Tag Archives: Ireland in 1950s

Tales from the Hearth – In Memory of Kevin McFadden

A couple of weeks ago I received a copy of a very special book entitled ‘Tales from the Hearth’ that has a delightful oral history of my part of Donegal. This book harks back to a time when people visited others houses to exchange stories by the fireside. I am not sure how or where I discovered this publication, but somehow I made contact with Helen who sent me her last copy of this beautiful little book of stories as recounted by her  husband, the late Kevin McFadden.Feb13 001

I grew up in Carrigart, County Donegal, Ireland, in days before television and when the electric lights went off at 10 pm.  On  summer evenings we stayed outside playing until we had to come in for bed, and in winter  we retreated  to the fire after dark. At about 7 pm ‘Spaceships Away’ resounded from the radio, heralding the beginning of the nightly series, Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future! My mother had a few special friends who on a regular basis, would  call to our house in the evenings. Younger children were sent to bed, we older ones helped with the sandwiches – how I loved to see her friends arriving as my mother made a special plate of her famous mouth-watering salad sandwiches, so yummy! (the secret ingredient was vinegar! ). Mrs McFadden, Kevin’s mother, called on a weekly basis, and I recall that she and my mother would exchange weekend newspapers, such as The Empire News, The Sunday Dispatch, The Sunday People and various others. These ‘British’ papers were crammed full of stories of the British Royals, as well as various scandals – the stuff of endless conversation in a quiet rural village! One of my abiding memories is of how they laughed and enjoyed one another’s company!  The McFadden Family lived near us.  Kevin and his brother Patrick  are the ‘stuff of legend’ in Carrigart! One night there was a terrific explosion, followed by total consternation. Patrick and Kevin had taken an oil drum and dropped a lighted match into it…. and  BOOM!  I still remember the bang and  that their hair and eyebrows were singed – they were very fortunate not to have been seriously injured!  I think this was sometime in the early 1960’s, and it remained a significant event in the village for decades!

‘Tales from the Hearth’ re-created these forgotten memories from the 1950’s and early 1960’s just by association. Not only that, the book itself has absolute gems of stories featuring many local characters, many of whom  I knew personally. Paddy ‘Long Barney’ –  have no idea where the ‘Long Barney’ came from  and of course we never thought to ask as these distinguishing nicknames were very common in Donegal, being used to distinguish between families of the same surname and very often, same first names.  Paddy Long Barney features in a most unlikely ghost story , full of the familiar local dialect, which is a joy to read!

My favourite story is about the local football team, The Mulroy All Stars who were provided with football strips by migrant workers to Scotland, the local McGroddy brothers, Johnny and his younger brother Andy. (Someplace in my photo-bank I have a picture of these two legends that I will post when and if I find it). The then 16-year-old Kevin was picked as goalie and proudly defended his goalmouth on The Lea just outside Carrigart,  resplendent in his yellow polo neck ‘rig’. Even the 11 goals that whizzed past his ear did not dent the great pride he had in turning out in fabulous new team colours! I will have great pleasure in showing this story to the sister of the McGroddy boys when I visit later in the year.

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Kevin stands high above The Bar, where the Atlantic flows into Mulroy Bay, Co.Donegal

This little book is a great tribute to the local culture of story telling and yarn-spinning that was part and parcel of rural life in Ireland in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It is also a fitting memorial to a son of the parish who emigrated to Canada but never forgot his roots and the delights of the simple life he lived in rural north Donegal. Ar dheis Dé  go raibh a anam.

I am most grateful to Helen McFadden for sending me this book – I  will treasure it!


Filed under Irish Culture, Living in Ireland, My Oral History, Oral History, Social History Ireland

Book review: Ghosts of the Faithful Departed

A broken stove, a cracked pudding bowl, a rusting Jacob’s biscuit tin, assorted dusty kettles, tins, teapots and glassware scattered about the floor, itself buried under old newspapers and decades of debris.Vivid green paint peeling from the walls and a holy picture propped up below the open cupboard doors, a cupboard where once two of the good teapots and the decorated plate may have been proudly displayed, to be taken out when visitors called.


This is the startling image on the dust cover of a remarkable book of photographs of the interiors of abandoned houses in Ireland, beautifully photographed by David Creedon. David Creedon is a talented photographer who has already established a reputation as a photographic artist of international renown. Born in Cork, David has exhibited in many countries and is the winner of  several prestigious prizes. He currently  has work in the National Portrait Gallery, London. Having first heard him interviewed on radio in which he explained how he became enthralled by abandoned homes, I was thrilled to find his book under the tree on Christmas morning!


This large format book is lovely to look at, with over 70 original full-page colour photographs of  kitchens and bedrooms, – once warm, lived-in private spaces – and of items such as clothing, boots, letters once cherished, intimate possessions. Each photograph occupies a full page with short, unobtrusive, explanatory text on the opposite page. This large picture format in a way accentuates the intrusion into the private lives of people in what was their own secure space, and also underlines the sadness of the crumbling remains of homes, where people once lived, laughed, loved and were loved.


On first reading, I went from page to page looking at the pictures and was struck by how familiar these places looked to me. I can remember relatives and neighbours living in similar welcoming kitchens, with heat radiating from either the open fire or the Stanley range (stove), the aluminium kettle always on the boil; the aluminium teapot always ready for the spoon of tea, the good china lovingly exhibited in the corner press (cupboard). I wondered what had happened to the occupants – had a last surviving member of a family passed away, or had an entire  family emigrated? Some of the images however contain items that had come from abroad, letters,  items of clothing, perhaps ‘sent home’ by an emigrant.


In the foreword, Dr Breda Grey contextualizes these pictures in an Ireland of 50 years ago, beset by emigration. Her work at the Irish Centre for Migration Studies at University College Cork in 1999- 2000 saw an oral history of people who stayed behind in Ireland  collected, adding a further dimension to these abandoned homes. She states: ‘Individual preferences with regard to staying or migrating were rarely openly articulated. To do so would be to break the communal silence, to challenge the collective denial and to name the pain caused by difficult familial dynamics of staying or going‘.


Readers will be struck by the number of religious artifacts  in these pictures. Statues and framed pictures with their stylized images  once had pride of place in these homes, and were probably a great source of comfort, or perhaps the only comfort to those who gazed on them. They have now fallen of f the walls and stand abandoned in these silent spaces.


This book will appeal at many levels: those interested in photographic art will delight in the photographic composition with page after page of  technically pleasing images. The photography conditions were challenging –  these old abandoned houses were often dark, having been overwhelmed by trees and bushes, with no additional means of lighting.  One image in particular that of the Star Spangled banner with only 48 stars hanging next to a green dress required an exposure time of 6 minutes!


In these pictures the people are gone. Absent. With them have gone their memories, their stories, their joys and their sorrows. This book will not enlighten the reader about who these home owners were, or what became of them. It is part of the attraction of this beautiful book, that the observer must complete the story of what led to the abandonment of these once cherished objects and these homes.  The spaces and artefacts of  lives have been skillfully presented by David Creedon and  will stand as a social historical record of  mid -20th Century Ireland.




Ghosts of the Faithful Departed –  A selection of  images from this book can can be seen here at David Creedon’s website..

Breaking the Silence: Staying at home in an emigrant society . The UCC archive  – read or listen.

Ghosts of the Faithful Departed is published by The Collins Press


Filed under Family History, Genealogy, Irish American, Irish Australian, Living in Ireland