Tag Archives: Family History

‘Doing a line’ 1940s style: A family marriage

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

Our parents, Gerard and Maude Gallagher holidaying in the Dingle Peninsula c 1985 with their cocker spaniel, Kerry

Back in the day when a ‘joint’ was a point in the body where bones met and ‘getting stoned’ was something that happened to bad people in the Bible, our parents, like hundreds of other young couples, ‘did a line’. Even now, this expression is in use by older folk in rural Ireland to describe a couple who are ‘seeing’ each other or dating. I was reminded of the expression on a recent trip to Donegal when someone asked me ‘Didn’t you do a line with ‘so and so’?’ And it had nothing at all to do with the modern drug/ cocaine notion of ‘ doing a line’

Our father, Daniel Gerard Gallagher (actually Gerald on his birth certificate) lived in Carrigart County Donegal for most of his life. He had been appointed Postmaster in the local Post Office in the village after the unexpected death of our grandfather James D. Gallagher in November 1944. Dad, at the age of  22, became the youngest Postmaster in Ireland.

From 1924 to 1984 in Ireland, Post Office, Telephone and Telegraph services were provided by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. In these days the local post office operated the telephone system. Incoming and outgoing calls were connected, outgoing and incoming telegrams were transcribed between telephone exchanges, down to local level. Telegrams were usually either forwarding money or bringing awful news to families, such as ‘John died today’.   A small rural village had a limited number of subscribers, yet a full national and international service was provided to them via the local post office.

Even into the mid 1960s there were very few telephone subscribers in our village. In my memory in the 1960s, the telephone numbers ranged from Carrigart 1 only up to Carrigart 14. Carrigart 1 was the Post Office, Carrigart 2 was the Garda barracks, Carrigart 3, Lady Leitrim, 4 was the North Star Hotel, 5 was Charlie Mc Kemeys,Potato exporter, 6 was the Carrigart Hotel, 7 was Andy Speers Drapery Shop,  8 was Joe Gallagher of Umlagh, 9 was Griffins Drapery shop, (very posh with an extension to the house at Roy View,) 10 was the Chemist Miss Green. I think 11 was Mandy Gallagher, 12 Foxes Bar in Glen and 13 McIlhargeys Glen Post Office. 14 was the Parish Priest. And that was it. Telephones were a luxury yet were an important part of the fabric of social life.

Village telephone exchanges were connected to a main telephone exchange by means of telephone lines, in the form of wires and poles, much indeed as can still be seen today in many places, although wires have been replaced by thicker cables.  All calls from local numbers to anyplace beyond the surrounding villages had to be routed through the local post office, and onwards manually to the head telephone exchange in Letterkenny, and vice versa for incoming calls. These were pre direct dialling days!

Our mother, Sybil Maude Clinton hailed from Newtownforbes, County Longford where her parents had lived at the local railway station for a number of years. Her father, Christopher Robert Clinton, was Station Master there. Mum had left home at an early age to be trained as a telegraphist, and this work brought her eventually to the telephone exchange in Letterkenny Head Post Office where she worked as a telephonist.

And so these two got to know one another literally ‘on the line’ when connecting incoming and outgoing telephone calls and  transmitting telegram messages . There was always time for a friendly chat when the business had been done and so their friendship developed across the telephone lines.

Our Dad, Gerard Gallagher with his sister Eileen to the right as viewed and A.N.Other at the Minister's Gates c, 1940-ish

Our Dad, Gerard Gallagher with his sister Eileen to the right as viewed and A.N.Other at the Minister’s Gates Carrigart, 1940-ish. And the photobombing doggie!

Our mother was quite glamorous . This photo was taken on Whit  Sunday in 1944. Our father owned this photograph, and we can see that he had her marked with an ‘x’  to let others take a look  at her!

Mum and another lady at Port na Blagh Dunfanaghy on Whit Sunday 1944.

Mum and another lady at Port na Blagh Dunfanaghy on Whit Sunday 1944.

The romance blossomed across the telephone lines for a number of years. Dad was  a very shy man, while Mum was much more confident. Dad, for all of their lives together remained in total awe of our mother. I remember him often telling us that he once cycled all the way from Carrigart to Letterkenny to meet her as a surprise. This was a distance of some 20 miles with some serious hills to overcome on the way to Milford, through Ramelton and onward up to Letterkenny. No mean feat for a man on a high nelly pushbike!  And I hope the weather was fine! He added ruefully that as he ascended the hill into Main Street in Letterkenny, he got ‘cold feet’ and turned round and pedalled the 20 miles back to Carrigart without seeing her. I often think on this very touching story and how it must have felt for him!

