Today, January 11, is auspicious, I hear. I intend to be meditating when 1:11 p.m. comes ’round. Wishing health, love, safety, wisdom, and kindness to all in this turbulent time. May positive change come this year.
It has been an extremely long time since my last post, and for that I apologize. After the intensity of completing my second book while working full time and trying to still keep my artist self alive, I needed a big break from this type of research. Thank you to those who, meanwhile, have been subscribing and posting comments (which I recently answered).
Thinking that I was “finished”, I had arrived at a point where it seemed that nothing more could be found, and I had no more energy to keep trying. Hypotheses needed to remain as they were. While I had unearthed so much material about and for other people, my own direct connections remained where they lay. That my mother had a “junk man” haul off the materials of our basement in 1967, which accidentally included my father’s personal boxes in storage (even containing their letters back and forth across the ocean while he was in two wars), has always meant that I would not have the evidence and mementos he once had about our Mahers. Her telling me that I would never be able to learn more, that there was no information available (having tried to find some herself) only made me want to prove that one day I would, in fact, find it. She left a handwritten list of names and dates and references to Saint Francis Cemetery and to northern Tipperary on papers I found after her death. This is where I began, with breadcrumbs and mostly unlabeled photographs.
I have snippets of memories, stories my father told me, small details he shared, and the memory of reading typed information about the Mahers of New Haven, this having been given to him due to his familial relationship. It was there that I first learned of a “sleeping porch”– a question about which I recall asking with the strange clarity of learning other odd facts in grammar school having to do with the relative temperature of water in a bathtub, for example, or washing the backs of plates when doing the dishes. My father was a quiet man, so conversations with him, precious as they were, have remained permanently seared into my memory. He had thought this Maher story that seemed to have come from out of the blue was something I would want to read.
While my Maher research remains on hold, it has suddenly become possible to learn more about others within the many Irish surnames in my lineage. In the past few months individuals have gotten in touch with me who have used my first book in the way I had intended — to fill in gaps or help begin their own personal research. This time, however, lines have cycled back to my own family! Hallelujah! I appreciate that the acts of paying forward through the years of sharing research that was so time consuming, labor intensive (and expensive) to gather, making some kind of sense of it and putting it out for the world to receive, has cycled back bringing gifts in kind to me.
Recently I met someone who has not only validated aspects of our information, but has given me a treasure — a handmade 1934 graduation album in tribute to my great great aunt, Josephine, principal of Salem School, Naugatuck, Connecticut, in the year she retired. (Some day I intend to publish a book primarily about her, including all the articles and clippings found in scrapbooks my cousins have shared with me.) Quoting from my introduction to her in relation to early Catholic schools in Waterbury, Connecticut in From the Old Sod to the Naugatuck Valley, page 107:
Patrick and Anne Maher’s daughter, Josephine Agnes Maher, born in 1861, graduated from Notre Dame Convent in 1878, after which she became a teacher herself, in Naugatuck. She was principal of Union City School, the first school in Naugatuck to give grades, and of Salem School. She had a fifty-six year long career in education, and an academic scholarship is still awarded annually in her name. (More information and photographs appear on pages 247-254.)
With gratitude to my new friend, I share some Naugatuck history through details from this beautiful artifact, typed with handmade covers, a two-hole string-tied binding with an actual photograph of Josephine included in the beginning, secured with photo corners. This same image was in one of our family’s photo albums. Enlarging the detail of “Josie” standing on the balcony of Salem School, I included it in From the Old Sod on page 252. Now I know the photo was made on June 20 of that year. Then she was waving to whomever took the picture, yet in less than two months, her beloved nephew who had lived with her most of his life died. Her wave, instead, now seems prescient of good-byes that would be said to her students and colleagues only a few weeks after that. Josephine resigned from her long-held position on September 5 and entered retirement with the weight of Joseph Martin’s loss upon her.
Josephine signed both that page and a page at the end, underneath which were signatures of all the teachers, followed by another page of signatures from all the graduating eighth grade students.
