Joe had served as a soldier in the Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War (First World War). He had been wounded at the Dardanelles. He was struck during the battle for Gallipoli and at the height of that ferocious, hopeless attack. He was towed on a raft across the waters to the beach. This raft had a stout, wooden partition behind which the crouching soldiers could hide, crouching behind this, taking the safe side, shooting up at the Turks who were pouring fire down upon them from the high, rocky cliffs. The bullet that struck Joe penetrated and lodged in his helmet and partially entered his skull. Seriously injured, he was invalided out of the army. He recovered, only to suffer the effects of the chronic unemployment, encountered by so many of his kind. He hated Churchill whom he blamed for this debacle.
Still as a wounded ex-serviceman, Joe was entitled to a government gratuity to assist in his rehabilitation in those immediate post-war years. The money would be paid only if the appellant could prove that the money would be spent in some wise and worthwhile venture. The amount of this gratuity was
My first memories are of my mother – of her softness and warmth, her expressive face always beautiful to me, of her endearing, coaxing voice whose slightest irritated inflection would cause me dismay. She would exhort Edmund my elder brother by a mere two years, to ‘look after that child! Don’t let him get his feet wet!’ as we went out to play together.
The favourite game of all was Tig around the Block. It involved literally dozens of us, boys, and occasionally a few girls and was played not just Round the Block but as far afield as The Pighall Loanan, Derrybeg, Sandy’s Field, The Line, The Plaits, The Bricky Loanan and all areas within, especially other people’s back gardens. Played on this scale, there had to be a whole team ‘on it’. The more dedicated of us played the game with surprising intensity and military discipline.
I was thirteen then and just beginning to take an interest in girls. I had had one girlfriend, Monica Jones, a neighbour’s daughter, with whom, amazingly, I shared a birthday. I think that was all we had in common. Our childish tryst didn’t last.
I was single and fancy-free again, and happy to be so, though I had plans. I had set my eye on a stunningly beautiful brown-eyed girl I had spied one Saturday, conversing with her older sister who worked in our only department store, Foster-Newells.
I was in town to buy The New Musical Express. My ‘pay’ went on this every week, and there was very little left over.
I was obsessed with the new pop music, now universally transmitted to working class homes, for even in our penury we could afford to buy wireless sets. These tunes lend a common bond to teenagers everywhere. Our tiny world became global.
I was always somewhat of an oddball, and knew I was held as such. Music was in my soul and emerged from my mouth even when I didn’t realize everyone was gawping at this eejit singing aloud to himself.
I fancied my singing voice too and hoped that people would admire its tenor as I passed. Instead they felt sorry for me and gave me a wide berth on the other side of the road. But I wasn’t dangerous and wouldn’t even have detained them while I was in full song.
I think now it probably turned the girls off me too. There had to be some reason. I wasn’t such a bad-looking guy.
She was somewhat older than me and way above my class, I knew. Also she was a Protestant. This was not a handicap from my personal point of view, but perhaps, my religion might be from hers. There would be family problems too.
The fact that all this ran continuously through my fevered imagination will give you some idea of my innocence at the time.
But I had a source of relief from my delusions and fantasies. I was still young enough to play the street games that dominated our life before the intrusion of television.
This was the ‘kaddy’ season.
The ‘kaddy’ was an eight inch long oblong piece of wood, about half an inch square with sharpened ends. You balanced it on the end of the kerb with half of it projecting and struck it sharply with a heavier wooden rod. It spun fiercely into the air while your opponent tried to catch it, a difficult and dangerous exercise. If caught, you were ‘out’ and he was ‘in’. If not, whatever number was uppermost on the kaddy’s poker-burned face when it came to rest (I, II, III or IIII) was the number of further strokes allowed to you while you were ‘in’. With a delicate tap on the pointed edge, you would then make the kaddy spin a few inches into the air, where you were allowed one further stroke to whack it fiercely, the object being to put as much distance as possible between home base and its final resting place. Your score would be the number of leaps your opponent would need to span this with ‘long jumps’. At any stage when the kaddy was airborne, your opponent could gain advantage – be ‘in’ – by catching it.
