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Bridie O'Keeffe

Interviewed by Karlene McGeer

Karlene: How long have you lived in the area?
Bridie: 80 years. I was born in Ballyduffmore in 1942 and when I married my husband Thomas O’Keeffe in 1963 we lived in his home, also in Ballyduffmore, Kilnamona, with our 5 children.

Karlene: What’s a fond memory you have of living here?
Bridie: I remember working on the farm with my parents and brother Micheal. One fond memory is of our annual trek to Henchy’s bog at Mount Callan, 9 miles from home by horse and car, to cut and save the turf. We would bring a wheelbarrow, shovel, spade, a sleán and food for the day, including a kettle and tea cups. The first thing we would do was light a fire and the kettle would boil while we worked in the bog. Tea and sandwiches never tasted as good as outdoors in the bog or the meadow.

Another memory would be walking to mass, fasting from the night before. In order to get to mass, we walked through fields, tailing my father, who pulled a furze-bush after him to knock the snow from the long grass. We carried our shoes and changed into them when we reached the road. One of the funniest memories was one of my neighbours, Annie McGuane, could feel a mouse in the lining of her coat during mass, but never took it off to shake him out until she walked the 2 miles to her own gate.

Karlene: Have you seen this community come back from hard times before?
Bridie: I was born 3rd January 1942. Because of food shortages after the 2nd World War, I remember we received Ration Books, which gave us allowances for flour, sugar and tea. We were very lucky to come from a farm, as we had our own eggs, milk, vegetables, butter and meat. Our relations in America would send us brown parcels of clothes and tea. We made bed sheets and men’s shirts from bleached and boiled flour bags. A three stone flour bag would be sewn together to make a double bed sheet. There were lots of shortages during those times and not too many extras, but we made it through.

Karlene: What are some things that have helped you through lockdown and what brings you joy?
Bridie: I spent some of my time knitting dresses for newborn babies in Africa. We were unable to attend Mass but I listened to mass daily on ‘Radio Maria’ on the television. Daily Mass was always from a different parish or county, so this made it very interesting. I was still able to go out and help my son Fergal on the farm with the cows and sheep. I would often sit outside and chat with my children and grandchildren who would keep me up to date and informed on their daily lives and parish news. I visited my 96 year old neighbour Susan Bossett daily, and we had many conversations through her kitchen window. I was one of the lucky ones, as I could see my family and neighbours daily or chat to them on the phone.

Karlene: What does community mean to you? What sort of things are you doing now to stay connected to your community and family?
Bridie: This has been my community since I was born, so I am blessed to know almost everyone in the parish. I know how everyone is connected and who their people are. Community to me is not just the present, but also the past. I believe if you have a sense of community you are not alone – you have a sense of belonging and you know if there is a problem, we will always look out for each other.

I participate in the Holy Hour in Inagh Church every Tuesday morning. I used to clean Kilnemone church with a group of ladies up to 3 years ago. I help my son Fergal with his work on the farm. My children and grandchildren visit my home. One thing I really enjoy doing is baking, cooking and sewing for my friends and family and have enjoyed passing on these skills to my grandchildren.

Karlene: What message do you want to share for yourself and this community in 10 years time?
Bridie: I would really like to see the people, especially the younger generation, going to church and receiving the Sacraments, because I believe there is a great comfort, healing and joy to be gotten from the church and the Sacraments. I would also like to know that people will continue to take the time to visit and chat, plus get to know each other, in the community. I also hope that the different generations continue to mix, visit one another, and learn from each other.

Shown below is a drawing Karlene made in response to her interview with Bridie. It depicts Bridie at her home having a socially distanced visit at the door of her home with a friend.