Honor Roll student Franklin E. Bristol, Editor-in-Chief of the publication, one of the Josephine A. Maher awardees and speaker at the graduation ceremony upon which this album was likely presented, included an eloquent editorial in the album, a portion of which I include here:
In our first eight years of training, Salem School has…provided us with spacious classrooms, an excellent library and numerous other advantages. Our teachers have cooperated with us in such a way that our studies have been most interesting. Our associations here have taught us to have a sense of security among people and a confidence in ourselves … it matters not what [profession] we choose, providing that it be done sincerely and honestly. Then, undoubtedly, we shall have reached our ultimate goal and our footprints…will be left on the sands of time.
Josephine continuously stressed to all her nieces and nephews how important education and toeing the line was. She certainly left her footprints on the sands of time in our family, famous even to those of us who never actually knew her. A few people with whom I have corresponded regarding our mutual research, however, were proud recipients of her prestigious grade-based award themselves. It is thrilling to meet someone who has memories of or ties to any deceased relatives, akin to walking along the same ground that earlier ancestors might have also stepped upon in Ireland.
When I began to do research about Josephine Maher I naively presumed I could simply walk into Tuttle House or the Naugatuck Historical Society and find a wealth of materials already in place about her. There were some, but not nearly the amount I already had within our scrapbooks. Little did I know it would be up to me to definitively and formally reintroduce her as an historic figure to the town in which she deeply left her mark and influence. That’s a project for another time, but this album will be a very important component of it. For now it will serve to remind me of the generous good spirit in others and of further work that needs doing.
©2018 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair
• My friend, Caitriona, tells me that the Heritage Festival honoring the history of Sean Ross in Roscrea, Tipperary, was a success! The Midland Tribune published three photographs with an article in their section, Roscrea News (though the article appears not to be linked online). It explained, “The cradle of Christianity was honored at Sean Ross, now known as St. Annes, with a prayer service at the medieval abbey and a comprehensive presentation by George Cunningham on the heritage of Sean Ross demesne…During the presentation Caitriona Meagher showed the new O’Meachair crown, symbol of the chieftainship of the clan…young Gavin Meagher from Clonan was persuaded to show off the crown. Immediately afterwards Demesne Manager Barry Noyce and conservation architect Ivor McElveen explained the conservation process on the medieval ruins.”
Perhaps I’ll be able to add a photo from the event at a later date. A painting of Sean Ross Abbey by artist Caoimhe Arrigan may be found here.
• Bill Duffney has received great pre-talk coverage in Waterbury’s Republican-American. He was quoted as saying, “The real evil with which we have to contend…is not the physical evil of the famine but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people [who were responsible for it].” The starvation, he said, was “an effective mechanism for reducing surplus population.”
Many prefer to think of Ireland’s 1845-1852 years as the “Great Hunger” rather than the more commonly used, “Famine.” Duffney explained, “The word famine is a misnomer because it wasn’t really a famine; it was actually politically imposed starvation, caused by the tenacious adherence to the economic theory of laissez-faire…It’s borderline genocide.”
Describing Bill’s lecture at 4 p.m. this Thursday at Quinnipiac University, Hamden, Connecticut, the article noted efforts of the prosperous merchant and shipbuilding Quakers in Ireland to spearhead the setting up of soup kitchens and donating fishing nets to help fishermen resume their work. “Quaker William Bennett moved to create more diverse farming methods [apart from potato crops, which were affiliated with disease], purchasing vegetable seeds that he distributed in Counties Mayo and Donegal. Later, Quakers helped to distribute a much larger government donation of seeds to 40 thousand small holders and helped to plant 9.6 thousand acres.”
Duffney’s lecture will feature information from letters he has collected for the past ten years. “Among the letters he found was a donation from Waterbury, [Connecticut] which arrived in New York’s Quaker Relief Committee on March 4, 1847. The relief committee in Waterbury donated $460 on May 4, 1847, at a time when the average annual income was $600 to $800, Duffney said. Northfield, population 250, sent in $249 in 1847.”
