Maria and I now had a larger family, ten children between us, and I picked up my second mother-in-law. My mother had her own place in Woodstock. Maria’s mother lived with her but was in for a shock. She had been visiting Maria’s sister Dorothy in Washington. When she returned home to Woodstock, she found a brand new son-in-law. She was almost 93 and I thought she took it very well.
St. Patrick’s Day was near. The Woodstock Square was doing better than it had in years. The Opera House look grand. It even had air conditioning. The Courthouse was full and the Inn was doing well. Up the curving staircase were two businesses, a jewelry store and Jim Witherspoon’s Mens and Womens Wear. On the third level Lynn Krause had opened up one of the nicest craft and art shops in the area. The Old Courtroom was available for private parties and our new station was nearly finished. We had probably the only Victorian radio station in the country, complete with furniture and light fixtures and a special wall paper designed for us by Jim Pearson, the art teacher at Woodstock High School. It featured his drawings of the four dominant features of the Square — the Opera House, the Courthouse, a Civil War statue and the Spring House. I finished hanging the paper about 4:00am the day we opened the new station. Louis Szathmary came out from Chicago with his staff and staged one slam-bang heck of a party in the Courtroom for all who chose to come. After that we invited everybody to come to the Opera House where Bobby Clancy and several of his friends did a big Irish show. The town was jumping. I wore my kilt. We hired a piper and we paraded from the Courthouse to the Opera House for a genuine Irish party.
We heard from my daughter Kim in California. She and her love, Neal Esterly, wanted to be married. How about August in Doonaha at our local church with the reception at Liscrona House? Neal was a great young man, and they made a perfect pair. They had been college classmates and we had met him earlier. Maria and I said yes without any hesitation. Here was another of my off the top of my head decisions. Maria had never been to Liscrona House so she had no idea of what she was getting into. I did. Liscrona had not been lived in for two years. Jo was too weak to go in ’75. John Kennedy had used the house for friends, and that we found out had only made matters worse. When we left in ’74, Liscrona simply was in poor shape. Two years of standing alone in the wet, the damp and the salt air had not helped The Old Grey Beauty at all.
But, we had agreed and all I could see was the fun of a local wedding and a huge party at Liscrona. Somehow, I do seem incapable of seeing the down side of things.
The first step was a letter to Father Con Duffy, our new parish priest. Since Neal’s family was Episcopalian, better known in Ireland as Church of Ireland, I knew permission from the Bishop was required for a “mixed marriage." That turned out to be easy.
The advance party gathered in Dublin in early August and proceeded to Liscrona. It consisted of Maria and me, Chris and Kim. It is sad that we had not reached out into the local community for help in the attack on the house. It was certainly available. I just never thought of it. As I feared, the Old Grey Lady, was down at the heels and at that moment I began to realize what a good trooper I had married. Maria knew a lot more about what had to be done than any of the rest of us.
We scraped walls, we painted. It took us at least two days to clean the kitchen. The gas range, oven and broiler were my personal challenge. The accumulated grease you can only imagine. The Irish for the most part do not view absolute cleanliness in quite the way Americans do. They think we are pretty silly and make too much of it. Every pot and pan, dish and cup, everything, had a greasy film. The entire lower level was a blue and black tile. Over the years, instead of scrubbing, coats of floor wax had been laid on layer upon layer. We spent days on that project on our hands and knees with steel wool, hot water and strong soap. Windows were washed and opened in a desperate attempt to rid the house of its moldy smell. I have never seen people work so hard. Maria was a natural interior decorator. She had an incredible feeling for positioning furniture, rearranging pictures and making do. Also, for years she had been on the Altar Guild at St. Anne’s in Woodstock so she was a genuine flower arranger. Our masses of wild flowers, ivy and every type of growing thing enabled her to move the beautiful outdoors inside the house. Her comment, “You can camouflage a lot of problems with candles and plants."
In about ten days we almost killed ourselves, but Liscrona was presentable and she seemed to know it. Liscrona always was at her best with a full house of happy people banging in and out.
One evening the good Father Duffy came to call. We needed to get together on the time for the wedding. As we sat and chatted he suddenly turned to Maria and said, “Now Maria, just what is it ye have against the Pope?" With wonderful poise she answered, “Well Father, I just think we probably don’t place as much importance on him as you do." Father seemed to turn that over in his head a few times and he said, “Oh." He never brought it up again.
At mass the next Sunday he addressed the congregation. “We are having a wedding here on Wednesday. I’d appreciate the ladies coming in and giving the church a good scrub."
The airlines became much busier than normal. Friends and family came pouring in. We arranged for Neal’s family to be housed at Mary and Tom McGrath’s Green Acres, a farm house B & B just a few hundred yards south of the church, on the banks of the Shannon. We filled Liscrona with our family plus Marge and George Kline, David and Adelaide Meskill and Maria’s sister, Dorothy.
Pat flew in and she and Kim took two projects on themselves. One was the wedding cake. Kim insisted on a traditional Irish cake. I do not think she had ever seen one. The girls took off for Kilrush to find the baker, who turned out to be horrified. You see, the Irish cake, like Christmas cake, is turned out weeks even months, before the wedding. It is “cured." Usually three layers high it is covered with a white frosting, that as time passes, gets harder and harder. I think it forms a kind of protective shield over the cake with a surface like plaster. Two little plastic figures, the bride and groom, crown the cake. After a period of weeping, wailing and cajoling, and my girls are good at it, the baker agreed to take one of his cakes in the early stage of preparation and sell it to them. We now had a wedding cake.
