed! Who would want to send a postcard like this from your holidays! The woman sweeping the street beside the picket fencing is Mary Josie Griffin Sweeney. Griffins shop sold all sorts of drapery, including Donegal Handwoven Tweed. They had a beautiful display of Beleek fine bone china is the window too. This distinctive and almost translucent china came in very interesting shapes.

The interesting features of this postcard is the man with the shovel mixing something and the man crossing the street with a plank. There seems to be a pile of sand deposited near the railing of the Celtic Cross Leitrim memorial too. I wonder what was being constructed ? The Ford Prefect is parked outside Walsh’s Bar which was adjacent to the shop.

A composite of some of the previous cards, again published by Wm Doherty and Sons, Bridgend.

On the bottom right of the card, alongside the picket fence, is Griffin’s display of beautiful Donegal Tweeds. Griffins Drapery and Speers Drapery next door, displayed their tweeds outside at the front of their shops in the tourist season. Both shops also had upstairs showrooms. I think I see a display of postcards on sale at Griffins too. This was taken on a busy day in town!

In the centre of the postcard is the Carrigart Hotel. An iconic building in the village dating from about c 190, it had distinctive semi circular steps at the front door and . It was attached to a bar and grocery shop. This was an Esso petrol pump – the only one in town. This lovely original building is listed in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage here.

Carrigart had its own professional photographer in John McClafferty. John sadly died at a young age in 1981. John produced several postcards of the village.

The postcard on the left, probabaly shot on another day of tour buses, shows a busy street. McCoach’s ivy clad house with trees as seen above, has been replaced by Boyce’s Supermarket, Martha Speer’s shop is selling ice cream as well as comics and other groceries. The postcard on the right is probably the first attempt at showing off some of the lovely architecture of teh parish. The Carrigart and Rosapenna Hotels, a fine view of the beautiful Holy Trinity Church and a streetscape that shows the design of the estate village with uniform roof lines. Two more petrol pumps have arrived in town outside Griffins, together with some street lighting.

This set of old sepia postcards were produced by The Irish Tourist Association Photo – Copyright. Printed in Eire, they have ‘Ref./A and Ref , B on the reverse.

They feature scenes of Mulroy Bay, an important and beautiful feature of the parish of Mevagh.The image to the left is where the Atlantic Ocean meets the bay, on the top right is the causeway into the Leitrim Estate at Mulroy and the bottom right photo seems to be taken from a house near Bunlin. All these views are within a few miles of the village.

Another composite card with a few extras. Produced by CTC Ltd

The scenes on the right are as in the previous images. The top left view is of the Needle’s Eye – a rock formation near the shore of Downings Bay. Interestingly this does not seem to feature on modern cards at all. It was a popular spot for us years ago. The bottom left seems to be a view of Mulroy Bay from Cratlagh Woods and the centre piece seems to be a view from the Cranford area.

A postcard from Irish Scenes by A.E Dickson, Londonderry. Copyright . British Manufacture

This is rather lovely after all the black and white offerings! Mulroy Bay is an absolute treasure -a sheltered waterway with many lovely wooded islands. Sadly the fabulous views of Mulroy Bay from the Mevagh side have become obscured by vegetation in recent decades. I think this may be a view from near Cranford.

A very distinctive and unmistakable John Hinde Ltd Postcard.

The legend on the back of this postcard is an advertisement in itself! It reads: ‘Mulroy Bay is one of the most beautiful of all the bays around the Irish coast. Along its shores tiny peninsulas run into the sea- some richly clad with fir and pine and gorse- protecting the snug little coves between. From the high ground magnificent views are obtained of the bay, with its numerous wooded islands and much-indented shores. The beauty and charm of County Donegal will cast its spell over you and draw you irresistibly.’ And of course, lots of Foxgloves in summer!

The remainder of my collection are local views.

Published by Margaret Joyce Ltd, Dublin, successor to Valentine & Sons Dundee & London

I like this one as it has the stooks of corn in the fields. Nothing much would have changed here except for the method of farming.

This one is by Dickson’s ”Irish Scenes”- Copyright and Guaranteed Real Photograph

I like the stacks of turf here – I wonder if the turf was cut here or merely stacked here ?

Irish Scenes by A.E Dickson Londonderry, Copyright

I wonder is this from a painting or is it a photograph that has been coloured? The things to note here are that the road is not tarred and the Youth Hostel is not shown. So this may possibly be from the end of the 19th Century

A Valentine’s Card

This is among my favourites. The An Oige Youth Hostel was designed by the famous architect Edwin Lutyens as a hunting lodge for the Honorable Robert and Mrs Phillimore of London c 1907. After her husband’s death, Mrs Phillimore continued to visit the area. In 1910 she had the Cross erected so that the poor people could pray here and not have to walk two hours each way to the chapel in Umlagh for Mass. Canon Gavigan who was parish priest at the time, refused to bless it or have anything to do with it. No doubt he so decreed from in front of his warm fire very near to the chapel. In 1937 the Lodge was gifted to the An Oige Association and is in use ever since as a Youth Hostel. It remains a listed building.

My final two postcards are of the Boatyard on Fanny’s Bay which is in turn on Mulroy Bay. The boat building yard was established in 1910 by the Congested Districts Board. This area had a thriving herring fishing industry and Downings remains a significant landing port to this day.

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A Brave Carrigart Boy

A few years ago I came across the headstone of a young local man who had been killed in the First World War. He had also been decorated twice for bravery. He was Sgt James Fisher who grew up in Umlagh, in our parish of Mevagh, Co Donegal.

My original post can be seen below. Just recently I was contacted by Alastair Wilson, whose father Alexander was a first cousin of James Fisher. I subsequently did some more research and came across a number of newspaper articles in which James is mentioned. The first of which announced that ”A Brave Carrigart Boy” had been awarded the extremely high-level award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallantry.

DCM
Distinguished Conduct Medal
Londonderry Sentinel September 1916 (British Newspaper Archives)

The Belfast Newletter also reported the brave actions that led to the prestigious award.

