Tuesday, May 19, 2015



...But the house names and numbers gave me confusion!

It was May 1951 when I said goodbye to the myth and magic of my Western landscape which included Boyle, the town I loved so well. I was leaving home to take my first job in the twilight world of the "Quality" and the "Landed Gentry."

Bridie, my cousin, had left Boyle three years before me.

She had taken on the responsibility of educating the children of Dublin City. More importantly, she had now taken on the responsibility of meeting me on my arrival in the city and ensuring that I would arrive safely at 97, Lindsay Road, Glasnevin. There I would stay over night with my relatives before going to Kingsbridge Station (Heuston) the following day.

When we arrived in O'Connell Street, Bridie launched into a crash course on personal safety. "Always ask directions from a man in uniform" she said. (Feminism then wasn't even a whisper and everybody was singing "Buttons and Bows") "Remind the 'bus conductor of your destination and sit on the long side seat, otherwise he will forget about you" she warned. With these words of wisdom, instead of accompanying me to Lindsay Road, she handed me over to the 'bus conductor. She and he engaged in light banter about caring for the country boy which left me feeling like a suitcase without a label. In her rapport with the conductor she quickly dropped the teacher's persona of authority and regressed to her true twenty one year old flirtatious self. "Don't forget to drop him off at the top of Lindsay Road" was her parting caution and smiling farewell. The 'bus pulled out and I watched Bridie disappear into a forest of legs.

I stood at the top of Lindsay Road in the company of my compressed cardboard suitcase. It was early afternoon and yet it appeared quite dark . For the first time in my life I was on my own in unknown territory without the assurance of a familiar face or a familiar landmark and there wasn't a uniform in sight. It was a strange ghostly feeling which is clearly remembered. This strange feeling, however, could never again be experienced. No bands played and there was no bugle there to herald my arrival. And then, I heard the sparrows chattering encouragement in the long manicured hedge. They gave me confidence.

The confidence, however, was short lived when I discovered that the house numbers on Lindsay Road did not run consecutively. I crossed the road and found that these house numbers were not a major I.Q. test, just a temporary source of confusion. It was, however, a big change from the Killaraght form of house identification to which I had grown accustomed. In Killaraght, we had "Big Jack's" house, "Catherine Sean's" house, "The Drummer's" house, and "Yankee Pat's" house along with many more. There were other houses in Killaraght and in the neighbouring localities across the county boundary where new occupiers tried to hold the house names associated with the old "quality" who had now left the area or maybe fled the country. In today's language these house names would be described as up market. Some people who had bought, or had been allocated a fairly substantial holding of land for the first time, lost "the run of themselves". The land, the house, and the house name, if any, were accorded the equivalent of the unspoken but unforgotten Victorian prestige which would normally be attached to an official state uniform. There was elusive and imaginary status growing on almost every tree. There was one new occupier who carried the "joke" a bit too far!! When the neighbours came in to help him with the hay, free of charge, he insisted on eating in the original dining room, on his own, and the neighbours were given their meals in the kitchen. This new "squire" was lucky because his newly acquired neighbours had a good sense of humour. They dismissed him with an earthy quote "the fly that rises from the cow dung always thinks that he can fly the highest". There was a woman too, and like most people, through no fault of her own, she had originated from herding stock. She had very "big" ideas, however, because she bought a dining room bell in Lowes of Boyle along with a job lot dinner service from the Indian Tree Design. Herself and her husband built a new house and gave it an original name "The Bungalow". She always said that she was a true Socialist Republican.

Nature was under control in this Lindsay Road red brick valley of lace clad windows. Not even a blade of grass was out of step in the postage stamp gardens. The red brick houses presented a united front in almost every detail and the trees had matured into a guard of honour.

The values and influence of Queen Victoria, though long deceased, could still be seen in Killaraght, Boyle and Lindsay Road, Dublin. As a matter of fact that influence could be seen through the length and breadth of the Irish Republican landscape and for the observant person to gain a good view it wasn't necessary to wear glasses.

My mental arithmetic stood me well as I added the two to each house number – 67, 69 , 71 and I abandoned the exercise only when I could no longer focus on the houses in the distance. Maybe the house numbers would peter out before I reach 97. My mind by then was almost as mad as a March hare. Of course there's 97. I posted letters to 97, Lindsay Road at least one hundred times, I reasoned. Wasn't I an expert operator of the stamp machines in the window of Boyle Post Office? The 97 address, like the Ten Commandments, was indelibly printed on my mind.

Gartan Avenue, which was a side avenue off Lindsay Road, caused some further confusion . After this avenue, I asked myself, would the number sequence continue? Sane men, I remembered, could go astray in the familiar fields of Killaraght and find their bearings only by turning their coats inside out. Could I go astray on Lindsay Road? Perish the thought. At last I had reached the final block of houses - 89, 91, 93, 95, ah! 97 - just saved with three house numbers to spare.

I was happy then, but not for long, - maybe they forgot about me - maybe there will be nobody at home!

