Monday 6 May 2013


with Guest Blogger, Paddy Waldron...

Sunday morning's technical difficulties began with recharging the batteries for the portable PA system.  It came with three rechargeable batteries and the last thing on my mind when the first battery ran down during Saturday's walk was remembering which battery was charged and which was discharged.  I searched the bag in which the system came for a manual, but the only one I found was for the usual custodian of the system - a long list of his regular medications.  It turns out that this charger displays a steady red light while charging and a flashing red light when fully charged.  My camera charger displays orange while charging and green when fully charged.  Every other charger seems to have a different convention.  Why did nobody ever think of an international standard for these things?

I set off with three fully charged batteries for a day which began with 12 noon mass in Kilrush.  There was plenty of parking for massgoers this week, but such may not be the situation next week, by when the stage for the main ceremony will be in place around the corner on Frances Street and parking will be somewhat restricted.  A mass for famine victims was concelebrated by Fr Martin Blake C.C. and Canon Mullins from Miltown Malbay.

Afterwards there was no sign of the rest of the committee, who had gone by car to Old Shanakyle, so I had to take the initiative and take out my PA system and get a few dozen walkers moving in the direction of the cemetery, about a mile away.  The walk provided opportunities to compare notes on Kilrush history with Senan Scanlan and also to suggest to Michael O'Connell that a radio progamme should be made about the late great Seán Moloney, recognised after yesterday's lecture, among many other claims to fame, as Clare's greatest cliffter.  It's hard to believe that it will be a quarter century since his sudden death next August.

About 60 people in total gathered at Old Shanakyle, including a large contingent from the extended Madigan family, who were there as much as anything to recognise Stephen Madigan, late of Carnacalla and the Bronx, who sent monthly contributions home to Canon Ryan in the early 1960s to fund the cross.  Michael Cusack has done a marvellous restoration and cleaning job on the cross in recent weeks.

The Mayor, Mairead O'Brien, welcomed those in attendance, and then I read Dr. Madden's account of the burials in the famine pits in Old Shanakyle:

``The dead are interred every morning in a churchyard (Shanakyle) about a mile and a half from the town. The bodies are carted away without any appearance of a funeral ceremony; no attendance of priest, no pall.''

``The coffins --- if the frail boards nailed together for the remains of the paupers may so be called are made by contract and furnished at a very low figure. The paupers' trench in a corner of the churchyard, which I visited, is a large pit, the yawning aperture about twenty feet square. The dead are deposited in layers and over each coffin a little earth is thinly scattered, just sufficient to conceal the boards.''

``The thickness of the covering of the clay I found did not amount to two inches over the last tier of coffins deposited there. A pauper who drives the cart and another who accompanies him to assist in the trench, are the only funeral attendants. It is very rare that any of the kith or kin of a pauper accompany his remains to the grave. Because there are so many deaths and so much difficulty in ascertaining anything about the identity of such a multitude of paupers as those amounting to half a hundred or more who die a week, it is seldom anything is known of the deaths in the poorhouse by the friends outside.''

Pat Burke, nephew of Stephen Madigan, recalled the story of one lucky individual who was thrown into the pit, thought to be dead, but was observed to move and rescued by the Murphy family who lived nearby.  He made a full recovery, emigrated, returned twenty years later to thank his rescuers, and lived to a ripe old age.

Assumpta Kennedy then sang Lone Shanakyle, her third public performance in three days, so there'll be no nerves when she sings it again in front of the President next Sunday.

There were actually three pits, and the group moved from the first pit down to the third pit on which the cross stands for the wreath-laying ceremony, performed by Mary Hamilton née Madigan, niece of Stephen Madigan.  This was followed by a minute's silent prayer.

I had my second cemetery speaking engagement of the afternoon in Drumcliff Cemetery in Ennis at 3pm, so there wasn't time to walk back to my car in Toler Street, and I begged a lift first from Kay Clancy, who disappeared off with her cousins to check out ancestral graves that she didn't know about and left me stranded, so it was Mary Rose Counihan who took me back to town.