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Belfast Newsletter 6 Sep 1916 (British Newspaper Archives)

Without doubt James was very brave indeed and his parents would have been very proud of him. A pride that would, needless to say, have been tempered by fears for his safety.

And their worst fears did come to pass just months later, as news of his death reached them.

News of the death of James. This article included details of a second bravery award he received, in May of that year. . (Belfast News Letter October 4 1917. British Newspaper Archives)

This newspaper article also refers to actions some months earlier in May 1917 for which James was decorated yet again, adding a bar to his Distinguished Conduct Medal. This double award is quite rare and is a measure of just how courageous James Fisher was.

Northern Whig October 1917 (Image British Newspaper Archives)
Derry Journal October 5 1917 (British Newspaper Archives)
Londonderry Sentinel October 30 1917 (Bristish Newspaper Archives)

Sadly, as can be seen from these cuttings, many families would have been impacted by these news reports of family members killed, missing, taken prisoner or wounded.

James Fisher was killed but his body was never recovered. TheTyne Cot war cemetery in Belgium has about 12,000 graves. Unfortunately, James is not among them. His name is one of 34,991 listed on the wall at the end of the cemetery. This wall commemorates those who died after August 1917 and who have no known grave. (The Menin Gate in Ypres commemorates those who died before August 17th 1917).

Alastair Wilson visited Tyne Cot and photographed the name of his cousin James Fisher on the memorial wall. I am very pleased to add this image to this post about James. Thank you Alastair!

Part of the Tyne Cot Memorial Wall on which is engraved the name of James Fisher. (Image Alastair Wilson)

References

British Newspaper Archives

This is the original post:

Discovering a Carrigart man on the centenary of his death

Just the other week, I came upon a grave in Trinity Churchyard in Carrigart, my hometown, on which was recorded a World War 1 death. Amazing to think that I grew up in a parish in north Donegal and never heard about a young local man who by the age of 23 had received two bravery awards and had given his life in the 1st World War

The Fisher Family Headstone

This family headstone in the Trinity Churchyard in Carrigart, records the deaths of three sons, two of whom predeceased their parents. One of these had two bravery awards and was killed in France in 1917.

So what is the story of James Fisher? Who was he?

James was born in Umlagh outside Carrigart on December 10, 1893, the eldest son and third child of James Fisher and his wife Helen McIlwane.

The 1901 census tells us that  parents James and Helen were living in Umlagh with their 7 children, Rachel aged 10, Margaret 9, James 7, Kezie 5, Alexander 4, John 2 and David 6 months and James’ brother John. The census record can be seen here.

By 1911, David, born on October 9, 1900, had died in 1905, Rachel and Margaret were no longer living at home, but the family had 5 new members. The household at that time consisted of father James, mother Helen and John senior as well as  young James, now 17, Kezie who was 16, Alexander who was 14, John who was 12, and new arrivals Annie aged 9, Margery 7, Catherine Susan aged 5, Aaron who was 3 and another David, then only 2 months old, born on January 21, 1911.  The 1911 census record for the family can be seen here.

James enlisted in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and then transferred to the Machine Gun Corps, specializing in, as the name suggests, machine gun duties.   In 1916 Lance Corporal James Fisher was awarded the Distinguished  Conduct Medal, (the DCM,) for gallantry and the news was carried in The Derry Journal in September of that year.

From The Derry Journal of September 6, 1916

The citation for this award was as follows:

‘18679 Actg. L/Cpl J Fisher Mach. Gun Corps (LG 22 Sept. 1916)

For conspicuous gallantry in action. When his seniors had become casualties he took command of the gun team and pushed forward. Later he took  his gun into a shell hole, caught the enemy in the open , and drove back their counter attack.’

The Distinguished Conduct Medal

DCM

James was a very brave young man as he was again recognized for gallantry winning another Distinguished Conduct Medal or  ‘Bar’.  The 207th Machine Gun Company was attached to the 3rd Australian Division between October 1916 and October 1917 and it was during this time that he won the second award. The citation for his second or ‘bar’ award of the DCM  is as follows:

A/Corpl James Fisher D.C.M. For conspicuous gallantry on the night of 17/18 May 1917, when in charge of a Machine Gun in very exposed position on ?? the enemy attempted a raid of ? Gap at the same time heavily bombarding ? . No 18679 Corporal J Fisher at once opened fire on his S.O.S target ‘D’ Gap(?) and continued to fire although shells were bursting all around his position, and in spite of the fact that he received blows on the head and in the small of the  back from shrapnel. Owing to the protection of his steel helmet and belt respectively, the only injuries received were bruises. His sub-section(?) officer tried to persuade him to be relieved at the gun, but he stuck to his post till the situation became normal, although in a dazed and deafened state. After the raid was over he wanted to stay with his gun, but was ordered by his officer to go to Section Headquarters for the night. Besides materially helping to repel the raid, the example set to the N.C.O.s and men of this Company will have a far reaching effect

This recommendation is recorded is the 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Australian Division on 22 May 1917.

However his luck ran out and Sergeant James Fisher, DCM bar Service No. 18679, was killed  on September 25, 1917, probably at the Third Battle of Ypres. At this time it appears that the Machine Gun unit was no longer attached to the Australian forces. James probably died around Polderhoek Chateau Ridge on the morning of September 25, 1917, when the British  were about to launch their own attack.

In a History and memoir of the 33rd Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps, the events of the fateful day are recorded;

By 12 midnight on the 24th-25th September …the 207th Machine Gun Company..was ordered to be in position by 1 a.m on the morning of the 25th, about 159 yards behind our front posts..  About 3.30 on the morning of the 25th, the enemy opened a bombardment of hitherto unparalleled intensity upon our front.