(They dug out the hedge the other day and the sparrows flew away. They were young and never knew that from each root a memory grew)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Great Famine


(By Frank Conry) 06/05/'03

Oh! stones of sorrow, stones of pain,
You heard their cries; You called their names,
Your wrote them down in the pale moonlight
And left them here to die.

The complexity of Irish history culminated in the Great Famine of 1845-1848, which is quite immediate to me as my four grand parents, (Conry. Flanagan, Flannery and Sharkey), were born before and during that period.

The 100th anniversary (1945-1948) of the famine horror was ignored in Ireland on a local and national level. On that 100th anniversary no attempt was made to confront the social and cultural patterns of denial associated with this tragedy. This denial is deeply embedded in the Irish Psyche.

Fifty years later (1998), Killaraght, Boyle, Breedogue and Ballinameen had no communal Famine Service in Killaraght Graveyard and no memorial was erected in the graveyard for the famine victims buried there. That, indeed, is a sad refection on the awareness of the whole area, especially when we know that our immediate ancestors experienced the horrors of poverty, destitution, starvation and emigration. Some people survived, some succumbed.

People exposed to these conditions of sheer horror can display tremendous courage, generosity and caring but also they can experience shame and guilt, an urge to ''hang on to what you have'' and a capacity to ''turn a blind eye to the needs and sufferings of others''. The contradictory traits of famine trauma are. - callousness coexisting with compassion, competition coexisting with cooperation, silence and hypocrisy coexisting with openness and honesty. Failure to confront and understand the origin of these traits serves only to perpetuate them to the detriment of the individual and the community as a whole.

The litany of cases in Irish private family life and community, in the institution of the Church and in the State institutions, which has, and continues to shock this country, all display elements of the same pattern - brutality, cover up, silence, secrecy, hypocrisy, xenophobia, and double think. These traits are as much part of our collective mental legacy from the famine as is courage, honesty, kindness and compassion.

The areas, Killaraght, Boyle, Breedogue and Ballinameen, which have been listed above, with burial plots in Killaraght, and with pre-famine ancestral roots, should have acknowledged, on site, our victims and survivors buried there. A memorial, in stone, should be erected and a ''WE CONFESS'' reconciliation service for these victims and survivors should be held in the graveyard.

The famine reality was sanitised, made remote, detached and impersonal when commemorated in church, through abstract symbols, or in an area without shared ancestral roots.

Denial of the famine is there at a local and national level. The second level history course in Ireland, which was examined in the year 2001, had no place for the famine - the course started some two decades later. In New York schools, the Irish Famine is right up there beside Slavery and the Holocaust (ref. Harry Browne, Irish Times EL). Denial of the famine is below the collective surface of humanity and this was borne out by the demolition of Boyle Workhouse which, of course, should have been retained as a sacred place of pilgrimage. In contrast, King House or the Cistercian Abbey were not demolished. No contrived symbols of the famine would be required in Ireland, if the Irish Workhouses were left intact. The demolition of these hateful houses did not eliminate the truth and served only the reinforcement of denial.

Denial of the famine can also be seen in the art of John Behan's National Famine Memorial, which is a ship in bronze, at the foot of Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo. A ship, if you think about it, is only a partial symbol of the famine and is far more representative of survivors than of victims. The construction of the ship is dramatic and abstract. So abstract that the incorporation of the ''lazy beds'' in this symbol requires an interpretation. Stone is the appropriate medium not bronze. The Workhouses were constructed from stone. In the Workhouses the famine victims broke stones for the making of roads. The famine was real; it is immediate and the use of an inappropriate medium, like bronze, or abstract symbols, at this distance in time, is denial. On the other hand, Liam Swords, (priest/author), used a very sensitive symbol in his book ''In their Own Words'' when he wrote about the Famine. Indeed the Church liturgy should incorporate, for about five years, readings from Liam Sword's book and for that period the Old Testament readings could be dropped.


This reenactment was a commemoration of a battle which was fought outside Boyle on the 15th August, 1599. It was acted out on site with period props and costumes and a horse memorial was erected. Temporal boundaries were ignored. Quite an amount of research must have been undertaken for this show. No such research would be necessary for a famine commemoration and the absence of a realistic commemoration for this tragedy can be seen only as an expression of collective guilt. There is an ear for personal guilt but, obviously, the collective guilt of the famine is still taboo.

Even though the people from Killaraght, Boyle, Breedogue and Ballinameen are separated by temporal artificial boundaries, we can, nevertheless, unite in a community spirit with our dead in Killaraght graveyard and have a communal reconciliation service for our famine victims and survivors buried there. A famine memorial should be erected in Killaraght Graveyard.

Like a horror dream, the famine is beyond our control and can never be altered. We will always walk in the shadows of famine victims unless we turn on the light of awareness which would find expression through a famine memorial based on truth and reality.

Frank Conry

Frank Conry was a gifted, thoughtful writer

Frank Conry, late of Ardsoran, Boyle, died on Sunday 24th March 2013. Frank was a man of ideas and a gifted writer. I was delighted that he shared several of his prose and poetry pieces with me. In this blog, I share some of his works with you. Sadly I do not have more of the late Frank's articles for you