Ireland Trip: 2–Visit to Abbeyfield, part 1

Do it or not. I struggled for a moment. It had been on mind ever since we’d decided to visit Ireland; one that had to be made, nonetheless. On the one hand, it could end well. We’d be made to feel welcome and would spend a pleasant time sharing stories around a place we’d grown to have in common. On the other hand, rejection; just a couple of nuts or frauds, deserving nothing much other than a door slammed with a little extra authority.

No real way to tell but the empirical one: do it.


They’d died within two hours of one another.

She—my grandmother (technically my great aunt as mom had been raised by her aunt and uncle; no matter, to me she was Grannie Mac)—had always spent the fall baking Christmas cakes, which she would place in Jacob’s biscuit tins and send all over: Scotland, England, Australia, the US and yes, several to Canada, including the one that would arrive mid-December in  “the Christmas parcel” which contained, besides our cake, Christmas pudding, Beano and Dandy Annuals (among others), along with who-knows-what! A Christmas tradition that, 40 years later, still brings a smile to my face. You know the one—pure joy.

On that December day she’d collapsed taking a cake from the oven; a massive heart attack. My grandfather (technically my great uncle; to me, Grando MacCormack) helped her as best he could and then ran down the street to the Burtonshaws to phone for an ambulance. The fuss, the stress—it was all too much. He, too, collapsed; a massive stroke. Two ambulances were needed.


At the age of three Mom left Cork and went to Dublin to be raised by her aunt and uncle. Her sisters and brothers remained behind at Drawbridge Street. But, for her, home became Dublin and Da and Ma were replaced by Daddy and Mammy ‘Cor (MacCormack). Her home was at Abbeyfield, in Kilester, Dublin. Daddy Cor had served in the British army and England was not about to see her vets do poorly. They’d provided for them and their home at Abbeyfield was due as much to the spirit of justice felt by the British army as it was to my Grando and Grannie Mac’s hard work. After his service as a sergeant in the Great War, Grando (or Daddy ‘Cor—let’s stick with the former) had worked his entire adult life at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin.

How Irish is that? But I digress.

As vets tend to be, Grando was dedicated, hardworking and frugal. He saved; put money away, for those who would come after. He did it well.

Mom's family. Taken at the summer home at Crosshaven. Back Grando MacCormack. Grannie Mac, Mike Hayes ("Da"), Centre Mom's Mom ("Ma"), Front, Mom, Uncke Michael, Aunt Annie

Mom’s family. Taken at the summer home at Crosshaven. Back: Grando MacCormack. Grannie Mac, Mike Hayes (“Da”), Centre: Mom’s Biological Mom (“Ma”), Front, Aunt Annie, Uncle Michael, Mom

Time passed and Mom and Dad met; personal ads in the Winnipeg Free Press—a story for another time, maybe. They married in 1959 and Mom moved to Newfoundland. She and Dad started a family, but Dad promised that she’d always be able to come back to Ireland each year. And so it was. As children, myself and my sister got to accompany her and sometimes Dad would come too.

Dad and Mom's Wedding, 1959, taken at St. Brigid's church, Kilester, Dublin.

Dad and Mom’s Wedding, 1959, taken at St. Brigid’s church, Killester, Dublin.

Summers split between lengthy visits to Ireland and visits to Red Island. How could it be any better? Not that everything was perfect. Those were the times of “the troubles” of course, but you have to understand that even those nasty times could have only so much effect on so young a mind. Children persevere.


Then that phone call. It was December, 1978. I had just moved away from home that fall to attend university. 722-9821: I recall it to this day, the number of the phone booth at the end of the hall at my university residence; the only phone on the floor. It was my sister calling to give me the news. Grannie Mac and Grando had just died, within two hours of one another. Mom would have to go to Ireland for the funerals and to try and put everything in order.

At the time it just washed over me. I was still too young to really grasp it all. No, this was not the first loss; I was no stranger to grief—yes, another story—but this was something that could not be absorbed all at once. An ailing father and mother, exam week about to start and now this tremendous loss…but, still, children persevere.

Mom made arrangements and went to Dublin. Two funerals, so unexpected, but the tragedy did not end there. Grando had died first and that was significant. His will stated that his belongings would go to Grannie Mac and then Mom. When he died, everything became the property of Grannie Mac, who had no will.

Despite having been raised from age three by them, she’d never been legally adopted. She therefore had no title to the estate. It went to my Grannie Mac’s sister instead. Trucks came by and cleaned out the house. The bank account—and recall that Grando was quite a saver–was emptied as well; not by Mom. The Lawyers advised my Mom to contest it. The proceedings would take years but she had a strong case; a winnable one.

Mom said, “No. I am not doing that.” She let it all go and moved on; no bitterness, no blame.

