James Scully on the life and times of his mother Nellie at her funeral oration on Monday 7 May 2018 in Clonminch Cemetery, Tullamore. Mrs Scully, her late husband Jimmy (died 2000) and their friends and neighbours represented the life and times of another generation and many of our readers overseas will be happy to recall these days. The importance of housing can be seen too and of having good and appreciated neighbours.
Nellie Craven, the younger daughter of Jack Craven and Ellen Oviatte, born on the 7th July 1922 just two months short of 96 years ago. In that wonderful book Rahan Looks Back, which she loved so much, she appears in several school photographs as a young girl, smallish but attractive, full faced with pudding bowl hairstyle and a healthy, placid demeanour.
She lived for many years in old mill, officially in Killina townland in Rahan, but more warmly referred to as Kilgortin, on the banks of the Grand Canal. If her memories are anything to go by she had a happy childhood although her older sister Alice and her mother Ellen died within fifteen months of each other in 1930 and 1931 when Nellie was then just eight or nine years old. Throughout her life she had many people whom we she loved to call back to visit in Rahan. Her father Jack, brothers Tom, Willie and John, many Craven and Scully relations in Agall, Glaskill, Mucklagh, Killina as well as Cravens in Freagh, beyond Kilcormac, an even longer trip which she really enjoyed. There were many neighbours also whom she loved to visit : Mahers (especially Bridie), McDonalds of Ballycowan Castle, Meacles, Minnocks, Cummins…and many more. Her mode of transport for many years on these calls was on her bicycle, a High Nellie, of course ..sure what else would you expect!!
‘Keep them to the learning’
All during her lifetime, her schooldays at the Presentation Convent Rahan were constantly recalled, reviving very happy memories. The educational records in the Rahan Heritage Centre for her primary school years are illuminating. She started in May 1926 just under age of four and progressed steadily through the ranks over the following ten years, leaving sixth class in September 1936. Her attendance figures confirm she was a very good and regular attender. It would seem the oft quoted advice of her future mother-in-law, (Jimmy Scully’s mother Anne), in relation to Nellie’s own children, ‘Keep them to the learning…’ was applied to herself and her siblings.
Off to Mullingar with the choir
Perhaps the greatest of the school memories were of the times when the choir she sang with won the diocesan cup for plain chant in Mullingar….three times!! No less!! Fortunately this much treasured event was photographed and reappears splendidly in Rahan Looks Back (again), where she stands neatly poised, proud as punch, a relaxed young teenager, surrounded by the faces of friends she would cherish for years thereafter… Carmel Lawless, Annie Fletcher, other Lawlesses, Grennans, and other familiar …Rahan surnames …captured forever as the cup returned to Killina once more.
This episode she loved to relate for listeners who were then faced with the tricky question as to how the choir travelled from Rahan to Mullingar… in the mid-1930s. When the listener then suggested the obvious modes of transport of the time …..car, bus, bicycle – even guessed canal and railway, both of which were technically speaking a possibility then…no! no! she would repeat until you soon gave up!! Whereupon she would rejoicingly exclaim : “We went in a pig lorry !! adding without delay : “…and the floor was scrubbed, covered with fresh straw, mind you, and we sat on forums / benches..” …before concluding with a repetition of the most important fact : … “and we won it three times.”
Working at the Thatch, Rahan and the new County Hospital, Tullamore
As a young woman she seems to have worked like her father in the local public house cum grocery The Thatch, (alas now closed). After 1940 she gained a position with the help of the local curate father McGahey as a wardsmaid in the splendid new County Hospital in Tullamore. Micheal Scott architect. Local materials used. Tullamore Limestone, West Offaly brick and Clonaslee stone. The new building must have wowed her. Undistracted she availed of the quality opportunities afforded her while working there as a wardsmaid acquiring many nursing skills which underpinned her caring attitude in later life. Names of colleagues and friends which she often echoed from this golden time were Rita Dickinson later Mrs. Ned Dunne of Ballydaly, Maureen McGowan, Kitty Dolan, Mrs. Wrafter, Sister Paul, Sister Camillus , many, many others …and the inimitable Doctor Roche.
Marriage to Jimmy Scully of Kilbeggan Bridge and into a long-established family in Tullamore
There are indications that Jimmy and Nellie had some acquaintance of each other before she moved to Tullamore. If so he must have been delighted she ended up living just a half mile up the Arden Road from his house in what was then East View Terrace. Anyway things progressed and a handful of years later they were married. Jimmy Scully & Nellie Craven 6th August 1945. The 6th August 1945??!! atomic bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki – an interesting coincidence but not historically accurate to suggest these events are in some way connected. They lived initially in East View Terrace..just over the Kilbeggan Bridge and a few short years later moved a hundred yards down to the splendidly designed and newly built houses at Clontarf Road which fronted onto the Grand Canal… so familiar to her from childhood. Here she resided for SEVENTY yearsat number 2 until she was the last or one of the last of the original key holders. During the first twenty years or so she went on to have a family of ten all but one of whom survive today. In addition she was the primary carer for her mother-in –law, Anne during later years of her life until she died in 1954, aged 87. Surely she had enough on her hands but no she still had energy to accommodate more children on occasions and to work regularly outside the home to augment family income particularly enjoying her hours spent with Rita & Johnny Allen, High Street, Owen and Mrs. Hoey, Church St., Jimmy and Nellie Doyle , William St., and more…
A world where faith and religion was everything
Her religious beliefs were foremost in her mind and lifestyle. Far from pious she lived out her faith in word and deed. She was a devoted more than devout catholic. Devoted to family and friends. Very religious with strongly held beliefs which were passed on to her family. … No one could go no where without a sprinkle of the Holy Water, daily mass, evening rosary very much the order of the day… Also a member of the Children of Mary. A great lover of church music and its many hymns……especially the perennial Queen of the May the strains of which still echo in our ears. She was a lifelong member of the PTAA 50 60 70 and awarded the special pin just a few years back in Rahan and derived great honour from that achievement. Very proud of her uncle Fr. Aloysius Craven, a Franciscan priest… referred to respectfully as His reverence but more casually Fr. Joe. and his occasional returns from America were celebrated occasions only matched by those when Bishop Cronin of Tullamore or Bishop Mahon Of Killurin, also home from far flung missions, landed over the Kilbeggan Bridge and on to her floor WITHOUT AS MUCH AS A WORD OF WARNING.