The 207th Company, which…was close behind our front line grouped in batteries, opened fire with sixteen guns at almost point blank range into the massed hordes of the enemy. The enemy was concentrated behind Polderhoek Chateau Ridge… Low flying enemy aeroplanes soon, however, detected  (them) and both by machine gunning and directing artillery upon the 207th Machine Gun Company, the enemy inflicted very severe casualties amongst the gunners’

The body of James Fisher was never found, possibly blown to bits. He is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial for the missing, as his grave is not known.  He is one of 34,992 young men whose remains were never recovered and whose names are inscribed on this wall.

Tyne Cot Memorial
The Tyne Cot Memorial stands around the eastern boundary of the Tyne Cot Cemetery near Ieper in Belgium, (Image Commonwealth Graves Commission).

At the time of his death, James was owed £45/10/5 plus a war gratuity of £16/10/0 which sum was paid to his father on November 15 1919. Not much consolation for the terrible loss of a beloved son.

When researching this post, I made a table of  the men from our parish of Mevagh, either born there or who had lived there at one time, and was astonished to find so many who had died between 1914 and 1918. This data has been extracted from the County Donegal Book of Honour, The Great War 1914-1918. These records are confined to deaths in the years 1914 to 1918 only and do not include, for example, a Mevagh man who is buried in Clontallagh who died in 1919.

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The statistics are quite startling. In 1914, 2 men from  our parish died, 3 died in 1915, 1 in 1916. In 1917, 9 died – 4 of them in a 4 week period alone (and one on the same day as James Fisher) – and 7 died in 1918.

It would be interesting to cross reference the data in the book with the civil records  and census records now online and to include those who died from wounds after the 1918 cut off date. and to find their  military records.

Sergeant James Fisher D.C.M (Bar) of Umlagh is the most decorated of these Mevagh men and he lost his life 100 years ago. He deserves to be remembered as a son of our parish, as indeed, do all of these men who lost their lives in  that conflict.

There is, I understand, a commemorative plaque in the Carrigart Presbyterian Church. I must try to get  a photo, if that is allowed.

THE PITY OF WAR!

Sources

County Donegal Book of Honour, The Great War 1914-1918. 

Australian War Memorial at https:/www.awm.gov.au/collection/R1590453

http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/1631955/fisher,-james/.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action _of _25- September_1917

https:/archive.org//stream/historymemoirof300unse#page/32/mode/2up/searfch/207th

Ancestry.com UK Army Registers of Effects 1901-1929

With thanks to Damian Shiels, Military Historian, for his help in sourcing information for this post. 

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Birthday Remembrance J.D Gallagher

On this day, 3rd February, 1886, our grandfather James was born to Isabella Molloy and Daniel Gallagher in their little house on the side of a mountain in Mulnamina, near Glenties County Donegal. He was their 7th child (of 10) and their second son. I like to think that his was a joyful day in their family in spite the fact that it was hard work for them to feed another mouth on their small farm.

Our grandfather James Gallagher c 1944
J D Gallagher Passport photo September 1944 (Image thesilvervoice)

He died on November 26 1944 from Typoid Fever aged 58.

He was the father of five children, one of whom, my uncle James Patrick Gallagher was named after him.

He never knew any of his 14 grandchildren, (one of these was also named after him – my brother James Daniel). 12 grandchildren survive, with the other two buried beside him in the family grave in Carrigart.

Of his 13 great grandchildren, one, James Day also has his name.

At this point he has 13 great great grandchildren and probably counting….

I often wonder if future generations of his descendants will be curious about him and hopefully they will find this blog!

James Daniel (JD) Gallagher 3, Feb 1886 – 26, November 1944

Headstone of my grandfather J D Gallagher at St John the Baptist Graveyard, Carrigart.

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Paddy Vaughan – one of a kind.

On March 17, 1931 Paddy was born. Today on March 17, 2019 he is no longer with us, having called time on February 13th last, just 32 days or so before his 88th birthday.

Paddy Vaughan 1931 – 2019
(image via Brendan Vaughan)

Every neighbourhood has a small number of people who make a disproportionate contribution to their community. They may selflessly volunteer time for local initiatives or charity work; they may be genial local sports personalities, or people dedicated to older people, or to their church. Either way they all make a great difference to other people around them. Beyond that there is a handful of others – ‘characters’ who are magnets for people around the place – their neighbours, fellow parishioners, people from neighbouring parishes and occasional visitors. An acquaintance of thousands, and friend of many from near and far, from all walks of life. Such was Paddy Vaughan.

Paddy was for many years our door neighbour, when they lived at the top of the street and before they moved up in the world, to the top of Figart. My younger siblings lived in their house, because they were of a similar age with Paddy’s children. My other brother and I were a few years older. At the time my family took the emigrant boat, there were five Vaughan children. Paddy was a handyman – if you needed anything done, he was the man. He cruised about on his motorbike dispensing handiwork, local gossip and wisdom in equal measure. He drove lorries to the hill to get the turf as as well as driving the local big cars for the owners.

Paddy making a St Brigid’s Cross
(Photo via Brendan Vaughan)

Paddy had an encyclopedic brain and an astonishing memory. He certainly could spin a yarn and knew more about people in the parish than anyone. (It could be said that maybe he knew more about them than they knew about themselves.) He was no saint and there was more than a bit of divilment about him. A great entertainer too, who probably never knew just how good he was at lifting spirits and having the craic. This is why so many liked and enjoyed his company and sought him out whenever they could. There was a constant stream of callers to his house, people looking for good company and a good chat. He was a one-stop-shop for knowledge and well being.

Last year again, I was fortunate enough to have a wee visit with him in September. My cousin Gerry Coyle was with me and Paddy had not seen him in many decades, yet he knew him instantly! I was totally astonished and Gerry was totally chuffed.

September 2018 Me, Paddy and Cousin Gerry

Paddy’s death has left a huge void in the community and in the hearts of his friends. But that is as nothing compared to the loss to his 11 children and to his grandchildren.  Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

If a parish can commemorate a local midwife, a local doctor and a local historian because of their expertise and service to the community, I would like to think that it could include an ‘ordinary’ man in their roll of honour, a man who served so many in the community so well for so long. Paddy Vaughan, Character, Entertainer, Oral Historian, Memory Man, Friend and Companion to hundreds.

