A blog inspired by the beautiful County of my birth, Leitrim on the Shannon. I sometimes go off on tangents so be tolerant of my waywardness, I always come back home, eventually. Typically you'll find here a little history, a few short stories, some of my favourite poems, musings, scribblings and travelogues. To summarise – a busy fool beneath an unruly sky. COME IN, WE'RE OPEN
And you’re thinking about the Game, the tickets are sorted, the train booked, the Whatsapp group buzzing, what time to meet, where to meet and what if…
And you’re thinking of that moment this fine young team, race down the tunnel and on to that verdant green patch of Dublin, running in their Green & Gold colours, our beautiful colours.
And part of you fears for them, wants them to do well, pray they do well, hope they give a good account of themselves but another part of you says, even if they don’t, sure what about it…
And you’re thinking of the awestruck kids who look up to these local heroes, heroes who generously pose for selfiesand take time to autograph match programmes on the backs of future stars,starting the cycle off yet again. You think of these young warriors running themselvesto a standstill, dragging their boots through the mud and slop of winter pitches,in rain, wind and sleet….
And you’re thinking of all the people around this world that are also thinking about this team, emigrants and the sons and daughters of emigrants. Young men with the red dust of the Pilbara on their overalls, young women standing on busy Subway carriages in rush-hour, or running up escalators on the Tube, descendants of the men who mined deep under the dark Pennsylvanian soil, men who dug the canals, laid the railway tracks, built the motorways of Britain, who drove the buses and trains and policed the streets of New York. And your thinking of the women who delivered thousands of babies in London, Birmingham and Manchester, waited on tables in diners in Brooklyn and Dorchester, and you’re thinking of today’s boys and girls who plot their own paths and carve out their own niches.
Because its all there, bound tightly into an identity of a small, often forgotten place, where the soil was too poor to feed them all, and no government cared enough to do something for them, where nobody shouted stop. Let them scatter, let the leaves blow and the seed spread and hope they’ll land on fertile ground. They survive, some thrive and tied by bonds often unknown and unseen but somehow creating this shared identity. Oh it’s there and its real and its more than just bloody football, it’s much more important than that. It’s the hill of Sheemore and the majestic Glenade Valley, and the wandering waters of Glencar and the calmness of the Shannon calloughs, it’s in the music of Carolan and writings of McGahern, the fiddle and the Uileann pipes, its there, it exists, it will be all there at three o’clock Saturday and it will be there the day after, and the day after that……
And I’m thinking about all these things because that’s what football does in a football mad place, where parishes games have imperial importance and where every field, rock and bush has a name and every family a nickname and everyone has Aunts and Uncles in the Bronx, or Chicago, and cousins in Manchester and Melbourne and a thousand other far off places.
And I’m thinking, but possibly I’m dreaming, because that line is blurred at times like these, and I’m wondering, what if the Gods favour was with us this day? What if they were in a benevolent mood? What would it be like to see a son of Leitrim raise a piece of silverware aloft in the Dublin sky, overlooking those blessed three acres? When generations to come will hear old people say things like ‘That was the year of the Brexit bother’.
Well I’m dreaming but I’m also thinking, I’m thinking wouldn’t it be just GRAND!
And perchance tonight I’ll have a pleasant dream and I’ll wake up with a smile.
So it begins, our worst storm in fifty years, poised and ready to unleash its fury. News stations have no problem filling their schedules, feeding our puerile interest in natural disaster. Meteorologists and Weather forecasters, typically born to bloom unseen, take centre stage today.
I brought the dog for a walk earlier amidst balmy sunshine and humid weather – a pleasant but foreboding experience. It was like taking ones seat in a fully lit theatre whilst behind the thick curtain Ophelia’s symphony orchestra tuned up ready for the big matinee. One thing that struck me was the absence of small birds. Normally I throw something to the sparrows – yesterday they were all busy fluttering about hither and tither over and back to the makeshift feeding board I have nailed to the boundary fence. This morning all are absent – presumably they watched Sky News all night and decided to hunker down. A quick glance around the garden to make sure I didn’t miss anything on last night’s sally to nail everything down. Flasks filled with hot water, nothing says we’ll be alright like a cup of tea.
Ophelia! Ophelia! A tragic name and warning to us not to take this storm lightly. We’ve had disaster before and survived famine and economic calamity – for the latter we would have done better had we heeded Ophelia’s fathers advice to ‘neither a borrower nor a lender be’. The best advice from the wise old Polonius relevant to today is probably to paraphrase his next line, don’t lose yourself or friend today. Stay safe everyone.
The morning frost heralded the low January Sun to bathe its light on the neat patchwork of fields around Coolera, County Sligo. As we climbed the ancient hill of Knocknarea, Yeats words came floating over the shrill air;
“The wind has bundled up the clouds high over Knocknarea,
And thrown the thunder on the stones for all that Maeve can say”[i]
(W.B Yeats ‘The Wanderings of Oisin’)
It must be ten years or more since I last climbed this beautiful summit – its distinctive outline bookends the southern end of Sligo Bay with the majestic Ben Bulben to the north. The pathway has been well maintained and access is comfortable even for those of us with moderate fitness.
A few steep rocky climbs near the top are the only challenging obstacles that lie before the famous Neolithic Cairn that crowns the summit finally comes into view. The Cairn is the reputed burial place of the legendary Queen Maedbh of Connaught. Indeed the landscape stretched out below is abundant in ancient portal tombs and passage graves, making this area as important to archaeology as the better known Bru na Boinne on the east coast[ii].
