Hugh Flatley and the Kilkelly Ireland Song

Interview with Hugh Flatley

On reading, in the Western People, I discovered that Patrick McNamara was one hundred years dead, I began thinking that there must be more to the man than met the eye, other than his letters to John Hunt in America. Mr Hugh Flatley (grandson of Patrick McNamara), who now lives in Tubbercurry, County Sligo, is a quiet man, who takes things in his stride. He is not a proud man, but quite the opposite, he lives quietly and does not let his famous grandfather upset his routine. This I discovered when I rang him and asked if I could possibly see him and ask some questions about his grandfather. He readily agreed and I drove over to see him, not knowing quite what to expect. It is hard to describe Hugh, he is now in his eighties, and on seeing him, one would never think it. The question that I asked him if he was proud of his grandfather, he looked at me and said, "sure it is all part of life". This to me, made me realise that here was a man whose grandfather quite unwittingly had written to John Hunt, in America, not knowing that one day those very same letters would be put to music and become world famous, in the nature of "The Kilkelly Song", written by Peter Jones. Hugh is not the type of person to broadcast to the whole world that it was his grandfather, who wrote the letters. I decided there and then to make sure that Hugh should be better known.

Hugh told me of his grandfather's sons and daughters, who, like himself, were to take up that most difficult of professions, teaching - one son and daughter were to follow in their father's footsteps and teach in Tavrane School. Another two of his daughters were to go to Dublin and teach in The Nall, another daughter was to go to England and teach there, so one could say that it was a family tradition to become a teacher. It would appear that Pat McNamara, was not only a school teacher, but was good with his hands, in that he made trunks for the emigrants. He was so good at this that he never used nails. Here Hugh blushed and told me that he had one of these trunks and discovering woodworm in it he burnt it. You could see in his face that he had made a grave mistake, as he admitted himself, it was probably the only one in still existence. Pat McNamara also made a sundial, which is still existence to this day and still has the date '1858' along with 'Patrick McNamara'; the sundial is made of slate and is a work of art.

On arranging to meet Hugh again, I was to spend the day in awe of a man that was no prouder than the man I left the on the first day that I met him.

Pat McNamara's family included eldest son, John born in 1872; then came Patrick born in 1874; James born in 1876; Mollie born in 1878; Thomas born in 1880 (alas Thomas unfortunately died in 1889 at the tender age of nine years old); Sarah born in 1882 who was to become a nun in Drogheda, County Louth; Della born in 1884; Margaret born in 1886 (she was Hugh's mother); Michael Tommy born in 1889; Nancy was born in 1891. James, Mollie, Della and Nancy were to follow in their father's footsteps and become teachers.

I asked Hugh about his family history, little did I know as to what was in store for me. "Well", said Hugh, "I have it all here". On reading the page that he showed me, it was looking back into the past, I might as well have been looking at his grandfather's diary. There it all was neatly written down, with the dates of marriages etc, Where to begin was my first thought, so I hope that I am able to do justice to the information that Hugh supplied to me. Patrick McNamara's diary is a work of art in itself, the writing is small and neat, obviously the work of a man well used to writing. The diary itself, shows not only the dates and times of births of his sons and daughters; but also who came to work in his house; when they started and at how much, and also, how much and to whom monies were paid, and what work they were paid for. Also, raffles that had taken place and how much each ticket buyer paid, along with the names and addresses and who was the winner of that particular raffle. The diary is a very comprehensive piece of work; it is more like a composition that maybe he had given one of his pupils to write. When I had the above information, I asked Hugh whether he either smoked or took a pint, Hugh in his quiet manner, related the following information to me.

"Well", he said, "I gave up the drink ten years and three months ago, on the 25th of February, on the 26th June, Bernie, his wife, felt a bit dizzy, and Hugh told her to go back to bed, and rest, (they were to go to Sligo that day), alas she had taken a stroke and for the rest of her life, Hugh, nursed and cared for her, until she died in September, 2001. He keeps a bottle in the house which is only for visitors, "I have never smoked in my life", he told me.

Research assisted by South Mayo Family Research Centre.