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Moment of Truth

By Deirdre Comiskey

Kathleen is worried that the love of her life may have found someone new…


Kathleen should not be here. Not in this house, not living this life, not in this country. This was never her plan. From an early age she had known very clearly what she did want and had planned carefully how she would achieve it. Focused…that was the word her friends used when they described her…well at least that was the case until the pivotal moment in her life when she had met Brian and had without further thought thrown all her carefully laid plans out the window. That was ten years ago.

moment-of-truthFresh out of college in Dublin with her first class honours law degree the world was her oyster. Her mind raced back to her graduation ceremony in UCD that September.
The excitement of strutting into the hall in her cap and gown. The proud smiles of her Mother and Father as they watched their precious only child, the first to go to college in their family, as she was conferred with a Bachelor of Civil Law. She knew their hands were sore with clapping so hard for her as she sailed back to her seat, the sense of achievement filling her with excitement. She could do anything now, go anywhere, and be whoever she wanted to be.

The telephone made her jump and she raced to answer it fearing the worst. It was only someone wanting to discuss alternative energy suppliers with her. It wasn’t their day…it wasn’t her day. In fact she wished it was any day but today.

She made another cup of strong coffee and sat down, remembering how she met Brian working in a big city law firm in London. Straight from college she was a newbie and Brian was assigned to be her ‘buddy’ a practice the firm had developed for integrating the interns. She was waiting in reception on her first day when a well groomed guy in his late twenties with dark auburn wavy hair and navy blue eyes strode over to her. Tall and deeply tanned he smiled at her holding out his hand and introduced himself explaining that he would take care of her…she hoped he meant for the rest of her life.

Their romance wasn’t so much a whirlwind as a hurricane. It raced along with such an intensity friends said it could never be sustained.

Within two months he had begged her to marry him and, encased in the dreamy world of romance, she had agreed without even thinking about the practical consequences. She would listen to no one, not her parents who argued she was too young, had not given herself a chance to enjoy life or to her friends who took her to task over committing herself to the first guy she had allowed herself to get serious about. Within six months of starting her career she was married …and expecting her daughter. Her mother cried when she heard but they were not tears of joy but of sadness because she was afraid her daughter had wasted the precious opportunities she had been given and would regret her life. Three more children followed in quick succession and Kathleen had to admit that she would never qualify as a solicitor. The cost of childcare meant that giving up work to be a full-time mother was her only option.

Brian worked hard to make ends meet but he was called upon to work at all hours of the day and night as he worked his way up the corporate ladder. Kathleen settled with him in Wimbledon and soon the years swept by in a haze of sleepless nights with the babies, busy school runs as they got older and the humdrum of food shopping and housekeeping that was a chore but had to be done. Brian was now 39 and, facing his 40th birthday next year, he was finally offered a full partnership in the firm, a reward for the dedication he had shown to the job. He was still handsome his auburn hair now tinged with the first signs of maturing grey and frown lines spelt out the years of concentration on his forehead.

Kathleen looked at her reflection in the mirror. She had to admit that at 33 she looked her age. Being responsible for four little people who depended on you to feed and clothe and love them daily brought a maturity to her that her close friends hadn’t yet found.

Her relationship with her mother had never recovered from the shock caused by her abandonment of her career and life goals. Brian too had been affected by their decisions. She knew he felt deeply guilty that she had to give up her career to raise their family. Try as she would to convince him otherwise he felt she secretly resented the choices she had made because of him

She tried to think back before the children, before Brian .What was it she had wanted so badly? What was it she had missed out on? What had her friends got that she hadn’t?
Growing up she had pictured herself as a human rights lawyer defending the disenfranchised, the poor, the people with no voices.

She would study hard, get her law degree and qualify as a solicitor then look for a reputable charity and start to build the experience she would need to fulfil her dreams. Marriage was not high on her agenda and the truth was as a teenager she never thought much about having a family. No, hers was a nobler calling, She would make a difference to humanity, she would change things for the better. She planned on living in London while she qualified and returning to her hometown of Killarney with its beautiful National Park and rugged coastline which was ever dear to her heart. She would base herself there near her parents. As an only child she wanted to be a support for her Mother and Father and to see them as often as she could while flying abroad to undertake her international work.