One cannot help but feel that you are literally tracing the footsteps of our ancestors as you approach the top. The views when you get there are spectacular. The infinite expanse of the Atlantic stretches out below, becalmed today, as it laps up gently against the shore at Strandhill. Across the entrance to Sligo Bay lies Rosses Point with its famous strand, beyond that Lisadell House, home of Countess Markievicz, and Drumcliffe graveyard where Yeats now lies in eternal peace, casting a cold eye on us all. In the distance can be seen the hills of Donegal and the mighty cliffs of Sliabh League.
Inland is the aforementioned Ben Bulben, majestically carved by glacier, wind and rain into its unique undulating face. It was in the heather atop this iconic Mountain where the mythical Diarmuid and Grainne found themsleves confronted by a wild boar. As the young warrior shielded his lover (the most beautiful woman in Ireland) he fought off the boar and after a ferocious struggle killed it with his sword. Sadly the story did not have a happy ending. The brave Diarmuid in saving his lover was alas fatally gored by the Boar and died soon after in Grainne’s arms. In the further distance lie the Dartry Hills and the peaceful glens and mountains of North Leitrim, a hill walker’s paradise.
Later we drive along the northern shore of Lough Gill and view the Lake Isle of Innisfree where Yeats intended to arise and go to:-
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
(W.B Yeats ‘The Lake Isle of Inisfree’)
We are now into County Leitrim and our first stop is at Parkes Castle which although closed for the winter is still a worthwhile stop. The building is not really a Castle as such but a 17th Century Manor House built by the Planter Robert Parke. Its main purpose was defensive as Parke had recently acquired lands confiscated from the local Gaelic Chieftains, the O’Rourke’s, traditional rulers of the Kingdom of Breifne.
A few miles on further along this picturesque lake side road lies the neat village of Dromahaire. The town sits on the banks of the River Bonet and was the seat of the O’Rourke’s and the Franciscan Abbey at Creevlea. We drive north towards Manorhamilton before turning left on the N16 and into the valley of Glencar. A few miles on we turn off and drive down to the lake of the same name and visit Glencar Waterfall. The Discover Ireland website states “while not the highest waterfall in the area, Glencar Waterfall is generally considered the most romantic and impressive”. The enchanting waters cascading into the leafy glen also inspired the National Poet:-
“Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glencar,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.”
(W.B Yeats ‘The Stolen Child’)
The Waterfall is easily accessed from the lakeside car park along a well maintained pathway. Also at the entrance is a charming little coffee shop called “The Teashed”. The staff were very friendly and welcoming and as coffee shops go the food here was excellent and not too pricey. The fare consists of freshly baked scones and bread, various sweet goodies, a wide choice of freshly made sandwiches, wraps, paninis, salads and hearty homemade soup. There are lots of local crafts on sale. The site has a playground – useful to rid the young ones of any pent up cabin fever. This is also the perfect spot for weary limbs to recover from hiking in the hills above. The outside tables would be a lovely place to sit out in the warmer months. [iii]
“The Teashed” photo www.ldco.ie
All along the lake are many places where one could have a nice picnic. We caught a lovely sunset on the lake as the weak winter sun surrendered itself for another day. We began our journey home with just a further quick pit-stop for ice cream for the younger travellers, notwithstanding it was now below freezing outside! Later on, safely home, unshod, night fallen and the fire taken hold we continued to relish in the glow of a day well spent, dipping into the ancient and majestic landscape of Sligo and North Leitrim. We have many similar day trips planned. You can check out what’s on offer in Leitrim at http://leitrimtourism.com/ and in neighbouring Sligo at http://www.sligotourism.ie/ . Go and find your “bee loud glade”, its out there somewhere waiting to be discovered.
I was recently reading up on ancient tales on Irish Lake monsters and came across this interesting piece on the death of a woman in 1722 in Glenade Lake. Apparently the woman who was named Grace or Grainne, and married to a Turlough McLoghlin, was washing clothes in the lake when she was attacked by the Dobhar-Chu.
This is an extract from Dave Walsh’s piece on his site Blather.net
“Dobhar-chú (a.k.a. the Water Hound or Master Otter), and in particular, allegations concerning the demise of a Co. Leitrim woman in 1722, supposedly mauled by such a beast. Sligo fortean Joe Harte managed to track down her grave, in Glenade, on the north side of Ben Bulben mountain, and this writer managed to get hold of a copy of the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, vol. 78, (1948), where was found, on pages 127-129, The Dobhar-chú Tombstones of Glenade, Co. Leitrimby Patrick Tohall. Later on, last September — as mentioned in an earlier Blather Joe and I visited the grave”.
The piece goes on to say –
“Our Leitrim lady, however, seems to have had a less fortunate fate. On her headstone is a raised illustration of what appears to be, for all intents and purposes, a stylised otter impaled by spear, held in a disembodied hand. The deceased name appears to have been Grace, but her surname is indecipherable – possibly McGlone. Tohall, who had 50 years less weathering to deal with, found that:
‘Line by Line the text reads: –(1) (Illegible), (2) ??ODY OF (3) GRACE CON (4) N?Y WIFE (5) TO TER MAC (6) LOGHLIN WHO (7) DYD 7BER (8) THE 24TH (9) ANN DMI (10) MDCCXXII. Points of note are: (a) The woman is still spoken of as “Grainne” (not “Grace”) around her home; (b) The name “Ter” is obviously a contraction for “Terence”, the modern baptismal name adopted to supplant the traditional “Toirdhealbhach.” Only recently has the spoken language surrendered to the change, as down to our own time those who signed “Terence” were called “T’ruálach” in this locality. I have heard it so pronounced, exactly as John O’Donovan did here about 1835, when he wrote the names as “T’raolach”;(c) Adherence to contemporary classical forms: the contraction “7ber,” for September and the use of the “Possessive Dative” case; (d) the Gaelic custom of a married woman keeping her maiden name — incongruous in the English text.’