The happy couple, on this day 71 years ago

The happy couple, on this day 71 years ago

True love prevailed however, and on a cold Wednesday on January 16, 1946 they presented  themselves at St Andrew’s Church, Westland Row,Dublin to be married. Our mother was days short of her 28th birthday and our father had celebrated his 24th birthday weeks earlier. It is not clear why they chose to travel to Dublin for the marriage. Why didn’t they follow tradition and marry in the bride’s local church? When I asked him Dad said that his father had not been long dead and that it was ‘the way’ that people would marry away from their home place. His father had died in 1944, some 14 months  earlier, so it is unlikely that this was the reason. He also often said that his first cousin Fr Art Friel, a catholic priest, was scheduled to carry out the ceremony in Dublin,  but that due to bad weather he was unable to get off Tory Island to get to the ceremony.

The bridal party with the bride, groom, best man Sean Gallagher, brother of the  groom and bridesmaid Eva, sister of the bride.

Bride, groom, bridesmaid and best man

Bride, groom, bridesmaid and best man

In any event it appears to have been a lovely occasion  as  can be seen from the photographs on the wedding day.

Wedding party

Wedding party at the wedding breakfast at Wynn’s Hotel in Dublin

In attendance were, front row, left to right

Our Uncle Sean Gallagher, Best man;  Dad the delighted groom; Mum the happy Bride; Bridesmaid, Sister of the bride, our Aunt Eva; brother of the bride, our Uncle Tom with Aunt Eva’s small son, Micheal Henry in his lap.

Back Row, left to right:

Phelim Henry, husband to Aunt Eva, the bridesmaid; Uncle Bobby, brother of the bride; Uncle Jim, brother of the groom; Kathleen Henry, sister in law of the bridesmaid; Uncle Kevin, brother of the bride; our grandmother, Jane Clinton, mother of the bride and her father, our grandfather, Christopher Robert  Clinton.

We are indeed fortunate to have these photographs. There are many questions about why they chose to wed in Dublin, a long distance from either of the home places in Longford or Donegal. What we do know is that our mother, for all of her life loved chrysanthemums and it’s lovely to see that she had them on her wedding day! We can almost smell their beautiful fragrance! And what beautiful outfits for a post War wedding…what colours did the bride and bridesmaids wear? We will now never know. We do however hope that they enjoyed their beautiful two tier wedding cake!

The honeymoon was spent in County Wicklow and they then returned to live most of their married lives in Carrigart County Donegal.

We remember them especially today, on the 71st anniversary of their happy day.

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Filed under Family History, Ireland, My Oral History

With those hands…Family treasures

 

imageThis week I had one of those catastrophic events that resulted in my airing cupboard being at the wrong end of a burst pipe. Filthy dirty water from the heating system ruined my sheets, towels and everything else secreted away in there,  so there was nothing for it but to transport the black, heavy sodden mass to the washing machine and put on a boil wash, with stain remover and biological powder added to be sure, to be sure!
Imagine my horror when unloading the washing machine, to discover that a hand embroidered table-cloth had also been boiled in the soup! This particular table-cloth was a special one that was made specially for me 45 years ago. My Aunt May was a nun and nuns always kept busy, presumably because ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’. Nuns too were often wonderful needle women, and I know that Aunty May was, as had been her mother before her. My grandmother appears on the 1901 census with two of her sisters, all of them seamstresses. So it was in the genes.
Post Vatican 2, Roman Catholic religious orders had to renew their vow of poverty, and with my 21st birthday coming up in 1969, Aunty May asked me what I would like to have for my birthday, as she may not be able to send anything after the renewal of the poverty vow. I did not hesitate and asked if I might have an embroidered table-cloth. I was so thrilled when she presented me with my very own embroidered tablecloth. image

The embroidery is of the same quality on both front and back, and the edges are trimmed with crochet lace. I have no idea how many hours thus must have taken to create, but I love it as much today as I did when I first saw it. What a relief to find that it had survived a boil wash! To think of the number of perfect stitches on this one piece, the eyes that peered so closely at them,the expert hands that made each one, fills me with wonderment. I particularly love the texture of the flower petals. I am proud and delighted that my Aunt undertook such a labour of love!

