The emigrants return – Condon Family reunion, Cheekpoint 2016

Last weekend there was a homecoming of sorts to Cheekpoint.  Members of the extended Condon family, the offspring of Mary Doherty and Larry Condon who married in the first
decade of the last century, had a gathering in the village.  I was asked to come to one event and lead a
walk onto the Minaun and to the old school house.  It
culminated in a party on Cheekpoint Green where Mary was born and
it was a weekend the village will surely remember for many years to come.
My Father Bob, in the 1950’s.  The Doherty homestead is on the
green surrounded by a low whitewashed wall

Mary Doherty was one of 10 children (that I know of)
born to Bill Doherty and Bridget (nee Heffernan) on the Green in
Cheekpoint.  She worked as a ladies maid in
Faithlegg House for many a year, and it was this that probably gave her the
love she had of company and entertaining visitors to her home.  Larry was from the Old Road, his home now
demolished was close to Cassin’s.  His parents were James and Ellen. Larry
was a sailor who originally went to sea before the mast, and stories about his
exploits were legion. One I told on
the day went as follows.

Larry, middle row on left, circa 1930’s
Photo: Anthony Rogers

Paddy (Batty, I believe) Doherty went to sea, and he
travelled to Wales and wound up in Newport or Cardiff going agent to agent
looking for a berth.  At the end of a
disappointing day he washed up in a café where he had only the money for a cup
of tea.  As he went to find a seat he was
hailed by a sea captain who asked where he came from.  “Waterford Sir” Paddy replied.  “City or County” he was asked.  “Cheekpoint, Sir” he replied.  “Do you know Larry Condon?” was the next
question.  “I do of course”  “Are you looking for a berth?, sit down here, ye need look no further” came the welcome response.

As a young sailor the now Captain, was part of a crew on an Atlantic run. 
In a ferocious storm the spar on the main mast broke away, but remained
connected to the ship via some of the rigging. 
Pitching and rolling in heavy seas, every time the ship healed to port
the spar careered into the starboard and with each impact the timbers weakened.  The captain and crew looked on
helplessly.  To climb the rigging in such
seas was madness, and yet unless the spar was cut away, it would breach the
side and in the conditions they wouldn’t remain afloat.  Suddenly Larry ran for’ad and leaped from the ship onto the rigging and slid down along it to the
tangled spar. 
While Larry hacked away at the ropes with his knife, he watched for
the crashing waves and the inevitable collision against the ships side.  With each impact he had to cease work and
grasp the spar with both hands.  Several
times his ship mates thought he was crushed, or washed away, but each time he
emerged, his determination showing no ceasing. 
Finally the ropes were cut away, but as the spar was swept astern, with
it went Larry into the depths of the surging Atlantic. As he disappeared astern a length of ships rope, thrown by the captain, landed atop of him.  Miraculously he managed to catch it and hold it, and with it the
crew hauled their saviour aboard.
Mary and Larry set up home at number 3 the cottages (in the
past some called it the street)   Indeed
it’s worth recalling that the six cottages that run down to the village quay
would probably not be even there if it were not for the couple.  When Mary was to be married she went to her
employer and asked if he would build them a house which they would then repay
via a weekly rent.  Pat Power, the then
landlord at Faithlegg agreed.  Land
belonging to Larry at the cross roads was earmarked, but on work commencing,
several others approached the landlord with a similar request.  He went back to Mary to explain, and told her
that to accommodate everyone, he would build a line of houses, but that she
could have the first choice.  As far as I’m aware they had 6 children.  2 girls, Eily and Bessie and 4 boys; Liam, Larry, Jimmy and Christy.

The six cottages, probably the 40’s or 50’s

Eily and Bessie lived locally.  Larry died aboard ship in the Indian Ocean in 1950.  Jimmy, who anyone in the area will know was a crewman on our beloved Portlairge, also went to sea.  Jimmy was passing through the Panama Canal one day when he spotted his fathers ship coming against him.  He sang out to inquire if Larry Condon was aboard, that it was his son was asking.  A deckhand was seen running and moments later his father arrived at the ships side.  They had a brief chat to catch up, both walking towards the stern no doubt, to maintain this fleeting encounter.  They hadn’t seen each other in two years, and it would be another year before they actually met each other in Cheekpoint. 

