The Great Blasket Islanders – my heart is full of love and admiration for them and their ghosts

The Great Blasket Island

The Great Blasket Island

I have never been to the Blasket Islands! Although I hope to very soon. Isn’t it queer that I have lived here for a quarter of a century and yet I had never even driven around Slea Head until last year, when an old school friend Ann visited me? I was so pleased with the journey that I made it again soon afterwards when my sister Susan came to stay!  On that occasion we stopped for lunch in Dingle and I bought “Peig”. I knew, from various friends, that Peig Sayers, a famous story-teller from the Great Blasket Island, was compulsory reading, in Irish, for generations of school girls here.

Reading Peig’s book (translated into English I hasten to add) “An Old Woman’s Reflections”, which she dictated to her son, Micheál Guiheen (Sayers being her maiden name), gave me an appetite for more knowledge of the Blasket Islanders. According to the census records of 1901 and 1911, Peig, or “Margaret Guiheen” as you’ll find her, could both read and write, but this seems not to have been the case. From what I gather, a few of the islanders (and bear in mind that Peig came from Dunquin on the mainland and married into the island), learnt a little English during brief periods when there was a school on the island. Their own language though had been passed down orally, with their stories and poems. None could read or write in Irish. This is hardly surprising when you consider how under British rule, for several centuries, the language and religion were banned, discouraged and sent underground. The miracle is it survived at all! As “The Tailor” (Tim Buckley from Kilgarvan) observes in Eric Cross’ “The Tailor and Ansty” (a book which was banned when it was first published!) “All the schooling was in English. There wasn’t a syllable of Irish. It was against the law, and you would be beat if you used it. But the people had the Irish, and good Irish too, and they spoke it amongst themselves. Now the world has changed round, and you are paid to learn it and few people have it! It’s a queer state of affairs.” It has been observed by academics who are knowledgeable in these matters, that the Irish language that was spoken on The Blasket Islands, during the 19th and early 20th century, was a “pure” form of the language; unadulterated by foreign influences. It was for this reason that these academic gentlemen first went to the Great Blasket Island.

The first of these esteemed gentlemen was playwright (Edmund) John Millington Synge, best known for “Playboy of the Western World” (which caused riots when it was first performed in Dublin!) Synge didn’t receive a very warm welcome from the Islanders when he arrived in 1905. Memories of Bailiffs and Land Agents (attempting) to land on the Islands to extract rent and rates from the impoverished islanders were too recent in their minds. There is an account in Tomás Ó Crohan’s “The islandman” from his childhood, when a steamship was sighted, moored outside the island. It had put out a large boat full of uniformed officers with guns. These armed soldiers would have ‘sacked’ the houses of the islanders had they succeeded in coming ashore. They hadn’t reckoned on the women of the island though, who stood above the strand, on the cliffs and pelted them with rocks! The children gathered more ‘ammunition’ and the women continued to rain stones upon them until one had his head split open and they retreated back to their boat and rowed back to the safety of their steamship! In those days the islanders were supposed to pay £2 per cow in rates to the (Earl of Cork) which would be about £8 for the whole island; it may as well have been eight hundred pounds! Tomás Ó Crohan was born in 1856 and he was a boy when he observed the above event, so I am supposing it to have taken place in the 1870’s; just thirty years or so before Synge’s visit, so not surprising then that they were still very fearful of strangers!

The next of these academic gentlemen to dock was a Norwegian called Carl Marstrander in 1907. They called him “The Viking” (‘An Lochlannach’). Marstrander was interested in Celtic languages and visited Scotland and the Isle of Man as well as all the islands. He was already fluent in ‘Old Irish’ when he arrived on the Great Blasket. A Pole-vault champion from Norway, he succeeded in astonishing Tomás Ó Crohan by vaulting over his house using the oar of a naomhóg* for a pole! Marstrander, so the story goes, “worked and laboured on both sea and land” from the first day he arrived. Later he took up a position teaching Old Irish in the School of Celtic Studies in Dublin. One of his first students, a scholar named Robin Flower from the British Museum came to read Old Irish and was advised by his professor to visit the Blasket Islands. He arrived in 1910 and immediately struck up a rapport with Tomás Ó Crohan, who was chosen by the ‘King’ of the Ireland, (An Rí), Pádraig Ó Catháin, to help Flower learn ‘Modern Irish’. The whole island had great affection for Robin Flower and called him “An Bláithín” (meaning Little Flower).

Tomás Ó Crohan, with the help of visitors to the island, like Robin Flower, as well as his relations living on the mainland, learnt to read and write in his own native language.

One of these visitors was the son of a businessman from Killarney called Brian Kelly (Brian Ó Ceallaigh), who eventually persuaded a sceptical and reluctant Tomás Ó Crohan to write down his recollections. Kelly read him Pierre Loti’s “Pescheur d’Islande (an account of a Canadian fisherman) and stories by Maxim Gorky “My Childhood” about Russian peasants, which eventually persuaded him to put pen to paper.  Tomás Ó Crohan began writing about his life, as a sort of diary, which he sent, almost daily, to Kelly in Killarney. These precious papers were subsequently sent to Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha “An Seabhac”. These were eventually published as “Allagar na hInse” (Island Cross Talk). Although they were written first, they were published after “An tOileánach” (The Islandman) – generally regarded as the greatest literary work to have come from these poetry-speaking islanders, and considered a classic.

