The diary of Pat McNamara, the schoolmaster
One hundred years ago today on the 17th December, 1902 Pat
McNamara, the schoolmaster so fondly commemorated in the
beautiful and touching ballad 'Kilkelly Ireland',
died in Orlar near Kilmovee and close to the Roscommon border
in this part of East Mayo.
Pat taught in Tavrane school and walked the four miles to
and from the school throughout his long years in the profession.
Born on the 6th March, 1830, he married Catherine Finan
from Loughglynn and they raised a family of nine children,
five sons and four daughters.
One of the family, Jim was to continue the teaching tradition
and with his wife Annie (nee O'Grady) later taught
for many years in Tavrane school. Indeed the McNamara association
with this school was maintained right into the 1960s.
Pat McNamara, the schoolmaster in the song, was grandfather
of Hugh Flatley who now resides in Tubbercurry and formerly
of Aughadeffin, Kilmovee. A diary maintained by Pat has
been in Hugh's possession for many years as well as
a number of photos, documents and others items that throw
an amazing light on the social life of a rural community
over a century ago.
Few people were able to read in many parts of rural Ireland
back then. Literary people like the local school master
were in demand to render a host of services such as writing
letters to family members of neighbours and friends away
in America or England. Neighbours would come to the schoolmaster
or priest and convey to them what they wanted to say in
It was clear that Pat McNamara provided a fine service for
the people of the area. Back in the 1970s or early 1980s,
Peter Jones, an Amercian born composer whose great grandfather
was John Coyne from the general Kilkelly area, found a batch
of old letters tied together in a box in the attic of his
parents home in America.
These letters had all been posted in Kilkelly and as he
poured through them he was overcome with the emotion which
re-united him in an extra ordinary way with the land of
The end result of Peter's deliberations was Kilkelly,
Ireland, the poignant story of a father who sees his
sons emigrate from Mayo to America, never to return. But
the words of friendship he so lovingly dispatched, with
the help of Pat McNamara his friend, convey so much beauty
and hidden heartache that they stand out in the classic
The words in the song are taken directly from Mr Coyne's
letters as dictated to Pat McNamara and thus carry a powerful
resonance which cannot fail to touch the psyche of people
raised here in the rural West.
A whole history of a family is unfurled before our eyes...
and the song finishes with remarkbly touching lines of the
brother at home finally taking over the father's duties
in writing to the'lad' in America- And its
funny the way he kept talkin' about you, he called
for you at the end.
The song was first recorded here by Danny Doyle and a number
of other versions, including one by Jimmy Whittington from
Charlestown, have also been put on albums. Peter Jones,
the writer of the song, visited Kilkelly a few years ago
and was honoured by the locals on that occasion.
Reading Pat McNamara's diary is like unearthing a gem.
It is a treasure and records the day to day events in the
fields and the countryside. The writing is small but remarkably
clear and well preserved through the ages.
Though they are a number of diary entries for August and
September, 1879, there is no mention at any stage of the
apparition some miles away in the village of Knock. Instead,
like so much of the diary, matters are all relating to the
land. The entry for August 14th, 1879 notes- Bid Glavey
On June 17th, 1880, we find the following detail: John
Coyne's cart and Pat Morley's ass drawing turf.
Paid John Coyne 2/-.
So detailed are some of the entries that over a six day
period in late August, 1880, he notes the amount of stooks
of oats he cut each day, coming to a grand total of 195
at the end of his labours on September 1st.
1880 September 30: Kitty Wier, Mary Coyne, Nelly Keane,
Mary Duffy ( Harry), Biddy Mc - spinning wool, finished
about 5o'c. October 16- John Glavey (Owen), Owen Cafferky,
Pat Harkeson, Mick Tarpey, Sonny Tarpey, Biddy Harrington,
Pat Hopkins, Thomas Boyle, Pat Duffy, Mick Coyne, Sonny
Connolly, Bid Glavey commenced digging potatoes.
On July 21st 1883, Harry Henry's horse and cart was
drawing turf and he was paid 3/-. James Feeney, Mary Callaghan
and Winnie Callaghan were reeking and filling turf on the
road. Owen Cafferkey attending at reek. Thomas Sharkey,
mare and cart from 3o'c till night. Paid 3/-. Thady
Glavey, assisted at reek in the evening.