Now that was community service!


 bheidh a leithéid ann arís.

Here again is my blog about Paddy for his 87th Birthday in March 2018.

Paddy Vaughan, a local legend.

Today March 17, is St Patrick’s  Day in Ireland. Many male children born on this day have Patrick as their Christian name. One of those, living in the village that I call home in the north of County Donegal, will mark his 87th birthday today on 17 March 2018.

He is not known as Patrick at all, but as Paddy. Not only Paddy, but for many, many years of my life, he was ‘Young’ Paddy as his father was also Paddy, or ‘Old’  Paddy. ‘Old’ Paddy –  or to be more accurate ‘Ould’ Paddy in the Donegal pronunciation – died not long before Christmas in 1967 and I am not sure when ‘Young’ Paddy became known as simply ‘Paddy’ Vaughan.

mulroy school.JPG
10 year old Paddy

Paddy was well known for his ‘tall tales’, many of which were totally outrageous, some of which were totally unbelievable and all of which were hilariously funny. He had a most astonishing imagination. He took no prisoners and spared no one when it came to the ‘main characters’ in these wild imaginings.

Vaughans were our next door neighbours in Carrigart, and in the way of it in small villages, Paddy was almost a member of our family. He often came with us on Sundays to visit our father’s extended network of aunts and cousins in Fanad.  With his trademark cap and ever present pipe, he would drive Pat Gallagher’s big Dodge into which we would pile to go to Fanad, or for an annual trip to the funfair and the Helter Skelter at Portrush. When our aunt came to Ireland for the first time in 18 years in the 1950s, Paddy drove us all the way from Carrigart to meet her in Athlone. Quite a trip back then.

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Paddy with our father and two of my brothers on a Sunday outing to Fanad. 1965

Our father thought the world of Paddy and they seem to have spent a lot of their time laughing and enjoying each others company. For years Paddy took to the street when the wind got high. Strong wind was a feature of life in north Donegal as gales were common especially in winter. Paddy would don his crash helmet and leave the house at the first sound of strong wind. He  was fearful of the chimney being blown off the house so felt it was safer to be outside. It was a wonder that he was never struck by flying slates!

Paddy always thought outside the box. Our brother Noel and his buddies, Andrew Speer and John Boylan, got lost when they were tiny wee boys of three or four. They had been missing a few hours when word came that they were sighted crossing the lee and headed for the sandy hills. The search moved there with everyone spread out calling their names. I can still see Paddy Vaughan way to my left on his big bicycle. Nobody would think of riding a bicycle on grass,through the impossible terrain of sand dunes and rabbit holes, but Paddy did. And he found the three little strays on the Rosapenna golf links, about to make their way to the shore at Tramore. There’s no doubt that the outcome could have been much worse but Paddy was the hero of the hour.

In September last I spent some time with Paddy. He is a fountain of knowledge and has the most amazing capacity for remembering details and people and events. I was absolutely gobsmacked when he said that he was there in the same room when our grandfather became ill. He said that our grandfather, J.D. Gallagher, was sitting next to the fire when he suddenly got sick. A short time later he would be dead, having contracted typhoid fever. Paddy said that two brothers from Carrick died of typhoid at about the same time.  Paddy would have been a teenager then but would have known our grandfather quite well as he taught him at school. J.D. spent a lot of time in Vaughan’s house too as he collected stories from Paddy’s grandmother, as can be seen here.

Paddy is now enjoying life as one of the village elders and his memory is legendary. We wish him the happiest of birthdays, with many more to come and the good health to enjoy them.

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There are raisins (reasons) for everything and currants for bread

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Mary Vaughan of Carrigart. A formidable woman who regaled our grandfather with her tales that were included in the Duchas Schools Collection recorded in the 1930s.

This post has been updated in July 2017 to include a photograph of the key player, Mary Vaughan of  Carrigart and to commemorate the anniversary of her death on July 5 1953, 64 years ago,  She would now be aged 145!

In a previous post  I wrote about finding reference to our family transcribed in the 1930s Schools Folklore Collection for Newtownforbes, Co Longford. I have now taken a look at the collection from schools in the parish of Mevagh/Rosguill where I grew up in County Donegal, to get an overview of what treasures are here, and to take a closer look at the stories from Mulroy school where our grandfather taught. It has been a fascinating journey of discovery at a social and personal level!

There were eight schools in the parish of Mevagh/Rosguill, in north County Donegal catering for children from the ages of about 5 to 15. The parish schools listed are Manorvaughan, Derryhassen, Gortnabrade, Glen, Carrigart, Aghadachor, Kinnalargy and Mulroy. (See links at the end of this post).  The collections for Aghadachor and Manorvaughan Schools are all in English, with some stories in English from the Carrigart school too. All others are in Irish in the old Irish script.

Some of these schools had teachers who were still teaching us in the 1950s and 1960s. Pat McFadden (known as Big Pat) for example was the teacher at Carrigart School when the stories were being collected and still taught there in the 1960s.

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Plaque at Carrigart School. (Image )

Tom McGinley was the teacher in Derryhassen in the 1930s, and he was still teaching in Gortnabrade School in the 1950s.

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Gortnabrade National School extension. The original building is older. (Image Thesilvervoice)

How fascinating to read of significant local events and how people coped with famine and floods; to see names of people who were drowned in various accidents or shipwrecks  – all woven into local tales and stories. I particularly loved the stories of people who excelled and astonished their neighbours…great walkers, jumpers, runners, swimmers, divers, dancers. A local lady walked to Derry and back the following day in bare feet,(80 miles?)  and someone else who was a great Irish dancer, danced on top of Lackagh Bridge!

