Monday, 4 November 2019

The Dead, Love, Loss and Licence.

Michael Furey's burial place is immortalised in the last lines of James Joyce's short story, 'The Dead'. Michael was Greta Conroy's first love and was the foil for her husband, Gabriel Conroy's jealousy in Joyce's beautifully poignant short story, which was the final story in his first published book of short stories, 'Dubliners'.
Later in her own autobiography, Nora Barnacle (James Joyce's wife), who lived at 4 Bowling Green, opposite St. Nicholas Church, mentioned her first teenage crush on a young Galway boy, Michael Bodkin, who died on the 11th February 1900 of 'consumption' or 'TB' in the Galway Fever Hospital, in what later became 'The Men's Club' in NUIG and is now the 'Centre for Global Women's Studies'.
Michael Bodkin is buried in the family vault Rahoon Cemetery and there is a plaque to this connection there, and Joyce's poem, 'She Weeps over Rahoon'. There was a plaque at Richardson's Pub on Eyre Square, beside which, in a small sweet shop on Prospect Hill, he had lived and where Nora visited him. He was older than her and probably blissfully aware of her interest in him, but nonetheless, Joyce personified this young love between Nora and Michael Bodkin in the strained relationship he so perfectly described in 'The Dead', between the fictionalised, but easily recognisable, Greta Conroy and Michael Joyce.
These final lines refer to a grave in Oughterard, where Nora's father was buried, having long been estranged from her mother in Bowling Green. Joyce loved the song 'The Lass of Aughrim', having heard Nora Barnacle's mum sing it in the little house on Bowling Greet in 1909, and that song, tellingly also appears in 'The Dead', so typical of Joyce to turn the knife, again and again. Have a listen to these last lines from 'The Dead', it's very short and very beautiful and James Joyce and Nora Barnacle's own relationship, and their relationship with Dublin, Galway and Ireland are resonated in every line.

The last Lines of 'The Dead' .... see

Friday, 1 November 2019

The ghost 'lady' of Long Walk, Galway

The ghost 'lady' of Long Walk. 
In October 2012, the Galway Independent (another Galway ghost newspaper) reported that photographer Jonathan Curran was “freaked” when he noticed he'd captured the image of a lady in a cloak when taking photographs of the end of Long Walk (beside where the mud-dock is). He took 12 other pictures and the ghost 'nun' did not appear in any of them, just in the one photo. The long Walk, he decides, was 'haunted'!

Since then the 'paranormalists' in the city have debunked the photo, rounding on the photographer for his ghostly photo-shop stunt. But was he trying to pull the wool over our eyes, or did he actually inadvertently capture the spectral image of a woman from another ear. 

That is what our ancestors believe that 'Samhain' was all about, where spirits could slip through the crack between the fabric joint at the end of the old year, where it met the beginning of the new year. Could the spirit have been seen through this ethereal tear between the two years, just for one split second, becoming visible to us humans, and the photographer, a glimpse of the otherworld, that parallels ours, a continuous, perpetual reliving of our world, and theirs, with occasional glimpses of one from the other? Who knows, maybe that is what ghosts are, faint and random glimpses from their timezone to ours, from another life, a parallel, and previous one, where the cracks have appeared in their zone, and through the cracks we catch a glimpse, the ghostly images we see sometimes reported,especially at Halloween. 

Whatever this photo is, the garb she is wearing is unmistakably a Kinsale or Kerry or Galway cloak, which were worn by Irish women, to cover their indoor clothes, protecting them from the dust and dirt of 19th century Ireland, and providing them with shelter from the weather and perhaps a bit of anonymity too, especially if she'd prefer to remain out of sight, unrecognised, given the male-dominated nature of our society two hundred years ago, much as a burqa or hijab provides to women in the more closed muslim society today. 

Was this a ghost, or a fake? If it was a ghost was she a victim, or just a phantom? Was she drowned, murdered, a suicide, an accident, or was she simply slipping out of her 19th century cottage to enjoy the tidal effect on the constant in our world and her's, in Galway, the river Corrib? 

I guess we will never know. 

With thanks to Alan Micheal Fahy and Galway Memories for prompting this story. Galway Walks, Walking Tours of Galway. Haunted Tours. Ghost Tours. Horrible History Tours.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Pádraic Ó Conaire

Pádraic Ó Conaire, 
(28 February 1882 – 6 October 1928), was only 46 when he died suddenly in Dublin while visiting his employer, The Gaelic League. Born in his father's house, a bar on the docks in Galway, he was orphaned by age 11 and moved to his uncle's house in Rosmuc where he became fluent in Irish. He moved to London in 1899 and started writing in the Irish language there. He married, had 4 children and moved back to Galway in 1914, writing many books and stories, he was perhaps the first modern writer of fiction in Irish. The then Taoiseach Eamon De Valera had the first statue of him erected in Eyre Square in 1935, which was removed for safety to the Galway museum some 15 years ago after being decapitated by some over-friendly students, and was only replaced by the new green statue in the square two years ago. 