The crowd was starting to gather when I arrived at Drumcliff for the Clare Roots Society's contribution to the Famine Commemoration.  Mayor of Ennis, Peter Considine, is just out of hospital, but fulfilled his commitment to unveil a new monument on the famine plot at the top of the hill.  John Bradley, profit on whose book about the cemetery funded the new monument, was MC.  Many of the Clare Roots Committee were unfortunately away on account of it being a Bank Holiday weekend.  John asked me to say a few words about the National Famine Commemoration and the history of the Famine in Ennis and throughout the county.  There's no harm in recycling a good speech and as I knew I was the only one present who had been in Shanakyle earlier, I pulled the quote from Dr. Madden out of my pocket and read it again to conclude my remarks.

Fr. Tom Hogan P.P. and Rev. Bob Hanna then led a prayer service, with contributions from Mary Hester and a few others.

The local press were well represented by reporters and photographers.  I finally met Joe Ó Muircheartaigh of the Clare People, to whom I have spoken many times on the phone.

Edel Greene, editor of the forthcoming issue of The Other Clare, was also present and I was able to reassure her that she will have an article from Paul O'Brien and myself about Famine sites in Kilrush as soon as the National event is over.

I was also deputed to take up the collection for Trócaire today and a very generous EUR 108.76 was contributed.

Before I left Ennis, Eric Shaw loaned me the Clare Roots Society portable PA system, so now there will be facilities available for clashing events, multiple buses, and other contingencies.

Speaking of clashing events, I was sorry I couldn't attend the event in Killaloe, scheduled for the same time as Drumcliff.

I decided to stop at Fanny O'Dea's to eat on my way back to Kilrush and was very disappointed to find that the restaurant there has closed.  It was worth stopping from a historical point of view, as I noticed the date 1790 in the plasterwork over the former restaurant door.  Having studied the folklore concerning Fanny O'Dea and her relationship to the Brew family of Kilrush, I suspect that 1790 is far more likely to have been the year of her birth than the year she established her famous business.  Plan B was to return to Crottys for dinner for the third time this week.

I popped into the Teach Ceoil on the way to make sure that Brian Comerford was OK.  His thoroughness saw him request access from 3pm to prepare for a 7pm production and he had everything fully under control.

I had a good chat about family history with Kevin Clancy, proprietor of Crottys, who asked about Waldrons who lived in Kilrush.  Apart from my grandparents staying there occasionally on holidays, the only Waldron resident of the town I know of was my greatgreatuncle John Waldron who was based there with the R.I.C. until he was transferred to Waterford as a consequence of marrying a 19-year-old Kilrush girl called Ellen Molony back in 1885.  We could trace no relationship between Kevin's Clancy ancestors from Moyasta and mine from Killard.

Paul O'Brien joined me for dessert, and brought the shocking rumour, from three different sources, of the death of one of his former teachers whom I had met as recently as Friday.  I was delighted to learn that the same man was seen getting into his car a couple of hours later, and had also been seen at mass a few hours after the rumoured hour of his demise.  Bad news travels fast, even when it thankfully isn't true.

Paul and I planned our route for Thursday's bus tour, for which I now have 43 bookings in my notebook, plus 22 people signed up via facebook.  Please let us know in advance if you intend to come (087 7885494).  We will be meeting our bus provider Noel O'Shea tomorrow to confirm the route, which will have to be tailored to the numbers travelling. Michael O'Connell also joined us to make final arrangements for Monday's Cammoge walk and associated events.  It was good to hear that a great walker of yesteryear, Donncha Ó Dulaing of RTÉ, may be joining us, thanks to his friendship with P J Murrihy, whose recent compositions include a song about Donncha as well as the West Clare Famine Song.

We just missed Terry Fitzgerald and her sister Laura who flew in from Seattle this morning and are staying in Crottys.

Brian was no longer on his own when we returned to the Teach Ceoil, which was now a hive of activity.  Kay Clancy was dropped off by her husband, minus the visitors' book for the week which is in her custody.  I had to fly back to her house with her to collect it, leaving her niece Eileen to mind my precious parking space beside the gate!

