01 Margaret Brennan, Roose, near Carras Church in the parish of Roundfort

Margaret Brennan
Bridie Jennings McMahon
Home Cottage
Bridie Jennings McMahon
Prayer Book - From Michael to Maggie on their Wedding Day August 6th 1906
Bridie Jennings McMahon
Retreat 1921
Bridie Jennings McMahon

She was of patched green fields, stone walls, narrow winding boreens, holy wells and Pilgrim places. Yes she was my grandmother Margaret Brennan known as Maggie Brennan from Roose, near Carras Church in the parish of Roundfort. Their cottage was south of the Mount Jennings House and Estate purchased in 1903 by her first cousin Jack Murphy and where his daughter the famous Ballad singer Delia Murphy was reared.

Grandmother was born in 1874. She had 2 brothers and 3 sisters. Her parents are buried in Kilconly Churchyard. They survived the Famine of 1847 and the night of the ‘Big Wind.’ Maggie went to Cloghan’s Hill N.S., and was taught by Mr Hynes. She married Michael Gibbons, a farmer of Bushfield, Hollymount on August 6th, 1906 in Roundfort Church at the age of 32 years. They had three daughters. My mother May, Dell, and Aggie. My mother was the only one to marry. My grandmother was godmother to the late Delia Murphy.

She came from a hardworking people, brown working horses and flax growing fields. Her hands helped carve out the surrounding landscape with spade and shovel digging up mother earth, shaping ridges for potatoes, building walls that had tumbled to the ground after winter storms.

Their thatched cottage had 3 windows facing south. It showed off its roof of    thatched orange brown wheaten straw held neatly by pliable sally scallops harvested from the lower garden behind the cottage. These were woven skilfully to perfection by Robert Mooney from Annefield a skilled thatcher. Michael her husband died suddenly at the age of 62 years on December 2nd, 1942 out in the fields herding his stock.

I spent many happy school holidays with my grandmother. I loved her to bits. She was strict, witty, funny and a great teacher of home economics. Baking oatmeal flat bread in the black metal oven, men always carried a few pieces in their pockets on their way to the Ballinrobe Fairs. It kept the hunger at bay and their stomachs satisfied.

Making sheets from the Odlum’s flour bags, collecting buttons and zips from garments no longer in use put into clear jam jars and knitting the bainin wool socks for the men were tasks I learnt quickly and how to utilize everything, never any waste.

She dressed in long black clothes with a black apron a black cardigan and a lovely marcasite broach at the neck of her black silk blouse. She was small in stature in her 80s but smart and caring; her hair held neatly in a bun with hair pins. She always cleaned her face with buttermilk the reason she had a lovely complexion.

She loved the Irish language and many words flowed freely from her mouth in Irish if she lost her temper. She sang many Rebel songs, taught me the Stack of Barley and the Shortsea.

Local history, the importance of place names, local traditions, folklore and genealogy were passed on by Margaret to family and friends. This included stories of the Famine; people being fed on Indian meal; stories of those who could not find enough food, dying on the roadside on their way to Ballinrobe Workhouse; plus stories about the Black and Tans and the Civil War.

She was gifted with her hands, hard manual work on the hill fields, milking cows, churning the cream into butter, feeding pigs, sewing and knitting. I often wondered how much more her two hands could take care of.

She was prayerful and taught me many prayers as I knelt nightly by her bedside. I always thought ‘Heaven’ was a short distance above the thatched cottage and must be a happy cosy place.

In the room behind the kitchen fire her four poster bed took up pride of place. It had her handmade feather bed mattress and a patched quilt. Each patch could be called a name after all the fields in their village. Next to the green distempered gable wall stood a tall dark brown press where her black coats for Church and other garments hung. Camphor balls were plenty as moths loved the warmth of such places and often chewed large holes in good clothes if given the chance, like woodworm in the same dark brown press.

Grandmother always used turpentine with a quill on the press doors every summer to prevent woodworm spreading. Two large cardboard boxes were perched on top of the wooden press where her black hats with black veils slept along with snazzy hat pins, till Sundays or funeral days of close relations.

Everything to do with her was about learning. Telling old stories of people long gone before her time. Stories of the Famine and people being fed on Indian meal and those who could not find enough food dying on the roadside on their way to Ballinrobe Workhouse.

She told me so many stories about the Black and Tans and the Civil War. When the Black and Tans rounded up suspected I.R.A. members throughout South Mayo in 1920 one such Frank Connolly an active volunteer from Bushfield, had called to Gibbons’. He was a close relation. His feet were blistered and raw. She creamed them and gave him clean socks. He was on the run and was only gone ten minutes when the ‘Tans’ arrived. They tumbled everything and told her they would be back to burn the house if they found him. Alas he was never found. In Feb 1922 along with his brother Patrick, Frank Connolly sailed on the S.S. Cedric and landed in New York to his cousin Pat Gibbons.

August 15th was always marked on the calendar. It was the annual pilgrimage Day for women to Tobar Glassan. Women dressed in black walked from the surrounding villages to this Holy well which was located in Hession’s land in the townland of Kilglassan, parish of Kilcommon now known as Roundfort. They recited the rosary and knelt on their bare knees fasting and took some Holy water. This practice ceased in the early 1930s but grandmother always marked that date. In the surrounding walls remnants of old rosary beads can still be found. What was once a well is now dried land covered in moss tumbled weathered stones and twisted ragged thorn bushes holding memories and secrets of past generations.

I often went to Mass on Sundays with her to Roundfort church in the only black Prefect car for miles around owned by MI John Walsh. After Mass some women of her age went into Jack Fair’s Bar and tip toed into the snug well out of sight and a dark curtain pulled across to ensure privacy. They drank sherry while the men in the bar sat on tall wooden stools, smoked Bendigo or Plug tobacco filled pipes or Woodbine cigarettes holding long conversations between puffs of smoke and drank Powers Whiskey or tall glasses of black Guinness.

Grandmother died on April 12th, 1970. I count myself lucky to have lived, prayed, sang and danced with her while learning lessons for life that I think of every day.

She was my greatest inspiring woman. R.I.P.




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