Remembering Danny Lynch

Eulogy

Or Death of a Painter

 

He had the dark good looks of a forties film star

As my sister and I eyed his old photos eagerly

As he blushed and mumbled, embarrassed with the flattery,

But quietly chuffed too I think.

 

A hard-working man, he worked all his life, on the farm, saving hay

The old way

You could see his haycocks in the distance, with their little covers

Like handkerchief hats on Brighton beach,

As you glimpsed them through a break in the trees.

 

Basket-weaver too; he showed us the results of his craft;

Baskets for logs and turf, told us how he chose the willow twigs

And bent them to his will.

 

A painter by profession, he worked a six day week

And put up with sciatic pain for years

With grace and good humour.

I heard he was a fine dancer once,

And have no doubt it’s true.

 

He was a proud man too

Not in some boastful, conceited way

But with tenderness and love.

For his wife’s fine baking (which is legendary)

For his daughter’s uncommon beauty,

The achievements of his children

And in later times his grand-children as well.

 

He had once lost, in a fire, everything; the lot,

Burnt to the very ground!

But he was truly grateful that all his family escaped, unharmed,

That was the only thing that really mattered, he knew.

He’d been so touched by kindness of his friends

Who came with what they could afford to give.

Most precious of these gifts perhaps, the photos

To replace his own that had all gone up in the smoke!

 

When my partner, Pat, lay dying in a hospital bed,

For eight whole weeks

He came to see him every single day,

Save one, I think, as he was working far too far away

But came instead that night, if memory serves me right.

 

And now with his passing, it is a sad loss for us who’re left behind.

Up there, where earthly pains and aches are felt no more,

He and Pat will find a dance-partner apiece

And dance a polka set; quick feet slapping on some heavenly floor?

 

 

 

 

R.I.P. Danny Lynch, 1930 (?)  –  11th June 2012

 

 

 

 

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Ieper, September 2019

 

The Clan Chisholm Society organised an International Gathering in Ieper (Ypres) in September of this year (2019), to commemorate Chisholms who had fallen in the Great War (1914-1918).

Our party stayed at the beautiful Ariane hotel, Slachthuisstraat 58, in 8900, Ieper (Ypres), www.ariane.be ph. +32 (0) 57 218 218, e: info@hotelariane.be.

Slachthuisstraat, “Slaughter Street” is just off de Oude Veemarkt (the old Cattle Market), a short and pretty direct walk from the Grote Markt.

They are very proud of their beef in Ieper which features prominently on the menus of the many excellent eating houses. One very popular and absolutely delicious dish that you will find on many menus in Ieper is Vlaamse Stoverij met Salade en Frietje “Flemish Stew with Salad and Chips”.

In the hotel the floors are strewn with the skins of cattle, some small chairs are also covered in skins, and the comfy sofas are made of the most excellent quality hide.

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Off the lobby of the hotel Ariane is a large display stand dedicated to “The Madonnas of Pervyse”: Mrs Elsie Knocker and Miss Mairi Chisholm of Chisholm (my late great aunt), whose extraordinary courage is still celebrated and honoured today, over one hundred years later.

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Outside in the Hotel’s lovely garden & covered seating area, at the water’s side, is a statue of Mrs Knocker and Miss Chisholm, and their dog “Shot”. The statue is thanks to the extraordinary efforts of our tour guide, Stefaan Vandenbussche, founder of “1418tours.com” www.1418tours.com (website in progress as I type), and with Diane Atkinson, historian and author, whose book “Elsie & Mairi Go To War” has helped bring the story of these two remarkable women to a brand new audience and appreciation.  The Clan Chisholm Society kept in close contact with Diane Atkinson and Stefaan Vandenbussche. Their fund-raising proposal was included in the Clan website in 2013. The appeal went out to members in the UK in January 2014. Donations came from UK Branch members via the Secretary of the Clan Chisholm Society, however a number of people made donations directly to the online banking IBAN which was included in the proposal on Diane’s website  http://www.dianeatkinson.co.uk/statue-fund.html   Donations also came in from overseas members of the Clan Chisholm Society around the world. There is a piece about the unveiling of the statue in Ieper, which includes lovely photographs, on the Clan website: http://www.clanchisholmsociety.org/public/ypres.php

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On our first evening in Ieper, Stefaan took us outside to see the statue of Elsie & Mairi, telling us how the statue came about, and how funding was raised to commission sculptor Josiane Vanhoutte. Afterwards we made our way to The Menin Gate via The Grote Markt, and St. George’s Memorial Church (built 1927-1929 to commemorate the 500,000 British & Commonwealth troops who died fighting in the three battles of the Ypres Salient).

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Every single night, since 1927, at 8pm, The Last Post has sounded at The Menin Gate, by the buglers of The Last Post Association, (save for the duration of the 2nd World War, when Ieper was under German occupation). Occasionally, this nightly ceremony is extended, allowing for choirs to join in, prayers or poems to be read, as well as the laying of commemorative wreaths.

The Clan Chisholm Society, represented by Susan Chisholm, Clan Secretary, her cousin Mairi Angela Foster and fellow clansman Robert Chisholm (representing the New Zealand branch) laid a wreath in commemoration of fallen Chisholms.

Afterwards, before returning to the hotel, we ate a beautiful dinner at the Hotel-Restaurant ‘t-Zweerd (“The Sword”), Grote Markt 2, in 8900, Ieper, ph.: +32 (0) 57 20 04 75 www.gasthof-tzweerd.be e: info@gasthof-tzweerd.be  where I, along with others in our little group, tried the famous Vlaamse Stoverij “Flemish Stew”, which was absolutely delicious!

