Tag Archives: Limerick

Retirement: A lament

This is the second of a trilogy of posts about my personal experience of mandatory retirement.

In my earlier post I mentioned that in Ireland Irish Labour T.D.(Member of Parliament) Anne Ferris, has tabled a Bill to abolish the mandatory retirement age. This Bill would prohibit employers imposing compulsory retirement ages on their employees. As a member of Age Action, I was asked to make a submission at the Public Hearings of the Committee stage of the Bill at Leinster House, the seat of our Parliament, the Oireachtas. This post can be seen here. Telling my story of compulsory retirement in Leinster House in November last, stirred painful memories of that difficult time, yet it was a bittersweet occasion. For the very first time, here I was, in a roomful of people who did not necessarily see retirement always as a happy huggy joyful state, but rather one that can create problems for many. It certainly was empowering to be there with people who shared my view or, at least wished to hear about the impact of compulsory retirement on someone forced to leave a job simply because of a birthday.


Almost all discourse around retirement is that it’s ‘A Wonderful Thing’, a much yearned-for blissful state, that fills dreams for years leading up to the happy day. A quick Google search yields happy, light-hearted images of the joys and preoccupations of retirement, as can be seen in these illustrations. It’s all about having fun and doing fabulous things,or perhaps doing nothing at all, if that is more meaningful!

Only a few months ago I met a former colleague on the street in Limerick. ‘Oh’, she gushed, ‘Are you loving being retired? Are you having a fabulous time? Oh, how lucky you are not to have to go in to ‘that place’ every day!’ She meant very well and was being kind, but was rather taken aback and puzzled at my response. I am tired of the pretence and ‘going along’ with the happy chirpy notion of retirement that is NOT my experience, I responded: ‘None of the above’. I loved working there, I miss my friends and I miss the money’. The poor woman did not know what to say –  ‘Ah, you don’t mean that at all’, she said. But I did mean every word of it for that is the reality of MY retirement.

d7ae2973ca013f30fb42ad3867d35c82There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that many people, possibly the most, cannot wait for retirement. With children reared and gone and the mortgage paid off,the prospect of many years of hard work coming to an end is very appealing. This was and is particularly true in my workplace,where colleagues who had been in service for decades,often since leaving school or college,are eager for retirement after 40 years service,or very close to it. Dreams of travelling, doing voluntary work, spending more time with friends and family,long weeks soaking up summer sunshine, all on the list of new adventures just waiting to be enjoyed.

But not by all. In the early days of the then New Year of 2013, I had feelings of fear and dread that pervaded my every waking moment. The realization that my working life would grind to a halt in just three months filled me with panic. Anyone facing compulsory retirement and who lacks the means to continue in a comfortable lifestyle will await the dreaded date and the official dismissal letter with a heavy heart. Rather than being an occasion for celebration, it is in reality a very dark time. How would I pay the mortgage and Health Insurance? How could I manage Doctors bills and carry out repairs to the house? How would I keep warm all day-long at home when I was used to being in a comfortable centrally heated office? How would I meet other financial commitments? Would I have enough money for food, and the right type of food, to keep me well?  Could I afford to run a car? All these things milled about in my head for weeks and months, gnawing away at me, keeping me awake at night. The bank was unsympathetic about mortgage repayments, which would run for some years after my reduction in pay. They would, they said, deal with any arrears issues as they arose but sent me out a letter with heavy black print stating that I could lose my home if mortgage payments were not made as they fell due. Not only that, they also advised that I was already in arrears and every few weeks for a period of 15 months the threatening letters arrived, in spite of phone calls and hours of discussion. As it turned out they had made a mistake and there were no arrears, but that did not even warrant an apology.

But it was not only about loss of income.The loss of  a way of life, the daily interaction with friends and colleagues was of equal importance to me. Living alone in a rural location I had all the peace and quiet I needed after work or at weekends. Working in an office with over 500 people was rather like living in a small village for part of my day and I enjoyed the camaraderie of it all. Not only that, I also enjoyed the daily drive of 45 minutes or so each way, to and from the office.

In March 2013, in the days following compulsory retirement from my job of almost 20 years, I wrote the post below.  There are many aspects to forced retirement, similar I daresay to compulsory redundancy. The difference is that my job still existed, but I was no longer eligible to do what I had done well for a long number of years simply because it was my birthday. the prospects of finding work in Ireland once you have passed the age of 55 are practically non-existent. The terrible reality is that this ageist stance by employers is accepted as being ‘ok’. And the state is the worst offender. In 2008 Ireland’s most experienced detective, Assistant Commissioner Martin Donnellan mounted a High Court challenge to the law that made him retire at age 60. He lost.