Blasket Island Writers

After Reading Peig, I was sent Muiris Ó Súilleabháin’s (Maurice O’Sullivan) Fiche Bliain ag fás (Twenty Years A-Growing**) by same sister, Susan (she had bought it at Kerry Airport after leaving me). Twas then I really fell in love with the Islanders! Maurice O’Sullivan was a beautiful writer: truthful and candid in his intelligent observations. His mother died when he was an infant and there being no-one in his home yet old enough to look after a baby, he was put into an orphanage in Dingle (part of the poorhouse). When he was about seven years old his father brought him back home. At that time he hadn’t a word of Irish, but he wasn’t long picking it up! When he first clapped eyes on the naomhóg, below the cliff he thought it was a giant beetle “twice as big as a cow” and as it was being carried by two or three men underneath it, as was the custom, one can easily see why!

The houses that they islanders lived in were tiny, (about 102ft) and built huddled together like a flock of sheep huddles to avoid bad weather. Originally the roof was made of rushes but later they copied the canvas and tar of the naomhóg and these were anchored with ropes and rocks holding them down and keeping them from being blown off during the many storms. The kitchen had an open fireplace and perhaps a few súgán chairs (woven straw) and maybe a settle that could be turned into a bed. Below the kitchen, another room for sleeping was formed by placing a dresser between the two apartments. The floor was just a dirt floor and the women went down to the beach for sand twice a day to keep it dry. By night the animals were brought inside. All the cooking was done on the open fire, and bread would have likely been made in a bastible (a large iron pan on legs with a heavy lid upon which you put red-hot sods of turf). Their diet was very simple. It consisted of whatever could be caught. They snared rabbits, which were very plentiful, hunted for puffins, scaled the cliff face for gulls eggs, caught thrushes nesting in the stone walls by night and of course fished. Sometimes they went off to another of the Blasket islands and found seals in caves. A typical meal would be a plate of potatoes, some salted fish and some milk over it. To drink they had skimmed milk, until the arrival of Tea.

In this way, people have lived since Neolithic times.

How sad that their number fell into decline. The young people emigrated to America. The fishing came to an end when huge French trawlers fished off the islands, depriving the islanders of their livelihood. Eventually, the handful of islanders remaining, were almost starving when the government finally evacuated the island in 1953. Very quickly the wind and rain tore the roofs off most of the houses and the stone walls began to crumble. Most houses now look as though they have been unlived in for centuries. In recent years one or two have been restored and visitors can now go and see them as they once were.

Looking back at historical documents, such as baptism, marriage and census records, the signs were there to see. In the early 1800s there were more than forty different surnames associated with the Great Blasket Island. By the early 20th century fewer than a dozen names survived on the island.

It is impossible (for me anyway) to read Muiris Ó Súilleabháin, Tomás Ó Críomhthain, Peig Sayers or Michael Carney (Michéal Cearnaigh)’s “From the Great Blasket to America” (subtitled The Last Memoir by and Islander) without weeping. I have a genuine love for these people and the deepest admiration for them.

Blasket collage

I would love to have the mental capacity to learn Irish and read these books, and a lot more besides that haven’t been translated into English at all! But I find it impossible to learn from books and most the CDs are Ulster Irish with is so very different from the beautiful, soft Munster dialect spoken in Kerry along its west coast. What a pity I wasn’t born a hundred years ago and could have gone, like Robin Flower and George Thompson, to live on the island, where only Irish was spoken! Perhaps then even I might have picked it up!

Do have a look at this website:

And if you ever find yourself in Dingle, drive on a little further to Dunquin (Dún Chaoin) and visit the Blasket Exhibition Centre. There, watch the short documentary, take your time to stroll through the exhibition, and if you have time, and the weather and tide are with you, take the Blasket Island Ferry over to the Great Blasket Island, as I will, myself, very shortly, God willing! Booking is advisable, and the telephone number is 066 9156422 or from outside Ireland 00 353 66 9156422

*Naomhóg (sometimes called a curragh and pronounced ‘knave OhG” (hard G) is described by Maurice O’Sullivan as “A canoe of wicker covered with canvas and tarred”


**The title comes from an old Irish saying that Maurice learned from his grandfather: “I dare say a man grows weak when he reaches you age, daddo?” “Oh, musha, he does, my heart. Did you never hear how the life of a man is divided?

Twenty years a-growing         (Fiche bliain ag fás)

Twenty years in blossom         Fiche bliain faoi bhláth

Twenty years a-stooping         (Fiche bliain ag cromadh)

And twenty years declining    (Agus fiche bliain ag meath)

Maurice O’Sullivan’s friend, George Thompson, who translated Maurice’s book into English, and wrote the preface, also wrote a brief postscript in 1951. He tells us that his dear friend, from whom he learnt to speak Irish, drowned while swimming in Galway in 1950, leaving a widow, a son and a daughter.

One cannot help thinking back to the words of “Mirrisheen”s Grandfather, “Daddo”:-

“Musha, my heart, a man of the sea never had a good life and never will, as I know well, having spent my days on it, and I have gone through as many perils on it as there are grey hairs in my head, and I am telling you now, wherever God may guide you, keep away from the sea”


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God Speed you on your Journey Debbie…

Thinking of Debbie

“Those LEGS!” My sister exclaimed as we drove through Mildenhall. I turned to look, seeing a group of girls walking ‘up town’. I smiled as I recognised my friend Debbie; tight jeans hugging her super-model figure: legs up to her armpits! I felt a strange pride, as though admiration for my friend somehow reflected on me.

