In Greece; Forever England

Since City Jackdaw has been flying, I think I’ve probably made a Remebrance Sunday post every year. Except yesterday.

As usual we spent the day, which coincided with the Armistice Centennial, by visiting the memorial on which the names of past family members are listed. It’s this personal connection that gives context to the wider impact of that war.

As I didn’t post yesterday, I will share this photograph today: it’s from when I visited the grave of my Gt Grandfather, Timothy O’Sullivan, in 2007, ninety years to the day since he died. He is buried in Thessaloniki. A plot that is forever England.

R.I.P

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Cemetery Of The Forgotten

This is the time of year when the act of remembering seems to take precedent, whatever your persuasion. From a pagan perspective there was Halloween/Samhain yesterday. For those of a Christian mind today is All Saints Day, followed by tomorrow’s All Souls Day. Even if you don’t wear either of these labels, Remembrance Sunday is also almost upon us.

Maybe it’s when we see see the seasonal decay of the world around us, combined with the shortened hours of daylight, that we instinctively turn inward, thinking about our own mortality and of the roots from which we have sprung.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Yesterday, my daughter and I visited an old cemetery in Harpurhey, Manchester. It’s one of those old cemeteries where it seems burials no longer take place, and to see flowers placed upon a grave is a rare thing indeed.

It’s a cemetery of the forgotten, a cemetery where the dead who reside there have nobody left in the world who can enshrine them in remembrance.

There, among the mouldering rows was a particular grave that we were seeking out. A grave that held the remains of ten people that had connections to us both. Ancestors of four generations.

I remember the first time that I stood on this spot with my father. I asked him who the John Murray was that was listed on the headstone, curious as this man was the one who shared my surname and went the furthest back in time.

“I’m not sure,” my Dad replied. “I think he was an uncle of your Granddad’s.”

Once I began my family history research I soon discovered that this man was actually my Dad’s grandfather.

How easily things become forgotten. Lost.

Not long after that day I began my search, born of curiosity and an undefinable sense of belonging. Of the ten people listed on that headstone, three of them I had known in life. Seven, (possibly eight), I now have photographs of.

Mindful of both the responsibility I have acquired and of the passing years, yesterday I brought my eleven year old daughter with me to Harpurhey. The next generation. To her I will eventually pass the baton.


I have since learnt the stories of each of my listed ancestors, of the lives, struggles and triumphs unheralded by these simple dates and names.

Their stories I have recorded, and tell to my children.  In this way I keep these people alive.

In regard to my blog, these stories are for another time. For now, I list the people here.
May they be forever remembered.
Charles Hewitt 1847-1884

Amelia Hewitt (née Wolfenden) 1847-1901

John Murray 1862-1926

Kate Amelia Murray 1903-1926

Frank Murray 1912-1928

Kate Ann Murray (née Hewitt) 1872-1939

Frank Murray 1950-1954

Millicent Murray 1899-1989

Margaret Murray 1914-1990

Fred Murray 1915-1992

Hand Me Down Stories

I thought I’d reblog this after recently talking to someone about the power of storytelling-and the ghost of Annabella.

City Jackdaw

When I went to Primary School, there used to be a name whispered in the corridors and classrooms that all of the kids knew: Annabella.

Annabella was the name of the ghost of a girl who was said to haunt the girls’ toilets. If I recall the story correctly, it was a girl who was supposed to have hung herself in there. This may be a recurring theme, as when I went to Secondary School there was a story of a boy who had hung himself from the bell tower.

What dark imaginations the young have. The thrill in being scared.

But that latter school story was more vague, the boy-ghost being anonymous. In my junior school the ghost had a name.

My wife went to the same primary school as I. She says that out of the few cubicles in the toilets, there was one whose door was always…

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(Final) Welsh Odyssey #5

We were in the car and everything was subdued: it was late afternoon and the kids were both asleep in the back, exhausted from their play on the beach, my wife sandwiched between them both. Gathering clouds were threatening to bring some welcome rain.

My friend, Derek, was driving, weaving along the country lanes, passing the time trying to identify the various victims of roadkill splayed along our route.

Then my eyes lit up at a sudden sign: Ancient Burial Site.

