I normally need eight hours sleep but was wide awake and raring to go again soon after 7am this morning. My hosts were due to leave at 9:30am for a long-planned trip to Belfast - planned long before the date of the National Famine Commemoration was confirmed back around the start of February. After the necessary training in setting and unsetting the alarm and other domestic duties, I was left in my house-sitting role.
I decided to do a quick check of e-mails and, not for the first time, was distracted by a genealogy query (McDonnell of Moyne) and suddenly found myself behind schedule.
Today was due to be Michael O'Connell's day in the sun. The colour of his face this evening confirms that it turned out to be just that. My own face is a similar colour. Michael and I just didn't have time to do anything about the last minute instructions on facebook this morning to bring sun screen, and water, and food. These instructions came from Michael himself.
While I may have been the first to mention the words "Kilrush" and "National Famine Commemoration" in the same sentence back in January 2012, that sentence was inspired in large part by Michael's documentary for Raidió Corca Baiscinn:
Michael has been preparing for today since he set up The Cammoge Ferry Disaster Memorial facebook page on 22 February 2012.
I was due at Moyarta Cemetery near Carrigaholt for the 11:30am Remembrance Ceremony and wreath laying at the Famine Mass Grave, with Fr. Michael Casey and Fr. Patrick Culligan, but I had two stops to make en route. The first was at Doonbeg bridge to ask Mary Ryan's permission to bring a bus load or two of people through her field on Thursday to view the habitation under the bridge. Mary wasn't at home, so I left her a scribbled note, and she phoned back later (in the middle of a solemn wreath-laying ceremony when I had to cut her off) but we eventually spoke and she confirmed that there would be no problem.
The second stop was with Paddy Murray who continues to make great progress on the sculpture due to be unveiled on Sunday. We took some measurements and made some decisions on the curtains to be made up for the unveiling ceremony. I then phoned my friend Tony Browne who specialises in curtains for awkward-shaped sculptures, suits for greyhounds and other strange tailoring jobs and confirmed that he is available to help if required.
Michael O'Connell was already giving orders to his troops in Moyarta and Rene Franklin was deputed to phone me and see where I had gone with the PA system. I was there a couple of minutes later. It was great to see that Paul O'Brien had managed to source a video camera to capture the events for posterity in the absence of our normal cameramen, both otherwise engaged today.
There was a turnout of about 80 people for the brief prayer service at the famine plot conducted by Fr. Michael Casey, parish priest of Moyarta and Kilballyowen, and his assistant and predecessor Fr. Pat Culligan, who has a great interest in Famine history and also made a short speech. He was clearly sorry that he wasn't fit to join the walk, but stood on his doorstep blessing the walkers as they passed. I heard later that he recently had a little accident in his brand new 131-reg. car.
In the absence of the Mayor of Kilrush who was at work, her mother Margaret Walsh laid a wreath at the famine cross. We left without learning any more about the mysterious Susan Murray who erected the cross with a slightly inaccurate inscription on the famine plot.
About 50 of those present set off on foot on the 13km walk to Cammoge Point in memory of the 41 people drowned in the ferry disaster there on 12 December 1849 after they were refused admission to Kilrush Workhouse. This walk re-enacted the daily journey taken by the people of West Clare to Kilrush Workhouse, going through Moyarta, Kilcrona, Lisheencrony, Doonaha, Querrin, Shanganah, Newtown East and Clarefield to Cammoge Point. People came and went all the way from Moyarta to the final destination at the Workhouse site in Kilrush, but a few stalwarts completed the whole journey on foot. For example, Pauline Barry was picked up by her brother Patrick near Querrin for a meeting to organise Friday's ceremony in Kilfearagh, but she joined us again after the meeting at the Carnacalla side.
I drove the first couple of hundred yards to find a safer parking spot than where I had originally abandoned my car, and also got a lift from Mary Hamilton for a few hundred yards later in the day after being sidetracked, but walked the rest of the way, definitely the most I have ever walked in a single day. The sun was coming out so I decided to shed all unnecessary loads. Dolores Hamill was deputed to bring the spare battery for the portable speaker by car to Cammoge; Fr. Casey was deputed to bring the Trocaire collection bucket, and I dumped the scarf and coat which had been essential for the last few days in my car and replaced them with a light high-vis. jacket. The portable speaker was quite enough to carry for the day!
Michael, like a general addressing his troops before marching into battle, instructed that there was to be no power-walking and that everyone would go at his pace, which was even faster than my idea of power-walking.
Michael Nolan told me of his discussion with a heart specialist after a scan some years ago. The doctor asked if he took any exercise and Michael assured him that he took a brisk half hour walk every day. `There's not much sign of it on this scan' was the put-down reply! He has upped his regime since and left me wondering if I am deluding myself about the effectiveness of the walking that I do.