According to Tohall, there are two different main versions of on the death of a women washing clothes in Glenade Lake. A second tombstone at the south end of the lake was also connected to the tale, but has since vanished. The two accounts seem to have defaulted to the remaining stone, with ‘strong, local tradition’ preferring to connect the more interesting of the two versions.
‘A woman named Grainne, wife of a man of the McLoghlins, who lived with her husband in the townland of Creevelea at the north-west corner of Glenade Lake, took some clothes down to the lakeshore to wash them. As she did not return her husband went to look for her and found her bloody body by the lakeside with the Dobhar-chú asleep on her breast.
Returning to the house for his dagger he stole silently on the Dobhar-chú and drove the knife into its breast. Before it died, however, it whistled to call its fellow; and the old people of the place, who knew the ways of the animals, warned McLoghlin to fly for his life. He took to horse, another mounted man accompanying him. The second Dobhar-chú came swimming from the lake and pursued the pair. Realising that they could not shake it off they stopped near some old walls and drew their horses across a door ope. The Dobhar-chú rushed under the horses’ legs to attack the men, but as it emerged from beneath them one of the men stabbed and killed it.’
The second version describes the killing by a Dobhar-chú of another woman engaged in washing newly-woven cloth in Glenade lake when she was attacked. The boundaryof the townland of Srath-cloichrán (Sracleighreen) and Gob-an-ghé (Gubinea) is the alleged location of this bloodshed (I emphasise the word ‘boundary’, as it denotes a place of liminal status — akin to the traditional importance of such places as crossroads). Yet another variant tells how the avenger Dobhar-chú had a single horn in the centre of its forehead, which it gored the horses with.
Tohall sees the Congbháil monument as being ‘the only tangible evidence’ for the idea of the ‘King Dobhar-chú,’ or Killer-Dobharcá.
‘Lexicographers of both districts record two meanings for Dobhar-chú (derived fromDobhar, water, and chú, hound): (a) the common otter (Lutra Lutra) a term now superseded by Mada-uisgein Northern Ireland and Scotland; (b) ‘a mythical animal like an otter’ (Dineen). In Co. Leitrim the latter tradition survives strongly: ‘a kind of witch that ruled all the other water-animals’ (Patrick Travers, Derrinvoney); or used jocularly to a boy along Lough Allen,”Hurry back from your errand before dark, or mind would the Dobhar-choin of Glenade come out of the water and grab you.” The best summary of the idea is set out in the records of the Coimisiun le Báaloideas by Seán Ã³ h-Eochaidh, of Teidhlinn, Co. Donegal, in a phrase which he heard in the Gaeltacht: ‘the Dobharchú is the seventh cub of the common otter’ (mada-uisge): the Dobhar-chú was thus a super otter.’
It seems to this writer that the identification of the Dobharchú with the fairly shy otter (which can be found at lengths of over 5’6″ (1.67m) including the tail) seems to be by default — no other known Irish water creature comes as close to a rational zoological explanation. Is the Dobhar-chú some hungry lake serpent manifestation which grows legs occasionally when it feels like eating? It’s a matter that Blather is having grave difficulty providing hypothetical explanations for.
Dave (daev) Walsh
21st August 1998”
Check out blather.net where Dave Walsh describes hiomself as chief bottle washer and “Writer, photographer, environmental campaigner and “known troublemaker” Dave Walsh is the founder of Blather.net, described both as “possibly the most arrogant and depraved website to be found either side of the majestic Shannon River”, and “the nicest website circulating in Ireland”. Half Irishman, half-bicycle. He lives in southern Irish city of Barcelona.”
Don’t let the fear of the Dobhar Chu stop you from visiting one of Ireland’s little gems, the beautiful Glenade Lake hidden in the North Leitrim Glens.
Lying face down, spread-eagled, the bed, comfort, exhausted from the long day in the surgery. The bloody phone, my head, piercing, stabbing my brain. Dot will know how to field the call, divert it to another GP. ‘Hello’ . Wait, that’s not Dot’s voice, its little Liam. ‘Yes he’s here ….. okay I’ll just get him for you’. Oh God, Can he not just say that I’m gone out or something? Bloody hell. Seconds later the six year old boy comes bounding down the hallway and burst into the bedroom. ‘Dad there is some man on the phone and he wants to talk to you, said it’s very important’. Important? ‘How important son? Have the Martians landed in frigging Longford again? Rising gingerly, muttering, ‘bloody hell’ as I march down the long hall towards the telephone, grab receiver ‘Who is this?’ My curt request is met by a quietly spoken ‘Hello Doctor Gannon, it’s Michael Fanning here, I’m in the Dew Drop Inn. You better come quick as there has been an accident’ ‘What sort of an accident?’ ‘It’s Mary Kate Joyce, she sat on a pint glass and she’s all cut in her hinds. She’s in a bad way Doctor’. I sigh, it’s all he needed now, an evening call to a bloody pub. ‘When did it happen?’ ‘only ‘bout five minutes ago, she’s in the Bar wailing in pain and she’s bleeding buckets’ . ‘Okay I’m on my way’. I look around but Liam is nowhere to be seen. He is so sensitive, just like me, better find him. ‘Liam? Liam where are you?’ No answer. Damn it, hated going out without apologising.
I always carry the tools of his trade in the old black satchel which I throw in the back seat of the SAAB. ‘The Dew Drop Inn’ is set in the heart of the rolling drumlin country, close to the border and at a remote crossroads. When I first came to the area over a decade ago it was described as being close to the borderline, just like its patrons. In those first few years it took time to settle. Part of me regretted leaving Singapore. The move was intended to be only a stop gap measure in my medical career, but as the years past and the children settled into the quiet hamlet, so did I. As I became more settled I also began to gain the trust of the locals. It didn’t happen overnight and deep down I have always felt that it didn’t really matter how long I lived here, I would always be an outsider, l’etranger as Camus would say, a pieds noir. I’ve never let my sometimes different perspective on life interfere with my duty. There were times when I’ve missed the excitement of my previous postings in Africa and Oman but this was balanced with the knowledge that I had found a safe and secure place to bring up the children, notwithstanding the troubles just ten miles up the road. Liam will understand.
