Oughterard Revisited

By V.Stone (Nee Veronica Cookson)

The Quiet Man Bridge
John Wayne - resting on the bridge.
Teacher's Residence former home of the O'Dowd family
Leam School House 1877-1959
Veronica 1932
Veronica 1991

John O’Dowd – Leam

My grandfather David John O Dowd came from Sligo to Oughterard in the 1870’s to teach in the National School.  There he met and married Honoria Farrell, also a teacher, and together the ran the school in Leam.  They had some children who did not survive, but they did have a family of six – Martin, Mary Agnes, Michael, Patrick, David John, and Honoria Cecilia (Syl)

Mary Agnes O’Dowd

Mary Agnes the elder daughter was born in 1891and went to the Convent of Mercy School in Oughterard and later to convents in Tuam and Claremorris. She was organist at the church in Oughterard before going to England around 1917, immediately getting a clerical job and finding comfortable accommodation.  She always said how generous and welcoming the people of Preston, Lancashire were – she had no references, relatives or influences so it was really a brave step for her to take.

Her new neighbours in Preston, Captain and Mrs. Stone, who had left Wexford in 1892, regularly entertained her with great stories of their youngest son Joseph who was then in Egypt with the Regiment of the South Irish Horse.  He returned in 1919, fell in love with Mary Agnes and they were married in 1921 and settled in Liverpool.  After several years I arrived on the scene to complete the family.

My First Visit to Oughterard 1932

I can’t honestly say that I remember my first visits to Oughterard – my memories begin when I was 5 years old. My grandfather had become terminally ill and my mother came over to visit him – but this time he was living with and was being looked after by his younger daughter, known to all as Syl, who had a small newsagent and tobacconist shop near the Oughterard church.

As my education could not possibly be halted, I was dispatched to the nearby convent school for six weeks and at 5years and 10 months found myself in a class of First Communicants.  The curate was aghast that I should be included and gave me a real grilling on the basics of Catechism – he conceded defeat and I made my First Communion in the church on the 11th June 1932.  This was followed by a Communion breakfast (boiled eggs I think) in the school.  Later a photograph in front of the Sacred Heart statue in the grounds was taken of me looking very angelic: then photos were taken in the garden of the “Pink House” – so named for obvious reasons.

The “ Pink House”

It was the height of my ambition to spend a night alone in the Pink House, which was just behind Syl’s house, and I did manage it on at least one occasion.  The garden of the Pink House was rather wild and was a source of exploration. There were lots of roses, shrubs and nettles and my pal Peggy O’Brien and I used to suck the juice of the luxuriant fuchsia flowers. I think that we may also have had some dealings with nasturtiums but they are not to be recommended – are they poisonous I wonder?

Canon Conroy P.P. Oughterard

Canon Conroy was in charge of the Parish at the time and always seemed to be wearing his cassock and biretta.  He made us very welcome whenever we visited the Presbytery.  He was a very kindly friendly man.

On one accession on my 1932 visit, the nuns dressed me up in a nun’s habit and sent me along the road to be inspected by Syl and my parents. Everyone was very amused but no one seriously thought that I had any leanings towards a vocation.

Sister Albertus

The nun who caught and held my affection for years was Sister Albertus.  She was in charge of the Holy Communion Class and was an “ ally”. I always visited her on subsequent holidays and went to see her at Galway Convent when she left Oughterard. On one occasion there, she made me close my eyes tightly until she turned on the lights, which lit up the new grotto in the grounds. She was a delightful and kind person.

Miss Quinn

I paid regular visits to Annie O’Brien and her mother who lived in a small cottage round the corner from Syl on the Station Road and I also loved going to see Miss Quinn who lived opposite Syl and a had a shop selling wool and woolen garments – she used to ply me with ‘goodies’ as I sat in her room with full length windows with a splendid view of the Owneriff river. She seemed a very exotic creature to me.

I was also absorbed into the O Brien and Joyce families and had some great fun in the “Plantation” and generally ran wild until I cut my bare foot on some glass and was carried in solemn procession into Doctor  O’Brien’s surgery.  He assured with great seriousness that I would survive and would even be able to cope with school the next day – sad news indeed, despite having a large bandage to show.

Auntie Syl had a help called Barbara who initiated me into the ritual of killing and dressing chickens, Hens were part of the household and I loved to watch them strut about.

After an eventful exciting six weeks, we returned to England and in the following October we moved to another district and I went to the nearby Convent School – to a class being prepared for First Holy Communion.  I was a real authority on proceedings with my classmates and probably a real headache for the nun teaching us!

