Ted McDonnell, Charlestown in Co. Mayo

Ted McDonnell was born on the 8th of June 1916, in Lurga West, Charlestown, County Mayo. He was christened Edward Francis, in Bushfield Church. His father was Patrick "Sean", and his mother was Anne, nee Frain, from Kilgarriff. He came from a family of nine, a sister Rita died in 1923 aged nine years of age. His other brothers and sisters were: James, born in 1908, Martin in 1910, Jack in 1912, Michael in 1913, Bill in 1919, Catherine in 1909 and Bridget (Bee) in 1918.

Ted has very fond memories of his neighbours during the roaring twenties. He mentions the following: Patrick Hopkins and his wife "Sis" nee Haran, Patrick Lavin and family, whose daughter Mary died tragically in a motor accident in Charlestown in the late 1930’s, Thomas Frain, Kilgarriff, uncle of all the McDonnells, John McDonnell (no relation) and his wife Molly Tiernan, Lurga, Tom Hopkins, Pat Birmingham and his wife Nell Harrington, Joe Dillon, Lurga, and Sean Morris, Lurga.

Going to School in Cloonlyon was a special treat for him. His teachers were: John "Cooper" Murphy, The Mulligan sisters, Charlestown and Mrs Burke who taught in the girls section. Some of his classmates were: Bill Sloyan, Jimmy "Sam" Brennan, Dominick O’Donnell, Jack Keane, Mick Lenihan, Mick Cunnane, Tom, Jack and Jim Gallagher and Dominick Harrison. He enjoyed the 'errand boy' job he got from Mr Murphy on many an occasion. He sent him many times to Bid "Luke Sean" Cafferty’s shop, near Bushfield Church, to fetch the groceries for the School. This shop was later on to become Mulligan’s and operated in later years by Willie and his wife Mary.

Ted has a long list of people from the late twenties and early thirties that he likes to mention: Tony Haran, Andy Vesey, Pat "Butty" Maye, Tom "Alec" McDonnell, Tom, Jim and Bill McNulty, Jim and Johnny Birmingham, Martin and Lawrence Mulherne, Patrick and Anne Horkan, John and Kate Healy, Mick and Mary Kate Doherty, who for many years had a small grocery shop in Kilgarriff, H Gallagher, Thomas Jordan, Henry Frain and the famous handballer Mickey Walsh. As young boys they used to play on "Croic na Mbuacailli" (The hill of the boys), afterwards called Dooney's hill, which to-day is to your right, as you enter Ireland West Airport. The other hill was "Croic Eoghan" in Hagfield. Some of the greatest pleasures I had while growing up was, working with my father. Whether it was saving the hay, working in the bog, or going to the fair in Charlestown, it was all a wonderful memory. While making the 'Reeks' of hay, I was always waiting for the order; "Ted, go to Town, to Murrays Pub and bring back three jars of stout". I saddled the donkey and off I went on my merry way. Boy, were the men delighted when I returned with my refreshments. The bog was situated where Ireland West Airport is now, how things have advanced for the better! Then we often went to the fair, with the mule and cart, loaded with bonhams to sell in town. I enjoyed the town, shopping in Mary Carroll's, buying the animal foods in Michael Gavaghans in Bellaghy, who had strong connections in Kilgarriff.

My father had a famous horse called Teapot and often we set off with horse and cart, loaded with turf, to sell at seven shillings a crib to the following people: Jim Webb, Mary Carroll, Murray’s Pub, Paddy Gallagher, Martin Dunne, Annie Walsh and others. Teapot was often entered in the Races at Tample Pattern sports, which was held on the 11th of August each year. He was a great horse and won many a race. Later on, my father sold Teapot to John McIntyre, Mineral Water Manufacturer in Charlestown. Mr McIntyre saw the horse race in Tample and liked what he saw. He thought that he would be useful for delivering goods to his customers. Well, he had not understood his mood swings and one day while delivering in Swinford, Teapot had enough, he broke away and galloped all the way back to Charlestown. Needless to say, when Mr McIntyre returned home, he was not very pleased. He decided to sell the horse and at a fair in Castlerea, he duly did so. Teapot was bought as a Cavalry horse by a representative for the British Army.

One of the famous characters that lived in Charlestown then was a man that everyone called: Boss Gilbride. His real name was Dominick McBride, and he was a retired American Army officer. When he had a few drinks, having received his pension, anything could happen and often it did. One great story of Boss survives. He went to last Mass one Sunday, feeling the worse for wear, with a few half-ones to help. When he arrived in Church, an elderly gentleman, feeling the worse for smoking too many woodbines, could not stop coughing. Boss got annoyed, marched down to the unfortunate man, turned to him and issued the following order: "Go home and die, you son of a bitch". Boss died in 1953, aged eighty–four years of age. May he rest in peace.

While still domiciled in Lurga West my youthful days were spent enjoying life as best I could in that little world around me. Going to Mass every Sunday in Bushfield Church, meeting all the friends and neighbours and of course listening to all the stories from people who had returned from far-away places. I had dreams too, like every young person around, of seeing the world or at least part of.

