Tag Archives: Donegal

Postcards from the Wild Atlantic Way: Feeling ‘The Force’ at Malin Head

Inishowen in County Donegal is Ireland’s largest peninsula and includes Ireland’s most northerly point at Malin Head. Prior to the marketing of the Wild Atlantic Way, the ‘Inishowen 100’ was a well-known tourist route that took in much of the beautiful scenery of the area.

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My first port of call on the peninsula was at Dunree Head, the site of a former British Fort that guarded the strategically important deep anchorage of Lough Swilly.

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Looking across Lough Swilly towards the Fanad Peninsula.

Lough Swilly has witnessed many major historic events. It was from Rathmullan on the Fanad Shore that O’Neill and O’ Donnell fled into exile, in what was known as The Flight Of the Earls in 1607, following the defeat of the Irish chieftains by the British at the Battle Of Kinsale

In 1798 Wolfe Tone was taken under naval arrest to Buncrana port and it was near this spot that a small fort was built at Dunree to guard against a possible French invasion.

The fort was expanded in the late 19th century and during World War 1 it stood guard over Admiral Lord Jellicoe’s fleet that lay at anchor in the deep Swilly waters prior to engaging the German Navy at the Battle of Jutland. Even after Irish Independence, the British maintained a presence here up to just before World War II.

Onward then to see some of Inishowen’s lovely coastline, although visibility was not great and heavy rain was promised so it was a race against the elements to see as much as possible. There are beautiful beaches at almost every turn, not always safe for swimming as there are powerful currents running here. Here too at Lagg are some of the highest sand dunes in Europe.

Just a couple of weeks before I visited there was great excitement at Malin Head when the Star Wars film crew arrived to film some scenes for a new series. The excitement continues as dozens of Star Wars devotees undertake a pilgrimage to the area.

Malin Head is known throughout Ireland and Great Britain as Malin is a sea-area for maritime shipping forecasts. There is a weather station here, often recording Storm Force 12 winds in winter. There was barely a breeze when I visited which was rather disappointing, so I had to sit on a stone and imagine the Star Wars Force surrounding me instead! The actual most northerly point is named Banba’s Crown. Here too are a watchtower dating from the Napelonic Wars in 1805 and a 1902 Signal Station. Banba’s Crown is well known nowadays too as a site for spectacular Aurora Borealis sightings in the dark unpolluted skies at Malin Head.

There are interesting geological features along the coast.

I loved this little pebbly beach along the roadside and I enjoyed watching the parents of these ducklings steering their brood through the water! At this point the heavens opened and much of the beautiful seascapes disappeared into the mist. image

I was delighted to happen on this memorial to Young Irelander,Thomas D’Arcy McGee a native of Carlingford, Co Louth who, charged with treason after the failed 1848 rebellion, made his escape to the USA from this dangerous coastline. He went on to be known as the father of Canadian Confederation. Ironically he was assassinated by Fenians in 1868.

Tremone Bay

Tremone Bay

I finally arrived on the eastern coastline of Inishowen, where the small towns of Moville and Greencastle sit on the shores of Lough Foyle. Moville was a point of embarkation to Canada and USA for thousands of emigrants  in the second half of the 19th Century. The little fishing village of Greencastle is home to a Fishing Museum with some interesting artefacts from days gone by, and it has a very nice tea rooms!

As I leave Inishowen, there was a compulsory stop to be made at the Grianan of Aileach,a series of forts that stand 800 feet above sea level. Dating from 1,700 BC, Grianan of Aileach  features on a 2nd Century map of the world.

On a clear day the views from here are stunning and even on a not so clear day it was an appropriate spot to have a last view lovely Lough Swilly.

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Countryside, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, My Travels

Postcards from the Wild Atlantic Way – Fabulous Fanad

Fanad is a peninsula in north Donegal in the northwest of Ireland, lying between the peninsulas of Inishowen and Rosguill, the latter of which is ‘home’ to me. It is where I was brought up, made friends, was schooled and where my family rest. We had many cousins in the Fanad peninsula, just a short drive away. This is where our paternal grandmother was born and grew up. I never knew her, but I did know her extended family, her nieces and nephews. It is always wonderful to return to Fanad; a trip ‘home’ is never complete without a visit to Fanad, first to our grandmother’s grave and then on to Fanad Head and back along the scenic Glenalla Road with spectacular views of Lough Swilly.

A bridge links Rosguill and Fanad peninsulas

A bridge links Rosguill and Fanad peninsulas

In recent years a new bridge across the Mulroy has been opened between the Rosguill and Fanad peninsulas. It is my personal belief that by using the bridge and not driving along Mulroy Bay visitors miss out on much of the beauty of the area. A trip along the Mulroy Loop is well worth the extra short drive of about 30 minutes of beautiful scenery.