I was winning that fine sunny winter’s morning in January when the breadman, Michael Campbell, came along on his normal rounds. Winning was important. In any case I didn’t welcome his breadcart parked across our play area.
These servicemen were usually sensitive to our needs and tolerant of us, despite the fact that kaddy was mostly restricted to the road, where the hard surface made raising the wooden object easier than from the soft adjoining ‘greens’.
For once he acted as though he hadn’t even seen us as he hastened to our parents’ doors to impart his grave news.
It must have been his animated behaviour that drew our attention away from our normally all-consuming game.
We didn’t know it then but his visit would herald an end of our innocence: and not just for us, but for our sleepy backwater of a town as well.
That’s why I remember Pearl Gamble’s murder. Michael Campbell had news of the terrible event. She was the young woman who worked in Foster-Newells. Her younger sister was my paragon: the object of my desire and dreams.
We had occasionally caught furtive glimpses of another world, exciting but sleazy – a sex-driven, more dangerous world – in the pictures and columns of the Sunday newspapers our fathers read, but pretended not to, for they knew this pornographic material ought not to be placed within their children’s reach. Our angry mums disdained it too, and castigated our fathers for bringing such rags as the Sunday People and The News of The World into their homes.
To make matters worse we were occasionally graced on Sunday afternoons with a social visit from a group of two to three Mercy Nuns, who believed it part of their Christian duty to express their support for growing Catholic families in their immediate neighbourhood. They were educating most of the girls of our families and I was delighted and amused by their visits. You see, I was beyond their power and influence, for they didn’t teach me. They were my sisters’ teachers. I had hordes of sisters, I don’t think then I knew just how many! And of course, I was constantly at war with my sisters. These nuns became my unwitting allies in our never-ending struggle for our parents’ attention. They would hurriedly and fussily scatter in search of schoolbags and unfinished homework at the nuns’ approach.
Still, no one was surprised when the nuns failed to visit the next day, Sunday 29 January.
After Michael Campbell’s visit, there was only one topic of conversation in every Newry home. And it was unsuitable for nuns’ ears.
The breadman was late that Saturday morning. Just as well, really, for otherwise he’d not have had his tale to tell. The first scattered and discarded clothes of the missing girl had not been found until nine thirty on the Upper Damolly Road by farm labourer Bob McCullough when he was out mending gates of a field in the vicinity. Memory can play tricks but I believe that our breadman knew not just the details of what had happened, but also the name of the victim and of the chief suspect.
Our game of kaddy was reluctantly abandoned as we followed the news-bearer from house to house, hoping not just to rehear the story being told, but to see the listeners’ reaction, and in the hope of hearing a previously missed detail.
I had to suppress my personal interest for fear of being mocked. I suffered a maelstrom of emotions. Most of all I wanted to be there to console my brown-eyed girl. Much later I learned her name, but then I had only a strong mental image of her.
Older brothers of some of the older lads of our gang – and friends they knew across the town – were acquainted with Robert McGladdery, or with those who knew him.
From the start the police were confident of his guilt.
McGladdery was a brazen and arrogant young man. The police took him in for questioning and later released him, confident that he would soon lead them to the hiding place of items missing from the murder scene.
This eventually happened but during that week of freedom, McGladdery led them a merry dance. Also, in addition to his ever-present police shadow, he had picked up an entourage of interested followers. I never learned whether they were made up of personal friends or morbid voyeurs, fascinated by his celebrity status, or a combination of both, but I was shocked that a murderer could receive such attention.
Of all the details that came out in his trial, only one stuck fast in my mind. The evening of the murder, at a dance in a local hall they were both attending, McGladdery had requested the Elvis tune It’s Now Or Never. The title was interpreted as significant. I could never after hear one of my favourite tunes without tears welling in my eyes.
I never again set eyes on my previous paragon.
McGladdery was found guilty and sentenced to death. He appealed but lost.
Five days before Christmas, he was hanged in Crumlin Road Jail in Belfast, the last person in these islands to die by capital punishment. He was mourned by few.
On the same day, my father came home with a Christmas present for his teenage children.
It was a stackable Record Player. There were thirty singles too.
I was unable to play my favourite one.
Click the link to go the homepage and some more old Newry news.