The second project the girls took over was the decoration of the church itself. Actually, Maria could have done a perfect job with all the native flowers around us, but those headstrong females said it had to be done the way the Irish did it. So, off they drove to Ennis, about 35 miles away. I know Maria was hurt but she also understood that it is not advisable to argue with the bride to be.
The Esterlys had asked us to arrange the rehearsal dinner because they would be arriving at the last minute and they just did not know how to go about finding a place. Maria and I went to the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis. It is one of our favorites, all covered with ivy and steeped in tradition. We set it up and it went quite well. Perhaps a bit stiff at first because we were just getting to know each other. The hotel people were wonderful.
The day before the wedding things began to fall apart. Pat had arrived with a bad cold which she promptly turned over to her sister. Kim was flat, and I mean flat. I got on the phone to Father Duffy. “Father, a bit of a problem here. What are you doing in a few days? Can we set it up for later?" Now I challenge anyone to try to make that last minute adjustment any place in America. Churches and hotels are engaged months in advance. Without any hesitation whatsoever, our beloved Father Duffy said, “Whenever you say."
We set another date, Friday, called the florist in Ennis and put him and his flowers on hold, and the rest of us had an ongoing party. We toured, had picnics, got Packie Keating to take us for a ride on the Shannon in his boat. Meanwhile, the girls coughed and spluttered their way back to reasonable health.
The florist arrived with his load. The church was decorated. Over the past month, Michael Galvin had painted the whole interior. Our friendly florist was so pleased with the affair he was invited to stay and he did. He moved in and stayed for 3 days.
Maria and I were in the food business. Again, I do not know why we did not seek help. We just took it on ourselves.
Oh, I must tell you about one bit of local business that involved me. In the old days when Liscrona was an active pub, there were all the tanks, tubes and paraphernalia for pulling pints of beer and ale and stout. I decided it would be fun to get all this high tech equipment working for the party. I contacted a local who arrived. He and I then set out to recreate the pub. We began to sample our work, tank by tank. Maria reports that she sat there observing us become the best of friends, swapping stories and sampling our work. I remember part of that afternoon. “Twas a grand day," and the mass of tubes, pumps and kegs all functioned.
The night before the wedding, Maria and I were up a good bit. We had a huge beef roast in the oven, a large ham, and we had decided to teach the Irish about bagels and lox, so we had purchased several smoked salmon, loaves and loaves of Irish bread, and all the cream cheese in County Clare. We had a ton of food ready or in the process.
That wedding on August 24, 1976 was the social event of the season. Father Duffy had even arranged for two nuns to come from Kilrush to play guitars and sing. He assured us that this was a very special concession. Normally it wasn’t done.
Kim was beautiful. Neal was handsome with his dark wavy hair and his great good looks. They were the perfect couple if I do say so. The church was full. The Irish neighbors packed the pews. Even the good old boys had taken the day off. This was an occasion.
At the end of the wedding I arose and invited everybody to come to Lynch’s Pub, and they came. I had told John to just keep a tab. Even the nuns came, so we had music and singing and laughing. It was one of the events of my life. At one point I looked outside and the school wall was lined with little faces. All the children were watching to see the bride. So we took ice cream bars out for all of them.
Sometime later I again got enough silence to tell the neighbors that we were now going down to Liscrona and they were invited to come. The Irish then did what they wanted to do. Those who felt they knew us and were comfortable did come down. Those who didn’t, quietly slipped away. It was accomplished with great dignity.
I remember this next point. It is carved into my memory. Kim, when she reached our lane took off her shoes, and she and Neal walked to Liscrona eating the wild blackberries that were everywhere along the hedge row.
Packie Keating had told us not to worry about music. He would take care of that. The Irish took over. Packie produced his concertina, his daughter Gerry her saxophone and son John his trumpet. They set up in front of the fireplace in our dining room. The men rearranged all of the tables and chairs for the dancing. The women went to the kitchen to take over the food for Maria. Nothing was said. They all just moved in to help. We had on helluva time. The party covered the whole house, inside and out, and it went on and on. At one point Kim and Neal even cut the wedding cake, or should I say made the attempt, while a big, noisy bee hovered over them lusting for frosting.
Later that night, we practically had to force Kim and Neal to leave. They retired to a hotel in Kilkee and the next morning came right back so they would not miss anything.
The Irish cleaned up the house, put it all back in place, told us we had the most beautiful house in Ireland, and we agreed. Liscrona loved it. She was not old and frayed at all. She was our “Grey Lady."
There was a very definite down side to this whole wedding affair. I could conceal it from you but I will not. If am to be honest in this book, I have to tell the truth. We missed Jo terribly. This was the first time my children had been at Liscrona without their mother. They saw her in every doorway and heard her in every room. I had remarried quite soon. It was probably too soon for them. I know you can replace a wife but not a mother. She is with you forever. I never realized that bringing a new wife into their mother’s home could create the degree of discomfort it did. I should have known.
