Tuesday, 11 April 2017

CROSSING THE SHANNON - Part of an Irish Wake

The Ancient Greeks venerate the River Styx and it has only now occurred to me that our custom in the west of Ireland of 'Crossing The Shannon' has similar overtones.  When a custom is so ingrained it is unremarkable to the native but apparently fascinating to the visitor.

Like many Irish families, my relatives are dispersed throughout Ireland and abroad.  Our kinship becomes very apparent when a family member dies.

As a child I was reared in Dublin together with a number of cousins whose parents had come from The West.  If a relative in The West died, our parents’ generation would head off in their cars and in a time when many had no phones, the accepted practice was to meet at The Covert, a pub just outside Mullingar.  When all were present and each branch of the family accounted for, the family would head for home and cross The Shannon in convoy.

If a relative died outside of The West and was to be buried in the family plot the assembly was reversed.  All the relatives residing in The West would congregate at The Covert and await the cortege.  They would take the lead after the immediate family in the cortege procession and escort the funeral across The Shannon.

Some years ago a cousin of my mother’s died.  He was to be interred in the family plot in Roscommon.  Without consulting anyone else, my husband, brother and I decided to Cross The Shannon and parked outside The Covert.  As we parked up, a fleet of cars pulled into the empty car park beside us...our cousins had come from far and near.  We were very emotional as we walked in the footsteps of our parents into the pub.  Very shortly afterwards the hearse pulled up in the car park, it had not been scheduled to do so but the family had suggested a 60 second stop to mark the commencement of the journey to Cross The Shannon.  We all trooped out of The Covert, loaded into our respective cars and the grieving family smiled through their grief as we brought our cousin Across The Shannon.

The following day, after the burial we met in Carrick on Shannon for refreshments and chat.  As the evening drew in the singers started, the stories were recounted with great fits of laughter interspersed with teary eyes.  At one stage a guitar player asked my cousin whose party was it. He was a tourist who thought he'd happened on an impromptu Irish Session.  My cousin ceased singing the songs chorus and said "It's not a party, it's a funeral".  The visitor was appalled at his error, "Jesus Man, I'm so sorry to intrude" he responded.  "Who died? He asked "My father" said Mick and he resumed his singing.  

As the talk ebbed and flowed my husband recounted the tale of our effort to attend my other cousin's funeral in Wicklow.  We set off very early from Roscommon and made the church  In the time between the hugging and shaking hands with others at the church, we missed the cortege taking off to the graveyard.  My husband quickly scanned a map and after a few miles of concentrated driving he instructed me to watch for a turn which would bring us to the graveyard.  Some time passed and he sharply enquired 'where are we now' as I gazed out the window I saw the Round Tower of Glendalough.  "WHAT! How the hell do you know that?" I calmly explained that St. Kevin had founded a monastic settlement in the 6th century and the Round Tower was beautifully maintained in what was known as The Garden of Ireland.  Oblivious to the dangerous level of my husband’s rising blood pressure I was totally engrossed in the scenery and massive deposits of glittering granite scattered along the roadside. My frustrated and exasperated husband stopped the car and looked me straight in the eye "You're some woman; we drive a hundred and fifty miles to go to YOUR cousin’s funeral and YOU'RE gone back in time 14 centuries. We've lost the funeral and if you don't mind, it would be useful if you could join me in the present century so we can head back home to where we've left four children with a babysitter,,,,, You're amazing, you can talk me back to the 20th century but you can't find two lefts, and one right on a map".

Enough said.

Monday, 27 February 2017

A Clean Sweep

As every woman of a certain age will tell you, the ‘Gantry’ is the place in the house where all old towels, handles of brushes and assorted instruments of housewifely 
endeavour are stored.  The good instruments are to the forefront of a press and the spare parts gather in a motely assembly up on the top or to the rear.  It is inevitable that when the door to this essential munitions store is opened by the uninitiated that an assault of implements attacks the stranger.  Thus it was in Dickie Beirne’s Emporium last night.