On the second day of our tour, after a hearty breakfast at the Hotel Ariane, we boarded our bus with Stefan and drove through Pervyse, seeing the site where the original “Cellar House” had stood, from the window. The house was completely demolished during the first world war, but the cellar, where Elsie and Mairi were based still survives. Unfortunately, it is impossible to see this because it is now a rebuilt private house and the owners, naturally, do not wish a troupe of “War Tourists” disturbing them!

We arrived at the “Trench of Death” and Museum at Diksmuide (Dixmude), address: Ijkerdijk 65, in 8600, Diksmuide. Tel: 032 (0) 51 50 53 44 e: dodengang.diksmuide@warheritage.be and explored the last remnant of the Belgian First World War trench system and interpretation centre which delivers information in four languages: Dutch, French, German and English. The sign outside the museum reflects this: Dodengang, Boyau de la Mort, Totengang and Trench of Death.

A short journey took us back into Dixmude town, where we drove past the colossal Ijzertoren “the Yser Tower”, which commemorates the Flemish soldiers who were killed on the Yser (Ijzer) front during the first world war. The first tower was erected in 1930, but was blown up in 1946. Several years later, the present, much larger tower was built. The beautiful Pax gate, which sits in front of the Ijzer tower, overlooks the water at Portus Dixmuda, and was erected from the ruins of the first tower.

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We had a delicious lunch at Restaurant Sint-Jan (Saint John), opposite the Ijzer tower. Address: Bloemmolenkaai 1, in 8600, Diksmuide, Belgium. www.st-jan.be e: info@st-jan.be Ph: +32 (0) 51 50 02 74. The dish we enjoyed at Sint-Jan was Vispannetje (roughly translated as fish pan), a sort of seafood chowder with a creamy gratin topping, served with the inevitable frietje (chips!)

After lunch we went to Passchendaele (Passendale), a village in the Ypres (Ieper) Salient*, within municipality of Zonnebeke, with an estimated population of just under 3,000. The Battle of Passendaele, also referred to as “The Third Battle of Ypres” (Derde slag om Vlaanderen), claimed the lives of over ½ a million soldiers (Allies as well as German).

In the heaviest rain for more than 30 years, the Ypres Salient became a quagmire; shell holes immediately became swamps. Many men, horses and pack mules drowned. 90,000 bodies have never been identified. 42,000 have never been recovered.

*Salient; the meaning is the same as “bulge” and is a military term for a battleground.

We visited the Tyne Cot Cemetery, Memorial and Visitor Centre, a little under 3km from Passendaele village.

Tyne Cot Memorial (built of Portland Stone brought from the Isle of Portland, off the coast of Dorset), and flint, which came from England as well as Italy! (Michael Davis, Trainee Archivist with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission very kindly researched the origins of the flint for me!) It bears the names of 35,000 servicemen from the U.K. and New Zealand, for whom there is no known grave.

In Tyne Cot Cemetery lie the remains of 12,000 servicemen. 8,300 of these are “Known Unto God” as their headstone says, and remain unidentified.

Here the Clan Chisholm Society laid a wreath representing the UK Branch.

Our party then went a short distance to Polygon Wood and Buttes New British Military Cemetery. The Society laid a wreath, representing the Australian Branch of the Clan Chisholm Society, at the foot of the Australian Memorial, an impressive 40ft obelisk, which looks out over the cemetery from the butte. The Australian Memorial is dedicated to the 5th Division.

 

There is both a Stone of Remembrance and a Cross of Sacrifice here at Polygon Wood.

Afterwards, we made our way down to the New Zealand Memorial, where the names of 378 men are carved into the structure. In between the elegant stone pillars, the Australian Memorial, which sits atop the butte is beautifully framed. Here the Clan Chisholm Society laid a wreath representing the New Zealand Branch of the society.

Next, our group went to St. Julian, Canadian Memorial, known as “The Brooding Soldier”. The monument commemorates Canadians who fought in the Second Battle of Ypres. On 22nd April 1915, the Germans released 180,000 kilos of chlorine gas. There were approximately 6000 casualties in the first ten minutes. Around 2000 died. Many more were blinded.

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Two or three km away, we visited Poelcapelle British Cemetery. Here are buried almost seven and a half thousand servicemen, of which 6,230 of them are unknown.

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Of all the Commonwealth Graves, by far the most moving, and most visited, is that which belongs to Private John Condon, 2nd Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment. John was only 13 when he travelled to Tipperary from his native Waterford to enlist. It is hard to believe that the medic who examined him and the recruiting officers didn’t recognise his stated age as being false. This motherless boy died on Monday 24th May 1915, aged just 14. There are more crosses, poppies and flowers, as well as other little mementoes, including coins left on this tragic grave than on any other. That there survives a photograph of this child only serves to break one’s heart more completely. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

 

We headed back to the hotel Ariane in rather sombre mood.

Later we had a talk and screen representation by Stefaan on Elsie and Mairi and enjoyed a beautiful dinner.

 

Day Three

We set off after breakfast and headed to France! By half past ten we had arrived at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.

Our guide showed us to the Canadian trench, where we climbed down inside and made our way along well-lit tunnels. We were reminded that these would have been in darkness. When we again emerged into the daylight, she pointed out the humps and hollows made by the shelling, and just how close to us was the German trench. The whole area is still full of unexploded shells which prevents the caretakers from mowing the grass, and it is for this reason that sheep are kept on the grounds to mow the grass (and we hope NOT detonate any buried explosives!)

