Tuesday, 14 May 2013

BEHIND THE SCENES KILRUSH'S FAMINE COMMEMORATION DAY 9, MAY 11, 2013

I'm writing this back at home in Killaloe after a great 10 days and 10 nights in west Clare, even though the trip began and ended with two funerals.  It's a bit like the `is there life after the Leaving Cert?' syndrome, except this time there are lots of other things from property taxes to potential publications that I have been putting off while my life was consumed of late by famine commemoration.

On Saturday morning, I would love to have done the 15km Kilkee Famine Commemorative Cliff Walk led by Conradh na Gaeilge, Kilkee, commencing at the Bandstand, Strand Line, Kilkee, via the cliff road to Goleen and back to Kilkee via the upper Moveen road.  This was the reverse of the route that we took after lunch on the bus tour on Thursday, along the road constructed as part of a Famine Relief Scheme in 1846.

There were two reasons that I couldn't do it: (a) I'd been up until 3:47am, when I sent Chris the latest instalment of this blog and (b) I was required at Kilrush Churchyard for noon to prepare for the re-dedication ceremony at 1pm and wasn't guaranteed to get back in time if I went to Kilkee.  Michael O'Connell managed to take in both events, but was very late for the re-dedication.

I had time for a quick breakfast in Doonmore before I set out for Kilrush.

For Kay Clancy, who has spent so much time working in the Churchyard since she retired almost two years ago, the rededication was always going to be the highlight of the week.  I too had been involved with the Churchyard for almost as long as with the Famine Commemoration, but unlike Kay I don't live just round the corner and can't be there anywhere near as often.

Those buried in family vaults in the Churchyard include my grandmother's great friends Rose and Flo Clancy of Moore Street.  They died just a few years before I was born, but their memory is not yet preserved in the inscription on the family vault, which has never been updated.  At least their memory is preserved in a collection of about 60 years of weekly or fortnightly letters from Flo to my grandmother, which are in the Waldron archive.  My father's efforts to visit the Clancy grave over many years were thwarted by the fact that the Churchyard was either locked or overgrown or both.  Thankfully, neither of these is any longer a problem.

Paul O'Brien phoned me at 11:31, from Kay Clancy's phone this time, to say he'd been up half the night putting together a slide show of before and after photographs of the churchyard and wanted me to bring my laptop to display it.  Unfortunately, under Control Panel, Power Options, Choose when to turn off the display, in the Turn off the display row and Plugged in column, I had selected "10 minutes" from the dropdown menu instead of Never, and so the slide show kept going off every 10 minutes.  Back in the quiet of my own office, it took me only a couple of minutes to find that setting, just as obvious as everything in Microsoft Windows (at least to those of us who appreciate that Microsoft's philosophy is less `the obvious gains many marks' and more `to stop, click start'!).  In front of 150 people, I assumed that the problem had to do with `Screen saver' rather than `Power options'; similar ideas, but poles apart in Microsoft-speak.  If Pat Cusack of Microsoft hadn't been delayed by his uncle's funeral, no doubt he would have rescued the situation!

Paul and Kay had pretty much everything else under control when I got to the Churchyard.  After all the rain during the week, there was surface water lying on parts of the Churchyard, so the decision had been made to hold the main part of the event indoors.  The rededication was part of The Gathering Ireland 2013 calendar of events compiled last November, but we were able to bring it forward by a week when the Famine Commemoration date was announced two months later - another case of the right hand (Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht) not knowing what the left hand (Transport, Tourism and Sport) is doing in the Irish Government. Thanks to Gathering funding, we were able to get Noel Ryan, Phil and helpers to lay on light refreshments.


Not for the first time this week, we found ourself with an audience of over 100 ready and waiting in the Teach Ceoil to listen to a speaker who had not yet arrived, or in this case to four speakers of whom only three had arrived.  The latecomer, who shall remain nameless, appeared just in time.  Paul O'Brien got things underway by thanking the long list of people who contributed time, materials, labour and/or funds to the restoration fund.  Then he introduced representatives of four religious denominations who contributed in turn to the ecumenical prayer service: Rev. Bob Hanna of St. Columba's Church of Ireland in Ennis; Fr. Michael Sheedy, Parish Priest of Kilrush; Rev. Vickie Lynch of Christ Church Methodist/Presbyterian Church in Limerick (who had hosted a great genealogy day back in March at which there was a big attendance from Kilrush); and Mary Hamilton, a local member of the Pentecostal Church (Eaglais na Cincíse).  Mary's talk, based on Ezekiel 37:1-14
(The Valley of Dry Bones), made a big impression, at least on Terry Fitzgerald.