The loss to me was at many levels, financial for sure, and at a social and personal level that bewildered me for a long time afterwards.  These were my thoughts at that time. The original post can be seen here.

The rising sun was turning the sky the deepest reddish pink as it edged towards the horizon to the east. I watched it for almost the entire journey and wondered how long it might be before I travel this road again and witness the dawn.There was no other traffic at this  early hour, so I was able to drive reasonably slowly to savour the journey in the quiet of this cold, clear  spring morning.


The River Maigue and Castle Desmond in September

Crossing the bridge on the River Maigue has been a highlight of my life on each  morning that I have commuted across here for the past 20 years. Sometimes it is mysteriously misty, sometimes it is golden and lit by the rising sun, sometimes it is moonlit, most times it is just ordinarily beautiful.


River Maigue and Desmond Castle in August

I  arrived very early to the office as there were things I needed to do before the buzz of new arrivals – drawers to be emptied, confidential papers to be shredded, files to be organized and a day’s  work to be done.  I (exceptionally!) walked up the 8 flights of stairs to  take a look again at the streetscape below. I continued on to the top floor  to get a cup of coffee and to look east wards again at the rose coloured  sky forming a beautiful canvas for the tall spire of St John’s Cathedral and the tops of the city buildings.


The River Shannon on a beautiful misty morning

I have had an extraordinary bonus of enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery in Ireland every time  I looked up from my desk to see the River Shannon coursing below.


The moody and ever-changing River Shannon flows by my office

I had developed a habit in recent times of taking photographs, as the River looks different almost every time you look at it.


The Shannon is a very fast flowing river. The Abbey River flows into it on the lower right.

Being tidal, the river is constantly changing, rising and falling some 18 feet twice a day. In winter when there is heavy rain we may not see the stony river bed for months on end.


Morning light on the Shannon

Colleagues arrived. There was debate about the news items of the day that impinge on everyone, including the new property tax – the pincers tightening yet again! Morale was not high on that particular day, but after some light-hearted banter we ‘got on with it’. I was surprisingly busy with phone calls to make, notes to write up.


View from my desk. (Copyright A .Gallagher)

View from my desk.

So this was it! One of my lunch group reminded me that it was time for lunch and I said that I had to pop out and that  I might be a while. (I was doing some research on Antarctic Explorers then , and ‘borrowed’ the quote!).

At about 1.45 pm I logged out of my computer, gathered up my security passes, placed them in an envelope, put on  my coat and walked away from my good friends, and hundreds of colleagues (most great, many very good and a small forgettable  few).  I was  walking away from a job that I loved, with tons of mental stimulation, camaraderie and social interaction as well as  wonderful scenery and the daily joyrides that were my commute to and from work. I had already hinted to close friends that they would not be given advance notice of my exact day of departure, and I was grateful that my managers respected my need for privacy. So I was able to ‘exit’ quietly.

Mandatory retirement is no longer allowed in many countries. Most people can now work for as long as they want, without fear of discrimination but here in Ireland it is ‘statutory’ for some employees who commenced employment prior to 2004 to retire at age 65.  It seems extraordinary that a person can go to bed at age 64 as an asset to the workforce, doing a good job efficiently and well for many years, yet wake up on their 65th birthday as unemployable. This is of particular significance in a country that is in the throes of an economic depression with huge numbers of people seeking non-existent jobs. Of course my ‘mandatory’ departure date did not come as any surprise. Long term contingencies were very quickly rendered useless however by the rapidly changing  social and economic conditions in Ireland in recent years – not least of which has been that my once geographically  closest family members have relocated to a place 10,000 miles away.

Officially ‘on holiday’ for another week, I plan on spending that time lamenting the loss of the social interaction of a large office and delighting in the friendships I made there. It is too early to reinvent – time enough for that in the weeks and months ahead. For now, I will relish the light-hearted moments and laughter that were bound to come along every day, as well as the quippy and often black humour that abounded in the place.

I will  recall the always cheerful early morning  greeting of the delightful woman in the canteen, for whom nothing was too much trouble! I will delight in the memory of companionship at early coffee, when you would not know who might happen along on an early break, and I will still ‘hear’ the very familiar footsteps of a special friend coming along the corridor, always looking beautiful and armed with her designer shopping bag and with her lively daily greeting of ‘Bonj’ before she rushed away to her ‘career’.