(See Quakers in the World.)
©2016 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair
Two exciting Irish History events are around the corner in Tipperary, Ireland and in Hamden, Connecticut. First, for those lucky enough to be within driving distance of the ancient home of Clan O’Meachair, be sure not to miss National Heritage Week events in Tipperary – particularly on its last day, Sunday, August 28 in Roscrea!
The Sean Ross Heritage Group has organized a series of events that will take place from from 14:00 p.m. to 16:30 p.m., focused upon the importance of Sean Ross Abbey, once the inauguration site of the O’Meachair chieftains. Guest speakers, guided walks, and music will accompany family picnics.
The illustrious historian and author, George Cunningham, will speak about the O’Meachairs as having been priors of Sean Ross Abbey, Monaincha, and of the significance of this site in Roscrea’s ancient history. See his lovely images and text about the Monastery of the Island of the Living HERE.
I’ve sent on my own contribution and hope it makes its way across the pond in time! It’s an interpretation of the chieftain hat illustrated in Joseph Casimir O’Meagher’s Some Historical Notices of the O’Meaghers of Ikerrin. The original, found in a bog in 1692, was “a gold cap or morion, which may have served as a crown, and been used at the inauguration of the O’Meagher…Its ornamentation was undoubtedly Irish, and was identical with some earlier golden articles—lunnulae and fibulae—found in Ireland, and consisted of embossed circles, some parallel and others arranged in angles of the chevron pattern.” (pg. 13) It may be that this cloth version of a crown will be placed upon the head of this year’s chosen O’Meagher/Maher at the event, passed to another in 2017. I only wish I could be there for all the fun! Hoping that folks will share their memories of the day to post here.
For more information email mdobbin at eircom dot net. Download a pdf guide for all the Tipperary Heritage events.
NEXT: Coming September 8 to New Haven County, Connecticut—William J. Duffney Lecture at Quinnipiac University!
On September 8 at 4 p.m. Bill Duffney will speak about The Quakers and Irish Famine Relief at Quinnipiac University Mount Carmel Campus, in the Student Center, Room 225. Registration is required, and a link for that is included on the Quinnipiac Calendar.
“Using original correspondence, The Quakers and Irish Famine Relief outlines the selfless efforts made by the Society of Friends (Quakers) on behalf of the starving Irish during the Great Hunger. The personal vignettes found within their letters bring us closer to the perspective of the people in their place and time. Political and social history, and maritime and postal history collide in unexpected ways.
Bill Duffney is a retired musician, educator and postal historian, who has travelled extensively in Ireland. Bill served for several years as the editor of the Connecticut Postal History Society Journal. Today, he maintains the website, Connecticut Philatelic Projects, and is a member of the American Philatelic Society, U.S. Postal Classics Society, and the Boston Philatelic Group, among others.”
Sure to be a great lecture! Good luck Bill!
©2016 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair
So much about my last few days in Ireland was privately wonderful due to the people with whom I shared many additional experiences. The end of my fourth trip to this magical place was more about re-connecting with people who have already become part of my present while meeting more through the connections of these friends and my stays with once-strangers via airbnb. What my husband used to call my “obsession with dead Irishmen” has come fully into the land of the living. There are no more tears upon leaving, nor a sense that I may never see these people or be here again. It was simply time to come home. It may be quite a while until next time, but I feel there will be another before my life is truly over.
In the multi-location contemporary art exhibition in Limerick, Still (The) Barbarians, that Karen and I saw a few weeks back, Alice Maher’s character in her poetically disturbing video whispered at the end, “Sometimes I am too full of dead men.” The letting go of the dead and the turbulent past is an intentional process that requires constant work, particularly in a place where collective memories seem to fill the air and permeate the land and the buildings that exist upon it. At one of my airbnbs my host actively works to heal individuals’ and the earth’s energy in the historic location he has adopted. The ancient forest on what is now his property is being returned to its sacred roots. The place, without much fanfare, attracts others like me who sense its specialness from its online description. We arrive open, with no expectations but what will be experienced in response to being there.