From Terry:

One of the most powerful things I heard today during the Church of Ireland re-dedication. A woman spoke of the famine plot in the old Shanakyle cemetery and seeing old bones there as a child. During our Famine Commemoration activities, a prayer service was held and this passage from Ezekiel came to her mind. She read it to us today, and spoke of us being the flesh to those old dry bones. Very, very moving.

Ezekiel 37:1-14
The Valley of Dry Bones



Editor's Note: For the full text please see the notes at the end of this post... you can't help but be moved by these words...

We also asked John Masterson, who had come all the way from Toronto to attend the Commemoration, to say a little bit about his research into Famine emigration through Grosse Ile, and in particular about the Aerial, one of the few ships to arrive in Canada with all passengers in good health, and the only one listed as coming from Kilrush.  It was owned by William Blair, whose family vault is one of the finest monuments in the Churchyard.  After Foley's Store ceased to be an Auxiliary Workhouse, it was leased from Peter Foley by William Blair, who was listed as occupier in Griffith's Valuation in 1855.  We would love to know where William Blair went after the auction of his Kilrush residence, Cappa House, in September 1878.  His widow appears in Morehampton Road in Dublin in the 1901 census.  Neither of their names appears on the vault, which has inscriptions to the memory of her mother and of their son and granddaughter.  John ended his talk by presenting two volumes on emigration to Canada to me on behalf of the Kilrush & District Historical Society.

Dolores Hamill continued in her role as concert promoter by arranging for the young Browne brothers (Colm, Liam and Seán) who had played at Cammoge on Monday to perform again, and even joining them on stage herself.  They were expected to play at a family month's mind mass immediately afterwards, but were happy to squeeze in both events.  We got our signals crossed and in my role as MC I tried to send them on their way to their next appointment before they were finished.

After the prayer service, we went outside for a ribbon-cutting and unveiling ceremony at the new prayer garden on the site of the Famine soup kitchen.  I had to hold the portable microphone, so couldn't take photos.  James Hall and Colm Hayes cut the ribbon, and Tommy Scully and a representative of the family of the late Seán Danagher did the unveiling of plaque and cross (donated by Michael Cusack) and wreath-laying.  Dolores Murrihy immediately asked for the loan of Kay's curtain for the unveiling of a plaque in Doonbeg later in the day.  I think we're still looking for Carmel Buggle's curtain which was used for unveilings earlier in the week.

Joe O'Connor greeted me with words along the lines of `fancy meeting you in another graveyard', obviously not realising quite how many graveyards I frequent in a typical week, let alone this week, and leaving me at a loss as to which one I knew him from.  Several hours later, I remembered: Lisdeen, Day 1!

Martha and John Howard (undertakers) came along to honour the memory of Martha's Bradley relatives, among those buried in the Churchyard. Martha apologised that she would have to miss Sunday's big event because of a funeral.  I was very sorry to hear from her of the death of Seán King of Kildeema, formerly the residence of several generations of my Blackall relatives.  Seán and I appeared on a Léargas programme about the Blackall sisters several years ago, filmed at Kildeema.  At the age of 93, he came in on Friday morning after feeding the calves, told his wife of 63 years that he didn't feel well, lay down and died.  A great way to go.  Some of those who attended the Famine Commemoration event in Moyasta on Friday reported seeing ambulance vehicles speeding westward towards Kildeema, but it was to no avail.  May he rest in peace.

Indeed, there is a Famine connection with Kildeema, as the Limerick Reporter of Friday evening 11 Jun 1847 announced the death `At Kildimo [sic] House, Co. Clare, in the 25th year of his age, of a protracted illness, after a violent fever which he caught among the poor to whom he devoted the most part of his time attending to their wants, George, eldest son of Henry Blackall, Esq., sincerely and deservedly regretted by all who knew him.'  John M'Mahon Blackhall, Esq, Killard and his brother Henry Blackhall, Esq, Kildrina [sic] House moved or seconded resolutions at a meeting of the united parishes of Kilfera and Killard to investigate what Public Works might be most advisable in a season of threatened starvation towards the start of the Great Famine.

