Faithlegg Graveyard’s Palm Tree -symbol of love

Have you ever wondered why a palm tree stands in Faithlegg graveyard. It marks the grave of Captain Rudolph Udvardy, a Hungarian Sea Captain. He fell ill while aboard his ship the SS Honved at Cheekpoint in 1932 and eventually died.

I blogged an account of it before through a story well known in Cheekpoint following the removal of his coffin to Faithlegg, called the Night the Devil came for the Captains corpse.

The Point Lass bringing the Captain’s body ashore
His wife Rosa was aboard the SS Honved at the time, and she offered a bereft sight to the congregation when the Captain was laid to rest. The ship subsequently departed the harbour, and I believe his widow was aboard.  She was never to return.
Rosa communicated by letter to the village to the family of Paddy Heffernan of Ryan’s Shore.  And it is locally understood that the palm tree arrived as a small plant in a package sometime between 1932-34, with a request that it be placed as a marker on the grave.  Her last letter was worded thus:
(?) Udvardy (?)
Carnaro, Italy


My Dear Mr Paddy,

All Saints Day will soon be here again & my thoughts, as always are with my (late) husband.  I am deeply grieved to say that this year it is absolutely impossible to send money for the mass & flowers. It is strictly prohibited to send it out of the country.

I will have the Mass (read) here, I beg you to see that the grave is in order, and place a few simple flowers and a candle on it.

Furthermore, (following) your kindness of (heart), I ask you to (place) a flower on the grave on the following dates: Birthday 21st December, Wedding day 28th February, (?) day 17th April, Death 2nd September.  I cannot be there in person, the distance is so great, and I beg you to do it for me.

Dear Mr Paddy when all the (political) trouble is over and everything is normal again, I will send the money to cover all the expenses.

As a mark of my respect for you in have (enclosed) a photograph of my dear husband.  The little picture is the (famous) road Church of (Tersalli) which stands on the hill near here.

We are having dreadful weather (?) now, heavy rainstorms, & (sudden) changes of temperature. There is every sign that winter is approaching.

How are you and your dear family getting on?  I expect you are also having bad weather in your country.

Now dear Mr Paddy I thank you again for your (?) kindness and feel sure you will do what I have asked of you (here)

Wishing to be kindly remembered to your wife and dear children.

I remain
Yours Gratefully,
Rosa Udvardy

This was the last letter that Rosa wrote.  We have put in brackets the words we are unsure of.  The “Mr Paddy” was Paddy Heffernan of Ryans Shore, known as the Shag because, like the seabird, he was a great swimmer and catcher of fish.  His home and family were obviously a great comfort to Rosa at the time of her husband’s illness and subsequent death.
His wife need not have worried however.  The grave was marked by a very distinctive iron fabricated cross which my good friend John Sullivan could tell me Jimmy Shanahan had some connection with.  (Coincidentally or perhaps not, the grave is located beside the Shanahan plot too)
Some years back, the rusted grave marker crumbled to dust.  But a headstone sprung up in it’s place.  I only know that the headstone was provided by an anonymous donor.  As a child I recall that flowers occasionally appeared on the grave.  No doubt the letter from Rosa may explain it more.
The reason this was Rosa’s last letter we can only speculate.  Perhaps the address is the most instructive. The Honved was registered in the port of Fiume which was in a disputed region called the Regency of Carnaro, the address used by Rosa in the letter.  The area was historically fractious and had seen an ebb and flow of rulers and governments.  The difficulties raised in the letter refer to the political situation caused by the government of Mussolini and his fascist Italian state.  During WWII tensions boiled over with regular attacks by partisans in retaliation for axis attacks, and following the war, the area fell under the rule of Yugoslavia. The city of Fiume is now known as Rijeka. and is part of Croatia.
In this context, it is no surprise that Rosa’s letters dried up.  One can only speculate, but it would not be hard to imagine that in the context of political unrest and the subsequent war that simple everyday activities such as posting a letter might become impossible.  It’s also possible, if not probably, that Rosa herself became a casualty of such strife.  Surely had she survived, even as a refugee in another state, some subsequent communication would have emerged.
Reading the letter was bittersweet. The love and affection for her departed husband are obvious, and the comfort she would have gained from knowing that the grave was still cared for would, I feel, have been immense.  Sitting on his grave Sunday fortnight, the 28th, the anniversary of their marriage, I couldn’t help but wonder about her. Reunited again, no doubt, at this stage, perhaps the upkeep is no longer so important.  And yet maintained it is, and maybe, because of the Palm tree she sent, one of the most notable graves in the graveyard.
The Captain’s grave, and Rosa’s Tree
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:
F  T

I have to acknowledge the work of Jim Doherty (RIP) and his book, The Next House which he published in the 1990s and from which I got a very faded copy of Rosa’s handwritten letter transcribed above.  I also want to thank my wife Deena and daughter Hannah for helping me to try to decipher what the letter said.

13 Replies to “Faithlegg Graveyard’s Palm Tree -symbol of love”

  1. Buried in a distant land, how sad for the wife but what little comfort she gained from the help of a local Samaritan must have given her some warmth. May his God have mercy on his soul,amen.

  2. I knew a bit about it alright and that Paddy ( The Shag)Heffernan was involved in the story. As an aside to that, I was not long in Wicklow when I c ame across a colony of Shags on the cliffs. When I mentioned it to one of the. Lads in the Lifeboat station that I had found a colony of shags, they said “A What” obviously never heard of Shags.When I described what I had seen ,aaah they said Cormoraunts. Seemingly they had been nesting there for years.

  3. Very interesting, I always remember my mam telling me that her Brother Paddy rip walked to faithlegg alongside the Captain’s cortege..

    1. It is a practice tha has slowly died out Geraldine, but as a child I remember walking behind a cortege up the high road out of the village, no idea who it was for or when, but I was very young so probably the late 1960’s

  4. A really interesting story, and sad. The world is so small now compared to back then. It is heartening to see that the grave has been kept in good order and I’m sure it was a comfort to Rosa to know that it was tended and cared for.

    1. Thanks Kathleen, in the 1930’s it must have seemed a world away, they were living through the great depression followed by the rise of facism. A very different and difficult time.

  5. Thank you for posting this , lovely to save for future generations , Jim Shanahan was my fathers uncle , and I have great memories of him .

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