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Lackagh Bridge. Co. Donegal. You would not want to fall in here if dancing on the wall!  (Image Wikimedia Commons)

And these stories were recounted by people whose family names were very familiar in the area when we lived there, some 50 years later, such as McGettigans of Glenree, Dennisson from Drumdutton, Hall of Aughalatty, McBride of Tirlaughan, Boyces of Tullagh to name just a few. Much of the collection is beautifully handwritten by the pupils themselves with the name and age of the informant usually given at the end of each piece. The pages below for example are the work of Cyril Hall from Aughalatty.

In these copybook pages, you can discover that not one but several townlands in the parish seem to have a pot of gold hidden under a rock! Devlinreagh gets a particular mention.  (Why would you bother doing the Lottery?). Then there were the superheroes of their day….Danny Coyle from Glenree who could dive 60 feet under water, a man who could cut 3 acres of hay with a hook in spectacular time, William McCorkle from Audhachor who could lift seven hundredweight on his back, two great runners, James McClure from Dunmore and James McBride from Carrick, and John Coyle from Kill who could jump 16 feet over a river! I particularly love the entries that describe names of fields, rocks etc in several townlands, such as seen below from Glen school. I wonder if any of these names are still in use?

Here too we learn of personal tragedies. Kate Boyce of High Glen was killed by a flash of lightning; three McCorkell children drowned on Tramore strand when they were cut off by the tide; John Coyle of Glenereragh died of the big flu in 1918 and the bodies of 5 shipwrecked men were buried in Carrigart. (This last story is new to me and I must get more information about it..can anyone help?)

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Mulroy National School where our grandfather James D Gallagher compiled the stories collected by his pupils from older family members and neighbours.(Image thesilvervoice)

When the Schools Folklore Collection was undertaken, our grandfather James D Gallagher was the school principal at Mulroy National School. Rather than have the children write the stories in their own hand, he seems to have undertaken all the transcriptions himself as I recognize his handwriting from the margins of books that used to be in our house. I wonder why? Perhaps he had a deadline to meet? The school closed in 1966. We were pupils here for some years, with Enda Ward as Principal,  but never knew our grandfather who died in 1944.

One of the more prolific sources of information in our grandfather’s School Collection was a lady named Maire Ni Bhaughan, who was then aged 67. I am not sure where she lived in the 1930s, but during our younger days she was our immediate neighbour at the top of the village. I remember her fairly well as a shawled old lady sitting in the corner in the kitchen and I seem to recall someone saying that she smoked a pipe! She died on July 5 1953, when I was 5 years old.

Mary Vaughan or Maire Ni Bhaughan told of cures, placenames, landlords, how the robin got a red breast and how the donkey got the cross on its back. She told of buying and selling outside the chapel after Mass before there were shops; she gave a recipe for boxty and listed the native animals about the place including badgers, squirrels, weasels, foxes and ‘mada uisce’, the otter.  She told a story of three boys who were at a dance and had to walk through a wood to get home. A badger came out of his den, and one after another 7 more of them appeared.The boys were terrified and ran away. She also tells that there were two people over 70 at the time (in the village or townland?)  – a McClafferty woman and Peter McBride.

I remain intrigued that so much of the collection from Mulroy school has been provided by Mary Vaughan, and equally intrigued by the fact that there is usually no pupil recorded as the collector, indicating that it is likely that our grandfather spent a lot of time with her listening to her recollections and stories. That he enjoyed them is beyond question as it is possible to see the humour shine through. There is one page in particular that lists local old ‘sayings’  (without attributing to anyone in particular) . Included here is a brilliant ‘Go Pettigo leat’ – To Pettigo with you – a dismissive phrase apparently that I certainly never heard of.  (Pettigo is a village in the south of the county).

As with all of the Mulroy collection, every word is recorded in Irish  –EXCEPT for a little phrase here in English that says:

There are raisins (reasons) for everything and currants for bread. (Mary Vaughan Carrigart)

duchas-page

From Mulroy Collection..all in Irish apart from ‘There are raisins(reasons) for everything and currants for bread’ The immortal words of Mary Vaughan, Carrigart.

So how special was that to have her own quotation recorded and attributed to her in English?

There is one other spectacular entry attributed to her. It tells of Leprechauns and Fairy Folk.

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P110 Mulroy school. Leprechauns and ? A story from Mary Vaughan

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One of Mary Vaughan’s stories – the ultimate in ‘duirt bean liom’! Last paragraph:This is the best proof we have that there are fairies:- I myself heard a woman saying that a woman told her that she heard her grandmother saying that she heard a woman saying that a woman told her that she herself saw a fairy. (p111. Image Duchas)

She describes the ‘small things’ with their blue coats and red hats and how a man went off to cut a  stick to make a fishing rod. Taken ill when cutting it, he went home and did not return for some years when he was out looking for a stake to tie his cows. He recognized the stick as the one he began cutting years earlier. He brought it home and tied up the cow but by morning she was dead. A further 3 cows met similar fates until he threw the stake away and no more cows died. It’s the entry at the end of his story that is so intriguing. Translated, it goes like this:

”This is the best proof we have that there are fairies:-

I myself heard a woman saying that a woman told her that she heard her grandmother saying that she heard a woman saying that a woman told her that she herself saw a fairy”

I can’t help but wonder if the first sentence is inserted by our grandfather, and is tongue in cheek, or did Mary with a glint in her eye recite it exactly as written? We will never know!

But what we do know is that our grandfather and Mary Vaughan spent a lot of time talking and listening and recording her social scene. Little did they know that their efforts would see the light of day decades later and their descendants would have a chance to step back in time and share their times together. Mary Vaughan obviously had a talent for story and tale-telling, one that was passed on to her grandson Paddy, who became something of a legendary yarn spinner in his own lifetime and who continues to regale many a listener with his stories still!

What a truly wonderful resource the Duchas Schools Folklore Collection is, and what a wonderful way to learn about our places and our ancestors!

The original school pages for our parish can be seen by clicking the links below.

