BLACKLION REVISITED ~ 40 YEARS ON

Introduction :

When one takes time to look back on life, there are always people, places and things for which one is, or should be, very grateful. Those who have read my previous pieces on Blacklion etc., which have appeared on the Pelicans?website will, I hope, have deduced that I regard my time with the White Fathers as high among the most formative and enriching periods of my life, thus far.

Most of what I remember of those days, now 40 or more years ago, concern people; my confr?res, the staff and those of the local community whom we were privileged to meet. In mid-August 2007, I was both fortunate and delighted to return once again to the Blacklion / Belcoo area with someone with whom I had shared my studies of philosophy at St Augustine?, a friend of 42 years, Joe McIntyre. I have passed through the area many, many times since 1967, and more recently have stopped to call on friends. For Joe it was his first visit since we left St Augustine? in June 1967.

Joe and I had lost contact as we moved from address to address in the early 1970?, and it is entirely thanks to the Pelicans?website that we remade contact in the autumn of 2005. More than worthy of special mention are Robbie Dempsey and Maurice Billingsley, who provided me with the crucial information I needed to bring my years of searching to a very successful end. A little under two years later, Joe and I met for the first time in 36 years as he arrived at Dublin Airport on 16th August, for an all too brief visit.

18th August 2007

A long, planned, sightseeing detour via Galway, Connemara and Mayo saw Joe and myself back in Sligo on 18th August. Neither of us could have known that apart from our shared history, we both have an interest in the life and works of W.B. Yeats. So, detours via Coole in Co Galway, and Drumcliffe in Co Sligo were all but obligatory. At Drumcliffe we paused to take a few photographs and a cup of coffee. We may have been ?nder bare Ben Bulben? head?but the ?ead?was lost in the low cloud. Sligo town was a favourite haunt for students at St Augustine? in ?ur day?and it was there that memories began to flood back, especially for Joe.

This was his first time back in places which had been all so familiar 40 years before, and at times he was visibly moved as deep, personal and very noticeably emotional memories of days gone by washed over him. I have to say that I was very taken by his reactions throughout that memorable day, as he seemed often lost in deep reflection. Maybe I had taken so much for granted living as I do in Ireland and having been back in these haunts dozens of times since the late 1960s.


W.B. Yeats?grave, Drumcliffe Co Sligo        

Memorial to Yeats, in the car park.


The words on the memorial to Yeats at Drumcliffe, are those from his 1899 poem, ?e Wishes For The Cloths of Heaven.?

Had I the heavens?embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

The N 16 road from Sligo to Blacklion has changed little over the years. The surface is noticeably better, Manorhamilton has a very small by-pass, some roadside buildings have gone and others have come, but all in all it? very much the same as it was in 1967. Leaving Sligo, and climbing the twisty, hilly road eastbound out of the town, the sight of Glencar (seen in the photographs below) with its renowned waterfall came into view. I have always been struck by its beauty, and Joe was no less captivated as he gazed once again in deep reflection on this once relatively common sight and immortalised by Yeats in his poem ?he Stolen Child?with the words:?here the wandering water gushes from the hills above Glen-Car, in pools among the rushes that scarce could bathe a star??


 



From there, our journey took us on through Manorhamilton (no by-pass for us!), and onto Glenfarne, where the Rainbow Ballroom still stands. As members of the ?lacklions?folk / pop group, Joe and I had played there during our time at St Augustine?. Memories of lads to the right, lassies to the left, and a forest of bicycles outside were talked of partly in fun, but also seriously as we recalled the social scene of the time in north Leitrim. Was it the ?allroom of Romance?as played out for an RTE TV series? We can? say ?es?or ?o.?We had sung there, and that for us was sufficient.


The Rainbow Ballroom Glenfarne


Lough MacNean east of Glenfarne  

Leaving Glenfarne, very soon to our left Lough MacNean came into view. We stopped at a lay-by close to where practically the whole college community would have walked on sunny evenings in early summer and autumn. We took in the view of the lake beneath with Thor Mountain to the north-west, and had a laugh ?there is a sign threatening a fine for those who dump rubbish, fair enough of course, but the penalty as shown is in Pounds! Had the euro not reached north Leitrim, we mused? A few hundred metres along the road we passed the junction with the road to Dowra and Drumshanbo, and then paused briefly at the entrance to Loughan House, our former alma mater. We stopped along the road towards Blacklion village, looking back in more ways than one. Familiar views are now somewhat obscured by what were saplings in our time, having matured into tall trees, but the former St Augustine? is still visible.


The entrance to Loughan House
Our former alma mater


A little further down the road, at Lough MacNean Park, we strolled around the more recently laid out car park, jetty and sandstone sculpture. The sculpture with its motto of ?magine an island where all could live in peace; Make it real?struck a chord with us. In the mid 1960s the ?roubles?were a few years away, but we were very conscious of the ?ivides?which afflicted the communities of Blacklion and Belcoo, politically and economically divided by a line on a map, but very much one people, and especially in terms of the affection in which the White Fathers were, and to those who remember, still are, held.


