Tuesday, 19 January 2010

An insight into the character of Granny Whelan

Gaye writes: "Granny Whelan looking happy on her birthday which was 17th March (St Patrick’s day) and the photo was taken in 9 Castle Park Sandymount where we moved after Bolton Street. You can see part of her mahogany dinning table and other items of furniture which she still had at that time."

On this side of the Irish Sea our great granny Whelan has an almost fabled reputation, not least perhaps because of her longevity, living into her 90s. As a child in the company of my grand mother Lily Lalwor, who was of course Granny Whelan's daughter, and listening to adults talking about her being 'back home' in Ireland, my own mental image of Granny Whelan did actually take on a kind of mythical form. Perhaps because of her very respectable age at that time even back in the 1960s, Granny Whelan conjured up an image in my mind of someone who had come out of a bygone age of old Ireland with it's deeply ingrained traditions and folk lore. She almost personified Ireland for me ...the archetypal matriarch.

Perhaps I had emerald tinted glasses to some extent (no change there then I hear you all say), although clearly the world in which Anne Whelan would have been born back in the late 19th century was very different to what it has become in my own lifetime. If I just about recall a world without personal computers, she lived in a world without motor cars, just as my adult life felt the repurcussions of 9/11 so she would have been a mom with young children when the Titanic went down, I was a child when man stepped out onto the moon, Granny was an adult when Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first flight!

The perceptions of Granny Whelan for the family in Birmingham are that perhaps at times she was harsh in her judgements - especially of her children. There is a strong belief which has to be based on fact to a large extent that Granny didn't approve of my grand mother's marriage to my grandfather and their departure from Dublin to Birmingham was tantamount to an elopement. Perhaps we shall never know the true extent of actions, emotions and repercussions, though what should be noted is that if Granny was cross about the union, she visited Birmingham twice on her own to stay with Lily and James shortly after the births of both Joan and Kevin which would have constituted a big journey for a lady who rarely left her own house in the last decades of her life. My suspicion therefore is that under the cool exterior there was a caring and sensitive mother whose motives were purely concern for her daughter and also, it has to be added, her grand children.

My mother's cousin Gaye Mulholland, who lived in the same house as Granny Whelan for many years gives us a little more of an insight into Granny's character:

"Granny Whelan did outlive some of her children. Unfortunately one of them was my mother Margaret who died in 1969 when I was 12. Two years previous to that Kitty had already died. They both died of cancer. When granny Whelan died the following of her children were still alive; John jnr., Richard (Dick), James (Jimmy), Patrick (Pat), Mary (Leonard) and your granny Lawler. Yes granny Whelan had airs and graces and yes she did give my Mum a hard time looking after her but she was generous too and she made great soup. If you can imagine a Victorian lady, stern, frugal (she recycled everything before we ever knew the word) a matriarch then you have a good idea of her. She always gave her grandchildren something when they visited. Usually a few sweets or fruit or a few pennies. She had a special press where she kept things like that for handing out and she expected her children to visit every Sunday and to bring her grandchildren. I was lucky to have had her live with me. She read several newspapers every day right up to the day she died and had a very active mind because of this. She read the cartoons from the papers to me if I asked her to. If you had a loose tooth you were brought to her to have her pull it out with her handkerchief and she would give it to you to put under your pillow that night.

"Eventually we had to leave 49 Bolton Street due to a compulsory purchase order by the government. But I think this was a good thing in the end. I think my Dad was probably trying to coax my Mum to move for a while. The area had got rough. I had never been allowed out to play out as a child. I know he didn’t like many things that were going on in the now seedy area. My Dad was lucky enough to be able to get a loan from his employer Bewleys which enabled us to move to Sandymount. Kitty and granny of course came with us and now things were reversed instead of us living in Kitty’s house they lived in our house but everything carried on pretty much as before with my Mum running around after Granny. I remember her once by accident breaking a cheap milk jug that granny used on her tray every day and my Mum being really anxious about it and rushing off to buy one exactly like it so granny wouldn’t notice. Bear in mind Mum was about 50 at the time.

"You mention a child of Anne Whelan’s having died in childhood from a tragic accident. I think this may have been a scalding but I am not sure. As you mention two of the Whelan family married into the my Father’s family the Younges but the Youngs were not locals to Bolton Street. They were from Ringsend a working class area. Though it is a suburb of Dublin, people from there always use to call themselves Ringsenders as opposed to just Dubliners. "


Gaye observes: "Your granny Lawlor’s eldest brother John on the left beside his mother granny Anne Whelan (nee McDonnell) who is not looking too pleased"

Thanks to Gaye Muholland and Phil Devlin for photos

On the relationship between my grandmother Lily and her mother Anne, Gaye gave us this very interesting and reassuring insight:

"Lilly seemed to have a special place in granny Whelan’s thoughts. Lilly herself, like all of granny Whelan’s children, would have been unlikely to have felt it though. Granny Whelan had a very Victorian way about her and was quite stoic when it came to emotions. She was dutiful. That was her way.

"Her old ways were at odds with the generations that came after her and she also found it difficult to show her appreciation of others and what they did for her. But I can say that Lily was loved by granny Whelan, that granny only ever spoke good of her and that the affection she had for Lilly was evident."


Gaye's caption: "Mary Leonard (nee Whelan) and Paddy Leonard’s wedding day. You can see Lally the white haired lady on the right beside the first man sitting on the left who is Willie Doyle (a friend of Kitty’s), the lady sitting next to him is Kitty, I don’t recognise the woman sitting to the right of Kitty but that is my Mother Margaret behind Kitty. The face popping out to the right of my Mother is Florrie Whelan (nee Melodie), don’t recognise the lady to the right of her but the next person after that is probably Mollie Whelan (nee Leonard), right of her is granny Anne Whelan, sitting at head of the table is the bride Mary behind the flowers and next to her Paddy Leonard, the elderly man next to him I am presuming is Grandad John Whelan snr., that is his son John Whelan jnr. behind him, the lady on the right of grandad Whelan is Catherine Barrett (Lally, sister of granny Whelan), I don’t know the rest of the people in the photo but the lady next to Lally is probably a Leonard."
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