1078 Aghadachor (Aghador) Aghadachor, Co. Donegal
An Mhaol Rua (Mulray) Mulroy, Co. Donegal
Manorvaughan Rawros, Co. Donegal
Doire Chasáin Derrycassan, Co. Donegal
1079 Doire Chasáin Derrycassan, Co. Donegal
Ceann an Largaigh Kinnalargy, Co. Donegal
Gortnabrade Gortnabrade, Co. Donegal
1080 An Gleann Glen, Co. Donegal
Carraig Airt Carrickart, Co. Donegal
Rosguill & Doe Branch I.N.T.O. ) Rosguill, Co. Donegal

In Memoriam:

James D Gallagher died November 26  1944 aged 59 years

Mary Vaughan (Nee McGinley) died  July 5 1953 aged 81 years

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Mary Vaughan, The star of the show in the Multoy National School  Collection.

References:

All images from The Schools Collection are by courtesy of Duchas.ie

They can be contacted at http://www.duchas.ie

The image of  Mary Vaughan  Nee McGinley is used courtesy of her great-grandson Kevin Vaughan of Carrigart. The original photo we understand was taken by local photographer John McClafferty.

Postscript

Duchas is looking for people to transcribe this collection. It could be possible to collate it into a local resource at the same time? To my amazement, many people nowadays are unable to read ‘cursive’ writing. (This issue is often raised on genealogy sites that I follow especially since the release of the Catholic Church and the Irish civil records online). So those of us of a certain vintage need to get at it!

The English cursive writing challenge is one thing, but the old Irish script and spellings from the 1930s pose a different challenge altogether. In my opinion, these are best transcribed by native speaking locals who recognize place names and ‘turns of speech’ in common use in the locality!

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Folklore, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Irish legends, Irish Traditions, Local History, National Folklore Collection, Schools Folklore Collection

A Family Milestone

Our Family Elder and his pushchair

Our Family Elder and his pushchair (go-car)  in a hay field

Proud parents of their firstborn JDG

Proud parents of their firstborn JDG

Family History is by its nature historic, but of course present day events will too become history as soon as they have passed. With this in mind, I thought it appropriate to mark a family milestone on these pages, in the hope that it may be of interest to the upcoming generations when and if they choose to look us up!

Our grandparents James D Gallagher and Mary O’Friel were married on September 20th 1915 at Edeninfagh Church outside Glenties, County Donegal. (about which, more later) .

Marriage portrait of our grandparents JD Gallagher and Mary Friel

Marriage portrait of our grandparents JD Gallagher and Mary Friel taken in September 1915. Note that she is holding her ‘marriage lines’ as they were known.

They went on to have five children, who were our parents, aunt(s) and uncles. Aunt May was born in 1917, Aunt Eileen in 1919, our father Gerard was born in 1921, Uncle Sean arrived in 1923 and finally Uncle Jim arrived in 1925.

These five children in turn went on to have their own children, which is our generation. As Aunt May was a Religious Sister she did not have any family. Aunt Eileen had three children, our Dad had six ,Uncle Sean had four and Uncle Jim had one. All of that generation have sadly left us. Their 14 children make up the ‘present generation’ of Gallaghers. Unfortunately, Aunt Eileen’s first little daughter died just weeks old in 1946. She was the eldest in our layer of Gallaghers. The next-born was our brother who was born in Newtownforbes, County Longford in February 1947 and therefore he holds the title of ‘Family Elder’, being the eldest grandson and eldest surviving grandchild of JD and Mary. Of the 14 grandchildren only 12 of us survive as our baby brother, the youngest in our family also died in 1959 at the age of 15 months.

Unfortunately our Gallagher Grandparents did not know any of us as they both died very young, some years before any of us were born.  In fact when our grandmother died her own 5 children were aged  5, 7, 9,11 and 13.  So this is a nice time to remember both of them as our current ‘Elder’ who also bears the initials JDG, celebrates a big birthday.

The birthday boy, JDG, watched over by a proud father (and a younger sister) at the back of Figart in 1948

Our grandparents would now be great great grandparents to a number of beautiful little children, as our generation of siblings and first cousins have become grandparents too.

Tramore with a younger sister and brother in 1959

Tramore with a younger sister and brother in 1959

Two family portraits..one pre 1956 the other in 1959

So as we look back a number of generations and look forward at the newer couple of generations, it seems a good time to acknowledge our current family elder! Happy birthday JDG!

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Filed under Family History, Ireland, My Oral History

Remembering Aunt May.

James Gallagher and Mary Friel with their firstborn, Mary Isabella Gallagher in 1917

James Gallagher and Mary Friel, our grandparents, with their firstborn, Mary Isabella Gallagher in 1917

On  May 17, 1917 our aunt May was born at her grandparent’s house in Pollaid, Fanad Co Donegal. At that time her father James Gallagher  was teaching in Templedouglas National School in Glenswilly. As was quite usual then, the expectant mother returned to the home of her parents to give birth. Mary Isabella (always known as ‘May’) was  christened on the same day as she was born, at St Columba’s Church in Tamney. The godparents (sponsors) were Anna Friel, Mary’s sister and her brother Francis.

Baptismal certificate

Baptismal certificate.

The birth was not registered in the civil register until July and we can see that her mother’s sister, Susan McAteer, was present when Aunt May arrived into the world.

Civil birth registration

Civil birth certificate.

