Saturday 23 February 2019

Nuala Early and her special part in town's story

Hubert Murphy

The death of campaigner Nuala Early last Saturday ended another link with past days in Drogheda.

A devoted wife and mother, her life was interspersed with fighting for the rights of others and recalling a childhood, tinged with memories from a distant past.

While working in Morcos as a machinist, Nuala became involved with the trade union movement, part of the executive of the Irish Women's Workers' Union.

She began volunteering when her husband Christy began training local schoolboys teams, she ended up washing the jerseys.

She was part of the St Mary's Hospital action group when she helped set up the Drogheda Senior Citizens group with the likes of Maeve Healy and Anne Lennon about 20 years ago.

They campaigned for rights, visiting Aras an Uachtarain where they met both President Mary Robinson and President Mary McAleese, and to Dail Eireann where they met Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

IN 2012, while still living in her beloved Laburnum Square home, she spoke about the old days.

She related a chilling story of times in Drogheda. It was in the early 40s and she was attending Sunday morning mass. 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.

While she lived, she never returned. ' 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 said. '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, was 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 took Nuala's beloved brother and confidant, Malachy, something that broke her heart.

As she rose from her chair, overlooking Laburnum Square, she flicked through the book that lists the family story and glanced at the pictures of times past. And smiled....

Naula Early, one of Drogheda's finest, will be laid to rest in Calvary after noon mass on Wednesday, January 2 at St Peter's Church, West Street.

Drogheda Independent