On the other hand, Captain Kennedy reports the details of eight families turned out by Summary Eviction of the Lands of Ballard, Parish of Killard, Property of John and Henry Blackall
(see
http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/history/kr_evictions/kr_evictions_enclosure16.htm ).

I passed on the sad news about Seán King to Paddy Murrihy, who tried to pass it on to his wife, who instead formed the impression that Seán was in attendance, and was consequently more shocked when she realised the truth later in the day.

The crowd of well over 100 for the re-dedication made short work of the food (my second meal of the day) and after it ran out I proposed going outside again to demonstrate the talcum powder trick for highlighting the great collection of gravestone art hidden in the Churchyard.  This had been such a big hit at Cill na gCailleach during the bus tour on Wednesday that it caused a run on talc in Supervalu when we got back to Kilrush.

I thought it would have been appropriate to ask Assumpta Kennedy to sing Lone Shanakyle at the grave of its composer, but didn't want to impose on her yet again.  I noticed that she and a few others loitered at the grave as Paul directed the rest of the group to another grave with unique carvings, but it was only when I checked facebook later that I discovered that that great fan of all traditional singers Joe O'Connor, had a special moment when he invited Assumpta Madigan Kennedy to sing her great great grandfather's song, as they stood at his graveside.

My camera battery and my talc and Kay's talc all ran out at this stage.  Between the Teach Ceoil, the hot dog van in the Market Square and the Murrihy's kitchen, I managed to get the camera re-charged in time for the Doonbeg commemoration later on.

Afterwards, Bob Hanna confirmed that the Church of Ireland building, like the present Catholic Church on the other side of town and the original pre-reformation church in the Churchyard, was dedicated to St. Senan.  Lewis in 1837 wrote: "The church, a large edifice with an embattled tower crowned with pinnacles, towards the erection of which the late Board of First Fruits granted a loan of £1500, was built in 1813, near the site of the ancient church, of which the ruins form an interesting and picturesque appendage: it contains a well-executed mural tablet to the late Mr. Vandeleur, and has been lately repaired by a grant of £121 from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners."  He makes no mention of the dedication to Senan.  Bob headed back to Ennis briefly, but promised that we would see him again at Doonbeg in the evening.

Paul and I and Michael O'Connell set the Teach Ceoil up for Evelyn Conlon's evening lecture and reading while Phil cleared up in the kitchen.  After all our trouble setting up the Council's laptop and projector, Evelyn never used them.

Then we headed up town to join Mairead O'Brien at the Family Survival Celebration Day which she had organised.  Mairead and Mary Rose Counihan begged Michael and myself to enter the knicker-hanging competition, but we refused - inappropriate at any time, let alone as part of a solemn week of commemoration! Michael did buy me a hot dog (my third meal of the day).

As I strolled down Frances Street to buy my Irish Field in Supervalu, there were still two houses getting a last minute coat of fresh paint, despite rumours that all shops in Kilrush had sold out of paint.  Brian Comerford reported seven painters on ladders in Frances Street at one stage on Friday, and Congella McGuire reported six houses still being painted when she arrived in town at 6pm on Friday for Edel O'Brien's concert.

I eventually got going for Doonbeg, having circled around a few times checking whether Michael was ready for a lift, and whether Mairead could spare a few hi-vis jackets for walk stewards.

John Masterson was driving past me in the opposite direction as I turned into the driveway in Doonmore.  He had missed the oft-repeated announcements that the start time of the Doonbeg commemoration had been postponed from 5pm in the original printed programme to 6:45pm, as shown on the up-to-date website. So had Tony and Mary Cassidy, who spotted me getting my laptop out of my car (to post another reminder on facebook) as they too drove back from Killard. They had hit the road only in spots after decided at 4:20pm to come from Ennis.  I invited them in and we had tea and cake and tart (my fourth meal of the day) before heading for the Hill of Killard.