‘The Dew Drop Inn’ was an imposing two story building with annexes at both ends and fuel pumps out front. It was set at a crossroads with neither road really leading anywhere of consequence. There was no town or village in the parish of Ballybrown and so as such ‘The Dew Drop’ was the focal point of the community. Births, deaths and every significant life event in between were celebrated here. The shop sold all the necessary provisions for rural life. The post office was also part of the shop and it and the telephone Box were the links to the rest of the world and the hundreds of parishioners who now lived far away in places like Manchester, Birmingham, Coventry, New York, Boston and Philadelphia. The walls were adorned with pictures of past parish football teams who had enjoyed success. It was considered a social embarrassment for any menfolk not to be included in one of these line-ups. These were the thoughts that filled my head as I speed the five miles from home to the infamous ‘Dew Drop Inn’. If the place was the social hub of Ballybrown by night, by day it was inhabited by men for whom drink, and the companionship of those who drink, was their only solace in life. Most of these creatures would be there now awaiting my arrival, and there would be poor Mary Kate Joyce in the middle of them, her arse torn to shreds after sitting a pint glass.
‘Ah its Doctor Gannon, well this a turnaround, usually its us that travels to him but tonight he’s come to our principal POB’ It was Jack Burgess. Gannon knew him well and also his incredibly large ego. Burgess held court here daily in the public bar. He was not well-liked and considered an annoyance, but to the people of Ballybrown he was their annoyance and so occupied an important part of the parish ecosystem.
‘What’s a POB?’ asks Benny Maguire, the little hunched up man sat on the stool beside Burgess.
‘Benny my good friend, a POB is our principal place of business, the place where we transact ourselves, the place where eh, were we a body capable of registration that is, that such registered office would be located, the place where, were a stranger to seek us out and ask such directions of a person of the locality, that person would be directed to this very place, right here Benny, this is our POB’
‘Well seeing as it is such an augmentious occasion the Doctor might buy us a drink’ replied the hunchback.
‘Christ man, don’t be talking like that in front of the Doctor, have you no fucking manners at all ………….. the Doctor will buy us a drink in his own good time’
A group were huddled in the corner beneath the television. One woman, the only other female on the premises was holding the hand of Mary Kate Joyce and appeared to be just finishing the Rosary, ‘Hail holy Queen, mother of Mercy, send in most .. Dr Gannon, come in doctor, come in quick, thank God you’re here’. Mary Kate was moaning and when she saw me she started shrieking, ‘ah Doctor, Doctor, am I going to die, I’m near bled out, ah God’. Mary Kate was lying on several towels which were all now crimson. The place looked like a casualty clearing station. ‘You’re okay Mary Kate, you are going to be just fine, try not to worry, we’ll see to you now and get you cleaned up’
Tom Penrose, the proprietor came in from the side door. His complexion was the white of a ghost. No doubt despite the drama around him he would have taken time to check that his public liability insurance was up to date. Gannon grabbed his arm ‘Look I can’t operate on a woman in a public bar’. Penrose nodded, ‘I know Doctor, will we help you load her up and so you can bring her to Mullingar?’ Gannon frowned ‘No Tommy I mean bring her into the lounge!’
The wails of Mary Kate could be heard in several parishes, ‘I’m finished Doctor’. I gently rolled her over on her side. She was very much on the plump side. As I rolled up her blood sodden skirt it revealed her ripped nylon stockings and several lacerations to both buttocks. One was quite deep but there didn’t appear to be too much damage to any underlying blood vessels or nerves. Mary must for once be grateful for the bountiful and generous extent of her posterior. I was confident I could suture the main wound but first i’d give her a jab of local anaesthetic. The patient didn’t even feel the needle enter her buttock and I took this for a good sign. The amount of blood was making things look a lot worse than they were. The assembled audience were only exacerbating tension. ‘Can you stand up Mary Kate please?’ Oh Jesus no I can’t move Doctor, Oh I’m in an awful way’ ‘You will be if you don’t move now my dear’ knowing full well that neither himself nor the half dozen well inebriated men in the bar were equipped to lift Mary Kate’s twenty stone frame out of the bar and into the lounge. Gradually with gentle persuasion Mary Kate stood up and with some more coaxing was persuaded to put one foot in front of the other until they slowly made their way into the dimly lit lounge. ‘This won’t do’ I thought until I eyed the pool table which had a spotlight overhead.
‘Bring her over here and place her on the table, take it gently boys’. Penrose jumped in front , arms outstretched ‘Not the new pool table. ‘It’ll be destroyed, I only bought it two year ago’. ‘Well go and get some bed linen Tommy and be quick’. As Penrose ran behind the bar and into the house quarters I grabbed a glass and pushed up the optic and filled myself a brandy. I threw it on my head, got a refill before returning to where the newly commissioned medical orderlies Jack Dexter, Michael Fanning and Pipsey Rooney were having an impromptu cigarette break. Dexter was holding his cigarette to Mary Kate’s mouth and she was dragging on it as if it were her last gasp of nicotine. It could’ve been the Alamo or Khartoum so heroic the scene.
‘Ah Jaysus lads’ cried Tommy returning with a big cardboard box and a well-worn white sheet. ‘Ye can’t smoke in the lounge, ye know that well ye bloody fools. What an evening I’m putting in’.