Maria and I both realized what was happening, and there was absolutely nothing to do about it but tough it out as best we could. I was very sorry for Maria because I had placed her in a most difficult position. I hurt for my children but I felt that they would not have wanted me to sit down with them and say, “Now let’s talk this through." I am happy to say that over the years everything smoothed out for all of us, and my children have enjoyed having two mothers. I feel that Maria’s children have accepted me as father.
In the depth of my being I believe it is possible to have two complete lives. Jo was the critical element in my first life and Maria in my second. I have been lucky. I realize that not every widow or widower can escape years, even decades of loneliness. I feel so sorry for those who are unable or unwilling to seek that second life. Someone said, “Life is for the living." I believe that. I suppose it is a combination of luck and effort. I felt that Jo Bellairs and Ned Henslee approved of the decision Maria and I had made. We have never had any regrets.
The Irish are filled with stories of fairies and spirits, so would you not expect that in an old house you could expect.............
No self respecting house can exist for 150 years without having at least one or two ghosts. So as far as we know Liscrona only has one and his name is George. He never was mean but he enjoyed playing tricks on people. When we first bought Liscrona the locals told us about George and there were those who told us straight out they would never spend a night in the house. There is a legend, never confirmed, that one of the early owner’s sons took his life in the house. Perhaps that was the origination of “George."
One night in the early 1970’s our friend John Kennedy was staying at Liscrona by himself. It is a lonely place in mid winter when the wind is howling from the southwest and the rain is belting down and there is no sign of life anywhere around. Anyway, John decided to take a hot bath. He reported that he was standing in the bathroom stark naked bending over the tub when a hand reached out and firmly touched his right shoulder. Then the toilet flushed. John dressed and moved to Kilkee. Since then he has never stayed in the house alone.
Pat and Kim were staying at Liscrona by themselves. Understand that electrical outages were common during the ’70’s, so candles were always kept handy. The girls had been advised to lock the doors at night. I am not sure why but they did. The front door locks itself. The downstairs door, off the kitchen to the outside was locked by a huge old fashioned key and in addition there was a wooden bar that was seated in a recess on each side of the door. On this particular night the girls were reading in the living room when the lights went out. Not having anything else to do they decided to light candles, go down to the kitchen and bake cookies. The stove operates on big tanks of bottled gas so it was possible.
As they made their way down the curving stairs the candles began to flicker. The kitchen door that they had locked and barred was standing wide open. Good old George was at it again. Both girls swear this is exactly what happened.
Another story, and the strangest of all, took place just before Kim’s wedding. Pat and Kim were sharing one of Liscrona’s front bedrooms. It was evening and they were admiring Kim’s wedding gown. The phone rang and it was Neal telling them he was coming over for a visit. I guess there is some sort of a superstition that the bridegroom is not supposed to see the gown till the wedding, so the girls put it on a hanger and took it across the inner reception and then hung it in a closet in a little used room. Neal came, the evening passed and the next morning the girls came to Maria and questioned her, “Maria, did you bring my dress back into our room?" We found it just now lying in a heap on the floor." Of course Maria had not been playing the evil stepmother. How did this happen? I love to tell that story and watch eyes widen.
Here is one more that we have tried to understand. I was on one of my frequent trips to Shannon to pick up friends. Maria decided to go into the east woods and pick some flowers for the house. Later when I returned she reported the following. “I went out the front door and up the driveway to the opening into the woods. Just when I reached that point, I had a cold chill hit me and I became very afraid. Something awful was right there with me. I turned and came back to the house. It was really bad." This was not normal behavior for Maria. She is not the scary type. We talked about it. I said perhaps it was the going from the bright sunlight into the cool darkness of the woods. We could not quite figure it out.
Sometime later we were visited by an elderly gent who said he used to ride his bike up the lane to the property. His parents were employed at Liscrona. Remember, he was the one who told us about pumping the water. His name was O’Brien. He said, “You know there was something funny. I was just a lad but every time I’d get to that place, up there by the trees where the path goes into the woods, I’d get this really weird, scared feeling and I’d pedal like mad away from there. I always wondered why I felt like that."
We had volunteered no information to him, but he pointed to the exact spot that caused Maria to be alarmed.
When you live in a house where people have lived for 150 years, is it possible that some essence of that past remains? We have thought about it a lot. We have no answers.
Maria and I came back to England, Scotland and Ireland in 1977. I wanted her to see some of the world that Jo and I had explored in the ’60’s. We flew to London, landed at Heathrow and I wish you could have seen me leaning over the bonnet (hood) of our rental car with a cockney giving me directions on how to get to Woodstock. I made about three round trips of the airport and finally did escape. The reason we wanted to go to Woodstock was that a Formula 1 race was going to be run nearby and I wanted to see it. Maria, not a racing fan, was grinning and bearing it.
Woodstock was everything you would want in an old English town, from flower gardens to shops to architecture. We visited nearby Blenheim Castle where Winston Churchill was raised and the village where he was buried. I could not help reflecting on his comment from 1922 when the Irish and the English were at last coming to some kind of settlement and Churchill said, in effect, “If you don’t agree to our terms I’ll bomb you off the face of the earth."
At that time airplanes and bombs were a reality. Whether England could have fulfilled that threat is questionable, but the result was a long negotiation after which the 32 counties of the south became the Irish Free State and the 6 counties of the north remained a part of the British Empire. It was a bad deal then and history has proven that it is a bad deal today. A divided country leads to nothing but troubles, the “Troubles" that plague Ireland even today. The Republic of Ireland and Britain continue to struggle with the problem.