How did our parents manage to make us all feel important? My mum helped me when I was studying for the 11+. She was “expecting”. After the first few, all mum’s confinements were at home. The news was brought downstairs that the baby had been born. I rushed up to congratulate mum and see the new baby. I brought my books with me, and asked mum to help me again with my work.
So much for rest and recuperation.
And she did, though I don’t think she could see the pages too well!
Despite the large number of siblings in our house, I never remember feeling “left out”.
All these children are now grandparents in their own right!
Funeral Oration for Mrs Josie Keenan (nee O’Hanlon)
My aunt, Josie Keenan, was born Josephine O’Hanlon on 15th March, 1920, youngest in a family of 3 boys and 4 girls to Owen O’Hanlon and Emma McKnight. Her siblings were Danny, my father, Katie, Mick, Emma, Rosina and John and they all lived together in beautiful Clontigora close to Hagan’s Bridge.
This idyllic start was soon disrupted as her mother, Emma, died while Josie was only two; a tragedy compounded by the death of her father, Owen, when she was four.
There was no cohort of social workers to take control and the children may all have been destined for an orphanage but for a far-sighted Parish Priest who declared that the family should be preserved intact.
Danny, then only 17, became the Man of the House and Katie, 16, the Mother. With a resilience that few today could achieve they survived and Josie grew up in a loving environment albeit without luxury. She attended the local Killian Primary School moving on, when the time came, to Our Lady’s and eventually to St Mary’s College in Belfast whereshe trained as a primary school teacher, a career choice which would be to the benefit of many children for the next 40 years.
I heard just recently, living eye-witness accounts of a very tall chemist seen regularly cycling the route from the Dublin Road in Newry out to Clontigora. Oliver and Josie would often be seen “stepping out” around the roads from there to the Flagstaff and beyond in a procedure as old as the hills around them but, no doubt, inconceivably simple to current generations.
They were a cultured young couple and I have seen their names on old programmes of both The Feis and Newpoint Players and Oliver often boasted to me of his on-stage achievements. It wouldn’t be the last marriage to come out of association in those organisations.
After the war there were not a lot of permanent teaching opportunities and Josie subbed in many schools. She particularly mentioned her time in Dromore to which she would travel by bus and complete her journey on a
bike secreted away in the area for the duration of her term there. This bike was crucial to many of her employments. Indeed, Norman Tebbit, many years later might well have based his “on yer bike, plenty of work if you look for it” speech on Josie’s approach to job-seeking. She told me of cycling from Clontigora to Ballyholland to teach.
All this hill work must have given her beautifully crafted legs because in those days, before celebrity culture, with Holywood making inroads even as far as Clontigora, she was referred to locally as Heddy Lamar because of her beauty and, it’s a fair word to use, grace.
In a family of brothers and sisters who, like Spinal Tap, had their amplification systems go all the way up to 11 instead of 10, she was the quiet, calm one who spoke with clarity and knowledge.
Oliver and Josie got married on Easter Monday 1949, the day the Free State became a republic. We don’t know if the two events are associated but you could be pretty sure that Oliver had an opinion on the subject.
The young couple set up their home above Oliver’s chemists dispensary in Hill St and soon moved to Erskine St. First born of this happy union was Maura, soon followed by Una then Tom and finally, Michael.
By this stage the family had moved out to Derrybeg Villas apparently because Josie was a country girl at heart. All was perfect and, if we secretly called him Blessed Oliver Keenan, that is in fact what he was and Josie was devoted to him to her final day.
By this time she was working in the school which was to be her major employment and her happiest time in teaching: St Joseph’s Primary. She made strong friendships with Lilian Donnelly, with whom she worked, and Agnes McConville with whom she had been to school. I have heard many testimonies of her time in St Joseph’s one going as far as to say “your Aunt Jo saved my life. I was in the depths of despair in school until she came along”. She was both gentle and genteel. The most appropriate term I heard to describe her came from one former P3 student: “she was serene”, which, as any teacher will tell you, is some going in classes of up to 40 in those times. Her classroom was an oasis of calm and knowledge.
