Wednesday 8 May 2013


I was pleasantly surprised to find when I was woken by a text message at 9:28 from Paul O'Brien that all my limbs were still working, despite the unaccustomed exercise to which they were put on Monday.

I had a leisurely morning tidying up things like a spreadsheet of thsoe who have booked places on Thursday's bus tour, until Paul called again at 12:24 to say that a Trócaire bucket was required at the soup kitchen in the Potter's Hand.  I got there with one within the hour, via Miniters' newsagents, where I picked up a Clare People, containing a wonderful 16-page supplement on the National Famine Commemoration, including an interview by Claire Gallagher with myself on page 43.

Mick Kinsella, who had asked a few good questions during the walking tour on Saturday, pulled over in his car when he saw me walking up Vandeleur Street, to tell me about his recently completed thesis on pawnbroking in Kilrush during the Famine, recently deposited in Clare County Library's Local Studies Centre in Kilrush.  This subject is of great interest to me as the two pawnbrokers listed in Kilrush in Slater's Directory in 1846 were Mary Bulger and Jeremiah Dowling.  Mary Bulger was Patricia Zanini's GGGgrandmother and Jeremiah Dowling was Patricia McMahon's GGgrandfather.  Patricia Zanini will be here on Sunday and I met Patricia McMahon in Kilkee on Friday.

Claire Gallagher herself was in the Potter's Hand, which was hopping. The Clare Champion was also represented, by photographer John Kelly, who was busy photographing those dressed in Famine garb out the back, their faces blackened with soot - even including the Mayor.

Denise Clancy was serving the watery Famine era soup, and explained the photograph that I found on my camera the night before.  While the idols of most children of his age are the likes of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, her 12-year-old son Luke idolises Ciarán Ó Murchadha, has read his books, and wanted to meet him, get his autograph and be photographed with him.  The future of history is safe in the hands of the next generation.

It was good to see Ursula Callaghan and Kieran and Anna Lehane, down from Limerick for the day.  Things were so busy that Kieran (Limerick City Manager) went home before we got a chance to discuss the Limerick and Kilrush roots of Patricia Zanini who is due to pay an official visit to Limerick soon with her husband Maurizio, Italian ambassador to Ireland.

Those of us in charge of Trócaire buckets pooled our funds when the crowd had dispersed and I set off with 500 euro in notes to deposit to the Trócaire account in AIB. First I popped into Michael Nolan's office (where he seems to spent a lot of time for someone who has recently retired and handed over his practice to his daughter!) to sort out arrangements with him for his talk in Kilkee tomorrow night.

There was a long queue in front of me in AIB, including two people I knew, Michael Morrissey and Ian Lynch.  As Mayor in 2011-2012, Ian played a crucial role in getting the campaign to bring the Famine Commemoration to Kilrush off the ground, but has been kept away from most of the events to date by a combination of weddings and funerals. He has been heavily involved in preparing the exhibition in Foley's Store (Quay Mills) which is due to be launched on Wednesday evening.

The AIB cashier apologised that the 16-character limit on the note in the deposit record on the computer wasn't anywhere near long-enough for `National Famine Commemoration' - I blame Aileen Wynne in AIB HQ, who will be reading this!

I returned a food box to Dolores Hamill on my way to the Buttermarket Café.  Dolores's house was one of many still being painted in Kilrush today in preparation for the town's big day on Sunday.  The first economic impact of the National Famine Commemoration has certainly been in the paint business!

I had arranged to meet a genealogy client in the Buttermarket at 3pm to discuss her research requirements before the next soup kitchen event. I had time to order some 21st century food before she arrived.  Our consultation was soon interrupted by the arrival of a delegation of my Famine Commemoration friends, and had to be put on hold altogether when my laptop was requisitioned for Paul O'Brien's talk on food in the Famine era at 4pm, by when there was a full house.  

Anyone walking by outside probably thought they were watching a performance of Playboy of The Western World if they saw Paul wielding a loy borrowed from Considine's Bakery to demonstrate how potatoes were harvested in the 1840s.

Proprietor Cillian Murphy called me over when Paul showed a photograph of Johnny Mack's house at Tullaroe Cross, identifed long ago by the late Mary Teresa Hynes as the last mud-walled house standing in west Clare. Cillian's efforts to buy the late Martin Moloney's house in Lisheencrony fell through when he discovered that his bank wouldn't fund the purchase of a mud-walled house.  I remember the house before Martin got it renovated and plastered about 30 years ago, when half the thatched roof had collapsed.  By evening, the number of known surviving mud-walled houses had grown to three, as Congella McGuire discovered yesterday that the Roche family still inhabit another, despite having a newly-built but less cosy house next door.  Now I'm wondering if J J McMahon's house in Moveen, probably the last thatched house in that townland until it was slated a few years ago, might not also be built of mud.

