Molly's life spans an ocean and a century

[caption id="attachment_79999" align="aligncenter" width="270"]

Molly O'Hara at 103 years young.[/caption]

By Áine Ní Shionnaigh

County Cavan proudly boasts the oldest County Association here in the US. A more important boast however, is that of one of Cavan’s natives; Mrs. Molly O’Hara (nee McGovern) who recently celebrated her 103rd birthday. I was privileged to be invited to Molly’s Manhattan home last week where she resides with her son Pat. Her daughters; Gabrielle and Angela also live nearby. It is heartwarming to see Molly in the sunset of her years in the midst of her warm and friendly family where she remains the center of all the chat, conversation and craic, of which there is no shortage in the O’Hara household.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

In April 1912 'the new wonder of the world', The Titanic, departed Cobh and sped steadily westward towards a destination it would sadly never reach. As the world struggled to absorb the news of this tragedy, deep in the glen of Mully Lower, Glangevlin, Co Cavan, Elizabeth and Philip McGovern were facing their own struggles; raising an expanding family on poor land in a country desperately trying to escape the claws of Colonialism. That summer, on the 15th of August, their daughter Molly was born. Little did they know that 60 years later, Molly too would follow the course of the Titanic and follow five of her six children who had already immigrated to the US.

[caption id="attachment_80000" align="aligncenter" width="233"]

Molly and Donald O'Hara

Molly and Donald O'Hara

Molly and Donald O'Hara[/caption]

In 1941 Molly met and married Donald O’Hara. Together, on a small farm in Moneygashel, Blacklion, Co Cavan, they raised 6 children: Pat, Gabrielle, Angela, Susan, Dano and Maureen. Sadly Dano and Maureen were both taken long before their time and are no longer with us. Together Molly and Donald ran the local shop and post office. This was a time in Ireland when the local shop and post office nurtured and harnessed a great sense of community and camaraderie in rural areas. Molly was an integral part of life in Moneygashel; supporting the community in their joys and sorrows, operating the one telephone that linked the parish to the outside world, receiving the telegrams which more often than not signaled bad news, delivering the long awaited letter from America, describing life more brightly than it actually was but enclosing the life changing few faded hard earned dollars which provided a second chance for another sibling to emigrate. In later years, Molly brought her Cavan charm and this great sense of community to the parishioners of St Joseph’s parish in the Bronx where she volunteered for many years.

[caption id="attachment_80001" align="aligncenter" width="300"]

Painting by Molly's son Pat of the O'Hara homestead, which was also the local post office and shop.

Painting by Molly's son Pat of the O'Hara homestead, which was also the local post office and shop.

Painting by Molly's son Pat of the O'Hara homestead, which was also the local post office and shop.[/caption]

As the kettle is being boiled for yet another pot of tea, I take advantage of the break in conversation to absorb some of the wonderful paintings by Molly’s son, Pat which depict various places in Cavan and its surrounds which played a big part in Molly’s life. One beautifully depicts the post office and shop in Moneygashel, framed by the evening slanting sun. My eye is immediately drawn to ‘The Rainbow Ballroom’ in Glenfarne, Co Leitrim, which borders Co Cavan. This is ‘The Ballroom of Romance’ made famous worldwide by William Trevor, whose short story on same illustrates the harsh economic realities of Irish life at this time. It has better memories however for the O’Hara household who are all steeped in music, singing and the show band era. Molly’s son Dano (RIP) travelled the world as lead guitarist with renowned country western singer Philomena Begley and started his career performing here in ‘The Rainbow Ballroom’.

However much romance may have been in The Ballroom, it was not enough to sustain Cavan natives in their own county. Emigration is and always has been a huge part of life in Co Cavan. It is an inland county in the province of Ulster and is part of the Border region, untouched mostly by the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger which gives it an appealing quality but sadly ensures that the strong history of emigration continues. In the 1940s and 50s the Irish government did little to boost the performance of the state in either economic or social terms. De Valera’s closed economic policies were a failure resulting in economic stagnation and a huge wave of forced emigration. This emigration devastated the social landscape of many Irish counties particularly counties with less economic resources such as Cavan. One by one, Molly’s children were forced to leave with hope in their hearts for a better life in a country that would provide them with employment, lifelong friendships and love and enable them to live life to the fullest. They brought their talent of music and singing across the ocean with them. Pat and Gabrielle became well known on the NY social scene with their band ‘Blue River’.

As Molly O’Hara sits comfortably in her armchair beside me sipping tea and chatting in Irish and English, occasionally breaking into song, I can’t help but ponder on the fact that she has lived through, some of the most momentous moments in Irish and world history. When she was 2 years old, learning to walk around the cottage, World War 1 broke out and 350,000 of her fellow countrymen fought in ‘the war to end all wars’. At the age of 4, the radio in the cottage crackled with the news of a war closer to home; ‘The Easter Rising’. One year later, long before IDA Ireland and inward investment became a familiar term, Henry Ford established a manufacturing plant in Co Cork. When Molly was 16 yrs old, the first ever transatlantic flight from Europe departed from Ireland to the US. In 1972 just as Ireland was on the cusp of joining the EU, after witnessing five of her six children emigrate to the US, Molly sensibly decided to follow suit and spend her retirement happily surrounded by her children, grandchildren, one great grandchild, extended family and friends which is exactly as I found her. Refreshingly, Molly attributes her legendary longevity to being content, having a great faith, being surrounded by family and friends, steering clear of healthy foods such as fish, fruit, vegetables and water and enjoying many cups of sugary laden Irish tea !

Hours after I am originally due to leave, I reluctantly leave the couch, the company and the copious cups of tea with an assurance to Molly and her family that I will definitely return before long. As I descend the steps of the uptown subway, I brace myself to get swallowed into the evening rush. Standing on the platform in the heavy humidity of the August evening, I smile to myself as I think of Molly sitting peacefully in the room surrounded by those she loves, I think of the ‘Ballroom of Romance’, a symbol of hope and love in the midst of daily drudgery. In one moment I realize we can recreate a corner of home irrespective of where we are and peace can come in the midst of chaos. Home is where we make it once we decide to surround ourselves by people we love. Thank you Molly. Put the kettle on, I’ll be back soon for more.