My mother and my other Aunt Di had beautiful tablecloths.  ‘Di’ whose real name was Eileen, was also my godmother. She had a most beautiful hand embroidered tablecloth that had been given to her as a wedding gift by Mrs McCloskey in Carrigart, Co Donegal in 1946. Mrs Mc Closkey had a factory that produced the most elegant ladies knitwear and clothing and beautiful elegant gifts. Di’s wedding gift tablecloth was a heavily embroidered Willow Pattern design and I had never seen the like of it before or since. It was quite simply, exquisite.
Her linen tablecloths and treasured pieces of china were her pride and joy and she was especially fond of that Willow Pattern cloth. I often visited her at her home in Glasgow, and she would open the sideboard drawer and take out the tablecloths one by one, followed by her china that she used as often as she could when she had visitors to the house. Together we would admire these beautiful things laid out before us. It was a ritual that I loved. Beautifully embroidered tablecloths and special china called for beautiful homemade cakes and pastries, and she was a most wonderful baker of these fancies. Her Porter Cake was simply to die for! The last time I saw her, on a visit in 1999, just months before she died, she gave me one of her very special tablecloths and a couple of pieces of her beloved china. These are now among my most treasured possessions.

imageThis is the beautiful cloth she gave me with overlooked scalloped edges. I often wonder how many stitches went in to the making if it and who made it. Was it made by one person or several people working together? I am not sure where she got it, perhaps it was a gift from my Aunt May, who was her older sister.

And so the dark cloud of a flood in my airing cupboard led me to rediscovering these treasures, so safely tucked away that I rarely see them.

My mother too had  a number of beautiful linen tablecloths, many of which disappeared down the years, but I do have a couple from her collection.

This one below is a simple cross stitch and I remember it on a small table in our sitting room when I was a child. I have always loved the colours of this one, although I have never used it in my own house.

The next one is my favourite of my mother’s. It is such an honest ‘ordinary’ cloth for a small table. This was brought out when someone came for tea, and it survived many washings and spills – a trusty stalwart of the linen drawer!

imageIt is necessary to look at this one quite closely to appreciate the detail of the wreaths of flowers.

And so the dark cloud of a flood in my airing cupboard led me to rediscovering these treasures, so safely tucked away that I rarely see them. I thought it would be nice to make a record of these beautifully crafted works of art and to share them. Although I do not know who made each of them, that they were crafted with love and pride is obvious in the exquisite needlework. I am blessed indeed to own these beautiful pieces of my Family History!

 

 

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Filed under Family History, Home, Ireland, Irish Heritage

So..where are the bodies buried?

A  few weeks ago a good friend Chris Goopy, shared a post on Facebook that immediately caught my attention.

Roscrea Castle. Image Wikimedia Commons

Roscrea Castle. Image Wikimedia Commons

It was a story that epitomized all that is  spoken of and celebrated in the Irish character – helpfulness, friendliness and hospitality. The story is set in Roscrea Co Tipperary.

Very few towns in Ireland can boast a castle, friary ruins, a round tower and a high cross, but Roscrea can. Roscrea is a small  pretty town in County Tipperary, that not only has these fantastic links back to her history, but also has very active and obliging members of Ireland Reaching Out.

Ireland Reaching Out  was a government backed concept that captured the imagination as it was genealogy in reverse. The idea was to train local volunteers  at parish level who would make contact with their diaspora with a view to getting them to reconnect with their roots. It was  very succesful in some parishes. Ireland Reaching Out has now teamed up with Ancestry to facilitate training at local level under the title of Reaching Out Together and it is to be hoped that this new partnership will put give a new lease of life to the original concept.

Ireland Reaching Out is however alive and well and thriving in Roscrea – This story was written by Eamon Horan who is  involved with the very active Roscrea Reaching Out and tells  of a search for relatives of a lady from New Mexico and is reproduced here:

Round Tower. Image Wikimedia Commons

Eamon wrote:

”So where are the bodies buried?