If you follow these three photos 1,2 & 3, you can see just how close the two sides were: 1: Canadians, 2: Mid Ground, 3: Germans! Only yards away!

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The weather could not have been more perfect for our visit; the blue sky without a single cloud, against which the twin pylons (one representing France with the fleur-de-lis, the other Canada with the maple leaf) shone in dazzling white stone.

Designed by award-winning sculptor Walter Allward (1875-1955), the significance and meanings of many of the carved figures eludes me somewhat! There are obviously religious references (Faith, Hope & Charity), the inspiration for many of the carvings must have been Michelangelo (the 16th century Medici tomb in Florence), and Rodin.

Other carvings include Honour, Justice, Knowledge, Peace & Truth.

The first two that visitors are greeted with are called The Mourners: a semi naked female depicted reading the Roll of Honour and male holding a drooping laurel branch.

Canada Bereft is depicted as the Mater Dolorosa (Our Lady of Sorrows). She stands, alone, staring into the empty tomb, mourning her great loss.

The Society laid a wreath representing the Canadian Branch of the Clan Chisholm Society.

We sat outside the centre, in absolutely boiling weather and ate our welcome picnic before getting back onto the coach.

Our next stop was Thiepval.

The Thiepval Memorial was designed by Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens 1869-1944. It is the largest of all the Commonwealth memorials and stands on the site of the most heavily defended German positions to be attacked on July 1st, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, when Commonwealth casualties (Killed, Wounded or Missing) numbered more than 60,000!

The Thiepval Anglo-French Cemetery, which symbolises the Allied effort of War, contains the graves of 300 French soldiers and 300 Commonwealth soldiers. The majority of them are unidentified.

The Thiepval Memorial is about 150 feet in height, and the foundations are thirty feet deep. It is an absolute colossus. Built in red brick and Portland stone it is a magnificent edifice. No postcard or photograph prepares one for the sheer size of this monument which dwarves all around it.

 

Back on the coach for a short journey to Pozieres. Our party went straight into Restaurant and Museum le Tommy. Address: “Le Tommy”, 91 Route d’Albert, in 80300, Pozieres, France. www.letommy1916.com ph.: +33 3 22 74 82 84. Le Tommy is a remarkable place, the inspiration of Proprietor Dominique Zanardi. His museum, which includes a recreation of the trenches that are so lifelike it brings home to one the true horrors of living in these hellish conditions. Along one side can be seen the Allied soldiers, (Australians?) going about their daily business, making tea, cleaning weapons, whilst a stone’s throw away on the opposite side, the enemy, the German soldiers, go about theirs. Despite the fine weather, it was not hard to imagine just how awful this existence would be in sustained wet conditions.

A short walk up the street from le Tommy is the Pozieres Memorial and Cemetery, which honours the First Australian Division. In seven weeks of fighting, the Australian Divisions sustained 23,000 casualties, including almost 7,000 either killed outright or who died of their injuries.

Day Four

We were scheduled to join the tour and visit the Commonwealth Cemetery “Lyssenhoek” in Poperinge, and then go onto the American “Flanders Fields” Cemetery in Waregem, but I felt that I should really much prefer to spend the morning in Ieper.

It seems a little sad to me that Ieper (Ypres) has been consumed by “War Tourism”. They are such an obliging, friendly people, still so respectful and grateful to the Allied effort to free their country from the enemy occupation that had destroyed their ancient town. I felt I owed it to the people of Flanders to learn something of their own long and interesting history, and I was delighted that I had this brief opportunity to do so.

We visited the museum, both the inevitable “Flanders Fields” museum, but also the vastly more intriguing museum, with its mysterious Cat Throwing tradition running throughout many the exhibits; designed to amuse and delight younger visitors.

The town of Ieper (Ypres) was (like many towns in East Anglia), built on wool. Wool was brought to Ieper from England and there it was turned into the finest cloth. The Flanders Fields museum is located in the beautiful Cloth Hall (Lakenhalle).

In 1200, Baldwin IX, Count of Flanders and Emperor of Constantinople (Istanbul), laid the foundation stone of The Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall). It would take a hundred more years to finish. The Belfry (Clock Tower) is 230 feet in height and can be climbed from within the museum. The view from there is absolutely staggering. You can see all of Ieper and the surrounding landscape from up there.

The 49 bell carillon chimes hourly throughout the day:  https://youtu.be/6-FwhEQ5TXY

Next door to the Lakenhalle is the Cathedral (now downgraded to church) of St. Martin. The building was started in 1221, on the banks of the river up which ships carrying wool from England sailed to dock by the Cloth Hall, and is built on the site of an earlier church. The present spire, higher than its original, now reaches 328 feet in height. St. Martin (316-397) as well as being the Patron Saint of neighbouring France, is also the Patron Saint of Wool Weavers. His most famous icon depicts him halving his woven cloak with his sword in order to clothe an almost naked beggar in Amiens.

The wool, which had arrived from England, was stored in the Cloth Hall, until it was bought by artisan spinners and weavers and turned into cloth. The cloth was then returned to the Cloth Hall, where it remained until the annual fair.

