Dear Gwenn and Austin,
I arrived home last Thursday evening after a delightful trip to Ireland. I was there only a few hours when the feeling came over me that I belonged there. We didn’t have a drop of rain all the while. In fact, there has been a shortage of rain not only there, but also in England, Scotland and Wales this spring.
I covered a lot of territory during my stay and evaluated the country from a social, economic, and educational viewpoint, as well as a pleasurable one.
There were 61 in the group divided into two busloads, each with a guide and driver. In my bus were people from all over the U.S. and Canada. Some had Irish roots, some were native born Irish who are American citizens, and some had no Irish background at all. I was the only one from Chicago.
Breafy House is lovely. We stayed there June 8th and had several free hours during which I hired a car and driver who took me to Ballyhaunis.
I was so thrilled to be there. I recognized all the places. Right across the street from the Friary gate is a store operated by people named Cunningham. Many a time I was in there with my mother when she bought food. Also, I used to buy raisin cookies on my way to school.
At the Friary, I visited with the Prior. Father Delaney was not in. The place is beautiful. I went into the church and sat in the pew where I sat as a child. Your father also sat there with me.
Then I went to the school. The driver took me right up to the convent, which is in a beautiful spot on top of a hill. There was a nun sitting outside, and when I introduced myself and told my story of having been a pupil there 63 years ago, she was stunned.
My regret is that I didn’t have more time; so much had to be said in a few minutes. She knew all the Nuns that I mentioned and I remembered them all. They are now deceased, and she is about to retire herself. She brought me into the school, which has been remodeled in recent years with divided rooms and inside plumbing. Educational material is up to date. I stood and touched every place as when a child. You will never know what a thrill that was.
Ireland has free education for all children to age 18. It doesn’t matter if the school is National (public) or religious. Parents have a choice of private (tuition) schools if they so choose. Educational standards are high and before students get a Certificate of Learning (diploma) they must be able to have training in commercial or vocational crafts so they can earn a living. The best go to college if they can afford it.
Right there on that campus, they have Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational opportunities. On the lawn, there are now three Mobile Units for Vocational training for boys. These are temporary, pending the erection of a building. All end of the year examinations are given by the state.
After visiting the school, I went out the Claremorris Road, past the boy’s school and the cemetery. You and I have relatives buried there. Although things have changed I remembered where every house was and has since been replaced by modern housing. I went all the way up to the bridge over the river. I must have been seen by a woman in a pretty white bungalow by the side of the road, and she came out and toward me. She was a Mrs. McGarry, the daughter-in-law of the people who were our next-door neighbors so long ago. Our properties were next to each other. I told her my story and she was thrilled and regretted that her husband wasn’t home. We went to school together.
So I found what was once our property. It is not worked now, because the man for whom it was bought became a mental case and had to be confined. He too went to school with me. He was a mean kid then and I beat him once with a bush I pulled out of the side of the road because he hit Pat as we were coming home from school.
We had one meadow across the road from the house that had big rocks on the bank of the river. I used to play there when my mother would take the boys down to fish. Those rocks are still there.
My passport is good for another five years so I hope I’ll be able to go there one more time.
Love and Prayers
Mary PS: I covered the South, East, and West (3 days in Galway), Achill Island, and Connemara. Also, Aran Islands – very primitive Ireland and its people have made great progress since the Republic was formed.