Kindrum . This is a memorial to Fanad men who assassinated the tyrannical landlord, the 3rd Earl of Leitrim

Kindrum. This is a memorial to Fanad men who assassinated the tyrannical landlord, the 3rd Earl of Leitrim, in 1878.

Just a few minutes away on the shores of Mulroy Bay is Massmount Church and graveyard. Immediately inside the gate is our family grave, and a visit here was always the starting point for Fanad visits.

My grandmother and great grandparents are in the grave seen here to the right. My grandmother's sister, my great aunt is in the grave behind and slightly to the left with the white headstone.

The Celtic Cross on the right beside the shrub is the headstone on the grave of our great grandparents,our grandmother and her sister and brother. Another sister rests in the grave behind and slightly to the left with the white headstone.

The tranquil waters of Mulroy Bay reflect the mood of the weather.

Further along the road and easily missed is a field with some markers where unidentified bodies are buried. Many of them were casualties of  war, washed up along this wild coast over the years. It would be nice to see some sort of simple memorial to them.

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Graves of the unknown, washed up on Fanad shores.

And so it happens. You round a corner and up a hill, and there it is before you – Fanad  Head lighthouse, looking magnificent even on the dullest of days.

Fanad Head - The first glimpse

Fanad Head – The first glimpse.

As with all key places along the Wild Atlantic Way, there is a sign to confirm that you have arrived!

Fanad Head Lighthouse

Fanad Head Lighthouse. First  lit in March 1817

It is billed as one of the world’s most beautiful lighthouses. That’s as may be, but is has a very special place in my heart and that of my family. For many years the husband of my father’s first cousin was the Principal Keeper at Fanad Head and we enjoyed Sunday visits aplenty.

Fanad Head  Lighthouse has recently been opened to the public, so it was with a particularly joyous heart after a gap of about 50 years, that I made my way to buy my ticket and to once again climb the many steps to the top of the lighthouse.

It's a long way to the top

It’s a long way to the top!

 

But worth the climb!

But worth the climb!

While there was no smell of fuel  as I remember it, and the revolving huge lenses have been replaced by more modern technology, it was well worth the challenge to enjoy once again the fabulous if misty views out across Lough Swilly towards Malin Head and back towards Mulroy Bay. On a clearer day it would have been even more breathtaking!

There are interesting artifacts associated with the life of a lightkeeper and my favourite has to be this chest of books, supplied and regularly replenished  by Carnegie Libraries.

imageHeading away towards Portsalon I enjoyed a catch up with a cousin before taking the very spectacular Glenalla Road that runs along the cliffs and shores of Lough Swilly. At Ballymastoker Strand is a memorial to the crew of HMS Saldanha shipwrecked in a storm off Fanad Head on 4 December 1811 with 253 aboard. It is thought she went aground on rocks when attempting to make for shelter in Lough Swilly. There were no survivors and for weeks afterwards some 200 or so bodies were washed up on the strand. Some months later a bird was shot about 20 miles away and it turned out to be the ships parrot with a silver collar engraved ”Captain Packenham of His Majesty’s Ship Saldanha”. (Packenham was a brother in -law  to the Duke of Wellington of Waterloo fame). I wonder what happened to the collar!  As a direct result of the loss of the Saldanha plans were drawn up to build a lighthouse at Fanad Head, which was turned on in March 1817.

Dunree Fort guarded the deep safe anchorage of Lough Swilly up until 1938 when the British Navy left

Dunree Fort guarded the deep safe anchorage of Lough Swilly up until 1938 when the British Navy left

Rathmullan  was my next stop, with its beautiful sandy beach. An annual Regatta used be held here – and probably still is.

Rathmullan has a special place in the history of Ireland as it was from here that the Flight of the Earls took place in 1607. This marked a turning point in Irish history as the Chieftains of some of the leading Gaelic families of Ulster, including the O’Donnells and the O’Neills, left Ireland to seek refuge in Spain, following their defeat by the English at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601.  There is a fabulous sculpture by John Behan on the shorefront in Rathmullan commemorating the departure of the chieftains.  I just love it as it depicts loss, horror, pain and grief in a powerful way.

As evening approached the weather cleared up and I was sorely tempted to retrace my steps and to enjoy the scenery that was denied me by the mist over the past two days, but I had to head on, knowing that I would discover more wonders of the Wild Atlantic Way in Inishowen and that I will be back in fabulous Fanad!

During my 18 day trip I stayed in two particularly wonderful Bed & Breakfasts..of 5 star standard. One of these was Bunlin Bay House on Mulroy Bay – a perfect touring base for both the Fanad and Rosguill Peninsulas. Heartily recommended!

