Leo's Irish Memories

by Leo Ryan

I paid my first visit to Galway on 2nd July 1941. The reason I remember the date is that it was my 3rd birthday. However all I remember of my holidays is trotting along the platform of Athenry railway station trying to keep up with my late mother. Every Summer after that our mother brought some of us (her children) to her home at Moyne Hill, Headford Co. Galway. 

Moyne Hill House was large and rambling with at least two extensions built on in different eras. There was a short avenue leading up to it from a gate lodge. The household consisted of my Grandmother Mai McDonogh (her husband Thomas died in 1914 and she never remarried) her 2 sons Jack & Cecil and a man named John Nedwell who seemed to do all the house work as well as look after the sheep. He had his room downstairs just next to a huge kitchen with an immense open fireplace. There was a crane in the fireplace and pots could be hung from it at different heights. There were always sheepdogs around ,a dog named Shep and his companion named Lady. 

It was an open house - people were always dropping in. Night time was always exciting because that was the time nearly all the men of the area congregated in the big kitchen. Then when the shutters were closed and the lamps lit the talk would start. I would sit on the hob enthralled, listening to stories of Joe Louis the brown bomber, Bruce Woodcock, Max Schmelling, Jack Doyle the Gorgeous Gael and of course the Galwayman himself Martin ( pronounced Marteen)Thornton. Then when the tea was finished and the pipes lit someone would always start "I remember my father telling me that when he was a child...". I would sit with my mouth open, afraid to breathe in case I would be sent to bed, listening to stories of wild cross country hunts, exciting steeplechases always won by a McDonogh of course, mad cavalry charges led by an officer on a white horse with sabre held in outright arm, again a McDonogh of course, some McDonogh fleeing from the authorities jumping his horse into the Shannon and swimming across. 

If the teller paused to get his breath the ticking of the grandfather clock could be heard coming from the darkness. Sometimes the wind would rise and the shutters would rattle and the branches of the trees would sway against them. Eventually someone would stand up and say he had to go home. Gradually they would leave, some going down the avenue and others across the fields.

My late father worked in the National Bank in Headford in the late 1920s. One day he borrowed a shotgun and went out shooting near Moyne Hill. Not knowing the area he tripped and fell in to a bog hole. He must have looked a sorry sight to Cecil and Jack McDonogh as they invited him up to the house to dry out . It was there he met my mother for the first time and the rest is history. Some time after he was transferred to Millstreet in Co. Cork and spent the rest of his career there. In actual fact he built his house and spent the rest of his life there.

As we grew up we realised that nothing stays the same. Moyne Hill House was demolished and a new bungalow built on its site. The gate lodge was also gone. Trees were cut down. As the older men died the younger men stopped calling at night and as the rural electrification scheme had hit Headford they used go to the newly opened cinema which also served as a dance hall .Much later when I had finished school I used still visit Moyne Hill travelling there by motor bike There were no more stories and I often wondered how much truth was in the ones I remembered. 

Some time after the 2nd W.W. my mother arrived home with a book titled "My Uncle Frank" written by Professor Thomas Bodkin. It transpired that his uncle Frank was my mother's grandfather Frank Mc Donogh of Wilmont House, Portumna Co. Galway. Some 15 years later my older brother found "McDonoghs of Wilmont House" listed in Burkes landed gentry of Ireland - the Irish equivalent of Burke's Peerage. The last find was a photocopy of a newspaper account of a duel fought in Co. Offaly in 1829. Each of these sources had dates which enabled me to write this article.

My story starts at the Sharavogue (roughly half way between Roscrea & Parsonstown now Birr) races which were held on Thursday 5th February 1829. The winner of one of the races was owned by a John Doolan of Derry House Kingsborough  now Shinrone), a man in his mid 60's, while the 2nd placed horse was owned by a William Sadleir of Scalaheen, Tipperary town. In the early 1820's Thomas Doolan of Wingfield Ballingarry Co. Tipperary older brother of John Doolan was immensely well off owning land in all of the adjacent counties including the fairgreen and surrounding lands of Shinrone. His tenants in Shinrone (the Anliffes, Blacknells and the Follingsbys under the leadership of a Davis family) refused to pay him the ground rents. Eventually The Davis family were evicted and the eldest son David St. Leger Davis, who swore vengeance against the Doolan family was bound to the peace. However this did not stop him from trying to embarrass the Doolan family at every opportunity.

to be continued...

Leo Ryan

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