Dexter went over to the emergency exit and pushing down the bars opened the door letting a whoosh of cool October air in. Sucking strongly on the last remnants of the cigarette he threw the butt on the path. Rooney followed suit and they closed the door. Penrose was tearing up the cardboard box by now and spreading it flat across the pool table. Suddenly the double doors from the hall opened and in came a visibly inebriated Pat Joyce, ‘How are you now darling, you are in good hands, God bless you Doctor Gannon’ Mary Kate was not impressed with these loving overtures ‘How am I he says, How do I look to you? Me arse shredded in bits and bared to half the men of the parish’ The wounded looking Pat slid up along the side of the pool table and held his wife’s hand ‘Ah darling don’t be like that in front of the men, the doctor will surely do his best to save you, isn’t that right Doctor?’
Dexter and Rooney lifted Mary Kate up on to the Pool Table and I rolled her gently over on her side. The men averted their gaze but there really was no way of letting modesty take any foothold in this situation. Penrose came back with a basin of warm water and a clean tea towel. The bright light over the pool table was turned on and began by debriding the wounds. As the blood was cleaned off I could see that many of the cuts were superficial and I picked out several small pieces of glass. ‘Do your best Doctor I’ve 9 kids at home and they wouldn’t survive without their mammy’ . Well they must be surviving alright tonight I thought. The blood still flowed from one of the deeper wounds and so I asked Pat Joyce to squeeze the two sides of the open cut together to stem the flow. It gave the chance to get the suture kit. Threading the nylon monofilament through the eye of the needle I remarked how a serene silence had descended. As I began to put Mary Kate Joyce’s bum back together stitch by stitch in a standard single interrupted closure of the wound. The smaller wounds were easily dealt with and bandaged. All in all the procedure took less than half an hour and at this stage Penrose was getting agitated and looking at his watch
After matters settled I began guiding the patient out to their car. ‘I’m just afraid Doctor you know. It won’t affect me if I was to have another baby?’. ‘Oh no, not at all Mary Kate. Are you pregnant?’ ‘Not that I know of Doctor’. Mary paused for a little break, ‘How many have you now?’ I asked. ‘Well we had ten but nine living’. ‘Nine!’ repeated Gannon, he had thought they had six or seven at most. ‘You know there are procedures available Mrs Joyce. You can get a procedure or Pat either and then you wouldn’t have to worry about getting pregnant’. Mary Kate thought for a few moments before walking again, ‘God I think I’ve had enough procedures for one night Doctor but thanks very much’. Her husband was now out opening the passenger side door and linking her in. ‘Maybe we can talk about it again when you get over this. You’ll come into me Tuesday or Wednesday so I can check how you are healing. I’ve given Pat something to help with pain and sleep’.
‘Thanks for everything Doctor …. and the other advice too but I think I will take what God gives me’. I smiled outwardly but inside I was sighing ‘Has God not given you enough?’
With the patient departed returned to the Lounge to gather up my satchel. Penrose had already cleared the make-shift operating table and was wiping the edges of the pool table with a damp cloth. ‘Fair play to you Doctor you timed that well Doctor. We’ve an ould pool competition tonight with the Courtmacsweeney lads.For awhile there I was afraid I might have to call it off. You are welcome to sponsor a spot prize if you like.’ I shook my head ‘I’ll have another Brandy though’. Penrose finished wiping and shuffled behind the counter to get the drink. ‘Oh and send a drink up to Professor Burgess and his able assistant there’.
I gathered up my instruments and put them in the satchel. The lounge was still empty but the Bar was filling up. I need sleep. I took the squat glass in my hand and savoured the aroma of the Cognac just under my nostrils. With eyes gazing on me I walked purposefully through the hallway and out to the fresh air. As I slipped the car into gear and turned it towards home I thought of what Mary Kate had said. I wondered had God given me too much also.
He crossed the old iron gate first and then lifted the boys over, encouraging and cajoling them across the rusting blue iron bridge with the missing planks. The boys were momentarily weak with fear of falling into the river below. The length of the gaps between what planks remained appeared colossal. But once across the bridge the boys were exhilarated by their pseudo-bravery and pluck.
The next obstacle was quick upon them, the old wall which ran along the edge of the former gardens of the crumbling Castle. They jumped down the wall to the low ground and on to the path through the thick man high growth that led to the river bank. The air was heavy with pollen and the last heat of the day.
The father took out his old fishing rod and took a hook from his box. Holding the little piece of barbed steel in his lips as he fed the fine line through the metal eyes, finally, threading the line through the eye of the hook and knotting it securely. He then repeated the process on the boys new shiny rods, his forehead lined in concentration. The corks were set at about three feet from the hook and a few lead weights attached further down the line. Then the jam jar was opened. A nice fat worm was caught between his thumb and forefinger chosen not just for his size but for the dark colour of his back and head, apparently this was the type the fish liked best. The hook was delicately forced through the thin skin and the worms fate was set, thus impaled he would end his days as fishing bait.
When all three rods were set up the father took the first casts out, watching for the low hanging bushes around them, before landing the corks mid-stream. He allowed them to bobble and settle. With the corks caught by the gentle current the rods were handed to the boys. The corks began to drift lazily downriver towards the entrance to the lake. Dragon flies swooped low as the young fishermen eyed their corks for any movement that might signify the bite of a perch or roach.
On Sunday the 8th of August 1948 it was standing room only at St. Manachans Park, Mohill, County Leitrim. The grounds were by now the premier football ground in the County since their opening in 1939. They hosted many inter-county games and County Finals but this day saw an unusual pairing. It was a game that captured the imagination of all Leitrim Gaels, home and abroad. The crowd was estimated at in excess of 8,000. The reason, the visit of the Leitrim Club from New York, led by their mercurial Manager and Mohill native, Michael ‘Nipper’ Geelan.