 

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Countryside, Irish Heritage, Irish History, My Travels

A St Patrick’s Day bird’s-eye view of my childhood

On these pages, I often record childhood memories of growing up in a County Donegal village in the 1950s and 60’s. I also often struggle to find pictures of this place that truly impart the geographic character and splendid location, the real sense of place where we led Huckleberry Finn type lives as children. Here we roved in packs, perhaps gone for hours playing Cowboys and Indians; 6 and 7 years old Belle Stars and Annie Oakleys often hid in Gallagher’s cornfield with Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill, Kit Carson and Roy Rogers seeking them out, while war cries of Crow and Blackfoot Indians resounded over Figart sending chills down the spines of everyone within hearing distance. These war cries emanated from loud shrill whooping sounds that were embellished by rapid covering and uncovering of the mouth – truly blood curdling stuff!  Here too we gathered up empty pea and bean tins, jam pots and sauce bottles from Kiely’s yard and set out our shop stall behind Speers or in whichever shed we could find a space; here we children  ambled over the Barrack Brae to October Devotions on dark nights (where were the adults!?) , often with only shooting stars and Will O’ the Wisp skipping along Logues Burn down  on the Lee for company; here we went bathing (never swimming!) when the tide came in to the safe inlet behind the village; here we sleighed down a snow-covered Figart on our homemade sleighs, not sitting one behind the other, but lying one on top of the other for more speed, and Cathal McClafferty or Séamus Gallagher would shout when it was time for us to tumble off, before the sleigh went over the edge onto the stones below; here we dug man-traps in the Planting beside the church and concealed them with branches in the hope that another unsuspecting child might fall in; here we headed off on our bikes or trikes for a day out ( I personally, at about 4 or 5 years of age, rode my red tricycle into Island Roy and could not get back as the incoming tide had covered the road); here we wandered in and out of houses for an apple, a drink of water or just to say hello!  All of these childhood activities took place without the supervision of adults.

However our lifestyle of wandering freely came under serious threat when three of our number went missing for almost an entire day. John Boylan, son of the local Garda (Police) Sergeant, Andrew Speer whose poor mother was not in good health and there was talk of not telling her for fear of inducing a relapse, and my brother Noel, had failed to return home at mealtime. I believe they were aged about 4 or so. Search parties were got up and we spread out and combed every nook and cranny. Hopes were raised when word of a sighting of three small figures crossing Logues 9-hole Golf Course and headed towards the sandy hills was reported. The sandy hills was an area of ‘bent’ grass and deep sand dunes that backed Tramore beach.Tramore was not a safe place for small boys. The sandy hills were often used by people walking to Tramore, and it was not difficult even for older people to get lost in here. I was aged about 7 or 8 at the time, but I have a clear memory of the sense of urgency and concern about finding them. The search party headed through the sand dunes, shouting out their names.

http://binged.it/1T1P69R

Paddy Vaughan, with his cap as-ever slightly askew, arrived on his big bicycle with straight handlebars and made his way through the undulating terrain. I can recall people saying  that it was a bit silly to be taking a bicycle into the sandy hills, yet there was serious concern for the safety of the boys and to find them before they hit the Atlantic Ocean. The hero of the day was of course Paddy on his bike: He discovered the three who had been playing with shells on a green of the Rosapenna Golf  Links just as they were about to head towards Tramore! The tired trio were safe and unscarred by their great adventure, albeit a bit hungry! Thankfully too,after due reprimands and awful warnings, our escapades continued and we were still allowed to wander about the hinterland as truly ‘free range’ children!

Yesterday, March 17, Saint Patrick’s Day was celebrated and marked all over the world and in countless towns and villages across the breadth and length of Ireland. As is the case, these events are photographed, and nowadays with the advent of drone photography, we can sometimes get aerial views of our local landscape. This aerial footage of my native landscape has evoked in me a rush of memories that cram themselves into every second, memories of times past, memories of a different world where children were raised by the village, and we were safe to roam and wander.

I am grateful to a reader of my blog who alerted me to the fact that Donegal Daily featured drone footage of the St Patrick’s Day Parade in my home village, footage that evoked all of these memories. I am grateful to my blog follower ‘Mulroy’ for bringing this to my attention!

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Filed under Ireland, Living in Ireland, My Oral History

Home thoughts at Midsummer 2015

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

Carrigart in the 1960s. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Carrigart in the 1960s. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

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

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

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

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

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

June 23rd: Midsummer Irish Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Flanagan, Thomas 1979. The Year of the French

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

The sun never sets …on Donegal places?