She did do a bit of modelling too! For David’s Hairdressers. She was his model and went to fashion shows and competitions with him. She had the most silken hair. Long and brown and unimaginably soft and shiny; like a shampoo ad. I compared it to my straw-like blonde mop! I could pin mine up with a pencil, but no hair clips would stay in Debbie’s hair. They slithered down her sleek hair, finding no imperfection on which to get any sort of grip.

The most efficient person I’ve ever seen. Watching her work was a sort of poetry to me. I, an awkward oaf in comparison. Her nimble fingers clicking away at the keyboard as she typed, lightning fast and word perfect. Click click click went the stapler as she grasped bunches of documents; more sections that she had fingers for it seemed! I would have helped her, she was always on some Marketing deadline, but my clumsy hands could never perform such magic tricks, I’d slow her down!

She ‘owned’ the Rank Xerox 9400 photocopier: an aeroplane of a machine, every bit as noisy, in a room all to itself.  She’d stand supervising as it devoured boxes of paper, spewing out reams and reams of material. Copying, collating, stapling. When it jammed as it was want to do, usually when she was trying to get a mailing out to her Reps in today’s post, she’d crack open lids and doors, pull out trays, manipulate, manoeuvre, free the smallest piece of torn paper or a scrunched up sheet. Where other mortals would have to call Paul Kippen, Chief Engineer, she’d just get on with it herself! Replacing ink and toner posed no problem to her and unlike most of the other secretaries who didn’t want to dirty their hands, she’d get stuck in; nothing would hold up her progress!

Paul Kippen, a chauvinist I suppose, but we had different values back then. He’d trace the outline of her figure; never touching, just outlining. “Looking for the string!” He’d say to our confused faces. “You two are joined at the hip!” he’d say, laughing at us.


Debbie was “always” in Reception, drinking coffee and chatting to Peggy Colacchio, Receptionist for decades, trans-Atlantic accent and chain-smoker! Enormous ashtrays would adorn her desk; a great advertisement for a pharmaceutical company!

But Debbie wasn’t idle as she sat there. Her hands were busy always, stapling, labelling, stuffing envelopes, wrapping videos in silver paper to save the precious film from the scanning machines that were known to wipe them clean. It was sensible. The alternative would be to bring everything all the way back upstairs and into the Portacabins, which were the Marketing department. Crazy when the 9400 was just along the corridor from Reception. The post room too adjoined reception. That was my area, so I had “genuine” reasons for being in reception. Also it was my job to give Peggy her coffee breaks.

If Debbie wasn’t in Reception, then I was up in Marketing. Armed with huge catalogues of office equipment and stationery, I’d write down this week’s orders. Debbie’s grey area made more colourful by shocking pink files for Product Manager Chris Dewes (Palacos R with Gentamycin) and turquoise for Product Manager Paul Clinch (Intron A Interferon). It was ironic that Chris plugged Palacos when he could scarcely walk himself and badly needed hip replacements in both hips! He kept postponing it though because of his love of Squash! Truly! He was “slaughter” the young managers, wet behind the ears who gleefully accepted his challenge! They thought he’d be a walk-over! He was nothing of the kind! He had the eyesight of an eagle and lightning fast reactions. From where he stood he would send that small rubber ball flying in all directions, the youth running round the court sweating and breathless as Chris massacred their hubris!

Her other boss a handsome Rugby Playing Irishman; Captain of Lansdowne Rugby Club. He said to me once “I’d love to get in Debbie’s knickers!” Naturally, I told her what he’d said. She blushed pink but rose to the challenge in her unique and fabulous way! Next morning she brought in a pair of knickers and put them in a brown envelope and put them on his desk with his post. “What’s this?” he asked. “You said you wanted to get in my knickers; well here they are!” She had a brilliant sense of humour. A put down certainly, but all good clean fun!

She would pop to the canteen in the afternoon and bring us both a Cadbury’s Twirl and bring her handsome Irishman a Toffee Crisp as I remember. She liked KP Discos too as I recall! I’d get fatter as she’d stay as slim as a whippet!

She used to bring us in sandwiches too; cheese and chutney! And a yoghurt from her dad who worked for Bridge Farm Dairies. Sometimes we’d go round hers and she’d whistle up some scrambled eggs. She did them differently from anyone else I’ve ever known. Instead of whisking them and cooking them in a pan with the inevitable burning of the bottom, she’d put them into a non-stick frying pan with butter, using two wooden spatulas to blend the whites and yoke and move them round the pan. A buttery and delicious lunch! No-one’s ever cooked me eggs as nice since!

On Friday’s we finished at two. We’d head off to Bury St. Edmunds in her British Racing Green, canvas-topped MG Midget. In the summer with the roof down and our tape player blaring! The Midget needed a good bash from a hammer to get the starter motor working, and she had an enormous crook-lock which she fastened between the steering wheel and the clutch pedal. We had no idea what speed we were doing as the speedometer didn’t work either! “Get off the road” she’d say to pedestrians crossing our road “I don’t take passengers!”

A flash of M & S white knickers as she swung her long brown legs out of the low seats. Graceful and feminine. Her chubby friend scrambled out less elegantly!

