John Gibbons of Hazelrock


 JOHN GIBBONS of Hazelrock, Killawalla Parish Co Mayo Ireland. Poet John wrote many poems about the people and villages of Killawalla. Including two he wrote about my great great great grandmother Maureen Shea

Article on John Gibbons that appeared in the Killawalla Magazine The Road to Our Hearts Published in 2000

Used with permission

Hazelrock and New York 1865-1938

By his niece Anne King (nee Gibbons)

FATHER:  Richard Gibbons - Family from Mace, Aughagower MOTHER-.  Bridget Joyce - only child -
My grandparents Richard and Bridget lived in Moate for a short time after they were married. Richard worked for Lord Avonmore from whose estate Bridget's people were evicted, and he was given the house at Hazelrock to rent. This house was where rents were collected for the estate. When I was a child, and before the roof was slated I saw shutters on the inside windows and bars on the outside. Lord Haw-Haw and his parents lived there for a short time while the present Public House and dwelling in Ayle were being built. These were later sold to John McGing. Richard and Bridget had nine children, four boys and five girls. John was the eldest boy, he went to the National School in Killawalla. After he left at the age of fourteen, he worked as a shop assistant in Shanleys Store in Bridge Street in Westport, until he emigrated to New York at the age of sixteen - a decision he regretted until the day he died.

He married an Irish girl from the Midlands; they had six children, four boys and two girls. Sadly John's wife died when the family were very young, but   he managed to bring them up with the help of his oldest daughter, who stayed home to look after them all. My Uncle was a police officer for forty years in New York. He took early retirement and when the family had grown up and moved away he came for frequent visits to Hazelrock. He would come for three months and sometimes six months, always unannounced, to give us a surprise. . My Uncle John would spend his holidays cycling around Mayo, Galway and Connemara, visiting old churches, old Castles, and getting to know all the history of the places he visited. In a way, he was trying to recapture his youth. Connemara and the (;aeltacht, were his favourite places. He would stay with the local people to practice conversation in Irish. He loved it there.

In New York, apparently he was friendly with a man called Potter from Connemara, who accused my uncle of not being a true Irishman, because he couldn't speak his native language - so he did something about it! John joined the Gaelic League, went to classes, studied hish and became a fluent Irish speaker, an achievement of which he was very proud. A great favourite of his was Ann Hallinan, Joe Hallinan's mother from Killawalla.. Ann, was one of the few people around, who was a fluent Irish speaker. He visited there often, and they spent long hours conversing in Irish. Ann was a mine of information; She was able to fill him in on all the happenings around home during the years he was away. When he wasn't cycling around the country my uncle wrote poetry, both English and Irish. In later years he took up sketching and painting as a hobby.

He gave a big party for the neighbours and the old folk when he was due to return. One particular time, he decided to give all the old folk a surprise. Our neighbour, Tommy Brennan was a regular visitor to our house. There was no television in those days, so news of the day and politics would be discussed. Tommy couldn't speak Irish, so my uncle decided to teach him an hish song, that they would both sing at the party, the song was "Fdinne Geal An Lae". Night after night the
teaching went on until Tommy finally got a grip on the Irish. They would sing the song together every night, until they decided it was ready for the big night. On the night of the party, all the old folk gathered. My uncle had managed to get some poteen on his travels to Connemara. There were all sorts of drinks and enough food to feed an army. There were half sets, bam dances and step dancing. Tommy Brennan supplied the music on his accordion. Tommy was also a beautiful singer. His favourite songs were "When you and I were young Maggie", "The Old Rustic Bridge by the Mill" and "The lass from Killamacranky".

Sadly on his last visit, my uncle was a very ill man as he had cancer of the stomach. He knew he didn't have long to live and that it would be his last visit, but he was pleased to be home. It was always his wish to die in Ireland. I remember the day he died; I was sitting by his bedside, and in his wanderings he was remembering his youth, people he knew and places he had been, then he asked me to bring him n6infns (daisies) from the garden. I placed a bunch of the n6infns in his hand, still drenched with dew, he kissed them and clasped them tightly in both hands, then closed his eyes and a lovely contented appearance came over his face. Just then my mother came into the room. I said to her "he is sleeping, peacefully now". She observed him for a while and then she said to me - " No he is not sleeping, he is dead". We both knelt down together and prayed and we said to each other "What a lovely way to die". "May the light of heaven shine upon his gentle soul". I only wish I had known him longer.
What a lot he could have taught me about life!
My uncle got his wish, he died in Ireland, in the house he was bom in and he was laid to rest in his chosen place in the cemetary in Aughagower, high up on the hill, with a beautiful view of Croagh Patrick, looking down on the holy village of Aughagower, for which he had such great affection.
Cottage where John Was born

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