Sunday, 5 November 2017

Well, Minnie: An Echo of Ireland

By Rose Morris

As part of Manchester Irish Festival 2017, MIW wrote and performed original and historical work for our event, ‘Echoes of Ireland.’ Voices from our past echo down to us through the years and the miles, inspiring us to pass that echo on. 

My Echo comes from a letter written by my grand uncle, Francis, to his sister Minnie in San Francisco in 1915.  

A copy of the letter was brought back to Tyrone by his niece in the 1980’s when she visited Ireland for the first time in search of her roots. His niece was able to tell us that her mother would never have read this letter as she died giving birth to herself on the 29th September 1915.

The letter was dated 19th September and taking into account the time it would have taken for surface mail in those days it would not have arrived until after her death.



WELL, MINNIE


Irish Craveny, Ballygawley, Tyrone
19th September 1915. 
Well Minnie, dear sister.
Just a few lines
hoping to find you in good health.
These lines leave us fine.

Well Minnie, I have watched this long time
for a letter from you.
We have got Johnny married,
so that’s a change here.
She’s Roseanne O’Neill.
a neighbour of Susan’s.
Only twenty years of age.
That’s young enough to marry.
We are quite happy with her.
It was with all of her wishes.
She is good to mother and father.
That’s a great comfort to us.
It makes it alright
and that’s best of all.

Well Minnie, I am the only one left now
and it’s hard to say how I am to pull through,
for marryings make great changes you know
and my home will soon be over there too.


That’s all at present.
Hoping to hear from you soon.
They all join in sending best wishes
To your husband and family.
Your loving brother,
Francis McCann

Uncle Francis never did get to America, he moved out of his home to leave Johnny and his new wife their own space, lived alone as a bachelor until my mother looked after him in his old age at our house where he died in 1956.