We’d park on the Butter Market and go for a late lunch in her favourite Italian restaurant. Pizza and a cafetiere of strong, delicious coffee: NOT widely available back then!

Then we’d go shopping! We had store cards for all the best shops, Top Shop, Dorothy Perkins, Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and we’d run up terrifying bills! I would try and exercise some restraint but Debbie would say “Oh, get it!” and I’d willingly obey!

Once when we were shopping in Mildenhall, in a little boutique called “Gaywear”, we both tried on the same dress: in different sizes I hasten to add! It had a fitted bosom , and was a lovely, feminine, floral, floaty thing. We nearly pissed ourselves laughing inside that cubicle! On Debbie the dress hung empty across her flat chest. On me, my breasts burst out over the top; Nell Gwynn with buxom bosom bulging! All I needed was the oranges! When we’d stopped laughing she said one day when we’re rich we would have joint surgery! She’d have half my boobs!

I remember her telling me that when she was at Newmarket Upper School her mum bought her a ‘training bra’. She wore it once. She was playing netball and when she raised both arms to shoot for the net, it came rolling up to her throat! Nothing to stop it! She never wore a bra again after that! (Or at least, she may have done during her two pregnancies!!)

It seems cruelly ironic that it should be she who got breast cancer.

I wish I could see you again before you go off on that journey that you must face on your own.  We none of us can know what lies ahead of us, but I feel certain that your dad will be there waiting for you. He’ll hug you as tightly as he did at the airport when you left to start your future in America.

God speed Debbie. Don’t linger and shrivel and suffer long. When you get there, look down at me and smile. Know that I love you so much my dearest friend.

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R.I.P. Debbie Parker, Gray, Wallace, Dixon. I love & miss you!



Yesterday, a Christmas card I had sent to my friend of thirty years, Debbie Dixon, came back. A cursory line hand-written on the back, perhaps by the person who lives in her house now, said “I’m sorry to say Ms. Dixon passed away”.

The truly shocking thing was that when I Googled and found her obituary, I learnt that she died three years ago!

That explains why I hadn’t had a Christmas card from her for the last few years!

I had thought that maybe she was still “pissed” (her word) at me for a brief falling out we’d had a few years ago when I had posted a photo of her on Facebook. She had at the time gone mad! Lecturing me about how once a thing is on the internet it is there forever and how she didn’t want certain people finding her! I apologised and assured her that I wouldn’t EVER post another photo of her!

Later she apologised for her over-reaction and further explained her fears about the internet, which as time goes on I come to appreciate much more deeply.

She came to visit me in Ireland a few years ago and I gave her a tour of all the things she had on her list! She was a very organised person!

I first knew Debbie when she came to RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk where I was working as a Civil Servant attached to the USAF Hospital in Medical Supply. My job was keypunch operator on a very old-fashioned card punch machine.

at RAF Lakenheath 1985

at RAF Lakenheath 1985

Before she came, her PCS documents arrived and we all scrutinized them to see who the new Airman Basic was! We found out that she was single but that she had one dependent, a son, PJ; I think he may have been about 3 at the time.

I liked her immediately. Her sassy attitude, her way of rolling her huge round eyes, and that way Black American women have of sucking through their teeth! She was awesome.

She was such a great friend.

She got me in to various shops and bought things for me that I wouldn’t have been entitled to buy with my sterling. I still have a leather-bound, gold-leaf book of World Poetry that she bought me; one of my favourite books.

We went ‘clubbing’ on the base (Mildenhall), fuelled on cheap Liebfraumilch first! We would laugh at the dopey Airmen who would come over to our table and ask each one of us in turn to dance! Her expression, wordless would say it all: “boy, don’t come over here insulting me, asking me SECOND or THIRD after you’ve been turned down already by my girlfriends! Get out of my face!”

Debbie had a very definite idea of what she expected from a boyfriend or husband. I always felt her expectations were unreasonable, but she stuck to her high standards! Her boyfriend when I worked with her was an adorable young man called Eugene Green. He failed her by not buying her presents! She was contemptuous of his efforts to explain that all the spare cash he earned he sent home to his family. She said he came from “The Projects” which was an expression I did not understand at the time! She liked to lavish her friends with gifts, and I knew her well enough that she expected them back!

In later years she started a collection of teapots and I sent her a couple of them including a rather nice antique one from this house which wasn’t really to my tastes.

Wherever she was posted to in her military career, she would send me enormous parcels, containing all manner of items; clothes, household goods, food items, it was always like a lucky dip as I rooted through my box of loot!

She was a great letter writer. She would write reams and reams. Her writing was quite hard to read until you got into it, as unique as she was. In her letters she would pour out her soul, confiding in me the most private and intimate of things that I believe she would never have been able to say to my face.

She told me that she had been raised by her grandmother, (Ethel Purvey). That her own mother was obese and I think a drunk. She may have also been diabetic. She told me that once when she was a small child her mother fell on her and crushed her; her knee driving into her stomach. She caused internal damage. She didn’t think she could have children, but somehow she did have PJ.

I asked her about him once and she just said he isn’t in her life. I think she said he was being raised by the father’s mother; PJ’s paternal grandmother. She never mentioned him in later years.

In her obituary, there is mention of friends, and I would dearly love to make contact with any or all of them. Their names are Ellis & Crystal Clark, Madison, Alabama and Aurora, Desiree and William Carey IV, of Huntsville, Alabama.