Aunt May left Ireland in February 1938 to join a religious teaching order, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, in the south of England. At that time, it was understood that religious sisters would not ever return to their family home, so it was knowing this that the 20-year-old bravely boarded a bus in her home village of Carrigart, Co Donegal on a cold February morning. She told me years later that she was crying as she did so, and that the local priest came on to the bus and ordered her to stop crying, but also very kindly said to her ‘If you don’t like it, you don’t have to stay.’  This she said, gave her great courage and it was something she repeated to herself many times a day for years afterwards. But her mother had now died and she felt compelled by the special promise she had made to her. She also told me, something that astounded her brothers and sister, that when she was only 7 years of age, her mother asked her if she would become a nun, and she promised her that she would.  She told me that this was a conversation they had as they waited for the bucket of spring  water to fill at the local ‘spout’. While this may seem astonishing to modern readers, it was considered a great honour to have a daughter enter a convent,or to have a son who became a priest.  Her first wish was to join the Sisters of Nazareth in Derry only 40 miles away and to become a nurse. However, she had a first cousin who was already in the Sisters of Notre Dame, and she was prevailed upon to join that order instead.

imageShe had an interesting, sometimes sad and often joyful life, but  in later years suffered ill-health.  More about her will be posted  in a future blog. I was fortunate to spend her last four days by her bedside. I went to see her early in the morning before I had to get a flight back to Ireland. When I arrived home that afternoon, I picked up the phone to enquire about her, to be told that she had died earlier in the day. She died on May 10 2007 and was buried on May 15 2007 in Dumbarton Scotland, just days short of her much-anticipated 90th birthday.

She continues to be sadly missed by the writer and by my aunt and cousins who knew her very well. She is especially remembered today, on what would have been her 99th birthday.

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Memories: A picture paints a thousand words

Carrigart Hotel today. (Image courtesy of Donegal Cottages

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Friel’s Family and Commercial Hotel

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

Carrigart now

Carrigart Hotel as it is today

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

 

With special thanks to

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Ireland, Living in Ireland, My Oral History

One of these days: A Winter Solstice Birthday

Newgrange. Aligned with the rising sun whose light floods the chamber on the winter solstice. Image Wikimedia Commons
Newgrange. Aligned with the rising sun whose light floods the chamber on the winter solstice. Image Wikimedia Commons

‘One of these days’ is a phrase that trips off many an Irish tongue and whose meaning is clearly understood as being ‘sometime in the near future’. I was not so sure if this is the case across all the English speaking world, so a quick Google came up with the following: “One of these days” is an idiom that behaves like an adverb. It’s basically a drop-in replacement for “someday,” meaning something like “at some unspecified point in the future”. So there we have it!

‘One of these days’ goes around in my head at this time of year for two reasons, both of which are ingrained in my DNA.

Growing up in North Donegal with its dark star-filled skies meant that we were reasonably familiar with celestial goings-on, especially in winter. We spent many an hour out in the backyard with our mother, identifying the Milky Way, Orion’s Belt, The Plough, and The Seven Sisters as well as the occasional passing comet with its long tail. She would say ‘One of these days now you will see shooting stars if you are good’. Shooting Stars cropped up at reasonably regular times and wowed us as we headed over the barrack-brae towards Carrigart chapel for October Devotions, or to pray for the Holy Souls in November. Or, she might say: ‘One of these days now, you might see the Aurora Borealis’. The very sound of it was magic, that matched the dancing colorful waves in the sky! And so too with the Winter Solstice…’One of these days the sun will have gone as far away as it can go and will turn back to us and the days will begin to lengthen’. In days predating electricity in our houses, with only battery operated wirelesses and newspapers to inform us, we never knew exactly when these events might take place, but we knew when it was ‘one of these days’!

Solstices and equinoxes fall in March, June, September and December, some on the 20th or maybe the 21st or perhaps the 22nd or possibly even the 23rd. Who could possibly keep track of them, and which date referred specifically to which event? Old Moore’s Almanac was stocked in Speer’s shop at Christmastime and brought home. As it contained dates and predictions for the upcoming year, it didn’t help with the exact time of the winter solstice for the current year. And then, by the time we needed to consult it for other celestial events it was lost, probably having been thrown away in disgust when the first prediction of ten feet of snow that would close all schools for the month of January never materialized. So, on ‘one of these days’ we marked these wonderful events in Donegal. On, or around about, the correct dates.

Another event in our house was marked in a similar fashion. It too was a moveable feast, a winter, and December event, but not one we could check up in Old Moore’s Almanac. It was my father’s birthday. I often asked him, ‘what is your birthdate?’ and he said he wasn’t sure. He said his birth certificate said one thing, his baptismal certificate said another and his mother never agreed with either of them. So he spent his entire life being confused about it and confusing all of us around him. ‘Ah, it’s one of these days’, he would say, when all we knew was that it was going to happen in the days coming up to Christmas.

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Dad was born in a small house in Templedouglas, Glenswilly, County Donegal in December 1921. He was the first son to my grandparents, James Gallagher a National School teacher in Templedouglas, and my grandmother Mary Friel, a seamstress from Pollaid in Fanad. He was the first brother of my Aunts May and Eileen. My grandfather had been born in Mulnamina, Glenties, so both he and his wife were relative newcomers and blow-ins to Glenswilly. My aunt Eileen had been born here two years earlier, so they had been living in the area for at least two years that we know of. In the days before hospital confinement, home births were the norm. The midwife would have been sent for and kettles of water put on to boil. My aunts often told me that Dad was ‘frail’. I wonder was it a troublesome birth? Was his life in some danger when he was born? Or maybe his mother was very unwell following the birth and everyone was concerned for her welfare. In any event, something gave rise to confusion about his birthdate. If he was at risk, he may have been baptized immediately. Registration may have been delayed. A church baptism may have taken place at a later date, but the norm would have been for baptism within three days of birth. We will never know.

Today, December 21 is being heralded at the Winter Solstice in these northern climes. However, to be absolutely pedantic about it, this year, 2015, the Winter Solstice will happen tomorrow, December 22. (Update – the exact time of the 2018 winter solstice will be 22:23 in Ireland). The winter solstice happens most often on December 21, but also sometimes on December 22nd and rarely on December 23rd.

Dad’s birth certificate here before me, states that he was born on December 22,1921. The 1921 Winter Solstice occurred on December 22 at 7 minutes past 9 am. I often wonder if in fact he may have been born just at that time, just right at the solstice? Again, we will never know.