I remember fondly the Priests who said Mass for us, Fr Denis Gildea, Fr Gallagher and Fr Kirwan. My next adventure was attending the local dances and looking for the girl of my dreams. The reality would have to wait until many years later, when I travelled to America, my dream came true. More of that later on.

The Dance Halls that I frequented were: Walshe’s Central Ballroom, Charlestown, O’Donnell’s Hall, Lavey, Murphy’s Hall, Lecarrow, Lenihan’s in Shammer, Dunleavy’s in Tavrane, Haran’s in Madogue, and last but not least, Tom Nell’s Hall in Killaturley. From all around they came to those dances, and of course we danced well into the early hours of the following morning, many times returning home alone, and looking forward to the next encounter.

As they say, time moves on, and I had to move with the times, moving to another place. That place was Lincolnshire and Michael Mulherne and myself got a bus outside Honan’s in Charlestown and off we went on our journey through life. The year was 1935, the place: Mr Richardson’s farm, Morton Grove, Lincolnshire, England. The work consisted mostly of harvesting potatoes and beet pulling. I spent thirteen years in England altogether, ten years on the farm, and three years in Coventry. There was a lot of work in and around Coventry, as the Germans had bombed the City very heavily. I spent three years there from 1945 to 1948 and I remember the following men that worked there with me: Andy Vesey, Mairteen Mulligan, Mick and Jack Frain, also the McNulty and Dooney brothers.

I returned home in 1948, mostly to spend some time with my parents, and to prepare for my departure to America. It was a lonely time for me mainly because it was much easier to visit home from England, than it would be from America. I was determined to go and so off I went, purchasing my ticket from Joe PA Mulligan, Shipping Agent. I set sail from Cobh in Cork on the 18th of June 1948 and arrived in New York on the 26th of June. I was claimed by Mike Hopkins, brother of Patrick Hopkins, Lurga.

A grand old lady of Hackfield, Liz Keane, gave me a farewell message, 'Ted, do not forget to visit your uncle, Jim McDonnell in Philadelphia'. My uncle Jim was eighty–two years of age at the time and still working as a Steel Tester. I stayed with him for two days and then I was off to Chicago.

When I arrived in Chicago, I was met by my brothers Jim and Martin, and sisters Catherine and Bridget. I stayed with Jim for a good spell at his home in 2204 Wilson Avenue. Two of my greatest friends during my long stay in Chicago were Pat Brennan and Tom Carroll, who both worked with the Chicago Transport Authority, CTA. Tom Carroll was married to my sister Catherine and Pat Brennan was married to Tom Carroll’s sister Delia.

I commenced work with the CTA on the 6th of July 1948 as a bus serviceman. I lived for a while with my brother Martin, who resided at South Hoyne Ave. That depot where I worked was at Archer Avenue. Slowly I improved my position with the company, graduating to Repairs and Maintenance. In the evenings, when I finished at CTA I did some part-time work at Marshall Fields Clothing store. I then transferred to the Motor Coach company, in Keeler Ave. That company was owned by CTA. This job was close to my new home at 29-46 North Kenneth. I stayed with CTA for most of my working life.

Now, to the girl of my dreams, Agnes 'Sis' Horkan from Kilgarriff. Well we got married in 1952 and my best-man was Tom Higgins and my bridesmaid was Vera Horkan. I had a lovely married life with a wonderful wife and family. Patricia born in 1953, who still lives in Chicago with her husband Tony and children, Britney, Taylor and Bailey; Eddy, born in 1954, who now lives in Arizona with his wife Laura, and Joyce born in 1956.

Some of my great friends in Chicago were: Frank Walsh, John O’Brien, Tom Newell, Willie McNulty, Pat Haran, Ambrose Kelly, Mike Glynn, Gabe Kelleghan, Hughie and Mary Doherty, Jim, John and Mike Phillips.

My loving wife Agnes died in 1995 and is buried in Maryhill Cemetary. I sold my house at North Kenneth in 1998 and bought a Condo at Linder and Lawrence in 1999. My grand-daughter Megan still lives in Chicago, and my other grand-daughter Kelsey lives in Barnacogue with Joyce and Tom Sweeney.

While in Chicago I was a member of the Shamrock American Club and the Irish American Heritage Society in North Knox. Some bars that I frequented were: Emmetts at Milwaukee and Grand Avenue, Jimmy Lynch’s Bar and Galvins and Ryans at Western Ave. I had a lot of time to visit these Taverns when I retired in 1981.

The following words are written of Ted. ‘What else could he have been born for - he took his chances. With his bright heart he gave his greatest gifts to his family with a smile of satisfaction having lived a full and wonderful life. After all, he had something to give which was of great value to them. He followed the path that took him from Lurga West to Charlestown, then on to Lincolnshire and Coventry in England, home again, saying a fond farewell to his loving parents, travelling on to America, and finally returning to Barnacogue, to his loving daughter Joyce and son-in-law Tom.

'What could he do but smile.’

© Cathal Henry 2008