Tag Archives: Fanad

Eileen Ann Gallagher 1919 – 1999

On this day, February 7, 1919, which also fell on a Tuesday, our grandparents, James Gallagher and Mary (Nee Friel) welcomed their second child into the world. Eileen Ann was born in Glenswilly, the younger sister of the then 20 month old May Isabella. Their father was at  that time a National School teacher in Templedouglas near Churchill, County Donegal.  Our Aunt Eileen Ann, was named after her maternal grandmother and her mother’s younger sister, both of whom were Annie.

Three Gallagher children with their Aunt Annie and three cousins in Fanad, probably in the late 1920s. Aunt Eileen ('Di') is on the extreme left

Three Gallagher children with their Aunt Annie and three McAteer cousins in Fanad, probably in the late 1920s. Aunt Eileen (‘Di’) is on the extreme left with Aunt May on the extreme right (thesilvervoice)

After Templedouglas our grandfather moved to Ballyheerin in Fanad where he taught for a while and he eventually got a school in Carrigart.

This photo is of our father and Aunt Eileen on the right. Unfortunately we don’t know who the other lady is. This was probably taken in the 1930s

Dad with older sister Eileen in Carrigart

Dad with older sister Eileen (on the right) in Carrigart (and photobombing doggie) (thesilvervoice)

In 1945 ‘Di’  married Hugh Coyle of Milford County Donegal. A gentle giant, lovely  soft-spoken man

The tall dark and handsome Hugh Coyle of Milford and Di were married in 1945

The tall dark and handsome Hugh Coyle of Milford and Di were married in 1945.(thesilvervoice)

Hugh and Eileen began married life in her family home in Carrigart. Their first child arrived in 1946. Sadly little baby Mary Patricia died when only a few months old, probably as a result of a colon blockage. For all of her life, Di kept a little piece of lace or gown that was associated with their little daughter. Interestingly her death was never registered (nor indeed was the death of our brother who also died as a child in 1959).  She is buried alongside our grandfather, our brother and our parents in Carrigart.  Hugh and Eileen eventually moved to Letterkenny and Derry before finally settling in Glasgow with their other two children.

Aunt Eileen was always  known to us as ‘Di’ as we could not pronounce her name when we were younger. She was also my godmother. This was done by proxy as she was not actually present at my christening. Hers was always the first  birthday card to arrive and we kept up frequent correspondence throughout her life. Her letters and cards remain among my most treasured possessions. Every summer she and her family would travel back home to Carrigart for the annual holidays on the ‘Glasgow Fare’.  How we loved to see them descend from the Swilly Bus! She would bring tins of roasted peanuts and Scottish oat cakes and Petticoat Tail shortbread and beautiful clothes from Marks and Spencer and all sorts of treasures that seemed extraordinary to us who lived in the country. Exciting outings to Tramore and Downings were guaranteed when she was in town. And how she cried when it was time to leave again and head by bus and boat back to Glasgow!

When I was aged  8 our father and I headed into Derry and caught the boat to Glasgow for a visit. I remember the captain giving me a Goldgrain biscuit that was warm to the touch because of the heat in his cabin; I remember being shown a submarine that sailed alongside us as we headed out of Lough Foyle; I remember being down in the very smelly hold of the ship with Dad and a man named Joe, a friend of my father, who was responsible for the well-being of the cattle who were being exported to Scotland and I remember getting locked into the lady’s toilet as I could not open the door and had to be rescued! Dad was not a bit pleased about that!

Pollokshaws Road with tenement flats

Pollokshaws Road with tenement flats

Glasgow was amazing to 8-year-old eyes with its (relatively) tall beautiful warm sandstone buildings. How I loved the sound of the  clanging bells of trams as they swung around the corner of Eglinton Street!  It was here that Di introduced me to my very first fish supper in a great fish and chip shop on the corner of Devon Street. We walked hand in hand in the fabulously named Sauchiehall Street and browsed the market stalls in the Barras in The Gorbals where she bought me a toothbrush. Hugh, Dad, my older cousin and I paid a cultural visit to the Art Gallery in Kelvingrove where we youngsters were reduced to uncontrollable tittering as only 8 and 9 years olds can be, at the first time ever sight of nudes!

Di at paternal family home in Mulnamina Glenties in the 1960s with our brother Damian.

