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An island family

Living

ISLAND LIFE From left: John, Sonia (McMullin still), Josie, Florrie, Willie and, in front, John’s son, Tommie.

Sonia Kelly

After travelling west in the early ’40s having gotten sick of urban life in Dublin, my brother Michael and I proceeded out to Old Head Hotel in Louisburgh, where Allison Orr, a cousin of ours, was working. After a while Alec Wallace, the owner, suggested we meet a Captain Hazell, who had retired to live on one of the islands with a Josie Gill and his family.
This meeting was duly arranged in the Central Hotel in Westport. Subsequently, we accompanied Captain Hazell to Inishmore (Inis Mór). When we had inspected the premises, we decided to book two rooms with the same Gill family.
There were several families of Gill and Kelly living on the island, and the Captain spent a lot of time with the Kelly family across the way, listening to war news on the wireless. This family was the most prolific, consisting of 18 children of which five remained – the mother and father being dead at this time, leaving an aunt to bring up the children.
Her name was Catherine, but she called herself Charakee due to being tongue-tied – a condition easily remedied nowadays. She referred to me as ‘a granch ope doctor’, presumedly because ‘doctor’ was the most important person she knew and considering Michael and me to be city dwellers. Captain Hazell, in contrast, referred to me as ‘postheen’.
In the photograph are those remaining on the island at the time of our arrival. By then, John had left the family home and built his own house, where he lived with his wife, May, and family, which included his son, Tommie.
His sister, Florrie, helped Charakee with the housekeeping. She was very religious, so woe betide the person who was allocated to bring her to Mass on the mainland come rain, hail or storm. (In later years, Florrie became a live-in carer for an elderly woman in Sandycove. She died as she wished, in Lourdes while on a trip there.)
At some stage around then, Willie had a tour boat named ‘Successful’ for taking people on trips around the bay, but eventually he was drowned off his own sailing boat in a storm near the lighthouse as he was returning to the island after voting in an election.
That leaves Josie (or Jay) as the remaining of the Island Kellys. I am standing next to him in the photograph, which is an augur of things to come.
I spent more and more time with him in his fishing boat, which included going to céilís on our own and neighbouring islands, at which I was a great success, unlike in the army. I was actually known as ‘The Venus from the Sea’.
When the news was broken to Michael of our impending marriage, he left Islandmore in a fury, saying only a bad outcome could result from such a culture shock as it would be for me. This only added to the outrage of my other relations, who were already dismayed by my poor performance in the army. However, we eventually tied the knot when I became 21 and got control of my own life.
We were married in Westport, a simple ceremony with only two people present – Florrie and a friend named Girsha Stack.
We then went on our honeymoon, which was spent partly with Agnes, one of Jay’s sisters, who with her husband owned a nursing home in Kilkenny, and partly in the Aran Islands, where I learned how to weave the native crios – which later became the basis of our future business, known as Irish Crafts.

The fifth in a series of articles in which Sonia Kelly, now in her 90s, looks back on her childhood and life. All article in the series are available on mayonews.ie.