'It's Us They're Talking About' :
Cassie and Sarah Frances Quigley

Margaret Farren

1 of 6

Town and Country
An evening with Cassie and Sarah Frances Quigley.

When my sister and I were children, still at primary school, we'd often walk from Straid to Gortnahinson to visit our cousin Helen, who moved there when she married Neil Francis Gibbons. Probably because it was the furthest we were allowed to travel unaccompanied by an adult, and because every hundred yards seemed to be guarded by an ever more ferocious "cross dog", Gortnahinson to our imaginations was a strange and distant land. Arriving safely at Wee Helen's always seemed like the end of an arduous adventure, the reward being tea and biscuits and the freedom to run around the hills and along the streams, chasing rabbits. Being up in Wee Helen's was closer to nature, we thought. You were actually in the hills, instead of stuck at the foot of one, and that was so much more exciting.

But as I said, getting there was nerve-wrecking. If Mackey's dog didn't get you, then the Pound Brae would, and if the Pound Brae didn't get you, then Jimmy Bouton's dog would. You only heaved a sigh of relief when you reached Cassie and Sarah Frances Quigley's house. You were safe by then.

It's a long time since I walked to Gortnahinson. Wee Helen and Neil have since moved closer to the Cross, and anyway there are a lot more cars on the road. Cassie and Sarah Frances are still resident on the crest of the Pound Brae, but I doubt if they are often disturbed any more by the sight of two wanes coming tearing up the hill with a large, brown hound of hell snarling at their heels.

This time I arrive on their street in style, having got a lift from Neil. They have kindly consented to be interviewed about their memories for this publication and it soon becomes apparant that they need no persuading as to the importance of knowing about your birthplace. The take the collection of local history very seriously, their only misgiving is that they might not remember events as accurately as they consider necessary .

To allay their concern, we start with a subject they are bound to be experts on: Themselves.

Cassie and Sarah are sisters. Cassie was born at the Cross on St Patrick's Day, 1905. Her mother was originally from Tirhoran and her father, a shoemaker, was from Gortnahinson. He was a shoemaker until 1920 or 21. "He made laced-up shoes, laced to the ankle. 'High-lows', a pair of low laced shoes were for a Sunday. Men wore low shoes too, but their winter wear was hob-nail boots. He got the leather in Harper's in the Waterside in Derry." Cassie was reared at the Cross until she was twenty years of age. Around then, the shoemaking trade ceased to be a reliable source of income, their father started a farm, where he kept a cow and a few hens. He could still turn his hand to the few odd jobs as a shoemaker, but the way of life necessarily became more agricultural.

Although they are sisters, Sarah Frances' story is a little different. As was often the case in those days, Sarah Frances went to live with relatives on a farm not far from where she and Cassie live now. It was not unusual for siblings to be brought up in different houses. The result of this is that Cassie and Sarah Frances are perfectly placed to relate the differences between the "town" (the Cross was even smaller then than it is now!) and the country.

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