A Donegal emigrant, John McGinley, has returned home every year for the last decade to cut rushes at the family farm and bring them back to London where hundreds of people gather to make St Brigid Crosses.
John, was born and reared at Rahanlackey, Dunkineely. The 57-year-old emigrated to London in 1976 and has spent most of his career there working as an engineer in the Underground.
His mother, Mary Bridget, a native of Doobin at the foot of Carnaween, passed away four years ago. His father John died earlier this month, on January 9, just a few months short of his 96th birthday.
There are five in the family. Conal, the eldest, still keeps the farm, although he lives in a house nearer to town. John is the youngest. The three sisters are Anna, who lives in Donegal, Marie who lives in Kildare and Sarah who lives in Leicestershire.
“Daddy would always cut the rushes but Mum was the one who brought the tradition of cross making into our home”, John recalls.
“This is the 10th year I’ve been bringing rushes over to London to make St Brigid’s Crosses and it’s proving so popular now that Tir Chonaill Gaels are starting up this year as well.
“It was something I wanted to do for a long time before I actually started. I’m involved in a lot of charity work and I’m always looking at ways to raise money. There’s so much activity to do with St Patrick’s Day but St Brigid doesn’t get much of a look-in. And I believe she’s as much a patron saint as him.
“One of the charities I support is ACROSS, which is based in Scotland and brings people with severe disabilities to Lourdes. The funds we raise making the crosses at the Heston Irish Centre in London go to support bringing a group of 25 people from the area to Lourdes each year in the charity’s Jumbulance. The reason it’s special is because we bring people who can’t go any other way. The Jumbulance is a jumbo ambulance the size of a coach. There are 25 in the group, 10 VIPs as we call them, 10 carers, providing 1-1 care, plus two professional two nurses, a doctor, a priest and a driver.
“We have around 200 people making the crosses, not just Irish people - we have people from India, Taiwan and the Philippines. They think it’s a wonderful craft form. We put on a good evening, with live music, traditional dancers, Irish stew, homemade bread, raffles etc, as well as making the crosses, and everyone brings their cross home.
“Brendan Vaughan of Tir Chonaill Gaels is a professional photographer who comes down and takes pictures for us. He said the club would be interested in running a similar event this year. Half of their proceeds with go to our work with ACROSS and the other half to the Minor Board.”
Brendan’s not the only one to be inspired by John’s work. He brought a group over to Donegal once and was talking about the Jumbulance trips to Lourdes. A local nurse was so impressed that she organised a group from Donegal Town to travel in the Jumbulance to Lourdes as well.