At lunch, we had time to bond – shepherded along by our ever precise and delightful clock-watcher, always in good humour and who managed to organize us all in the most charming way. Bringing up the rear was  our ‘Drama Queen’ who regaled us with stories ranging from her amateur drama society escapades to a too-close ‘encounter’ with shampoo on a shop floor, to the hazards of Roman toe ( or was it Greek?). These two, together with the above mentioned career girl and myself made up the hardcore lunch table. If we arrived slightly early we might join our ever thoughtful, ever smiling, quietly spoken elegant and wise friend, who always has time for whoever is in her presence.  From time to time we would be joined by the  ever-cheerful woman of the West  with the hearty laugh and oodles of common sense, or the witty ‘cuttie’ (girl) from further north who always had a sideways but pleasant view on life to make us smile. Sometimes another quiet but stalwart friend might join us – IF she remembered it was lunchtime – but invariably 20 minutes late! There are several others who fall into the ‘very special’ category and whose company was always well worth seeking out and one or two ‘long distance’ colleagues who had left our particular place. These too are a huge loss to me, and I am forever grateful for all of them.

I will miss all of this. I will miss these very special friends who were part of my days, part of my weeks, part of my joys, part of my tribulations, part of my highs, part of my lows, part of my hoots of laughter!  We have lived through births, marriages, deaths, personal trials and challenges both IN and BECAUSE of  friendship. I will not ever be able to replace any of this. It  is of its time and of its place.  Now is a time to remember. Now is a time to be glad for all of it. Now is a time to shed a tear or two.  Now is a time to smile at these memories.  Now, and always, I  will lament their passing.

The terrible reality is that this ageist stance by employers in Ireland is accepted as being ‘ok’ at a state level, at national level, as well as by ordinary people who seem to accept that to be a certain age is ‘too old’. Life and society have changed.People enjoy better health and longer lives; societal relationships break up and break down; people have children later in life. There are a myriad of reasons why people should not be compelled to retire at age 60 or 65 so long as they are fit to do the job.

Those of us who had to retire have had no choice but to get on with our lives as best we can. There is no doubt but that there is something to be said for having leisure time in abundance, but what we ask for is a choice, to stay part of the workforce for as long as we must, and for as long as we can do a good job and continue to contribute to society and avoid being a drain on it.






Filed under Age Action Ireland, Family History, Living in Ireland, My Oral History, Retirement Age

The Bells, the Bells!

The Bangor Bell, The Lough Lene Bell and The Cashel Bell.

The Bangor Bell, The Lough Lene Bell and The Cashel Bell.

On a recent visit to Limerick’s Hunt Museum to attend a lecture I was very pleased to discover a temporary exhibit of three very impressive bells.
Bells have always had a certain attraction for me, from way back when the clock of the local Church of Ireland would ring out the hours, and when the Angelus bell on the local Roman Catholic church would peal across the miles three times a day. In fact family lore has it that I acquired my name as I was born at 8 am on March 25th, to the sound of the Angelus bell ringing. It’s a nice story!
Later in boarding school,bells took on a whole new meaning as they were used to wake us in the morning, during daily Mass to attract solemnity, to signify the end of the overnight silence at breakfast, to signal the end of each class during the school day and as a call to evening prayer at the end of the day. Later still, I was totally captivated by the peals of church  bells in London on Sunday mornings as they rang out joyfully across the city, a sound I love and miss to this day.

The three bells in this small exhibition are hand bells, weighing a hefty 10 kg each. They were probably used by monks as a call to prayer. The Bangor Bell dates from c.825 and was thought to have been hidden from Viking invaders and rediscovered centuries later. The Lough Lene Bell, on loan from the National Museum of Ireland dates from the 7th century while the  Cashel Bell dates from about the 9th Century.

These three bells are thought to be the oldest bronze castings in existence.  How wonderful it would have been to have been able to hear them ring!




Filed under Ireland

Flying Boats and River Boats at Foynes

Flying Boat. Full scale replica of Boeing 314

Flying Boat. Full scale replica of Boeing 314

On a beautiful sunny day, too hot to sit out, I headed 10 miles north to the cooling waters of the River Shannon and pulled in to the Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum. What a serendipitous decision that was, with the Museum  about to celebrate 75 years of commercial transatlantic flight. Imagine!  ONLY  75 years since those flights began, and haven’t they come a long way as we now criss-cross the Atlantic without giving it a second thought!

imageAt Foynes, just 15 minutes  off the Wild Atlantic Way from Tarbert, Co Kerry,the only Flying Boat Museum in the world is in the original terminal building right on the main street on the N69 Tralee to Limerick road.

