Ballyjamesduff, Co. Cavan Revisited

Despite not feeling like an accepted member of BJD community in general. I was still however a part of the adult choir at St. Joseph’s church. You see, I would reckon that I was rather a misnomer to most of the townies because I had lived in a bed-sit and had no family support, and also because of the company I kept. I should add, though, that if it was not for Sr. Concepta, the choir-mistress (1st cousin to John B. Keane – and of whom the former also very kindly got to sign a personalised autographed copy of his latest book, just before he died – which chuffed me no end) who had a great understanding of me, I would not have stayed in the choir for five minutes. Betwixt that and the overriding love of singing I stood my ground. Mostly I was able to fight my corner and gave the few culprits some real stick when I thought they were singing flat in the harmony parts, or, if they didn’t learn the psalms quick enough for my liking. I used the music as a weapon.

Admittedly, I gave them hell sometimes, but that was my way of punishing them for looking down on me. They knew nothing of the pain I’d suffered in Goldenbridge and I was darned if I was going to let them know about me or my past. The story doing its round was that I was just a poor orphan with nobody and that it was all in my imagination about having a lot of doctors and clergy in my family. They said that it was not my mother who had lived three miles out on the Oldcastle Rd, that that too was a figment of my imagination. I was really scared about them calling me an orphan as it touched deeply on what we were called in the institution. In reality I was not an orphan.

I feel so free now that I have the power to talk about my past and that I no longer feel the need to apologise for it, as Sr. Grainne had drilled that very sentiment into me. She was the only person in the world who knew my real predicament.

By the way – the company that I’d kept was with that of a young woman who was born and reared in the town, who had a child out of wedlock. She was despised. Talk about Mary Magdalen! She too was a Maggie, if they’d had their way in the past she’d have been thrown into a Magdalen laundry. She was more harmed by society and was frowned upon by so many people in the town. What made matters worse was that she also kept company with other people who were just as downtrodden – who lived in a local estate. The way I saw it was, that, they were by far better off than me, as they had more than one room to live in. Besides, there was also a young girl and her child living directly opposite me, and she too befriended Maggie. So What? The townies could just lump it as far as I was concerned. I could identify with them so much, but couldn’t talk to any of them. I never follow a crowd and was certainly not going to be told by anyone to keep away from a woman and her child, not even by my own mother’s husband who was infuriated when he found out that I was mixing with people whom he said were from the lower classes. The cheek of him. What did he know about Goldenbridge and the way inmates were frowned upon by Irish society and were hidden away because they were deemed products of fallen women. He treated me very badly over this and amongst other things, which I won’t go into here. So utterly hypocritical. Maggie defied them and later set up home with her boyfriend in Bailieboro. People were so judgmental of her. If they’d empathised with the suffering that she’d endured as a young girl, having to take on the mother-role to her two younger siblings after the parents died; they’d have been far wiser. Instead, they pointed the finger, she was a pure scapegoat and anyone who befriended her was tarred with the same brush. There is always the joker in the pack. The round peg in the square hole. That summed me up too – so we were two of a kind. I remember there was one very nice Reilly woman who had a sweet shop in the town who gave her child free sweets. She was a member of St. Vincent’ de-Paul. I remember liking her for that kindness to a very down-trodden person. This was the same valley of the squinting windows who accommodated the shenanigans of Father Brendan Smyth for years, and who turned a deaf ear to conversations of not a nice ilk pertaining to him, all because he was a man of the cloth.

I have no time for snobs and will lash out at people who think they are better human beings than the rest of us. We come into this world naked and we will leave it naked and people are fools to think that they are more superior.

I mustn’t tar all the people with the same brush, as there were some fantastic people in the town who knew far better and treated people with the dignity they deserved. I seemed to have fared far better with those who lived in the hinterland. Even when I lived in England I always got on extraordinarily well with country people than townies.

Ironically, Maggie, who had the child was such an intelligent person. She could buy and sell the whole lot of those who looked down on her. For example, another element in the community saw that she was a very gifted tennis-player and she was well sought-after by them to give lessons. Her little daughter used to spend a lot of time after school playing tennis in the hand-ball alley. As too did Maggie when she took a notion. They just lived opposite in a wee labourers cottage. There was pandemonium whenever the ball entered the gardens of houses overhead on the Virginia Rd. of which the alley-way to the right lead into directly.

I was invited by Sr. Concepta, principal of St. Clare’s Primary School  (that was perched high on a hill at the back of St. Joseph’s church. See: two lower long windows right beside white car. That is where the big 5th-6th classroom was situated) to teach the children German-folk songs and how to pronounce German words properly. I had learned to speak German in Switzerland when I was only four years older than the oldest girls in the class. I was in my element and tried to make it interesting for them. I would bring Little Ciaran with me and the children made a big fuss of him. Sr. Concepta sat there in amazement and even tried to get her tongue around the guttural hard sounds. ‘Loch as in Scottish lake’ I would say to them. I also got them to close their eyes whilst I said the alphabet, numbers and days of the week, etc. That way they would be able to concentrate without distraction on the new sounds. I told them to forget English. We were going to speak another language. Anne-Marie – who was an assistant teacher – taught them French, violin and guitar. Sr. Concepta was a fluent Irish speaker, so the children were able to sing in many languages, including in Latin for religious reasons.