Oughterard 1935

We next visited Oughterard about 1935and 1937 and I took up with my old pals Pauline Joyce, Peggy and Kitty O’Brien.  We still ran about a lot but we still managed to go for sedate walks from time to time. On these occasions my parents and I used to trudge down that long road from the station carrying heavy luggage.  One year we sailed from Liverpool to Dun Laoghaire, went by train to Wexford for a few days, returned by train to Dublin and took another train to Galway and a last one to Oughterard. Three cheers for the car!

Mr De Valera’s Visit to Oughterard

On one of these early visits in the 1930’s I wandered up the town one day and was intrigued by a large gathering in the Square, outside what is now the Lake Hotel, listening to a speech given by a figure in a large hat? When I asked who he was, Syl said, ‘ that’s Mr De Valera”. I thought that was a lovely romantic name and kept repeating it to myself over and over again. The next time I heard him speak was in 1946 when he addressed the students at Manchester University – he was well received by a packed hall that listened attentively and I heard about ‘Gerrymandering’ for the first time.

The War put a stop to traveling so the next visits were in 1945and 1948 – strangely enough I can recall almost nothing of these holidays except boating on Lough Corrib with Pauline Joyce. However, what does stick in my mind was the frustration I felt at not being allowed to go to the Galway Races – today’ young people would be shocked by such a restriction at the age of 21!

Agnes O’Dowd returns to Oughterard 1950

In 1950 my mother felt a great longing to return to Oughterard, so she spent a holiday there with Syl, leaving my father and me to our own devices.  This was her last visit and soon afterwards Syl sold the shop and before long came to England to help nurse my mother who was ill with cancer. My mother died in 1952 and Syl went to live in Dublin, where she died in 1954. My father and Syl’s brother Martin carried out all the final arrangements and Syl was buried in Kilcummin cemetery. Thus the Irish side of my life rather faded way.

Veronica Cookson’s Life

I married in 1953 and life was very full with husband, sons and a father under my wing.  In 1960 we moved to Birmingham and then had several house moves – all of which kept my mind firmly fixed on keeping up with everyday concerns. However, I never really lost sight of my Irish connections so in 1990 my husband Frank and I came over to Wexford and the following year we divided our time between Wexford and Oughterard. Frank and I have done this each year since then as we enjoy it so much.

As my mother had never given much background to her early life. I tried to recall little details and gossip which I heard years before but never heeded. Like all young people, the present was much more interesting than the past!

Veronica’s Quest for her Roots!

My quest began quite casually – I recognized the name Maam Cross so we set out for there and ended up in the middle of a “Sheep Sale.”   We were directed back to Leam – we had noted the “Quiet Man Bridge” signpost on several occasions but it had no significance apart from knowing the film. We drove down the lane towards the bridge, which was crammed with American sightseers, and there I saw my mother’s childhood home.   It was a very moving experience as I was quite unprepared for the surrounding beauty, peace and especially the waters of the lough lapping almost up to the garden fence.  I can’t put into words how I felt as I stood in the front garden trying to visualise my mother and the other young O’Dowds running and playing nearly a hundred years b before.

Veronica Visits the Old Leam School 1877-1959

I spoke to Mrs. Cahill who lives in the farm opposite. She told me that the house was up for sale and was unoccupied. However, common sense over came my initial impulse – it was too impractical even to consider such a purchase – if only I had won the lottery! Mrs. Cahill said that there would be Mass that evening in the old school, now the chapel.  She let us look inside and I tried to imagine how it had been at the turn of the century with my grandfather in charge.  My mother had always been most sympathetic when I used to moan about the short distance I had to walk to Mass, claiming that she had to walk 4.5 miles each way to church when she was a girl. Frank and I couldn’t resist checking the mileage as we drove back to Oughterard – yes 4.5 miles. Nowadays, my mother would just have to walk across the garden to church.

Veronica meets Pat Gibbons

Mrs. Cahill suggested that I might contact Mr. Pat Gibbons in Oughterard who was in his nineties and who would remember the O’Dowds. We met him that same evening as he was wheeling his bike along the Clifden Road.  He could reel off the names of all of the O’Dowd family members and he could actually remember my grandparents. He ended up by saying that Mary Agnes had gone to England, married and had a daughter. He could not believe that same daughter was standing there in front of him. We must have been chatting for ages on the road – he was an incredible character – a wonderful man who has since passed away.