There are mentions of such matters as filling old
streets, building walls, finishing threshing, spreading
manure, rolling the oats, Pat Morley thatching stacks
and barns with Mick Tarpey, Orlar, attending.
On January 31st, 1891 Pat notes James Bones splitting
bogdeal, 2 whiskey. And on February 5th, we see Michael
Kenny bought 48 palm plants, finishing planting all 14th
February 91. In April of that year, Mick Henry ploughed
for potatoes, 35 ridges, headlands and all.
It appears as if the women did a lot of the work when it
came to turning out the turf from the bog to
the road. There are several pointers to this fact. One such
refers to June 25th, 1891: Mary Brennan, Anne Phillips,
Bid Forkin, Margy Hunt, Catherine Cafferky, Catherine Forkin
- commenced turning out turf on road.
On the 17th and 18th June, 1892, there is the following
entry: Mark Lydon built chimney to the back of the
kitchen chimney and supplied chimney stones and spud stones.
Paid 10/- for doing all. Pat Morley's ass and
cart were easily the most in-demand services
as noted on several pages of the diary.
1896: April 3rd Bridget Henry- sticking potatoes, April
9th - Mick Henry shook and harrowed oats assisted by John
Grennan. April 18th - Shaking special, 3 bags, went to bog,
cutting turf, Day wet from 11. April 27th - Rolled oats
evening (Mick Henry). May 24th - Ellen Henry drawing out
turf. Oct 13th - Finished early, fencing after till night.
*The McNamara family resided in Orlar in the home where
Mrs Nora Conroy (nee Grennan) lives today. Pat and Catherine
McNamara are resting in peace in the Abbey cemetery on the
shores of lovely Orlar lake. One hundred years on, we remember
them and their generation in a special way this day.
Kilkelly Ireland, eighteen and sixty, my dear and lovin'
Your good friend the Schoolmaster Pat McNamara, so good
as to write these words down.
Your brothers have all gone to find work in England, the
house is so empty and sad,
The crop of potatoes is sorely affected, a third to a half
of them bad.
And your sister Bridget and Patrick O'Donnell, are
going' to be married in June,
Your mother says not to work on the railroad, and be sure
to come on home soon.
Kilkelly Ireland, eighteen and seventy, my dear and lovin'
Hello to your misses and to your four children, that they
may grow healthy and strong
Michael has got in a wee bit of trouble, I suppose he never
Because of the dampness there's no turf to speak of
and now we have nothing to burn.
And Bridget is happy you named the child for her, although
she got six of her own
You say you've found work, but you don't say what
kind, or when you'll be comin' home.
Kilkelly Ireland, eighteen and eighty, dear Michael and
John and sons
I'm sorry to give you the very sad news that your dear
old mother has gone.
We buried her down at the church in Kilkelly, your brothers
and Bridget were there,
You don't have to worry, she died very quickly, remember
her in your prayers.
And it's so good to hear that Michael's returning
with money he's sure to buy land
For the crop has been poor and the people are selling, for
any price that they can.
Kilkelly Ireland, eighteen and ninety,my dear and lovin'
I suppose that I must be close to eighty, its thirty years
since you've gone
Because of all of the money you sent me, Im still living'
out of my own
Michael has built himself a fine house, and Bridget's
daughters have grown
And thank you for sending' your family picture, they're
lovely young women and men
You say you might even come for a visit, what a joy to see
Kilkelly Ireland, eighteen and ninety two, my dear brother
I'm sorry I didn't write sooner, to tell you that
father has gone.
He was living with Brigid, she said he was cheerful and
healthy right down to the end
And you should have seen him play with the grandchildren,
of Pat McNamara your friend.
And we buried him alongside of mother, down at Kilkelly
He was a stone and a feisty old man, considering that life
is so hard.
And it's funny the way he kept talkin' about you,
he called for you at the end
And why don't you think about comin' to visit,
we'd all love to see you again.
Courtesy of Michael Commins of The Western People.