Monday, July 28, 2014

'The big guns are coughing...': Commemorating Irish lost in World War One

"I am calm and happy, but desperately anxious to live. The big guns are coughing and smacking their shells, which sound for all the world like overhead express trains...Somewhere the Choosers of the Slain, as in our Norse story, are touching with invisible wands those who are to die."

                                                                                                                  —Thomas Michael Kettle, 
                                                                                                                   in the field 8 September 1916.

These words of poet Thomas Michael Kettle, a first cousin in my maternal line, were written in a letter to his elder brother Laurence the night before Tom was killed. Tom's words speak to the experience of many like him who found themselves on the battlefields of Europe during World War One. They are words that emphasize the madness of war, the random nature of death in the field, and the sense that little was within the control of the soldiers as they languished in the trenches or moved through No Man's Land. As we mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One, there is more than ever before an emphasis on commemorating the loss of those individuals who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of Europe.

Since 2010, I have written a number of articles about the Irish and World War One, including those about members of my family who made the ultimate sacrifice during the war. As a part of the first Geneabloggers World War One Challenge, I have chosen seven blog posts and listed the URLs below. I hope you will revisit these stories — just click on the blue titles — along with the stories of the family members of many other bloggers, a listing of which appears on Bill West's blog West In New England.

This call for volunteers appears in
The Daily News and Leader newspaper,
London, England, 1 September 1914.
The war was just weeks old and already
the number of recruits was climbing toward
what would eventually be in the millions. 
1. ’On a celtic cross, a young man in a photograph: World War One’

2. ‘It all began with a bronze plaque: Remembering William Dunne 1880-1914’

3. 'A portrait trimmed in black crepe': William Francis Pell: 1891-1915

4. ‘William Dunne & William Pell: Following the road of my two Williams’

5. ‘Too many names upon these walls’: World War One Commemoration

6. ‘A very special journey with a remarkable book of poetry’: Tom Kettle 1880-1916

7. ‘Commemoration in the landscape: The Irish National War Memorial Gardens’


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sepia Saturday #237: 'Tripping the light fantastic' in the ballrooms of Dublin

Mary Ball and Michael Geraghty on the right with friends on their way to a night of dancing.
My mom Mary is holding a box of chocolate given to her by my dad Michael.
Mom recalled this photo as taken early in 1952, a couple of months before her 21st birthday.
She was 20 years old, and they had recently become engaged.
For a while I have been away, in England and in Ireland conducting research for my history work and attending an Irish Studies conference, but now I am home and ready to step back into the swing of things with Sepia Saturday. There could not be a better subject than dancers and chiffon because it reminds me of the stories my dad and mom used to tell me about their dancing days back in Dublin.

When my mom and dad, Mary and Michael, were 'courting' they often went ballroom dancing with a large group of friends. Dad used to call it 'tripping the light fantastic', a phrase popular in the 1940s, which means graceful dancing to musical accompaniment, and in the case of my parents, dancing in an especially graceful manner. According to one of Mom's sisters, they were a stunning couple on the dance floor, moving beautifully and attracting more than their fair share of attention. Their usual haunt was the Olympia Ballroom in Dublin, but they also danced at the Hotel Metropole and the famed Gresham Hotel.

When I was a child, I used to daydream about Mom and Dad going dancing, and imagined her dress swirling as they waltzed around the dance floor, so journey back in time with me, to those evenings when Michael brought his girl Mary out to trip the light fantastic on the dance floors in the ballrooms of Dublin City.

Mary loved to get dressed up. It took her out of the everyday world of duty and discipline that she knew at home. Mary said Michael never looked so fine as he did in his evening clothes. Everything about him was beautifully pressed and finely presented, from the top of his mass of wavy blond hair to the tip of his perfectly polished shoes. More often than not, the beautiful evening wraps and fur stoles Mary wore were borrowed from older relations. The little jewelled evening bags Mary carried were typically the result of months of saving the money she earned at various jobs.

When Michael arrived at her home to pick up his girl Mary, he usually brought with him a small bouquet of flowers, or a corsage Mary would wear at her waistline or décolletage, along with a beautiful assortment of Butler's chocolates in a box wrapped with a lovely ribbon. Before he was allowed to escort her out for an evening of dancing, Michael was required to come into the Ball home at 7 pm, to pray the rosary with Mary and her family, as it was their practice to do this every evening. Stern warnings about proper behaviour followed, given to them by Aunt Alice, and then they were off to enjoy themselves.

Unfortunately, I am unable to identify everyone in the image, but here are the names of those I do know:
Seated on floor: all unknown
Seated in chairs, left to right: Mary 'Mollie' Magee Halpin, Mary Ball, Mary 'May' Halpin Daly Barnwell, unknown
Standing, left to right: unknown, Michael Geraghty, William 'Willie' Halpin, Richard Barnwell, Seamus Barnwell.
One of Mary's favourite events was a charity ball, a dinner/dance, at the Gresham Hotel. Everyone in their group of friends pitched in as much money as they could, and they hired a car to take them to the hotel. Mary said she felt like royalty as the car pulled up in front of the Gresham. The driver opened the car door and gently took her hand to help draw her out of the car. She giggled to herself over all of the people watching them, knowing full well that she, her beau Michael, and their friends had spent their last ten pence to pay for the tickets to that dance and to hire that car. She loved feeling as though, for just a few minutes, their group of friends was the centre of attention that night.

After my parents and brother emigrated to Canada, and I came along, there were fewer evening soirées. There was no ballroom in the city in which they settled, and their days of tripping the light fantastic were fewer and far between. Nevertheless, anytime Mom and Dad had the opportunity to go dancing, they looked forward to it with delight. When they did go to dances, in the early evening while Mom was getting ready, Dad would sweep me up into his arms and dance me around the room happily proclaiming, "We're off tonight, we'll be tripping the light fantastic".

My mom used to say that my dad had 'a terrible habit' of tucking her up under his arm so that she looked
as though she was tipping sideways. Mom didn't much care for this photo, but I love it.
It is 1949, Dad is 20 years old and Mom is 18. Dad looks thrilled (and maybe a little nervous) to have her on his arm.
Mom made the evening gloves she is wearing.

My mom described this dress and wrap as having very fine lace trim
 and little pearl beadwork over the floral fabric on the bodice.
My mom had cut-out the photo to make it look like a fashion doll.
I have loved this photograph of my mother ever since I was a young child.
Be sure to stop by the Sepia Saturday Blog to see how others have interpreted today's inspiration image, and perhaps you'll be inspired too.

Images in this post originally appeared  in 2012.
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