There were lots of familiar faces and new ones among the walkers. Mary Chesser, one of my favourite cousins, introduced me to Máiréad McNamara, who came only as far as her home in Kilcrona, long enough for me to tell her that her distant cousin Terry Fitzgerald is over from Seattle for the Commemoration, but also to work on compiling the McNamara family tree.
I discovered that I had cousins in common with Martin Leyden, who came from Ennis. He told me that Susan Murray who erected the cross was mother of Jimmy Murray now living in Ennis, and has promised to put us in contact with Jimmy.
I also had things in common with another walker from Ennis,
Seónaidh Ní Shíomóin - we both left Dublin 10 years ago for cheaper house prices in Clare! Sincere apologies to Seónaidh and anyone else who, like her, was misled by a misunderstanding which resulted in the title of Críostóir MacCarthaigh's Saturday talk being wrongly changed last week on our website at
Críostóir spoke about his original subject which appears in the printed programme.
There were brief pitstops in Doonaha and Querrin where Michael spoke about local history.
In horseracing parlance, Rene Franklin spread a plate between Doonaha and Querrin and needed to be re-shod. Randal Counihan was summoned by his wife from his home nearby with a spare pair of her socks for Rene.
There was a water stop at Coghlan's house in Newtown but it was really only of use to those with empty bottles that they could refill at the outside tap. The Coghlans' dog Bobby decided to join the walk and ran off on his own, but was eventually caught by Fiona Coghlan half-way to Cammoge. Lots of my Morrissey, Talty and Coghlan cousins who live nearby were at Cammoge for the ceremonies there.
I suddenly realised at this stage that I'd left the spare 9V battery for the microphone in my car, but luckily I was able to borrow a spare one from Noel O'Shea's house; it wasn't needed.
Michael was slightly put out that those on the Clare Pilgrim Way walk from St. Martin’s Well to Cill na gCailleach, the burial site of the Cammoge Ferry drowning victims, had gone ahead to Cammoge Point, but the result was that I've never had so many cameras pointed at me as when Michael with the microphone and myself with the portable speaker led the walkers onto the shore at Cammoge. Pat Talty had arranged for his wife's young nephews Colm, Liam and Seán Browne to greet us with traditional music on whistle, concertina and accordion.
Kay Clancy who has been mothering Paul O'Brien for a long time has now started to mother me and came to my rescue by appearing with a sandwich and a bottle of water which I eventually devoured when I was able to put down camera and portable speaker!
Veteran broadcaster Donncha Ó Dulaing of RTÉ came all the way from Dublin to welcome the walkers on arrival at Cammoge and to hear P J Murrihy sing the West Clare Famine Song to which he has given lots of airplay on his Saturday night radio show Fáilte Isteach. It took the crowd baying for P J to sing to persuade Michael to stop barking orders about loading boats on the shore-line and give P J the microphone. For once Assumpta Kennedy escaped being asked to sing.
There was a Remembrance Ceremony, welcome address, memorial unveiling and blessing by Fr Michael Casey and an address by veteran historian Paddy Nolan whose 2006 article on the Cammoge disaster in The Other Clare first brought the story to the attention of a wider audience. Paddy explained the importance of Cammoge in history from St. Senan to Cromwell to Napoleon to the Famine.
Donncha and Paddy are mere young lads compared to Matthew Bermingham, who was among the special ones allowed to drive all the way down to Cammoge. Daddy Bermingham, as he is better known to his facebook fans, will turn 96 at the end of this month:
I finally got to meet sisters Terry Fitzgerald and Laura Danielson from Washington State at Cammoge - but their cousin Michael O'Connell didn't give us much chance to chat!
The next stage of the journey involved crossing Poulnasherry Bay to Carnacalla in currachs with the West Clare Currach Club. The idea was to confine the numbers crossing by water to 45; it was only today that I realised the significance of that number: it was the number of people aboard the ferry that capsized in 1849.
Michael and myself had to share a currach as, narrow as the mouth of Poulnasherry Bay is, it is wider than the range of the PA system and Michael had to be on the same side of the water as the portable speaker and the troops he wished to address. I hadn't bargained for the mischievous crew of another currach crossing back for two more passengers, who wanted to splash Michael with their oars, so I got caught in the crossfire. In this photo of us setting off, Michael in his personal lifejacket wielding the microphone reminds me more of a bishop in a stole sprinkling holy water over his congregation than of a general barking orders to his troops:
I didn't get to see or talk to the two rowers behind me, so many thanks to Ray O'Leary and Kerryn Power.