The drive across from the west to the midlands along a more northern parallel allowed me to see new places that had appeared in my earlier research. That the drive felt oddly as if simply traveling around Connecticut was also interesting, and that a whole portion seemed placenames-wise to relate to Rhode Island. How closely connected the areas were that I had studied in Laois, Kilkenny and Tipperary continued to be revealed, further supporting hypotheses I had made in Waterbury Irish and From the Old Sod to the Naugatuck Valley.
That the weather upon return was more like an Irish summer than an American one was very welcome to me. As I settle back into and pick up my other life again, I hold in my heart the people across the Atlantic who are so dear to me, many with whom I will surely remain in touch. A place and one’s experience in relation to it has everything to do with people and the interactions that are possible with them. Ireland is now not only about physical earthly beauty and the ease with which her people live together despite centuries of tragedy and hardship. For me Ireland is about Jane, Caitriona, Anna, Josephine, Eugene, Austin, Oliver, George, Carmel, Ellie and the Flaggy Shore women, Mary, Lisa, Ava, Mrs. Linnane and her cousin, Mikie and Christina, Mike and Mathew, Simon, Bridget, Anne and all the people from America who came to the Burren to allow their souls to delve in a very special way into the universal well of the Creative. I can only be forever grateful and attempt moving forward to remain focused from the still point that has been returned to me.
Some last photos from almost 4,000 taken, having driven more than 2,200 miles:
If Irish is still spoken there and signs are written both ways, know that you will find beauty and friendliness! Cars will not honk at you. People will greet each other and wave fingers or a hand from their steering wheels when encountering other cars or people walking by the side of the quiet roads.
Jane and I went looking for Kileany, in Laois, as I still wondered about the location regarding a detail in previous posts I had made here: Meagher Women, Some New Connections and The Mahers of Kilkenny. The town seems mostly gone, and there is no sign, although GPS finds the area. Might this formerly strong farmer’s house not far from Saint Fintan’s Well have tied to an earlier William Maher?
Thank you to those who have accompanied me on this journey, literally and/or virtually. May we all be helped in keeping to our paths as our hearts direct us. Slán!
©2016 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair
In Connemara and Mayo the sheep and lambs roam where they will and foxglove grows wild. There are Burren-like places, but with spongy, shrubby plants crawling over the stones. Here they include reds and tans that are mainly sandstone and quartz. A furry-looking green in all its range covers stupendous hills that surround every kind of waterway. I’ve thought at times of Georgia O’Keefe’s New Mexico in another palette or of upstate New York or New Hampshire, but nothing really compares to this. There was not enough time to go into Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden, but the scenery around it was among the most memorable to me in Connemara. According to E. Charles Nelson, when Ireland was underwater the tips of what are known as its Twelve Bens would have been visible as islands.
Mayo is where pirate queen, chieftain Grace O’Malley (Gráinne Ni Mhaille) ruled and the survivors of the Spanish Armada were killed. It is another place, too, where Saints Patrick and Columcille (Cholm Cille) left their marks. I trudged through the south cemetery of Aughaval Graveyard looking for Saint Patrick’s Knee, a legendary stone where a small indentation reportedly never goes dry. The grounds were completely overgrown, however, and their small ruin within has been almost entirely reclaimed by Nature. The magic stone named for Columcille that once existed in the south cemetery on the other side of the street was destroyed centuries ago when a priest decided to put a stop to people’s wishing ill toward each other, which had succeeded with the stone’s assistance.