Debbie Dixon RIP 2012 a

Her funeral was at The Rock Family Worship Centre, West Campus, 1594 Old Railway Bed Road, Harvest , Alabama, 35749, and she is buried at 3133 Highway 119 in Montevallo, Alabama.

Debbie was born on 21st March 1961 and died on 12th May 2012. I CANNOT believe I didn’t know she had died, and that I found out in this way.

When I first met her, she was called Debbie Parker. Then she got married and became Debbie Gray, then divorced and remarried and became Debbie Wallace (they may be the other way around), and finally she kept the last husband’s name: Dixon.

Her last known address was 310 Harvestwood Court, Madison, Alabama, 33758-6637 and her email addresses were and Someone out there must have known her?

I wrote this blog as I need some sort of closure! I feel I must speak to someone who knew her, and I would like to know what became of her son, PJ.

I can’t remember the last names of the girls she was friends with at Lakenheath, but I know she kept in touch with them for a long time. They were Gloria (very beautiful black girl) Janice (another very attractive black girl) and Bernie (a small-framed red-headed white girl).

R.I.P. my very dear and loyal friend Debbie. God bless you my dear. I love and miss you and want to thank you for your faithful friendship for all those years. I’m so sorry I didn’t know sooner. Please forgive me now for once again posting photographs of you online!


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Peter Grant – His Music Brought To Life

Recently, my good friends Jack & Mary were down from Wicklow for their annual mini-break here in Kerry, and as we sat in front of the 1950s Rayburn, drinking pot after pot of tea (loose, PG Tips, naturally!), and eating slice after slice of Harrington’s absolutely delicious traditional Irish Halloween Barm Brack (with lashings of Kerry Gold butter and perhaps a spoon or two of marmalade), we chatted about this and that, and it wasn’t long before my recent preoccupation with Peter Grant came to the fore. Mary was fascinated with Peter’s story, and I showed her the precious little scrap of manuscript paper, upon which he had written for my mother, who he called “Yolanda” (her middle name) a “Sketch – An Air (to be varied)” . A note at the end reads: “Yolanda, this is the sketch, it’s far more like one than a finished work on clean manuscript paper. The little tune is almost like a folk tune. It’s very crude at the moment but in the completed work it should be better. As you know it is for orchestra. The tune calls for the oboe and the rest of it for low sustained strings. It will commemorate a memorable evening with Mozart and other things. Peter” . It must have been written when they were “dating” (for want of a more suitable word), when she first moved to London to pursue a career as a ballet dancer, and before they got married, in 1937.

I was explaining to Mary my life-long fascination with Peter Grant, telling her how, when I was about 12, my sister Claire and I went (very shamefully!) rooting through my mother’s old trunks; full of her old diaries, school work, photos and all sorts: all jumbled up, but having somehow survived countless house-moves. We found, what we first thought were our mother’s school books, as she had always told us her maiden name was Grant. But we realised the dates were wrong and they had to have belonged to our oldest half-sibling, also called Rosemary (but more often known by her nickname “Reddy); who very sadly died a few years ago.

We had already figured out that she had been married before, as two other half-siblings were called Pawle, but it was quite a revelation to learn that their was an earlier husband!

We found, during this outrageous prying into mother’s private things, the manuscript, and jumped to the conclusion that Reddy’s father must have been called Peter Grant.

In the last few years I have been going through box after box of these old papers, photos and documents; brought over to me several at a time by my sister Susan. I have been carefully sorting them and scanning them, so that we can all have a copy of everything.

Simultaneously, I have been doing a lot of research on and other such websites and gradually, but by bit, I have turned an imagined figure, Peter Grant, into a real human being, with a story: a rather sad one in many ways.

In one of Susan’s boxes, we found photos of Peter (which were later confirmed as him by a man and fellow Folk Music collector, Reg Hall, who contacted me via my blog and since met me in London and told me all he knew of Peter and Peter’s character)

Another contained a photo of mother as a very young bride.

I had failed to find a record of their marriage on Ancestry, but after studying the photo it dawned on me that they might have married in Scotland, so I joined and bingo!

So we were right! Our mother’s first husband was indeed called Peter Grant!

I have written extensively about him on earlier blogs, if you wish to learn more about him, but the purpose of THIS blog post is to tell you the most exciting news:

Mary took a copy of the manuscript to her friend Harry who put it onto his Apple Desktop and using his Sibelius software, rewrote it, in its exact form, for oboe and strings (violin, viola, ‘cello and double bass)!

Peter to Yolanda3 and 4 Peter to Yolanda 1 and 2

He also printed out the brand new, professional-looking “clean manuscript” version!

Sketch - to be varied

Sketch – to be varied

Peter Grant - An Air (1)b

Mary and Harry, as my niece Danu put it, “are my new heroes”

I’m afraid WordPress won’t allow me to share it here as either an M4A, or the converted file, MWA so, here it is (short version, hastily and clumsily done, the music ends rather abruptly when the photos come to an end):

Or the longer version; and I recommend this one, because his air does require listening to a few times to fully appreciate it:

And also there are extra photographs, pertinent to Peter’s life story, in order of events, which will help you to fully absorb the spirit of this long-forgotten man, who was once so special to my mother, and because of this has always had a place in my heart.

I am writing my mother’s biography, in the form of a novel, so that I may have the creative freedom to fill in the gaps, where it is impossible to ever find out what actually occurred. I am shamelessly borrowing this style from my gorgeous Trinidadian cousin, Lawrence Scott; my inspiration to (try) and become a writer!

