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A lovely tale of island life in the paradise of West Clare

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Illustration by Caty Bartholomew.
Illustration by Caty Bartholomew.

Here is a lovely yarn for ye which, quite literally, comes from very close to paradise in the County Clare and which, I must confess at once, was generated in the local media this week by my friend and former colleague Claire Gallagher of the Clare People newspaper and not by me.

I am simply extending the reach of the story with the additional hope that some of you readers, especially the many with Clare connections, might feel like helping to create an even more lovely yarn with another touch of paradise to it.

This story is connected to the great St. Brendan the Navigator of the sixth century at a time when more and more experts are saying it is quite likely the navigator monk from Munster indeed was the first European to discover North America.

This story is also directly connected to one of the several Coney Islands located on Irish waterways, very different to your own Coney Island but all heavy with history. I have visited several of them in my time, notably being able to drive across to the Sligo island of that name many years ago at low tide.

But this story of Claire Gallagher’s begins with a love story from the fifties and ends for now with a fascinating memoir of her Coney Island life in Clare just published by bright-as-a-button grandmother Mary Meaney a few months ahead of her 80th birthday. It is beautifully entitled "Singing As I Go: A Memoir," and I will lay hands and eyes on it tomorrow because it is currently just on sale in the local shops in Ballinacally on the mainland close to the Coney Island to which Mary went as a 26-year-old bride of an islander away back in 1959 and another Ireland.

Claire’s story reveals that the young Mary Hehir grew up in the Ballinacally Post Office, with its attached farm, and knew little enough about the island out on the river except from what she heard from the islanders coming ashore for Mass on Sundays in Ballinacally and to do their shopping.

And probably that was as close as she would have come to island life had she not fallen in love in her early twenties with a young islander called Michael Meaney who would come out to Mass every Sunday, buy his newspaper in the shop and then stop to read it outside the post office before returning to Coney.

She told Claire, “I fell in love with an island man. He was a very good looking man and I fell for him.”

Wedding bells rang and she moved with Michael, who sadly is now deceased, and spent the next decade happily living on the island farm, raising the first four of her seven children there in the company of the 16 other residents then, having many adventures and never ever feeling lonely. It was the closure of the island school which forced the family back to the mainland as their children grew up.

There are many island adventures which I cannot wait to read about, including a night when she and two neighbors were caught in a storm while making the crossing from the island to the mainland and all were feared drowned by their families.

But Mary has survived hale and hearty and her book is flying out of the local shops in and around the district of paradise where she now resides.

I am not plugging a product at all but this is special. I know the book locally costs about $15 or thereabouts in your currency. I have no address for any of the shops but I would love if a few of you could lay hands on a copy.

Can I suggest that you make contact with my friend Claire via cgallagher@clarepeople.ie (she will murder me for this!) and she, being both competent and angelic, will facilitate you in making contact.

Meanwhile, a mighty granny with a great Irish story told is singing as she goes about her life in the area called Paradise.

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