A big tear rolled down her check splashing into her cup. She missed her Mother so much. Missed the closeness they once had. Missed the pride in her Mother’s eyes as she looked at her. Her Mother visited a couple of times a year and Kathleen tried to make as many trips to Killarney as she could. But somehow they could never get back to the way it used to be. Her Father and Brian got on well discussing sports and politics but they didn’t understand the gulf she felt between herself and her Mum. If only she and Brian could have moved back to Killarney. There was no hope now that he had finally been made a partner. She was in Wimbledon and in Wimbledon she would stay…at least if her worst fears didn’t materialise.

Afraid…she realised that she had been afraid for the last six months. Ever since Brian had taken to disappearing off on business trips and was secretive about his destinations.
Confidential he had said, not something he could tell her. Did he really think she was that big of a fool? It was obvious to her that there was someone else in his life.

He had taken to making late night calls on his mobile and when she asked who he was speaking to he had made random excuses about following up with clients out of hours. He had been away this last week and had said he wanted to speak about something very important with her on his return.

Important…that could only mean one thing couldn’t it? He had finally decided to leave her. He was seeing someone else, the reason for the business trips and late night calls. It was an old story surely. One she had heard many times from friends. And yet she could not really find it in her heart to believe it. She still loved Brian deeply and up to a few months ago was convinced he felt the same despite their ups and downs.

It never rains but it pours her Gran used to say and she was right. Kathleen had just had a call from her Father an hour ago saying her Mum was in the hospital with a fractured leg having tripped on her way to Mass and was having it set in the local hospital under anaesthetic. Kathleen was sick with worry and willing the phone to ring and for her father to say her mother was out of the operation and in recovery.

She heard the key in the lock as Brian arrived home. Throwing his bag in the hall he wandered into the kitchen. Seeing her white tearstained face he flung his arms around Kathleen and she, relieved to have him home and yet scared to hear his news, told him between sobs about her Mum. He made her a fresh cup of tea and gently took her hand in his. “Kathleen,” he said in a low voice, “there is something you should know.”

Ashen faced she could barely look at him and tried to speak but nothing would come out.
“Kathleen I have always always regretted the way I rushed you into marriage,” he began.
Oh no, he regretted their marriage. This was it. It was really over. She needed to face it.
Brian saw the shock on her face and continued gently.

“Honey you have sacrificed so much for me and the children and I know I haven’t been here when I should have to give you support. I know you have had a hard time away from your home and your family especially your mother and that you never had the chance to reach your full career potential because of my selfishness.

“Well I have been thinking and planning and I have something amazing to tell you. This partnership I have been offered is based in Ireland. I have been asked to set up a branch of our office in Cork. The trips I have been making have been to assess the potential and find suitable premises. I didn’t want to tell you in case it fell through but I have just sealed the deal. I have also been looking for a temporary house for us until we can choose our new forever home together. That can be in Killarney if you want to be near your Mother or anywhere else you want my darling, because I will do whatever I can to make up to you for all that you have had to give up because of me.

“I have also made enquiries with the Law Society in Dublin and you can enrol to continue your studies if that’s what you want and take up an apprenticeship at our new branch in Cork.

“The children are in school most of the day and with my new position I can afford for us to have a nanny if you think we need one. Darling please say something.”

Kathleen’s brain was racing. trying to make sense of what Brian had just said. He wasn’t leaving her? There was no one else. He still loved her! He loved her and he was willing to move to Ireland for her. She would be near her dear Mum and Dad, They would rebuild their bond. There was time…there was still plenty of time. Time for her Mum to truly get to know the wonderful man she had married and for her children to finally have their grandparents in their lives. That is…if her Mum survived the operation…

She nearly jumped out of her skin as her mobile screeched on the table.
“Kathleen. It’s your dad. Mam is fine. She’s in the recovery room. What did you say? You’re coming home…for a visit…for good? Really darling girl? Oh Kathleen that’s grand it’s really grand…the best present you could ever give to us. Just wait until I tell your Mum… sure she will think she has died and gone to Heaven!”