Derek started following the directions in a tacit understanding: some of you older Jackdaw followers may recall that the Neolithic is my thing. (Not because you hail from the Neolithic yourselves, of course, but because I posted about it a few times in my early blogging days.) It is the period when we began to become us, ceasing to wander and instead put down roots. Transforming the landscape and, though so much is unknown, leaving just enough tantalising clues to feed the imagination.

The structures of this period have always drawn me, wherever I find myself, and so we arrived at the site that is known as Pentre Ifan.

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“Do you want to come and see it? We could take it in turns?” I asked the Mrs who still had the heads and the spread limbs of the children across her.

“No, I’ll stay here in the car.”

“It’s stood for five thousand years, and you don’t want to take a two minute walk to see it?!”

“You see it for me.”

Derek interjected: “I’ll take some photos for you and the kids to see.”

“And I’ll give you the feel of the place,” I added.

And so we abandoned them in that country lane, passed through a wooden gate, and came upon they type of ancient structure that is known as a dolmen.

Though the landscape may be different to what it was back then, the fact that there wasn’t another soul or building in sight, added to an absence of sound, (aside from a crow calling), added to the sense of timelessness about the place.

The caw of a crow is not sweet birdsong, but is dark and ominous and deathly, (carrion crow after all), but that may just be the perspective and penchant of the poet.

There was an information board that gave a diagram of how it would have looked back then. It was built around 3,500 BC.  Who would have been buried here? Who (and there would have been several) was important enough to warrant such a memorial?

Whenever I look across the fields and ruins that dot the British landscape, I often wonder about the great stories that have become lost to us. Stories that tell of the exploits of people from all periods of our history, undertaken before records began. Legendary figures; famous battles; Gods; Celtic warriors – the Arthurs of the time.

But this monument was built long before the Celtic era.

Approaching it it looked an obvious health and safety risk, but the stones had been secured. And besides, these things had obviously been made to last.

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The top stone was shaped like a flint knife. That seemed more appropriate than a hovering spacecraft, which also crossed my mind.

Derek left me to spend a few minutes there, alone, to soak up the atmosphere. I’m like that-a human sponge of the vibe of a place. And then I left, the crow still calling its lyrical lament.

The ancestors: unknown and unfathomable, littering this island of mine with some extraordinary wonders.

I have since read that local lore says that fairies are sometimes sighted there, described as ‘little children in clothes like soldiers’ clothes and with red caps.’ I wished I had known that then, I would have regaled the kids with such tales. That’s the kind of thing to engage them.

But I didn’t know, and when I got back to the car they slept on, that damn Justin Bierber playing on the radio.

Give me the crow any day.

The Fox In The Night

This was from the eve of the last new year: the cusp of transition; ghosts of the past; and my old faithful friend who, if only I knew it back then, would be with us only for six months more.

City Jackdaw

On the night of New Year’s Eve, before the celebrations began in earnest, I took the dog for a walk. The mind often wanders when outdoors, and I began to reflect on how, being on the cusp of 2015, I would, in the coming year, be turning forty four. With my attention turned inward, I started to think of all of the ways we, as a family, celebrated Christmas and New Year when I was a child. And, for the first time ever, I felt a sudden, brief, twinge of sadness. Sadness that I am moving still further away from my beginnings, and sadness that some of the loved ones who contributed to those happy memories have been left behind, some far behind.

It was only a fleeting emotion, for I am seldom morose and normally quite sanguine and accepting of the order of things. On life’s journey we all…

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Halloween:Three Personal, Family Ghost Storiese

All families have their stories, and these are three of ours. Happy Halloween.

City Jackdaw

Two components of Halloween/Samhain celebrations, from both a pagan and a non-pagan perspective, are ancestors, and ghosts. So I thought I would combine the two in this post with three stories from my own family, two of them passed down, one of them recounted to me personally.

For any serious paranormal investigators out there, you can file them under the headings of Death Bed Visitation, Ghost Sighting, and Near Death Experience respectively. I am not claiming them to be true, supernatural experiences beyond all rational explanation, but neither am I dismissing them as anecdotal events that are grounded in purely biological and physical laws as we know them. I’m just passing them onto you as I received them. Make up your own mind on the cause. And the effect.

Death Bed Visitation

My Gran had a sister named Margaret who, being eleven years old, was three years younger than my…

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