Legend has it that the Cloth Hall was overrun with mice who were nesting in and chewing holes in the precious cloth. Someone had the bright idea of bringing in cats to kill the mice. The cats then reproduced until they became a worse problem for the people of Ieper. It became a tradition to throw the live cats from the belfry on Ascension Thursday (forty days after Easter), but was later brought forward to the second week of Lent. In modern times, the Festival is no longer an annual event, and is now held every three years, on the second Sunday in May, where a jester throws a stuffed toy cat from the belfry. It forms part of a Parade of The Cats, which honours the much-maligned creature. It must be noted that during medieval times, the cat was often seen as the physical manifestation of evil, associated with witchcraft, which may also have contributed to its persecution. The last live cat to have been thrown from the belfry is recorded by diarist Jean Jacques Lambin, as having happened in 1817, where he writes that the cat survived the fall: “..the little animal scampered as fast as it could..”

Without doubt, the most remarkable thing about Ieper is the spirit of her people. Photographs taken before the bombardment of the Great War, show the town has been rebuilt almost exactly as it was. The people of Ieper were able to identify their own properties and it was collectively agreed that each building would be rebuilt exactly as it was before. They lived in temporary wooden huts at their respective sites while this massive task was undertaken; digging and sifting through rubble to reclaim stone and bricks. Both the Cathedral and the Cloth Hall were built again from salvaged materials, using original plans, with minor alterations (such as the higher steeple of St. Martins). Some of the broken artefacts are still strewn around beside the Cathedral; pieces of pillars and carved stone, and the Angels, badly damaged, which once adorned the high walls, now form a little semi-circle inside the Cathedral.

To look at the buildings, you would never guess that they were less than one hundred years old. Many of the familiar buildings owe their architectural style to the French designers of the Middle Ages, and are absolutely beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Memories of Dessie. 1.

The Mushroom Stone

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Sometime during the summer/autumn of 1992, Dessie and I went for a cycle ride along the road from Kenmare to Kilgarvan (R569). We stopped just beyond the crossroads at a farmyard. The farm house at the roadside was obviously abandoned, the farmer having built a new house in the middle of the field alongside. I remember thinking what a pity it was to see this pretty little house empty and how nice it would be to live in such a house (I lived in a tiny bedsit above the Green Note Music Shop).
We cycled /pushed our bikes through the farmyard’s various gates and followed the lane through an avenue of beech trees.
At the end of the lane-way, one can see evidence of the old train line to Kenmare; a perfectly straight boreen between two ‘ditches’ (rough-built stone walls)stretches off to the east and to the west, and old iron gates remain here and there.
Our path led us to the most amazing spectacle. A vast boulder of sandstone rock sat perched on a pillar of limestone rock.
Dessie explained how after the ice age, this boulder had rumbled its way down the hillside with the melting ice and came to rest here. Scientists tell us that the boulder would have been sitting on a level ground of limestone which has, during the last 18,000 years, eroded away. Except for the pillar which has been given protection by the gigantic sandstone boulder. It is (apparently) still eroding!
Recently, Bobby and I visited the mushroom stone. Curiously, Bobby, a man born and bred in Kenmare had never even heard of it! We walked the lane on a bright, crisp day at the end of October and the sun shone, lighting up the stone at the end of the lane. Bobby was amazed at it (as I had been over a quarter of a century earlier).
The following week our dear friends “the Pendys” came over for dinner. Imagine my surprise when young Flor came in with a book in his hand (“Reading The Irish Landscape” by Frank Mitchell & Michael Ryan”), saying to Bobby “I suppose you knew about this for years Bobby…?”
How extraordinary that these two men, who came from “The Pound Lane” and grew up together, a few doors apart, lived their entire lives in total ignorance of this fascinating geological site on their doorstep! And what a coincidence that they both discovered it within a fortnight of each other, quite independently!
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”

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Dessie Merrigan, A Biography

