“NOW THAT I RETURN AGAIN, MANY CHANGES I HAVE KNOWN”
Originally published in August 2018
After a busy few days at work recently, I opted to take up the opportunity for some ‘me-time’ with a relaxing wander through the Town Park.
Usually it’s just a place I pass through as a shortcut between Sentry-Hill and Gortlee and one I’ve done countless times before.
During a moment’s pause and with a sit-down on the steps, the observations I took in were intriguing and much to my surprise .
By Jonathan Foley
Amid the cooling air of a warm day and with an aura of pleasence in the atmosphere, I looked outward upon the other people in the park. People conversing, laughing and having fun.
Children playing happily and others out doing laps of the rounding paths with their tunes playing through their earphones. Nothing out of the ordinary at first, I thought. At first anyway.
I became surprisingly captivated by how multicultural and socially-diverse those in and around the park were. With the echoing noise of the evening traffic in the distance, everyone – through a multitude of languages and fashion styles – seemed uninterrupted by this as they continued to enjoy their free-time with their partners, their children, friends or even persons just in their own company.
It triggered the question within me about how and, maybe more importantly, why did my hometown evolve so much in its identity over the last few decades and was it possible to consider that maybe it happened so fast – that myself and maybe others – didn’t even really notice.
I’m very proud to say that I was born and raised here in the town of Letterkenny but I’m the first to admit that, going by family connections, I’m not what you might call a typical ‘townie’ compared to so many others who have lived here. I am, in fact, the son of a ‘blow-in’ family with just one other member of our entire family tree – my brother Alan – being of actual Donegal birth.
With a surname like ‘Foley’, that shouldn’t raise too many eyebrows.
It’s a name that is much more commonly heard in parts of Connaught and Munster as opposed to up here in the northwest.
My mum and dad moved here around the time they got married after leaving Sligo to start a life for themselves when they bought their first house in Ashlawn before moving a few hundred yards up the road to Carnamuggagh Lower in the mid-1980s shortly before I was born.
Dad has since passed away however but during his lifetime, he had never lost his Cliffoney-accent and even now, it’s the same for mum who speaks in a way that would make you question if indeed she had ever even left her native village of Mullaghmore.
Although I may take after both of them in terms of some physical features and mannerisms, the same can’t be said for my accent as I adapted the dulcet tones of a fully-fledged Donegalian with my ‘Ayes’ and my ‘Wee’s’ and my ‘We’ans!’
So much so that at family gatherings in Sligo, my poor wee granny – originally from County Down – was sometimes the only one able to decipher my oral diction.
Having said that, my parents may not have been born here, but they certainly did become immersed and a part of the community upon their arrival.
Dad worked for years with the Gardaí and was always involved in things like local pantomimes and the ongoings out at the golf club in Barnhill while mum worked in the banks. Suffice to say, she has essentially become an honorary local here at this stage.
That’s just a minor glimpse into my background and the reason for my being here, but after attending a meeting held by the Letterkenny Memories group a few months back, questions of a wider nature began to flourish.
On that night, they were hosting a reunion of the 1967 St Eunan’s county championship winning team. The speaker told that in ‘67, the town’s population was a mere 5,000!
I nearly fell of the stool, I was that shocked.
I just couldn’t envisage a town – to which I call home and am proud to be a part of – being so small in population less than two decades before I was born.
The speaker enlightened me that my native Gortlee was basically just a field that didn’t even have Ashlawn, Oaklands or Knocknamona as part of its make-up for a further ten years.
I suppose I had to remind myself though – or maybe it was more so a case that I was made to be reminded – that my family didn’t come from here.
So maybe that’s why so many of the black and white photos I see of people or places from Letterkenny’s past don’t always strike a chord of resonance with me,
Understandably so too, I hope, because I can never spot family members or distant relatives in them.
On a more comforting note, however, I then remember that Letterkenny’s population is now around 20,000 and that ultimately means that those descendant of a ‘blow-in’ ancestry are in huge numbers here.
And that’s why I like to think there are so many people here nowadays that are perhaps not a part of the town’s historic past, but certainly part of its present and its future.
In my (almost) 34 years in this life, even I have seen how much the town is changed. Back in the eighties, I would go to my childminders, Nan Curran’s, on Eunan’s Terrace and my first ever trip to a cinema was when I was taken to see ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ on the Port Road. Moving on, I played soccer at Ballyraine and gaelic football at O’Donnell Park on into the nineties.
I had my first ‘shift’ by a wall in the newly-built Beinn Aobhinn estate in the mid-to-late nineties and faced the realities of dole-queues and emigration through the 2008 recession era.
I’ve seen the Oatfields factory and the old swimming pool disappear while I’ve also had to see many friends move away, but even with that, I’ve seen newer faces, newer buildings and newer opportunities come to the surface on the town.
And just like my parents, so many others have come here and made lives for themselves and the rich variety of cultural integration from that was there to be witnessed on that simple evening walk through the park.
My descendancy may belong elsewhere and that’s to a quieter and more suburban environment in Sligo, but this is will always be my place-of-birth and my this will always be where I call home.
I was educated and made my friends and neighbours here and I always like to feel that it’s good to be – not just something – to be a real part of something: a team of teachers so as to help the next generation, a team of coaches to help generate an interest in sports or, in this case, a team of writers and newspaper people who gave you something to (hopefully) enjoyed reading this week.
In a nutshell, not all of us were a part of the town’s historical past but hopefully we can be a part of what Letterkenny is now and for what it will become.