Launch of book on St. John's Point
By Paddy Walsh
The history of a community comes to life in the pages of Brid Ward’s book ‘St. John’s Point - In Former Days and Now’ which was officially launched on the final day of the MacGill Summer School.
Addressing the launch, the author spoke of the ruins of MacSwyne’s Castle rising like a “huge broken molar” from the grounds at Castle Point. “At night the old castle walls are illuminated by flood light, to remind us perhaps of its significance in the history of St. John’s Point.”
This book is also an illumination - a social history that goes into the greatest of detail of the places and the people that made, and make, up the locality.
“You may ask, what is the impetus that makes someone spend many months, even years, writing a book about their native place? In my case the impetus was all around me, captured in the natural beauty, even mystical quality of my surroundings on St. John’s Point, a peninsula which juts out seven miles into Donegal Bay, a long ‘ribbon of land’ as my late father called it and it was he would draw us daily to the kitchen window to admire the beauty of all around.
“The many moods of the sea, the colour of the mountains, Crownarad framing the town of Killybegs on the west side and the Truskmore range with the sparkling lights of Bundoran at its feet on the east.”
Commenting on the wealth of history behind every stone ditch, over each hillock and along the shore, the St. John’s Point native wondered what use these cold stone monuments of history were if they could not communicate with them and bring them to life in a sense.
“What better way to do this than to cover each edifice with the ivy of human testament - the story of the people, the people who walked the roads, played in the school yards, lived in the cabins. Like those who lived in this reconstructed village of Pulldugh - like the McCallig family of house no. 3 which I have called the ‘Station house’.”
Added the author: “The man who gave me the testament about the people of this house, his grandparent’s house, passed away a few weeks ago but because of his testament we are able to explore again the life of his grandparents Willie and Maryann McCallig from the ‘Stationhouse’ and we learn that there was a great deal to tell about this house and the people who lived there.
“Seamus was able to recall from his childhood memories everything about this house from the furniture in each room down to the date when the extra room was built in 1930 to accomodate the priest who came for the ‘Station’ mass. He could also take us back to the horror of the flu epidemic of 1918 when his grandfather returned from burying two of his children on the same day to find that a third child had also died.”
In the second part of her book, Brid said she had endeavoured to record the more recent history of St. John’s Point covering aspects such as fishing, farming, education and emigration.
“When the long line of fishermen headed off in open sail boats there were no engines, no telephones, no life boats or even reliable weather forecasts, they had to rely on their innate knowledge, their skill and strength. Similarily, when they emigrated - they headed out largely into the unknown with their wordly possessions gathered in an old suitcase. Of course it is fascinating to record their journey and that is what I have done in the chapters about emigration - like the one made by my granduncle Robbie in 1913 and again by my father and his contemporaries in the bleak years after the second world war.”
Included in the book was, she believed, quite a unique story - the evolution of an old ‘long house’ from its first mention on the Griffith’s Valuation of 1857 to the present day.
“This book is not just about the people and places of St. John’s Point, it is the story of every man and woman of the unique townlands of yesteryear and we have much to learn from their stories and reason more to be grateful for them, our ancestors, the stock from whence we came.”
The Director of the MacGill Summer School, Joe Mulholland, who introduced proceedings, described the book ‘St. John’s Point - In Former Days and Now’, as a “wonderful read” and acknowledged the extensive work undertaken by the author in compiling it.
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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