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In Memory of Dessie

dessie cropIn memory of Dessie

I first met Dessie while I was living in Kenmare. I had lived there for about a year and a half and was working for Joe Thoma in the Green Note Music Shop (sadly no longer there).
I can’t remember where we met, or with whom, but it was probably with either Cloe & Norman or Katrina.
While Katrina was away in India or Australia, in 1992, I stayed in her house at no 3 Parnell Place (owned by Johhny the Carpet {shop} O’Connell at that time). Dessie called in (I think to say Hi to Katrina) and found me there instead, alone, eating beans on toast! I mention this because he said afterwards; more than once actually: that he had felt sorry for me and thought I must be really hard up! I may well have been but you might just as easily find me eating beans on toast today, as I am rather partial to them!! Anyway, he asked me out and we began “doing a line”.
Dessie used to cycle to Kenmare from Allihies to see me and I would borrow a bicycle from Joe’s brother francis and we would go cycling along the boreens around Kenmare. I remember one time we cycled to Blackwater Pier and he took a wrong turn and went off up the road to the Tavern when he should have gone over the bridge instead. I waited at the pier FOREVER before going back to the bridge to look for him. He landed back and we rowed about whose fault it was! We argued about this a couple of years ago too! In His version I am at fault and He was ahead. In My version He is at fault and I was ahead! In any case whether I was ahead (more likely behind) or he was, he is still to blame because the road markings clearly show the road goes to the left over the bridge; the other turn-off being a byroad. There were no mobile phones in those days!
Sometimes we hitch-hiked to and from Allihies where he lived in the Copper Mine Cottages. Allihies seemed a bleak place to be stranded in the winter months and he kept his little cottage warm by sticking a needle into the side of the ESB meter to stop the clock whenever he had his electric heater plugged in!! He never abused this system though haha so his bills were pretty normal!!
Dessie was doing Massage in those days and I think he used to get a lift to Castletownbere with the Post lady. He also did Guided Tours around Allihies. He was as fit as a fiddle. He told me that he had taken out a mortgage for some tiny sum like £3000 on his cottage and was paying about £10 a week. I thought that was incredibly enterprising. He was delighted to get on a FÁS scheme that time because he could earn a lot more than on the dole and save up.
Once when Dessie had either cycled or hitched to Kenmare we “borrowed” a car! Friends had just got married and were away on their honeymoon. They were about to build a house and there was a vast trench on their land and the car, which had belonged to Susan Kavanagh, a white Fiesta, was the wrong side of the trench! This was no obstacle to an enterprising and imaginative man like Dessie and he quickly found some boards and made a bridge which I obligingly drove across to liberate the car! We drove to Killarney via the Moll’s Gap road (the ring of Kerry) but on the way back we ran out of petrol! Who should come along but the Priest who had lately married Clare and Joe! Fr. Martin Sheahan. He towed us back to Kenmare! Dessie made some joke about the symbolism of being pulled back into the flock by the Priest; his joke very thinly covered the message that marriage was definitely NOT on the cards! But we did have such fun!
My landlord very generously gave me £120 for my birthday which I was supposed to hand over to Annie Goulding to enrol on the Asgard training vessel. Dessie said she would probably poison me or throw me overboard hahaha. So instead, we spent the money like there was no tomorrow! We dined out in posh restaurants and had a blast; thanks Patrick!
Once when we were strolling through Reenagross we sat down by the old boat house on the bench and he confided in me about the abuse he had suffered at the hands of the Christian Brothers. His childhood was certainly a tragic story. His mother had died and he had been handed over to the orphanage as his father couldn’t take care of a baby. He didn’t know until later on in life that he had siblings! So many wasted years. But I know his siblings were thrilled to have found him and loved him dearly. I remember him telling me that the only way to escape the CBs was to join the army, so that’s what he did. But he found them to be just as abusive and left as soon as he could.
A year or more after we had stopped seeing each other he phoned me out of the blue when I was house sitting for a mutual friend, Melissa, in Baurearagh. He invited me to a party. I drove to Allihies and booked into a B & B but I felt very out of my comfort zone surrounded by all his friends, none of whom I knew, so I decided to drive home anyway, despite having paid for my lodgings, as I hadn’t been drinking anyway and I was safe to drive.
Several years later on when I met him in Crowley’s and we caught up with each other, he told me that he had received £93,000 in compensation from the Christian Brothers (I think that was the sum, it is in my head anyway), and he was able to pay off his mortgage and build an extension to his lovely little cottage. He was very proud of his cottage and the garden and I particularly remember him being proud of growing Red Hot Pokers! I can never see those flowers without thinking of Dessie.
I took my niece to Allihies a good few years ago and I called to his house to invite him to lunch. Danu enjoyed his company very much and it was nice to reconnect with this colourful character again.

The last time I met him was the year before last when I took my sister Susan down to Allihies for the Michael Dwyer Festival to listen to the sessions (there were a lot of Kenmare people there; Ann Garrett, Mary Donegan and Cahersiveen’s Sean Garvey to name but a few) and who should walk in but Dessie! He joined us and we had a brilliant time with him. He was in terrific form and looked great; bald as an egg, but great!

I can honestly say that I never met anyone quite like Dessie. St. Peter and the rest of them won’t know what’s hit ‘em when he arrives at the pearly gates! He’ll liven things up a bit that’s for sure!

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

 

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Fairwell My Dear Friend

Nov. 19th, 2017

Farewell my dear friend

A phone call from her son first thing this morning, and then a little later another phone call from one of her daughters (which put the heart across me as it came up with her name, from her house phone), told me that my dear old friend and next-door neighbour, this past quarter of a century had passed away, peacefully, in her sleep last night. Beannacht Dé lena hanam.

 

I first began to get to know Bridie when I moved in with my late partner, Pat.

Bridie would come over on Saturday evening for about a quarter of an hour or so before Pat was ready to leave for Mass, (he would be shaving and getting his suit on and Bridie and I would have a little chat) and then they would go down to the village together (she would never have wanted to keep him waiting). At the time, Bridie was full-time Carer for her husband, who had been laid up for a number of years with chronic arthritis. When she was away from his bedside, their son would mind him. Whenever he carried his mother shopping, Pat would go over and sit with him, and on occasion I would, although as a newcomer to the area he found my lack of “news” rather trying. From his bed he knew everything that happened in and around our little village, and in fact it was more a case of him giving me the news!

Bridie was a wonderful nurse to him.

I remember on one occasion when my parents were staying with us, the Traveling Draper, Mr. Quill, from Killarney made his twice-yearly call, and Pat probably bought a shirt or two or maybe some bed sheets, and Bridie bought a pair of enormous pyjamas for her husband. She explained to me that she wanted them this size so as to be able to put them on him without the need of raising his arms, which was excruciatingly painful for him. That was the kind, thoughtful and practical person Bridie was.

 

Bridie loved poetry and songs and she could remember ones that she had learnt as a girl. She was a fine singer too, and appreciated other people who had a talent for it.

Two of her favourite poems that she recited to me were Thomas Hood’s “Bedtime” (or “Goodnight Little People”) and an anonymous one about a Jersey Cow (a very pretty animal that she loved):

 

Bedtime

The evening is coming,
The sun sinks to rest;
The rooks are all flying
Straight home to the nest,
“Caw!” says the rook, as he flies overhead,
“It’s time little people were going to bed!”

The flowers are closing;
The daisy’s asleep,
The primrose is buried
In slumber so deep.
Shut up for the night is the pimpernel red;
It’s time little people were going to bed!