This letter echoes a hidden story of his hopes and dreams of joining the rest of his emigrated family members. He never realised this dream and we never knew of it until it echoed again in the 1980’s long after he had gone.
~~~~~~~~~~~
Words & Images © Rose Morris

Rose Morris was born near Dungannon, in Co. Tyrone. Having retired from a career in Art and Design Education in Greater Manchester she now spends more time pursuing her creative interests and involvement in community projects in Manchester and Tyrone.
She co-founded the Manchester Irish Writers group with Alrene Hughes in 1994 and reckons that her continued involvement and sharing within that group has greatly enhanced the development of her own writing. 
Her monologues have been performed at the Library Theatre and the Royal Exchange and her short stories and poetry have been published in the Manchester Irish Writers’ collections; The End of the Rodden, The Retting Dam, Stone of the Heart, Drawing Breath and Changing Skies.

Rose wrote “Well Minnie” for MIW's Manchester Irish Festival event, “Echoes of Ireland”, which was performed at the Irish World Heritage Centre, Manchester in  March 2017.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

My Musical Memories

By Marion Riley

MY MUSICAL MEMORIES

My music corner
© Marion Riley

At the age of fourteen when I left Limerick, I could play the piano by memory so once the notes were learned, I didn't need a music sheet. But nowadays I have to have the music sheet in front of me.  It's like as if that particular part of my brain froze when I left.  When I see an old piano in a hidden corner of a hotel or pub, I instantly recall the notes to The Irish Washerwoman, Garryowen and others. But the ones learnt since I left Ireland fail me without a music sheet.  So wherever I travel, I bring music sheets with me, just in case I find a piano waiting and no one around to make me nervous.

Some of my piano sheet music is parched yellow, stuck together with Sellotape and at least a hundred years old. Some are not even Irish songs but they remind me of emigration. For example, The Maori song which belonged to my grandmother.
Now is the Hour when we must say goodbye, soon you'll be sailing far across the sea.  
Image: By NAC (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

My mother taught me and my late brothers. They went on to be musicians playing with both Irish and English bands In England and Germany.  But my sister refused to learn, she didn't like the practising of countless scales and wanted to play like Mozart, without any effort.

Mayo Mermaids by Percy French
Image: Robin Hutton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Jigs and reels I play, the songs of Percy French and Thomas Moore, waltzes and the national anthem from an original copy of The Soldiers Song. My favourite songs are The Rose of Tralee and The Last Rose of Summer.  We played these at my mother's funeral for she was born in Tralee, survived her six siblings into lonely old age and passed away as the last roses were fading.

Photo via Visualhunt.com, Public Domain

And how music reminds me of childhood days, especially

Oft, in the stilly night,
Ere Slumber's chain has bound me,
Fond Memory brings the light
Of other days around me;
The smiles, the tears,
Of girlhood's years,
The words of love then spoken;
The eyes that shone,
Now dimm'd and gone

When I play the ivory keys, I’m back in green fields beneath purple mountains. I'm in old fashioned gypsy caravans. I'm swimming in the Atlantic waves, climbing old haystacks, picnicking by lakes and the River Shannon.  I smell the turf burning in the fires and see the candles lit all over Ireland on Christmas Eve guiding the Holy Family. I share the tears of those left behind as they wave goodbye to their sons and daughters.

River Shannon
Image: Publicdomain, via Wikimedia Commons


When I play Kevin Barry I'm reminded of my parents' parties. Too young to join in, I used to sit at the top of the stairs and listen to a northern Irish lady who for peace of mind, left her Derry home to live in Limerick. She sang with such emotion about 18-year-old Kevin and also Terence Sweeney. Lord mayor of Cork. 

Hearing the words of Just a Lad of Eighteen Summers and Shall My Soul Pass Through old Ireland fired my young imagination to such an extent that I dreamt of being like Joan of Arc, and riding forth to free my country. How easily influenced but how idealist are the young! 

One of my favourite music pieces is Éamonn an Chnoic:
 ‘Cé hé sin amuigh a bhfuil faobhar ar a ghuth
Ag réabadh mo dhorais dúnta?’
When I play this I'm back in Laurel Hill's school choir while the nun tries to get us girls to sing in unison and in tune. We're not taking it seriously especially those of us in the back row like myself.  We are giggling, and the poor nun is jumping up and down in frustration. Now, how I really appreciate the words and the haunting music, the energy and commitment of that poor sister!

Image: Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

How I enjoy playing jigs, reels and hornpipes to get the hands tapping and the feet moving, especially in the company of an Irish audience which has a particular gift to change from melancholy to sheer joy, even madness in a matter of seconds. Indeed, the Irish genes have been passed down to my half French grandson living down south. Apart from attending Irish dancing classes, when 8 years of age, he used to spontaneously dance everywhere, in supermarkets, at bus and railway stations, in car parks, even on the shingle shores of Brighton. 

I'm so grateful to my dear mother. She was one exam away from a Trinity College qualification to teach the piano, when her father packed her off to the wilds of Kerry to improve her Irish language skills. He was more into education than music and how she often spoke of her regret in missing out on this exam.  But her loss was my gain, she might not have had time to teach me had she been engaged with many other would be pianists.

Photo via Visualhunt.com

She always said that a person would never be lonely if they could play a musical instrument.  And how right she was.  Now that the children have left my nest and the grandchildren are in their teens and so involved with their phones and their computers and game boxes, I'm not needed as much as before. But I only have to play my music and I'm back in its melody of memories of the land across the Irish sea where I first learnt the five-finger exercise, almost three score years and ten ago. 

~~~~~~~~~~~
Text © Marion Riley
Marion Riley was born in Limerick city and emigrated as a teenager to Manchester. She has worked in Sardinia, Spain, Switzerland and France. A winner and runner up of Irelands Own writing competitions, the magazine has published many of her stories and articles. Her monologues have been performed at the Library Theatre and the Royal Exchange and her poems and memoirs have been published in various anthologies such as Write North West.  Two of her short story Films 'Curls of the Past' and 'Letting Go' are on the BBC website Telling Lives. She has also edited and published her late mother's memoirs' From Kerry Child to Limerick Lady.' Marion now lives in Sussex, close to daughter where there is space and peace for quiet reflection on life's transience

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Manchester Arena, May 22 2017

The senseless slaughter of 22 innocent people, along with the maiming and traumatising of so many others at Manchester Arena last Monday night is beyond comprehension. 