I didn't get a chance to try Mary Redmond's version of 19th century soup as I finished my genealogy consultation, but it looked more appetising that the watery version in the Potter's Hand.  Meanwhile, the coin part of the Trócaire collection for the week to date was being counted at the next table.

From the Buttermarket, I went down to the Teach Ceoil to help Paul putting out chairs for this evening's lecture after the end of afternoon dancing classes.

We took a break to attend a wreath-laying at the newly erected plaque on Pauper's Quay, which is due to be moved from its present temporary location to a permanent one next week.  About 40 people attended. Myself and Mairead O'Brien spoke briefly, and Edel and Anne Glynn laid the wreath to signify all that emigrated and left during Famine times.

It was straight back to the Teach Ceoil, which was handed over to the Old Kilfarboy Society, publishers of Matt Lynch's `The mass evictions in Kilrush Poor Law Union during the Great Famine', due to be launched at 8pm by Christine Kinealy, who had just arrived from the U.S., via her home city of Liverpool.  She requested tea and biscuits, but the OKS had put on a wine reception only.  In the spirit of the week to date, some kind soul dashed off to the shops and the tea and biscuits appeared.

I was delighted to meet Christine, about whom I had been hearing for many years from my first cousin once removed Monica Hart, one of her primary school teachers.  I was sorry to have to tell Christine that Monica passed away back in 2004.  I also finally met Méabh Ní Fhuartháin of the OKS, with whom I have often exchanged e-mails. Ireland being the small place that it is, her Waldron first cousins (who have no west Clare roots) are my second cousins!

Matt was kept busy signing books while the audience enjoyed their glass of wine and Morgan Roughan, who has played a blinder on sound all week, sorted out some technical difficulties.  Once again, there was almost a full house.

After Christine had launched the book, we were treated to another magnificent lecture by Matt, whose mastery of his subject is most impressive.  Matt confirmed that the electoral divisions of the original Kilrush Poor Law Union coincided exactly with the 13 civil parishes of the Loop Head peninsula, a conclusion that it took me over a year to reach despite exhaustive searches in online and published sources.  When we launched Kilrush & District Historical Society, Kay Clancy tried to design a logo based on the map of the Poor Law Union, so we'll have to ask Matt if we can use his map as the basis of a proper logo.

Kilrush should be grateful that the transfer of Matt's home townland of Knockanalban (Mount Scott) to Ennistimon Union when the boundaries were redrawn in 1850 didn't divert his interest to the latter union.

There were some good questions for Matt after the lecture, none more so than Brian Comerford's, pointing out the parallels between the introduction of a new property tax at the behest of a distant administration in 1847 and events in the Ireland of today!

I am looking forward to reading the new book in detail next week.

There were lots of people to talk to after the lecture, ranging from Rita McCarthy, who presented me with a CD of readings of the Illustrated London News articles of 1849/50 produced by Raidió Corca Baiscinn, to Áine Hensey of Raidió na Gaeltachta, another facebook friend whom I had yet to meet in the flesh.  Congella McGuire and I had also to check the postcards of the Illustrated London News sketches which the County Council has produced, first as invitations to the Commemoration, and now as souvenirs of it.  The present sets of 16 are inadvertently missing `Judy O'Donnel's habitation under the bridge at Doonbeg', due to be our first stop on Thursday, and `Searching for potatoes in a stubble field', but I e-mailed off replacement digital versions of these images to David Garrihy, the very helpful printer in Council HQ, and there will be full sets of all 18 sketches available by Thursday.

I hadn't been able to contact Noel O'Shea earlier in the day, but I got him on the phone when the crowd eventually dispersed, and we had a long and productive discussion about plans for Thursday's bus tour.  Noel can guarantee us two buses with a total of 86 seats and 80 people have already booked places, so latecomers may have to follow us by car!

Paul and I had various other loose ends to deal with before we could leave the Teach Ceoil.  We managed to set off the alarm while trying to set it, not realising that all internal doors have to be closed before it is set!  After another nice day, a deluge of biblical proportions had begun during Matt's lecture and continued as I drove back to base.

I am obviously tired, as after leaving Paul's home I turned the wrong way out of his gate and only realised my mistake when I noticed grass growing up through the middle of the road!  Nothing a quick U-turn in the next gate couldn't fix.


  1. Would love to see the postcards sometime if you get a chance to put them up

  2. I am hoping to... I've written myself a reminder to ask Paddy about them... They do sound interesting.


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