Sunday, June 24, 2018

Seeking 'Charlie Mac'

When Maria McDonald was the focus of a 'Meet the Author' event in Kilcullen recently, she admitted she was nervous, writes Brian Byrne. Very nervous.

"I've never done anything like this before," she said as she waited for the morning to start. But that goes with the territory for anyone who has written a book, and needs to get the story out there.

Luckily, she had Dawn Behan of Woodbine Books in Kilcullen on her side, who was well capable of steering Maria safely through her first voyage out of the safe harbour of anonymity.

That last comment might well be apt for part of the story she has written, too. Because through it she brought an unexpected part of her family's history out in the public eye.

"It was my grand-uncle James," she says. "I knew that he existed, and I knew that my father used to go up to him once a week for his tea. But nobody ever mentioned that he had joined the British Army in 1914 and that he had left a leg at the Somme." That kind of hidden thing was common, of course, all over Ireland. "It is only in the last few years that people have talked about family and the First World War."

Maria's book is not about her Uncle James, but about James's father, Charlie MacMullen ('Charlie Mac' of the title), Maria's grandfather. A story of love, and loss in sectarian violence when Charlie Mac was shot and killed by B Specials in Belfast in 1922. He was a Protestant from the city, his wife Mary Jane a Catholic from rural County Down. Their story is part of the tragedy of their time.

Maria lives in Newbridge, to where her own family had to flee from similar sectarian violence in the 1970s. "History is always repeating itself," she says. About 20 years ago, at the behest of her sister, Maria did some research. "But I was busy rearing my family, and it was only about five years ago that I got into it properly. That's when I heard about Uncle James." And that's when she became seriously interested in the three-generations old story of Charlie Mac.

"I did a course in TCD, which looked at the ordinary people of the time. We examined statements they'd made, about the War of Independence and all that. And I was just fascinated at what I found."

What she learned on that course gave her a background about what it was like to live in Charlie's times. Enough to flesh out her great-grandfather's story in the language and sense of the period. "You don't really know how people thought or talked from that far back, so you just have to add in a bit of artistic licence. Though now I'm not sure whether 'Charlie Mac' is a true story with fictional licence, or a fictional story about a true happening?"

But truly the book is part of her family's history. And when she was given the time a few years ago to get seriously stuck in — "I had to leave work through illness, but I'm the kind of person who has to be doing something" — she found that a family historian has to become something of a detective.

"There are lots of facts. We have Charlie and Mary Jane's marriage certificate, so we know they lived in Sheriff Street in East Belfast when they married. And he was still there in 1918, because the street directories say so. But Sheriff Street no longer exists — it was demolished in the 40s or 50s and there's a school there now." The church where Charlie and Mary Jane's children were christened still exists, though Maria says she still has to visit it.

Other facts — Maria has a copy of Charlie Mac's death certificate, and also the report on his inquest. "But I can't find where he is buried. I have tried several different searches, but I've never been able to come up with a burial record."

At the time Charlie Mac was killed, more than 30 people died in sectarian violence in the same month of February 1922 alone, which could account for blanks in the records. "The Irish Volunteers recorded all the killings, so if you go into the Military Archives you'll find his name there. But not where he was buried."

So there are still mysteries to be solved. But Charlie Mac is, at least in family history terms, 'back to life' in Maria's book. "What I wanted to do from the very beginning was write the book and give it to my dad, Ernie McMullen. And I was able to do that. Also, my dad's younger brother Brendan lived in Canada, and as soon as it was published he bought two copies, and he got to read it. He was delighted that somebody was writing the story ... and he died about two weeks later."

'Charlie Mac' may have been the first and a very major writing project for Maria. But she is branching out — she has had some short stories published, and she writes a weekly blog. So she's quite likely going to have further encounter in the 'Meet the Author' arenas.

After her first one, in Kilcullen, she might find it gets easier ...

This article was first published in The Kildare Nationalist.

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Fibre work continues

Early Sunday morning work as the installation of fibre high-speed internet progresses in Kilcullen. Pics Fr Niall Mackey.

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Special night for U14 Girls Féile team

A special night for families and sponsors of the Kilcullen GAA U14 Girls team heading to the John West Féile na nOg tournament will take place on Tuesday next in the Clubhouse, writes Brian Byrne.

Each of the girls will be presented with their gear at the event, which begins at 7.30pm.

The tournament takes place in Meath, Louth and South Down next weekend, 29 June-1 July.

"It’s a huge achievement for the girls, their mentors and their families, who are thrilled and excited to be getting the opportunity to be involved in the competition again this year," says the Club's Liam Cronin. "Their hard work and commitment to training is paying off and each girl is a credit to the club and their families."

(Pic by Mark Phelan.)

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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Local dancers in Riverdanceathon

Geraldine School of Dancing youngsters raised €929 on Thursday when they took part in the Riverdanceathon in aid of the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, writes Brian Byrne.

"We had a fantastic day, and it was an incredible achievement for the dancers to be part of such an iconic show," says the School's Tracey O'Dwyer. "Well done to the class."

Some 580 dancers took part in the event outside Dublin's Gaiety Theatre, with participants from 22 different dancing schools around the country in the 12-hour event.

The Riverdance cast themselves joined with the young people three times during the day, at the 10am opening, 1pm, and the 10pm finale.

Dementia currently affects 55,000 people in Ireland, and the event, as well as raising funds, was also held to help raise awareness of the situation.

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Big push for Tidy Towns judging

Bed vandalised earlier in the week is replanted. Pic: KCA.
With judging in the National Tidy Towns taking place over the next two weeks, the Kilcullen Tidy Towns group has appealed for a continuing emphasis on keeping the town well, writes Brian Byrne.

In addition to the major planting carried out over recent days and weeks, there will be further clean-up works going on.

This Saturday morning the main focus will be on the Main Street from the Garda Station to Berneys Saddlers, with weed removal and general sweeping the emphasis.

The group also wants to clean the signposts on Main Street, and paint the planter boxes at the Convent corner and the bank.

Anyone willing to help should turn up at the Town Hall at 10pm. It's hoped the work can be completed in two hours, with enough volunteer aid.

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Friday, June 22, 2018

James adds a golf silver to medals collection

Irish Golfers Kieran Murray, Marie O’Connor, Ron Grainger, James Nolan and John McAleer.
James Nolan has won a silver medal for his Golf Net Score in the European Transplant & Dialysis Games in Sardinia, writes Brian Byrne.

He is one of five golfers on Transplant Team Ireland, who between them won three gold and two silver medals at Cagliari Golf Course.

The others included John McAleer (silver) from Antrim, at 80 the oldest contestant on Team Ireland; Marie O'Connor (gold) from Lahinch, Co Clare; Ron Grainger (gold) from Dublin; and Kieran Murray (gold) from Ramelton, Donegal.

James said the heat on the course was his greatest obstacle, but there was a 'lovely atmosphere' and the week has been extremely enjoyable. This is his 28th international competition as a kidney transplant recipient.

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