One of my very first blogs was called ‘Grandmother’s Parlour’ and it was about the house in Shanakill where my late Father grew up. It came about because of a request from Martin Bourke, a local historian, to write a piece for a book ‘Clonmore Through the Ages’ (2018).
When Josephine Coffey, who I worked with for several years when I was Chair of Killea Cultural Group , a Voluntary Community Organization (along side Joan Egan and later Gerard Coffey), asked me to write a short essay , for her soon to be published book about Killea, I immediately thought of my Late Aunt Josie’s house in Kilkip, Killea.
Josephine Egan (nee Meagher/Maher) was my late Father’s only sister, adored by all four of her brothers. Pictured below at an event at my sister Mae’s home in Thurles in the 80s, this is probably one of the only images of the five siblings together in later life.
My Uncle Liam is on the far left. Liam was a respected teacher at the college attached to Mount St. Joseph’s Abbey Roscrea for most of his professional life and editor, with Ciaran Brady (former Editor of The Irish Times) of their centenary publication entitled ‘Céad Bliain Faoi Rath: The Story of Cistercian College Roscrea 1905-2005’.
Uncle John was a priest based in Montana in the USA.
Daddy is on the far right back row.
To the front sits my Aunt Josie, beaming, that twinkle in her eye, and beside her my late Uncle Eddie (or ‘Neddie’, as he was also known locally).
Almost all the immediate family (including her siblings and nieces and nephews) were able to be at this gathering in the late 80s. Those who could not were so disappointed. I love this picture , taken by Mae, after Uncle John had celebrated mass that special evening.
Egan Family and Killea Neighbours
Aunt Josie married Jim Egan in the late 1940s and moved to Killea, his home place. A fine gentleman, Jim died young in 1970, the year I was born. My Aunt was blessed with wonderful neighbors all her life – her husband’s family the Egans, the Kenneallys who regularly called to check on her, in particular Lan, and many more, too many good people to name here.
Visiting Aunt Josie
I frequently visited Aunt Josie’s with my parents as a child. Daddy would park his car at ‘the big gate’ and we would then walk a little up the roadway to the grey gate at the top of the stone steps, that lead into her courtyard.
I would sit quietly and listen to Daddy chat with her. He would call to check in on her regularly – as did Liam and Eddie, who lived in Ireland.
If Mother was with us, on an evening visit or a Sunday afternoon, the chat would go on longer as Aunt Josie would ask about all the family and how they were doing. She was so kind and thoughtful of everyone.
This gate holds particular special memories for me. Decorated with wild flowers growing on either side of the wall , on opening the gate and walking down the steps, there was a sense of magic in the air.
There were beautiful buildings all around the yard, some for butter making or domestic use in earlier years, others for animals in winter that needed shelter, and one lead out to the back yard where the hay barn was situated.
Only last weekend myself, Seosamh and the boys, popped up to Killea to visit Tim’s grave, and we called to Aunt Josie’s on the way home. The gate and those steps still evoke memories of peaceful happy childhood days.
On entering the house Aunt Josie was usually sitting by the range and there was always a reserved warmth – a ‘twinkle eye’ hug. In those days a kiss on the cheek was not the usual way of expressing love to family who visited.
Under the stairs there was a press that was overflowing with biscuit and sweet boxes, so it would not be long before tea was made, and the goodies would be brought out for dispersal. At this stage we would move to her kitchen table, that was situated under the front window. The table had wooden legs and Aunt Josie stored her pots and pans underneath it.
My late Uncle John could not be there so often, but when I visited him in 1989 in Montana, he spoke about his care and love for his sister Josie frequently. He was very ill at this time and it meant so much to me to visit him and get to know him a little more.
I even found the note Aunt Josie sent me before I went to the States that year , which of course she had put a few pounds into for me. She had lovely hand writing, very similar to her other siblings. And she was so generous and kind.
Observing the Details
I liked to look around the room on these visits to her home and observe every little detail. She always covered her black telephone with a silk scarf to avoid dust. The phone sat on a beautifully carved side board that was placed at the back wall of the kitchen.
The stairs was another fascination to me, as the room at the top was rarely used, so I never actually got up to see it. Years after she died when in the house, I decided not to go up, though I had the opportunity – happy to leave the mystery alive as what might or might not be up there!.
Her own bedroom, just off the kitchen to the right, had the most beautiful wooden carved ceiling. These ceilings in old vernacular Irish houses were so unique and one rarely sees them now.
In the summer time myself and some of my siblings, Tim and Terri in particular, would go up to help Daddy ‘draw in the hay’ for Aunt Josie. In the later years Tara, my eldest niece, also helped . This was a particularly enjoyable experience, as the load of saved hay was brought up the steep hilly roads of Killea, to her shed, and we were allowed to sit on top of the load, relishing the views, not a care in the world.
Once the tractor got into some serious difficulty on the steepest hill and started to go backwards, dragged by the weight of the load of hay. I recall everyone on top getting very anxious. But we did get off the load safely. A day not forgotten. My poor Mother, on the other hand, lived in fear, forever after, of the hay season and thanked the Lord, when we would finally return home safe and sound in the evenings.
Christmas in Killough
Aunt Josie spent Christmas day with us in Killough every year. Tim would drive her back to Killea in the evening and I always felt a little sad to see her go. I thought she was very brave to live on her own, but she had such tremendous Faith.
Tim is very much on all of our minds this, his birthday week. It is a very emotional time for us all, in particular Tina and Darragh. The 2nd anniversary of Tim’s death will take place on August 11th at 4pm in St. James’ Graveyard Killea.
Aunt Josie became ill in the mid 1990s. I drove up to see her one afternoon, around this time, having recently moved back from Maynooth to live with my parents in Templemore. We sat at that table, the sun shining in the window. I remember it vividly. She did not look well and we both knew her days in Kilkip were numbered. I walked out the door that day and towards the steps and burst into tears as I closed the little grey gate behind me. Somehow, I knew that was the last time I would visit her there.
She soon after went into hospital, and from there to Villa Maria in Roscrea where she died peacefully in 1999.
Little Things Mean so Much
I remember the day Daddy, knowing my love of all things old and a bit battered from wear, arrived down to my Studio at Roscrea Road, after Aunt Josie had left the house, and he brought me her big dark brown hay saving tea pot, which now has pride of place on our dresser here at Greenville.
Daddy also brought me her iron cast bed – that needed repairs!. I eventually got around to it, many years later.
In the image below we see some of Joss’s friends here at his 12th birthday party, all seated on or around Aunt Josie’s bed, looking at a movie. It is so extraordinary to still see it used and loved in this way.
Devine Brothers Creative Studio!
I also acquired, from my brother Eamonn, the table that meant so much to me from her kitchen and a big Irish country press from the parlour that needed serious work (thank you Christy Cleary Templetouhy).
In this image below we see Étienne with two of his friends from Killea, Noah and Luke Quinlan, playing lego at the table.
Below we see Don and Joss with one of their friends, Kevin, eating pizza at the table. The big old Country press has a powerful presence. The dresser you see at the back wall came from Shanakill, so it was owned by Aunt Josie’s parents, my Grandparents, and it was given to me by my dear cousin and God mother Fiona Maher. Now it is full of lego, made by the boys.
Aunt Josie was a humble lady, who must have had lonely moments in her life. Her spirit remains with me to this day . I could even remember the lovely scent from her home, as I wrote this piece.
I so regret I was never able to buy this precious place and bring it back to life.