The participants of the writing project, ‘My Gift to You,’ launched their books in Ardkeen Library on Christmas week.
The idea for the project was created by historian Dr. Maxine Keoghan who saw the need to help older people re-emerge after lockdowns and engage with their communities once more, by supporting participants over the age of sixty-five to create a personal memoir.
Executive librarian, Tracy McEneaney supported the project by providing the environment for the participants to meet in Ardkeen library. Each hardback book was filled with text, images, genealogy, family narratives and stories about the life of the participant. It is not only a legacy gift, but it was further an opportunity for the participants to learn how to write and create stories using their own personal experiences.
The participants produced wonderfully detailed books describing their lives. One class member, Mary Traynor, grew up in Sallypark and as this community no longer exists, her account was a wonderful view of life of the 1940s and 50s in Sallypark where many of the men were employed with the railway.
Another participant, Tommy Kelly described his young years growing up on the Cork Road as one of the first families to reside in the newly built houses there.
Anne Woodworth’s life continues to be one filled with music and her work captured many moments in time that will be a joy for her family and others to read.
By assisting to edit the work, Dr. Keoghan was able to help people to present in writing the world they often described so eloquently. The participants’ in turn gathered their imagery and with the assistance of designer, Fiona Mallon, their images were added to the text to create unique and individual books.
There were many aspects to the project including assistance from Genealogist Jimmy Burke who assisted with family research. Two participants, Ann Troy and Siobhan McCarthy, had completed extensive family research and were able to weave their family story around their genealogy research.
Ann Kirwan’s writing recalled the tragic personal loss of a parent and the inevitable struggle the family faced by that loss. Other stories included local history of significant merit. Tom Doherty described the Gaol Wall collapse of Ballybricken having witnessed the tragedy in the late 1940s. Rose Matthews described her time working in Denny’s.
Each participant had an individual story that often overlapped with others and this occurred when writing about school, communions, traditions, and diets. Anne Maher Walsh wrote about her rich life growing up in both rural Kilkenny and in the heart of Waterford City.
The Ireland of our older loved ones is one that will never be seen again but what is lost has been magically reproduced by the writings of the participants of the project. Mary Fitzgerald wrote a moving account of her grandfather who had bravely fought and was injured in WWI but returned to an Ireland that shunned him. John Campbell wrote a number of short stories of his time during his cancer treatment.
The books were edited, designed, printed, and bound locally. Book binder, Tom Carroll, put the final touch to the books by binding them with hardback covers with gold embossed print.
The writing programme and the book production took almost a year to complete. According to Dr. Keoghan, ‘the programme is a great success and I would love to see it be introduced to many active retirement groups and for people who have had their lives shortened by illness. To recall one’s life leaves a legacy gift like no other, it leaves those you love with your words and images, it’s an opportunity for people to say what they may not say otherwise’.
There were many people involved in the project and it is important to thank them for the generosity for volunteering their time.
Photographer Tom Quilty produced a professional image for each participant which added to the production quality.
This project was funded by the Ireland Funds and supported by Tramore Heritage and Waterford Libraries.
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