The End

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From the hauntingly beautiful When You Were Sweet Sixteen to the heartbreaking lyrics of Leaving Nancy, the songs of The Fureys have a special place in the hearts of Irish people. George Furey tells Brian Farrington the stories behind their greatest love songs.

From Wilde to Yeats, Joyce to Kavanagh and all the way through to Moore and MacGowan, Irishmen have a long established global reputation for being hopeless, and not so hopeless romantics, and The Furey brothers along with Davey Arthur are a group of troubadours-cum-raconteurs that continue to keep some of the country’s most popular love songs alive on the contemporary live music scene.

newfureysFor a case in point, George Furey tells a very amusing story about possibly the greatest of Irish love songs, When You Were Sweet Sixteen.

“We were invited to perform on The Late Late Show many years ago,” he recalls. “It was a live special being broadcast from Goffs in County Kildare – The Boomtown Rats were on the same night. We were staying in the Cill Dara Hotel and decided to go for a few ‘lemonades’ before the performance. We were standing at the bar and this young fella comes up and asks us if we could do him a big favour.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own Valentine’s Special (issue 5589)

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By Jane Hill

Arranged marriages in rural Ireland were a common practice, a mere generation before my time. I was a teenager when I first heard about them, and to be honest I found it all a bit too much to believe.

Growing up as I did in the swinging 1960s when the vernacular back then was “make love not war” made it all the more unbelievable.

It follows that in the modern world of the 21st century such a life changing practice, like an arranged marriage, would prove fairly difficult for the youth of today to comprehend.
As time went on I wondered what it must have been like for the women and men, those that actually went through the whole process.

Curiosity compelled me to find out more about it. Asking around I was pleased to hear there were couples living nearby whose marriages had been arranged by their parents. I was to hear their version of how things worked out for them, and to hear first-hand on how it came about. What amazed me was how amenable, and respectful, they all were about the process.

To secure the match there was the ‘fortune’ (aka dowry) to be discussed. A sum of money gathered over years, for a farmer/small business family to have, when a daughter reached marriageable age. It had to be an enormous commitment, especially if one had several daughters.

What I found interesting about the fortune was how it was used by the groom’s family. For the younger son it went towards his education/career. Or as it sometimes happened it was passed on as a “fortune” for their daughter’s marriage. The significance of course meant that the parents had an added advantage in who to choose. Their daughter would know that she could enter a marriage with the knowledge that she herself came from a home that thought enough of her to make available such monies.

She would then be accepted as a suitable daughter-in-law by the groom’s family. When the fortune was agreed on, a marriage would soon follow.

In my search for information I was to hear some amusing tales. One man told me the following story about a man who willed to his son the family property.

It was based on the premise that if he was unmarried within one year of the father’s death the property would then go to his sister. But the sister did not want it, so she set about getting a wife for him. She sent word to a friend, asking her to contact a particular woman, with information that her brother was looking for a wife. The friend was heard to say, “Now why would I be daft enough to send word to a woman I don’t know, when I’ve a sister at home who badly needs a husband for herself?” In no time the crafty lady had it all organised. A fortune of £300 was agreed on, and the marriage duly went ahead.

The system was not without its romantic themes. I heard the story of one young farmer who had ‘fallen deeply in love’ with a young woman. Unfortunately her family did not have the resources to pay the necessary fortune. Undaunted he took it upon himself to borrow the amount needed to complete the deal. They I believe went on to live a full and extremely happy life together.

Yes, there were rejections on the part of some women/men to go along with the plan, but for the most part many of them eventually did agree to the match.

One woman told me her story. Her father took on a young thirteen year old boy, he would work and live on the farm without a wage.

The deal was that when he reached marriageable age he would marry their eldest daughter. Years later the father conveniently overlooked the deal. A better offer arrived for the daughter from another possible match. He actually agreed to talk with the man’s parents about a match.