I brought the Thomond Society PA system and put the Clare Roots Society PA system in the Murrihys' car, which Dolores was driving to the Doonbeg end of the walk, hoping to cover all eventualities.  Paddy Murrihy had barely started his introductions when the PA went down and trying all three speaker batteries and both microphone batteries failed to rectify the situation, so we gave up and left the gear in the boot of my car.

Noel and Tommy O'Brien had also come out at 5pm to film the event, but hung around and waited for us.

Rob Hopkins and the Crack'd Spoon Theatre Company were also on hand, to perform re-enactments related to the habitation under the bridge in Doonbeg, as described in the Illustrated London News.  I captured what is certainly my favourite from among the 547 pictures taken with my camera during the week:


Facebook photos


The sun shone for the easy walk from the Hill of Killard to Doonbeg Bridge which almost 30 people completed.  For Michael O'Connell, it was just a little footnote to the morning walk from Kilkee to Goleen and back.  There were brief stops for prayers and silent reflection at the three cemeteries along the route - Killard, Doonmore and Doonbeg, probably the only three adjoining townlands I know of each with its own cemetery.  We were expecting at least one member of the clergy on the walk, but the local clergy were detained saying regular Saturday evening masses, and Bob Hanna got confused by all the time changes and didn't reappear until we reached the church.

Dolores Murrihy appeared at Doonmore Cemetery with the backup PA system.

Crack'd Spoon Theatre Company took the long way round by Baltard School and were waiting for us at the bridge, where Judy O'Donnell took refuge after the eviction re-enacted at the Hill of Killard.  Whereas on Thursday and Saturday we had Mary Ryan's permission to approach the habitation under the bridge through her field, in 1849 Judy O'Donnel feared prosecution for trespass and had to use a ladder to access her habitation.  Francis O'Dea had constructed a replica of the ladder shown in the ILN sketch to add realism to the re-enactment.

As an O'Donnell by birth, Dolores Murrihy was chosen to unveil the plaque for the bridge in a temporary location in the riverside park, where Fr. Joe Haugh also said a prayer.  Mary Blake emerged from her house across the road for this part of the proceedings.

Next, there was a very appropriate ecumenical service in the church, conducted by Fr. Gerry Kenny, P.P., his assistant Fr. Joe Haugh, and Rev. Bob Hanna.  By now the numbers had more than doubled since the end of the walk.  The Mary McMahon soliloquy was read for the fourth time during the week, and again moved those present - Mary (Chambers) Egan read it at the Doonbeg schools mass on the first day; Ciara Comerford read it during her father's play on Sunday; the late Cissie Roughan had read it in Brian Comerford's radio play; and now it was the turn of Marie Shanahan, who was just as good as any of the others. Thanks to Ciara for the words:

I am Mary McMahon. Mary McMahon, Chapel Street. Mother of the dead child, Brian. Up to two years ago we were tenants at Tullabrack, on Mr. Westby's property, but two years ago, the houses were tumbled and we had to take to the road. I was part of my time since begging about the world. That was the hardest part of my time. The McMahons were never beggars. I stopped at John McDonnell's in Ballyurra for a while. Then I went into the Workhouse. I was three weeks in the Poorhouse. I left the Poorhouse the Friday before Christmas. I left of my own accord but the child, Brian, was sick. I left him there until he got better. Then I brought him out of the Poorhouse Hospital. The child was delicate Sir. I got outdoor relief last Thursday. Two stone three quarters of meal. My family was myself, my husband and five children. We had about five pounds of meal daily for seven in family. Five pounds between seven of us. It wouldn't answer any more for me Sir. I never made any use of the meal but for food, except for a half stone I sold to pay the week's rent. I got fippence for the half stone, I gave thruppence to pay the rent, and the other tuppence to buy milk for my sick children. I sold a can I had for tuppence hapenny and I pawned my husband's coat for two shillings. There was yellow meal in the house the day the child died, but he could not eat it. Why did I not report the child's death to the Police? I couldn't sir. I was not able to go out. Myself, my husband and family were so weak and exhausted we could not leave the house. It was the want of food caused all our sickness. What day was it the child died? What day Sir? The days are long for the hungry Sir. I can't remember exactly. Four, maybe five days ago. The child was as fine a child as could be seen.