Dickies is a great house for music, the GAA and rugby.  Soccer is a less regarded sport in the pecking order of the patrons but as with every rule, there’s always an exception.

It doesn’t take much for the craíc to lift off in Dickies but in this instance it was the winning goal by Jordan Muldoon in the Ireland versus Wales under 18’s win of the John Coughlan Memorial Cup. 

Young Muldoon is the grandson of two of the much loved patrons of Dickies and when I enquired about the match, I was merely prompting about the young fella and leaving the way open to the other patrons to ‘the news’ that the parish had a minor claim to fame by association.

The exultant Granny exclaimed that not only had Jordan played the match but he had scored the one and only winning goal.  In the excitement of congratulations and salutations to the young hero, a glass fell to the floor just as a singer had burst into song accompanied by The Lady of The House on her keyboard. 

With a nod to Dickie I hit for the kitchen to secure a floor brush and as Dickie fought off the household implements that tumbled out of the press I hastily returned to the lounge. 

As the music flowed, the singer never missed a beat or a word as he rose and paced in time to my sweeping.  The excuse for a floor brush was laid against the wall and I resorted to dust pan and brush guided by every patron in the lounge.

Dickie had the cheek to admonish my progress and the composure of his lady wife was severely tested.  Torn by the chagrin of the exposure of the useless implement and her post as lead instrumentalist, her duty to the singer prevailed.  As the singer reached the climax of the final verse I joined the dance with the offending brush as my partner.   

As I curtseyed to the singer Dickie; oblivious to the danger, yet again made a pithy remark….I whipped round with hands on hips and roundly demanded an immediate raise to the house keeping budget.  The motion was unanimously and loudly carried by the assembly and the strains of Olé, Olé, Olé hung in the ether.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016


Despite being Irish by both persuasion and birth, I found it extremely difficult to understand the districts and boundaries of parishes and townlands when I moved west.  In cities, areas are clearly defined and named.  Bus, train and road trips also contribute to make the visitor or native aware of their surroundings.  I was born in 'The Pale', a lexicon hardly used and largely unknown to the present generation.  In my time ; The Pale referred to Dublin.   My family of origin is of Connaught and the saluation 'To Hell or to Connaught' is familar with all of its complications! Fortunately for me; religion was more of a curiosity than a necessity and the strongest influences were cultural and sporting events.  However, my lack of knowledge of christian church structures, names and boundaries were a definite handicap.  It took months of frustrating labour before I understood an area I call the parish of Eastersnow is the Protestant term.  This same territory is identified by the catholic church as Ballinameen & Kilcola.I have set down below some extracted information regarding the various redistribution of lands and ownerships relating to Eastersnow, Clogher and a brief outline of Connaught.ROSCOMMON: 

According to Ptolemy (AD 168), Roscommon was inhabited by the Auteri, who occupied also the present county of Galway. Among the native septs by whom it was afterwards occupied, the O'Conors enjoyed the supreme authority in the central districts, the Mac Dermots in the northern, and the O'Ceilys or O'Kellys in the southern.

After the arrival of the English in the country, Murrough, son of Roderic O’Conor, King of Ireland, during his father's absence, persuaded Milo de Cogan to undertake an expedition into Connaught, who having come to Roscommon was there joined by Murrough, and their united forces commenced a marauding campaign through the neighbouring districts.

In 1204, this part of the island was ravaged by William Bourke Fitz Aldelm; in 1216, Athlone castle was erected by King John of England; and in 1268 Robert de Ufford, Lord Justice, commenced construction of Roscommon Castle, which shortly afterwards fell into the hands of the natives.

The erection of the county into shire ground must have taken place at a very early period, as notices of the sheriffs of Roscommon and Connaught are found among the records of the reign of Edward I., into which counties the portions of the province that acknowledged the English supremacy were divided.


Medieval Ireland was marked by the existence of dozens of kingdoms, each ruled by a king who in the early medieval period was technically the highest nobleman in the Tuath.

Most kings were subject to over kings, who were the policy-makers of the time. They based their authority over other lords and kings on ties of blood relationship and alliance. The integrity of such alliances partially depended on the power and personal qualities of the over king.