Manchester Irish Writers offer their deepest sympathies to all those involved. As writers, many of us have responded in the only way we know how.


FIRST NIGHT AT THE ARENA
By E.M. Powell

As so many Manchester parents know only too well, allowing your teenage daughter to go to the Arena to a gig with a group of friends for the first time is a rite of passage.

They take no notice of your 'Be Carefuls': Make sure you stay together. Don't go to the loo on your own. If you get separated, go to one of the staff. When you come out, watch the road, there's cars everywhere. Make sure your phone's charged up. Dad and I will be in the car at that corner after. Yes, that one. No, THAT one. They haven't listened to a word.

You wave them off, heart in your mouth. At pick up time, (we'll be there from 10:15 in case it finishes early, no, I know it says 10:30 on the ticket, but just in case) you're at that corner. It's raining. Of course it is. So many coming out, so many who could be yours but aren't. You're just watching for yours. Texts. No, THAT corner. Then the text: 'It's ok, I can see you.'

Then she's in, they're all in, soaked of course because they didn't have coats. A back seat full of giggles, shrieks and the car steams up. They're dropped off one by one. The car's quiet. It's just yours left. 'Did you have a good time?' The phone's out again. 'Yeah.' Then we're home. Home.

That's how it's supposed to happen. This morning, I can only thank every God there is, that that was how it happened for us. That mine came home.



MANCHESTER - 23 MAY 2017 
By Martha Ashwell

The sun shines too brightly today;
Clouds should be shrouding our city in gloom.
The rubble and debris of so many lives
Remains to be swept up in the wreckage of dreams.

Beautiful children and smiling young faces
Killed in an instant; heavenly themes lost in the music.
Parents bereft of their hopes and their dreams,
Their children’s lives destroyed without warning.

Hatred and anger inspire the violence 
Erupting indiscriminately.
Why has it happened?
What is the answer?  

Kindness and giving rise to the surface;
The warmth of Mancunians caresses the sadness.
The world looks on and determines;
The only way to conquer evil is through love.



AFTERMATH
By Kevin McMahon
Manchester 23.5.2017

In the green glow 
of Whitworth Park
students bristle with 
mid-exam frenzy 
of relaxation.
A yellow frisbee
scutters between trees.
A woman sits 
on tartan square 
in leaf-shade
and watches her child
crawl across the rug
recoiling at each edge
when she feels
the cool prick of grass.
Although she smiles
this mother cannot quell
the gall of dread,
One day this child
will feel her way
beyond her narrow
boundaries;
will want to join
her friends in happy
concert crowds, 
with appeasing -
meaningless -
cautious promises; 
will step beyond
the limits of her care.



THE MORNING AFTER
By Patrick Slevin

You noticed. I was late. Hung on for too 
Many goodbyes. Held the kids a little
Tighter. Because that world was still out there. 

Cars sat, subdued. Red eyes watching red lights.
Busy searching for yesterday, before 
The landscape changed.

I rang you before I got there. Couldn’t 
Think of any words. If I said I loved you too
Many times, it’s because of those who can’t.



Sunday, 21 May 2017

Martin Duffy: One of the Forgotten Generation

By Kathleen Handrick



Mayo Peace Park, Castlebar
Image courtesy of  the Irish War Memorials website
'The Mayo Peace Park has consigned the ignorance and bitterness of the past into history. It does not seek to glorify or justify any war; its purpose is to commemorate the memory of the people of County Mayo who died in them. It was developed to remember a forgotten generation of brave heroic local people... whose service and sacrifice had been ignored and forgotten, indeed airbrushed out of modern Irish history until recent times.'  Irish War Memorials- Mayo Peace Park. 
Image © Kathleen Handrick

In 2010, I was very pleased to see the name of Martin Duffy, Donkey Man ( a Merchant Navy Stoker), inscribed on the beautiful memorial in the Mayo Peace Park, Castlebar.  Martin was my father’s uncle but unknown to later generations of the family.

Image © Kathleen Handrick

My research had begun a few years earlier.  I was interested in family history but knew very little of my Mayo roots even though I had close relatives still in Mayo. I think it seemed an odd concept to them that I would want to explore this. Perhaps because it was just part of their being, they were living within the history they felt there was no need to delve into the past.

