Sunday, 12 May 2013

BEHIND THE SCENES KILRUSH'S FAMINE COMMEMORATION DAY 8, MAY 10, 2013

by Guest Blogger, Paddy Waldron

I've already had an approach from an entrepreneurial local publisher (Larry Brennan) for these daily blogs, so I'd better not fall any further behind even though it's after midnight on Sunday morning as I start this.

Friday looked like an easy day on the printed schedule, with only Labasheeda National School scheduled before 4pm.

After my first proper night's sleep for at least a week, the day began with a phone call from Mary Troy, a faithful attender at historical events throughout west Clare, who has been laid up with a chest infection for almost a fortnight and is very upset that she has missed so much this week.  She asked me to get her a signed copy of Matt Lynch's new book.  Her doctor warned her not to risk a relapse by sitting out in the cold on Sunday afternoon, which upset her even more.  I had the bright idea of asking Brian Comerford, who has been studying the map of Frances Street for Sunday, if he could find her a spot in one of his neighbour's windows, which he very kindly later did, in the middle of his own very busy day (`too busy to join an active retirement group'!).

John Cooke interviewed Minister Jimmy Deenihan and our own Ciarán Ó Murchadha during Morning Focus on Clare FM and both did great interviews.  It's nice that there is so much praise from on high for what we have done in Kilrush.  In the middle of the Minister's interview, Matt Lynch phoned as he had lost Paul O'Brien's phone number: when I told him what I was listening to, he hung up and turned on his own radio.  When he called back, I was also able to pass on Mary Troy's request for his autograph.

Clare FM also brought the sad news of the death of Brendan Carmody from Henry Street, by which several people who have helped out during the week were bereaved. His brother Michael talked about the stained glass windows in the church during Wednesday's walking tour; his niece Mary Cusack acted in Brian Comerford's play on Sunday; and his nephew Pat Cusack has promised to help with a photographic archive of the week.  At least the obsequies in Brendan's adopted town of Roscrea were timed to suit the many Kilrush people travelling west for the weekend.

Dolores Hamill also phoned and asked me to call in to her sister Miriam and herself in Burton Street later.

I observed the national minute's silence at noon sitting on my own at the dining room table in Doonmore.

I was just sitting down to start on Thursday's blog at 12:20pm when Paul, out of mobile phone credit as usual, phoned from his father's mobile to say that one of his old history teachers Mary Fitzpatrick had requested that we come to the secondary school at 1:40pm to say a few words to the 1st, 2nd and 5th years before they set out on their own famine walk around the town.  I didn't think it was right to refuse such a request, so had to drop everything and start preparing for the return of my hosts by clearing my famine office from their kitchen table.

When I got to Kilrush and while waiting for Paul, I scribbled a few notes as to what I thought might be appropriate things to say to an audience of teenagers about the Famine.  Sister Maura stopped on her way to join the school walk to say nice things about what we have done during the week.  It used to be easy to recognise nuns by their religious habits, but now that they dress in civvies it's a little harder.  I've been assured that the Kilrush Sisters of Mercy have been out in force at all our events during the week.

When I met Paul and Mary, they explained that they wanted the pupils to hear something about the Famine associations of the places that they would be passing on their walk, so I had to tear up my hastily prepared notes and speak off the cuff.  I don't think I'd been in a secondary school since I finished my leaving cert 32 years ago.  My audience listened most attentively and hopefully learned something.  I wasn't looking for familiar faces but at least two of the first years had attended lectures in Teach Ceoil during the week: I spotted David O'Brien and I'm sure Luke Clancy was also there.

Mary brought us into the staff room for a quick cup of tea afterwards before she went off to join the walk.  I'd brought a Trócaire box  and Mary wants to take up a collection in the school next week, so we counted out the contents, left the empty box with Mary, and Paul later went off to the bank with the proceeds.