But in rural living not much goes unnoticed, word filtered down to boy’s parents. They were not prepared to quietly allow their son’s place to be taken from him. The Parish Priest was drawn into the controversy.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own Valentine’s Special (issue 5589)


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1947 was the year of the Big Snow, the coldest and harshest winter in living memory when hundreds of Irish lives were lost. Turtle Bunbury recalls how the country was pounded by the most powerful blizzard of the 20th century.


bigsnowcoverGlancing out his bedroom window in Ballymote, Co. Sligo, on the evening of Monday, 24th February, 1947, seventeen-year-old Francie McFadden shivered. The penetrating Arctic winds had been blowing for several weeks. Munster and Leinster had been battling the snows since the middle of January. It was only a matter of time before the treacherous white powder began to tumble upon Ulster and Connaught.

That night, a major Arctic depression approached the coast of Cork and Kerry and advanced north-east across Ireland. As the black winds began howling down the chimneys, so the new barrage began. When Francie awoke on Tuesday morning, the outside world was being pounded by the most powerful blizzard of the 20th century.
1947 was the year of the Big Snow, the coldest and harshest winter in living memory. Because the temperatures rarely rose above freezing point, the snows that had fallen across Ireland in January remained until the middle of March.

Worse still, all subsequent snowfall in February and March simply piled on top. And there was no shortage of snow that bitter winter. Of the fifty days between January 24th and March 17th, it snowed on thirty of them.

‘The Blizzard’ of February 25th was the greatest single snowfall on record and lasted for close on fifty consecutive hours. It smothered the entire island in a blanket of snow.
Driven by persistent easterly gales, the snow drifted until every hollow, depression, arch and alleyway was filled and the Irish countryside became a vast ashen wasteland. Nothing was familiar anymore.

Everything on the frozen landscape was a sea of white. The freezing temperatures solidified the surface and it was to be an astonishing three weeks before the snows began to melt.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own (issue 5588)

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By Margaret Smith

In the late 19th century several inventors began experimenting with the idea of producing a machine which could pick up dirt and dust, a vacuum cleaner. The earliest models, mainly produced in the United States, were more like carpet sweepers until Ives W. McGaffey introduced his ‘Whirlwind Cleaner’ in Chicago in 1868.

Victorian cleaning serviceThe problem with this machine was that the operator needed to turn a hand crank at the same time as he was pushing it across the floor. Unfortunately, he lost most of his machines during the great fire in the city in 1871.

At the end of that century, John Thurman introduced his ‘pneumatic carpet renovator’, so large that horses were needed to pull it from building to building. It did blow the dust away, but it didn’t actually have any receptacle to collect the dust.

The man with the strongest claim for inventing the true motorised vacuum cleaner is an Englishman, Henry Cecil Booth.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own (issue 5588)

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For countless thousands of Irish emigrants to London during the 20th century the Galtymore in Cricklewood was more than just a dance-hall.  It was a ‘home from home’, a piece of Ireland where each weekend they could meet Irish friends from all over London, hear the music from the Irish country and showband scene and, better still, get to see the showband stars in person, writes Patricia Roche

galtymoreAfter many years of being away, I recently made a trip to Cricklewood and was struggling to find my bearings in a place I used to know so well. This was the hub of Irish activity back in the 1970s. We were all over the place. Nowadays we would probably be called ‘the diaspora’, but back then we were just a bunch of Irish lads and girls having the craic.
There were numerous Irish pubs along Kilburn High Road leading to the infamous Cricklewood Broadway and just beyond was the iconic Galtymore dance-hall where we all congregated at the weekends.

‘The Galty’ was one of it’s kind, massive, sporting two huge dance-halls, a céile band played in one and the big showbands in the other. You could alternate between the two but if you were of our generation, you wouldn’t be seen dead in the céile side!

There were bars upstairs serving alcohol as well as minerals and balconies all around. You could look down on all the action. Chandeliers hung from the tall ceilings to add to the glamour. This was the place where many romances began with the words “Will you dance?”

You wouldn’t want to get there too early as the main band didn’t start much before 12:00 o’clock. This suited the publicans who were only licensed until 11:00pm so when chucking out time came, there were few objections as intoxicated customers would head for the Galty.