Ned Griffin also brought a few people across in his boat. Maura Egan and Congella McGuire were among those who managed to cross the water in contravention of Michael's rule that only those who had walked from Moyarta would be brought across and everyone else would have to go the long way round by bus.
Michael Burke sang a new song which he had composed especially for the occasion when all had arrived at Carnacalla.
Pat Madigan invited me into his house in Carnacalla so that he could take down the original pencil sketch of his ancestor Thomas `The Poet' Madigan from the attic and allow me to photograph it. After that brief interlude, his cousin Mary Hamilton, who happened to be driving past, picked me up and drove me a few hundred yards to catch up with the main body of walkers.
The walk continued by the Ferry Road from Carnacalla via Leadmore to Pound Street and on up to the Old Kilrush Creamery, now becoming known as Joe Whelan's Museum, beside the Workhouse site in Kilrush, where we arrived about 15 minutes before the scheduled time of 5.30pm. Michael looked a little incongrous still wearing his lifejacket standing in the middle of the N67 holding up the traffic to allow the walkers to cross.
At this stage, Mairead O'Brien took over the microphone from Michael. A plaque on the surviving front wall of the Workhouse was unveiled by Joe Whelan and Pat Burke who had erected it last night, and a wreath was laid beneath it by two of the young Browne musicians. All present admired the eviction scene painted on the gable wall of Joe Whelan's new musuem, which Mark Kelly finished yesterday.
Sean O'Brien, Josephine Glynn, Joe Whelan
Those of us who had walked from Moyarta were excused from the guided walking tour with Maura Harvey from Paupers’ Quay to the former site of Kilrush House at Vandeleur Walled Gardens via Cappa Pier, Kilrush.
Noel O'Shea was on hand to transport people back by bus to their cars, with about ten of us going back to Carrigaholt. Noel is very laid back about Thursday's bus tour, but Paul and myself would like to have tied down the precise route and the maximum number travelling by now!
On a glorious sunny evening with a high tide, I was sorely tempted to soothe my aching feet in the Shannon before driving off from Carrigaholt, but I had to return to Kilrush for the next event. I drove via Querrin again and the journey was a lot quicker this time!
Back in Kilrush, Dolores Hamill invited me round for a quick dinner when I phoned to ask for my battery back for recharging.
There were a few nervous moments at the Teach Ceoil where we had another full house and no speaker. We eventually found someone with a mobile phone number for Ciarán Ó Murchadha and he confirmed that he was on his way. He blamed speed camera vans at Lissycasey for slowing down the traffic and said it was the first time he had ever been late for a lecture, but rumours to the contrary had been floating around earlier.
After all our trouble setting up screen, laptop and projector in case he wanted them, Ciarán didn't need any of them. He gave a brilliant performance without them and had his audience all spellbound for well over an hour listening to his lecture entitled `Captain A.E. Kennedy in Kilrush Union 1847-1850'. It clearly meant a lot to him to be giving the lecture in the building where Captain Kennedy attended church every Sunday during his stay in Kilrush. He painted a picture of a man who underwent an abrupt conversion from friend of the landlords to friend of the poor about five months after his arrival in Kilrush.
Ciarán said that Captain Kennedy was absent from folklore and published history until Ignatius Murphy's article in The Other Clare in 1979, but was delighted to hear from Brian Comerford that his group had written an unpublished thesis about Kennedy earlier in the 1970s - a thesis from which Brian's dramatic works performed last night emerged a few years later.
Ciarán is seeking information on various topics from the people of Kilrush for his next book, which will be specifically on the Famine in West Clare. I can't wait for its publication. Ciarán recently signed the book contract with a major international publisher. I can't remember which one!
One subject of Ciarán's interest is the Michael Roughan who was head of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Kilrush during the Famine. I think there might have been a relative of Michael Roughan in the audience but couldn't find her after the lecture. I will make the necessary introductions at the first opportunity.
Among those to sign up this evening for Thursday's bus tour, which is now almost fully boooked, was Anne Comerford née McNamara. I told her that her long-lost cousin Terry Fitzgerald is looking for her, but it turned out that the connection is not as distant as Terry and I thought - Terry's mother stood as godmother for Anne shortly before she emigrated.
I dropped Paul home on my way back to Doonmore.
Now that I have the house to myself, I've unpacked my car in the hope of sorting out all my famine files which have fallen into quite a state of disarray of late.
I took 68 photographs today, and would have taken more if I wasn't on duty as speaker carrier and struggling to go the pace. I like to add captions and name tags offline before uploading photos, so I'll leave Chris to select from those already uploaded by others to illustrate this blog.
Editor's Note: Apologies for the later posting...Paddy decided to hide in my spam file for a well earned rest, then I had an appointment I couldn't postpone, but I'm sure you'll agree this was well worth waiting for.