She dared to follow Oliver on to the golf course but in the course of many Keenan four-balls over the years was declared “a useless golfer”. Her pursuits were more intellectual: she was an avid reader; she had to the last an exceptional mind with a depth of knowledge; had memorised vast numbers of poems and was an avid crossword fan – to the end completing the daily Irish News crossword.
Eventually the family moved into Patrick St, very convenient to the local church. Josie was in every way the epitome of what we refer to in Newry as a “Dominican Catholic”. She was a devout believer and practitioner and most deserving of the term, The Faithful.
The family are most indebted to Martin who brought Oliver and herself Communion every 1st Friday allowing then to continue in the practice of their faith. May I mention one other lady. It is indicative of the old-fashioned and proper way of the pair of them that Mrs Evans, her constant companion and source of support, was always “Mrs Evans”: a lovely indication of old values and the mutual respect they had for each other.
And so the years passed. Maura went to Vancouver and on her many visits home would endure the gentle taunts to retire to Newry. I think Josie admired that spirit of independence. Una married Brian and have Josie and Oliver’s grandchildren, Claire and Mark. They must have paid more tolls on the M1 than any of us in their regular visits to mum and dad.
Tom whose beautiful mind was sadly compromised in recent years, a cause of much heartbreak to her; Michael and Karen with the grandchildren Cheryll, Rory and Kim and, indeed, two great-grandchildren were a tireless source of care and support.
Mary O’Hare was like a spare daughter to her and Gerard also. Any time I would come in she would stare blankly at me and say to all around her: “I don’t know this person. Who is it?” causing me great concern.
The twinkle would come in the eye and she would say,”It’s so long since you came to see me I didn’t recognise you”.
To all the care workers. Thanks are inadequate. They were independent and un-institutionalised because of your devotion. You are priceless.
The Keenans and their children and extended O’Hanlon family kept watch and supported in so many ways for which the family express profound gratitude.
Josie died as she lived, with grace and dignity and we are all diminished by her absence. My greatest memory is of her generosity to me as a young only child without a father and of how she and the entire Keenan clan embraced me, and of her intellect.
I paraphrase Goldsmith:
While words of learned length and thundering sound
Amazed the gazing rustics ranged around,
And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew
That one small head could carry all she knew.
Moving slowly over the crest of a gentle hill, man, horse and plough are silhouetted against the evening sky. They seem like shadowy ghosts from a dim era that have returned as a quiet reminder to a world dominated by and crazed about speed.
We cannot put back the clock: but it does seem wrong now to associate ploughing with the tractor and the petrol engine: impossible not to feel moved by that scene, with horses straining, their nostrils quivering and blowing out huge trumpets of vapour: to be without the creak of leather harness, straining team and the voice of the ploughman directing the team … and of the plough itself, as the board scrapes against the rising, turning sod.
Without the plough, Empires would crash and Kings would die: for the song of the plough is a song of life. Perhaps that is why poets and artists never tire of depicting plough and ploughman, and the obedient teams.
“Lily? … Hop off, mare! … What are yeh doing, Daisy? … Up on it. Get outa that, ponies – Ah- h… ! Lily! … Daisy! … Come ‘ere now! Come ‘ere with yous !”
When one joins a ploughman and takes a ‘scrape’ it is impossible to escape the symbolism which the turning earth stirs in one’s mind. A rare feeling of the awful importance of the humble task really sings in one’s blood.
The earth is so conservative: and landsmen just as conservative as a result.
Shortly before I ‘packed up’ – continued Sean Crawford – ‘I happened to be in our crowded local Post Office. A lady with the invincible inquisitiveness of her sex spoke loudly to me. ‘Is it true, Mr Crawford, that you are soon to retire?’ Everyone stopped talking and looked in my direction. ‘Madam,’ I replied shortly. ‘You know me. I have always been of a retiring disposition!’ She herself retired, not having got any change out of your truly. Around that blissful period, before I’d ‘swallowed the anchor’ (to use a nautical anology) I was often subject to some very subtle catechism. ‘Have you any idea who’s going to get your job?’ I was often asked. ‘No’, I replied, inevitably but gently, ‘I cannot tell you who he will be, but whoever he is, I wish him luck. He will need it!’ … more later …