Geelan had been a star player with his native Mohill and lined out for the County at Junior and Senior level whilst still in his teens. His nickname apparently arose when a Galway mentor enquired from a local who was the ‘Nipper’ playing havoc in the full forward line. Geelan was born in Laheenamona in 1901 where his father, a native of Cashel in Bornacoola had settled. Whilst the Nipper is probably better known for his on field exploits he was also a member of Fianna Eireann and later of ‘A’ Company, 3rd Battalion, Leitrim Brigade of the Old IRA. He debuted for Mohill at the age of 15 and played for Leitrim from 1921. He was a regular until in the spring of 1926 he decided to emigrate to New York. He teamed up with many Leitrim emigrants and helped get the club competing for the New York Championship then dominated by the famous Tipperary Club. One of the great GAA organisers at the time was another Mohill native, John McGuinness of Tulrusk/Drumhanny. McGuinness was formerly Leitrim County Board Chairman who was elected to the same position in New York in 1932, a rare achievement. Had Nipper Geelan not emigrated when he did it is certain that he would have been part of the Connacht Championship winning team of 1927.
In 1932 the Leitrim Club won the New York Championship with a talented team that included Eddie Maguire, uncle of Packy McGarty. Commentators thought that this was a team that would go on and dominate the club scene in the Big Apple. Sadly the effects of the Great Depression and tighter immigration laws saw the club began to flounder. Starved of fresh blood off the boat the club folded. It was not until after the end of the Second World War that a group of Leitrim exiles got together and started to put in action a plan to reform the club. The GAA was beginning a revival and the next few years were a golden period in North America. In 1947 the All-Ireland was played in the Polo Grounds, the only time it was every played outside of these shore.
‘Nipper’ Geelan also coached a successful minor team called Incarnation. At the time the underage structure in New York saw many teams associated with their local church. Incarnation was a team attached to the Church of the Incarnation on 175th St which drew its players from the Irish communities of Inwood and Washington Heights. The star of this minor team and future star with Leitrim and New York was a young Jimmy Geelan, the Nippers own Nipper so to speak. 1947 saw the Leitrim play for the first time in fourteen years. The Nipper even managed to get some game time at 46 years of age when he lined out against Down alongside his son Jimmy, the match report said that “the younger Geelan is certainly following in his after his father’s footsteps and in a few short years will be competent enough to compete with the best in the division.”
The Leitrim Club were also active off the field; the Irish Echo reported that a Dance would be held in Croke Park Pavilion (Gaelic Park) on the 2nd August 1947, where the musical entertainment was provided by “May Rowley of West 161st St, a recent arrival from Mohill, Leitrim, an accomplished pianist and soprano as well as being very easy on the eyes”.
It is not known when the trip back to Ireland was first planned but the plan was widely known by December 1947 when the Club held its annual dinner dance in the Dauphin Hotel. All through winter and spring the fundraising continued. Geelan was in bullish form ahead of the Tour, telling one reporter ‘We’ll lick any team in the old sod’.
The Leitrim team sailed for Ireland in July 1948 aboard the SS Washington and docked at Cobh on the 1st August where they were met by Secretary of the County Board, Michael Reynolds NT and other officials. After settling into their lodgings in the County Hotel, Carrick-on-Shannon the team headed to Manorhamilton where they drew 2-5 each with a North Leitrim selection. Sean McGowan from Cloonturk scored 2-1 for the visitors in an exciting game. The team also paid a visit to Kiltyclogher where a crowd of 1,000 people saw Geelan lay a wreath at the Sean MacDiarmada memorial.
The following night the County Board met to finalise arrangements for the big game in Mohill. The following stewards were requested to report at Mohill Park at 1.00pm ‘L. Moran, Robert Moran, Billy McGowan, J. Flynn, J. Gordon, James Canning , Charles Kilkenny, Charles Keegan, Sean Reynolds and Patrick McCrann’ and from Gortltlettragh ‘P. Reynolds, C. Reynolds, J. Milton, J. Booth and P. Gannon; Bornacoola – T. Aherne, Michael McGowan, H. O’Brien, P. Greene, Bert Faughnan and J. Notley; Shannon Gaels – McNally, McGuinness, Newton and two from Carrick-on-Shannon; Aughavas – Carroll and Reynolds’.
Meanwhile Geelan took time out to write a telegram to John ‘Lefty’ Devine the GAA correspondent with the ‘Irish Advocate’ in New York. It read-
Co. Leitrim August 4th 1948
A short line to let you know we are having a wonderful time here. Also to apologise for not getting a wire to you in time for Croke (Gaelic) Park. Communications are not the best in Leitrim. Of course you have already heard we tied our first game against a good selction from North Leitrim.
On behalf of the team I again want to thank you and also please convey again my thanks to John (Kerry) O’Donnell for the inspiring support he gave us. Its men like O’Donnell that make it easier for us all to keep the Gaelic games alive. I did not forget the ball for Jacky. I may not be able to get the shoes as they seem to be very scarce in Ireland. I am enclosing a few cuttings and will forward more as time goes on. Incidentally the score was 2 gl. 5 pt to 2 gl. 5 pt, McGowan 2 gl. 1 pt, Brennan 4 pt. Regards to Mrs. Devine.
Manager of the touring Leitrim Club.
A few days later the scene was set for a grand homecoming for Nipper in his home town where his exiles would face the full Leitrim team. The town was buzzing from early in the day. Two fife and drum bands led the teams out to a wall of applause and excitement. Dan O’Rourke, the President of the GAA was even in attendance. The game was refereed by Peter O’Rourke, Tully (Carrigallen) who was also the Chairman of the Leitrim County Board. Canon Masterson threw the ball in and a rip-roaring game ensued. Jimmy Geelan, still a minor was amongst the scorers. Leo McAlinden was the star of the home team. The final score was a draw, 2-3 each and everyone thought it a fair result. It can be well imagined that the celebrations went on well into the night around the town.