Rineanna had been selected as the location for an airport as the wide River Shannon estuary on Ireland’s west coast  made identification easy for pilots who had crossed the 2,000+ miles  of Atlantic Ocean. While the new airport at Rineanna – now Shannon Airport – was being built, it was decided that Foynes, further down the estuary,would be a good interim location for the European Terminal.  After some test flights in either direction, on 9 July 1939 the first commercial flight, the Yankee Clipper arrived.

The Museum is full of treasures for aviation enthusiasts as well for the non-expert like me. It is a techy-kids paradise as there are several interactive pieces of equipment on which they can have fun.

The Museum is in three main sections. The Aviation section  is devoted to the history of trans Atlantic flight, the focal point of which is a full-scale replica of the Yankee Clipper. This can be explored at leisure. Upstairs is the very spacious flight deck, relatively devoid of any high-tech banks of dials and gauges.

The B.314 could carry thirty-five passengers in relative luxury. The dining room could seat fourteen at a time for a seven-course meal, freshly prepared by cabin crew. The seats converted to bunk beds for sleeping. and there was even a honeymoon suite on board! There certainly were no leg-room issues here!

With tickets costing up to $600, only the very wealthy could afford to travel on these early flights. Posters advertising exotic destinations adorn the walls of the recreated waiting room

There is a good display of old radio and morse code equipment as well as flight simulators that can be tried out!

There were security issues back in those days too as can be on this notice.


The new trans Atlantic service attracted a number of wealthy and high profile travellers.

imageAmong the high flyers on these first flights from  New York to Foynes, were Ernest Hemingway, Anthony Eden, John F. Kennedy, Lord Mountbatten, Yehudi Menuhin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bob Hope, Gracie Fields, Douglas Fairbanks Snr and Humphrey Bogart, and Marilyn Monroe.

Irish Coffee to warm up the frozen passengers

Irish Coffee to warm up the frozen passengers

Irish coffee was invented by chef Joe Sheridan at Foynes in 1943. A Hologram presentation tells the story of the first glass served in the B O’Regan Bar to cold and wet passengers!

On a more sober note, here too is part of the wreck of a BOAC Sunderland that was travelling from Lisbon to Foynes  and crashed into Mount Brandon in Kerry in foggy conditions. 10 crew and passengers, mostly military personnel, lost their lives on July 28 1943

More details of this tragedy can be seen here

Foynes was the centre of European Aviation for a brief time only and ended in 1945 when Shannon Airport opened. Passenger flights ceased at the onset of WW 2 in September 1939, although military traffic continued to use the facility throughout the war. In the 1940s style cinema the story of the ‘Atlantic Conquest’ is fascinating and will be enjoyed by all!

The recently extended Museum now includes a Maritime Section. The River Shannon on which Foynes is located has an impressive history, from Limerick City to Loop Head right at the end of the Estuary.

US Civil War  Confederate uniforms manufactured in Limerick at the Tait factory, were shipped from Foynes, breaking the Union Blockade.

Tate Confederate Uniforms shipped to USA during  Civil war

Tait Confederate Uniforms shipped to USA during Civil war

Not only goods, but people too were exported from the Shannon region. Many emigrants’ had their last glimpses of Ireland here. I was particularly taken with this poster from 1842 advertising passage to USA.


A poster from 1842 – no fewer than 5 ships would be sailing to American within a few days of one another

Here at the Museum the hand-made weather charts drawn up at Shannon have been preserved in the Archives (miraculously saved from a skip!) Their Archive includes letters, diaries, postcards newspapers relating to Foynes as an air hub and about 200 years of records relating to Foynes as an important harbour, including bills of lading and correspondence between ship owners and others. In addition they hold an extensive collection of papers on Local History as there were a number of prominent and influential families living in this area.


D-day Weather Chart

The original Control Tower has recently opened and provides great views across the river and is truly the pinnacle of the tour around this wonderful place. Foynes Harbour is Ireland’s premier deepwater bulk carrier port. On the day of my visit, there was no merchant shipping berthed, but the gantries used to load and unload the giant ships up to 250,000 tonnes, can be seen here.


Sadly the rail station closed in the 1960s, but hopefully some project may be found to utilize this beautiful cut stone building


Foynes railway station- now closed with Alumina plant in the background

The Celtic Cross peeping out from the trees on the hill was used as a marker by pilots flying into Foynes. This is a memorial to Edmund Spring Rice, a local landlord  and politician who was held in high esteem in the area


The Spring Rice Cross from the Control Tower

Some nice original feautures have been retained in the old terminal building

There is so much to see at this excellent little museum – surely one of the mid -west’s best kept secrets! It is so well worth a visit and has something for everyone.  It also boasts a coffee shop and restaurant serving up some delicious food and homemade cakes.