This story of graveyard searching all started with a letter I received posted from of all places Albuquerque, New Mexico. And yes, it’s along long long way from here to there but the subject matter of the letter was Intriguing and the challange it offered was just what was needed in March morning of 2014. All the training which I had taken over the previous two years with Ireland Reaching Out http://www.irelandxo.com could now be put to good use. Here was a challenge worth the chase.

The letter writer Mary Leonard ( retired nurse ) was coming to Ireland in April with the hope of reuniting with her long lost Irish family specifically her Great Grandmother whose family named Dwane (misspelled on entry to the U.S. as Duane) had lived and worked in the Roscrea region but like millions of others had emigrated to the U.S. in 1846 fleeing, as they were, from the beginning of the worst tragedy in Irish history the Great Hunger (An Gorta Mor). Mary had gathered a lot of information from earlier family stories and writings and was able to lay a good foundation to a potential search and of great help was info that her brother had recorded of his findings on a trip to Roscrea in 1950. He had found two headstones of the family in the Catholic cemetery of Roscrea with the correct family names and dates.

So my search seemed on the face of it to be very simple find those two headstones in the local cemetery and bingo another satisfied customer. Wrong. There is nothing simple about searching for families in the Roscrea group of parishes. Roscrea is divided into two provinces, Munster and Leinster, three Counties,Tipperary, Offaly (King’s) and Laoise (Queen’s) and numerous rural Parishes surrounding the town for many many miles all with their own graveyards. Many many graveyards. However, the notations on the headstones were recorded in 1950 as follows. Erected in memory of Hugh Dwane, born 1826, died 1869 by Mr & Mrs Henry Trench and their son Henry Bloomfield Trench in gratefully remembrances of faithful services from boyhood until death. And beside it the other stone reading erected by Hugh Dwane in memory of his beloved father William Dwane 1848 age 57.

Roscrea the town boasts of 1000 years of history and its cemetery reflect that longevity but I was satisfied by our local undertaker who has a database of local graves was the first point of contact. He assured me that he was not familiar with the name Dwane and to his knowledge there were no Dwanes buried in his domaine. I had a little root around myself but in vain. But as I am Roscrea born and of an advancing age I remembered the name Trench (headstone) was from a bye gone era of Landlords who occupied three large houses, Sopwell (Ballingarry, N.Tipp), Cangort(Shinrone)and Redwood (Lorrha) with large tracts of lands attached. http://www.grantonline.com/grant-family-individuals/places/trench-houses.htm

Further research of the headstone with reference to ‘Bloomfield’ confirmed that the mostly likely big House where Hugh Dwane worked through his lifetime was ” Cangort” in the historic village of Shinrone, Offaly. So my first graveyard search then took me and my brother (search helper) to the old Church of Ireland in which the Barack Obama ancestors are to be found. But no luck. So next step was to call on the local historian Noel McMahon who lives in the village and has two books published on Shinrone. Noel and his wife Margaret are avid gardeners and I was delighted to get a tour of their quite outstanding garden a haven of tranquility. He pointed out that there were pictures of a Dwane Priest and Sister in his books who were most likely related to my search family and he suggested that the ancestors were most likely buried in the ancient Kilcomin Church grounds two miles from the village. http://www.grantonline.com/grant-family-genealogy/Tipperary/Shinrone/shinrone-history.htm a place set apart, home to St.Cuimin who founded his Abbey here in 630 AD.

So a search of the graves followed with great expectations of a find but, alas, no luck. Next day I met Mary Leonard in her Roscrea B&B http://www.slidala.com/ owned and operated by another Shinrone person Marie Warren who was keenly interested in a successful outcome to her guests search. We could not have this guest coming all the way from New Mexico going back home without finding her beloved ancestors. I should add that Mary on arrival immediately set to search the archives of St.Cronan’s Church, Roscrea and the surrounding graveyard herself but here again to no avail.

Next day Mary & I drove to the next most likely Graveyard C of I in the village of Ballingarry, N.Tipperary, burial place of the ‘Trench’ families. Here we diligently searched and searched but hear again no Dwane’s. And so back into the car and off to see the ‘big house’ of Sopwell home to one of Irelands largest Landlord families up until the 1960’ies. On our way I passed a bungalow and noticed two people working on their very beautiful front garden. I stopped reversed and sought advice as to the whereabouts of our elusive Dwane family. What a delightful surprise, it could only happen in beautiful Ireland. Yes, he (John Ryan) was familiar with that surname and seeing as the day was nice and sunny they dropped the gardening put on the wellies and joined us in our search.