Nellie was a also keen card player. While never really highlighted you felt she was pleased to see her name in the local paper’s Tullamore Notes as a winner of a Quarter or half or indeed top prize in the local National Forester’s weekly whist drive which she was very fond of. Later she played in Mount Bolus and Geashill thanks to the kindness of Denis and Mrs. (Ber) Mahon who carried her there and back on countless occasions.
In a six or a nine at 25 she was well able to fight her corner ..often jousting with Jimmy and her brothers Willie & John and other card sharps in number 2… declaring with great gusto on clinching THE final trick : “Yow!!! Nellie can play her cards!!!”
She also derived much pleasure from evenings at local bingo sessions in the Christian Brothers, St. Mary’s Hall or best of all in the Forester’s Hall. And while Bingo is purely a game of chance she seemed to win at least her quota of the prize money over the years. A constant companion here was Carmel Farrel of Tinnycross and her husband Mick.
Humour and song – ‘come in and close the half-door’
But it is as a singer and spinner of yarns that she really excelled. Her yarns or jokes often verged on the irreverent and were quick-fired leaving the unsuspecting listener slightly flummoxed but later pleasantly fooled : “What’s the difference between a hare and a rabbit?” “ Do you know Vick Burns?” I will not answer either of these questions on this occasion… only her regrettable absence here would prevent her from doing so….. accompanied with a delightfully contagious burst of cheerful laughter… Anyway there are scores of people near you who will recall the punch lines and will share them outside the walls of the temple..as it were. She was a beautiful singer….even up to her last days and hours. And so at ease, regardless of occasion or venue. With an unerring memory for melody and lyrics whether it be Come in and shut the half door, A Mother’s Love, Grandmother’s Chair, Home, Home on the Range. She entertained many an audience and hushed many a noisy pub… although as she frequently reminded us, she never took a drink in her life. This trait she handed down to many of her offspring and doubtless may of her favourites will be heard today.
A mother and neighbour to all on Clontarf Road
Doyles and Duffys, Sweeneys and other Scullys, Lawlers, Tandys and Clarkes
But above all as a wife and mother, a daughter, a sister, a mother-in-law, a sister- in –law, an aunt, a grandmother and great grandmother she somehow managed to have time and energy for all. How she did it so well and for so long unstinting and unwavering is a mystery. She was immensely proud of her offspring of all ages and their achievements and liked others to know and share these events as to her they were very important.
We always had great neighbours and she had great time for them Doyles and Duffys, Sweeneys and other Scullys, Lawlers, Tandys and Clarkes and so on down the Clontarf Road. She was most sensitive and aware of the needs and wants of others. The door was always open and kitchen often full with visitors who dropped in with the latest news. Again though never alluded to there is little doubt she was proud of the privilege earned in laying out the dead, a skill she surely learned in her hospital years, often the body of a close neighbour or friend.
Remembering the Dead
Indeed funerals and their associated rituals played a large part in our lives in Clontarf Road. Jimmy was a regular, no regular is too weak a word, he was a full-time but not a professional funeral goer. For years he unfolded his daily Irish Independent NOT to read the front page headlines or the growing sports pages or God forgive the Racing Page but to scan the full page of THE Deaths Columns where conveniently people died in alphabetical order and the schedule of his day was planned whether it be to a graveyard in Clonminch, Hop Hill, Durrow, Mucklagh, Rahan, Killeigh Geashill or Kilcormac and the route for his small but trusty bicycle on that day was thus determined.
Before the time he became co-pilot in Phil Reilly’s hearse, he walked or wheeled his bicycle as the cortege wound its way through this busy town and once a hearse was moving p ast the North Offaly Co-op in Harbour St. business was hushed and a voice asked , “Whose funeral is that?” The response was “ I don’t know but Jimmy Scully is at it.” The rejoinder was quick and sharp and female :…….. “That’s not enough information…isn’t he at them all!!!”
Almost 20 years ago Jimmy died 1st December 2000. Nellie was hospitalised at the time and could not attend Jimmy’s funeral. Having somehow managed to bring their hospital beds as close as physically possible together, she bade farewell to him with incredible dignity and acceptance saying : “He was a grand man, a good father now let him have a grand funeral.” I am sure he would now echo these sentiments for her : she was a great woman, a great mother ..let her have a great funeral. But there is a difference .. there is no way he is missing her funeral. There can be no doubt that he is SOMEHOW HERE looking on now and deriving great pride as he observes with a practiced eye, the detail of the send off . . . [for more of this Appreciation see the Tullamore Tribune, 9 May 2018]