The butterfly drowsy,
Has folded its wing;
The bees are returning,
No more the birds sing.
Their labour is over, their nestlings are fed;
It’s time little people were going to bed!

Here comes the pony,
His work is all done;
Down through the meadow
He takes a good run;
Up go his heels, and down goes his head:
It’s time little people were going to bed!

Good-night, little people,
Good-night and good-night;
Sweet dreams to your eyelids
Till dawning of light;
The evening has come, there’s no more to be said,
It’s time little people were going to bed!

Thomas Hood 1799 – 1845

 

Anonymous A Jersey Cow:

We walked the road together

The sky was covered with stars

We reached the gate in silence

I lifted for her the bars

She neither smiled nor thanked me

Because she knew not how

For I was just a farmer’s boy

And she a Jersey cow

 

Bridie had a wicked sense of humour too and enjoyed retelling me stories of her youth and the silly things that they used to have a fit of laughing over.

 

One time as a very young girl, her mother sent her on an errand for a very old lady, a hag if you like, as Bridie would have said “as old as Methuselah’s cat!” Bridie was sent over to bring in turf for her or some other such job. This old woman gave Bridie a cup of coffee to thank her! Bridie had never before tasted coffee and thought it tasted disgusting! She even wondered if the old woman was trying to poison her! So when her back was turned she lifted the heavy black lid off whatever was hanging on the crane over the roaring fire and in went the coffee! To this day she never knew if twas spuds boiling or a stew, but she said her goodbyes and fled without ever looking back!

 

She had many stories about her friend and neighbour Maggie Ann (a childhood sweetheart of my late partner Pat’s!). Maggie Ann was a very spirited young girl (which may well have been the reason why Pat’s parents refused to allow him marry her). On one occasion they called in to a little shop at the bottom of the road to buy a quarter pound of biscuits. There was a very old lady running the shop and the biscuits were in a huge tin with a glass lid. The old lady used bend down and pick out a handful of biscuits and put them on the scale and bend down again for another handful. While she was bent over, Maggie Ann would take one or two off the scale and put them in her pocket! This went on and the old lady said “Well I cannot understand how I can’t make up the quarter pound!” and Bridie who could no longer keep a straight face would have to go out!

On another occasion they cycled into Kenmare and Maggie Ann was admiring the flowers outside a very posh shop. The lady who ran the shop was so pleased that this young girl was interested in flowers that she brought her through to the garden out the back and started discussing the different names of flowers and asking Maggie Ann had she this kind and that kind in her own garden and Maggie Ann said she had! Neither girl had ever heard of any of these exotic names and twas far from flower gardens either girl was reared! Growing up on a farm with animals everywhere there was no time or use for such extravagancies! The old lady was delighted with Maggie Ann – a kindred spirit or so she thought! Bridie went away as she could no longer contain herself and the two girls fell about the place with laughter afterwards!

 

Years ago when one of Bridie’s children was getting married, I took her shopping for an outfit. (Bridie always regretted that she never learnt to drive, as her best friend Peggy had). We went to Castleisland and Tralee and Killarney. In one dress shop Bridie tried on a dress, which although pretty, I thought was meant for a younger person, but I didn’t like to say anything. It was a soft chiffon type of fabric with gentle shades of lilac and green floral patterns and it had an underskirt inside as the material was so sheer. The trouble was, this under-garment, made of purple cotton (something like butter-muslin) had no give in it and was like a second skin! She got stuck inside it and we couldn’t budge it up or down! Her two knees were locked inside it and we were inside the changing cubicle nearly peeing ourselves laughing! We prized it off her eventually without it having to be cut off her! She was great fun.

 

Many’s the time that myself and Bobby would go for a drink after work in Crowley’s Bar, Kenmare and I would sit with Mrs. Crowley (Beannacht Dé lena hanam freisin), doing the crossword. We could be stuck on a clue for hours and eventually I would have to phone Bridie and say “any chance you could pop over and lock up the hens for me?!” Bridie adored the hens and it was no bother to her at all in those days. Like a little bird herself she’d skip along “the near way” and go up into the haggard to shut my hens in safely. She loved to hear the hens “singing” after they had laid an egg.

When my own mother was dying, Bridie looked after all the dogs for me (I had four of them that time) as well as the hens, and a cat!  I was so grateful to her because it allowed me to stay in England for a full three weeks which I’d never have been able to do if it weren’t for her.

In recent times Bridie helped me with my Irish learning and would greet me with “Dia duit, conas atá tú” or if I got it in first she would reply with “Tá mé go maith!”. Sometimes we would have a copy of the “Buntas” book each and we would read out the conversations, each in our turn. She was a great help to me with pronunciation. She remembered a lot of what she had learnt in school and twas obvious she had been a very good scholar in her day.

Bridie was the very best neighbour in the world, and a very very dear friend who I will miss more than words can say.

 

 

 

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Katharine of Aragon’s last letter to her husband, King Henry VIII

On Friday last, 27th January 2017, the people of Peterborough and beyond came to remember the death and buriel of King Henry 8th’s first wife Katharine of Aragon. I saw little of the actual s…

Source: Katharine of Aragon’s last letter to her husband, King Henry VIII

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Katharine of Aragon’s last letter to her husband, King Henry VIII

Very moving….

brianstalkinghistoryblog

On Friday last, 27th January 2017, the people of Peterborough and beyond came to remember the death and buriel of King Henry 8th’s first wife Katharine of Aragon. I saw little of the actual service because a group of us in appropriate costume guided some 360 chidren from St John’s Church to the Cathedral, and after the service gave them brief descriptions of life of that time.

