Claregalway Bliantha Fadó
Qualter's of Gortcloonmore
Bernadette M Redmond, Author
Claregalway Years Ago
When I was a child the mere sight of the Claregalway Friary ruins coming into view was enough to set my heart racing and tie my stomach in knots of anticipation. Eight weeks of fun and freedom ahead as our car turned at the sign for Cloonbiggen. To call it a road would be a kindness. It was wider than a path and its rutted appearance indicated steady use, but since it petered out back in Gortcloonmore, down the bog, or became a back way into Waterdale and Loughgeorge, asphalting was a long time acoming.
I have always loved Claregalway but it was only when I retired that I found the time to appreciate it. I started with the family tree and soon realized that aged female cousins and neighbours were a mine of information about their younger selves. There is never any shortage of lore about men’s doings, but women are a lot more secretive, or perhaps circumspect, is a better description, so asking questions about long remembered times became a priority if I was to record the Claregalway of my childhood and its simple pleasures. The secondary reason I wanted to memorialize my childhood was to dispel the appalling ignorance about life in my youth displayed by my daughter and two grandsons. With luck, what they knew, would fill an iPod screen!. As my Dublin Gran was wont to say ‘You don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.’
‘The Summer Children’ is a memoir of long summer holidays spent in Claregalway with my mother Julia Loftus’ family from 1944 to the mid 1950’s. Following my mother’s premature death in 1947 I lived with my paternal grandparents in an inner city area in Dublin recalled in my memoir ‘I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls’.
My annual sojourn to Claregalway was like another world where my two siblings and I ran free and wild ignoring edicts from our elders and betters to keep away from the river stay out of field with the bull in it, not to eat or drink anything from Bina Lenihan’s kitchen and not to annoy the neighbours. In the early years we stayed at my maternal Grandmother, Mary Bridget Loftus’home in Cloonbiggen. My Aunt Sarah (Madden), her brother Séameen and the mysterious ‘Kerins’ lived in the home but were out harvesting all day so we spent most of our days in’Backingart’ over the bog road. It was years before I realized that this was the townland of Gortcloonmore.
During this era the Qualter house, the home of my Great-grandmother was occupied by Grandmother’s brother’s family, Martin Qualter and Bid Noone from Cloon. When my grandmother went to her mansion above, our holiday hospitality was taken over by my Aunt May Duggan, my mother’s sister in Cregboy. It was one of the neighbours, Minnie Morris in the then sparsely populated Cregboy, who named the Redmond Children the Summer Children because, with seventeen children of her own, and a dozen neighbours children nearby, remembering three more names was beyond her patience. As it was May Duggan’s seven children were known collectively by Minnie as the ‘Cregboy Duggans’.
It was as an 8y old in Claregalway that I learned to hold my ground against bullies. Tho’ catatonic with fear as I was fairly certain that either God, or, more likely, Canon Moran, whom I was enraging, was going to strike me dead. Ordering me and my young cousin, Winnie Duggan, to fetch golf balls he was whacking down Hession’s field I refused, with the excuse that my Aunt May was waiting for the water we had fetched from the nearby pump. He became more and more apoplectic with rage at each refusal on my part. At some point I realized that I had reached a plateau beyond terror and prepared for death. However I learned that while I might have been ready to die bullies couldn’t kill me, and God did not strike you dead if you stood up to them. Anything else was a bonus! Granda Redmond’s maxim was that ‘gumption’ was not something you licked off the stones. It should be in your bones. That day I discovered it was, so when the Canon eventually roared at me ‘Cén t-ainm atá oraibh’, Cé as thiú meaning ‘Who are your people’? I would have been able to tell him back to the third generation if I had not been rescued by Pat Cullinan!