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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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R.I.P. Debbie Parker, Gray, Wallace, Dixon. I love & miss you!



Yesterday, a Christmas card I had sent to my friend of thirty years, Debbie Dixon, came back. A cursory line hand-written on the back, perhaps by the person who lives in her house now, said “I’m sorry to say Ms. Dixon passed away”.

The truly shocking thing was that when I Googled and found her obituary, I learnt that she died three years ago!

That explains why I hadn’t had a Christmas card from her for the last few years!

I had thought that maybe she was still “pissed” (her word) at me for a brief falling out we’d had a few years ago when I had posted a photo of her on Facebook. She had at the time gone mad! Lecturing me about how once a thing is on the internet it is there forever and how she didn’t want certain people finding her! I apologised and assured her that I wouldn’t EVER post another photo of her!

Later she apologised for her over-reaction and further explained her fears about the internet, which as time goes on I come to appreciate much more deeply.

She came to visit me in Ireland a few years ago and I gave her a tour of all the things she had on her list! She was a very organised person!

I first knew Debbie when she came to RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk where I was working as a Civil Servant attached to the USAF Hospital in Medical Supply. My job was keypunch operator on a very old-fashioned card punch machine.

at RAF Lakenheath 1985

at RAF Lakenheath 1985

Before she came, her PCS documents arrived and we all scrutinized them to see who the new Airman Basic was! We found out that she was single but that she had one dependent, a son, PJ; I think he may have been about 3 at the time.

I liked her immediately. Her sassy attitude, her way of rolling her huge round eyes, and that way Black American women have of sucking through their teeth! She was awesome.

She was such a great friend.

She got me in to various shops and bought things for me that I wouldn’t have been entitled to buy with my sterling. I still have a leather-bound, gold-leaf book of World Poetry that she bought me; one of my favourite books.

We went ‘clubbing’ on the base (Mildenhall), fuelled on cheap Liebfraumilch first! We would laugh at the dopey Airmen who would come over to our table and ask each one of us in turn to dance! Her expression, wordless would say it all: “boy, don’t come over here insulting me, asking me SECOND or THIRD after you’ve been turned down already by my girlfriends! Get out of my face!”

Debbie had a very definite idea of what she expected from a boyfriend or husband. I always felt her expectations were unreasonable, but she stuck to her high standards! Her boyfriend when I worked with her was an adorable young man called Eugene Green. He failed her by not buying her presents! She was contemptuous of his efforts to explain that all the spare cash he earned he sent home to his family. She said he came from “The Projects” which was an expression I did not understand at the time! She liked to lavish her friends with gifts, and I knew her well enough that she expected them back!

In later years she started a collection of teapots and I sent her a couple of them including a rather nice antique one from this house which wasn’t really to my tastes.

Wherever she was posted to in her military career, she would send me enormous parcels, containing all manner of items; clothes, household goods, food items, it was always like a lucky dip as I rooted through my box of loot!

She was a great letter writer. She would write reams and reams. Her writing was quite hard to read until you got into it, as unique as she was. In her letters she would pour out her soul, confiding in me the most private and intimate of things that I believe she would never have been able to say to my face.

She told me that she had been raised by her grandmother, (Ethel Purvey). That her own mother was obese and I think a drunk. She may have also been diabetic. She told me that once when she was a small child her mother fell on her and crushed her; her knee driving into her stomach. She caused internal damage. She didn’t think she could have children, but somehow she did have PJ.

I asked her about him once and she just said he isn’t in her life. I think she said he was being raised by the father’s mother; PJ’s paternal grandmother. She never mentioned him in later years.

In her obituary, there is mention of friends, and I would dearly love to make contact with any or all of them. Their names are Ellis & Crystal Clark, Madison, Alabama and Aurora, Desiree and William Carey IV, of Huntsville, Alabama.

Debbie Dixon RIP 2012 a

Her funeral was at The Rock Family Worship Centre, West Campus, 1594 Old Railway Bed Road, Harvest , Alabama, 35749, and she is buried at 3133 Highway 119 in Montevallo, Alabama.

Debbie was born on 21st March 1961 and died on 12th May 2012. I CANNOT believe I didn’t know she had died, and that I found out in this way.

When I first met her, she was called Debbie Parker. Then she got married and became Debbie Gray, then divorced and remarried and became Debbie Wallace (they may be the other way around), and finally she kept the last husband’s name: Dixon.

Her last known address was 310 Harvestwood Court, Madison, Alabama, 33758-6637 and her email addresses were and Someone out there must have known her?

I wrote this blog as I need some sort of closure! I feel I must speak to someone who knew her, and I would like to know what became of her son, PJ.

I can’t remember the last names of the girls she was friends with at Lakenheath, but I know she kept in touch with them for a long time. They were Gloria (very beautiful black girl) Janice (another very attractive black girl) and Bernie (a small-framed red-headed white girl).

R.I.P. my very dear and loyal friend Debbie. God bless you my dear. I love and miss you and want to thank you for your faithful friendship for all those years. I’m so sorry I didn’t know sooner. Please forgive me now for once again posting photographs of you online!


Filed under Bereavement, Friend, Obituary