Sunday 22 October 2017

Difficult days for a little Drogheda girl


Nuala Early (left) with her dad Tommy, brother Malachy, sister-in-law Mary, husband Christy and their children Christy and Tom in happy times.
Nuala Early (left) with her dad Tommy, brother Malachy, sister-in-law Mary, husband Christy and their children Christy and Tom in happy times.

NUALA EARLY remembers the moment as if it were a butterfly, cupped in her gentle fist, safe against the ravages of time.

As she sits in her chair looking out over Laburnum Square, she relates a chilling story of times past in Drogheda.

It was in the early 40s and she was attending Sunday morning mass in St Mary's Church. Her grandmother, Kate Grogan (nee Keegan) a good Stedalt, Stamullen woman, had gone up for communion.

But when the priest saw her, he stopped and declared ' these pearls are not for the lips of swine'.

She turned and with Nuala and her brother, Malachy, by her side, walked from the church, the rattle of her walking stick on the cold tiles echoing out for everyone to hear.

Her funeral was the next time she'd be in St Mary's, deciding to attend the Franciscan for years after that. ' My grandmother was a proud woman, very proud,' she added.

The moment was typical of the era, but the priest's stance wasn't a religious one, this was about politics, namely the IRA.

Two of Kate Grogan's sons were members, ' the penman' Larry and ' the gunman' Tommy. Both spent time in prison, but Kate would have died for them. Her sons could do no wrong.

'She backed everything they did,' Nuala, now 83, recalls. 'We were kids at the time and it was all an adventure. But we were so proud of my dad Thomas, and still are.'

The Grogans lived on the Mornington Road, a family of six, but just two of them got involved in the push for Irish freedom.

Thomas Grogan was in and out of jail for his activities, his last spell a 12-year sentence for his part in the infamous Magazine Fort raid in the Phoenix Park.

He would go on hunger strike with others, seeking political status and after 57 days, they were convinced to call it off. Two men died.

'I went to visit him on hunger strike in The Curragh and it was difficult,' Nuala said.

A memorial banner, made by the survivors in their cells, is still in Naula's possession.

The stories abound about the Grogans' escapades, the darts across the fields when the guards would come to raid the house, the boat moored at the bottom of Ship Street, always ready for a quick exit across the Boyne.

Nuala and Malachy's mother, Kitty (Carroll) from Oulster Lane, died when Nuala was three. She had been a founder member of the Cumann na mBan in Drogheda and helped form the first union at Boyne Mills.

With a father in prison, the brother and sister were split up and spent time in orphanages and with relatives, until grandmother Kate took them ' home'.

Finally, the family would be reunited and lived happily at 32 Congress Avenue. Volunteer Thomas Grogan died in 1964 and a huge crowd came out to say farewell.

The passing of time has taken Nuala's beloved brother and confidant, Malachy, something that still breaks her heart.

As she rises from her chair, overlooking Laburnum Square, she flicks through the book that lists the family story and glances at the pictures of times past. And smiles...