One thing I missed was toward the end of the service when Katharine’s last letter to King Henry VIII was read. I have, however, got a copy of the text – and this is what it says:-

My most dear lord, king and husband,
The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such, to commend myself to you, and to put you in remembrance with a few words of the health and…

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Dogs go on Killing spree on a farm in Cork

several sheep were killed and more had to be euthanized due to someone’s lack of responsibility for their dogs.

 

please ensure that your dogs are always under strict control around livestock.

 

Thank you for reading, please share and get this message home!

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The Great Blasket Islanders – my heart is full of love and admiration for them and their ghosts

The Great Blasket Island

The Great Blasket Island

I have never been to the Blasket Islands! Although I hope to very soon. Isn’t it queer that I have lived here for a quarter of a century and yet I had never even driven around Slea Head until last year, when an old school friend Ann visited me? I was so pleased with the journey that I made it again soon afterwards when my sister Susan came to stay!  On that occasion we stopped for lunch in Dingle and I bought “Peig”. I knew, from various friends, that Peig Sayers, a famous story-teller from the Great Blasket Island, was compulsory reading, in Irish, for generations of school girls here.

Reading Peig’s book (translated into English I hasten to add) “An Old Woman’s Reflections”, which she dictated to her son, Micheál Guiheen (Sayers being her maiden name), gave me an appetite for more knowledge of the Blasket Islanders. According to the census records of 1901 and 1911, Peig, or “Margaret Guiheen” as you’ll find her, could both read and write, but this seems not to have been the case. From what I gather, a few of the islanders (and bear in mind that Peig came from Dunquin on the mainland and married into the island), learnt a little English during brief periods when there was a school on the island. Their own language though had been passed down orally, with their stories and poems. None could read or write in Irish. This is hardly surprising when you consider how under British rule, for several centuries, the language and religion were banned, discouraged and sent underground. The miracle is it survived at all! As “The Tailor” (Tim Buckley from Kilgarvan) observes in Eric Cross’ “The Tailor and Ansty” (a book which was banned when it was first published!) “All the schooling was in English. There wasn’t a syllable of Irish. It was against the law, and you would be beat if you used it. But the people had the Irish, and good Irish too, and they spoke it amongst themselves. Now the world has changed round, and you are paid to learn it and few people have it! It’s a queer state of affairs.” It has been observed by academics who are knowledgeable in these matters, that the Irish language that was spoken on The Blasket Islands, during the 19th and early 20th century, was a “pure” form of the language; unadulterated by foreign influences. It was for this reason that these academic gentlemen first went to the Great Blasket Island.

The first of these esteemed gentlemen was playwright (Edmund) John Millington Synge, best known for “Playboy of the Western World” (which caused riots when it was first performed in Dublin!) Synge didn’t receive a very warm welcome from the Islanders when he arrived in 1905. Memories of Bailiffs and Land Agents (attempting) to land on the Islands to extract rent and rates from the impoverished islanders were too recent in their minds. There is an account in Tomás Ó Crohan’s “The islandman” from his childhood, when a steamship was sighted, moored outside the island. It had put out a large boat full of uniformed officers with guns. These armed soldiers would have ‘sacked’ the houses of the islanders had they succeeded in coming ashore. They hadn’t reckoned on the women of the island though, who stood above the strand, on the cliffs and pelted them with rocks! The children gathered more ‘ammunition’ and the women continued to rain stones upon them until one had his head split open and they retreated back to their boat and rowed back to the safety of their steamship! In those days the islanders were supposed to pay £2 per cow in rates to the (Earl of Cork) which would be about £8 for the whole island; it may as well have been eight hundred pounds! Tomás Ó Crohan was born in 1856 and he was a boy when he observed the above event, so I am supposing it to have taken place in the 1870’s; just thirty years or so before Synge’s visit, so not surprising then that they were still very fearful of strangers!

The next of these academic gentlemen to dock was a Norwegian called Carl Marstrander in 1907. They called him “The Viking” (‘An Lochlannach’). Marstrander was interested in Celtic languages and visited Scotland and the Isle of Man as well as all the islands. He was already fluent in ‘Old Irish’ when he arrived on the Great Blasket. A Pole-vault champion from Norway, he succeeded in astonishing Tomás Ó Crohan by vaulting over his house using the oar of a naomhóg* for a pole! Marstrander, so the story goes, “worked and laboured on both sea and land” from the first day he arrived. Later he took up a position teaching Old Irish in the School of Celtic Studies in Dublin. One of his first students, a scholar named Robin Flower from the British Museum came to read Old Irish and was advised by his professor to visit the Blasket Islands. He arrived in 1910 and immediately struck up a rapport with Tomás Ó Crohan, who was chosen by the ‘King’ of the Ireland, (An Rí), Pádraig Ó Catháin, to help Flower learn ‘Modern Irish’. The whole island had great affection for Robin Flower and called him “An Bláithín” (meaning Little Flower).

Tomás Ó Crohan, with the help of visitors to the island, like Robin Flower, as well as his relations living on the mainland, learnt to read and write in his own native language.

One of these visitors was the son of a businessman from Killarney called Brian Kelly (Brian Ó Ceallaigh), who eventually persuaded a sceptical and reluctant Tomás Ó Crohan to write down his recollections. Kelly read him Pierre Loti’s “Pescheur d’Islande (an account of a Canadian fisherman) and stories by Maxim Gorky “My Childhood” about Russian peasants, which eventually persuaded him to put pen to paper.  Tomás Ó Crohan began writing about his life, as a sort of diary, which he sent, almost daily, to Kelly in Killarney. These precious papers were subsequently sent to Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha “An Seabhac”. These were eventually published as “Allagar na hInse” (Island Cross Talk). Although they were written first, they were published after “An tOileánach” (The Islandman) – generally regarded as the greatest literary work to have come from these poetry-speaking islanders, and considered a classic.

