Sunday, 24 May 2015

Hooked on wallpaper, peeling brown -- Mag 271

Shers Gallagher 2015 

Hooked on wallpaper, peeling brown, is mother’s umbrella of tattered forest green. 
Strapped around its well-worn tips is a tapestry printed satchel holding memories of  
Grandmother’s curtains behind lemon waxed tables and full-tacked sofas of Chesterfield leather. 
The hats she wore were hand-braided with wide ribbon trim, 
bespeaking of chic world travellers in her day, 
of spirited Hepburns and sultry Lauren Bacalls.

Aisling Books / Magpie Tales

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The Quest – full circle

©Shers Gallagher 2015

While sitting in a Westport B&B I began writing about the last part of my quest, having ventured to the North-western region of Ireland in search of my Irish roots. I had already spent several summers in Ireland, teaching and visiting...exploring the countryside with old friends. However, on a visit in 2011, I decided it high-time to look into my roots with my two aunts in mind – Darlys Gallagher Weiss and Laverne Gallagher Robinson – my mother’s sisters still alive and well. My mother, Marvel Gallagher Schuler, sadly passed away too young to die in 1986. Joining her sometime later were her two brothers, William and Raymond.  Their father, William (Bill) Emmet, was the 8th son of 10 children to Felix Peter Gallagher (b. 02 August 1863) and Anna Marie Gallagher ni Murray (b. 12 August 1866). 

Felix, my great-grandfather, was born in the urban district of Westport, County Mayo. He was son to Martin Gallagher and Bridget McIntyre, also born and raised in urban Westport. They were a Roman Catholic family, but documentation is sketchy for all in Ireland born before the official Irish registry that began a year later, in 1864. 

My great-grandfather Felix was actually, I found out, born on Bridge Street. Not only was he born on this street but a large number of his relations were as well. This is because, in the mid-1800s through the early to mid-1900s, the Gallaghers owned half of Bridge Street on the even numbered side. Most all the building numbers have been done away with in modern times, establishments now recognised by their business names. The famous pub of Matt Molloy’s (establishment of the world renowned ‘Chieftains’ flute player) is situated just opposite what was once the Gallagher public house and grocers. Molloy's is also known more by its name rather than street number. And the old publican house of the Gallagher’s has since been turned into a restaurant, called Café Sol Rio. I found myself fortunate to meet the proprietor, a lovely woman with the married name of Lambert but daughter to Matt Malone, who was a furrier by trade and business-relation / personal friend of the family throughout the years.

As for the Gallaghers, I've been told that they not only owned half the block of Bridge Street in their heyday but also ran a small factory on High Street. This was connected to and running north of Bridge Street, which today you could locate by way of the stone grey statue and small roundabout in front. Where a section of the factory once stood is currently a chipper (fish & chips shop), and my old friend travelling with me ate there - greasy and delicious food. In the factory’s zenith, it made candles out of big vats of tallow. Those doing this task were called chandlers back then. As an aside, factory workers also tatted lace and fashioned women’s bonnets and undergarments (such as corsets).
While in Westport, I sought out a local historian who disclosed to me that, in their prime, the Gallaghers were a wealthy merchant family. So why my great-grandfather left for America in his late youth was somewhat of an enigma. I mean, why leave a prosperous lifestyle you were born and bred into? 

Patrick Gallagher, a 4th cousin I was also pleased to make the acquaintance of during my stay, inherited the Valley House on Achill Island (just west of Westport). And this hotel / pitch & putt / pub he runs with his wife, Alice, and their two teenage daughters. Over a beer, Patrick told me there were usually two reasons a young man such as my great-grandfather Felix, cousin to his grandfather Edward, would leave home like he did: One was for better opportunity. But that would seem silly to one born to a rich family. The other would be because of having joined the IRB (old Irish Brotherhood), which later became the IRA (Irish Republican Army', and gotten into some trouble. Regardless, the IRB had been more akin to a resistance group than that of the later terrorist organisation. Still, those youth involved in the IRB were sought after for subversive actions to the Crown of England; and, many at the time fled to America only to return later when they were no longer being looked for. 

Daniel O’Connell had been instrumental in achieving Catholic Emancipation from the English crown in 1829, which largely eliminated legal discrimination against the Catholics. This was no small achievement, because the Irish Catholics then comprised 75% of Ireland’s population. Yet, Home Rule, O’Connell’s major concern, was never achieved. And the Home Rule movement soon created a divide between the nationalists (mostly Catholic), who advocated the restoration of the Irish Parliament, and the unionists (mostly Protestant in fear of being in the minority dominated by the Catholics). The unionists continued to support Britain while the Home-rule advocates countered them at every step, a conflict heightening during the career of Charles Stuart Parnell. Founder of the Irish parliament, Parnell was known as a land reform agitator and charismatic repealer. I’ve no doubt that such a man who led the Irish Parliamentary Party as MP through the period of Parliamentary nationalism in Ireland (between 1875 and his death in 1891) had an enormous impact on the lives of young men like my great-grandfather, Felix Gallagher. 