As a child, my English mother had told me of names and places in her family but my father was very reticent. I used to meet people who came from Lacken, I knew the names of my family still living there but that was it.  There was nothing at all of his life experiences in Mayo.

I began by ordering the certificate of my grandparents’ marriage, Thomas Malley and Mary Duffy, and then began to trawl through microfilms at a library at the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter - day Saints. It was a laborious and not very productive task as the parish records were scant.

 In 2003, I answered a posted request on an internet forum with regard to the Duffy family from Carrowtrasna, my grandmother’s town land. It was from Francis, in USA whose family had emigrated to Pennsylvania in the mid 1880s and although we felt that we might be related, there was no proof. Soon though, came a message from Francis, “I think I have found you a cousin!” and Ray, also in USA, proved to be my second cousin. Our grandmothers were sisters.

Map of Co. Mayo, 1841
British Library - no known copyright restrictions

Ray regularly visits Mayo and is a great researcher and we shared our knowledge. We found the Duffys in 1901 and 1911 censuses and thought that we had all our grandmothers’ siblings from those records.

In 2007, Ray asked if I had ever seen a photograph of a sailor in any of our Irish relatives’ homes. He could recall seeing one but was not sure where and he had found a commemoration of a Merchant Navy man, Martin Duffy, son of Michael and Mary of Carrowtrasna, Mayo on the Commonwealth Graves Commission (CWGC) website showing a death in 1916. Ray and I tried to find this death with no results.

I posted on a Family History site about our difficulties in tracing Martin and a kind person investigated and discovered that the date was wrong and arranged its correction. Martin Duffy, a Donkey man, Mercantile Marine, died in March 1918 when his ship SS Boorara was torpedoed in the English Channel. Four other men were killed that day together with Martin.

Image used with kind permission of the Australian War Memorial  

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, local employment, in the townlands around Lacken, was to be found in farming and fishing but several men from the area enlisted in the Royal Navy, perhaps the natural choice for men who had lived by and understood the sea. Recent records show local men who took part in WW1, including the Battle of Jutland. One of the local survivors returned home but sadly died in a fishing tragedy a few years later in Lacken Bay. Several lives were lost that night.

Image © Kathleen Handrick

As more resources became available through internet sites, I was able to continue my research. Martin, aged 19 years, enlisted on the 5th August 1899, for 12 years as a Stoker in the Royal Navy. He served on several ships and his conduct was always ‘Very Good’. In 1911 census his ship, The Challenger, is shown as serving in the Australian Station.

L H Blakeney, an Able Seaman at the time, writes: ‘In 1911 I was in HMS Challenger, on way to Valparaiso, Chile, for Centenary celebrations. After visiting most of the large island groups we called at Tahiti, Pitcairn and Easter Island. First port of call on the West Coast of South America was Callao to coal ship and then to Valparaiso.”  He continues that after the celebrations, the ship called at the Panama Canal which was still under construction. ‘We coaled ship in 119° Fahrenheit. One chap received severe sunstroke, another became a bit funny in the head.’ The ship continued to Acapulco where there was ‘some sort of uprising’ taking place before returning to Sydney via Fiji. (Naval Historical Society of Australia)

Martin’s record shows that he left the navy in 1912 and nothing is known until the reports of his death in 1918 aboard SS Boorara, whilst serving as a donkey man, a Merchant Navy stoker. The Boorara was a former German ship which had been seized in Australian waters in 1914 and renamed. It was used for carrying troops, horses and supplies and was part of the Australian Mercantile fleet.

In 2014, I received a pleasant surprise when Ray emailed a copy of a very faded photograph. He had eventually found it, filed away in a cousin’s home.  No one knows which man is Martin. I can see family likenesses in both men!

No known copyright restrictions 

I titled this piece, ‘One of the Forgotten Generation’. It is difficult to say that Martin was ignored or forgotten within the family or perhaps just not spoken about as the generations passed. Recently published Irish records show that death was a too common experience in families at the time.  His parents, Michael and Mary had both died and his sister, my grandmother, was raising twelve children at the time of his death in 1918. Ray’s grandmother was in Pennsylvania raising her family. Martin died nineteen years after enlisting and may never have returned home in that time.  We do not know.

