It’s important to know who you are… who your people are, and where you come from to give you context, grounding and identity. For Gerry, it was Derry. But for his mother’s people, the McLaughlins, that was deepest Donegal. A wee homestead called Shandrum – a two-bedroomed, whitewashed cottage with a series of sheds, a haggard and some land located on the side of a sweeping hill not too far from Buncrana. For a small house, it had a huge influence on Gerry and who he was to become. Kate, Gerry’s mother grew up there – with her eight brothers and sisters and two parents! A tardis of its time, it seems.
Charles’ Kate’s Gerald
Known as Charles’ Kate’s Gerald round those parts (grandfather/mother/own name, as was the way), Gerry often happily immersed himself in that very uncomplicated life with his uncles, who asked nothing of him but to occasionally feed the hens, stack some wood, and to maybe stop tormenting the misfortunate crows. Duties may also have included helping them onto their somewhat wobbly bikes for the après-pub trip back to Shandrum from Buncrana after an evening of jollity, but little has been recorded about these particular expeditions.
The Egg McLaughlins
However much Gerry might have wandered the roads and roamed the fields looking for mischief during the day, he was always present for any night-time entertainment – both the music and the people who created it, all of whom were local, and all of whom had as much history in the area as the McLaughlins. These particular McLaughlins were known as The Egg McLaughlins, no less, to discern them from any other likely McLaughlins. The mind boggles…
Songs and Stories of Shandrum
The house itself has stood on the side of that hill for three or four hundred years, and it stands there still, housing its memories and the sound of the musicians and singers and dancers who regularly crossed its threshold over all the years – until the sound of the telly locked out all else.
They swapped tunes, and they traded stories. News and any gossip was animatedly discussed while the men puffed on pipes and partook of a drop of the créatur (poitín of the home-made less than legal variety) and the women made tea and sandwiches as they played out their days’ dramas and shared an occasional drop and a smoke themselves.
Shandrum Standing Strong
Despite the many winters that have passed without a fire in the stove, Shandrum still holds tough and strong, its two bedrooms standing proud at each end of the cottage, bookending the kitchen in the middle, the heart of the house in more ways than one. Souvenirs of the various decades are there to see, stopping in time at the 80s/90s – a stainless steel teapot, a tea towel hanging from the range, a porcelain spaniel on the mantel and aging wallpaper on the walls. The antique wardrobes still stand tall and robust in the bedrooms, which themselves look like they might only have been vacated last week.
Lizzy, Kate’s sister and Gerry’s aunt, lived there when she came home from the US in the 90s, but she was the last to warm the walls. You’d never know though – there might be life in that kitchen yet – more songs to be heard and stories to be shared over a strong cup of tea and decent ham sandwich – wouldn’t it be just grand? A drop of the créatur mightn’t even be out of the question!
The Road Less Travelled documentary is available to watch here on YouTube. It’s also on the TV tab of this website. Watch the available episodes of the documentary to find out more and hear the stories for yourself!