In any case, it's pure speculation as to why Felix left for America in the prime of his youth. But another factor involved was that his immigration had been sponsored by Dennis Murray. The Murrays were another well-known family living on Bridge Street at the same time as the Gallaghers. And, though he could read and write (which was a BIG thing back then which separated the scholar from the commoner), Dennis Murray listed himself as a labourer upon arriving in America. His wife, Bridget Gallagher, either aunt or first cousin to Felix, was another born and raised on Bridge Street (b. Westport, Co Mayo - 1830). Her father, James B. Gallagher, and mother, Catherine McHugh, were also Westport born and bred residents.

Back to Felix.... He, like many other immigrants of his time, chose not to return to Ireland but remained in America to marry the Murray daughter, Anna Marie, who would have been either first or second cousin to him on her mother’s side. 

So.... I've been able to trace these Gallagher relations of mine  - all hailing from Urban Westport  - to the first Irish census in 1901. The then Gallagher family head would have been Felix’s Aunt Margaret (73-year-old widow), who remained running the public house and grocers with her daughter Nora (39) assisting her. Edward (34) was a union clerk and my direct link to my 4th cousin Patrick Gallagher on Achill Island. And there were two other daughters: Agnes (31) and Kathleen (29), they were registered as music teachers. 

Patrick told me later that the story of Agnes and Kathleen got richer, as they were not just any ordinary music teachers. They had been prison convicts who not only taught music but also formed a prison band…the original jail-house rock.

I must say that I got more than I had bargained for in my quest to find the missing links of this till recently obscure branch of my otherwise well-documented family lineage. The Gallaghers were – and are – indeed a colourful lot. The icing on my cake was when I discovered that my Gallagher relations had also had a 900 year lease on the stone house adjacent to Saint Mary’s Parish Church on James Street, with payment made of a guinea a year till the death of the last remaining occupants, whom I was told by the parish clerk were Paddy and Agnes Gallagher. 

The clerk added that the couple had died some time in the 1960s, which was when the stone house was returned to the parish. After this interesting titbit, the grounds-keeper kindly gave me a personal tour of the old Gallagher home, of which I've now taken several photos of in hopes to delight my aging American aunties. ;) And, though I was let into the private residence, the grounds-keeper only allowed me to tour the ground flour, as the upper levels were currently occupied by resident priests. 

Still, while inside I had an incredible experience of feeling bathed in the light of my ancestors, a feeling of coming home.
And that’s my wonderful tale of the Gallagher family of Westport in County Mayo -- Sláinte! 

[Shers in front of the old stone house]                                        

[Shers and her 4th cousin, Patrick Gallagher – The Valley House, Achill Island, Co Mayo, Ireland 2011]  

Aisling Books 

Monday, 18 May 2015

Oh, Those Fairies! - Magpie 270

© 2015 Shers Gallagher --ex-Renaissance Fairy 

Where dusty paths 
and rain-thirst clouds
leave grit in hair and teeth,
the fairies 
with their fluted bows
spring forth 
with flittering feet.
Tipping and tapping,
they brookle their laughing
on wee frowny faces -
on each crooked smile they greet.
Catch them! Catch them! 
Each sparkle of light
that zips in flight,
leaving contrails from tree to tree.

Aisling Books / Magpie Tales

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Growing Up with Shers - another slice of my silly life

©Shers Gallagher 2015

When we were kids - way before my little sister was born - my brothers and I were hooked on a TV horror series, entitled 'Thriller'. We were such a motley crew back then that, every chance they could get, my young parents would get away to rekindle their romance together. On one such occasion, I remember an elderly lady babysitting us, which was on an evening where, earlier, one of my little brothers had been playing baseball with the other in the front yard and had accidentally hit the ball into the living room window, causing a small hole yet to be repaired. Now, this hole was in the window just behind the couch where we all sat to watch television. Perhaps you can guess the scenario that followed....

'Thriller' was on, and with babysitter in the middle, we all sat mesmerized, watching the creature from the deep (or something like that) when, suddenly, one of our house cats stuck her paw through the hole, attempting to get in. She had reached up and clawed the poor old babysitter, who shrieked bloody murder. We all leapt up with her, popcorn flying everywhere, only to see our bad cat scurrying off in the distance. The cat didn't return till morning, and the poor elderly babysitter never returned again. Oh my! :D
Aisling Books

Sunday, 3 May 2015

An Infamous Wee - Mag 268

© Shers Gallagher 2015

In this narcissistic age
with everyone a 5-second star
of blogs and meals and secret thrills,
of our kids with frogs and snails
and their puppy dog tales....

So it is with Manekin Pis,
the naked little Belgian boy
and his 5-second self-pee,
urinating with glee
while capturing his wee for all
he twitters and tweets to see.
Such are the times we live in!