John and his very jovial partner joined us in my car and directed us to a very hidden graveyard, Uskane near Borrisokane. But ,alas, no further joy. No Dwans. I was beginning to dispair but Mary was loving the whole Irishness of our tour. But John had an ace card to play and he led us to the house of Michael Delahunt ( Sopwell) whom I now know to be the foremost authority on names of families, burial places and graveyard recordings in N.Tipp. Without his wonderful help given friendly & freely I am afraid our day would have been a failure. Michael evidently has spent his life’s work in researching and recording the graveyards of North Tipp and this all long before the invention of the modern computer. His ‘front room’ is his library of all that has been forgotten in N.Tipp. Michael actually knew the recent family of Dwans and had a detailed knowledge in his memory of where the ancestors were buried he then went on to sketch out on the ground with his walking stick the last known house of the Dwane family in the district just a mile or so from his front gate (now bulldozed). Things were looking up, Mary was getting excited. But wonder of all wonders Michael referred back to his countless journals of grave recordings in his front room and was able to come up with the exact location of the two elusive Headstones of the older Dwane burials. Surprise, surprise. He said, with conviction that we would find those stones where? Back inside the front entrance to ROSCREA’s cemetery 100 yards to the right from the Franciscan Archway.

It was getting late when we arrived back in Roscrea and the search was now in a delicate state of anxiety, would we find the elusive headstones or not. Would Mary go back to Albuquerque, New Mexico empty handed with stories of half crazy Irish people leading Tourists on make believe headstone tours. Well the finale to any good story is, of course, the one with the happy ending and so it was for this search. There within feet of where Michael Delahunt said they would be were the headstones much to Mary Leonard’s delight and to my great relief. And so we adjourned to the local Alehouse to celebrate our good fortune of reuniting Mary with her long lost family. Mary flew home to New Mexico a very happy Lady with stories to tell.

But the story didn’t finish there. A few days after her departure a fellow IROxo enthusiest, Ann DeRoe who lives in Shinrone called to say that she had discovered the modern burial place of the family in Shinrone R.C. graveyard and has a connection to living relatives who possibly live in Portumna. Mary Leonard’s Brother & family are now planning on visiting Ireland and hope to make the connection with living relations after 150 years of seperation. And the lesson to be learned from this story is that Ireland Reaching Out is a really worthwhile concept connecting the Diaspora (all 60 million)back to their roots and hopefully Tourism Ireland will be a major winner in the process. All this in keeping with my earlier career working then in Canada for Air Canada but my heart was always ‘home in old Ireland’ land of wanderers dreamers of exiles but ‘not forgotten people’.”

Roscrea_Friary_Choir_2010_09_03

The Franciscan Friary Roscrea. Image Wikimedia Commons

What a heart-warming tale this is and surely one that will inspire many of our diaspora to have a go at tracing their ancestors. Not only that, but a few days earlier I had heard first hand from Janet Maher (mahermatters.com) of  a very similar experience she had in tracing her ancestors in the same general area in recent weeks.

I am grateful to Eamon Horan for giving his permission to reproduce his story here, and to Joe of ‘Roscrea through the ages’, who facilitated contact with him. Thank you both!

 

Useful links

Roscrea through the ages on Facebook

Ireland Reaching Out

Irish Genealogy Toolkit is a free site run by Claire Santry and is an absolute must for anyone tracing Irish Ancestry.

Irish Genealogy News   is a blog run by Claire giving all the latest news on Irish Genealogy.

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Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Ireland, Irish Diaspora

To Australia,with love – February 2012

It was foggy. It was wet. It was cold. It was a February afternoon in Cork Ireland, the starting point for my great excursion across the world. Soon, at a height of 31,000 feet above Wales, we broke free of the grey cloud and rain and cruised over a tapestry of snow-covered fields lit by the evening sun. From east of the Bristol Channel all the way over to London Heathrow, England, the countryside was iced in snow, making a beautiful ground pattern far below. This was  the first leg of what was to be a long journey.

Snow covered approach to London Heathrow on an Aer Lingus Flight from Cork, Ireland on a misty cold winter evening.