So, on ‘one of these days’ in December 2015, I  want to celebrate what would have been my father’s 94th birthday. I want to celebrate the solstice ‘new beginnings’ that would have given him great joy: His children in Donegal, Dublin, Perth Western Australia and Cork; his grandchildren in Dublin, Dubai, Cork, Limerick,Waterford and Western Australia; his great-grandchildren in Western Australia, in Dublin, in Limerick and soon to be in Skerries in Dublin. How proud he would have been! A winter solstice? A solstice birthday? New Beginnings? Yes!

Entrance to Newgrange. It is here that the Winter Solstice sunrise shafts of light enter the passage. Image Wikimedia Commons

At the winter solstice here in Ireland (weather permitting), at the astonishing Newgrange Stone Age Passage Tomb in the Boyne Valley, County Meath, the shafts of solstice sunrise will light up the chamber to mark the turning of the year. Across this island, there are ancient groups of standing stones aligned to capture the rays of light from the winter solstice sun, so this event has been of significance for thousands and thousands of years. How nice to think that Dad was born on ‘one of these days’, at such a significant time in 1921.

Happy Solstice to you all,  and Happy Birthday to Dad!

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Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Ireland, Ireland Seasons, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish History

Meeting Eithne

In June 2011, I put the name ‘Eithne’ and a slightly unusual surname into a search on Facebook. Two pages were returned – one person from Belfast was not who I was looking for, but the second one showed promise. And so I emailed – ”Are you the person who was with me at the St Louis Convent Boarding school in Dundalk, Co Louth, Ireland?” And back came the response –  ”Yes, I am ! ” This was one of the amazing moments I have enjoyed since becoming ‘e-inclusive’ as the EU likes to call it! Imagine! Finding someone who was a very special part of my life almost 5 decades ago!

Eithne hails from County  Monaghan, a county bordering  Northern Ireland to the south,  and I was from County  Donegal,  a county that also borders  Northern Ireland to the  north-west, so  we already had something in common!   We two Ulster women found ourselves deposited as 13 year olds in a convent boarding school run by the St. Louis Sisters in Dundalk Co Louth – many miles from Eithne’s Castleblayney  home and even more  from mine in faraway Carrigart, County Donegal.

school

Some of the dormitories were in the Castle on the left

It was 1961. Boarding school had serious disadvantages –  nights of lonely crying into the pillow as we faced into three terms of endless weeks  missing family and friends and home; months of rising at 7 am; months of cold water for washing ‘everywhere two skins meet’; months of seemingly endless  study; months of endless  praying. Add to the mix:  no boys ; no privacy as only curtains separated our ‘alcove’  sleeping spaces – each containing  a single bed, a chair, a locker with a towel rail  topped by a green plastic basin and beaker,  as well as a single  wardrobe. This was ‘home’ for up to 14 or 16 weeks at a time, three times a year, for 5 long years.

Me: 2nd row from Front, 3rd from right

Me: 2nd row from front, 3rd from right; Eithne: 5th row from front, 3rd from left

School was defined by rules, long silences, prayers, study, long regimented walks, retreats, breaking rules, operas, dance lessons, still no boys, even more study, hours of silence, tuck shop on Saturday with Toffo de Luxe and chocolate; mashed parsnips, and  first Sundays of each month in silence for up to 17 hours!

louislist

School Prospectus

Here we learned life long skills in the art of sharing:  how to divide a three week old  quarter sandwich into five portions with the tail of a steel comb;  how to dissect a small chocolate Turkish delight sweet  into 6 minuscule portions so everyone could share the last remaining morsel of luxury; how to eat a chocolate cake so that only crumbs remained, then pen a letter of complaint to the manufacturer returning the crumbs, stating that  it tasted of petrol. The plan worked sometimes and we got a replacement cake! The demands on teenage hormonal girls were truly extraordinary, and – it has to be said –  were also character forming. There was one huge advantage: friendships that formed in these  adverse conditions ran deep and true.

A couple of St Louis Nuns

A couple of St Louis Nuns – the delightful Sr Colmcille on left.

Eithne and I spent happy summer holidays at each others homes in Donegal and Monaghan. Her home was so exotic –  she lived in a fairly large inland  town compared to my small village, her family had a shop and a pub no less  – and her mother was just the nicest woman ever you met!  There was a very beautiful lake nearby where we talked and we walked, lay in the sun  and eyed up the local talent.  On visits to Donegal, Eithne fitted into our lives  like a hand into a glove, and here too we eyed up the local talent and walked and talked on our big deserted beaches. Sadly Eithne changed schools in 1964 when  she left to go to school elsewhere, while I remained in the Louis for a further 2 years.

Life continued to send us in different directions – in Eithne’s case she emigrated, became a nurse, married and moved between England , Scotland and Holland. In my case I also emigrated to England  and with many changes of address we drifted apart. A lifetime later Eithne, after the Facebook search,  was coming to Ireland for a visit and so we arranged to meet for lunch last summer!

It was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I boarded the bus – what would we talk about?  Would we have ANYTHING to talk about? What if lunch  is just too long? As I approached the meeting point I saw her….later I was intrigued that I had recognized her from the back, as she was facing away from me, but there was something so familiar about her standing there, as though I had seen her just a few days before. I called her name and she turned round….

And so it was  – lunch stretched to almost 4 hours of non stop banter and reminiscing. Life stories were recounted  including births marriages and deaths of family members we each knew well. We looked back with a great sense of fun  at the quite severe existence we endured in the Louis, and how we laughed as we recalled the fun we had when rules were being broken.

Life has certainly thrown some challenges to both of us in the intervening 48 years, but we have survived.  I am thrilled to have sent that email, to have rediscovered a friend, to discover that  true friendship is enduring and can pick up where  it left off, no matter how many decades have passed!  I rediscovered a kind, gentle, caring person with a lovely sense of humour – what more could a friend wish for ?

Thanks Eithne, so  glad to be able to call you ‘friend’!

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Filed under Irish History, Life in the 1960s, Living in Ireland, Oral History