Wallace and Rita

Rita Mulvey (nee Keher) was left with two children, Eleanor and Jim and two stepchildren when her husband Garda William Mulvey died in 1952. They lived in Garda accommodation on Boley Hill in Manorhamilton. Rita, from Manulla in Mayo met Wallace and they fell in love, and shortly afterwards decided to get married.

Wallace and Rita circa 1954

Wallace was about to strike out on his own path again, but this time there would be a life-changing collision with his parents.  

Rita and Wallace were married by Fr. Young in a small church beside the Creevelea parochial house. This was originally a Protestant church built in the 1850s by the Scottish operators of the local ironworks. All the requirements of the Ne Temere decree were met, solemn promises willingly given as Wallace converted and became a Catholic. There were few present, any of Wallace’s siblings would have attended under severe threat.  

Maybe the split with his family had been coming for years or perhaps it was his mother’s opposition to the marriage, seemingly absolute and final. I have little sense of their leaving Manorhamilton: the turmoil, the anxiety of moving the young family to a strange city, Rita leaving a stepson and daughter behind. Who saw them off? Who wished them well? Who would missed them?

In my Grandmother’s old bible there was a Happy Birthday Card from Wallace, Rita and his family in Stockport, kept perhaps as a connection to her son, a hope of reconciliation.

Eleanor and Jim Mulvey with Julie, Margaret and Sean circa 1965

One summer years later Wallace was back in Leitrim with his family, they stopped into a local hostelry in Manorhamilton for some sustenance. Discovering who the party was a musician in the bar at the time, took up guitar and sang a song for them which included the lyrics:

“The night was so windy,

the road was so far,

sure we’ll call Wally Davis,

for he has a new car.”

I met Wallace about 1995 when he had bought an end of terrace house in Tobercurry in Co Sligo. He lived a bachelor-life there and was well known around the town. At a family event shortly afterwards it was suggested to him that he might have been a bit of a wild lad in his youth.  He drew himself up to his full height and with a devilish smile replied

“In my youth?”



Leitrim’s Republican Story 1900-2000, by Cormac O Suilleabhain, 2014. A definitive well researched publication on the republican campaign in Leitrim including the impact on and involvement of the Protestant community. See Page 173 for reference to Michael Sheridan’s internment.

Wally Davis taxi man

Wallace was born in 1927 the sixth of eight children, into a family deep in financial crisis. With all of the children seven or under it’s unlikely that he got too much individual attention.

Jack, Wallace, Dora Armstrong, Reco and Cecil at my mother’s wedding in Sligo 1950

To recap: after Wallace’s father, Richard was swindled out of the proceeds of a cattle shipment to England in the early 1920s, he took the principled decision to pay farmers for their stock first. With no reserves to pay off a business loan, the bank, holding the farm deeds put it up for sale, and would do so annually for over 10 years. The family were ultimately saved from eviction by the goodwill of neighbours and farmers who refused to buy the Boggaun farm; no one would move against them.  The strength of goodwill towards the Protestant family is put into relief by the upheaval of the previous decade, the War of Independence and the following Civil War, with the accompanying rise in tension between the Protestant and Catholic communities.

When Wallace’s brother Herbie died at 19, there was an expectation on Wallace and the others to take up the slack after his death.

From a young age Wallace proved to be a free spirit; his father would often lose his temper with him particularly when Wallace dared to row with him. After one of these spats Wallace ran away and lived for a month with the Sheridan family on The Rock, about half a mile up on the mountain. He knew the family well and many of their children were friends from Mullaghduff National school. An older brother Michael Sheridan had been interned as an Anti-Treaty activist during the Civil War some years earlier.

About 1945 his parents arranged a year’s work experience for him on a farm in Co Antrim, hoping that he would return settled, to join their agricultural effort. He spent the year in the North but didn’t come back with any greater love of farming.

Wallace circa 1945

A growing number of motor cars were appearing on Leitrim’s roads and Wallace wanted to drive one.  There was no test, you just learned by trial and error. When my father came to Larkfield with his first car, Wallace took the opportunity to slip away for some practice. He hadn’t gone far when the car ended up in the ditch, luckily with only minor damage.