Heading northward, we toured Scotland, had a wonderful stay in a real castle in Fort William, climbed a little way up Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in western Europe, and then flew to Ireland. This visit to Liscrona helped Maria to understand that this was really her house and that she was not just a visitor. We explored together. Maria was particularly sensitive about us being perceived as “the rich Americans." We certainly were not, but unfortunately the Irish did seem to view us in that light. I mean all Americans. We were still the people who came from the country with streets paved with gold. To make matters ever more touchy, we bought the house the landlords had once owned and where many of the local families had worked. We tried hard to go easy and not say or do anything that could be misunderstood. The Irish are very sensitive. Yes, church helped. So did our big wedding. They talked about that for years. I know they also wondered why we had not just gone to Dublin and bought a house. Why did we come out to the west of Ireland where the land was so poor, the weather rough and we were without any “Irish connections?"
Many times the Irish would say to us, “And just what is it you do down there?" Our explanation that we would repaint a room or hang wallpaper or go out and cut ivy off the trees in the woods never seemed to quite satisfy their curiosity. Why were we so content? Well, one look at a full moon shining down on the Shannon, or one sniff fo the air so clean and sharp, or a fisherman arriving at the door with a just caught salmon, or just the quiet acceptance by neighbors — there are the starters.
One afternoon we had gone up to the pub to talk to John, pick up our newspaper and any mail and just sit around by the fire. We heard a very English sounding voice question John. “Mr. Lynch, I wonder if the Americans who bought Liscrona are in the area. I’d like to meet them. My cousin is visiting me and I’d like to show her the old family home where she was born and raised."
John said, “They’re sitting right there at the fire."
So we met Elinor Gloster, resident of Kilkee. Her family had a small seaside home where she had lived since being bombed out of London in WW II. Her cousin named Dorothy Tweedy was a Griffin, the family that owned Liscrona from 1900 to 1932.
This meeting was a break for us. We were leaving for America the next day but we invited Elinor by all means to come down at any time and John would give them the tour of the house. We were delighted to discover a contact with owners from way back, and we promised to be in touch on our next trip.
This unexpected meeting was one of the best in our 25 years in Ireland. I cannot wait to tell you how it turned out.
In 1978 there was a plot. Call it “Let’s have Christmas in Ireland." It was started by Kim and Neal, Pat and Ann, Maria’s daughter. How could we resist. It would be about two weeks long with a flight back home on New Years Day.
Maria, Ann and I flew from Chicago. The rest of the group would arrive a couple of days later. Yes, it is cold in Ireland in December, but for some strange reason the Irish did not seem to notice. They were running around in light sweaters. Worst of all, we saw their doors open every morning. Every house was letting the fresh air in. The shops, without noticeable heat, were like walking into a freezer. We were midwestern Americans where the temperature falls to 30 below zero. Nevertheless, our Irish oil fired furnace blazed away. I doubt if our indoor temperature reached 65 degrees. I remember that was the year we bought a special Christmas present we enjoyed for years, an AM-FM radio and record player. We brought records with us. The morning I left to pick up Pat, Kim and Neal the weather was really brisk. It had snowed. It never snows much in the west of Ireland because the gulf current comes up the coast, warms the water and the air, and deposits plenty of the “soft," otherwise known as rain, but this definitely was snow. As I drove east toward Ennis, the snow became ice and the Irish drivers were having a struggle. Cars were spun out along the road. The radiators were freezing, and I saw many men just standing and looking at the steam rising from the engines. It could have been funny but I needed to get to Shannon. It is always exciting to be around Irish drivers, but on ice they reach new heights.
Before I left, I had made sure that the heat was on and Maria had Nat Cole’s “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" ready to greet the family when they arrived.
I made the pick up and we returned to home base. The music played. We did all the proper hugging, and then I noticed Maria had her coat on and was looking worried. The furnace had stopped! We put in a frantic call to one Tom Kelly, our resident plumber, heating expert and electrician. He promised to come as soon as possible. Understand that Ireland takes two weeks off at Christmas time. Nobody works. It is Christmas!
We built up the turf fires. We even turned on the gas oven in the kitchen “cooker" and we piled on the sweaters.
Tom arrived as it was getting dark. He and I went to look at our sick furnace. Then we took a flash light and went out to the oil tanks. You will recall that I told you they were outside in the back. To this day, I remember a fine sleet rattling on my coat. We traced the pipe that ran from the tank to the furnace. There was the problem. Over the years, the pipe had chosen this day to rust out. Oil was not reaching the furnace. It was running all over the ground. Now why did it have to wait all these years to collapse just when we needed it? Tom closed the valve and we went inside where he opened our aged furnace. I held the flash light and shivered. He discovered that the loss of oil had also done damage to some bearings. He said, “Mal, this is bad. This is an old furnace. I can run a new pipe but I don’t know where I can find the proper bearing."
We went inside and consumed several large Irish whiskeys. He promised to do all that he could.
That night was not unlike one of the early polar expeditions. I remember Ann went to bed with all her clothes on, every jacket she could find and even a hat and gloves. To his day, I get nightmares when I remember Maria’s feet — solid ice blocks.