Peter Grant will be given a large chunk of my book!

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Peter Grant Remembered

Peter William Grant was born in Doncaster, Yorkshire, on 10th May 1916. His father was a travelling clothier or draper from Inchture, near Dundee in Forfarshire called William George Grant (1878–1951) and his mother was Harriet Jones from Doncaster (1877-1945).

His father’s Army records from the First World War, give his address as 30 Beechfield Road, Doncaster, a street lined on either side with terraced houses, opening out onto countryside at the far end. They had moved to 155 Beckett Road,Wheatley, Doncaster by the time he attended College in London. Beckett Street (as it is now called) appears to be a pleasant, leafy suburb, consisting of red-brick terraced houses with small private gardens.

It is likely that he may have known Olive Zorian, who like him, was born in Doncaster in 1916. Although once a very well known violin soloist, her ‘fame’ has been somewhat overshadowed by that of her more famous husband, John Amis, and unfortunately almost all internet searches that mention Olive are as an aside, in a piece actually about him. There are a few references to her in The History of the Royal Manchester College of Music, 1893-1972, By Michael Kennedy, and I believe Polam Hall (boarding school) in Darlington, where she attended school, published her obituary in 1965 – or the following year – in their O.S. Journal. After attending the Royal College of Music, Manchester, Olive Zorian went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Olive was certainly a good friend of Rosemary Clegg’s (who also went to Polam).

Peter Grant attended the Royal College of Music in London. From September 1935, he studied Piano, under the tutelage of John St. Oswald Dykes and Arthur Alexander, and in 1936, continued his studies at RCM, where, under the tutelage of R.A. Ebdon he studied Music Theory and under Gordon Jacob: Music Composition.

It would appear that he and his first love, “Yolanda” (Rosemary Yolanda Clegg) – very likely introduced by mutual friend Olive Zorian – may have eloped to Scotland, where, at 23 Melville Street, in Edinburgh’s Haymarket District they could marry without parental consent, on 18th September 1937. The witnesses whose names appear on the marriage register are one William Sneddon and one Georgina Neal Watt or MacDonald of 7a Northumberland Street, Edinburgh. Interestingly, Peter gives this same address as his own current one (though giving his usual address as 11 Stanley Mansions, Park Walk, Chelsea; a block away from that of his young wife; a Ballet Dancer, living at 86 Beaufort Street, Chelsea. It seems likely that Peter knew the witnesses; in order for him to have been staying with them. Perhaps they were relations: his grandfather, Peter Grant, came from Edinburgh, and he may well have had cousins, aunts or uncles, living there at that time.

She knew him whilst either still at school, or very shortly afterwards and had a childish infatuation for him; drawn to his sweet disposition, above average intellect and enormous musical talent no doubt. She wrote in the back of one of her school exercise books, under the heading “Confessions” – a list of things she liked: Favourite Names: Peter, Michael, Rosemary, Virginia, Ann, Favourite Authors: Peter Grant, Favourite Composers: Beethoven, Bach, Sibelius, Delius, Mozart, Boradin, Stravinsky, Glazunov, Moussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakow, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikowski, Manuel de Falla, Ravell, etc etc!!! Favourite Piece of Music: Pantomime, (El Amor Brujo, de Falla), Favourite Book: Winnie the Pooh, Favourite dance: Rumba, Favourite Rhythms: Bolero, Tango, Favourite Film Stars …and here a long list follows! (She also wrote a list of things she didn’t like, but that is for another time!)

During their courtship he would have taken his young lady out to the cinema, to see the latest movies, to dinner – perhaps to her favourite restaurant: “España” on Waldour Street; “In the heart of London’s Theatreland”, to the theatre to see a play, or to the ballet – perhaps he even saw her dance – and to listen to music.
What inspiration, what energy and drive, what feeling of invincibility must he have felt in the first throes of love? So inspired was he by his sweet, adoring, beautiful, clever, talented, musical girl, that he wrote and devoted a piece of music especially for her …….“Yolanda, this is the sketch, it’s far more like one than a finished work on clean manuscript paper. The little tune is almost like a folk tune. It’s very crude at the moment but in the completed work it should be better. As you know it is for orchestra. The tune calls for the oboe and the rest of it for low sustained strings. It will commemorate a memorable evening with Mozart and other things. Peter”

Peter to Yolanda 1 and 2Peter to Yolanda3 and 4

He went on to further study at the Royal Academy of Music; although it may not have been as a full-time student. The Royal Academy has as yet been unable to find records pertaining to him, but they have stressed this does not mean he didn’t attend there. We do know however, that he was training to be a Concert Pianist, so the RAM seems the most likely of the ‘Conservatoires’.

Peter Grant possibly (6)

After they were married, the couple moved to 39, Lower Richmond Road in Putney. From their front doorstep they could see the Thames, with busy boats passing by, and on the bank sits the Duke’s Head public house, directly opposite them. There was a back garden where they planted flowers and played with their Staffordshire bull terrier and a tiny black kitten.

Peter Grant possibly (2)autocorrected & painted

Peter Grant possibly (5)autocorrected



He can be found in 1938, on the Electoral Register, at this address, and in 1939 he is listed in the London Telephone directory: Putney 5332.