In the early 1950s Wallace, or Wally as he was known outside the family, joined the ESB rural electrification programme, working on the transmission line from Ballyshannon to Carrick-on-Shannon. At that time most workers stayed in digs as daily travel to work was impractical. Wallace’s workmates Paddy Harte and Ray Devine from Sligo boarded in the Davis home for a time and shortly afterwards when construction moved south to Mohill, Wallace boarded there.

As Larkfield farm finances improved Richard helped his son buy a car, a black Ford Prefect, reg number IT 2501, hoping he would settle into a taxi business. Wallace, in his mid-twenties, was now his own master; he could work when and where he wanted.  The Ford Prefect proved too small as a taxi and was changed for a larger Ford Pilot V8. However, it came to an unfortunate end when he crashed coming home from a wedding. As the sole occupant in the car he came off lightly enough, an injured heel in plaster for some months, but the car was a write-off. 

This was the wreck that I was to play in at the Larkfield farmhouse, its leather back seat used as the sofa in the house. Before disappearing under weeds and briars the rusting wreck was a secluded spot for laying hens and storage for broken tools and implements.

Wallace got a third car and resumed taxiing, unfortunately becoming involved in another accident just outside Manorhamilton. A young Dominic Rooney cycling at the tail end of a group of friends on the Glenfarne Road thinking the road behind was clear pulled out into the path of the oncoming Wally. He was knocked to the ground, broke his leg and spent the following three months in traction in Our Lady’s Hospital, Manorhamilton. Dominic would not run into this family again until we met last year researching these and other local stories, discovering the Wally Davis connection.

To be concluded in next blog.

Wallace Davis (1927-2008)

When I met my Uncle Wallace for the first time, he had retired and was moving from Stockport to Tobercurry in Co Sligo. His wife Rita (1922-1983) had died about 12 years previous. He was a big man with a warm smile, a colourful personality and history. These next two blogs tell a little of Wallace’s story. Firstly, from Wallace’s daughter Julie and myself writing from different vantage points.

Rita and Wallace Davis circa 1965

My cousin Julie writes:

Wallace, ye need to take these childa to see your mother.”

“Aragh ”

Wallace came to Stockport, England in 1955 with his wife Rita (nee Keher) and two stepchildren, Eleanor and Jim.  They went on to have three more children, Margaret, Sean (John) and Julie.

We never knew much about our Dad’s family, “The Davises” other than he was born in Manorhamilton in Co Leitrim, came from a large family, and grew up on a farm.

I suspect life must have been tough for Rita and Wallace; immigrants with a young family, neither of whom had their own family around them for support. This was not untypical of the times; many fled their homestead for one reason or another.

We grew up not knowing of Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents or cousins. The reason for this was never spoken about.

My only memory of my Grandmother Davis was sitting in the back of a car outside Larkfield, the family home, with Margaret and Sean (I was probably only about 4 years old.) Mum had persuaded Dad that he should visit his mother and let her see her Grandchildren.  Although I was very young, I will never forget how we were left sitting in the car, and not invited into the house.  Our young innocent faces excited to see the Granny we never knew we had. She spoke to us through the car window with cold politeness and sent us on our way. The air of hurt and disappointment to my Dad lingered.  Needless to say, the rest of the journey was silent and shrouded with sadness, for everyone.

It was only years later I learned the very sketchy story of the hostilities that surrounded the family.

Many years later I was lucky enough to visit the “Homestead” as my Dad would call it and to meet some of my Aunts and Uncles for the first time. 

I have attached a photo of me with my Dad meeting my Aunt Phylis and Uncle Cecil for the first time. There were many Aunts and Uncles that, unfortunately, I never got to meet.

Cecil, Julie, Wallace and Phyllis circa 1`990

Stan writes:

On our visits to the Larkfield farmhouse, my brother Ivor and I shared a small double bed with a big hollow in the middle. A hollow in the bed is not really a problem when you are very small, and I guess I’m about 4 at this time. Cecil used the other bed in the room, sometimes coming in the early morning hours. A night time candle in the hallway casts moving shadows on the bedroom wall and ceiling, keeping me awake, the soft mummer of voices from the kitchen below, comforting.