There would be a relief band from about 9pm and gradually older couples would hit the dance-floor. Nobody wanted to be the first out, so if we got there early we’d clan up in the ladies gossiping and trying to make ourselves look glamorous.

The Galty hosted many famous show-bands like Big Tom, Joe Dolan, Brendan Shine and Margo and would often be rammed to over-capacity. It was wonderful to get to see these great performers for the price of the entrance fee which was around 50p (ten shillings), about £15 in today’s money – nowadays it costs much more to see entertainers live.
As the main band got going, the floor would fill up with couples dancing, jiving, waltzing, whirling around underneath the strobe lights, even girls dancing around their handbags. Each dance lasted three songs, either fast or slow numbers. As the dances were announced, we girls would line up along one side and the boys walk up and down inspecting and choosing their partners and asking ‘Will you dance’.

 If you liked your partner, or if he was a good dancer, you might stay on for another dance or two and a keen lad might even offer to buy you a drink. Many guys stayed in the bars all night until the last dance was announced, then there would be a mad scrum to get a partner and get out on the floor.

At nearly every dance a scuffle of some sort would break out and the big bouncers had to separate and eliminate the perpetrators (I blame the drink!) When the last record was announced before 2:00am, there were shouts of ‘more, more’ and the band leader usually introduced all the members and we gave each of them a big round of applause.
They would play another song or two then ask us all to stand for the National Anthem. By then many guys were drunk and half-asleep so their friends would prop them up as it was a sign of disrespect to be seated during this rendition.

In many ways the Galty was a place of sanctuary where emigrants could meet up at the weekends and enjoy familiar songs and music. These were the pre-Ryanair times when many could not afford to go home.

Young men often became involved in a drinking culture that sapped all their cash. You couldn’t really blame them because they worked so hard, manual labour on the buildings and roads and often lived in small rooms sharing with others so the pub was a welcome reprieve.

Despite the changing musical tastes of the next generation, the Galty made it through the 1980s into the 1990s but no longer attracted a large younger crowd, despite all the efforts made, including offering a disco.

c552f5c5aca6809e8ec54edd90cf556bIt continued to be a great place to socialise and dance, especially for us emigrants, but of course we grew older and it became harder to stay awake until two o’clock in the morning, eventually it became no longer viable. I was sad to hear it was closing down permanently and worse still, being flattened to the ground to make way for a new development, but can sentiment ever stand in the way of progress?

This was the end of an era, a time of innocence and happiness that will never come again. We were young, didn’t have a penny in our pockets, but still knocked out a great old time. You could do that then as living in London was cheap and unemployment rare. The Galtymore brought us all together, you would meet other Irish people from all over London.

The Galtymore had opened it’s doors in 1952 and, despite facing local competition from the likes of The Buffalo in Camden Town, The Gresham in Holloway Road, The Forum in Kentish Town and eventually The National in Kilburn, retained its status as the main social headquarters for the Irish in London until it finally closed in May 2008.

The Celtic Tiger in Ireland had afforded the young generation the luxury of being able to stay there and many of the older ones had returned home.

At Kilburn station on my way home that day I saw a thought for the day on the notice board saying we don’t appreciate a moment until it becomes a memory. How true. I have many great memories and a lot of sentiment towards the Galtymore, being young, meeting friends and feeling welcomed, being part of the crowd, dancing on the wooden floor and, best of all, meeting my husband there!


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Gerry Breen recalls the pivotal role played by Brigadier General Thomas F. Meagher and his Irish Brigade in the Battle of Fredericksburg during the American Civil War

The braveness of Irish soldiers in battle is universally recognised, but it was never more in evidence than it was at the Battle of Fredericksburg during the American Civil War.  
The American President Abraham Lincoln and his generals had high hopes that this battle would be an important turning point for the Union, but the Confederates, under General Robert E. Lee, gained a stunning and decisive victory, with Union casualties more than twice as heavy as those suffered by the Confederates.

thomasmeagharIt was one of the costliest and bloodiest battles of the entire war and the outcome was a bitter blow for President Lincoln and a huge boost for General Lee.

Speaking about the battle later, General Lee recalled that one of his most vivid impressions was the part played by Thomas Meagher’s Irish Brigade in the Union Army’s assaults on the Confederate lines.