How I I Came to Live in Boulder, Colorado

©Shers Gallagher 2015 a teen on the lam, mostly running away from myself, personal addictions and questions with a sinking feeling that there were no answers to any of them, not simple ones, anyway. As I sunk further into the hedonistic scene of living a non-mainstream life, I continued questioning, creating, inventing alongside others of similar mind, many eventually giving up and dying. Throughout the muck and mire of daily living on the edge juxtaposed against the incredible beauty of the Flat Irons, and Boulder in general, my very existence raised the question of God. I could not escape it. This was the Boulder I knew back then with conservatism running through its core, a soberness observed in the faces of its mountain folk – the ranchers, farmers and old miners who had eked out a living and were the community’s cornerstones. Yet, alongside this was a topsoil of challenging liberalism fomented by a university gaining a Haight Ashbury-like reputation, which placed the town into unrest midst its growing pains. 

These days I see more clearly that being is beyond answers to questions, as it takes a certain humility of spirit to have faith in what can’t be seen or measured into existence that transgresses the daily doggity-dog world we live, struggle and find our personal pleasures in. I don't know if living in Boulder during some of my most impressionable years has shaped and moulded me into the individual I am today, but I have a hunch that it did because its memories have impacted my life in ways that verge on the magical and miraculous. Having got all this off my chest, I’m saddened to see images I held dear morph into something more commercially aloof and somewhat less inviting. Yet, I will always treasure the memory of our pretty little Boulder, the sleepy college town I once knew and loved and lived in. 
Aisling Books

Memories of a Childhood Thanksgiving

 ©Shers Gallagher 2015

At Gran and Gramp’s house it was always chaotically wonderful with the five children and their spouses bringing with them all their children, my nephews and nieces, along with my own family of five siblings. My brother and I were around the same ages of three of our cousins, give or take a year. And the eldest was only two years older than her younger brother, a year older than me. Along with all the younger cousins, we always had plenty of kids around to play with. Our drive to get there was on dairy land roads. As we approached the town’s vicinity, we would recognize how close we were from the smell of cattle and farmland, the richly pungent odor of cow pies mixed with rain wet grassland.

When we  arrived, there were already two tables set: the main table for the grownups and the other long and lower table for us kids, which we loved because of no adults being there to monitor our behavior and make us eat or not eat certain foods. We never really thought of minding our manners then, as long as we didn't get too carried away with ourselves.

Wafting through the house were kitchen smells of roasting turkey, dark and oily gravy, and cornbread stuffing. I remember the aroma of sage, thyme, black pepper, parsley, celery, onion, butter and stock (juice of the bird), but this could be that of my mother's stuffing, which she sometimes brought with her as an extra dish, as they were always running out of stuffing. But our Gran had most things prepared by the time we all arrived: the sweet potato casseroles and pies she’d bake the day before, only heating up the casseroles before they were served. My mom and her sisters would bring with them other warm vegetable dishes, salads and desserts, like divinity fudge and hand dipped chocolates. Gran insisted on baking the pull-apart butter buns, herself, and at the last minute too so they would be hot and fresh, melting in your mouth.

What I loved most as a kid at these feasts were the olives I could wear on my fingers like rings till eating them off and replacing them with others. Another of my cousins liked celery sticks, which he’d spread and eat with peanut butter that stuck to his teeth. And another relished in walking around with little gherkins stuck up his nose, an equally repulsive thing these boy cousins for some reason liked doing even though we girl cousins ignored them.
While food was bubbling on the stove, Gran would play a bit of piano. Gramps and one of the uncles were Barbershoppers and would sing and play corny songs like ‘Oh, That Tiger’. Then they’d growl and chase us around at the song’s completion. Sometimes Gran would play religious songs, like ‘I Come to the Garden Alone’, which I found sadly moving. If time permitted, a few aunts and uncles would break out cards and play poker while others would sneak out back and play a round of pool in the garage with Gramps till everything was ready. When it was time for the family to be called and gather round, we’d seat ourselves and wait for either my grandfather or the eldest uncle to say the blessing. Then we’d all dig in…eating, laughing, joking and eating some more till we could eat nothing further.

After turkey dinner, we kids would meander out to the front porch and swing in the big swing that could hold three, or even four of us, depending on our ages and growth spurts. We’d swing and laugh, singing our own made up songs as we counted the stars above to the background noise of grownup chatter and chinking dishes till all tables were cleared and things boxed up to be taken home or put away.

When it was time to go it was always on a full stomach, but not uncomfortably so. My oldest brother and I would invariably lay in the rear of the station wagon with the younger ones snoozing between blankets and pillows on its back couch-like seats. Together the bro and I would hum in low, soothing monotones, watching all the blinking lights shine and fade till falling asleep to the monotonous sounds of tires rubbing the road as we made our way home. 
Aisling Books