To celebrate the 75th Birthday, there will be a spectacular air display tomorrow, out over the wide River Shannon –  it should be a wonderful sight!  Happy Birthday to them!

My thanks to Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum for permission to take photographs  and for the guided tour of their extensive archive during Heritage week in 2013. The archive is accessible to researchers – see website for details.

Further reading:

Foynes Flying Boat Museum

Sunderland G-AGES Crash


Filed under Ireland, Irish Heritage, Living in Ireland, Transportation

Postcards from Bunratty, Co. Clare

This week I enjoyed  a stroll around Bunratty where I had gone to meet an internet blog friend from the USA who had been in Ireland doing some research for a book. (What a fascinating and interesting  woman Janet Maher is –  she blogs at Mahermatters.com).  It was a warm,sunny afternoon – just perfect for an amble in this world-famous tiny village. Bunratty  lies between Limerick City and Shannon Airport on the Limerick to Galway road, and is one of Ireland’s premier tourist attractions. It is particularly pleasant now that the heavy traffic has been diverted to a bypass, making it a great place for pedestrians and for those who wish to stop a while.

Bunratty  Castle

Bunratty Castle

Dating from 1425, Bunratty Castle was restored in the 1960s. It is now Ireland’s most complete medieval fortress,open to the public and hosting the daily world-famous medieval banquets. Bunratty Castle is part of the Bunratty Folk Park complex – with its 19th century village street, that includes a school-house, post office and pub as well as many more attractions.  A captivating place that takes us back to see how our ancestors lived in their thatched houses  – a gateway to our past! I did not have time to take in the Folk Park this time, but it is indeed well worth a visit!



There are some birds in the area who enjoy their distinguished address…who would have a nest in a draughty old tree when there is 1st class accommodation available at  the castle?



Bunratty not only has a wonderful castle and folk park, it is also home to Durty Nelly’s, probably the most famous pub in Ireland.

imageNelly was a character who collected a toll from those crossing the bridge. She supposedly provided travellers with Poitín as well as other comforts! It is said that her Poitín  increased virility and helped childless couples to have large families!

The bridge that led to Durty Nelly’s and Bunratty Castle crosses the Ratty river that flows into the River Shannon.

Caislean Oir by Fred Conlon

Caislean Oir by Fred Conlon

Just opposite the Castle is a sculpture entitled Caiseal Oir  by Fred Conlon. This imposing piece was inspired by the artefacts found in the Mooghaun Gold Hoarddiscovered during the construction of the Limerick to Ennis railway line in the 1850s.


An old green telephone box is located near Blarney Woollen Mills. Every village used to have one of these green phone boxes, and nearby there is a post box that dates from the reign of Edward VII. These ‘British’ letter boxes, remnants of our history have thankfully been retained. They are protected structures, now in green livery and not the original pre-independence red colour.


Edward VII Letter box (1902 – 1910) opposite Bunratty Castle

The banks of the river provide safe berths for many small boats.


A look at the distant Clare hills…



Bunratty is truly at the heart of the mid west region and well worth a visit  by tourists from home and abroad …you will not be disappointed!


Filed under Ireland, Irish Countryside, Irish Heritage, Living in Ireland

Heritage week: Behind the scenes in Newcastle West

The magnificent restored structure of the Desmond Banqueting Hall  dominates The Square in my local town, Newcastle West, Co Limerick. I went behind the façade this week and discovered some hidden treasure! There seems to have been a castle in this location since the 11th or 12th century. The restored buildings are 15th century and are the only surviving components of what was  an extensive castle complex.


The familiar view from The Square

DSCF1733The astonishing area that is out of sight

DSCF1732The Halla Mór (The Big Hall).When we first came to this area over 30 years ago, there was a timber merchants yard in front of this beautiful building. At one time, according to the very knowledgeable guide, the local cinema was located in this building.  It is never too late to rediscover our heritage!

DSCF1737 - CopyThe restored  banqueting Hall is now on two levels and is used for local functions. This is the rear view.

DSCF1741The top floor is used for recitals, lectures and for cultural events .

If passing near Newcastle West, do drop in – admission is free and the guide is a mine of information!