To make matters even worse we had planned a big party for the next night, and we were not about to call it off. We called the invited guests and encouraged them to bring portable space heaters. We gathered our tables in the inner reception room where our turf fire was doing its best, closed off all the doors and stood ready. Guests arrived with four space heaters. I also noticed that the lady guests were all wearing light dress-up type dresses. The Party began and the heaters worked away. At that precise moment, Tom arrived so I went out to join him. Wonder of wonders! He had cannibalized another furnace and recovered the essential bearing. We replaced the old length of pipe and with a husky roar, the furnace started. He and I went in to clean up. We were both an oily mess and I said to Tom, “You haven’t had anything to eat. Come on and join us!" He did and was recognized as the hero of the day. Great CRAIC!
I know there is a story around that you never know when an Irish worker will show up. Well, here we were, at Christmas, with a horrible situation and Tom Kelly stuck with that old furnace. He fixed it. He could just as easily have said, “It’s Christmas and I’m busy. Call someone else." I love that man! It was also one of the best parties we’ve ever had and enabled us to spend Christmas at Liscrona. Without heat, we would have been forced to leave.
Liscrona House on its 27 acres of fields and woods had a number of trees eligible to become our Christmas tree. I took our saw in hand and we all went out to choose the best one. The problem was that they were all about 20 feet tall.
No matter. We cut one and trimmed it down by stages so we could get it in the front door. The rooms at Liscrona House are high with 12 foot ceilings, so it still required a pretty big tree. We scrounged around, built a tree stand and we were set to decorate. The agreement was that each of us would bring ornaments. We made long strings of popcorn and draped them on the tree. We invested in a couple of strings of light from Brews in Kilrush and , you know, we had a mighty respectable Christmas tree. With Fred Waring albums pumping out music and Handels Messiah to add a classical touch, we were in business.
While we are at it, I must tell you about our holiday guest. It was a mouse. He came out from behind a radiator, surveyed the tree, and climbed up to get at the strings of popcorn. That began his nightly ritual, a kernel in his mouth, down the tree, behind the radiator and to his home. I can imagine him telling his family, “I have just died and gone to mouse heaven. We have a food supply for a lifetime." Each night we enjoyed his company. He was our floor show. The next year I found a tiny furry mouse ornament and gave it to Maria. Every year it hangs on our tree, our Liscrona House Mouse.
Christmas in Ireland is certainly not the extravagant affair that we see in the United States. The decorations are minimal. The presents are simple. Christmas, St. Stephen’s Day and New Years all constitute one big holiday. The pubs radiate a special warmth. The weather is cold, but the millions of candles in the windows supply a glow in the night and a feeling that all is well.
By the way, did you know that Handel’s Messiah was first performed in Dublin?
Even before the furnace crisis we had gone to Kilkee and met with Elinor Gloster. We talked about getting to see Dorothy Tweedy who was living west of Galway in a little town called Oughterard. Since our time was limited, we were able to settle on just one day, Christmas Eve. Elinor called Dorothy, who agreed to find a place for lunch.
We all piled into the VW bus, our vehicle of choice in those days, and headed up from Kilkee to Galway and west. We found the house. It was tiny and very, very Irish. It was located beside a beautiful, fast running salmon stream. The holly bushes were a mass of red berries and ivy was everywhere. We talked and talked and then drove down to the local hotel for our luncheon. It was only later that I found out that they had opened just for us. After all, it was Christmas Eve and everything was closed. Talk about Irish kindness!
Much later, when it was time for us to start back, I remember saying to Dorothy, “I’ll bet you have dozens of memories about Liscrona you could share with us. If you ever have the time and the energy, we’d really appreciate anything you could write." Dorothy at that time was having severe arthritis problems, getting around was very difficult, but her mind was sharp. She agreed to think about it. That was the only time we saw her. About three months later, we received a large envelope. I am letting you read what that dear, dear lady wrote to us1.
It was foggy as we drove back toward Galway and of course I took the wrong road. That would not have mattered except Elinor Gloster was anxious to get to Kilkee for the Christmas Eve mass at the Church of Ireland. The result was that we arrived just as it concluded. Her priest saw us and said, “Well now, no problem, let’s just go in and we will do it again."
So in we went and he began mass. It just so happened that I glanced up at the wall and there was a plaque with Tom Griffin’s name. He was the owner of Liscrona from 1898–1932, Dorothy Tweedy’s father.
We had one minor crisis a few moments later. The priest announced, “We will now sing." Maria and Ann can sing. The rest of us are what I term musically impaired, but we were rescued by the grit, grit of a starting record and a recording of Noel, Noel burst forth from the Westminster Choir. We all started to laugh. That choir singing in Kilkee seemed incongruous.
Mass completed and Elinor content, we dropped her off and continued to our nice warm house. It was a crystal clear night and we looked across the Shannon. There were thousands and thousands of twinkling lights, the candles that the Irish traditionally place in windows. We hurried inside and did the same.
We opened our presents in the morning. We had drawn names and were allowed to spend no more than £5 on the gift for that person. We had done considerable thinking about it. I only remember one present. Maria drew Neal and she gave him a reversible neck tie. Being a true Californian he never wore a tie. To this day when he is cornered and has to wear one it is always Maria’s present from 1978.
We made 10AM mass at our church, greeted our neighbors, stopped at the pub as always and came home to prepare our dinner. It was the traditional turkey with all the trimmings. We had even brought cranberries from Woodstock, because we were not sure. We had plum pudding and I made the hard sauce2 that I had learned from my Scottish grandmother.