We drove back to Burton Street.  There was nobody in Blunnies, and when I phoned I discovered that Dolores and Miriam were visiting their sister Imelda in the Community Hospital, so I joined Paul and Mairead O'Brien in the Buttermarket across the road while waiting for them to return.  I started up my laptop in the hope of making a start on Thursday's blog, but didn't get very far, as there were various announcements to be made on facebook, such as the fact that the scheduled food fete at 4pm wasn't happening.  Dolores and Miriam joined us to have lunch before we headed back across the street to their house.  Dolores had filled a 4GB memory card in her camera with video footage and stills and asked me to take a copy for the archive.  I was pleasantly surprised to see from her video of the lunchtime event in Moyasta N.S. (a pageant entitled "Famine Memories of Captain Kennedy") that Mary Troy had left her sick bed to attend.  Nobody'll get away with anything in west Clare this week with so many cameras in constant action.  I'd half-forgotten about the Moyasta event, not least because it was inadvertently added to the schedule at 10pm instead of 1pm.  As usual, I had trouble paying for my decaff coffee as I was leaving the Buttermarket, and had to just leave my money in the tips jar.

It was great to sit down for an hour with Miriam and my laptop as she dictated the history of Frances Street.  Larry Brennan takes months to produce one of his books on the streets of Ennis, but I think 24 hours with Miriam and someone who can type as fast as she tells Kilrush history would produce something similar for any street in the town.

Paul came back to Blunnies after going to the bank and the dentist, and we then had to tell Miriam to pause and make a mad dash to his home in Carnanes as his parents had invited me to come to dinner some time during the week, and this was the only free hour in the schedule all week!

After dinner, it was back to the church for a wonderful concert by local soprano Edel O'Brien at 6pm.  Her accompanists had let her down a few days earlier as one of them got a gig in Cuba which clashed.  Luckily Dolores Blunnie is becoming something of a concert promoter and found Michael Hennessy to fill in at very short notice.  After fretting about amplification all week, it was amazing to see what the combination of a powerful human voice and a building with great acoustics can achieve. As I looked around at the huge crowd, I wondered how much might have been raised if this was not a free concert.  As I looked around again, I could see no sign of a Trócaire box, so thought I should lean forward and whisper in Mairead's ear.  She slipped her car keys to Paul beside her and sent him out to fetch it.

There was a slight distraction when one of the candles on the altar caught fire, but a member of the audience made his way to the sacristy and found the implement necessary to quench it just as Fr. Blake arrived with similar intent.

The Céilí with music by Four Courts Céilí Band was already underway in the Market Square as Paul and I made our way to the Teach Ceoil.  We spotted Christine Kinealy walking down Moore Street and picked her up. She gave another great lecture to another full house at 8pm on "Philanthropy during the Great Famine with particular Reference to County Clare."  She has a slightly different style to some of those who lectured earlier in the week, and likes to throw questions out to her audience.  She was very impressed by the gentleman who knew that Polk was president of the U.S. when the Famine began, but disappointed that he didn't know that George Dallas (the slave owner for whom the city in Texas is named) was his vice-president.  She neglected to point out that the city of Talty in Texas, now almost a suburb of Dallas, is named after Michael Talty from Rahaniska, greatuncle of Patrick Talty who has been so helpful this week, and brother of Kathleen Talty whose grave we visited in Cill na gCailleach on Thursday.

It would be impossible to rank the five world-class famine historians who have given our evening lectures this week, each setting a remarkable standard of knowledge and presentation and keeping their audiences spellbound.

We suspended the Trócaire collection for once, and had a bucket collection at the box office instead for Comhaltas, who have made the Teach Ceoil available to us free of charge for events every day during the commemoration.  It raised EUR221.55.

I had to miss the Mass, also at 8pm, at the site of the old Church in Kilfearagh Graveyard, organised by the Friends of Kilfearagh Graveyard Committee, followed by unveiling of a memorial for the victims of the Great Famine and all those buried in Kilfearagh Graveyard.

I left Paul in the Teach Ceoil, setting up with Noel Ryan and Phil, the caterers for the rededication ceremony the following morning, and rushed back to the Market Square, hoping to catch the end of the Chapel Gate Cooraclare Wrenboys' performance, but was just too late.  I've seen them at the all-Ireland Wrenboys' Championship in Listowel and they are great.

Mairead was still tidying up, and sent me off with directions for information about Saturday's events to be posted to facebook.  I asked her to send me on the text and said that I would copy and paste.

Paddy and Dolores Murrihy were back from Belfast when I returned to Doonmore, and wanted to see the photos for the five days that they had missed and hear a blow by blow account, which took until after midnight.

By 1am, there had been no word from Mairead, so I texted her, and found that she was still in Crottys with Paul!

Only then did I manage to start cleaning up the outline of Thursday's tour enough to forward it to Chris for publication on her blog, at the slightly silly hour of 3:47am.



 Editor's Note:  photos to be added...

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