About two years ago my daughter, Edelle, was on her way back from work to her house
in Belfast, when she passed an elderly gentleman who was trying to remove bags of
groceries from the boot of his car and carry them into his house. It was a wet windy
dark evening and she considered offering assistance to him but hesitated but then
went ahead. He gladly accepted and then invited her in for a cup of tea and she met
his brother. The first was called Norman Topley and his brother, Joyce. Norman was
94 years of age and Joyce was 95. They asked her where she was from and when she
told them she came from Emyvale their eyes lit up and declared that they were from
Glaslough. They told her that their father was Station Master in Glaslough from 1917
to 1939 and that Joyce took over until 1943, when the family moved to Belfast, from
whence they originally came. Edelle phoned me with the story and she put me in contact
with them, which led to my first of many visits to their home in Belfast.
Every visit was taken up with both men recalling people and places they knew around
the entire North Monaghan area. They described what it was like to live and work
there and related happenings including the smuggling, the civil war and the people
who worked on and those who used the railway. They were educated at the Model School
in Monaghan before beginning work on the Railway. The family lived in the Station
House, now occupied by Dan Mullan. When the father retired Joyce applied for and
got the job as Station Master in Glaslough. However in 1943 the family decided to
move back to Belfast. Joyce and his brother, Norman, continued to work for Northern
Ireland Railways, and earned promotion up the ladder until they reached the top executive
positions prior to retirement.
Their love of trains and the railway meant that they never lost contact and indeed
both were consulted on a regular basis when problems arose in the company. Their
administrative skills and knowledge has always been valued greatly by current management.
Norman earned a fantastic reputation for his mental ability and foresight and he
was always willing to share his advice and expertise with those who sought it. He
was also very Christian in outlook and treated everyone with great respect. Religion
and politics did not divert his objective of making his company offer and provide
the best railway service possible to every person who might want to use it. Joyce
was similar in approach and he was also involved in Management Board of the Oakley
Housing Trust, which provides affordable housing in areas of need. One of the recent
additions for them was the Apartment Building erected on the site of the former McCaldin’s
Bakery near Monaghan General Hospital. Joyce, by then an MBE, retired as Treasurer
of that organisation just over two years ago and a newly built Terrace of Houses
was named after him in Coleraine.
Last year Monaghan County Museum held an Exhibition on the Great Northern Railway,
which passed through Glaslough and Monaghan. The Museum invited the Topley brothers
to visit it, which they did with great excitement. They donated some personal mementos,
connected to their time in Glaslough, to the Museum.. They thoroughly enjoyed their
visit and were very thankful to Liam Bradley and the Museum staff for the occasion.
Norman and Joyce were absolute gentlemen to call with and I enjoyed every moment
spent in their company. I became conscious that great stories were going to be lost
if they were not recorded and when I visited just before Christmas I recorded a short
interview with Joyce (this can be heard as one of our Podcasts on this site). I intended
to continue this work in the New Year. Norman was away in the car doing some Christmas
Shopping and when he returned he informed me that he had got his Driving Licence
renewed but he was not particularly happy. When asked to explain he stated that the
licence was only for three years, which would mean that he would have to go through
the same procedure again when he was 100 years of age. This he said with a great
smile on is face. When he heard about the recording he asked if I was going to interview
him and I promised to record him early in the New Year. Alas I will never now get
that opportunity nor will he have need for his earthly driving licence but I would
be very confident that he has already passed his heavenly licence.
Norman took ill at home in the early hours of Saturday, January 2nd. Their kind neighbour,
George, was called and an ambulance summoned. Norman’s condition deteriorated rapidly
until he passed away peacefully around noon on Sunday, Jan 3rd. It was a shock when
George phoned me in the afternoon to tell me the sad news.
Norman’s funeral service and cremation took place at Roselawn Crematorium and Cemetery
on Thursday at 2pm. People who worked on the Railway, or are still employed there,
attended. Family relations and friends were there and some others from Monaghan made
up the big crowd in attendance. Members of the Coulter family, Portinaghy, and members
of the Aughey families, Monaghan, attended as the Topleys maintained contact with
these from their days in Glaslough. After a very meaningful and comforting service
Norman’s remains were taken for cremation. People then retired to a local hotel for
refreshments and an opportunity to chat. Apart from those already mentioned it was
great to meet with others, who had Emyvale connections. Rev Robert Wright, now retired
in Belfast, exclaimed the readings during the service and we had a lengthy conversation
afterwards. His mother, referred to by Joyce in the interview, was Post Mistress
in Emyvale. They lived where the present Post office is. Robert went off to Boarding
College in 1937 and this meant that he began to lose contact with Emyvale from then.
However he has kept in some contact with Pat Farmer and asked about Michael and Martin
Kilroy among others. He had not heard of Lizzie Farmer’s death and asked me to convey
his condolences to Pat and the family. He himself has had less than good health over
the past year and we wish him well for the future. We also met a niece of Willie
Sturgeon from Mullaghpike. Her father was Sam Sturgeon, who was a Bank official in
Belfast. She had a great chat with Eileen Coulter.
It was sad parting from Joyce but he made me promise to call soon. This I will do,
with the help of God, as he has so many stories still to tell and I know the enjoyment
I will get from listening to him relate those stories. In the meantime we offer him
our deepest sympathies on the death of his dear brother and hope that he can have
the strength to continue with his interest in history and genealogy.
Picture taken in County Monaghan Museum during the Topley Brothers visit there. Norman