I remember Elaine Brennan in the class. She picked up German very fast. She’s now a classically trained pianist and works in a variety of collaborative outlets including classical accompaniment and chamber music. In recent years, live improvisation for silent film and visual material has become a focus. She is based in Vienna. That’s interesting!

I also remember Elizabeth Laragy in the same class. She is on the right hand side of photo. Next to Joe Duffy, whose brother I also know very well. She was such a gentle-natured girl. She is now an established face behind the RTE scenes. I note that she worked for Ryan Tubridy. Not in photo. Incidentally, the latter is related to the long since deceased founder of Frolics, BJD solicitor, Paddy Cusack.

The convent closed its doors in 1996. The property was naturally up for grabs by developers. One of whom inherited the Rock shop where I resided. However it was eventually bought for a song by Cavan local authorities. I was pleased to hear that the school part, which was just an arm off the main building  is now being successfully used as an Adult Education Learning Centre, etc. The main thrust of the convent section was turned into a museum. As I write now, it is still a museum. The political climate was changing in Ireland. Not to mention what was to unfold in the Catholic church. I was living in Wexford at the time and was pleased to be not living in a small close-knit environment at the time. I would not have been able to cope. As Goldenbridge was splashed all over the papers. I was afforded the privacy of a very solitude environment to come to terms with the past.

Dáil Éireann 20/Nov/1997 Mr. B. Smith:

“The establishment of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands gives the Government and the Minister the opportunity to address and redress the regional imbalance that has occurred in the establishment of arts, culture and heritage centres throughout Ireland. In that context, I ask the Minister to bear in mind the need to invest, on a regional basis, the substantial Structural Funds that have been made available in recent years to ensure that the regional imbalance in arts infrastructure is redressed and, particularly, to take into account the need for investment in the Border counties.

With the cessation of violence in Northern Ireland, we have an ideal opportunity to strengthen North-South co-operation. Fortunately, there has been considerable co-operation between the Arts Council and its counterpart in Northern Ireland and substantial progress has been made. It is important that common links such as culture and heritage, which are shared by everyone on this island, be given recognition. We must take the opportunity to build on those strengths. In nominating members for appointment to boards and councils under the control of her Department, the Minister should give favourable consideration to people of distinction in the appropriate disciplines from Northern Ireland.”

Dáil Éireann 20/Nov/1997 Mr. B. Smith continues further on in the debate:

“The establishment of such a museum at Ballyjamesduff in County Cavan has provided a great boost to the tourism sector and local people interested in revisiting their history. The development of these museums provides a much needed tourism and visitor focus for counties and regions. I pay tribute to Dr. Wallace, Director of the National Museum, and his colleagues for facilitating the transfer of items of local and national importance to Ballyjamesduff so that they could be preserved for the county in a permanent facility. Such items have more meaning and greater historical relevance in that environment than they would elsewhere.

The few nuns that were left went to live in a house in the town. I did a very successful charity concert for them that brought in a whopping 2,000 punts. I was given grief by some ‘Frolics’ organisers as they had wanted St. Josephs’s hall for their annual concert. The self-same organisers would not look the side of the street at me prior to putting on that concert. One of them had a brother in a very famous band and was used to being put up on a pedestal by others, who was also part of the small clan that made life difficult for me in the choir. She sniggered and giggled at every hands turn and to my mind she totally showed up her own ignorance. They considered themselves to be the bees-knees and above the rest of the ordinary people. It appeared that way to me from their behaviour, anyway. The Frolics Fame had gone to their heads. Mind you, they really were fantastic on stage and brilliant singers, there’s no denying that – but they were such a clique who wanted no outsiders. Well – not of my sort, to my thinking anyway. It was sad really, as the parents of one of those who was acting abominably were the nicest people one could meet. It just appears that the person may have been so used to being told how wonderfully gifted she was that it had gone to her head. I wasn’t the only person in the town who thought that some of the ‘Frolics’ crowd were a bunch of snobs. Sadly one of the partners of one of them committed suicide. Rumour had it in the town that the priest forced the woman to marry because she was living with him at the time. That wouldn’t have been abnormal at the time. I remember a man who did not attend mass or pay his dues, telling me that the priest told him that he wouldn’t be burying him. Period!

There were Three Reilly sisters and a brother and the Brady siblings from Ballyjamesduff who were big into the musical and amateur dramatic society. Siobhan Brady in particular had an exceptional voice. They are still going strong with the Virginia Gospel Choir. They did exceedingly well in an All Ireland Talent Show. They won an All Ireland Pioneer Readori competition when I lived there. The Reilly’s were also into Irish set-dancing and won all Ireland Feiseanna competitions. I loved the music and amateur theatrical life in the town. 

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