On 27th June 1940, he was called up; drafted into the Territorial Army for the “duration of the Emergency” under the provisions of the National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939. His unit was posted to the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

On 5th June 1941, Peter and his wife had their first baby; Rosemary, born at the Brooklyn Nursing Home, 321 Upper Richmond Road, Putney, under the care of one Margaret E. Read. Peter registered his daughter’s birth, and gives his profession as ‘Author’, (as well as ‘Rifleman’ with the KRR, Serial number 6580801).

On 27th September that same year, he was sent with his battalion (2nd) to the North African/Middle Eastern campaign (M.E.F.)

The summary sheet pinned to the start of his records, shows him “Home” (in the UK where he was undergoing training – which he passed with flying colours his character is described as Very Good – Qualified etc”) from 27th June 1940 to 26th September 1941 (total 1 years 92 days), “M.E.F.” from 27th September 1941 to 23rd September 1942 (362 days) and a further period of 123 days is given from 24th September to 24th January 1943 (the date of his final discharge from the Army), giving a total service record of 2 years and 212 days.

His records state that he was ‘Wounded in Action’ on 30th May 1942. “GSW Spine” (Gun Shot Wound to the Spine)

He embarked on the Hospital Ship on 13th July 1942.

He was declared “Permanently unfit for any kind of Military Service” and Discharged on 24th January 1943.

Further records of Peter disappear for a time here, until he is mentioned in his mother’s Probate records, granted in September 1945, and he and his father inherit, jointly, her estate of £2099 2s 2d. Her address is given as The Nook, 6 St. Mary’s Road, Dunsville, near Doncaster, and her husband is named as “Draper” and her son “Author”. She died at Doncaster’s Royal Infirmary, on 20th April, 1945.

Evidence that his wife was still living at the marital home can be found from her personal letters, from where she was writing off for copies of photographs (for her portfolio), obtaining references from friends, attending auditions and seemingly doing all she could to find work (on the stage).

And we have no reason to think that Peter was not also living at this address at this time.

However, a troubled “Mollie” (her nickname that all her friends called her by) sought help from her friend, Olive:


His wife’s adopted father, Joe Henry Clegg – with whom she enjoyed a loving father/daughter relationship (as can be evidenced by the warmth by which he addresses her in his letters) – gives her address as 39 Lower Richmond Road, Putney, W15 on 17th November 1944, when he signs his Will. (Although we cannot by any means take this as proof of her residency at that date, it seems a natural assumption to make that a man might know where his beloved daughter lives!)

In 1948 Peter married again on 21st December, in Marylebone, one Evelyn Honor Lucille Gilliat-Smith. The  registry entry gives his address as Barn Cottage, West Hoathly, West sussex (where we may suppose he and his father probably moved to sometime after his mother’s death in 1945). Evelyn had been a Special Operations Executive (Intelligence) during the war. She was born overseas, on 12th December 1912. Her address at the time of the marriage is given as 17 Highbourne House, Marylebone High Street, W1.

Records of Peter can again be found in the Telephone Directory from 1949 through to 1968, where he can be seen living at Barn Cottage, West Hoathly, West Sussex. (Telephone Sharpthorne 43)

Peter attended the internationally renowned Stoke Mandeville Hospital; pioneers in spinal cord injuries; for many years as an outpatient. Although he was in permanent, often agonising pain, he did manage to get around, albeit in an ungainly, twisted fashion, with the aid of a stick. His crippling disability prevented him from sleeping on a bed (he slept sitting in an armchair in his study, surrounded by his vast collection of books, or from playing the piano, as he could no longer sit at the instrument either comfortably or in the correct and required position.

Though he could no longer play himself, Peter devoted much of his time to the preservation and recording of ‘authentic’ “Folk” (Traditional) music, with such esteemed people as Mervyn Plunkett and Reg Hall, capturing for posterity such great players as Scan Tester. Some recordings were made at the local public house, The Cat Inn whilst others at Peter’s own home, Barn Cottage.

Peter Grant (extreme right-hand side of photo) West Hoathly

Peter Grant (extreme right-hand side of photo) West Hoathly

He collaborated, again along with Reg Hall and Mervyn Plunkett; on a publication called “Ethnic” (copies of this are held by the Oxford Reference Library). Their website offers the following brief description of this magazine: “A short-lived home-made periodical, subtitled ‘A Quarterly Survey of English Folk Music, Dance and Drama’ compiled and published by Mervyn Plunkett, Reg Hall and Peter Grant. The first issue was dated January 1959 and the fourth and last came in autumn the same year. In an aggressive style, Ethnic championed the collection and study of authentic traditional style and repertoire in contradistinction to what its editors saw as a burgeoning revival movement based on false principles, little knowledge and cosy middle-class fashion. The magazine included several important articles based on first-hand experience (such as one on May Day at Padstow in issue number three, and several on particular singers and musicians) and its criticisms are also useful for evidence of a critical time in the post-war development of folklore studies and the folk-song and dance revival”

Peter pursued a career in writing, or journalism. There are six surviving pieces written by him, mainly film reviews, spanning the period between November 1947 and March 1951 which appeared in the National Federation of Women’s Institute’s quarterly publication “Home & Country” (Home Counties Edition).

These articles are tremendously important to a biographer, as they give a real voice; an insight into the person behind them that we would not otherwise have had from the previously scant records and handful of photographs which remain.

Peter died of a heart attack on 23rd April, 1980 at Cuckfield Hospital in Sussex.