Murt McInerney, rumours of whose death have proved to be greatly exaggerated, read a poem.

The gifts presented in the course of the service, and the sacred space in which they were displayed on the altar, were most appropriate, particularly the basket of crosses inscribed with the names of those recorded as having died or been evicted during the Famine.  Mairead O'Brien has stressed over and over again that the names recorded in Captain Kennedy's reports and in the Workhouse records are our names, the same surnames that are prevalent in the former Kilrush Union today, the surnames of our own relatives and friends.

I didn't appreciate that the whole display was disassembled immediately afterwards and transferred to the boot of Helen Crowley's for re-assembly in Kilrush Church for the Famine Mass there the following morning.

From the church, we moved on to Halla an Phobail for tea and biscuits (my fifth meal of the day).  The application video was being played while we ate, thankfully without sound, as I can't bear to listen to my voiceover any more.  Then Kieran Fitzpatrick gave a brief lecture about the impact of the famine in Doonbeg parish and Kilrush Union.

I got to meet many Doonbeg people that I had not met since Doonbeg invented the concept of The Gathering with a parish reunion back in the mid-1990s, or had never met at all.  My second cousins once removed Anna Roche and Sr. Margaret Roche had come to Killard for the afternoon and stayed on when they learned what was planned.  It was the first time I met J. J. Downes.  I knew I was supposed to talk to him about some aspect of family history, on the recommendation of Matthew Breene, but as it wasn't Famine-related, I've forgotten exactly what I was supposed to ask him.  Murt McInerney began his conversation with me by asking `Did you hear I was dead?' and we had a good laugh about the false alarm of earlier in the week.

My sixth meal of the day was 7Up, sandwiches, chips and sausages from Caroline Kennedy in Igoe's with the Murrihys, the Cassidys and Bob Hanna.  Others who were due to join us fell by the wayside.  By now it was after 10pm, so we missed the opportunity to hear live what Donncha Ó Dulaing said on his weekly Fáilte Isteach programme about his visit to Cammoge on Monday.  I'm listening back as I type at


http://www.rte.ie/radio/utils/radioplayer/rteradioweb.html#!detail=&rii=0%3A10146224%3A0%3A%3A&type=doPlayThis


He managed to name-check almost as many of those at Cammoge and elsewhere on Monday as I have done in this blog.

Paddy Murrihy drove the Cassidys to their car in Doonmore and me to mine in Killard.  When we eventually got back to the house, we tested the Thomond Society PA system, which was working again.

By 1:45am, I had finished Friday's blog instalment and sent it off to Chris and after transferring a few day's photos to my laptop I was ready for bed.


The full text

Ezekiel 37:1-14
 The Valley of Dry Bones
37 I felt the powerful presence of the Lord, and his spirit took me and set me down in a valley where the ground was covered with bones. 2 He led me all around the valley, and I could see that there were very many bones and that they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal man, can these bones come back to life?”
I replied, “Sovereign Lord, only you can answer that!”
4 He said, “Prophesy to the bones. Tell these dry bones to listen to the word of the Lord. 5 Tell them that I, the Sovereign Lord, am saying to them: I am going to put breath into you and bring you back to life. 6 I will give you sinews and muscles, and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you and bring you back to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”
7 So I prophesied as I had been told. While I was speaking, I heard a rattling noise, and the bones began to join together. 8 While I watched, the bones were covered with sinews and muscles, and then with skin. But there was no breath in the bodies.
9 God said to me, “Mortal man, prophesy to the wind.[a] Tell the wind that the Sovereign Lord commands it to come from every direction, to breathe into these dead bodies, and to bring them back to life.”
10 So I prophesied as I had been told. Breath entered the bodies, and they came to life and stood up. There were enough of them to form an army.
11 God said to me, “Mortal man, the people of Israel are like these bones. They say that they are dried up, without any hope and with no future. 12 So prophesy to my people Israel and tell them that I, the Sovereign Lord, am going to open their graves. I am going to take them out and bring them back to the land of Israel. 13 When I open the graves where my people are buried and bring them out, they will know that I am the Lord. 14 I will put my breath in them, bring them back to life, and let them live in their own land. Then they will know that I am the Lord. I have promised that I would do this—and I will. I, the Lord, have spoken.”

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