Monday, 31 August 2015

Mother’s Pink Carnation - Mag 283

©Shers Gallagher 2015

I set a pink carnation on Mother’s grave,
but only one 
which will wither in the dry dust 
of California’s unending drought.
Global warming and bad planning
is causing fires in the hinterlands,
in the canyons of dried up lakes and streams.
Carnations were her favourite flower,
her ground now hard and cracked
from lack of rain,
parched and bleached
as I imagine her bones should be,
as her death was 30 years ago 
come this December.
A June bride had finished high school
only to straddle two at the ages of 20 and 21,
till the pill caught up
and gave a few years reprieve
before the others came. 
I loved her dearly,
our fragile flower 
with lion heart and beacon soul,
being more like sister than mother
to her eldest born,
my brother and me. 
I live miles and seas away these days
and have not been back till now,
remembering how she whispered once,
her dying breath my parting gift 
to abate all the misery.
I will not be there, she murmured.
Don’t worry then, I’m in your heart
and will follow your heart.
And there I’ll be remaining.

Aisling Books /Magpie Tales

Sunday, 12 July 2015

I Am Lakota - Mag 278

©Shers Gallagher 2015
...and I paint the world of nature
that stretches beyond the borders
of tracks I run to freedom
as minds much smaller than my own
hunt down and try to capture my horizons
Run, run, run to the expressions of a soul
I paint in a world without edges
flowing into the natural rhythm of things

The bear, the wolf and bobcat 
are like the fox outsmarting its trackers
There is none but the line of creation 
to draw out and sing the song 
of life and breath
Our souls recognize its harmonies 
There is nothing more and little less 
than those symbols of our making
that we creatives learn to colour in-between

Beware the shame makers…. 

They judge what they are not
and feed off the inhales of our exhales
as we migrate with the setting sun
I run, run, run along the edges of created space
I am an expression of the wind carried through a drumbeat, 
penetrating and strong
This symbol of the moment - it is my song

Aisling Books / Magpie Tales

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Men in My Life – commemorating all the fathers who have influenced my life

©Shers Gallagher 2015

Every good story, of course, begins at the beginning. And my earliest memories were of a man larger than life, as he was indeed a tall tree to me in my toddler years. Some of my more vivid recollections were meeting him with my mother and brother at the train station, he with suitcase in hand and loaded with a treasure picked out for each of his kids from a recent adventure. Mine during one of these occasions was an Eskimo squaw covered in soft rabbit fur. Dad had been up in Alaska, flying a pontoon plane. I don't remember why my father was in Alaska, and now too much time has passed for an exact memory. But this was my dad. For me and my oldest brother, he was a young father with an even younger wife, a man I looked up to, loved, slightly feared and admired. 

He was a maverick of a man, living by his own principals. And later in life these often clashed with mine. Nevertheless, he was a hard working entrepreneur who provided extremely well financially for his growing family, and for that I’ll be forever grateful. 

Another influence in my life was my grandfather. He and my grandmother’s was a happy home, neither rich nor poor but always filled with love and laughter. Company was key to them with good food, ample stories and the occasional song. 
Gran was proficient on the piano and Gramps was a tenor in a group of Barbershoppers. He being a carpenter had built all their sets, and I have fond memories of attending a lot of his performances. “Oh, that tiger…grrr, oh that tiger!”

Yet another was the man whose family I stayed with during the years I’d run away from home. Rather than having a horrible time, mine to me were enchanting, especially for a storyteller. Yuri, the father, was a retired professor from his homeland and honorary Smithsonian. When he wasn’t working on his ‘Free Russia’ newspaper with his other expatriate cronies he would often sit on the balcony of their old dilapidated mansion with me and point out and discuss all the local birds he knew by species and habitat…a fascinatingly lovely man and, I believe, the inspiration for me later going back to school and finishing university. 

Still another was my first father-in-law, an Irish-American ex-Texan who, along with my then husband’s German expatriate mother, seemed to celebrate life together by enjoying whatever they put their hands to, beginning with their lovely little mountain motel by a running stream that my man and I, still early married youths, helped them run. My father-in-law was an electrician by trade and yet was always involved in some kind of enjoyable side enterprise. In the days following the motel business, the in-laws operated a main street gallery, still in our mountain town. And I worked for awhile with them, learning how to mat and frame. I loved being there but, again, decided that finishing school in the midst of raising two boys was what I really wanted to do.

Besides the men in my life, the first husband, music partner in-between I had a common law relationship with, ending with my latest man I’ll probably go to the grave with, was another I truthfully barely knew but was fascinated by. This was the father of my Dutch husband, now sadly passed on. When I first met my father-in-law to be, it was later in life. So his time of greater productivity had passed and he was into his retirement years. Yet, during the several years he’d been researching history he was also photographing it. And with him I would often sit and peruse his albums of pre-WWII Zeeland – our province of the Netherlands – occupied WWII and post-WWII. History rich and ultimately engaging were his photos and tales.

Of course, there was my first man I knew when young and foolish, sharing together the follies of youth, its joys and tragedies. Ours was a constant struggle, which can be the case of two growing up together as we did in the American counter-culture. Later, as can happen, we grew apart. Still, I’ll never forget those lovely days of youth when we’d go on merry madcap adventures or just sit by the creek together, laughing, drinking and swapping zany philosophies of our yet to be found out lives. Those were the good moments, the happy moments that I’ll always treasure…along with the sons, who were our much wanted and loved offspring regardless of our later not so lovely splitting up and going our own ways, our desires and mindsets changing over the years.

My second man began as my music partner and great love. We had many happy years together playing music, performing and acting like bohemians before I again grew up and desired something more stable out of life. Perhaps such dreams are only delusions, but off I went exploring new territory as an international teacher.

And, lastly, the man I am with now and have chosen to live out my – not quite yet – retirement with is one I met while still doing music, and did do a bit of music with before quitting altogether. This partner has been rich in artistry and has designed all the covers of my six published works. And his artistic endeavours are truly beautiful. Not only that, but for 15 years now, I have been adopted into a new family, one of foreign tongue and culture not too dissimilar from my own. After all, it was their country (Native Americans aside) who first settled the New Land, calling it New Amsterdam. 

So, to all these lovely men in my life – and more – I wish you a very Happy Father’s Day!

Aisling Books

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Laura Ashley Days

 Shers Gallagher 2015

In fleeting flashes of forgotten time
I dream of those Laura Ashley days
when together we braided and embroidered, 
canned our jams with raggle-taggle tales, 
often sharing a tune or two
- mine on mountain dulcimer - 
while our men-folk, really only boys, 
laboured side by side and shirtless, 
laughing under youth's forgiving sun. 
Life we perceived as good back then,
perhaps deluded in our simplicity 
that everything we laid out
would be in perfect napkins. 

Aisling Books

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Air Space - Mag 272

©Shers Gallagher 2015

Leave me air to breathe,
and I'll breathe humanity in gulps.
Breathing in and breathing out,
choking on the crowded streets 
amidst the elbows I am connecting to. 

What is this pushing, shoving 
need to be human?
Count me in and I'll be last 
among the first, 
my humanity touching yours.

Is this what it means to be human?
Leave me air to breathe,
and I am weightlessly
in charge of my bit of space.

It is enough on this teaming little 

green rock, turning brown.
It is enough for you and me, 
enough to leave each other air to breathe. 

Aisling Books / Magpie Tales

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