‘Never were men so brave’, he said. ‘They enobled their race by their splendid gallantry on that desperate occasion. Though totally routed, they reaped harvests of glory. Their brilliant, though hopeless assaults on our lines, excited the hearty applause of our officers and soldiers.’

This was a remarkable tribute to the gallantry of the Irish by the commanding general of the opposing army. In the course of the battle, the Irish Brigade suffered the loss of 53 commissioned officers and 488 men, but the reputation gained by their courage will never be forgotten.

General Lee had positioned his army along wooded hills known as Marye’s Heights on the west bank of the Rappahannock River in Northern Virginia. He placed his cannon on the Heights and his infantry along the slopes beginning at a stone wall which ran along the foot of the slopes.

In order to engage with the Confederate troops, the Union army had to cross the river and capture the town of Fredericksburg before moving across an open area to attack the soldiers placed by General Lee behind the stone wall.

From the Union side, the stone wall seemed to be only about a foot high, but, in fact, there was a sunken road on the other side, and this ensured that the soldiers standing behind the wall had adequate protection from any frontal assault.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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With a new year dawning, Fr. Brian D’Arcy reflects with Kay Doyle on the year that has passed, and looks forward to embracing whatever opportunities lie in store for him in 2017.

The freshness of a late winter’s morning breathes freely outside St. Gabriel’s Retreat in The Graan, in Enniskillen, where Fr. Brian D’Arcy currently resides, and in his signature effervescent form, the hugely popular priest is counting his blessings as he looks forward to finding out what 2017 has in store for him.

“What I would like to know is who changed it from being twelve months in a year to what now seems like three and a half,” he chuckles. “Time is whizzing by far too quickly. I was only getting used to writing 2016 and now I have to change it to 2017.

“As John Lennon famously said, ‘Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans’. And as you get older time certainly passes by more quickly. But you can’t dwell on that, you have to make the most of what you have here and now.

briandarcynew“January is a great time for reflection, and planning, and the seasons actually allow us that opportunity. We should all build in time in our lives to think, and reflect.

“With the end of Advent comes that opportunity for a fresh start. There is little point in making resolutions, as they rarely work. If you really want to make a change in your life, then the only person that can do that is yourself.

“Every month, I take a day off and I go to Knock. I abandon the phone in the car and spend the day walking, thinking and reflecting. And it is here in such a spiritual atmosphere that I make my plans. Life is like climbing a mountain. You never see the journey when you walk ahead with your head down but if you bother to look around, you see what a fantastic journey you are actually on, and the great beauty around you.
“Life is like that, sometimes we need to stop, and look around and appreciate what we have. If you feel that you need to make a change, then only you have the power to that, there is no point in living being miserable.”

Continue reading in this year’s New Year Annual

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Annie Moore became the first emigrant to pass through Ellis Island on January 1st, 125 years ago, writes Cathal Coyle

Ellis Island is located in the upper bay just off the New Jersey coast, not far from the Statue of Liberty. It is named after Samuel Ellis, who became the island’s private owner in the 1770s. Whilst its immigration centre ceased to be operational decades ago; it remains an important symbol of America’s migration story – it was the gateway for over 12 million immigrants to the United States for over sixty years until 1954.

annie_moore_ellis_island2And when Ellis Island officially opened on January 1st, 1892, the first passenger processed through the immigration centre was an Irish girl named Annie Moore, from County Cork. The 15-year-old (she celebrated her birthday on New Year’s Day) had travelled with her two younger brothers, Anthony and Philip, on the S.S. Nevada, having departed from Cobh on 21st December, 1891.

After passing through Ellis Island, Annie (who received a greeting from officials and a $10 gold piece to mark the occasion) and her brothers were reunited with their parents, who had arrived the year before. This historic event was officially documented in The New York Times the following day.

As for Annie’s life in America, for many years the legend suggested that she ventured westwards and married a descendant of the Irish ‘Liberator’ Daniel O’Connell in Texas, before dying in 1919, the victim of a streetcar accident.

Continue reading in this year’s New Year Annual