First Published in The Dundalk Democrat in 2009
An open letter to the villagers of Carlingford.
Forty six years ago on October 8th 1963 my mother held me in her arms as I took my first breath and came into this world. Last Thursday on October the 8th 2009 I held my mother in my arms as she took her last breath and left this world. It was a birthday I will never forget.
Johanna McCartney’s funeral was held last Saturday October 10th in Carlingford and as I walked through the ancient streets with my mother’s coffin on my shoulder, my aunt from America said to me, “when I die, I want to die in Ireland.”
With the Cooley mountains to my right and Carlingford Lough to my left, we walked past Saint John’s castle. I couldn’t help but wonder how many times since the Norman knight John De Courcy established Carlingford in 1184, had this scene been repeated. It felt good to walk in the footsteps of ancient Irish history. Comforting.
We stopped for a moment of pause outside the restaurant and bed and breakfast business my mother built and still owns. Originally called Captain Corelli’s and now known as The Baytree, it was a big achievement for her.
Johanna McCartney first came to Carlingford from Belfast in the early 1990’s. At the time she was a grieving widow getting over the death of my father Valentine who died from asbestosis. She was looking for a new life and a new start.
We knew the area well as we had holidayed for years in an old stone cottage at the River’s Foot in Gyles Quay. The Cooley Peninsula always held a special place for our family and it was fitting that my mom moved there to start afresh.
It’s often said that Irish villages treat newcomers with reserve and call them ‘blow-ins.’ In Carlingford this was not the case. The villagers treated my mom as one of their own and the feeling was mutual.
Seven years ago my mother suffered a stroke that robbed her of some of her independence. Not to be beaten, she relied on the telephone to communicate with the world. It was common for me to take ten phone calls a day from her.
My mother’s wake lasted for two days. A steady stream of villagers came to the house and I wish I had a Euro for every time I heard them say, “she was quite a character.”
I only found out during the wake that her friends and neighbours in Carlingford were also being telephoned ten times a day. They took her calls with a big heart and with no complaint. The villagers of Carlingford give more than they take. She’s gone now and I wish the phone would ring. Telecom Eireann will miss her.
I want to thank everyone in Carlingford for the love and support they showed my mom and my family. It’s a beautiful village with a community that should be proud of their ability to offer friendship to others.
My mom was glamorous. A go getter. A good listener who made you feel you were the only person in the room. She didn’t hide in the shadows. She was proud of Carlingford and did all she could to make the village blossom. They have lost a rose but gained a memory of a wonderful person.
May she rest in peace. She was a class act.
From her loving son Michael.
I was asked to write a short piece for an Irish American Mag.called "The Spirit of Ireland" for the year of The Gathering 2013.
I remember the last train pulling into Carlingford Co. Louth in 1951. I was seven then. I remember “the big people” talking about how disastrous it would be for the locality. I could see no consequence for me .As a child I was ok about it. My father was the county state solicitor and held in high regard along with teachers, doctors and clergy. Then there were the rest! We regarded ourselves then as a classless society unlike the other crowd across the water.
As I reached my teenage years the impact of the railway closing began to dawn on me. Our town had lost its vibrancy, derelict buildings were the order of the day, men stood on corners, pitch and toss became a source of income for some or a loss for many. There wasn’t much happening!
I remember Joe Finegan leaving for Boston. There was a collection for him in the town and a presentation made to him at a dance in the parochial hall. Everyone knew it was goodbye. We wouldn’t be seeing Joe again and many other Joe’s followed.
My father was delighted when my brother followed him in his footsteps. He was even more delighted when another one was ordained a priest. He was less than enthusiastic when I told him that I wanted to be a salesman and close to distraught when my younger brother decided to run a chip van.
By the late 60s my uncle, a parish priest working with the Irish Centre in London organised a special train from London to Holyhead called “The Homeward Special”. He arranged a cheap fare to give Irish labourers a chance to come back home. It was packed but it’s also likely that that those who still couldn’t afford even that fare never saw Ireland again. When the boat docked in Dúnlaoire the hardest of men cried as they stepped off onto Irish soil.
The tears didn’t come only when they embraced a love one they came as they stepped off the boat. I was there. I saw them and in my physic I understood.
It is hard to image today in this world of plenty and cheap flights that such a thing happened such a short time ago. They had returned from a country not far away and were so grateful just to be “home”.
I don’t believe that there is another race with a reputation for being hard fighting drinking men who would cry in such circumstances. Poets - Yes. Writers –Yes. But these men; No!
There is something in Irish people that appears to be uniquely ours. It is an affinity we have with the place that lies deep in our physic. It is a desire that is passed on in a mysterious way through genes to generations that only know the place from the words of their forefathers. There are generations of citizens of other countries who still call themselves Irish who have never been here but dream of the day they will be. It is stamped in the itinerary of their lives. To be a part of it is to be a part of the spirit of Ireland
My parents are both gone to their reward. My father grew to love the openness of the new world when free education allowed us all to be equal – a classless society. He told me many a time I was a pretty good salesman and he came to love my brother’s chips.
Come home for the Gathering it’s in your genes.