Di at paternal family home in Mulnamina Glenties in the 1960s with our brother Damian. (thesilvervoice)

The thing that struck me most in later years was how hard it must have been for emigrants to these big cities to leave the rugged coastline and beautiful sandy beaches, the wide open fields edged with scented  hawthorn and quiet country lanes for clanging trams, dark spiral staircases leading to flats one on top of another in the tenements of large industrial cities, with no private open spaces, only a shared courtyard in which to hang clothes to dry or watch children play. How hard must it have been to leave the grave of a little daughter behind in windswept Donegal? Although  tenements provided very high density housing, the flats or apartments were very spacious inside with large high-ceiling rooms. Di used always laugh at a by-law that dictated that women could not clean the windows of these buildings, presumably in case they fell out onto the street below! But it was not all gloom and doom. ‘Up the stairs’ lived Bridget Connor (nee Coll)  from Carrick in Carrigart, who was a cousin of Hugh’s. At every turn were Donegal people who had also taken the boat in search of better times. I remember Di telling me that you could always recognize Fanad men by the clothes they wore – a brown suit with particularly wide trouser legs! Still, it was a hard life. On Mondays Di loaded up her little pram with washing and headed out to the washouse to do the weekly family laundry as the flat did not have any clothes washing facilities. The notion of a wash house was strange to me as were other terms such as ‘close’ for the common entrance to a number of flats, and ‘the dunny’ for the basement at the bottom of the spiral staircase that led to the communal courtyard.

Di was a bit of a worrier but she had a lovely sense of humour and a wicked laugh. She was deeply religious, a fact that sustained her when Hugh died suddenly in the 1960s. She loved tweed and every year made sure to buy herself a skirt length of tweed when she came back to Donegal, to keep her warm and cosy during Scottish winters. She loved nice china and had a lovely collection of beautifully embroidered tablecloths. Pride of place was held by a blue willow pattern tablecloth given her by Mrs McCloskey of Carrigart  on the occasion of her marriage in 1945. I often wonder whether this much treasured cloth has survived all these years. It was either discarded or given to charity after her death.

She died in December 1999. She and I had a very special relationship in spite of the distances between us. She above anyone else understood the challenging relationship between my mother and myself and made a huge difference to my life.  She herself lived a gentle if challenging and often lonely life yet she never had a negative word to say about anyone.

We remember and celebrate her arrival into the world 98 years ago on this very day. The world is a better place for her having been here.

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Filed under Family History, Ireland, My Oral History

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

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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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 as 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,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 colourful 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 the 23rd. Who could possibly keep track of them, and which date referred specifically to which event? Old Moores Almanac was stocked in Speer’s shop at Christmastime,but possibly not in time to alert us to the exact time of the winter solstice. And then, by the time we needed to consult it for other celestial events it was lost,probably having been  thrown away 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 Moores Almanac. It was my father’s birthday.I often asked him, what is your birthday, 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.

imageMy 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 my father was ‘frail’. I wonder was it a troublesome birth? Was his life in some danger when he was born? Or was he simply born around midnight with clocks showing different times? 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 .

The following are the winter solstice mid point dates and times from the U.S. Naval Observatory. The time zone used is “Greenwich Mean Time”.

2001 – 21st December 19:21  GMT / UT
2002 – 22nd December 01:14  GMT / UT
2003 – 22nd December 07:04  GMT / UT
2004 – 21st December 12:42  GMT / UT
2005 – 21st December 18:35  GMT / UT
2006 – 22nd December 00:22  GMT / UT
2007 – 22nd December 06:08  GMT / UT
2008 – 21st December 12:04  GMT / UT
2009 – 21st December 17:47  GMT / UT
2010 – 21st December 23:38  GMT / UT
2011 – 22nd December 05:30  GMT / UT
2012 – 21st December 11:12  GMT / UT
2013 – 21st December 17:11  GMT / UT
2014 – 21st December 23:03  GMT / UT
2015 – 22nd December 04:48  GMT / UT
2016 – 21st December 10:44  GMT / UT
2017 – 21st December 16:28  GMT / UT
2018 – 21st December 22:23  GMT / UT

This data is from http://www.knowth.com

So the Winter Solstice happens most often on December 21, but also sometimes on December 22nd and rarely on December 23rd.

My Dad’s birth certificate here before me states that he was born on December 22,1921. The 1921 Winter Solstice occurred on December 22 1921 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 in the Boyne Valley, County Meath, Ireland, the shafts of solstice sunrise will light up the chamber of this passage tomb to mark the turning of the year. Across the island there are ancient groups of standing stones that are aligned to capture the rays of light from the winter solstice sun, so this was a very significant time of year.  How nice to think that my Dad was born on ‘one of these days’, at such a significant time in 1921 .

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

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