In December 2016, I was contacted by a member of the site where I had posted my request for information nine years earlier to say that the CWGC were searching for relatives of Martin Duffy as it was now confirmed that he was buried in an unmarked grave in Hollybrook Cemetery, Southampton, together with another man killed with him that day.

I contacted the organisation and was told that a headstone would now be erected by the Commonwealth Graves Commission and I was invited to suggest a memorial inscription. I spoke with Ray and relatives in Mayo and it was felt that a phrase in both Irish and English would be suitable if acceptable.

I recalled a hymn I had first heard at an Irish mass in St Mary’s Levenshulme, Manchester and suggested the lines: ‘I líonta Dé go gcastar sinn’ - ‘In the nets of God may we be caught’ and am pleased to say it was approved and was thought to be ‘most apt’.

Image used with kind permission of CWGC

I am so glad that Martin will now be honoured and become one of the remembered men who gave their lives during the conflict of WW1 but more importantly is now remembered within his own family.

Footnote:

I took a DNA test last year and in my list of close matches, Ray was the top known match as second cousin, which we knew, but do you remember Francis from 2003? There he is in the list, a likely third or fourth cousin! We were both delighted to receive the news after our chance internet encounter!

Postscript:

CWGC have now erected a headstone for Martin. I have also been contacted by Carole, from the Portsmouth diocese who researched Martin's burial. She was able to tell me details of the funeral and also that John Grennan, who was killed with Martin, was a young Roscommon man. Carole visited the new headstone and kindly placed some flowers there.

Image © Kathleen Handrick

~~~~~~~~~
© Kathleen Handrick


Kathleen Handrick is retired and lives in Oldham with her husband and family.  She joined MIW in 2013 as a novice writer and enjoys participating in the writers’ events. Her Irish roots are in County Mayo.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Black Shamrock (Shammerdoo): A Poem

By Patrick Slevin

Dermot Healy wrote – ‘We forget what we owe to what we’ve forgotten till we encounter it again out of the corner of the eye, in passing.’ 

Shammerdoo (Seamir Dubh) is a townland near Kilkelly in county Mayo. Its meaning is black sorrel, or shamrock.



BLACK SHAMROCK (SHAMMERDOO)

Image used with kind permission of the Connolly family

I never knew him. Not the black and white
Young man. Not the Kodachrome old. With the 
Good wall behind him and the dog. The face
Ringed with lines like the map of his hill, breezes
From Paul Henry skies. 

Image used with kind permission of the Connolly family

  The grass doesn’t grow
In the mud from Mary Anne’s where he walked
Every day, only cloven prints now outlined
By green dew, and purples and blues clawing 
Out from old stones. 

We search to stoke fires with 
Burnt tongs. 
        Your past and our future collide
In the present behind this barbed wire 
Lock. 
           It reeks of the fields in here.

Old jacket still hanging behind the old 
Door. Springs erupt from the mattress, unslept
And rotted with rust. You say no to opening
The flea ridden hag curtain, the doll’s house

Image: © Patrick Slevin

He built you sits still on the floor. Rain briefly
Cracks on the wrought orange roof but the sleep
In this stead carries on, like all those days
Before. You remind me there was ten of 

Them once fractioned in these three rooms. I 
Stand in a doorway, it comes up to my 
Neck, I almost sit down in his chair for a
Picture, by the damp dresser, by the green

Image: © Patrick Slevin

And red tiles, clinging under the mantel,
Where a flat Christmas card warns about
Turkey, your mother’s handwriting fades in
Those misty old wishes. We both try to 

Say that sweet Irish proverb, under the
White horse and trap, holding it at angles
To the tiny window, 
later we learn 
It reads ‘Made in Japan’. 

    By some leaning
Brown bottles we pick up the tongs and
Think of the fire, the other side of the 
Hill. You sit on the remains, gently, of 
The good wall, for a minute, it all doesn’t 

© Carmel Slevin
Seem that long ago now. I raise the tongs,
Like in Zulu, and we turn in the sun,
Shining over Shammer, treading backwards,
As fields swarm round the Callaghan place.