Filed under Ireland, Irish Heritage, Irish History

Postcards from Newcastle West

In July 2013 we enjoyed some wonderfully warm weather, with clear blue skies and up to 15 hours of uninterrupted sunshine.  In the last few days of the month we have had torrential thundery downpours, interspersed with hot sunshine and sunshowers.  Sunshowers are a very local phenomenon and are as the name suggests – showers  and sunshine at the same time. It can be raining across the street but perfectly dry and sunny on the other side!  It was on a ‘sunshower’ morning that I  happened to have the  camera to hand to take a few snaps of my very attractive local town.

A medieval town, Newcastle West, is the principal town of  the  County  Limerick, outside of Limerick City.  Known at one time as Castlenoe, and then Newcastle, it is now officially Newcastle West, although often referred to still as simply ‘Newcastle’.


The  town has a very elegant square at its heart.

DSCF1546A 15th Century  Banqueting Hall dominates the streetscape, where the Earls of Desmond had their feasts.  Mounted on a plinth in front of the building  is a figure of the 14th Century Gerald FitzGerald  on horseback,entitled “Gearóid Iarla”  (Earl Gerald)

DSCF1549The Arra river flows through the town. After heavy rain it can be spectacular as huge torrents  of water crash over the rocks. Today it was quiet and serene – little more than a babbling brook.


The medieval complex as seen from the banks of the River Arra. This is a view familiar to thousands of travellers on the very busy main Limerick to Tralee/Killarney road. However, by simply taking a small detour for a coffee break  these travellers would be pleasantly surprised  to find  a very pleasing and attractive town centre.


The tree-lined square with Desmond  Banqueting Hall at the southern end.  Also at the southern  end of the Square is a memorial statue of the renowned local poet Michael Hartnett, created by Rory Breslin.DSCF1542

Such is the popularity of Michael Hartnett (1941-1999) that  each year Newcastle  West hosts a hugely successful Poetry Arts and Literary Festival named in his memory. Eigse Michael Hartnett is a prestigious event attracting notable figures from the arts, creating a  town a-buzz  with events, for all interests and ages.

DSCF1555At the other end of the square stands an impressive work by the renowned sculptor Cliodhna Cussen. Standing on the base of an old water pump, the bronze and limestone work  depicts a buttermaid, milk churns and a mill wheel, in recognition of the importance of  the dairy industry to this area. I love this work, especially the buttermaid in her  flowing costume holding her butter pat, which was an important part of the butter-making process.


Cliodhna Cussen is  a native of Newcastle West and also created the work “Gearóid Iarla”located outside the banqueting hall . She is an artist of considerable repute with installations in many locations throughout the country.


Detail on the ground at the  Cliodhna Cussen sculpture, with a cow in the centre.

This site was once home to a bronze cross that had been installed some years earlier  in the 1950s, to mark the Marian year  and the Latin inscription associated with it can still be seen on the plinth – see below.DSCF1558

Newcastle West was once home to a very adventurous female aviator called Sophie Peirce whose family lived in the square, in the 3 storey house on the left of the picture.  DSCF1561The plaque commemorates Sophie, who in the 1920s was one of the most well-known women in the world, a pioneering aviator, a dispatch rider in World War 1, and who helped  introduce  women’s athletics into the Olympics. (Sophie  will feature in a dedicated post on this site in due course)


Newcastle West is the hidden gem of the N21 – and it is well worth a visit!


Filed under Home, Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Living in Ireland

A Balmy Evening

Lawn1 9 pm on a balmy summer evening, in Limerick, Ireland. The acre has just been mown and the  air is heavy with the scent of freshly cut grass .

lAWN3Low flying birds are feasting on evening insects as the sun prepares to slip behind the hill.

The delicious scent of freshly cut grass mixes with the heady perfume of  a Honeysuckle in full bloom.hONEYSUCKLETruly, a perfect evening!



August 7, 2013 · 8:49 pm

Remembering the Great Famine – a dying nation’s groan

Sunday August 26th was the last day of Heritage Week in Ireland and on this day I chose to visit a Famine Settlement high above the  Limerick landscape on Knockfierna, County Limerick.

This hill was once home to hundreds of people.

Knockfierna, the highest point in County Limerick at approximately 950 feet, was common land so anyone could live there. It was  to this place  that many of the dispossessed went to live during the Famine years . Some had been evicted because they could not pay their rent; most  had no place else to go because there was no work.

A Famine Dwelling

Foundations  of scores of primitive  shacks have remained in place on Knockfierna since it was deserted in 1847.  Spread over some 200 acres, there  are remnants of many houses – tiny, at about 8 feet by 8 feet, – with nothing more than walls and clay floors with sod roofs . It is estimated that about 130 families lived here at one time. These houses are now being preserved in memory of those who died in that terrible time.