Paul Edson brought along his iPad to show off a photograph of the eviction scene painted on the gable wall of Joe Whelan's museum (the Old Creamery) which was completed this afternoon.  Joe has also kindly volunteered to mount the various commemorative plaques which will be unveiled during the week, and the first one is already in place.

A message was phoned through (from a garda on surveillance duty!) that I was on The History Show on RTÉ Radio 1.  I had almost forgotten the interview that I did with Lorcan Clancy in the Templegate Hotel in Ennis three weeks ago yesterday.  The 7 minute slot was over before I could get back to the car radio.  It is online at!rii=9%3A20198131%3A5392%3A05-05-2013%3A
and I was able to listen back online later.

The Teach Ceoil filled up rapidly and we had to pull out all available seats and think about putting out house full signs.  I eventually closed the gates to deter anyone who wasn't really desperate to attend.  There must have been at least 150 people in attendance and it was standing room only.  For once the Teach Ceoil felt warm and we had to turn off the heating!

There were three parts to Brian's performance, which was preceded and followed by the usual excellent speeches from Mairead.

The first part was a tableaux of the Miss Kennedy Distributing Clothing sketch outside in the churchyard.  The audience filed out row by row to view it.  I barely recognised Susi Matejka, dressed in rags and minus her usual spectacles.

The second part was a live performance of `We were never beggars' with a cast of seven, including Brian's daughter Ciara returning to the stage after a long absence as Mary McMahon.

After an interval, the final part was a radio play by Brian also on the subject of the Famine in Kilrush, originally broadcast in 1980, with a larger cast ranging from the late Cissie Roughan to Fr. Gerry Kenny, now P.P. of Kilkee.  Unfortunately a slight technical glitch meant that the last few minutes of the recording wouldn't play, so Brian improvised.

Due to a misunderstanding, the Trocaire bucket began to be passed around the audience, who may have felt that they were at mass!  At future events, it will be placed discretely at the entrance, so that nobody feels pressured to contribute.

Well done to Brian and all his cast and helpers for a great evening's theatre.

So a third wonderful day drew to an end and I headed back to base to recharge my own batteries for a long walk tomorrow.

To conclude: There are rumours of a new famine spreading in and around Kilrush.  Various spoiled husbands are going hungry as their wives have fallen victim to a new disease thought to be Famine Commemoration Fever.  Stephen O'Brien, Liam Clancy and Randal Counihan are among those unfortunates left to fend for themselves as their spouses have become full-time Famine Commemoration organisers.  This new famine is not thought to be related to the failure of the 2013 early crop of lumper potatoes in Kilrush.  Efforts to force the traditional variety in time for the Commemoration have met with very limited success during the bitterly cold and wet spring which has just ended, and potato rationing has been introduced.  There have been requests for as many as six lumpers for various individual commemoration events, but as this equals the size of the entire crop, each event is being limited to one single lumper potato.


  1. So far, I have resisted commenting on the great tales from Paddy Waldron, but today, I simply must. Paddy has taken me through such a range of emotions, from wry smiles, to laughter, to sadness, to tears, back to amazement at his fitness, to laughter yet again...

    Beautifully written, Paddy... thank you so much for sharing your time with us, especially when you must be so tired at the end of these long days. I know I'm exhausted just reading about your days.

    I hope you are all enjoying these posts as much as I am...

  2. if I knew what a cliffier was I could appreciate a famous one

  3. What a busy time you folks are having over there... just wish I was able to join you but thanks so much Paddy for your guest posts. Much appreciated.

    I especially enjoyed listening to you on the radio and smiled about the poor gents having to get their own tucker. Sure helped lift "the blues" which always overtake me when hearing about those terrible times which my GGGrandmother experienced, as a child, and caused her to immigrate here to South Australia.

    Thanks again... Catherine

  4. Is Shanakyle signposted? Not able to get over to Kilrush this week ( and especially on Sunday ) but I do hope that there will be something like a 'famine trail' as a lasting legacy of the year that the Famine was commemorated in Kilrush

  5. Thank you all, for your comments... If there isn't a plan to make a Famine Trail, perhaps there should be... I will let the organisers know.


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