The Aula Dresser

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Appropriate to start with a room in the Aula of Greenville Cottage, the main room of the house and a place much loved by those who stay here.

A central feature of this room (which was once the kitchen) is the dresser. It is not the original dresser – sadly that was damaged beyond repair in the early restoration of the house in the late 1990s.

We have filled each shelf on the dresser with items that reflect both my ancestry and that of my husband, Seosamh.

The two photographs on the bottom shelf feature my grandmother, Johanna Breen (née Cahill) and her husband, Taidgh, and their three children: left to right, my mother Mary and my late Aunt Joan and late Uncle Jack.

Jack lived at Greenville Cottage for many years before he became ill and went to live in a nursing home in Roscrea. I have several items belonging to him on the dresser (on a shelf that is not in view here) – his razor; pipe; glasses, among other things – all retrieved from the rubble of the restoration project.

The other photograph on this shelf is my paternal grandparents, Kate Maher (née Stapleton) and her husband, Edward Maher.  They lived initially near Suirside, Killough, but then moved to Shanakill about three miles from here.

Building Relationships Through Materials Left Behind

I never met any of my grandparents sadly – all of them had died before I was born in 1970. I regret not knowing them, but have tried to build a relationship from the material worlds they left behind in the form of their homes and belongings.

I did not spend much time in my grandparents’ home in Shanakill, but enough to get a sense of their lives and, in particular, the life of my grandmother, Kate Maher (you can read more about this in my ‘Grandmother’s Parlour’ blog, which was originally published in ‘Clonmore Through the Ages’ (2016), edited by Seamus Bourke).

Another item you will see in this picture of the dresser is a huge teapot that came from Park Killea and the home of my father’s sister, Josie (Egan). This teapot was used during the hay-saving season and was so big it could manage the flock of nieces and nephews who came to help out each summer.

I also have china that belonged to my grandparents, Johanna and Taidgh and another beautiful set that have Chinese images that I love. The oriental has a place in my heart!

The bottles and figurines come from homes in both Seosamh’s and my ancestral past and the boat (which came from Brazil) represents the many who left Ireland during the famine and after, usually going to the UK, the States or Australia.

The dollar note is a symbol, perhaps a weak one, of the ‘few bob’ sent back to those who stayed in Ireland, both a gesture of support to those who stayed at home and a symbol of the presumed prosperity those who left, if they survived the journey, managed to achieve in their new worlds.

The dresser at Greenville Cottage featured in a recent research project by Michael Fortune, The Dresser Project, which documented dressers in homes throughout Ireland and exhibited images of these dressers at several libraries and museums as part of the project’s presentation to the public.

A capsule of Greenville – one of the many more that you will meet in my blog.

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