I missed his exact anniversary, 6 October, but wanted to mark this largely forgotten Galway writer's 91st anniversary with a post and a few photos. I must confess, I never warmed to the few pieces of his huge trove to work that I read in my student days, but perhaps I will revisit and try again. He lived for a short while in Salthill, roughly where The Nest is located now. He is settled into the square now, though sometimes I think he is pining for the two cannons that used to flank his old statue in the square, but now grace the lawn in front of City Hall today, neither frightening our politicians, city civil servants, nor even wayward Connacht supporters! I think they'd look great planted either side of him, protecting his flanks, painted the same verdis green, they might perhaps scare away the students, and the drug-dealers and make a rather unique, heroic tryphich! 

A paean for the forgotten.

'Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered'

Yes, if they move the cannons back, I promise to read all of Padraic's books. 


With apologies to Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Greyhounds, ghosts, and things that go bump in the night

Fabulous photo - Great context. 

I saw this photo on the Facebook page 'Mount Talbot - A Journey through the ages'. It totally piqued my interest for one reason... Ghosts!

'This is and extraordinary photo of Matthew Dolan of Cloonlaughlin, Mount Talbot who was born in 1842. It is not everyday one can see a photo of a person who lived through and survived the Famine in Ireland, the population of Cloonlaughlin was halved as a consequence of the great hunger, the largest drop of any of the townlands in our parish. This photo dates to the 1st or possibly second decade of the 20th century, the dress of Matthew is very different to what was worn even a few years after this time, the suit jacket is longer and a very unique shape, made no doubt by Tailor Kelly of Corrocot. He stands tall and proud, his white beard and large hat hiding a face that had witnessed enormous changes in the country. He lived through the famine, land war, Boer war, the rise and fall of Parnell, the lesser famine of 1892, the Plan of Campaign, the passing of the final Home Rule Bill, World War 1, 1916 Rising and possibly the War of independence and Civil War too. (special thanks to Matthews great grandson John for photo).'

His living memory of the Famine era and the Land League agitation would have been extraordinary. He looked quite the dandy in that three-piece suit. The waist-coat looks quite contrasting. The long swallow-tail coat style is unusual. Ironically, just such a coat was described to me by my father in a story he told me about the time a ghost terrorised his greyhound in a stable beside a ruined estate house near Killimor. Turned out that a man had hanged or shot himself, (I disremember which) in that very same stable in the 1880's and his ghost had been seen there many times, ensuring the locals gave it a wide berth. 
My father was teaching in Raheen, between Killimor and Lawrencetown in 1938, staying in 'digs' in Killimor and had just started kennelling his greyhound (which he raced in Galway) in the old two-storey stable, at very little cost!. He couldn't understand why the dog was off form and one winter's evening he went down to walk and feed the dog after teaching school. He described how after galloping the dog on a misty evening, in the fading light, he was drying and brushing the dog before locking him up for the night. 
He was just brushing the dog's hind-quarters, when the dog became terrified, backing into a corner whimpering. He looked around to see an old man, 'dressed in an old-fashioned swallow-tailed, frock-coat, hat and breeches' raising a stick and coming down the stairs towards him. Needless to say, he wasted no time running for the door, followed by the dog, and no doubt the ghost. He never went back there, but he told me that story maybe twice over fifty years. Until now I was picturing a gentleman, in a dress suit, with swallow-tail dinner jacket, but now I see that it was the style for the country folk. 
You see, even in folk-memory there are little telling details that substantiate or anchor a tale, a minute observation or aside, without which the story could be dismissed as just another story to pass the winter evening around the turf-fire.
And who said there's no such thing as ghosts!