Enroute to this area, the road to Clifden had been covered over from a landslide and I needed to take an unexpected bypass through the back of Killary that was very Burren-beautiful, quite different looking from the rest of the land this far north. It was full of sheep decorated with multicolored markings designating ownership. The person who guided me at the detour explained that when bogland is on top of a base of stone, extremely wet weather can completely soak the ground to the degree that the water simply sweeps the layers apart. My host of the (very cool) airbnb in which I am staying added that a movement is underway urging farmers not to let their sheep graze on the mountains (which are common areas and should actually not be used by them at all). Between the vegetation being eaten away and those in the business of selling wood removing the trees, the subterranean webbing of so many kinds of roots that used to keep the ground anchored is being eroded. Sheep, he said, are also getting too heavy, which, in turn, translates to people also putting on too much weight. Everything, as always, being interrelated.
©2016 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair
Time to say goodbye to my Ballyvaughan community and the Burren, taking so many grateful memories with me into the last leg of this Ireland journey. My very heavy return box is almost taped up to ship back tomorrow, packing having become a relatively simplified process after so much adventuring here.
Several works have come out of this stay: one completed (having brought the interior pieces with me to be reworked and torn into pages), a box for it to be made back home; one completed mock-up for another book to be made at home; one plan for another book to be made at home; images and recording for a video installation piece to be made at home; the continuation of an ongoing project (Mapping the Invisible) with more progress made; and — a new series begun from this experience. I include here a shot from the studio wall of two of three graphite drawings on vellum (of which there will be more) that will go through a process of wax transfer over photographs that I have taken throughout this stay. The photographs will be chosen from among the at least 100 versions of palimpsests of decaying/paint-peeling walls. Why I chose to draw Irish crochet lace has to do with many things. One is that it was a highly-skilled craft taught to young girls and women in order to provide some means of income during years of nineteenth century starvation.
Yesterday there was a lecture at the college by reknowned model, props and prosthetics maker for major international films — Mark Maher. His presentation and props were fascinating. Among the pieces he handed around for everyone to examine were an actual copy of a cast of David Bowie’s face and the severed head of a man that looked and felt all-too-queasingly-real. Amazing what can be achieved with silicone, paint and hours of painstaking creative labor!
Also yesterday, I received an email requesting me to enter a show that I did not get into last year, the person saying that she still remembers my pieces and recommends that I enter given that there is a different judge this year. One never knows, it may be another wasted entry fee, but it would be lovely to be able to show there…
Last adventure a few mornings ago, a visit to Dysert O’Dea, recommended to me by my new friend who returned to all things home last week. Well worth the trip. Clan O’Dea has been in continuous hold of this ancient well-restored castle in an area that includes a beautiful demolished church and round tower, high stone, ring forts and the gamet. Twenty-five remains are available to see as long as one’s hiking legs hold out.
Perhaps before the day is through I will visit dear Flaggy Shore one more time. Tonight I’ll also visit O’Lóclainn’s to say goodbye to Margaret and where I’ll meet my Johns Hopkins friend who will be back from her class’s field trip to Dublin and tell me all about it.
©2016 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair
If you came this way, Taking the route you would be likely to take From the place you would be likely to come from, If you came this way in May time, you would find the hedges White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness. It would be the same at the end of the journey…If you came from anywhere, At any time or at any season, It would always be the same: you would have to put off Sense and notion. You are not here to verify, Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity Or carry report. You are here to kneel Where prayer has been valid…And what the dead can tell you, being dead: the communication Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of living. Here, the intersection of the timeless moment Is…Never and always.
T. S. Eliot, The Four Quartets, from Little Gidding, 1.
As might be expected, I’ve taken a multitude of photographs. There are several collections going of certain topics. One is of the many instances of houses that look like the classic style we first draw as children, perfect geometry.
The artist’s book that I completed yesterday has a similar structure, though the relationship to these houses was quite accidental. From the side, if the front cover is opened the structure becomes houselike. The internal pages are designed to work as single squares made of two opposing triangles with a series of knots between them. I have called it Still Point, after Eliot. That will also be the title of the show I hope to have with work from this project, much of which needs to be completed after I get home.