Eily (left) and Bessie (Rt) with Kathy Barry in the centre
early 1990’s on a Thursday Club outing to Mellery
Photo: Bridget Power

The most poignant story I heard at the weekend was the
leaving of their son Christy and family in 1955.  The 50’s were a hungry and bleak time
nationally (I heard it called locally the black decade, a recent book called it the lost decade).  Economic stagnation and loss of confidence was everywhere in De Va Lara’s Ireland and in Cheekpoint even the
fish seemed to have abandoned us. 
Without fish the only option in the climate was a long absences away at
sea or emigration.  Christy chose the
boat to England, but he left his wife May and the children (I believe it was eight
children at the time) at home.

Christy was set up in the job by his brother Laim.  Liam had come in from a cold, wet and fruitless night of fishing with my grandfather in 1946 and spotted an advertisement in a local paper for a new engineering firm British Timken in Northampton.  He was interviewed in a hotel in Waterford and was given the job on the spot,  He was foreman by the fifties and he helped Christy find his feet in the same company, and with the job he kept the family fed and earned enough to put a deposit on a home.

In the summer of 1955 he returned and the family readied
themselves for the journey.  They were
living at the time where the cottage bistro is now situated.  The children were all part of the community,
went to school, to mass, played on the village green, swam off the quay.  Steps of stairs, they were part of the
vitality of the community.  The decision to
leave was a huge wrench.  But as big as
it was for the family, it’s often those that are left behind that perhaps feel it more.
Christy in later years, chatting to Jim Doherty on left and
big Patsy Doherty on right.  Photo: Anthony Rogers

The evening they sailed down from Waterford on the Great
Western the village turned out to wave them away.  Fires were lit from the Rookery to the Mount
and the Rogers family (Eily was married at that stage to John Joe Rogers) lit a fire at Passage
East.  Tom Sullivan told me that he was a
deckhand on her that evening, and he overheard one person saying that if only
she would sink now passing the village, the children could swim ashore, and
never have to leave.

The Great Western, inbound to Waterford from the
Russianside 1950’s

I think the extended Condon family were a little surprised
by the welcome they got to Cheekpoint last weekend.  Ben Power had up his welcome to Cheekpoint
banner.  William Doherty had the village
festooned in bunting.   The Development
Group had the green cut, Clem Jacob had a fine marquee to protect them from
the rain and Eamon Duffin with his wife Diane, and son Jim was on hand to provide the music. The sun shone, the tide came in and Cheekpoint looked at its
best.  I didn’t manage to count the crowd
there on Saturday, but it was as good a crowd as at any village fun day.  The only shame was that so many who would have
loved it, could not have come as they’re gone to their eternal rest.

a small section of the gathering 17/9/2016

I’ve written before about the scourge of emigration as it visited the Moran family, but I reflected there that it was those who were left
behind to carry on, who seem to feel the pain of it more.  In speaking with the Condon family the sense
I got was that although they missed, and often returned to Cheekpoint, that the
move to England provided opportunities that Ireland at the time never could. Christy and May wanted nothing but to provide
the best for their children.  As a
country we’d do well to remember that with all those who have come to Ireland
in the last number of years, searching for the very same.

My thanks to Larry Condon, Pat Condon and Anthony Rogers and his sister Rosalind in compiling this article. All errors & omissions are my own.

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4 Replies to “The emigrants return – Condon Family reunion, Cheekpoint 2016”

  1. Thanks so much Andrew for such a beautifully written article. Brought a tear to my eye! It was a truly memorable event last weekend and thanks to all who made it so special. Elizabeth (Rogers)

    1. Hi Elizabeth, it was great to see you all that day on the green and to hear all those stories. Some I had known since childhood, others only in researching the piece, but all helping to more fully understand the village we hail from. Take care and hopefully see you again soon.

  2. Thank you for this article Andrew. It was a fantastic and very memorable weekend. I'm very proud to be part of the Condon family! – Kath Middleditch (Ellen Condon's daughter)

    1. Hi Kath, it was great to meet you, and do the tour with you all. I think it was your Dad Richard, who told me a few yarns about British Timken but I couldn't fit them in unfortunately , its a case of being spoiled for material…wish that was the issue each Friday I publish. Kind regards, Andrew

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