Another Famine Dwelling

I found it quite difficult to think about many human beings, old people, younger people, children,  huddled , sick and starving to death within these walls.

Outside the remains of their huts, although it is now rather overgrown with scrub,  it is still possible to see their horticultural efforts –  raised beds  where they tried in vain to grow a potato crop to feed their families ; a crop that rotted in the ground for several years as it succumbed to a blight. As potatoes were the mainstay of their diet, there was no alternative , and so they had nothing to eat.

From the desolate hillside they looked down on the village of Ballingarry

The great green lush pastures of the Golden Vale are below where these wretched people ‘lived’. It was to Ballingarry graveyard that their coffinless bodies were transported. From this hill their emaciated bodies were taken to Ballingarry to be deposited into anonymous  pits .

The Famine Memorial on Knockfierna with lush green fields below

The poem on the memorial is by Michael Hogan from Limerick. Although not a great work of literature, it encapsulates the time:

‘The Living Skeleton, A Vision of the Famine Year, 1847’:
‘Twas in ruthless Fortyseven,-
When the plague-fraught air was riven
With the sound which harrowed heaven,
Of a famished people’s cry –
When the famine fiend was formed,
All with tenfold horrors armed,
And our godless rulers, charmed,
Saw their Irish victims die;
While Europe, all alarmed, heard
the wail that tore the sky
A dying Nation’s death-groan, ringing
up to God on high.

Detail Famine Memorial on left

The right side of the memorial  is rather difficult to read and I will post a transcription here when I can find one!

Right side of memorial

It is interesting to note the very lush green fields that can be seen over the top of this image –  the great so called Golden Vale below is one of the lushest agricultural areas in Ireland , yet these unfortunate people starved to death in sight of it .

Famine Memorial overlooking a green and pleasant land

Over a million people  died as  a result of the Great Famine between 1845 and 1849. It is not known how many people who lived on  Knockfierna died.

This hill however preserves their hovels and the relics of their garden plots. On this hill they starved, on this hill they sickened and on this hill they died.  Men, women, children. They are buried in anonymous pits in the lush fields of Ballingarry.

Today I remember them.

Ar dheis De go raibh siad uilig


Credit to Knockfierna Heritage & Folklore Group for recognizing the importance of this heritage site and to Pat O’Donovan whose passion for this project has become legendary.



Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Genealogy, Irish Heritage, Irish History

Limerick: A lunchtime walk through history

With a workplace on the southern banks of the River Shannon in Limerick City, Ireland, this is the spectacular view from my desk.

View from my desk.

The River  Shannon is tidal which means the water level rises and falls by about 18 feet twice a day, so the view is ever-changing. In the foreground is the Marina at the junction of the Abbey River flowing from the right, and the River Shannon. The white building is the Court House and behind it alongside the arched Thomond Bridge is King John’s Castle. The Rainbow’s End is in the Clare Hills in the background! My lunchtime walk of about 25 minutes is packed with interesting places and views, so stroll along with me through some of Limerick’s history!

The Hunt Museum

In the very first minute of my walk I come to the the Hunt Museum. This is the former Custom House commissioned by the Commissioners of Revenue as headquarters of the Collector of Customs for the Port of Limerick, which was completed in 1769. It was still in use by Customs in the 1980s as I recall attending there to sort out some paperwork when we returned from England to live in Ireland. Since 1997 the building has been home to the Hunt Collection – a private collection of art and treasures accumulated by John Hunt and his wife, Gertrude. Here you can see  Picasso, Renoir and Yeats as well as artefacts from medieval times and a coin that is reputed to be  “one of the thirty pieces of silver” paid to Judas for the betrayal of Christ. There is great home-made soup to be had in the Ducarts restaurants in the Hunt!

On then, behind the Hunt and over the Sylvester O’Halloran bridge, crossing the Abbey River that joins the River Shannon at this point. I had no idea who Sylvester O’Halloran  was –  I had assumed that he was a politician until I  ‘Googled’ him. Not so!  He was much more important –  an historian/surgeon who practised in Limerick from 1749,and was instrumental in founding the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI). He also developed a new method of treating cataracts. He was a historian of some repute – in 1774 he wrote a General History of Ireland  and in 1803 he wrote ‘a History of Ireland’. He died in 1807. This bridge leads to The Potato Market, begun in 1843 and in use to the 1940s. Now a car park, its once-cobbled surface leads to the very imposing St Mary’s Cathedral and the recently restored Courthouse.