One morning we’re dressed and leaving the bedroom when a young man runs in, whoops and jumps into the warm bed that we have just left. I didn’t know who he was at the time and never saw him again at the farm.

Forty years later I would meet my Uncle Wallace again, and only at his funeral in Stockport some years later would meet some of my cousins for the first time.

When Wallace jumped past us and into his bed that morning it was a short time before he married Rita in 1955, and when he was subsequently banished from the family, his mother telling him that she did not wish to see him again. Tragically she stuck to her decision, and as Julie recalls, turning her grandchildren away from the farmhouse some years later. Occasionally Wallace met up with some of his siblings on visits back to Ireland, unbeknownst to their mother.

In marrying a Roman Catholic widow with 2 children and 2 stepchildren, becoming Catholic himself and committing to the children being raised Catholic – required under the Church’s Ne Temere decree – he put himself beyond what his parents could accept. My Grandfather’s attitude to the affair was softer but it was my Grandmother who was the final arbiter.

The Ne Temere decree on the validity of marriage, enforced by the Catholic Church since 1907 had a severe impact on the minority Protestant community in Leitrim and contributed to their declining numbers. My Grandmother’s attitude was common and reflects a desperate attempt, albeit with tragic consequences, to limit its impact on her family and her community.

Continues next blog.

Herbert James William Davis (1920 to 1939)

Almost eighty years ago to the day, Herbie Davis died from diphtheria at the age of 19.  

He was born into the Larkfield household on the verge of bankruptcy, struggling with the shame and hardship of losing almost everything when his father’s, Richard’s, cattle business collapsed. On leaving nearby Mullaghduff National school he worked on the farm, his extra labour helping to provide for the growing family.

Herbie to the left of his mother Annie. His siblings back row Ena and Reco. Front row Cecil, Phyliss, Alf, Wallace and Jack.

When Herbie was about 16 and Reco 15, they went out to work. With their horse and cart, they would draw stone from Bird’s Quarry to nearby council road works. This was the first regular money that came into the farm in a number of years; neighbours said it marked a turning point in the family’s fortunes.

It started as a simple cold and sore throat in the early autumn of 1939, just as the 2nd World War was declared, and petrol rationing was introduced. But it got progressively worse as a fever set in and he could no longer go off to work. Their Manorhamilton doctor treated him with a tonic, but it had little effect. Sometime in late September he was confined to bed, his face and neck swelling, a continuous barking cough heard throughout the house.

His siblings saw their big brother laid low, weak and suffering. They could see the worry and distress of their parents, Richard and Annie. Reco, his younger brother and work mate took on extra chores on the farm. All but Jack were teenagers and felt the anxiety and upset, missing Herbie around the house and farm.

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection of the mouth, throat and nose. As the illness progresses untreated a growing mucus closes the airways and produces high levels of toxins. The illness can be cured with a course of simple antibiotics, which were widely available 5 or so years after Herbie’s illness. Today diphtheria is an extremely rare illness with all children being vaccinated at an early age.

Neighbours and relations came to the farmhouse in the evening to sit with Herbie and support his parents. William O’Malley, my grandfather Richard’s cousin from Tawnymanus sat with Herbie near the end. Later William could not bring himself to visit his own son, Wills, when in hospital with acute appendicitis. The young Wills, very confused by this, would years later understand his father’s behaviour in light of the traumatic experience sitting with the dying Herbie.

Herbie Davis circa 1939.

As the winter deepened and the nights grew longer Herbie’s condition worsened. Their doctor visited again but there was little he could do for him.  He was slowly choking, toxins poisoning his body. On the 30 November his father sent Reco to Manorhamilton on the horse and cart to summon the doctor again, with the express instruction, not to return without him. But the doctor refused to come, saying that he could do no more. Reco returned to Larkfield alone, and Herbie died a short time later.

I look at the last picture taken of him, dressed for church, a haunted look about him, photographed for posterity, the energy gone from him – a young man, my Uncle, never to meet.

Richard and Annie had experienced the death of a previous child when Herbie’s younger sister Maureen died at the age of two on 9th December 1923.