We spent a roaring New Years Eve at the pub and at midnight when we all joined hands and sang, “Should old acquaintance be forgot," followed by the Irish National Anthem, there was not a dry eye among us. I was allowed to buy a "round."
May peace and plenty be the first
To lift the latch on your door,
And happiness be guided to your home
By the candle of Christmas
In the New Year may your
right hand always
be stretched out in friendship
and never in want.
With help from the locals and Dorothy Tweedy, we have been able to piece together some dates and names of the people who have lived at Liscrona. I wish there were some way to penetrate the unknown period from 1840–1900. We are fortunate to have met Dorothy Tweedy. We used to send her pictures and write letters telling her about our life in Ireland. She stayed in Oughterard for a few more years and then was forced by age and her arthritis to move to a retirement home in Dublin. She longed to return to the “west" and felt very lonely in Dublin. She died five years ago. Her mind was sharp when she wrote what you are about to read.
THE OLD GREY BEAUTY
also called "OUR GREY LADY."
A HISTORY OF LISCRONA HOUSE
DOONAHA, NEAR KILKEE
COUNTY CLARE, IRELAND
1. Builder - Mr. MacDonnell of New Hall (near Ennis) 1840’s to 1898, a descendant of the Earls of Antrim
2. Thomas Griffin - 1898-1932
3. Robert MacLochlan, November 19, 1932 - December 23, 1953
4. Michael Nolan, December 23, 1953 to August 11, 1955
5. Col. James Hannon, August 11, 1955 to July 5, 1965
6. John Lloyd - July 1965 to 1968
7. Ted Kavanaugh, 1968 to 1971
8. George & Marge Kline and Malcolm & Jo Bellairs, 1971 to 1979
9. Malcolm K. Bellairs & Maria Bellairs, December 13, 1979 to August 1995
This grand old grey cut-stone manor house was built in the 1840’s by a family named MacDonnell. Liscrona was their summer home. The family came from New Hall, near Ennis, and MacDonnell is reported to be a descendant of the Earls of Antrim. The MacDonnell family crest is on the south side of Liscrona. The Griffin crest is on the east side over the main entry. The stone for the house was brought from a quarry near Ennis and the workmanship and color are still admired by all who see the house. The family at one time owned over 2,000 acres of land from Carrigaholt all the way to Querrin. There were two entrance roads, the one they used went north of the house up past the stable area and to the Doonaha Road. In 1901, the year of the "big wind," as natives remember, a new hay barn had just been completed, when the wind destroyed the whole building. This is the area where cattle and horses were kept. The stone foundations are still there.
We believe Tom was Irish and Dorothy’s mother was English. Dorothy’s family, the Griffins, were all Protestant. They were one of the landlords who were very rough on the Irish peasants. Many of the landlords’ homes extending out to Loophead were burned during the Troubles, but Liscrona was spared. One interesting note is that when Dorothy visited, she saw the Irish flag that we fly. She was dismayed, to say the least. The old wounds and scars were still there...on both sides. Now here is Dorothy Tweedy’s story which will take us from 1898 until her widowed mother sold Liscrona in 1932.
THE GRIFFIN ERA - 1898 to 1932 About 1898 my father, Thomas R. Griffin, came back to Ireland from Australia hoping to make a living by engineering. He could only get employment as Assistant County Surveyor to West Clare County Council. Having Married my mother, he rented Liscrona. The owner was a Mr. MacDonnell of New Hall (3 miles from Ennis) - a descendant of the Earls of Antrim.
Liscrona had been used by this family as their seaside home. There was a lot of land attached, farm buildings and stables, etc. were to the north of the house up a hill. There was a back avenue up to these buildings which led into a lane and from it to the main Doonaha Carrigaholt Road.
My father had horses, cattle, sheep and fowl and killed his own meat. We had a bog and all our own vegetables so were practically self-supporting. He employed about six men - four permanent.
At the time of my birth in 1902, Liscrona was very prosperous and beautifully kept with a lovely lawn in front and at the side of the house. I have no idea when the house was built but probably about the same time as Domoland Castle as the same architect was responsible for both buildings; it was quite an old house when my parents went there. My father did very little to the house as his interests were outdoors, but my mother took great pride in polishing the lovely (oak?) floors.
We had two greenhouses and grew grapes and tomatoes to market in Kilkee. Early on my father got a first class gardener from Dublin for a whole year and this gardener taught my father and a local man all there was to be done in the four seasons. He made a lovely walk west of the house with a flower bed at one side and shrubs at the other, a gravel path separating the flower bed and shrubs.
I noticed the shrubs were still there. He also made a tennis court to the left of the wood, as it was surrounded by meadow the tennis balls were always getting lost. It was also very difficult to keep free from weeds, especially crowfoot - it was a very good court though and we had tennis parties for people from Kilkee and cousins from Kilbaha. We kept a dog cart (2 people in front and 2 with their back to the horses) , an inside trap also called a governess cart (2 people facing each other and knees touching) and a pony cart.