The tour continued the following week and entered its most controversial phase. The team was scheduled to play Armagh in Davitt Park, Lurgan on the 15th August. The team cars proceeded to Lurgan on the Saturday night festooned with Tricolours and Stars and Stripes. Some of the cars and players were attacked and attempts made to grab the ‘Free State’ flags but the game proceeded before a crowd of 4,000. The exiles lost 1-6 to 0-5 but gave a good account of themselves against an Armagh team who were preparing for the All-Ireland Junior final. In press reports mention was made of the American’s ‘forceful’ and ‘unorthodox tackling style’. On the way back to Leitrim the team played an exhibition game in Garrison against a Fermanagh select. Thus the touring party achieved one of Geelan’s aims by playing in the ‘occupied part of the country’.
Armagh v Leitrim New York Team at Lurgan
Geelan wasn’t prepared to let the roughing up of his team of US Citizens in Lurgan go and wrote to the American Consulate in Belfast. He received a polite and courteous reply which reminded him that –
‘the United States government does not wish its nationals to take part in political affairs or events in foreign countries. When American Citizens acquire allegiance to the United States it is intended that they shall give up all allegiance to any other country. Failure to do so certainly impairs the right of this individuals to claim the protection of the United States Government while abroad’.
In other words one cannot claim the benefits or protections of US Citizenship when attacked whilst flying the flag of another nation. Geelans reaction is not recorded but can be surmised.
The final game of the tour was against the Dublin club St. Caillins, recently formed in the Capital and made up primarily of Leitrim players. The game was played in Fenagh but the result is unknown. There then followed a reception and dinner held at the Vocational School in Mohill (then ‘the Castle’ former residence of the Crofton family). Peter O’Rourke, Chairman of the County Board proposed a toast to the exiles saying that ‘they gave a very fine display’ and he hoped that their visit would be ‘an encouragement to the younger generation of Leitrim to go ahead and win an All-Ireland’.
The Exiles were then presented with miniature shields sponsored by the Connacht Council, silver medals from the County Board and cigarette cases from the Armagh County Board. Nipper Geelan presented the County Board with a special gold cup, the McTague-Galligan Cup which was played for in the drawn game earlier. The Cup was subsequently presented to the winner of the Leitrim Senior Championship until the onset of the current Fenagh Cup. Finally a farewell dance for the travelling party was held in the ballroom at Fenaghville.
The tour was undoubtedly a success on the field. The Leitrim Club were subsequently unlucky to lose two New York Finals in 1948 and ’49. The ‘Irish Advocate’ concluded ‘perhaps the greatest feat in the history of the local Leitrim Combination was made when they decided to sponsor a tour to Ireland, where they made a meritable showing against men of experience and full training. They were happy to record the fact that seven native born American boys were included in their line-up of players which gives them the right to say that Leitrim was the first to ever send back to the old sod the lads who learned the fine points of the game on the sidewalks of New York’.
However the tour did leave considerable debt and ultimately nearly sank the club. By the end of 1950 the club had lost over 22 players and had to rebuild again. One of the casualties was ‘Nipper’ Geelan himself who was uncompromising in defending the Tour against detractors. The Nipper left and was soon involved in coaching teams such as Kildare and Tyrone. The Leitrim club did recover though and one of its proudest days came when they won the 1958 New York Championship. One of the stars of the team was the now veteran Jimmy Geelan. The younger Geelan had already represented the New York Senior team that won the National League in 1950, defeating Cavan. “Nipper” Geelan had plenty more good days in football. He trained the New York Senior Teams from 1955 to 1963 in what was a hugely successful period for the exiles. He even trained a New York team that played In Wembley. In 1968 he was honoured by the New York Association for a lifetime of service. He passed away suddenly in December 1974.
Whatever about the financial success of the 1948 Tour it had a hugely positive effect on people throughout Leitrim. Emigration had tended to be one way traffic but this team in their bright suits and New York tans must have seemed a little exotic in a place where war rationing was still the norm. The highlight of the tour was undoubtedly the game in Mohill and its record attendance. It must surely have been one of the proudest moments of Michael ‘Nipper’ Geelan’s career.
The annual arrival of the Swallow is one of the surest signs that Summer is on its way. We have had them since the beginning of April. The first weeks are spent securing their nests, building new ones and repairing old ones. You can find them anywhere but they seem to like farmyards and their byres, haysheds and barns. We have two permanent nests on our dwelling house, the oldest of which is here at least ten years now. I have managed to affix some plain corrie board from an old poster directly underneath the nests to catch the droppings. The swallows might be cute but they have little respect for a freshly painted or whitewashed wall. One of our nests is high up under the eave on the Western Gable of the house whilst the other is squeezed in between an eave and a drainpipe. I’m reminded of the The Wind in the Willows, where the swallows discuss with relish their impending return to “the house of the perfect eaves”. Not only are these tiny birds amazing flyers but they are great architects and precision builders too.
By now the birds are paired off, well settled in, with eggs laid and soon to hatch. The swallow practices love in a cold climate. The male and female will build the nest together. The long evenings are now spent darting and diving in the acrobatic pursuit of insects. It was the swallow after all who first invented the concept of in-flight dining. They say that the swallow is so adept that they can even swoop low along a watercourse and drink water without stopping. The skill and athleticism of these little birds are a sight to behold in the dying hours of the day. They are also very brave little birds and will swoop low like an F16 fighter pilot on any man or beast getting too close to the nest. I have vivid memories of the swallows teasing an old sheepdog we had at home, dive bombing him and turning him around in circles in the farm yard, in what for them must have been a source of endless amusement and mischief. The rest of their summer will now be spent rearing the insatiable chicks.