Changes to the Village

Much of the village remains the same but of course I found many changes and improvements – the renovated old cottages are delightful and have a new lease of life. I found Syl’s old shop has been developed into a flourishing supermarket. The Pink House is no longer pink but is a private house. O’ Brien’s cottage has been demolished and there’s just an empty space there now. On our first visit in 1991 the Convent school was just as I remembered it so Frank photographed me in front of the Sacred Heart statue, holding the original photo of nearly sixty years before.  Now, of course, apartments have replaced the convent – I am so pleased that I had the chance to see it again before reconstruction.  The Church is really beautiful and is a place to be proud of.  The whole village seems lively and busy and so well cared for.

The Delights of Connemara

Since we have ‘found” Oughterard again, we have great pleasure in our holidays here.  We stay at the Connemara Gateway Hotel, which is very welcoming, and comfortable – this year we have two holidays there just six weeks apart. There are several places, which we particularly enjoy, especially the Hill of Doon and of course the splendours of Connemara itself. This year we went to Kylemore, the Burren and Cong as well as many of the villages.

When in Cong we heard a party of tourists being directed to “ The Quiet Man Bridge” and then on our visit to Kylemore recently, I bought a picture of that very “Quiet Man Bridge”.

At the local Fuchsia Craft Shop (Miss Donnellan is responsible for suggesting this article) I bought a video of Connemara which I found included views of the “Quiet Man Bridge” and a glimpse of the O’Dowd house. I also bought a picture of the lovely bridge in Oughterard. Both pictures were painted by Philip Gray and adorn the entrance hall at home.  I feel haunted by bridges! I find it very ironic that my mother’s birthplace was the scene of such prominence during the filming in 1951 – just as she was dying and Syl was no longer in the area. They would have been so surprised and so pleased.

O’ Dowd Family Grave

It is strange to know as Frank and I walk out of the Hotel and saunter down the road, I am so close to where my grandparents, both strangers to me, are buried. We located the grave and just about could decipher the inscriptions – Honoria (1920) and David John O ‘Dowd (1932), their youngest son David John who died 1920 aged 24 and Syl who died 1954 although the inscription gives the date as 1957.  The brothers Michael and Patrick are buried in Boston, USA. Michael about 1942 and Patrick in the early 1950’s. Martin, who had lived and taught in Leam for many years until his retirement and was the last surviving member of the family is buried in Salthill.  My parents are together in Crosby, Liverpool.

I feel sad that after there was such a large family, there is only one grandchild. I think that though it has all been a very interesting journey of discovery, it could have been a lot easier if only I had dated photographs and named the people in them as they were taken. It would also have been easier if my mother had been more forthcoming and I had been more interested.  Perhaps there is a point for both generations to keep family history alive and well when the opportunity is there. I’m now going to be more forthcoming to my family while I still can and hope to make them take an interest when the opportunity is still there.

September 1999

This September Frank and I spent our second holiday of the year in Oughterard. We went to Saturday evening Mass at Leam chapel, which was decorated with reminders of to day’s children with drawings and paintings on the walls. Fr Culloty made us very welcome and suggested visiting the new school.  We also met Mrs. Cahill again who brought us up to date with the local news.

School Registers 1877

On our last day, we visited the new school at Leam, with all its up-to –date equipment where the head teacher made us very welcome. The children were delightful – polite, chatty and interested. Mrs. Kyne showed us the school registers dating back to the 1870’s and we found the entries for all the O ‘Dowd children written by my grandfather David John, and also the entry for Pat Gibbons in 1907.

I feel that the wheel has come full circle and Frank and I would like to thank everyone who helped in pointing us in the right direction.

Note; This article was taken from the Oughterard Newsletter October 1999.  The ” Plantation’ mentioned here is behind the Oughterard Hatchery.  Dr O ‘Brien’s house is now occupied by Mr.Mike Flood’s family.Syl’s shop is managed by Conor Mc Namara – now a small supermarket.

This page was added on 06/05/2011.

Comments about this page

  • Does anyone know if the Pat gibbons you mention was from Derry (aka doirebeg) i once lived in Derry and had a neighbor named pat gibbons

    By Paddy Lydon (30/03/2020)
  • Very interesting read, I am looking for information on sister albertus whom had been mentioned in article above! i am trying to trace my roots & any information on where she moved to in galway city would be appreciated!! She was my gran aunt & I am now living in Galway city & I would like to know where her final resting place is to visit! Thanks

    By Catherine (09/06/2015)
  • Hi, I think Mike Farell could have been my great great grandfather he lived on the bridge in the roundhouse at oughterard, i have posted a message on the message board if you think you could help me with some history i would be really grateful. [email protected]. lovely article. Carla

    By Carla Ashdown (20/07/2011)
  • What a great story we should have more stories told about Oughterard and its people. Thanks for sharing Thomas Monahan Connecticut

    By Thomas J Monahan Sr. (22/06/2011)

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