There is a thriving local community in Hoathly as can be seen from this extract taken from a correspondence a few years ago: “I am the Archivist for the local History Archive and also a Jazz collector. The latter is important because when Peter’s second wife Evelyn moved out of Barn Cottage into a residential home, she gave me a stack of reel-to-reel recordings of jazz records which Peter had made in the 1950s. One of these contains Peter and others discussing jazz with some of the other local folk and jazz enthusiasts. I do also have some information about folk recordings made locally.”

It is a tragedy that Peter was denied, through circumstances about which we know nothing, the opportunity to have a relationship; or indeed any contact at all; with his daughter, Rosemary.

It would seem – no doubt in an ill-conceived notion that it was “best for the child”; that he may have been asked; and duly agreed; to keep out of her life. It would not be difficult to persuade a man in his position that a fitter, stronger, younger, more able-bodied man could better provide for the child.

But it remains a great pity that his identity was kept from her and that by extension he never met, nor we may suppose knew of, the existence of his two grandchildren Louise and Scott.

Rest in Peace Peter Grant. You are not forgotten.

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Theatre Street – by Peter Grant

Theatre Street – by Peter Grant.

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Theatre Street – by Peter Grant

Theatre Street

HOLLYWOOD has always excelled in those acid films that eat away at least something of the glamour of institutions which at other times they have asked us to admire – American politics, Big Business, even Hollywood itself. This last was recently taken apart in the Gloria Swanson film, Sunset Boulevard; and now, with All About Eve (script and direction: Joseph Mankiewicz), a similar dismantling takes place among the emotions, ambitions and vanities of that suffocating little alley – Theatre Street. And this film is not, as one might have thought, about a wide-eyed young actress desperately struggling to the top through the hazards of recurring amorous crises and leering producers; but about a brilliant though ageing star of the theatre, Margo Channing, who realizing for the first time what life will be like after the glory has departed, is beginning to lose her self-confidence. Into her life comes Eve, a lovely stage-struck young girl, with, so it seems, a tragic past; and Margo, to help her, employs her as a secretary. But Eve becomes rather more a reflection than a secretary … and to tell you more might spoil the film.
Admittedly it is hard to believe this story, which I must keep from you, but it’s nevertheless interesting and gripping; and the clever dialogue reflects plenty about life in the cut-throat circles of this vain, tight little theatre world. We meet Addison De Witt, an unpleasant but fascinating dramatic critic, clever enough even to scotch the plans of the villain of the piece – an unscrupulous actress whom Margo advises to put her Sarah Siddons awards where her heart should be. George Sanders – always happiest at his most offensive – plays this offensive fellow, who has neither award nor heart, to the life. And there’s Margo herself, witty, jagged, bitter, but as least generous and grown-up. This part is especially convincing because Bette Davis – a compelling and dazzling actress herself – plays it perfectly. Anne Baxter is just right for Eve, and I liked Gary Merrill as Bill, the theatrical producer. The film is considerably more talkie than movie but because the talkie is so good I’ll overlook the lack of movie.

All About Eve

That the part of Eve is as unbelievable as the story detracted little from my enjoyment of All About Eve; though without the character of Margo it would have been altogether too much of an orgy of malice. It is Margo – and Bette Davis, of course – who gives it proportion. And if it doesn’t give us anything like the last word on Theatre Street we certainly have a striking view of the vanity, ambition run to seed, brilliance and even humanity that one often finds in these highly competitive circles. You must leave your children at home and see the film from the beginning, and if anyone tries to tell you the story beforehand, don’t listen.

We know well enough by now that the human characters in Disney’s fairy-story cartoons don’t come to life in the brilliant way of the animals; but I think we should make allowances for them, as an experiment. In his new Cinderella, though the Prince is lifeless, Cinderella herself seems to be an advance on Snow White; though no-one would pretend that the animals haven’t the best of it, especially Cinderella’s friends, the mice, who call her most engagingly, “Cinderelly”. There’s less music than usual in this cartoon; but as it would, undoubtedly have sprung from modern dance music, which doesn’t match Disney’s work, I wasn’t sorry. The prettiest scene, when the colour’s at its best, is Cinderella’s drive in her pumpkin coach to the Ball. The film is obviously ideal for all children and most grown-ups.

There is a superficial resemblance between Crisis (Director: Richard Brooks) and the recent State Secret, for both films show the predicament of a doctor forced to operate on a dictator. But while State Secret was a comedy-thriller, Crisis is serious. The plum of the film is the portrait, by Jose Ferrer, of the dictator – excitable, handsome, cynical, greedy for power. And the direction is good, particularly in the crowd scenes, and in atmosphere. For example, the closeness to death of the dictator – from his political enemies without, from his brain tumour within – was extraordinarily well brought out. The film dwells too long on operating theatre procedure, but one must admit that the point – the dictator’s very natural fear of the knife getting the better of his conception of himself as a superman – is equally well made.
Crisis lasts long enough for us to witness the threatened revolution, and leaves us with the easy message that this will establish a tyranny just as bad as the other. Nevertheless, the power of the central situation is undeniable, and Crisis is well worth seeing. But don’t go if you only want pleasant entertainment.


This article was first published in March 1951 for the Federation of the Women’s Institute magazine “Home & Country”, Home Counties Edition, Volume 33, Number 3, and priced threepence.
Peter’s piece appears on page 77.

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