 

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Sun setting over Bushland in Australia

In James Joyce’s Ulysses,Mr.Deasy asks Stephen Dedalus what an Englishman’s proudest boast is. Stephen replies:“That on his empire..the sun never sets”. The saying came to mind on a recent trip to Australia as I came across a brand new development of some 250 houses in a relatively remote area.

The phrase ‘the sun never sets’ is familiar to many. Early reference was in relation to the 16th Century Spanish Empire that had extended well beyond its own borders and included vast tracts of Europe,North Africa,the Philippines and the Americas. Francis Bacon wrote :both the East and the West Indies being met in the crown of Spain, it is come to pass, that, as one saith in a brave kind of expression, the sun never sets in the Spanish dominions, but ever shines upon one part or other of them which, to say truly, is a beam of glory”. In the 19th Century it was the British Empire on which the sun never set.

Fast forward to more recent times, we now speak of globalization, emigration, diaspora.These concepts have largely replaced the might of empire,of conquest and supremacy. We Irish have down the centuries, spread out across the globe with tens of millions now claiming Irish descent.We have become people of influence in far-flung places and communities. Historically, invaders and conquerors applied their own placenames to their new lands – for example New York, Norfolk Island, San Francisco. Nor is there anything new about places being named from areas where immigrants settled, whether they arrived there involuntarily or otherwise. New York State has an Ulster County,Pennsylvania has a Dublin and Limerick is to be found in about 10 different locations in the USA.

In Western Australia the school attended by my grandchildren is at the edge of bushland, on the outskirts of a small village nestled under the Perth Hills, about 45 kilometers north of Perth City. Here kangaroos roam in the evenings,emus wander about and parrots make their noisy presence felt. Part of the bushland near to the schoolgate has now been cleared to make way for a housing estate. Not just any housing estate,but a housing estate whose roads and streets are named after villages I know well in my native Donegal, Ireland, some 10,000 miles away! Where snakes emus, cockatoos, scorpions, ants and a huge diversity of species roamed and foraged in a rich scrubland of eucalyptus, acacia, and tussocked grasslands, there now will be Donegal Entrance,Ballybofey Loop,Fintown Street,Killybegs Street,Doochary Street,Letterkenny Road, Ardara Road,Bundoran Street,Lifford Street,and Narin Loop! (Narin I presume began life as the correctly spelled ‘Nairn’)

 

While I do wonder that indigenous and local names might be more appropriate, I can’t help but also wonder if the residents will ever know the origins of their street names and the beautiful places they represent. Will they ever know that  Fintown sits on the shores of the dark waters of Lough Finn; that the beach on Narin is one of Ireland’s most beautiful; that Killybegs is famous for its fishing fleet; that Donegal refers to an entire county in the north-west of Ireland,as well as a town,and that the town has a castle; that Ballybofey sits on the banks of the River Finn; that Doochary is derived from the Irish language and means ‘the black weir’ and that here Irish is the spoken language; that Ardara has one of the most amazing views in the world at Glengesh Pass; that Bundoran is spectacularly situated on Donegal Bay on the world famous Wild Atlantic Way; that Lifford is the county town and dates from the 16th century; that Letterkenny is County Donegal’s largest town and is perched on a series of hills and has one of Ireland’s largest Celtic Crosses?  Probably not! And in all probability too the new local pronunciation will make the street names unrecognizable to anyone from Donegal.

I am assuming that the developer has a connection with Donegal or at least with Ireland. He has ensured that the names of these Donegal beauty spots will become part of the lives of  over 200 families,and perhaps even some from those very places, some 10,000 miles away.

Is this a ‘beam of glory’ for Donegal people? Should we be proud that our global reach is such that we now influence naming of places,without having had to conquer,or intimidate,or arrive as convicts. Instead we are just settling in and settling down in places where we have actually chosen to live? Before long perhaps, the sun will never set on Donegal placenames!

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Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora, Irish diaspora in Australia

To tell of times that were..

Forget-me-not. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Forget-me-not. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

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

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

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

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

There’s a little marble cross below the town;

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

And the Yellow God forever gazes down.

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

And..

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

The Ship was still as she could be;

Her sails from heaven received no motion,

Her keel was steady in the ocean.

Without either sign or sound of their shock,

The waves flow’d over the Inchcape Rock;

So little they rose, so little they fell,

They did not move the Inchcape Bell.

(Inchcape Rock by Robert Southey )

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

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

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

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

Wind up gramophone

Wind up gramophone (Image Wikimedia commons)

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

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

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

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

God rest them all indeed.

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

Abdul Abulbul Amir Lyrics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(many more verses are sometimes quoted)

 

 

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

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