She was like that. Besides, could there possibly be a better way to teach a son and a daughter a lesson on values?

Now, the house was another matter entirely. Her name was on the deed and so it became her property. She got advice on what to do, whether to leave it for use during the summers, rent it or sell it. Sadly she had to take the latter. Ireland, at the time, was still years away from any prosperity. Times were hard and the echoes of “the troubles” still rang through the country. Things could not be left “as-is.” The house had to go, else it would be vandalized; ruined within weeks. That was that. It want up for sale and was sold to Mr. Maurice Walsh, a solicitor, for 17,500 pounds, a reasonable sum at the time Mom took the proceedings and shared them with me and my sister, to pay for our education.

She was like that. That selfless gift to her children helped us in ways we could not have imagined.


And now, thirty-five years later here I was, standing at the front door of that very house, finger just over the doorbell. I pushed it.

And waited.

At the door of the house in Killester wondering what would happen next.

At the door of the house in Killester wondering what would happen next.



About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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20 Responses to Ireland Trip: 2–Visit to Abbeyfield, part 1

  1. tw says:

    I love your family photos, and the history. The story of your Grando and Grannie Mac is touching and sad all at once, they sound like wonderful people. I hope you received a warm welcome at no. 48, am looking forward to the next instalment 🙂

    • LOL–It’s already written 🙂 It’s just that I tend to be long-winded and, at 1100 words I figured nobody would tolerate having to read more than that in one go. Part 2 will go up in a few days.

  2. Mjollnir says:

    A fascinating story Maurice 😀

  3. jennypellett says:

    Oh my, what a story! How sad, how wonderful, how intriguing.
    I can’t wait for part two.
    Maurice – you could write a novel.

  4. Pingback: Ireland Trip: 2--Visit to Abbeyfield, part 1

  5. The saying, everybody has a story comes to mind and this one captured my heart and imagination Maurice. I hope you enjoyed the day and I look forward to reading the rest. Your Mum sounds like a beautiful caring woman. You should write a novel.

  6. ARGH! How could you leave us hanging like that … darn you! I totally expect the next installment SOON! D

  7. SJ O'Hart says:

    Even though you’d already told me all of this, I found reading this blog post to be such a moving experience. The photos of your family probably helped with that. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m sure Grannie Mac and Grando would be very proud of you.

    • That was actually the day after we visited with you and Fergal. You know, I have no real regrets but I will say that I do wish that my adult self would’ve had the chance to meet with them.

  8. Two points.

    1) you had a ‘phone on your floor in hall of residence? The only ‘phones at ours were half a dozen – for 400 students – in the main building. And it was the same time period too, ie 78.

    2) if your grandma died first, I don’t see why, because she had predeceased Brando, that the inheritance didn’t go to your mother. You can’t leave something to a dead person, and he’d made provision for that by naming your mother on the will. Most odd.

    • It takes a trained eye to find the errors! I’ve made some slight edits to correct my original draft, which was incorrect. Thank you. Yes, both were at the hospital and both in comas. She, for the heart attack she’s suffered first and he, for the stroke. He died first and at that moment all the property became hers, despite being in a coma. When she died, two hours later the property went to her estate and she had no will.
      Anyone who says that electronic publishing has rendered the roles of proofreaders, copy editors, developmental editors and reviews obsolete has no idea of what they are talking about!

      • It’s not just about the reading/editing though is it? It’s about knowledge of life, education, and always questioning everything. Should I need an informal referee…

        I do agree with your mother’s lawyer, I think there were grounds, but why did she not have a will? Who knos, as ours need re-writing. And sometimes, walking from confrontation leads to a better life. A very thorny and difficult issue for your mother and your family.

        • Fortunately, now, it’s all in the distant past and we’ve all moved on. I still value the example set by Mom and will always try to live up to it.
          While I was at Ireland it had occurred to me to try and get in touch with the relatives, but time (I suppose–there’s the possibility that I’m rationalizing my inaction) did not permit the search. Maybe some other time.

  9. Tiny says:

    I just realized I forgot to comment on this post as I read them back to back…it was so captivating. As I said, I was moved and loved the photos, and the way you related the history back to us.

  10. elkement says:

    (Accidentally I read part 2 before part 1…)

    What a story … it seems to me that anything related to legacies and wills brings forth the best or the worse in people.

    Your grandparents deaths reminds me of a story by Ovid – – about an elderly married couple whom Greek gods allowed for a wish, because of their hospitality. They asked for dying at the same time when their time will have come. When they died, they turned into two trees growing side by side.

  11. johnlmalone says:

    a gripping narrative in which the two central characters come alive. How amazing they died within two hours ofveach other, maybe a good thing as one may have found life inconsolably dreary without the other

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