John Byrne and Joe McIntyre,with sculpture, at Lough MacNean Park




 View from Lough MacNean Park 

Blacklion used to be Learga in Irish!

Soon the sign ?n Blaic ?Blacklion?erected near the entrance to the golf club which had been familiar to us in the past, was in front of us, and we entered the village. Continuing straight on towards what was to us the ?napproved?road, we stopped the car outside the last house on the left, once Greene? Caf?, and still home to Bud Greene. A warm welcome and a strong hug awaited us, as we recalled briefly times past. With Bud seated in the car, we turned and drove across the (soon to be replaced) bridge and into Belcoo. Joe was visibly struck by the fortifications around the police station, evidence of too many years of violence, as we took the left fork in the road towards the former railway station. A warm welcome awaited us there, from Mair?ad, Olivia and Charlie O?olan, and from Fr Packie Harrity M Afr., who is related to the O?olan and Greene families. We were treated to a warming glass of Uisce Beatha (whiskey), before sitting down to a beautiful lunch prepared for us all. We certainly were back and it was a joy to experience (not for the first time in my case).

Over and after lunch we chatted about times past and present, and what the local community in Blacklion and Belcoo had thought of the little we students did, whether teaching catechism in local schools, joining other praesidia of the Legion of Mary, doing work on the golf course, putting on plays, singing, working on the golf course etc., etc. Bud spoke of an oil painting which hangs in her sitting room, of St Augustines as it would have been in the 1950s and based on the well-known colour postcard.



Mair?ad O?olan, Joe McIntyre,
Bud Greene and John Byrne

Click to enlarge

Fr Packie Harrity, Mair?ad and Olivia O?olan,
Joe McIntyre and Bud Greene

Click to enlarge

Olivia? very kind gift

Joe McIntyre, Bud Greene and John Byrne
Click to enlarge


Bud intends to present it to the local heritage centre. Mair?ad added enthusiastically that it would be fitting if an account of the White Fathers?time in Blacklion and their relationship with the people of the area were written at the same time. This went down very well. There is a story to tell, but how to tell it is the question. Still, it cries out to be done!

After several happy hours spent in the best of company, the road back to Dublin beckoned, but before Joe and I took our leave of our delightful hosts, Olivia very thoughtfully and kindly presented each of us with a doll she had made, and dressed in an Aran sweater (Mike O?allaghan please take note); ?n memory of your happy days in Blacklion in the 1960s.?Happy they were indeed, and happy to be relived, however briefly, on that day. We then went on our way, and brought Bud home. Before leaving Blacklion, however, one last call was to be made; to the cemetery near Killinagh church, to visit the grave of Peter McKenzie. Joe remembered him from the Priory, and so his thoughts would have been deeper than mine, as I never had the opportunity to meet Peter.

We then took the ?raditional?road via Glangevlin, Bawnboy, Belturbet, Cavan, Virginia, Kells and Navan and into Dublin. We had much to talk about on the way, individual and joint memories, things we had forgotten and were glad to be reminded of by each other. On arriving home in Finglas we talked late into the night, still reminiscing. As they say in Ireland ?t? never late till 12, then it? getting early.?Early; it was 3am!

Sunday lunchtime saw Joe making or renewing acquaintance of members of my family. That afternoon we went with Margaret, to Bohernabreena Cemetery where some of the priests whom we knew, and of course, Brother Paddy are laid to rest. It was a time for reflection of a different kind. We then visited my son? grave, before heading for the last stop of the journey of memories, to Cypress Grove in Templeogue. We had visited Cypress Grove a couple of times during our time at Blacklion, but we called on this occasion in the hope that we would be able to meet Fr Ian Buckmaster M Afr., the White Fathers?Irish Provincial, with whom we had studied in both Blacklion and Broome Hall. Ian was there and greeted us warmly. Over a welcome cup of tea (we were offered something stronger, but gracefully declined) we looked back at photographs taken during our years in St Augustine?, and spoke with fondness of our time there and in Broome Hall, as well as more recent times. The last photograph in my collection, taken at Blacklion in June 1967, featured among others, Joe, Ian and myself, so an ?p to date?photograph was certainly called for!



Blacklion, June 1967
Ludge McGovern, Paul Fletcher, Joe 
McIntyre, John Madden, John Byrne, and Ian Buckmaster
Templeogue, August 2007
John Byrne, Fr Ian Buckmaster M Afr., and Joe McIntyre

As we took our leave of Ian, the trips down memory lane came to an end for this visit. That evening we reminisced about our time in Blacklion, and spoke about what we had individually and jointly experienced over the days which Joe had spent in Ireland. He? been on holidays on the west coast in May 2007, but as I was in south west France we could not meet.

On the following morning, 20th August, I bade a somewhat sad ?u revoir?to Joe at Dublin Airport, as he headed off to visit his family in England before returning to Hamburg. For my part I returned home, packed a bag and with my son, Aidan, headed to Dublin Port to make my own visit to family also in England. The warmth of the few days lingers still, but with a deep sense of gratitude to all whom we met, and to the Pelicans, especially Robbie and Maurice, for helping us find each other so that we could walk together down memory lane. Here? to more visits to come!

John Byrne