The ruling kindreds of the Irish kingdoms were often caught between the forces of internal division and outward stability.

The rule of inheritance and succession stimulated competition among relatives and expansion by the kindred’s branches. Yet it also gave the kindred as a whole a measure of stability and flexibility, as the kindred hardly ever died out in the male line. Several royal dynasties remained in control of an area for many centuries.

The English, since the late 1530s, under the Tudors of England, had been expanding their control over Ireland.

To incorporate the native Irish Lordships, they granted English titles to Irish Lords.  Shane O'Neill of Ulster is a good example of the difficulties this caused – Conn Bacach O'Neill, Shane's father, was created the first Earl of Tyrone.

However, whereas in Gaelic custom, the successor to a Chiefship was elected from his kinsmen, the English insisted on succession by the first-born son or primogeniture.

This created a conflict between Shane, who considered it his natural right to be Chieftain of his clan and an "affiliated son" or adoptee of his father Conn Bacach.

Shane's mother Lady Alice Fitzgerald, Tyrone's first wife, was the daughter of Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare. His stepmother was the daughter of Hugh Boy O'Neill of Clanaboy. She died while Shane was young and Shane, following Gaelic custom, was fostered by the Donnelly (Ó Donnaile) family, who raised him until his early teenage years.

During his trip to the English court to receive the title of earl of Tyrone, Shane's father Conn 'Bacach', who had just lost his eldest son and was in open conflict his surviving sons, was accompanied by the fosterling Feardorcha (translated into English as 'Matthew'), a youth who, until he was sixteen had been acknowledged as the son of a Dundalk blacksmith. Feardorcha's mother Alison Kelly was Conn Bacach's current mistress.

When Conn was created Earl of Tyrone, Feardorcha was declared to be Conn's heir in English law, disinheriting all of Conn's surviving sons, including Shane.

Under English law, Feardorcha, titled Baron of Dungannon from Conn's principal house in Tyrone, was intended to succeed him as 2nd Earl of Tyrone. However, Feardorcha was ambushed and killed by Shane's foster brothers, the Ó Donnaile, in 1558, some months before the death of Conn Bacach, and the claim to the earldom passed to Brian, Feardorcha's eldest son, who was later killed in 1562 in a skirmish with Turlough Luineach.

The claim to the earldom now passed to Feardorcha's next son Hugh O’Neill who had been removed to The Pale in Dublin by Sir Henry Sidney. Hugh was later transferred to the English Court in 1559, and was brought up there while Shane established his supremacy in Ulster.

Books of Survey and Distribution were compiled around 1680 as the result of the wars of the mid-seventeenth century after the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland, when the English government needed reliable information on land ownership throughout Ireland to carry out its policy of land confiscation.

They were used to impose the acreable rent called the Quit Rent, which was payable yearly on lands granted under terms of the Acts of Settlement and Explanation.

It is possible to discover to whom, if anyone, the confiscated lands were granted so that we have a record of landowners for 1641 and 1680. As a result, it is possible to determine the amount of lands lost by the 1641 owners after the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and to discover the names of the new proprietors.


CROGHAN, a village, in the parish of KILLUKEN, barony of BOYLE, county of ROSCOMMON, and province of CONNAUGHT, 4 miles (N. by W.) from Elphin, on the road to Boyle.

It is an improving village, containing about 20 houses and cabins, the property of Guy Lloyd, Esq. Drugget, frieze, and flannel are manufactured here.

Petty sessions are held every Tuesday, and fairs on the Wednesday after Trinity-Sunday and the 28th of October, for fat cattle, for which the October fair is considered to be one of the largest in this district.

There is a constabulary police station, and a dispensary; and a loan fund was established by Mr. Lloyd, in 1833, with a capital of £500.

In the village is the R. C. parochial chapel, a spacious and well-built structure; and in the immediate vicinity is Croghan House, the handsome residence of Guy Lloyd, Esq., who has effected considerable improvements in the neighbourhood.