Blasket Island Writers

After Reading Peig, I was sent Muiris Ó Súilleabháin’s (Maurice O’Sullivan) Fiche Bliain ag fás (Twenty Years A-Growing**) by same sister, Susan (she had bought it at Kerry Airport after leaving me). Twas then I really fell in love with the Islanders! Maurice O’Sullivan was a beautiful writer: truthful and candid in his intelligent observations. His mother died when he was an infant and there being no-one in his home yet old enough to look after a baby, he was put into an orphanage in Dingle (part of the poorhouse). When he was about seven years old his father brought him back home. At that time he hadn’t a word of Irish, but he wasn’t long picking it up! When he first clapped eyes on the naomhóg, below the cliff he thought it was a giant beetle “twice as big as a cow” and as it was being carried by two or three men underneath it, as was the custom, one can easily see why!

The houses that they islanders lived in were tiny, (about 102ft) and built huddled together like a flock of sheep huddles to avoid bad weather. Originally the roof was made of rushes but later they copied the canvas and tar of the naomhóg and these were anchored with ropes and rocks holding them down and keeping them from being blown off during the many storms. The kitchen had an open fireplace and perhaps a few súgán chairs (woven straw) and maybe a settle that could be turned into a bed. Below the kitchen, another room for sleeping was formed by placing a dresser between the two apartments. The floor was just a dirt floor and the women went down to the beach for sand twice a day to keep it dry. By night the animals were brought inside. All the cooking was done on the open fire, and bread would have likely been made in a bastible (a large iron pan on legs with a heavy lid upon which you put red-hot sods of turf). Their diet was very simple. It consisted of whatever could be caught. They snared rabbits, which were very plentiful, hunted for puffins, scaled the cliff face for gulls eggs, caught thrushes nesting in the stone walls by night and of course fished. Sometimes they went off to another of the Blasket islands and found seals in caves. A typical meal would be a plate of potatoes, some salted fish and some milk over it. To drink they had skimmed milk, until the arrival of Tea.

In this way, people have lived since Neolithic times.

How sad that their number fell into decline. The young people emigrated to America. The fishing came to an end when huge French trawlers fished off the islands, depriving the islanders of their livelihood. Eventually, the handful of islanders remaining, were almost starving when the government finally evacuated the island in 1953. Very quickly the wind and rain tore the roofs off most of the houses and the stone walls began to crumble. Most houses now look as though they have been unlived in for centuries. In recent years one or two have been restored and visitors can now go and see them as they once were.

Looking back at historical documents, such as baptism, marriage and census records, the signs were there to see. In the early 1800s there were more than forty different surnames associated with the Great Blasket Island. By the early 20th century fewer than a dozen names survived on the island.

It is impossible (for me anyway) to read Muiris Ó Súilleabháin, Tomás Ó Críomhthain, Peig Sayers or Michael Carney (Michéal Cearnaigh)’s “From the Great Blasket to America” (subtitled The Last Memoir by and Islander) without weeping. I have a genuine love for these people and the deepest admiration for them.

Blasket collage

I would love to have the mental capacity to learn Irish and read these books, and a lot more besides that haven’t been translated into English at all! But I find it impossible to learn from books and most the CDs are Ulster Irish with is so very different from the beautiful, soft Munster dialect spoken in Kerry along its west coast. What a pity I wasn’t born a hundred years ago and could have gone, like Robin Flower and George Thompson, to live on the island, where only Irish was spoken! Perhaps then even I might have picked it up!

Do have a look at this website:

http://irishislands.info/blaskets.html

And if you ever find yourself in Dingle, drive on a little further to Dunquin (Dún Chaoin) and visit the Blasket Exhibition Centre. There, watch the short documentary, take your time to stroll through the exhibition, and if you have time, and the weather and tide are with you, take the Blasket Island Ferry over to the Great Blasket Island, as I will, myself, very shortly, God willing! Booking is advisable, and the telephone number is 066 9156422 or from outside Ireland 00 353 66 9156422

*Naomhóg (sometimes called a curragh and pronounced ‘knave OhG” (hard G) is described by Maurice O’Sullivan as “A canoe of wicker covered with canvas and tarred”

Naomhog

**The title comes from an old Irish saying that Maurice learned from his grandfather: “I dare say a man grows weak when he reaches you age, daddo?” “Oh, musha, he does, my heart. Did you never hear how the life of a man is divided?

Twenty years a-growing         (Fiche bliain ag fás)

Twenty years in blossom         Fiche bliain faoi bhláth

Twenty years a-stooping         (Fiche bliain ag cromadh)

And twenty years declining    (Agus fiche bliain ag meath)

Maurice O’Sullivan’s friend, George Thompson, who translated Maurice’s book into English, and wrote the preface, also wrote a brief postscript in 1951. He tells us that his dear friend, from whom he learnt to speak Irish, drowned while swimming in Galway in 1950, leaving a widow, a son and a daughter.

One cannot help thinking back to the words of “Mirrisheen”s Grandfather, “Daddo”:-

“Musha, my heart, a man of the sea never had a good life and never will, as I know well, having spent my days on it, and I have gone through as many perils on it as there are grey hairs in my head, and I am telling you now, wherever God may guide you, keep away from the sea”

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