A man came to the house for about two hours every morning to bring in the turf for the numerous fires and to clean the boots, shoes, and knives. In those days, knives were not of stainless steel and had to be cleaned daily - but they cut. They had to be cleaned on an emery board and rubbed with a cork. There were also numerous boots and shoes to be cleaned daily as the roads were muddy and we walked a great deal; at least once a day to Doonaha Post Office and to chat and buy something at Mrs. Collins’ Pub (???to the present John Lynch), oranges were 4 a penny and a lovely sticky sweet, called a Bull’s Eye, were 12 a penny. There was also a penny "secret" containing a small toy and a tiny sweet.
About 1912, my father bought Liscrona outright from Mr. MacDonnell and employed a person to rub out the MacDonnell crest and coat of arms and chisel on his own instead. It cost 20 pounds which my mother thought was a shocking waste of money!
My earliest recollection of Liscrona was a servant in a check dress and white apron and cap bringing round early morning tea at 7:30, a small tea pot and thin slices of bread and butter. She must have been up at 6 o’clock to get the coal fire going to make the tea. Then she had to carry hot water cans to the bedroom. Then breakfast at 9 o’clock preceded by family prayer, my father reading a portion from the Bible and my mother gabbling some prayers to get on with the days work. Grace was always said before and after meals. (The maid was paid from 12 pounds to 20 pounds per annum.)
Another thing I remember is women coming to the back door with braces of live chickens under their shawls. My mother would pinch the chicken breasts and legs and after a lot of bargaining pay three shillings per pair for the fat ones. They were then sent up the yard to be fattened for the table.
In winter, when my father and mother went away, the farm hands would gather in the evenings with lanterns and sticks and we would all go into the wood and dazzle the little birds sleeping on the bows of the trees and the men would slash them down after which we would pluck the birds and have them for supper. Needless to say, this only happened when our parents were absent.
When Liscrona was first built, laborers got 6 pence per week, the coppers being thrown up to them from the windows. On one occasion, as a great joke, the coppers were heated in the fire before being thrown out and when the men grabbed them they yelled with pain.
Liscrona was very damp in the early days. It was obviously built over a spring as there was a deep well in the yard where the water was pumped from daily. Now, no doubt, there is an electric pump.
Except for putting tiled fireplaces into the livingrooms we did not do much to the house. The next owner, Mr. MacLochlan, did some improvements which my father had wanted to do but could not afford - i.e. put a lift from the kitchen to the dining room and building a garage at the north side of the wood below the tennis court. We had to drive the car right up to the rear as cars in those days could not be left out at night as they had canvas hoods and were far from weatherproof.
In summer a maid in a black dress and white apron and cap would bring a heavily laden tray out to the stone table in the centre of the wood which had a stone seat beside it. There we had our afternoon tea when the sun was too hot to have it under a copper beach tree to the side of the house. This copper beach has now gone to make a road for an oil tanker.
The 1914 war changed life at Liscrona for the worst. Money was short and labour hard to get both outdoor and in and "The Troubles" that followed also affected us. We had an IRA maid who let men "on the run" into the lower part of the house where they slept feeling safe from police interference.
We kept our bicycles in the front porch and one night at midnight there was banging at the front door and my father was told to put the bicycles out and we would not be touched. This he did and the men said "thank you" and my father was so relieved that he asked them in for a drink. This they refused and rode off. The Sinn Fein in those days were all strict Teetotalers. Next day the main road from Doonaha to Kilkee "was cut" (big trenches dug across). Another time they broke into the house and took my father’s hidden guns. My father was away at the time and my mother did not know where they were hidden (as my father had only confided in the gardener) - but they walked straight to the hiding place.
The great beauty of Liscrona House were the unique big chimneys. Each chimney was really 6 small ones placed so close together that they all had the appearance of one chimney. They were made of the same stone as the house. One of the recent owners had these lovely chimneys removed as he said they had become dangerous but it was thought locally that all he really wanted was the lead around them which was even then fetching tremendous prices. Their disappearance has really spoilt the appearance of the house.
In the beginning of the century one of the thrills of early summer was the spectacle of the British Fleet of about 30 warships cruising up the river. We ran onto the lawn and waved flags and towels frantically and they waved back. They went up as far as Limerick. Their return journey never caused the same excitement as it meant they had passed for the year - and in 1914 they passed for the last time.
One of the things we children loved in the spring was the cutting off of the lambs’ tails and my father would grill them over a fire for us. When the wool was all scorched off we would eat the tails in our fingers and delicious they were! It may have been an Australian custom. I never heard of it being done since.
On a lovely calm summer evening we would suddenly hear the roaring of the sea against the shore to the west off the house and we all knew then that the fine weather was about to change to rain and wind. Once a priest was asked by his parishioners to pray for fine weather to save the harvest and he replied "what is the use of praying for fine weather when the wind is from the west."
When my father first went to Liscrona he thought nothing of rowing across the Shannon to Kerry in a two man canoe and he even had an office in Listowel. He brought a bicycle in the canoe with him to ride there from Tarbot. On one occasion he brought a niece and her English bridegroom across when they were honeymooning at Liscrona. A storm got up and they couldn’t return for a day or two. The Bank Official bridegroom was so horrified by the experience of being without his nightwear and razor that he never came to Ireland again and my father was in disgrace with that branch of the family for the rest of his life.
Soon after this my father gave up going to Kerry as the tides and sudden gales were too dangerous and my mother’s nerves could not stand the suspense of awaiting his return. Once he had to be rescued by Glynn’s boat which passed up once a week. I never heard of anyone but my father crossing to Kerry from Liscrona by canoe.