I always find it amazing to think that these little birds will next year return to this same place, the place of their birth and in some ways I feel honoured..
Billy Flynn, an ecologist for the Irish Wildlife Trust said , “Swallows travel in families, with the younger birds following their parents when they migrate for the cold months. What is incredible about them, Flynn explained, is that young swallows are still able to make the journey themselves, even if their parents have died or got lost before they had a chance to show them.
No one is exactly sure how they manage this but it is thought instinct plays a big part, as well as magnetism. Most animals have the mineral magnetite in their skulls and this gives birds a kind of internal compass. It’s an amazing journey, they pass over deserts, seas, they fly through all sorts of weather and when you see the tiny size of them, you can fit two in the palm of your hand.”[i]
The swallow doesn’t seem to do retirement and is constantly on the move, He simply cannot sit still, a consummate workaholic. As if inventing in flight dining wasn’t enough he also promoted the classic long distance commute. As much as I look forward to them coming I hate to see them going; their departure signals the end of the summer. If they are gone before the Hurling final you can watch out for a bleak winter, if they linger on until October then it mightn’t be too bad. In the months following this I will curse again the price of oil, whilst Comrade Swallow has retired five thousand miles to the south, to his dacha in sub-Saharan Africa. Observers say the numbers of swallows are depleting and I sincerely hope that this can be reversed. It will be a very sad day if ever the swallow does not return.
The Swallow Song
Come wander quietly and listen to the wind
Come here and listen to the sky
Come walking high above the rolling of the sea
And watch the swallows as they fly
There is no sorrow like the murmur of their wings
There is no choir like their song
There is no power like the freedom of their flight
While the swallows roam alone[ii]
William Butler Years was born on this day in 1865. Although born into the Anglo-Irish ascendancy Yeats could arguably be said to have done more to reshape the modern Irish identity than any if his contemporaries. Yeats drew his inspiration from ancient Irish myths and folklore and as an ardent cultural nationalist, valued the classical past as an inspiration for a modern pluralist society. He has so many great poems and this is one of my favourites that simply has to be read aloud.
“He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
This Blog’s title owes itself to the River Shannon. The river meanders its way through the countryside and provides us with some beautiful backdrops.Today the sun was shining brightly which can be rarity hereabouts, at least of late. I was smiling to myself after a friend told me a little anecdote about Rick Santorum the US Republican Senator. Apparently Santorum had said that Pope Francis ought to leave climate change to the scientists! Poor Rick however was apparently unaware that the Pope, prior to taking orders was a trained chemical lab technician. Little matters like Ricks oversight can make you feel happy sometimes. As I was passing through Jamestown the river came into view. I just had to stop the car to admire the beautiful Weir and the sound of the cascading waters. I was reminded of those beautifully crafted lines of Kavanagh:-
“Where by a lock Niagariously roars
The falls for those who sit in the tremendous silence
Of mid-July. No one will speak in prose
Who finds his way to these Parnassian islands.”
A few minutes later I stopped at one of the bridges that traverse the Albert Lock and Canal. This stretch of water is likely to be very familiar to the boating fraternity on the Upper Shannon. It is also an area rich in history ancient and modern. The canal is also known as the ‘Jamestown Cut’ and it bypasses an un-navigable part of the river in the loop between the neat villages of Jamestown and Drumsna.
The Albert Canal
Jamestown itself was founded in 1622 as a walled plantation town and remarkably, as a recognised borough, it returned two MP’s up until the Act of Union in 1801 . The town itself never really flourished in the manner envisaged by its founders. Its prominence peaked in the mid seventeenth century when it was fought over during the 1641 Rebellion. In 1650 a famous Synod of the Bishops was held here but from then on the town declined although it retained a modest river trade and was still a significant fording point over the Shannon. The importance of the crossing point has long been recognised. The area marked the traditional fording area and point of demarcation between the ancient provinces of Connacht and Ulster. The ‘Doon’ of Drumsna stretched for over 1.6 km between the villages of Drumsna and Jamestown.The Doon consisted of a large earthenwork rampart up to six metres high on its northern side. The ramparts also had a fortified gate or entrance and was effectively an ancient ‘Checkpoint Charlie’. It is believed that the Doon was in use in the period 500BC to 400AD.
Drumsna is also a picturesque riverside village. Up until the mid Nineteenth Century it was of huge significance as the main postal town of the southern part of the County of Leitrim. The Novelist Anthony Trollope lived for a time in the Village and penned one of his earliest novels ‘The Macdermotts of Ballycloran’ here.
Another famous person associated with the area is the famous Surgeon and Explorer Thomas Heazle Parke who was born in nearby Clogher House. Parke made a name for himself in the relief of Gordon at Khartoum in 1885. He also worked with Henry Morton Stanley in the Emin Pash Relief Expedition. Whilst in Central Africa Parke is said to have purchased a pygmy girl, a strange act in modern terms but one which saved his life. When he contracted malaria the girl nursed him back from death. Unfortunately he could not bring her with him as her eyes could not adjust to the sunlight after coming out of the dark of the forest.
The Canal was first mooted in the 1600’s as part of an overall scheme to make the Shannon navigable. A canal was not constructed however until 1769. The original canal was much smaller and narrower than what we see today and its depth averaged only 1.2 metres. The Shannon Commissioners approved new works in 1844 and much of the construction work was carried out by Poor Relief Committees during the famine. On average 300 men worked on the Canal daily at this time. The new Lock was named after the Prince Consort and husband of Queen Victoria. The canal served the area well commercially until the late 1950’s by which time increased use of road haulage made the river barges obsolete. From a highway of commerce the river has now become a leisure route . I hope today’s canal users take just a moment to think of the local labourers whose backbreaking toil, with hand tools, built this fine canal, all for the measly sum of six pence a day.
All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied