It seems strange writing about my mother and wishing her a very Happy 100th Birthday without being present in the family home in South Dublin where she has lived since 1968. But the coronavirus emergency means everyone staying at home and keeping in contact via video conferencing and other means. Thanks to my brother John we were able to share the birthday party and see the cards, cake and of course the letter from the President.

Peggy Fisher celebrating her 100th birthday

Margaret Mary Elizabeth Smyth was born at the family home at Conabury, Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan (Big Tom country) on 31st March 1920. Her parents (my grandparents) were John F. Smyth, solicitor, and Elizabeth Smyth (née McCann from Aughnacloy) who was a nurse at the original St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin.

Birthday Cake

Mum was the third of nine children, four of them boys of whom two were priests, Fr Harry Smyth CM and Fr Reggie Smyth SPS. Both of the served on the missions, including Nigeria. The only surviving sibling is the youngest daughter, Sr Nora Smyth RSCJ, a Sacred Heart nun in Armagh. My mother attended the convent there as a boarder. Thank you to all the SH sisters who sent cards to Mum and remembered her in their prayers.

Back L-R (Fr) Reggie, Peggy, Eugene, Finbarr; Front L-R Nora, Dorothy, Fr Harry, Olive, Marie Smyth from Castleblayney


Private Thomas Hughes of the 6th Battalion Connaught Rangers was born in Corravoo, Castleblayney, in 1885. He was 29 when the Great War began. He was awarded the V.C. for actions at Guillemont in France during the Battle of the Somme on 3rd September 1916. Plaques at the Catholic church in Guillemont commemorate him and two other holders of the Victoria Cross. Our group visited the church on the third day of our visit to World War One sites.

The citation read: “For most conspicuous bravery and determination. He was wounded in an attack but returned at once to the firing line after having his wounds dressed. Later seeing a hostile machine gun, he dashed out in front of his company, shot the gunner and single handedly captured the gun. Though again wounded, he brought back three prisoners”.


King George V presents Pte Hughes with his VC in Hyde Park in 1917

Walking with the aid of crutches, Hughes was personally awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V at an investiture at Hyde Park in London on 2nd June 1917. He also received the 1914–15 Star, British War Medal and Allied Victory Medal. Hughes was later promoted to the rank of Corporal. It was his custom each year to attend the Armistice Day ceremony at the Cenotaph in London. When he returned to Ireland, it was a very different country to the one he had left. Soldiers who had gone to fight in the British cause were often shunned and their exploits were largely forgotten.

Thomas Hughes died on 8th January 1942, aged 56, and is buried in the cemetery at St Patrick’s Church, Broomfield. His Victoria Cross medal is held by the National Army Museum, Chelsea in London.


Grave of Pte Hughes in Broomfield, Co. Monaghan Pic. Monaghan Heritage

Speaking at the unveiling of a blue plaque memorial for Pte Hughes in Castleblayney in February 2017, Minister Heather Humphreys said she had travelled to Thiepval and Guillemont in July and September in 2016, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, and to remember the many Irish men who died there from the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division. In the small, beautiful church in Guillemont, a tiny village in Northern France, she saw the plaques on the wall in honour of Thomas Hughes.

Hughes is one of 27 Irish holders of the Victoria Cross for whom the British government arranged a paving stone to be placed at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, paid for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.


Stone for Pte Hughes VC unveiled at Glasnevin

Despite the romance sometimes portrayed in newspaper columns such as the Northern Standard, recruitment to the British Army remained very low for the county for the entire war. By October 1916 only 738 men from County Monaghan had answered the call to enlist, the majority being Protestants (although they represented approximately one-fifth of the population at the time). Slow recruitment was blamed several times on the prominence of agriculture in the county, with the farming classes accused of not wanting to go to war because they were prospering financially.

In total around 2,500 Monaghan men served in the Great War. There were notable contributions from some families. Seven Roberts brothers from Killybreen in Errigal Truagh all joined the British army at different stages. Seven sons of Sir Thomas Crawford of Newbliss served, and three of these were decorated for gallantry. Four Steenson brothers from Glaslough joined up and two were killed. In all, nearly 540 Monaghan men were killed in the war, about half of them Protestant and half Catholic.


Blue plaque in Castleblayney for Private Thomas Hughes VC

The unveiling of the Ulster History Circle blue plaque for Private Hughes in Castleblayney was attended by his niece Josephine (Hughes) Sharkey from Dundalk, and her daughter Siobhan. Other relatives included PJ McDonnell, (originally from Broomfield), Chair of the Monaghan Association in Dublin. His father’s mother and the mother of Thomas Hughes were sisters. Other relations came from the Donaghmoyne area, including Ann Christy, a grand niece, Brian Conway from Castleblayney, Pauline McGeough (Broomfield), Rosemary Hughes-Merry (Castleblayney), Angela McBride from Carrickmacross and a distant cousin, Frank Hughes, originally from Laragh.


Niece of Pte Hughes, Josephine Sharkey from Dundalk, with his portrait

The attendance included former members of the Irish Defence Forces from the Blayney Sluagh group, representatives of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the regimental museum in Enniskillen, members of the Lisbellaw and south Fermanagh WW1 Society (who also visited the grave of Private Hughes), and the curator of Monaghan County Museum, Liam Bradley, who had organised a number of events for the 1916 Somme centenary.

Siobhan (Hughes) Sharkey read a poem which had been specially composed for the occasion of the presentation of the Victoria Cross to Private Hughes in 1917. On his return to Castleblayney, the urban district council with Lord Francis Hope arranged an address of welcome for Hughes to celebrate his bravery on winning the “coveted trophy which is emblematical of the highest bravery on the battlefield”. Local dispensary Dr J.P. Clarke said it was with great pleasure he read in the press of the coveted decoration “being pinned to the breast of our hero.” He did not know whether it was time for poetry or not, but anyhow he could recite them a few lines he had composed for the occasion (in Castleblayney in 1917)…


Before the Kaiser’s war began with frightfulness untold,

How many a peaceful hero worked in many a peaceful fold,

How many a valiant soldier strove to keep the home fires bright,

How saddened skies weep over their graves in pity through the night.

From Suvla Bay to doomed Ostend, from Jutland to Bordeaux,

They fought and bled and died to save these countries from the foe;

In Flanders, France and Belgium, from Seine to Grecian shore,

Brave were the deeds and bright the hopes of boys we’ll see no more.

‘Mongst them times forty thousand men picked out from Ireland’s sons,

Who went to fight the Austrians, the Bulgars, Turks and Huns,

How few returned with due reward their valour to repay,

But Thomas Hughes of Corravoo, V.C., is here to-day.

A Blayney man whose noble deeds uphold our country’s pride,

Who saved his comrades, took the gun, cast thought of self aside,

And changed defeat to victory in blood-soaked trenches when,

He ranked with bravest of the brave — the Connaught Rangers men.

Tom Hughes was reared where sun at dawn makes shadows lightly fall,

Across Fincarn’s ancient hill so sacred to us all;

For there tradition tells an Irish hero proudly rests,

Strong Finn McCool, the warrior, enshrined in Irish breasts,

Near by the road in Lackafin, beside lone Corravoo,

Remains of Irish chiefs are found in cromlech plain to view,

Among these scenes his youth was passed, no recreant was he,

For when his chance to fight arrived he well won his V.C.

He faced grim death while all around like Autumn leaves men fell,

He fought good fight and gained the day despite the raging hell

Of bullets, bayonets, shrapnel, Jack Johnson’s gas set free.

Now raise three cheers, and three times three, for Thomas Hughes V.C.!”


Unveiling of plaque in Castleblayney by Minister Heather Humphreys TD (right) and relatives of Pte Hughes VC


© Michael Fisher, The Northern Standard, June 6th 2019 p. 29

Whilst the official visit of President Trump to Ireland today has taken up all the headlines, a state visit last month by the King and Queen of Sweden went by almost without notice. Returning from a Local Ireland awards ceremony in Athlone a fortnight ago, I noticed a long convoy of official cars and Garda outriders on the bypass outside the town. Was it a dress rehearsal for the visit of the US President, I wondered. Or perhaps it was the Swedish royal couple, who had been in Dublin the day before.

Further investigation revealed that the Swedish royals visited the Ericsson research and development site in Athlone to discuss digitalisation and 5G in Europe as part of their three-day state visit. The King and Queen were joined by members of the Swedish Government, including Anders Ygeman, Minister for Energy and Digital Development and Sean Canney TD, Minister of State for Rural Affairs and Natural Resources.

King and Queen of Sweden Visited the Ericsson R&D Facility in Athlone

My thoughts turned to a connection between the Swedish Royal Family and County Monaghan that I had spoken publicly about in Castleblayney 25 years ago. The following information is based largely on the talk which was held in the Glencarn Hotel. It centred around Crown Princess Margaret of Sweden, a daughter of the Duke of Connaught, who lived with his family at Hope Castle in Castleblayney from 1900-1904 (David Hicks in “Irish Country Houses” 2012).


The Duke of Connaught, son of Queen Victoria, came to Castleblayney on his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in Ireland. He was then 50, having been born at Buckingham Palace in London on 1st May 1850. It was said at the time that the Duke and Duchess experienced a great deal of difficulty in finding an Irish home as they did not wish to spend all their time in the official residence at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, Dublin. The Irishresidence associated with the office of Commander in Chief was not thought to be suitable for habitation by such high-ranking royals as the grounds of the residence were far from private and its location was thought to be in an inferiorpart of the city (Hicks). Several other houses such as Castletown House in Kildare were considered before the Duke settled on Hope Castle, which he leased from Lord Henry Francis Hope. It is believed that the Castleblayney residence was chosen as it was located near the home of Leonie Leslie, a prominent socialite at the time, who lived at Castle Leslie, Glaslough. She was a close friend of the Duke and Duchess, with the emphasis on the former.

The royal couple arrived in Castle Blayney in June 1900 and received a warm welcome from the local people; both the gates to the castle and the whole town were decorated with bunting and flags. The Duke had taken the castle for the summer season in 1900 with an option of leasing it for a further five years. It was thought at the time that Hope Castle would become an official royal residence and that Queen Victoria would visit her son here, but she died in 1901. The Duke of Duchess of Connaught ended their association with the Castle in 1904 (Hicks).


Of her five children, Prince Arthur (William Patrick Albert) was Queen Victoria’s favourite son. By the time he arrived in ’Blayney, he already had a distinguished military career. He entered the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich in 1866, was created a Knight of the Order of St Patrick in 1869 and by the age of 21, was a Privy Counsellor. He received his title Duke of Connaught and Strathearn in 1874, then served as Assistant Adjutant General in Gibraltar for two years. He was promoted again in 1876, serving as personal ADC to Queen Victoria, a role he fulfilled for four of her successors. In 1879 he was married at St George’s chapel in Windsor Castle, near London.

His wife was Princess Louise of Prussia, who at the age of 18 was 10 years his junior. She had been born in Potsdam in 1860, third daughter of Prinz Friedrich Karl of Prussia. The couple had two children.


Bagshot Park in Surrey, England from Morris’s Country Seats from the time the Duke of Connaught lived there (1880)

Their first child was Margaret Victoria Augusta Charlotte Norah, born at Bagshot Park in Surrey on January 15th 1882 (this is now the private residence of Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex). Just under a year later, the second child, Arthur, was born at Windsor Castle. He later saw active service in the South African war and was Governor General there from 1920-23.

The Duke of Connaught became a General in 1893 after serving in Egypt and India and was appointed a Field Marshal in 1902, during the time he was in Castleblayney. He was a significant figure in British society, as can be seen by the rest of his career.

On completing his four years in Ireland, he was appointed Inspector General of the British Forces and President of the Selection Board 1904-07. For the next two years, he was Field Marshal and Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean. He opened the Union Parliament of South Africa, where his son later became Governor General, in 1910.

The following year, the Duke became Governor General of Canada, a post he held for five years and which aroused controversy as he attempted to meddle in Canadian military affairs. He served as Grand Master of the United Lodge of Freemasons from 1901 (a year after his appointment in Ireland) to 1939. He was decorated by several countries, including Spain, Turkey, France, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Greece, Japan (Order of the Chrysanthemum), Ethiopia, the Netherlands, Tunisia, Montenegro, Romania and finally, Monaco. The Duke died at Bagshot Park in Surrey on January 16th 1942, at the age of 91.


When Princess Margaret of Connaught was 23 and her younger sister Princess Patricia of Connaught was 18, both girls were among the most beautiful and eligible princesses in Europe. Their uncle, King Edward VII, wanted his nieces to marry a European king or crown prince. In January 1905, the Duke and Duchess of Connaught visited Portugal, where they were received by King Carlos and his wife, Amélie of Orléans whose sons Luís Filipe, Duke of Braganza, and Prince Manuel entertained the young British princesses. The Portuguese expected one of the Connaught princesses would become the future Queen of Portugal.

The Connaughts continued their trip to Egypt and Sudan. In Cairo, they met Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden, the future Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden, grandson of the Swedish King Oscar II. Originally, Margaret’s sister Patricia had been considered a suitable match for Gustaf Adolf; without his knowledge, a meeting was arranged with the two sisters. Gustaf Adolf and Margaret fell in love at first sight, and he proposed at a dinner held by Lord Cromer at the British Consulate in Egypt, and was accepted. Margaret’s parents were very happy with the match. Gustaf Adolf and Margaret, then 23, married on 15th June 1905 in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, where her father had also been married. The couple spent their honeymoon at Adare Manor in Co. Limerick and arrived in Sweden on 8th July 1905. One of Margaret’s wedding presents was the Connaught tiara, which remains in the Swedish royal jewellery collection today.

The Crown Prince of Sweden, Gustaf Adolf, was ten months younger than his bride. He came from a military background, like his father-in-law, having entered the Swedish army in 1902. Thirty years later, he became a General. His wife, however, did not survive that long.

During the First World War, she did a lot of work for the Red Cross and as can be seen in her connections with Castleblayney, she seemed to be a caring person. Known in Sweden as Margareta, she died thirty years before her husband’s accession to the throne of Sweden.

At 2 o’clock in the morning on 1st May 1920, her father’s 70th birthday, Crown Princess Margaret, aged 38, died suddenly in Stockholm of “blood poisoning” (sepsis).

Her husband re-married (the second wife was Lady Louise Mountbatten, sister of Earl Mountbatten). At the age of 68, Gustaf Adolf succeeded to the throne, reigning from 1950 to September 1973 as King Gustaf VI Adolf, the last Swedish monarch to hold real political power. He was a noted archaeologist and died aged 90. Since then, his grandson Carl XVI Gustaf has held the title of King and reigns along with Queen Silvia. They are the dignitaries who have just completed a state visit to Ireland.

Following her marriage in 1905, Crown Princess Margaret had five children. The first born in Stockholm on 22nd April 1906 was Gustaf Adolf, Duke of Vaesterbotten, later Prince. He was killed in a flying accident near Copenhagen in 1947, so when the time for succession came, in 1973, it was his son who took the throne and is now the King of Sweden.

He was followed by Sigvard, born at Drottningholm Palace in July 1907, an important year for the Swedish royal family, as Gustaf V came to the throne, shortly after the dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway. The last three children were all born in Stockholm. Princess Ingrid in March 1910, Bertil in February 1912 and then carl, Duke of Dalecorlia, November 1916.

Some of the children are pictured in postcards which she sent from Stockholm over a period of five years, passing greetings to what she described as he friends in Castleblayney. All are addressed to Mrs JJ Kelly, a correspondence linking Castleblayney and Sweden.


JJ Kelly was a Local Government Board Inspector and his wife Mary was the postmistress. They lived at Castle Square as it was then called, near the entrance to Hope Castle. Both are buried in the graveyard behind St Mary’s Church. Their daughter Rosa Kelly was a first cousin of my mother and details of the correspondence were kept by her following Rosa’s death in Surrey, where she is buried beside my aunt Dorothy Smyth. My mother then passed on details of the original correspondence including letters to the Swedish royal archives in Stockholm.


The first is not dated and it’s impossible to decipher the postmark. But the picture shows Crown Princess Margaret and her husband, who is holding a baby, Gustaf Adolf, the Duke of Vaesterbotten, who was born in April 1906. It reads:

“Princess Margaret send many thanks for the shamrock and hopes all the friends at Castle Blayney are well.” So it seems it might have been written in March 1907, some time after St Patrick’s Day (possibly 20th March). Some similar messages follow in the next few years. The Kellys must have sent Princess Margaret shamrock to wear, to remind her of Castleblayney.

“19th December 1909

A happy Xmas & 1910 to all from

Margaret”. The picture shows her with her two children, Gustaf Adolf aged 3, and Sigvard, aged 2.

“March 18 1910. Thank you so much for the shamrock. I hope you and all old friends in Castle Blayney and neighbourhood are well, Margaret.” The picture is probably of Gustaf Adolf again, aged three and wearing a similar outfit to the previous photo.

Postmark 1912

Picture of Prinsessan Margareta on front with a greeting to Mrs Kelly:

“A happy Christmas to you from Princess Margaret, Stockholm”

March 25 1914

Five months before the outbreak of World War I.

“Stockholm. The Crown Princess sends her best thanks for the shamrock and the kind thought which prompted the gift.”

No stamp or postmark. Might have been enclosed with a letter.

The picture is of the Crown Princess in what appears to be national costume with a white head-dress and reading a book.

March 21 1915

“The Crown Princess of Sweden sends most grateful thanks for the shamrock, which arrived here quite safely on St Patrick’s Day.”

Mrs Kelly’s address was given as ‘The Trees’, so by then she seemed to have finished her role as postmistress (according to the street directories). It’s also interesting that this correspondence was seven months after the start of WWI. The picture showed four of Margaret’s five children, Prince Gustaf Adolf, Sigvard, Bertil and Princess Ingrid.

December 15 1915

“The Crown Princess of Sweden sends an Xmas greeting to Castle Blayney”. The picture is of Margaret and captioned Vår Kronprinsessa / Our Crown Princess.

One card simply says: “Wishing you a Happy Christmas and New Year from Margaret.” Her portrait on the front seems to indicate it was from one of the earlier years.

The final postcard which appears to conclude the correspondence was posted in Stockholm and addressed to Mrs Kelly at The Trees, Castle Blayney.

April 17 1916

“The Crown Princess of Sweden sends grateful thanks for the shamrock. She was sorry to hear of your sad loss and sends sincere sympathy.” The reference was probably to the death of Joe Kelly in August 1915.

The picture shows four of Margaret’s children (the fifth wasn’t born until the following year), Gustaf Adolf, Sigvard, Bertil and Princess Ingrid.
The postcards provide a fascinating insight into Castleblayney’s connection with the Swedish Royal Family.

This was first published by me at a talk in Castleblayney in 1994, the third annual lecture in memory of the late Fr Peadar Livingstone..


This story about Rosemary Kennedy contains extracts from a letter she wrote in 1940, the year before she underwent a lobotomy at the insistence of her father Joe. The writing is childlike but Rosemary’s bubbly personality shines through, just as it did in letters written in 1938 when my aunt Dorothy Smyth knew her in London.


eunice youngI could look at pictures of Eunice all day, hero that she was for trying to do for others what she couldn’t do at home. She was just 19 when sister Rosemary was lobotomized according to their father’s wishes. He didn’t even tell Rose he had ordered it done ’til the surgery was over and they realized to their horror that she would never again stand erect, never again write the kind of letter that appears below here. My mother and aunt owned and ran a girls’ camp called Fernwood and in the spring of 1940, Rose Kennedy asked to meet them in New York to talk about her 22-year-old ‘working’ there as a Junior Counselor. Mom used to say she should have known the minute Mrs. Kennedy arrived without her daughter that the girl was not as ‘able’ as Rose was leading them to believe and sure enough, her…

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Annalitten National School near Castleblayney Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Annalitten National School near Castleblayney Photo: © Michael Fisher

BIG REUNION FOR ANNALITTEN NS         Michael Fisher   Northern Standard

It’s fifty years since the pupils of Annalitten National School outside Castleblayney in the parish of Muckno made the big move from the Old School to the New School. To mark this milestone, the past pupils organised a school reunion on Saturday 27th June. The event marked the 50th anniversary of the move in 1965 to the current premises. It took place at the school at 4pm and many former students were in attendance, as was the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys T.D. After the reminiscing at the school, a social evening was held at the Glencarn Hotel, Castleblayney.

Stone plaque with name of school scratched out during WWII Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Stone plaque with name of school scratched out during WWII Photo: © Michael Fisher

The organising committee put together a selection of photographs of people who went to Annalitten school. Annalitten is a two-classroom co-educational Catholic primary school with a fascinating history. Elizabeth Brannigan was one of the organisers of the reunion. Five generations of her family have attended Analitten school, including herself.

Stone plaque for Annalitten NS celebrations  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Stone plaque for Annalitten NS celebrations Photo: © Michael Fisher

Past pupil John McBride has researched the story of the school and to launch the reunion shared some interesting facts about the old building:

Annalitten Car Park’s Amazing Secret

If you were to walk past Annalitten’s fine National School, chances are you would hardly give a second glance to or even notice the adjoining car park. But this spot has a secret.  It was the site of a building with a remarkable claim to fame. That building, the’ Old School’, was no ordinary school around the corner, as it was born with a roar that would be heard as far as the Westminster Parliament.

1888 was a year of beginnings, including the founding of the National Geographic Society, Celtic FC playing its first official match, and the birth of John Painter, who would live to the 21st century and become the world’s oldest man.  The Castleblayney townland of Annalitten celebrated its own ‘first’ with the opening of a National School.  You might think that this local affair would hardly cause a stir, even in ‘Blayney.  But events would prove otherwise.

Soon after Annalitten NS opened, the RIC called on three local families.  Leading Irish MP, Tim Healy, heard about the police visits.  In May 1888, in the House of Commons, he questioned the Chief Secretary Arthur Balfour about the incident. Balfour replied that some children had been moved to Annalitten from the nearby mixed religion schoool. Three Catholic families kept their children at the mixed school. It’s believed that the local church was putting pressure on these families to send their children to Annalitten. The famililes were visited by the local police in order to establish the full facts.

The full text of the discussion can be read in the Hansard Parliamentary report for May 14th 1888 p.144. In the document, the politicians are referred to as ‘Mr. T. M. Healy (Longford, N.)’ and ‘A. J. Balfour (Manchester, E.)’. Annalitten is spelt as ‘Annalitton’

Annalitten being mentioned at Westminster is a great feat, but the central characters in the discussions make it even more special. They were both political giants. Arthur Balfour would  serve as British Prime Minister from 1902 to 1905. Tim Healy would go on to become the first Governor General of the Irish Free State in 1922.

The ‘Old School’ at Annalitten was replaced by a new building, a short distance away, in 1965.  The old building went on to serve as a community centre until it was demolished in the early 21st century, its longevity surpassing John Painter’s by just a few years. There is now a car park on the site, surely making it one of the most historic parking lots in Monaghan and Ireland.
© John E. McBride 2015


Kim Ward, Carrickmacross   Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Kim Ward, Carrickmacross
Photo: © Michael Fisher

Running from Heaven to Hell & Back  Northern Standard  Carrickmacross News  Thursday 21st May

Kim Ward 

I’m 18 and I’ve lived in Carrickmacross all my life. My family are all from Carrickmacross, Donaghmoyne or the surrounding areas. I’ve always been drawn to working with children. I lost a close family friend  Lee when I was very young and recently lost his brother Ryan after a very brave battle against a rare disease. My beautiful godchild who is five also has Spina Bifida.  All of which has helped fuel my need to help childrens’ charities.

I completed a fundraiser as part of my 18th birthday celebrations for the Children’s University Hospital , Temple Street in Dublin, raising €3,000 and collecting over 70 toys for the children across the wards, because Ryan attended Temple Street and my godchild Ellen is still an outpatient.

I’m in the middle of completing my end of year exams for Nursing Studies in Cavan Institute and hope to study Children’s Nursing in Britain this September, depending on results.  I then hope to specialise in oncology nursing.

My inspiration for my career path first came when I saw Aoibheann’s Pink Tie on Secret Millionaire. It was set up in 2010 by Jimmy Norman and Mick Rochford after the passing of Jimmy’s beautiful daughter Aoibheann at the age of seven. In the words of Jimmy, ‘Aoibheann fought a very courageous battle against cancer’.

I watched a video not so long ago which interviews children who have cancer. They were all asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. Something one of the children said never stops playing in my mind: ‘I don’t know what I wanna be when I grow up, but I just wanna grow up’.

This is when I set out to complete both a mentally and physically enduring fundraiser for St John’s Ward in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin in Dublin and Aoibheann’s Pink Tie. Next month I’m completing the 10km Women’s Mini Marathon, a 10,000ft Skydive and the 12km Hell & Back, all in under three weeks. Every week four  parents in Ireland are told ‘your child has cancer’. That’s four families whose lives are put on hold while they begin to fight for their child’s life!

St John’s Ward in Crumlin is the national medical care centre for every child with cancer across Ireland. They provide the medical expertise and exceptional care needed for children faced with this cruel disease. The continuous funding has allowed for single isolation rooms for every patient. It has also meant that every patient has an en-suite and another bed for a parent or family member to stay for what can be days, weeks and even months.

Aoibheann’s Pink Tie is there for any kind of practical support for children and their families with cancer. Jimmy Norman wants the charity to allow parents to ‘breathe and go look after their children’. They provide Chemo Ducks for the children which is a cuddly toy with a ‘freddie’, pyjamas and a bandana similar to them which gives children the chance to understand their treatment in a child-friendly way.

They are also credited for providing children with Hickman Dry suits. A child can have a Hickman line (‘freddie’) in for years meaning they are not allowed to have baths or go swimming. These suits provides the children with the opportunity to do both. Costing €300 each for these specialised suits, Aoibheann’s Pink Tie supplies them to any child on St John’s Ward. Financial support is also provided by APT helping families pay for items such as mortgage bills, accommodation fees, and car park fees. Their support is endless!

Through this I’ve not only wanted to complete these events, I wanted to go out there and see what St Johns Ward and Aoibheann’s Pink Tie has meant for the children and their families who are going through these battles. I contacted  Susan Brown from Castleblayney whose beautiful two year-old son Ceejay was diagnosed with leukaemia in September. She explained to me her appreciation towards both charities saying: ‘When a child is fighting cancer they need to know they have a team fighting with them and for them. With St John’s ward and Aoibheann’s Pink Tie we know Ceejay has an army fighting for him every step of the way’.

These three events will put me through my paces but it doesn’t even compare to a day in the life of a child with cancer. Thank you to all who have supported so far including Vanity Nightclub who have covered all registration fees and to Sparkle Beauty Clinic for their continued support.

All donations welcome. Find the event on facebook or simply donate online at www.idonate.ie by typing in ‘Running from Heaven to Hell & Back’. Sponsorship cards are also available and we’re on the lookout for anyone who’d like to join our team for the Mini Marathon or Hell & Back. Contact me at kimwardcmx@gmail.com.

Because children can’t fight cancer alone!


Cllr PJ O'Hanlon  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Cllr PJ O’Hanlon Photo: © Michael Fisher


Road Funding for local and regional Roads in Monaghan for the year 2015 is €7.1 million, a reduction of over €4 million in four years. The issue has been discussed at recent meetings of Carrickmacross-Castleblayney Municipal District by the six Councillors, including PJ O’Hanlon. Councillor O’Hanlon told the Northern Standard he had been raising this issue continuously, but nobody in power seemed to be listening or did not want to listen. He said he had Parliamentary Questions asked in the Dáil by Brendan Smith T.D. and the response was that ‘this is your allocation for the year’. Councillor O’Hanlon said this was not acceptable and he believed public representatives had to fight to get further funding.

“Our roads are in a deplorable state and if we are going to create local, indigenous jobs we need a proper road infrastructure. A survey is being carried out by the National Roads Authority in relation to the condition of the roads and this will be a waste of time unless we receive further funding”, he said.

Timmy Dooley T.D.

Timmy Dooley T.D.

“People cannot understand why they are paying road tax and property tax, and then the road funding has been reduced. As a result of this I have arranged a public meeting for Thursday 30th April in the Glencarn Hotel Castleblayney at 8pm.The guest speaker will be Timmy Dooley T.D., spokesman for transport, tourism and sport for Fianna Fáil. However this is not a Fianna Fáil party meeting, it is a public meeting and is open to everyone in the county. It is important that politicians from all sides stand up and say enough is enough. We want a proper road network as we are paying road tax and property tax and the funding has been reduced, so please come to this meeting and help us in our cause to get additional funding for our local road network”, Councillor O’Hanlon concluded.


Carrickmacross-Castleblayney MD Councillors PJ O'Hanlon, Aidan Campbell, Colm Carthy and Padraig McNally Photo © Michael Fisher

Carrickmacross-Castleblayney MD Councillors PJ O’Hanlon, Aidan Campbell, Colm Carthy and Padraig McNally Photo © Michael Fisher


Michael Fisher

Moves to amalgamate library services in Monaghan and Cavan by the appointment of a joint librarian will be strongly opposed by Councillors in the Carrickmacross and Castleblayney area. A meeting of the Municipal District Council on Monday discussed a submission received by a Ballybay resident and member of the local library, who expressed her concerns over the issue. She said there was a real fear among members that if the proposal goes ahead then smaller libraries like the one in Ballybay would close. The library service is important to local communities on many levels, she told Councillors, and she asked them to contact Minister Alan Kelly to get him and his department to abolish the proposed amalgamation.

Cllr Padraig McNally (FF) Photo © Michael Fisher

Cllr Padraig McNally (FF) Photo © Michael Fisher

Councillor Padraig McNally said they had been told the only proposal was to share the County Librarian between the two counties. But he said they did not need such a change as they already had a good system in place. He proposed that the District strongly objected to any amalgamation. This was the thin end of the wedge and next thing they would be looking at the fire service, he said. The county had already been stripped of so many services.

Cllr PJ O'Hanlon (FF) Photo: © Michael Fisher

Cllr PJ O’Hanlon (FF) Photo: © Michael Fisher

Councillor PJ O’Hanlon said this was the start of another service being taken away from the county. Councillor McNally proposed and his party colleague Councillor O’Hanlon seconded a motion:

“That this Municipal District rejects any amalgamation of our library services. Monaghan has a proud record of providing library services and does not need to be linked with any other counties or regions”. It was passed unanimously.

Cllr Noel Keelan (SF)  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Cllr Noel Keelan (SF) Photo: © Michael Fisher

Councillor Noel Keelan said ‘amalgamation’ was another word for cuts and proposed a motion: “That this District Council writes to the Minister, Mr Alan Kelly T.D., requesting that the proposed amalgamation does not proceed, given how important the Library Service is to the people”. Councillor Colm Carthy seconded and this motion was also agreed.

Cllr Jackie Crowe (SF), Cathaoirleach Carrickmacross=Castleblayney Municipal District Council  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Cllr Jackie Crowe (SF), Cathaoirleach Carrickmacross=Castleblayney Municipal District Council Photo: © Michael Fisher

Cathaoirleach Councillor Jackie Crowe said they were all absolutely opposed to any amalgamation.

Northern Standard

                                                                        The Northern Standard


Heather Humphreys TD at Blayney Blades celebration in Castleblayney  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Heather Humphreys TD at Blayney Blades celebration in Castleblayney Photo: © Michael Fisher


Michael Fisher

It’s a busy week for local Fine Gael T.D. and Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys. When this reporter met her in Castleblayney on Monday morning, she had been on the road since 8.30am, leaving her home in Aghabog to start work at her constituency office in Monaghan by 9am. Her first public engagement was at the Íontas Centre, where she was the guest speaker at an event organised by Blayney Blades to celebrate International Women’s Day. In her speech she mentioned how important an influence her mother Emily had been and how two of her secondary school teachers had encouraged her to enter politics. She stayed for two hours, networking with a large group of women and passing on the welcome news that funding a network of 17 women’s groups throughout the country had been secured. Instead of taking lunch at the Centre, the Minister stayed in Castleblayney to meet a constituent before returning to her office in Monaghan around 1:45pm. She just had time for a small snack from a nearby café before heading off to Beech Hill College in Monaghan, where a woodwork room had been refurbished and equipment upgraded with the aid of a grant. She took the opportunity to speak to the principal and teachers as well as some of the students. After an hour at the College she returned once again to the Mall Road office at 3:30pm to carry out constituency work for three hours. By 7pm she was back home, taking the opportunity to do some packing for an official trip she is making to England this week. She is flying to London on Wednesday night and will be the main guest at a number of functions over the St Patrick’s weekend. On Friday evening the Irish ambassador Dan Mulhall hosts a reception at the Irish embassy and there will be a formal dinner to attend on Saturday night. On Sunday the Minister will join fellow Monaghan native Barry McGuigan at the head of the St Patrick’s Day parade in the British capital.

Arts Minister Heather Humphreys TD at Magheracloone Fine Gael Branch AGM  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Arts Minister Heather Humphreys TD at Magheracloone Fine Gael Branch AGM Photo: © Michael Fisher

The Minister’s third public engagement on Monday was at Magheracloone Community centre (near Carrickmacross), where she attended the AGM of the local Fine Gael branch. It was the first time in recent memory that a government Minister had been present. Over a welcome cup of tea at the end of the meeting, Heather Humphreys explained that the following day (Tuesday) her diary would be taken up with a Cabinet meeting in the afternoon and a meeting of the 1916 Commemoration committee (which is one of her responsibilities) that evening. Wednesday would see her answering questions in the Dáil.

Arts Minister Heather Humphreys TD at Blayney Blades congratulates their Woman of the Year 2015 Sr Catherine Brennan  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Arts Minister Heather Humphreys TD at Blayney Blades congratulates their Woman of the Year 2015 Sr Catherine Brennan Photo: © Michael Fisher

So after putting in a fourteen hour shift on Monday, it was time (10:30pm) for the Minister to return home. She told me she normally tried to keep Sundays free as a family day, a time she could enjoy with her husband Eric and their two daughters. She certainly has a busy schedule.


Tonight (Thursday) the Minister is in London, attending an Enterprise Ireland St Patrick’s Day reception at Trinity House (the body responsible for lighthouses). It is an opportunity to network with business people, many of them Irish, and to encourage investment in Ireland. This photo was posted on her twitter account @HHumphreysFG:

Arts Minister Heather Humphreys TD at Enterprise Ireland reception in London  Photo: @HHumphreysFG

Arts Minister Heather Humphreys TD at Enterprise Ireland reception in London Photo: @HHumphreysFG



Northern Standard Thursday 12th March 2015 p.35

Blayney Blades Celebrate 20 Years and International Women’s Day

By Michael Fisher

The spirit of the late Sr Celine McArdle was very much present as the Blayney Blades women’s group in Castleblayney celebrated their twentieth anniversary and International Women’s Day with a special event at the Íontas Centre. No doubt she was smiling down on the assembled group of around sixty women, particularly when the Arts Minister, Heather Humphreys T.D., announced that funding to allow the continuation of the various courses and services had been secured. Olive Bolger, Co-ordinator at the centre, said she imagined Sr Celine, who had a love of nature and died in 2013 aged, appeared every now and then in the form of a robin. Or even perhaps a squirrel, as a poem written by Sr Celine and read by her friend Nan Duffy reminded the audience:-

THE SQUIRREL  By Sr Celine McArdle (1988)  

Today I saw a squirrel, a-skip from tree to tree,

Red nimble little body, tail bushy as could be.

He nibbled here; he nibbled there, and then sat upon his rump,

To examine his collection, then scamper a tree stump.

He hid behind the swelling, upon the oldest tree.

And somehow as I looked at him, he reminded me of me!

A-scurrying through the branches of each day’s busy tree.

Picking up the husks and shells of dreams that used to be,

Dreams of stored up treasure, thirty years from when

I gave my all in ’59 – what happened to it then??

Or is there wealth I cannot see, stored up by God above

The fruit of all my scurrying, transformed by His faithful love?

Today, just like the squirrel, I sit upon my rump

And gather up the nourishment I’ll be needing in the slump.

When days are dark and dreary and my soul’s as dry as dust,

When nothing seems to touch my heart, and my knees won’t bend with rust.

Then may I find the store house, in some crevice of life’s tree,

And know again the certainty of God’s love for squirrels and me.

Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys T.D., said there was no better place to mark International Women’s Day than at Blayney Blades. This day is all about empowerment and positive action and this year’s theme is ‘make it happen’, she said.

The Minister said she had taken part in a Fine Gael event last week to acknowledge women who ‘make it happen’ in their local area. She went on: “We all know inspirational women in our own walks of life. I have no doubt that you could all easily name a woman who has inspired you, who has encouraged and supported you to become who you are today. This room is full of inspirational women. Women who are making it happen for other women in Castleblayney”.

She said the Blades had been making it happen for the last two decades. Since the group was set up in 1995, it had been empowering, encouraging and enabling women and their families in the Castleblayney area, so that they could realise their full potential and play an active role in this community.

The Minister described the range of services provided by Blayney Blades as very impressive; from education and training, counselling, support initiatives for young people and targeted programmes for new communities in this area. “I take my hat off to you”, she said.

Referring to the difficulties over grant aid in previous years, which made it difficult at times to keep the group going, she said she was very pleased to announce that concerns relating to the funding for the National Collective of Community Based Women’s Networks, of which Blayney Blades is a member, had been addressed.

Funding will now be provided by the Department of Justice, safeguarding the future of Blayney Blades and the Dochas Drop-in Centre for Women in Monaghan, and fifteen other projects across the country. The Minister said she had huge respect and appreciation for the work of the NCCWN, particularly the support the network provided to disadvantaged women, so she was very glad that the funding issue had been resolved.

She told the group that the work of Blayney Blades and NCCWN could be summed up in one word: empowerment. A big word, but it could also be a series of small things. A helping hand; a word of encouragement; or a nudge in the right direction. She said that step by step, week upon week and year after year, the Blades had been empowering women and helping them to make a difference in their own lives and in other people’s lives since 1995. You have been making this a better community, she added.

The Minister said her mother Emily had been a great inspiration for her. On the family farm at Drum there was no job a woman could not do. She had taught me from an early age how to drive a tractor and to milk the cows, she said.

She also spoke about the very important influence that two women had on her during her formative years. Both were teachers at St Aidan’s comprehensive school in Cootehill. One was Geraldine O’Brien, her economics teacher, who encouraged students to stand up for what they believed in. The other was Joan Hannon, who taught English and debating. She encouraged students to get out there and make their point known. Both women had sown the seeds for her to enter politics, she said.

Referring to the overall picture, Minister Humphreys said women had made great strides in Irish public life over the last two years. She herself was proud to be one four women sitting around the Cabinet table. Women occupied the roles of Tanaiste, Garda Commissioner, Chief Justice, Arrorney General, Minister for Justice, Education Minister and…of course….Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht! But we still have barriers to break down, she said.

“You will be aware that next year, we will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of this republic. I am leading the Government’s plans for Ireland 2016 – which will commemorate the 1916 Rising – the event which led to the foundation of this State.  I want the role of women in the Rising to be fully recognised.

The Proclamation was a visionary document which specifically mentioned the men AND women of Ireland, at a time when women didn’t even have the vote. Women like Constance Markievicz were complete trail blazers. I want us to recognise these women, to remember the bravery of Cumann na mBan, but also to ask ourselves how, in the following 100 years, women were forced into the background. In some cases, they were written out of history”, she said.

She went on: “We now have a situation where we have to introduce gender quotas to increase the number of women in politics. I hope you will join me as we remember the men AND women who brought about the foundation of this State. After all, a true Republic is a country that values all of its citizens equally”. The Minister concluded by wishing everyone involved in the group all the very best for the next twenty years.

Afterwards in a question and answer session, the Minister spoke about the need for the gender quota and said it was very important that women should be at the decision-making table in government. She believed women needed to get involved in politics and she urged some of them to come forward so they could highlight what needed to be changed.

Last year the Blayney Blades along with other women’s community development groups began a campaign to have funding for their projects ring-fenced. Following the announcement by the Minister, they said they were delighted that the campaign had been successful. It would now give the NCCWN long-term core funding, thus offering continuity to projects. The Blades thanked all those who had supported their campaign and the local representatives who had supported them. They said it was very heartening and affirming to have the work of the NCCWN and Blayney Blades acknowledged and valued.

In her speech, Chairperson Noeline O’Neill said the occasion was tinged with sadness as Sr Celine McArdle was not present to celebrate with them. The Sister of Mercy had the foresight and vision to bring us to where we are today, she said. In the early days of the Blayney Blades, she remembered someone asking them if their group made razor blades! They had grown and developed over the years and she outlined the various stages achieved since the first meeting at the Parish Centre in Castleblayney on January 16th 2005. She outlined some of the courses hey had successfully run and now in 2015 they were about to embark on a new journey. She thanked the staff including the four support workers for their dedication despite the uncertainty over funding last year.

Co-ordinator Olive Bolger, a long-serving member of the group, said Sr Celine’s vision and dream for the group had at first seemed impossible to realise. They had made a trip to see some other centres in Cavan and Tipperary and then received a small bit of funding to initiate the project. She referred to the establishment of a community crèche, the first in the county, which had been set up in a house at Henry Street in Castleblayney. Then they realised other services were needed such as a homework club for older children. She explained how the concept of the Íontas Centre had emerged from its original plan as a small resource centre and how it had been established while Sr Celine was still in good health.

Olive then called on Rose Laverty from Dundalk to light candles in memory of Sr Celione and two former members of the Board of Management who had died, Carmel Redmond and Olivia Rice McCarron.

Development Worker Lorraine Cunningham said the past few months had been very trying because of the uncertainty over finance. She thanked the 43 TDs and Ministers who had attended their lobby at Leinster House a few months ago and had helped to save their funding. She praised Olive Bolger for dedicating her life to making the support group function effectively. The Blades had a very supportive Board of Management and unlike statutory agencies, the work they carried out did not stop at 5pm. She presented Olive with a piece of jewellery in recognition of her long service.

The guest speaker was a St Louis nun based in Dublin, Sr Catherine Brennan. She is a former teacher, who has run courses mainly for women’s groups in Inniskeen, Dundalk, Castleblayney and Dublin. She spoke about the inner journey people must make to understand themselves and the explore their potential. In changing ourselves, change happens all around us, she told the audience.

Following her talk, the Blayney Blades presented Sr Catherine with their award for Woman of the Year 2015. The citation said that Catherine was no stranger to Blayney Blades and had been one of the first tutors to work with the group. She trained in Ireland and England in Adult Education. She delivered the NUI Maynooth Certificate Course in Counselling, which some of our members received. Catherine delivered Personal Development courses, Ennegram, Myers Briggs and Parenting Programmes. Catherine was much more than a tutor. She became a great friend and supporter to all Blades and participants from all over the county and beyond. Catherine has a great love for the environment and encourages us all to become aware of the necessity to protect it. We have all benefitted from her expertise.