Wednesday 12 April 2023

The ambulance, the archbishops and the ass.

 In June 1954 it was decided to bring forward the arrival of the first ambulance on the islands. The reason for this was that the American born Papal Nuncio of Ireland, Gerald O’Hara, was going to visit the island and would be able to bless the new vehicle. He was making a farewell tour of the West before leaving his post.

The s.s. Dún Aengus which brought the new ambulance from Galway.
It also collected the confirmation children from the smaller islands. 

It was also decided to bring forward the confirmation ceremony for all three islands with the Archbishop of Tuam, Joseph Walsh and Bishop Gerald Patrick O’Hara doing the confirming at a ceremony in Cill Rónáin church. 

Because of the surprise tour of the island by Gerald, there was no time to have the usual examinations beforehand. This must have been a great relief to the children and, indeed, their teachers. 

The islands supply ship, s.s. Dún Aengus made a special trip to the island in order that the new Galway County Council ambulance would be there on time. On the morning of the confirmation it also made an early morning start to convey the children from the smaller islands to Cill Rónáin. 

Archbishop Walsh with papal Nuncio, Gerald O’Hara.

And so, on Thursday, June 24th of 1954, the first ambulance service on the islands was inaugurated. Its main purpose was to convey patients to the ferry on the first stage of the journey to hospital in Galway. The first patient to avail of this service was reported to be appendicitis-stricken six year old Máire Mullen of Sruthán. This was a week or so after the blessing. 

The holy water was still wet on the ambulance when the local nurse, twenty three year old Cavan woman, Bridget Cadden, had to speed off to attend the birth of a new islander. It was a boy and, not surprisingly, was named after the man who blessed the ambulance - Gerald O’Hara. 

Papal Nuncio Gerald O’Hara on the right with Archbishop Walsh beside him. 
The jarvey on the left is the late Dara Mullin with the Parish Priest, Fr Thomas Varley, beside him.
The boys in the background were from the Jesuit school in Galway. 

There were a lot of photos taken that day in 1954 but sadly we can’t find any of the altar boys who attended the clerics at the blessing. If we had, we might have seen the angelic face of a young lad who would, a few years later, have some fun at the expense of Nurse Cadden.

It seems that Bridget enjoyed socialising occasionally with some friends at the home in Cill Mhuirbhigh of the late Billy Boggs. She used to park the ambulance outside and facing towards Cill Rónáin.

Poetry by Sir Philip Sidney 

One night, some passing teenage boys thought it would be a great idea to put a wandering ass foal they found, into the back of the ambulance. After a short while the tiny ass fell asleep. However, an hour or so later, when Bridget fired up the engine, the ass woke up and kicked up a fierce racket just behind her.

This was around the time of the famous alleged appearance of the Cloven-hoofed Devil in Tooreen Ballroom in Mayo and what Bridget made of the hoofed creature in her ambulance, nobody knows. 

Bridget died in her native county of Cavan, in 2005.

It’s probably best not to name names as we are not sure if the statute of limitations has run out for assnapping and terrorising an innocent nurse but we can confirm that at least one of the culprits is truly sorry, especially for any distress the little foal may have endured. 

The Donkey Sanctury is a very worthy charity that does great work and is worthy of support. 

Here is a link to a report on their visit to the islands.

Ml Muldoon April 2023

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