Belfast, The Falls Road, La Salle Park, 20 August 2018 

J.J.

Time nor tide waits for no man” Geoffrey Chaucer

I never knew my Granda but he has always been alive within my heart and soul due to the stories my mother told us about him, the photographs we treasured, and in the home movies we watched again and again and again, as children and young adults.Granda

Through our mother, aunties, uncles, Grannie, cousins and close friends, we piece together his life.

He was born in Carrick on Sur Co Tipperary, in 1898, and was brought up in Wexford, his parents were publicans.

His baby sister, Mollie, died in infancy; about two years old.

Of what? I do not know, at this point.

Many valuable records were lost during the Irish Civil War on 30 June 1922 when, after a two-day bombardment, an explosion and fire ravaged the building, which makes Irish family history challenging.

But not impossible. Some important records were nowhere near the flames. So, I would need to do a bit of digging to find my Great Infant Auntie Mollie.

Mammy also reports that her father spoke lovingly of her Great Uncle Denis, who was stable, sensible, funny and kind. He was a Police Officer, and sadly died in his 30s. 

I’m not sure of what?

Still so many questions.

And, what of his character:

Mammy tells us if Granda wanted something, he would walk out to the hall, or the landing, and holler;

Mollie!
Billy!
Peter!
Denis!
Clare!

He demanded a response.

My mother reported that it was usually her that answered his call, and occasionally, Denis. The others were a bit more defiant, and usually just ignored him.

My mother said he was a Great Man and she adored him. But she felt that he loved our Auntie Mollie more, and that Mollie could do no wrong, in his eyes.

My Uncle Peter would say he was a very difficult man, had a bad temper.

My Uncle Denis said he was no angel.

My Uncle Billy gave no opinion at all that I ever heard, but I am sure he had plenty.

Mammy reports that her father was strict with the boys. And was heated at times.

This fiery temper may have had something to do with his being a Catholic in a Protestant-lead country.

And he sure did have just cause to be angry

My Granda was reputed to be highly intelligent, well-read, devilishly handsome, quick-witted, cheeky, playful, politically-minded, controlling, passionate and kind.

He was a working-class lad who won a scholarship to Queens University in Belfast, gaining a First-Class Honours degree in law.

He chose to go to university in Belfast as he was already in a relationship with my Grannie – and he wanted to marry her.

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Granda and Grannie at her wedding day. Granda’s Best Man was Uncle Andy. The bridesmaid was called Ria Trainor, and was no particular friend of Grannie’s but she asked if she could do it and Grannie didn’t like to say, No!

Unfortunately, after his graduation, he couldn’t practice at the Bar as he couldn’t afford to – as he had a family to raise.

So, instead, he took a job as a Clerk with The Civil Service where he was repeatedly overlooked for promotion because he was a Catholic.

Catholics were second-class citizen in Northern Ireland (Some say they still are, with statistics to prove it* – especially in housing and employment), the discrimination was/is widespread, particularly at senior levels of the public sector.

My Granda was told that they could not promote him to the top post, because he was Catholic. This was written into the contract. It was state sanctioned sectarianism. Even if his bosses wanted to promote him, they simply were not allowed to. They shrugged, possibly even empathized, but their hands were tied. This frustration, all round, may have led to this next fascinating fact pertaining to the life and times of my Granda:

One find day, my Granda received a letter from one Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, the woman he first new as new born baby, The Princess Elizabeth of York, in 1926, and then, in 1936, after her uncle abdicated the throne, he knew her as Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth as her father became King, and then, in 1947, he knew her as Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh.

My Granda watched her grow up, he followed the scandal of the Yorks play out, he saw Princess Elizabeth married to Philip Mountbatten, commenting to my mother, “She really is a very ordinary looking young woman!”

Granda then saw her first two children being born, and the joy that gave her, and later, he saw her mourn for her father, and on 6th February 1952 he saw her take the heavy weight of The Crown onto her young head and shoulders and he watched her as she became Her Majesty The Queen.

And it was as Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth signed this letter to my Granda, the letter that arrived onto his mat at some point in the mid-50s asking him if he would accept an OBE from her, for his outstanding service.