#Ghosts #Ghosttales #Ghosttours #Haunted

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The cross atop Saint Brendan's Cathedral

John Ryan, aka 'big-spit' Ryan, was a farmer with a house on Abbey Street, Loughrea, County Galway, where he milked his cows and had a dairy. I remember one of us going down to the dairy each evening in the early sixties for a pail of milk, with the cream floating on the top, still warm from the cows' udders. That was before Morgan's Dairy delivered a dozen milk bottles daily to our door.
John Ryan's farm was roughly where the Supermarket complex stands now I think, on the Athenry road. John was a great friend of my dad's. He'd wander up to our house late at night for a chat at the fire, tamping his pipe out on the Aga, much to the annoyance of my mother. I remember his big hat on his knee, the plumes and smell of the tobacco smoke and him spitting into the fire, thus the nick-name, I suppose. He told tales of old Loughrea, about the Land League and the faction fights and the elections and the 1916 Rebellion and the Black and Tans.
He told dad about being hired with his horse and cart, carting the thousands of old glass negatives from the old Loughrea Printers (Kelly's The Printers on Main Street), out to the Yellow Bog to be dumped. They'd been printing local newsletters and pamphlets back as early as 1790,
Can you imagine the history he saw destroyed?
I don't know when John Ryan was born, but Dad said he'd gotten married on the same day Alcock and Brown flew across the Atlantic, and crash landed in Clifden, so that would be 1919, so let's say he was born around 1890.
During one of his visits to our house he described the raising of this huge iron cross that sits atop St. Brendan's Cathedral in Loughrea to my late father Dermot Nolan, probably sometime in the early sixties before John died. Dad related it to me on one of the many long radio-less car journeys we did those days driving greyhounds to dog-tracks all over the country, usually to lose, and then drive back again, listening to more stories. I wish I'd listened better.

The cross, which is over 14 feet tall, was designed by William Scott, who designed much of the wrought ironwork in Saint Brendan's Cathedral. Probably cast in several pieces in Dublin, the cross was assembled in front of the cathedral, most likely using Scully's Forge where the crane is, as the workshop, to do the final riveting and welding.
Here is the story, as best I remember my father telling it to me, as a child, just as John Ryan had told it to him. I don't say it's entirely true, but I am sure it has some truth in it.
The year was 1901, so John Ryan was probably eleven or twelve, just a boy, but this was an historic moment and he took it all in.
By 1901, the stonework of the spire had just been completed and the builders needed to have the cross installed before the elaborate wooden scaffolding could be removed. They also needed the cross installed in order for the lightning rod to be affixed, before any lightning strike could do damage to the unprotected building.

John Ryan's story went something like this;

'It took 16 horses, huge draught horses, tied off in four teams of four to haul the rope cable that lifted the cross from the ground to the top of the spire.
They had a scaffold up there, up on the spire, with a pulley, high up above the spud-stone that's up there, at the base of the cross. It was another thirty feet taller than that.
The cable went from the cross, through the pulley, and back down again, to a spot outside Scully's Blacksmiths, where the horses were hooked up to the harness.
With lots of urging from their teamsters, the four horse teams began pulling, slowly and carefully, straining at the huge weight of the enormous iron cross. They were almost at John Hanafin's house (the doctors surgery with the steps and railings on Main Street) by the time the cross reached the top of the scaffolding, and then, while the men on top man-handled the heavy iron cross over the spire, they had to back, back, back-up the horse teams ever so slowly, easing the slack on the rope, with shouts and signals from the men on top of the spire, to the men below, and then more shouts along the line to the men in charge of the teams of horses.
Back and forth, the horses straining, back a bit, back a bit more, hold it, hold it, forward a bit, too much, back a bit more. It took what seemed like hours and it was very dangerous. If something went wrong, or a rope or harness snapped, someone could be hurt or even killed.
There were cables on the far side of the spire too, to counteract the pull of the horses. Nothing was left to chance. There were hundreds of people watching, from a distance, being kept back by the police and the military who had been called in to help. Children were running everywhere and the excitement was contagious.
The gentry and their ladies were there too, watching and marvelling at the sight. It was like the Horse Races at Knockbarron, there were that many people in town!
The priests and the bishop were there too as the cross was their pride and joy and it would soon dominate Loughrea's tallest houses and the Protestant church too.
Slowly they eased the long base of the cross down, down into the hole in the spud-stone at the apex of the spire, and once it settled in, everyone waited while the cross was levelled, and bolted onto the huge wooden beam inside the spire, and others, using special wedges and molten lead, fixed the cross permanently in place, where it still stands today... a great day for Loughrea!'

PS. Thanks to Larry Morgan for letting me use his beautiful close-up photo of the cross on the spire that reminded me of all this 'history' or whatever one might call these Loughrea memories. St. Brendan's Cathedral, is in Loughrea County Galway. It is a treasure trove of Celtic Revival art, stone and wood carving, stain glass windows and architecture. There is also a museum open to the public daily showcasing unique Church and local history.