EASTERSNOW (1837), a parish, in the barony of BOYLE, county of ROSCOMMON, and province of CONNAUGHT, 3 ½ miles (S. S. E.) from Boyle, on the new line of road from Tulsk, through Shankill; containing 1951 inhabitants. 
It comprises 3199 statute acres, of which the greater part is under tillage, and there are several large grazing farms; about one-tenth is bog, and there are some quarries of good limestone.

To the west of the church are the Cavetown loughs, bounded by hills and plantations. At the head of the largest is Croghan House, the seat of the late R. Mahon, Esq., now the property of Guy Lloyd, Esq., and on a hill beyond it is an obelisk, forming a conspicuous landmark.

On the opposite shore is Clogher, the seat of J. Dick, Esq. The other seats are Camlin, that of J. Irwin, Esq., and Granny, of T. Irwin, Esq.; and on the road to Elphin are several neat residences, on the property of Viscount Lorton.

The living is a vicarage, in the diocese of Elphin, episcopally united, in 1813, to the vicarage of Kilcola, and in the patronage of the Bishop; the rectory is impropriate in Lord Crofton. The tithes amount to £60. 16., one-half payable to the impropriator, and the other to the vicar; and the tithes of the benefice amount to £62. 14. 2., to which is added £39 per ann. from the Augmentation fund.

The glebe-house was erected by aid of a gift of £337, and a loan of £70. from the late Board of First Fruits, in 1821. The church, a very plain edifice, is situated in a deep hollow near the southern extremity of the "Plains of Boyle," of which this parish is considered to be the limit.

In the R. C. divisions the parish forms part of the union or district of Croghan and Ballinameen. The parochial school, and a school under the patronage of Mrs. Irwin, of Camlin, afford instruction to about 80 children; and there is also a private school, in which are about 30 children.

In Cavetown are some caves partially filled up; they are said to extend to a very great length. There are also some scarcely perceptible vestiges of an old castle, called Moylerg, which is said to have belonged to the Mac Dermotts.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Ireland of The Welcomes.....

My buddy Tricia owns a bed and breakfast which beautifully reflects her bubbly and charming enthusiasm.  The house nestles up a winding lane and is wedged between two hills that offer shelter  and a sense of being snuggled into the landscape . 

Tricia is a dynamo and combines her family life with a busy schedule of work.  I met her last night at a house party and as five of us sat around the fire we exchanged stories of how stressful life becomes when our children are engaged in so many activities and how ‘you’d meet yourself coming back’ when on the road, not to mention the dreaded ‘car pool’!

Last week, Tricia had a booking for her B & B; a Mother and Son visiting from Scotland.  They were to arrive last Tuesday, meanwhile; back at the ranch a child announced that there was a football match and furthermore, another child required a lift, oh, and by the way a new mouth guard was required together with football socks.  Exasperated but focused Trish organised a schedule, a trip to Sligo was required; The Child was delegated with the task of getting the socks and Trica would get the mouth guard and both would reconnoitre at the car park for a speedy trip back home and thence to pick up the neighbours child.  The time frame was tight; no further shopping was to be done, no loitering; get the items and ‘Get out of Dodge’ as fast as possible.


15 minutes after the allotted time, no sign of the Child, Trish is stressing and when the said Child strolls across the car park she’s met with a barrage ‘Get it, seatbelt, what kept you? Do you think I’ve nothing better to do? Jeeze, I’ve no petrol! What part of hurry up did you not understand? What do you mean you’ve not eaten…….’
The traffic is dreadful, and now the schedule is completely out the window.

Back in Boyle, the train slows to a halt and dispatches the two Scottish visitors.  The Mother is hoping to trace her ancestors who came from Arigna.  For years, she’s been planning this trip.  Her son is with her to lend his support and he’s an experienced traveller.  There’s a problem.  No Hire Car awaits them and the company cannot figure out the issue.  Mother is tired so son hires a taxi to bring them to Tricia’s house.  Gratefully they disembark and are greeted by Tricia’s mother who makes a welcome cup of tea and shows them to their rooms. 

Tricia is still barrelling along the roads trying to make up time and is now buzzing with frustration and stress.  The Child is telephoning The Friend and yelling at her to ‘get a grip’ and be ready and waiting at the gate for her lift to the football.  The car tears around the S bend and gravel and stones flying they pull up at the front door.  The Child runs up the stairs to get her kit bag and Tricia fills the kettle to boil as she reads the instructions for the mouth guard ‘Immerse in boiling water for 3 minutes to soften, then place in mouth immediately to impress’.  As the 3 minutes are up;  there’s footsteps on the stairs and as the door opens Tricia extends her arm upwards as she bent to the press beneath the sink; ‘Put this in your mouth, and don’t say another word to me’.  As she straightened up and turned around she was eyeball to eyeball with her Scottish lady guest who mildly retorted ‘I just came downstairs to introduce myself’.

The following morning, the guests from Scotland were still without a hire car.  Our small county is a network of narrow secondary roads and without transport cannot be mastered.  Over tea, the guests outlined their mission and despair.  They had very little information of their ancestors and only knew of the area as Kilronan, somewhere in Roscommon.  With the assistance of the internet, they had planned their two day trip with meticulous attention.  A plane trip, a train journey and a short drive to Tricia’s with a map to guide them to Kilronan.  Their family ancestors were Miners and that was all they knew. 

Undeterred, Tricia volunteered to bring her guests to Arigna and Kilronan.  Up the Iron Mountain the local community built an interpretive centre in one of the disused mines.  As Tricia and her guests followed the guide around the mine, the Scottish Lady was overcome with emotion to see how her ancestors had forged a living underground and in primitive conditions.  Emerging into the daylight with tears coursing down her cheeks she found Tricia who volunteered that she had made some enquiries and invited the Scots to visit a graveyard down the hill.  And there they found the family grave and paid their respects.

A restorative afternoon tea in the palatial surroundings of Kilronan Castle completed the outing and the following morning Tricia drove them back the winding road along Lough Key’s shore to catch the train back to the city.

 I’d love to see the review of their trip to Ireland on the Internet!

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

From Manhattan to Tullyboy

Imagine our great joy on the return of our eldest Ellen daughter from NYC and her immediate offer to join us in Dickie’s to celebrate a surprise birthday for our neighbour Rose Callery.  The Callery family have been connected to our family as friends over three generations so with great heart and Sarah’s fiddle tucked into the boot we chuntered along to play our part in the proceedings.  As it happens, both Sarah and I were to join in another celebration; the home coming of The Moylurg Ceili Band who had won the All Ireland senior competition in Derry the previous week. 

Dickie’s was full to the brim and the joyous laughter, singing and conversation reflected merrily on Rose as she sat regally beside her husband, sister and the co conspirators of the surprise party.   Party pieces were recited; Sarah, Charlie and Breege played a few tunes as the Callery girls distributed trays of food over creamy pints and shortly after eleven Sarah and I decided to scoot over to Kingsland to see ‘The Moylurgs’. My Reason For Living, and Ellen accepted a lift from a neighbour and wished us goodnight as they expected to be home well before us.

As we travelled along the Knockarush Road, Sarah regaled me with stories from children and families she had met that day as she worked in the café in Tullyboy Farm.  Hoarse with laughter, she kinked and coughed as she relived the adventures.  Suddenly, we both saw flashes of white along the road and as I sharply slowed the car down we could see approaching like a pair of racehorses, two runaway calves.  Keenly aware of the potential danger to motorists, I urged Sarah out of the car and pressed a torch into her hand ‘what’til I do’ wailed she as I turned the car and got ahead of the calves, leaving her on the road behind.  ‘Find a gate to open or a drive to get them off the road’ sez I.  After some tribulation, we found a boreen and Sarah remained at the head of the road as I set off to find Matt O’Dowd.  

The lights were on at Tullyboy but the doors were locked so, unusually for me, I made my way to the front door and through the curtain framed window I could see Matt leaning forward in his armchair with his elbows on his knees and his face framed by the cups of his large hands.   I tapped a friendly but brisk tattoo on the window and Matt threw himself out of the chair, came to the window, stepped back and then realizing it was me, he came to open the door.  His wife,  Eileen, burst into a spontaneous and highly contagious laughter on hearing of the runaway calves and insisted that Sarah and I come back to the house when our mission was accomplished.

Meanwhile, Sarah and her new suede red pumps were traversing a boreen, and as I caught up to her, I could hear her throat and chest gently wheezing from her exertions and helpless laughter.  Mission accomplished we repaired back to Matt and Elieen who were both in the kitchen.  Tears of laughter followed as Eileen explained that Matt had been watching a thriller on the telly and my knock at the window and occurred at an intense moment.  A happy hour passed as we laughed ourselves to exhaustion and arrived home delighted with our adventure

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Thoughts for a stranger on St. Patrick’s Day

Whilst visiting Catherine, I casually enquired if she knew anyone in a parish located in south Roscommon.  Not only did she know the area but to my alarm, her lips quivered and her breath shortened with emotional turmoil. 

After a time she remarked, ‘Ah, sure every cripple has their own way of walking’ and proceeded with her story. 

Over sixty years ago, in the late 1940’s a wife left her husband and removed herself to the farthest end of the county.  To leave a wife was commonplace.  Many families were reared by their mothers whilst the father went to the UK or America for work.  Some fathers returned regularly, others not at all.  Occasionally as children got to employable age, they went to join their father and found they had half siblings or that they were going to live with ‘a widowed cousin’ and her family.

Leaving a husband was very rare and for the middle class; deeply shameful.  Appearances were to be maintained and when a family was in a position of respect or power, any deviation from the norm was viewed with appalled fascination.

 Fortunately for our Runaway Wife, not only did she have a profession, she was acknowledged as an accomplished and beautiful woman.  She was also materially comfortable.  These attributes were a gift and a curse.  There would be considerable gossip to be sure.  Added to this mix was a conundrum, The Runaway Wife had a protector; The Parish Priest. 

The Runaway Wife continued her work as a teacher until her retirement in the 1960’s.  She became a school principal, won several accolades for music, bought her own car and home and when I met her in her eighth decade she was poised, elegant and erudite.

Fast forward forty years to Ireland in the 1980’s.  A teacher in a Convent school was dismissed for breaching the ethos of the school by having not one, but two children with her partner who was a separated married man.  This young woman appealed her case and failed right up to the High Court of Ireland.

Now I never experienced any difficulties during my school days but over the years I’ve heard highly emotive and painful recollections from individuals who really did experience physical and emotional abuse from teachers, their peers or indeed members of their own family.  
I’ve also experienced the singular pleasure of meeting some retired teachers who made a point of apologising, in person, to former pupils for any harm they may have inflicted on them as children.  I sat for hours listening to young adults explaining how one ‘bad’ teacher affected their entire perspective.

The Runaway Wife suffered her own indignities as did her progeny.  Few dared to confront the adult but speculation was rife and meted out to the children.  They would ask their mother ‘what is a bastard?’ response; ‘a child without a father’.  The children knew they had a father but couldn’t provide evidence of his existence without saying ‘he’s at home’ therefore making themselves transient visitors in their current abode.  ‘What’s sex?’ was another query; remember this is in Ireland in the 1940’s.  Response; ‘Sex is the difference between a man and a woman’.  Each question had an answer but somehow there was something in the ether which was inexplicable.

No one has the franchise on emotional pain.  When I carelessly asked Catherine about that little parish on St. Patrick’s Day, she opened her mind and her mouth and said it was time that this memory came out.  As she spoke, I saw a frightened little girl who had lost her father, home, siblings and friends simultaneously.  I heard her puzzlement and fear and she was unable to separate fact from fiction.  Who was the villain?  What was the cause for the flight?  Sixty years later she was looking for an answer but then quoted Rudyard Kipling’s IF.....

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Stoicism me Arse!