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.

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