Departure on the second leg  was delayed  for about 10 minutes as the pilot asked us not to be alarmed to see the wings of the plane being sprayed for de-icing purposes! A further delay ensued as the plane ahead of us became ‘stuck’ and we were  re- routed to another runway. Finally, almost an hour behind schedule, the great Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 with capacity for 850 passengers, lifted effortlessly and smoothly into  the night  sky. Below, London’s countless millions of lights sparkled and stretched for miles as we climbed higher and higher. 7,067 miles to go to our destination, Singapore!

Out over Biggin Hill, best  known for its role in the Battle of Britain in the second World War, we head  south towards  Dover to cross the English Channel into Europe and onwards across  Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and the Czech Republic. South of  Bielsko-Biała in Poland we turn southwards into Slovakia, across Hungary and into Romania. We then head over the Black  Sea – once a blue blob on my geography school atlas, now a vast expanse of water  – indeed a ‘sea’,  miles below. Here, some 1,500 miles into our flight, we met the salmon- pink light of dawn of the following day, as the sun relentlessly made its way to Cork, Ireland where I had come from, some eleven hours earlier.

On the far shore of the Black Sea we fly over Georgia, with its capital Tbilisi, and on south of  the Caucasus Mountains to Armenia. We are now 6 miles high  in the sky over the crossroads between Eastern Europe and Western Asia as we leave Azerbaijan and cross the south-western part of the Caspian  Sea. Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – almost unknown to many when they were part of the USSR – now all too familiar as  they appear on our news bulletins from time to time. Iran, also so often on our TV screens, is below, and soon we are above Afghanistan, another of the world’s  troubled places. We fly on over neighbouring  Pakistan, and on into  India. I wonder if I might even catch a glimpse of the mighty Himalayas in the distant north!

Leaving India by the east coast, we reach the Bay of Bengal – the first major stretch of water we cross (a great relief to those of us who wondered about the usefulness of life vests in the event of falling out of the sky over dry land!) The next land we see is the Andaman Islands, of which I was vaguely aware prior to 2004, but since the devastating tsunami on December 26th the name is all too familiar.  Phucket in Thailand – familiar for the same reason- is now to our north as we head along the coast of Thailand  to Malaysia. With 600 odd miles to go I am conscious of clouds outside the windows –  clouds 6 miles high??!  Now in the tropics, we have a good ‘shaking’ as we meet  severe turbulence to remind us that nature rules!  Keeping west of Kuala Lumpur we head for Singapore on the southernmost tip of the peninsula. Dropping down, it is surprising to see so many cargo ships  – dozens and dozens  in rows – lying at anchor in the bay and it is easy to understand that Singapore is one of the top  three busiest seaports in the world! The passenger in the seat next to me wonders if Singapore, being ‘such a small place, will have steps of the proper height’  to allow us to disembark from our plane –  I smile knowing that a surprise awaits her! So, 13 hours after leaving London, we touch down safely at Singapore Changi, in exotic south-east Asia. The airport has a fabulous butterfly garden, flowing water features with exotic orchids everywhere and terrific  facilities for transit passengers.

Refreshed and soon on the way again, we climb into the sky out over the South China Sea  on the final 2,386 miles of the journey to Perth, Western Australia.  We cross the equator into the southern hemisphere as we  head towards Jakarta and across the Indian Ocean.  Some four hours  into the flight,to the  east high above  the west coast of Australia a misty reddish hue appears on the horizon, gradually spreading into turquoise , yellows, oranges and reddish golds. I have met my first  Australian dawn!

At about 4 30 am the sun begins to show on the horizon

Reflections from my aircraft seat as the sun rises over Western Australia

As we get closer to Perth WA, clouds sit above the golden new day.

In another hour, 33 hours after my journey began, I will step out into the Australian heat to meet my family – three generations of them – who have left Ireland for a new life in Australia. For generations, Australia has been a destination for the Irish diaspora-  many forcibly transported to penal colonies there, many emigrating by choice and many, as now , in the midst of an Irish economic depression emigrating through economic necessity in the hope of carving out a better future. Like many another parent, grandparent, brother or sister in Ireland today I have had to say goodbye to 3 of the 4 members of my direct family as they made that great migration across continents, across seas to far- away Australia. I am very fortunate that I have been able to make that long journey of 10,000 miles to visit them, and for  the next while their nearness will be thoroughly enjoyed and the vast distance that separates us will be forgotten!

