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Face to Face with … Sarah McKernan.
Ba chóir go mbeadh an breathaisnéisin seo scríofa i nGaeilge mar is Gaeilgeoir ó dhúchas an t-abhar, ach bheadh sé ródheacair
domsa an scéal a insint i gceart agus cuid agaibhse nach mbeadh ábalta é a léamh. Mar sin, usáidim an bearla
Sarah McKernan, Dernahatten, Emyvale, was born Sarah Curran in Tiernea, Cornamona, Co.
Galway. Her father James was farming there and was married to Ellen, nee Coyne. They had six
children in the family: Eddie (Westmeath); John, (died three years ago R.I.P.); Mary, (died two
years ago, R.I.P.); Michael (Canada); Briege (Kiernan, Westmeath) and Sarah. The Curran
household was an Irish speaking household in an Irish speaking area and English was taught as
a subject in the National School with half-an-hour being given to it each day. Sarah attended
Cornamona National School but when she was fourteen the family moved to a new home in
Westmeath. She loved Galway and her native area and was sorry to have to leave it. Sometime
after this Sarah emigrated to England, going to Coventry first and then to Rugby.
On the Buses
She got employment as a conductress on the buses. At first she stopped in digs, but later
moved in to a rented house with two girls from Kells – Teresa and Kitty Tevlon. ‘On the Buses’
was a very good job with fairly good pay with extra cash to be made on overtime, which was
plentiful. The early shift started at 5.30am and the night shift ended at 11.45pm. Sarah
worked on double and single-decker buses and enjoyed her work. In those days there was no
danger involved and people were polite. They appreciated the transport system and very
seldom abused it.
Meanwhile back in Dernahatten, John McKernan and his wife Catherine, nee McGovern, were
raising their family of Mary, Patrick, Mairead, Josie, Tommy, John and James. They, too, lived on
a farm and when John junior moved off to England he got work as a bus-driver in Rugby.
Before long the bus driver and the conductress fell in love and in 1956 they decided to take the same route – marriage together.
The marriage ceremony was arranged for Devlin, Co. Westmeath – Sarah’s home parish, and their priest in England, Fr. Horgan
from Kerry, came home to celebrate the Nuptial Mass. He stayed in the Convent of the Sisters of Charity in South Hill, beside
Devlin. Mary, Sarah’s sister, acted as bridesmaid. John with bestman, James, together with family, were travelling down on the
morning of the wedding. It was a very foggy day and progress to the church was very slow – so slow that Sarah got there first
and had to hide until John arrived. It wasn’t a long wait and she didn’t mind.
After that there were no hitches and they had a wonderful day. The honeymoon was spent in Dublin and Bray and then it was
back to Dernahatten. They travelled by train to Glaslough station where they were met by Seamus McQuaid, R.I.P. and taken
home. John’s father had died on Holy Saturday 1952 R.I.P., but his mother, Catherine, was healthy and well, so the newly married
couple moved in with her and decided to stay there.
It was a big change for Sarah to arrive in a strange area with strangers as neighbours. She had paid numerous visits to
Dernahatten before the wedding but now she had to set up home there. However, it was a beautiful experience as she felt a great
welcome and warmth from the family members and all her neighbours. They were very kind to her and made her feel ‘at home’
The McKernan house was a great meeting place with locals calling regularly on a ceili. There were interesting conversations and
plenty of stories and in this way Sarah was soon introduced to the area and its customs. Patrick McCluskey, Malachy Corrigan
and many others shortened many a winter’s evening as they talked over old times and discussed current issues. Indeed the
McKernan house is still a great ceiling place.
Help at Hand
Above all, John’s mother Catherine became Sarah’s close friend and ally. She was a great housekeeper and cook and she
introduced Sarah to the methods of home cooking and other chores of the farmhouse, like churning and baking. She was of great
assistance in helping to rear the family and for her advice during the fourteen years she lived with them till her death in 1970,
May she rest in peace.
John and Sarah have nine children – Eamon (Emyvale); Maureen (Fox, Athboy); Pauline (O’Brien, Dernahatten); Padraig
(Dernahatten); Sean (Dernahatten); Mairead (London); Noreen (Dundalk); Seamus (Dernahatten) and Fiona (Dublin).
During her time in the area, Sarah has seen many changes. The old Killyrean School, which was built in 1845 and where John
received his education under the great Master Woods with Mrs. Coyle as assistant, was knocked down when the pupils moved into
the New Killyrean School in the mid 50’s. Now since the 70’s the local children are bused to Corracrin N.S. and Killyrean N.S. is
used as a dwelling house. John has fond memories of Master Woods with his natural, down-to-earth approach to education and
his love of singing and step-dancing.
Another big change over the years has been the decline of Mullan Village. Sarah remembers when every house was occupied and
the place going full swing with plenty of commercial and social life there. She did her weekly shopping in McKenna’s shop in the
village and it was a thriving place. Alas, many of the houses, now unoccupied, are falling into decay and at times the place
seems deserted. Moves are afoot to revitalise the village and it is hoped that this beautiful spot will once again be buzzing with
the excitement of former years.
As can be expected with nine children, Sarah had a full time job at home. John began working for Castlebar Bacon factory in
1964 and for twenty one years delivered their products to shops and businesses from North Monaghan to Drogheda. It was an
easy job in Summer but during the Winter, with slippery roads, snow, wind and rain, it was often hazardous to have to make his
daily journeys, but supplies were needed and the job had to be done.
Even in this, there are many changes. In the early days, sides of pork were delivered and the shop had its own bacon-slicer.
Nowadays everything is prepacked and frozen. Then, with no deep freezers around, deliveries had to be made more often and
most shops received two deliveries per week. Now these products can be stored safely for longer periods so that fewer delivery
runs are needed.
During the past number of years, Sarah has had the opportunity to take a more active role in the community life outside her
home. She joined Emyvale ICA and attended their functions and meetings. Sometime after the death of Roisin O’Brien, she joined
the Truagh ICA as she was very friendly with one of its founders, Anna Rose McQuaid. She is still very involved with them and has
won numerous prizes, especially for the quality of her home-made brown bread. Her home-made jams and other baking is of
superior quality too and she enjoys these activities.
In 1990, when the branch of St. Joseph’s Young Priests’ Society was formed in the parish, she was one of the first members and
attends their monthly meetings and other events related to it. The Truagh Branch meets in St. Mellan’s and they have twenty six
members at present. This lay organisation was originally founded by a lady called Olivia Taaffe and there are branches in parishes
all over Ireland. The most important aspect of their work is prayer – prayer for vocations and prayer for those studying for the
priesthood. They raise money, which is used to assist students at home and abroad, who are on their way to ordination. They
also organise a Mass for the sick in the parish and have been involved in other events. Fr. Nolan PP and Fr. McManus CC act as
Chaplains to the Truagh Branch.
Sarah says that this year will be a special one for the local branch in Truagh as parishioner, John McKenna, Derrygory, will be
ordained in June, le cunamh Dé, and an occasion like this is always special but more so for the Society, who are trying to foster
Lean leis an sar-obair, Sarah, agus guímis go mbeidh saol fada sona rathúil agatsa agus ag Sean. Go raibh míle maith agat.
(This Face to Face was done a few years ago)