Christmas was a wonderful time at Liscrona starting in November with my mother baking pudding, cakes and mince pies. Everybody had to stir the pudding for luck and I can remember my baby brother being held over the basin, mistaking the object of the exercise and being sick into it! Then in December there was the getting ready of parcels of presents for the many poor children around Doonaha. We carried the presents to their homes, some of which could be more properly called hovels. The poverty was terrible and children went to school in bare feet, ragged trousers and threadbare Jerseys - their faces blue with cold and their noses running. A few ragged books under each arm and a sod of turf for the school fire. Any child bringing in an extra sod was allowed to sit in the front near the fire.
It was the custom in the olden days on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve for every cottage to have a lighted candle in all their windows throughout the night. The sight of these lights across the water as seen from Liscrona on these occasions is something I shall never forget.
On St. Stephen’s Day the Wren boys came around. About six at a time dressed up in anything they could lay their hands on and carrying a poor dead wren on a bush. Their faces were blackened and masked so we never knew who they were and they danced and sang and we threw coppers. They sang: "The wren, the wren, the king of all birds, on St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the firze." I cannot remember the rest.
Everything changed after the 1914 war. The Land Commission took over our land only leaving us about 40 acres. After this the long avenue was no longer ours exclusively and instead of the fields at each side of it belonging to us they were divided amongst farmers and hedges were put up at each side of the drive. Consequently the drive became very wet and muddy because no longer would the North wind keep it dry and all the farmcarts using it made it very rough and no one was responsible for its upkeep. We still had the yard and 2 men.
My father was passionately fond of daffodils and there was a thick border of them down the drive. The night after his coffin had passed by every daffodil plant was dead and stranger still, there was hardly a sign of a dead flower, they seemed to have disappeared. As it was March 17th (1927) daffodils would normally be at their best.
Mother kept the place on as long as she was able and about 1932 she sold it to Mr. MacLochlan for, I think, 600 pounds. He looked after it well and loved it dearly until old age made it impossible for him to carry on. After he sold it Liscrona fell on very hard times eventually becoming a hotel. A big bar was put in and rooms were divided up to make this possible and there are now about 9 bedrooms upstairs instead of the original 4.
Happily for Liscrona it has now fallen into the hands of someone who loves it and hopes to restore it to its former loveliness.
Dorothy Tweedy née Griffin 1978
Isn’t that a beautiful piece of writing. We were thrilled to receive it. I think it is obvious from Dorothy’s writing, that Liscrona was spared because Tom had been kind to the locals during “The Troubles."
A retired army officer named Robert MacLochlan bought Liscrona from Mrs. Griffin in 1932 and lived there with a housekeeper. He was a recluse who like to shoot and walk the paths along the cliffs. Liscrona’s size was shrinking all during the 20’s and 30’s due to the redistribution of the land following the end of the hostilities in 1921. We almost met MacLochlan in 1974. He had been living in Kilkee, almost blind and becoming senile, but when we tracked him down, he had just been transferred to an old soldiers’ home and we missed him.
Liscrona then came on tough times. A solicitor named Michael Nolan from Kilkee owned Liscrona for severasl years.
Next on the scene, in 1955, was a man named Hannon, a retired Colonel of Engineers. We have been told that he was one of the builders of the Burma Road during World War II and that he is responsible for some of the exotic plants on the property.
In 1965, Hannon sold Liscrona to an eccentric named Lloyd who spent his time writing and writing. Some of his strange convictions and countless rejection slips we found rotting in the old garage that houses the water pump. In 1968, “the writer" had sold it and he and his daughter moved to Clare Castle on the bend of the river, on the road between Ennis and Shannon. At one point, we received a letter from the daughter which I am including. Jo had found her name and written the following3.
You have read how Tom Griffin’s body came back to Liscrona and the mysterious death of the daffodils on St. Patrick’s Day 1927. Shortly before that fateful day, Tom and daughter Dorothy were in Kilrush. Tom owned a Model T Ford, one of the few cars in all of County Clare. Dorothy was sitting in the back seat of the car. Tom came out from a shop and started to crank the engine. It caught and ran over him, killing him. It was Dorothy who climbed over the back seat and stopped the car.
In 1993 Maria and I were walking the sandy beach at Glosheen, just a quarter of a mile from Liscrona. We came upon an elderly man who asked us if we were the owners. When we said yes, he told us this story. “When I was just a lad there was a tragedy in front of my house. A car ran over the man who owned Liscrona and a little girl came screaming up to my father. He was the first one on the scene. There was nothing he could do. I’ve never forgotten that day."
Nothing goes unnoticed or forgotten in Ireland.
One year Marge and George Kline went to Ireland with their two daughters. The word filtered back that neither girl was enchanted. So it was in 1979 that George decided they had no future in Ireland. They owned considerable property in the U.S. and he felt it was time for us to buy their half of Liscrona. I asked him to put together any numbers he wanted and we would agree. I was so grateful that they had made Ireland possible for Jo and me that I would have walked on nails if he had asked. Once again, Harold Shapiro was called and he put together a payment package. We signed the papers. The transfer was completed. We had kept the bargain. The papers in Dublin now read: Liscrona House, Malcolm and Maria Bellairs.