Yet – in the still of the night, it is still hard to forget that  Australia is just too far away for those of us who have been left behind.

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Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora, Older Generation, Social Change

Celebrating Irishness: Charles ‘Chuck’ Feeney

Charles Feeney was born to a working class family in New Jersey, USA in the early 1930’s. His father’s mother hailed from near Kinawley, in Co Fermanagh, from where she emigrated to the USA.

Charles 'Chuck ' Feeney

In the 1960’s he co-founded Duty Free Shoppers, which sold luxury goods ‘duty free’ in Honolulu and Hong Kong and which eventually became hugely successful, making the partners very wealthy. DFS was to become one of the largest liquor retailers in the world and in 1997, Feeney sold his interest to Louis Vuitton  Moët Hennessy (LVMH).

In 1988, the Forbes Rich List ranked Feeney in the top 20 richest people, with estimated wealth of €1.3billion.  But, in reality his wealth was much less as he had in 1982 transferred much of it – reportedly between $500 million and $800 million –  to a charitable foundation, The Atlantic Foundation. Based in Bermuda to avoid disclosure requirements in the USA and to give Charles Feeney the anonymity he craved, The Atlantic Foundation was the first of The Atlantic Philanthropies.  A very private and modest man, the story of Charles (Chuck) Feeney was not well known until the 1990s when in an interview with The New York Times he revealed that he was the benefactor of one of the top 5 philanthropic foundations in the world.

In 1987, the Enniskillen Bombing had a profound impact on Feeney.  His grandmother having emigrated from the same county, meant he had family roots here and he became determined to try to effect change  in Northern Ireland.  He  joined with other Irish Americans liaising between the White House and various parties in Northern Ireland to try to broker a peace agreement.  He had as a particular and personal  agenda the aim of encouraging the Republicans to join in mainstream politics and he personally funded the Sinn Fein Office in Washington D.C.  for some years.  (Atlantic Philanthropies is precluded from funding political parties.)

It was not until 2007 when Conor O’ Cleary, a  well respected correspondent of The Irish Times, published a book : The Billionaire Who Wasn’t: How Chuck Feeney Secretly  Made and Gave Away a Fortune, that the truth about Feeney became known.  (Feeney had decided to cooperate with the author to promote ‘Giving While Living’ and inspire wealthy people to donate their wealth during their lifetime). Also in 1997  RTE, the Irish television service,  aired a TV documentary, ‘The Secret Billionaire’  looking at the life of this  extraordinary man.

Universities in Ireland, notably University of Limerick, Dublin City University and Trinity College, Dublin have benefited from donations from the fund of over $1billion.  Many philanthropists will endow projects in return for recognition, but this has never been the case with Chuck Feeney who has shunned public recognition such as honorary degrees, and having buildings named in his honour.  One of my favourite stories that exemplifies what Chuck Feeney  is all about, relates to  Queens University, in Belfast, who in 2007 were building a new library, costing  £44 million. It was to have been called the Sir Anthony O’Reilly Library.  Tony O’Reilly had contributed £4 million in return for ‘naming rights’. Chuck Feeney on the other hand had anonymously provided £10 million  and it was his wish that this should not be made public. (Tony O’Reilly later withdrew his wish to have the library named after him in 1999!)

Charles ‘Chuck’ Feeney does not own on a house, he does not own a car and his $15 plastic watch is now famous!  He lives modestly, having said that a man can only wear one pair of shoes at a time.  He has never strayed far from the sense of community he was born into –  one of helping his neighbour, and he has the ability to empathize with people less fortunate than himself who lead difficult lives and who may not have enough to eat.  And so this week, the week of St Patrick’s Day, will see Charles ‘Chuck’ Feeney, extraordinary Irish American,  inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame.  There is no doubt but that his benevolence has had a huge impact on life and society in Ireland, and continues to do so through funding for social issues from The Atlantic Philanthropies, including fighting ageism, of particular interest to this blogger.

The website of The  Atlantic Philanthropies can be viewed here.

For more on the Irish American Hall of Fame click here.

To see more about Conor O’Cleary’s book on Charles Feeney, click here.

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Filed under Ageism, Ancestry, Family History, Ireland, Irish_American, Living in Ireland, Seniors, Social Change, Social Policy