It's Us They're Talking About: Lily Ivors and Hughie Copen

Margaret Farren

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'People helped one another in those days with spare milk or potatoes or whatever and never looked for any money. It was all barter and it was the loveliest way of going on."

Lily and Hughie are agreed that the community spirit still survives to a great extent in Urris and is particularly valuable in times of distress. Indeed Lily is convinced that if we recovered some of the neighbourliness of old there would be less need for stress management and counselling in our time.

Lily: "If anything happened in the community, the neighbours would all get together, the mums and dads and brothers and sisters and we would all talk it out. And it helped. And when deaths came on, or sickness, we were very, very close. "Needless to say there were plenty of opportunities to put this closeness to the test. In a day in which the doctor cost you ten shillings and the price of his taxi to your house, you came to rely heavily on the wisdom of your friends and neighbours. Two of the greatest ravages on the youth of the countryside were diptheria and scarlet fever, not to mention pneumonia.

Lily: "Three corpses went out from the one house in one week. There's a story told about the two sisters, my mother and Hughie's mother, standing talking and looking at the tide and wondering how Hughie's mother, my Aunty Gracie, would bear her loss after losing her second child within a couple of weeks. I think she said something about the tide taking her away ."

Hughie lost his older sister, also called Lily, to diptheria when she was just seven years old. She was just a year and half younger than Lily Ivors and was known as wee Lily. The two were playmates and two days after wee Lily died, Lily Ivors became ill with the same disease and is adamant that it was the care and attention of the elder members of the community which saved her life. Old neighbours the likes of Mary McDonnel1 and Lily's Aunty Biddy in Leenan, both of whom would have been in their late seventies, and of course Uncle Phil, anointed her with poitin (of all things) and tended her day and night 'til she was in the clear. Lily tells a very touching: story about one of her last memories of her wee cousin.

"My mother was lucky enough to have a shirt station and we had a wee shop on account of the shirt station. Anyone was doing shirts for my mother got their goods in the shop until such time as they finished their dozen or two of shirts. They had to have some way of bringing the food home.

"This day my Aunty Grace, Hughie's mother, and wee Lily came in to the shop and the two sisters talked for a while and Aunty Grace left wee Lily and me playing around and she went on home. Wee Lily ran on on her own a wee while after. I came into the house and Mother said 'Where's wee Lily?' and I said' Away home'. 'On her own?', said my mother, but it was between the two lights, not dark and not clear and she was used to the run. When I went back outside I could hear someone crying and I went in and told my mother. She came out and listened and said she thought it was wee Lily's voice. There were no phones and no contacts so we just had to stand and listen. We found it was Lily's voice crying 'Mama, Mama!' in panic. Myself and my mother came up the road after her and met Aunty Grace coming down. She went straight across the fields to where wee Lily was standing on the road. Wee Lily was saying she couldn't move, that a white lady had come out of the field on her. This was the fear and the panic was on her: She was afraid to pass the white lady.

"I didn't understand what was going on but the two mums got together and came to the conclusion that it' s frightened she was of a ghost that had come on her. We all went back to our own houses and two weeks later Lily caught the diptheria.

McGlinchey Summer School

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