The OBE is the second highest ranking Order of the British Empire award and it stands for “Officer of the Order of the British Empire” and it is awarded to someone for making a great impact in their line of work.

This letter from The Queen was asking him if he would accept an OBE if The Crown were to offer him one. 

It would be an embarrassment to The British Crown if my Grandfather had been offered the OBE and he had turned them down, so this letter from Her Majesty The Queen, was a way to put the feelers out before offering it to him.

I am sure, with a heavy heart, and in defiance, he wrote back, stating that he would not accept an OBE from The British Crown as he had been overlooked many many times for promotion, simply because he was a Catholic. 

Therefore, the Crown did not offer him one.

Naturally, my Granda was frustrated at this oppression and he pushed his children to go as far as they could.

I was fascinated about my Granda and begged for stories about him.

Tell us again, 

Mammy

About Granda

His funny ways?

Was he a nice?

Was he strict?

Was he grumpy?

Was he handsome?

He would have adored you all! That’s for sure, Mammy says,
Tearfully. And she would bring him to life again with another story

Mammy remembers her father going through all the papers in the sitting room, devouring the news, end to end, every bit of it, even the death notices.

A habit my Grannie picked up from him.

He would hold a cigarette in between his lips, one eye half closed, and closely study all the newspapers until his hands were black from the ink. And when he was finished, he would go into the bathroom, fill the sink with soapy water and soak his hands in it for ages. Then he would pull out the plug and watch the black ink suds disappeared down the drain, and say, “That’s where that dirt belongs!”

He spoke his mind and went to the pub every night after work. He drank Guinness and held his cigarette in his lip, whilst waxing lyrical and criticizing the government and generally having the craic.

He never inhaled the smoke, just let it sit there on the end of his lip.

Grannie at home, feeding her children, would wash up the dishes and then take two slices of freshly baked bread and whatever dinner she had made for the children, she put it in between the bread slices and wrap it up in a newspaper.  

She packed the dinner-sandwich into her handbag, put on her hat, coat, scarf, gloves, walked up to the top of The Falls Road and took a bus down The Donegal Road. She then had to switch buses and take another bus out to The County Court, and into the pub that JJ was drinking den, that night.

Grannie arrived into the pub, she was not there to scold him, she was there to have a drink herself with him, and enjoy a bit of craic.

She had one or two half-pints of stout, and then she would take the two busses back home again, and get the bread ready for the morning.

After her fifth child, Grannie moved into the spare bedroom and never left it. JJ would continue to enjoy his night, and would come home some considerable time later. If Grannie was still awake, he may say, Goodnight. I am not even sure he would have kissed her goodnight. But he would certainly retire to the marital bedroom, alone.

He saw Grannie again, in the morning, in the kitchen, and would surely eat a hearty breakfast, with his wife and children, and the papers. He would discuss things with his children, opening up different opinions, and the news of the day.

He loved his tea, and continued to drink it up and until the last possible minute, keeping it in his hand, even in the garden. Before turning it in. 

In the old house on Donegal Road, he could stand outside finishing his morning cup of tea, waiting for his bus. And, as the bus approached, he would finally knock back the last drop, and would reach over the low wall, and leave the cup on top of the window ledge, at the front, where Grannie would fetch it and return to the kitchen, to wash.

This was a functioning, happy family living in a cared for and much-loved house and home on the Catholic side off the Upper Falls Road, in Belfast in the 30s and 40s and 50s. And this house was filled with laughter. And prosperity for the future. The Doyles were striving and thriving.

The girls would marry well, as they were educated in a prestigious Convent School, St Dominic’s, on the Upper Falls, an education in Mathematics, English, Latin, Geography, History. Music, Gymnastics, Divinity and Domestic Skills.

The Dominican motto: ‘Benedicere, Laudare, Praedicare’ (to pray, to bless, and to preach). Members of the Dominican Family all share the same priorities: prayer, contemplation, community, study, preaching.

Both girls were beautiful, bright, bold, witty, socially adept and highly-skilled in the domestic arts such as crocheting, knitting, dressmaking, baking, cooking, interior decorating. 

Yes, the girls will do well.

The girls will be alright.

But what of the boys?

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Grannie at aged 13

 

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