St Mary's Cathedral from The Potato Market.

St Mary's Cathedral - Founded 1168 and still in use - a testament to the history of Limerick. This is the imposing West Door.

The Arches of Thomond Bridge with the Tower of King John's Castle in foreground

It is thought that the original Thomond Bridge may have been constructed about 1185. This is the main access point from King John’s Castle to the County Clare side of the river Shannon. The bridge we see today was completed in 1840 and was designed by the Pain Brothers. At high tide, the water reaches to almost the top of these arches.

King John's Castle

In the heart of medieval Limerick is King John’s Castle.  Built between 1200 and 1210, it has been renovated and extended  many times over the centuries. John was the son of King Richard II and Helen of Aquitaine. This castle dominated Limerick for some seven centuries. It is open to the  public who can get access to the top of one of the towers to enjoy spectacular views across Limerick and Clare.

 Crossing Thomond Bridge to what is known as the Clare side, we come to Limerick’s famous monument – The Treaty Stone. Mounted on a plinth, this stone is reputed to be one on which the Treaty of Limerick was signed on October 3, 1691, marking the end of  hostilities between the Williamites and forces loyal to King James the Second. The irregular shaped stone was previously used to aid people mounting their horses and stood outside a pub in Thomondgate. Originally twice this size, it was constantly under attack by souvenir hunters. It was mounted on a high plinth in 1865 to preserve what remained. It was  relocated by a few metres  in the 1980s.

Curragower Falls

There is a new boardwalk along the edge of the river on this side, open except when very high tides are expected. From here we can look across at the very modern Civic Offices with the tower of St Mary’s Cathedral  behind. To the right, the white building is the Courthouse. This beautiful listed building dates from 1810 and was refurbished in recent times. The white water on the river marks the Curragower Falls. Beloved by kayakers at various stages of the tides, here they enjoy white water kayaking!  Surely, relatively unique in a city centre?

Strand Barracks

Continuing along Clancy’s Strand,  towards Sarsfield Bridge, we arrive at  Strand Barracks. This building has had an interesting history – originally built as a House of Industry in 1774..’to support the aged and feeble poor, to save helpless infants from perishing, to take care of lunatics…and to make the sturdy vagrant useful to society by his labour….’ Noble causes  indeed!

Damage to houses adjacent to Strand Barracks in 1922.

A solid stone building with a carriage arch leading to a courtyard, during the 19th Century it became an army barracks and was handed over in 1922 under the terms of the Anglo- Irish Treaty. In July 1922 it was ferociously bombarded for six days by the Free State troops. Despite coming under fire from armoured cars, snipers, machine guns and mortars the barracks was stoutly defended. Finally an 18 pound artillery gun was deployed  –  the first time such a weapon had been used in the city since the earlier siege  in 1691. Firing from Arthurs Quay across the Shannon, the barracks walls were eventually breached and the Republicans surrendered.

Strand Barracks from Arthurs Quay and red brick houses to the right .

We then cross back over the Shannon at Sarsfield Bridge where the river effectively enters the Shannon Estuary. This bridge was built in 1835 and once opened to allow ships to pass under to Arthur’s Quay. Although it no longer opens, the mechanisms can still be seen under the bridge. On the bridge is a monument commemorating the 1916 Rebellion as well as the  Shannon Rowing Club. At high tide, crews can be seen out on the water –  one of the loveliest sights on the Shannon on a summer evening!

Back at Arthurs Quay - Full circle...

Down the steps by the lock to Arthur’s Quay –  named for a wealthy merchant shipping family in the city. In the 19th century they laid out streets that they named after members of the family Francis Street, Patrick Street and Ellen Street. Arthurs Quay Park is a beautiful riverside amenity – providing lunch time seating for workers on hot summer days, ice skating at Christmas, beautiful views of the river Shannon, and spectacular perches for seagulls!


The House of Industry, Paddy Lysaght


Limerick City Museum


Filed under Ireland, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Living in Ireland

Hillforts, Ringforts & Hoards: The Archaeology of Ardagh, Co. Limerick

The Ardagh Chalice

From the Know Thy Place Blog …this is a nice piece on Ardagh,which is quite local to me here in West Limerick. This is an area rich in history. The beautiful articles of  treasure that were found here are among the best known of all our national treasures housed in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin. Click on the link below to see the  full article with pictures of the locality. 

 Hillforts, Ringforts & Hoards: The Archaeology of Ardagh, Co. Limerick.

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Heritage