~~~~~~~~~~~
Text: © Patrick Slevin



Patrick Slevin lives in Stockport. He has been writing poems and stories for many years.







Patrick wrote 'Black Shamrock (Shammerdoo)' for Manchester Irish Writers' event, 'Echoes of Ireland', performed at the Irish World Heritage Centre Manchester on 9 March 2017. 


Monday, 17 April 2017

1916: The Risen Word

Manchester Irish Writers marked the centenary of Ireland's Easter Rising in March 2016 with our event, '1916: The Risen Word' at the Irish World Heritage Centre, Manchester. For '1916: the Risen Word', we wrote original poems, monologues, drama and more inspired by the events of the Rising and its aftermath. MIW received the generous support of the Embassy of Ireland for this event.


We have since published many of our pieces on this blog. For Easter 2017, here is a compilation of those posts.

Poem by Bridie Breen


By Barbara Aherne


Poem by E.M. Powell


Proclaim the Dream
Poem by Rose Morris


By Kathleen Handrick


Elizabeth's Vanishing Brogues
Poem by Kevin McMahon


By Marion Riley


By Des Farry


Summer 1979
Poem by Patrick Slevin


Both Sides of the Divide
Poem by Martha Ashwell


Sunday, 16 April 2017

Elizabeth’s Vanishing Brogues: A Poem

By Kevin McMahon

Elizabeth O’Farrell was a member of Cumann na mBan, and acted as a dispatcher both before and during the Rising.  She was sent, under a white flag, to deliver the surrender to the British military on Saturday 29th April.  Despite the white flag, she initially came under fire, and was fortunate to remain unharmed.  Brigadier General Lowe demanded that Padraig Pearse deliver an unconditional surrender to him, personally.  He also admired Elizabeth’s courage, and insisted that she should accompany Pearse.  A press photographer captured the moment of this surrender, but Elizabeth, who stepped back, can only be glimpsed – her feet visible behind Pearse’s.

Later that momentous photograph was edited, to remove the offending legs and feet, and came to symbolise the eclipsing of the very significant role played in the Rising by many brave women, and even of the Revolutionaries’ vision of gender equality in a new Ireland.

This poem is about that photograph.


ELIZABETH'S VANISHING BROGUES
i.m. Elizabeth O’Farrell

The photograph of Elizabeth behind Pearse.
Twitter: National Museum of Ireland @NMIreland

A pair of tiny shoes – size four at most – 
Protruding from the hem of Pearse’s coat,
Was caught on film in the moment of defeat,
As Lizzie chose to step back in his shade.
A minor point of little weight you’d think,
But when the public tide flowed Padraig’s way
Such tiny flaws could humanise the myth,
So Lizzie’s brogues were airbrushed from the frame.

Elizabeth, I’m sure you couldn’t know
That you’d become a symbol of the shift
Of Proclamation pledges set aside
As Ireland was exchanging tyrannies.
So “civil liberties and rights for all”
And hopes of “cherishing” – was that the word? – 
“All children of the nation equally”,
Retreated for another hundred years
Behind the stole and veil, with downcast eyes
That failed to see the airbrushing of dreams.

The National Library of Ireland has an online 1916 exhibition. You can find the photograph of Elizabeth and Pearse, along with many others, in the section 'The Surrender'. You can find the section and access the whole exhibition here. 

~~~~~~~~~
Text © Kevin McMahon
Kevin has been a member of Manchester Irish Writers since 1998 – with a few years’ absence due to work commitments prior to his retirement!  He has contributed to the group’s publications “The Retting Dam”, “Stones of the Heart” and “Changing Skies”, and regularly performs at the group’s events.  He is a former winner of the “New Writing” award at Listowel Writers’ Week in Country Kerry, and has been shortlisted for a number of other awards for memoirs and short stories.  With Alrene Hughes, Kevin co-edited the publication of monologues arising from the “Changing Skies” project.  His scripts have been professionally performed in various venues, and he has had poetry broadcast on the BBC.