Remembering Charlie Mc Connell

From the Creeslough View archives

It would be safe to say that there are very few people in this community who hadn’t encountered Charlie Mc Connell at some stage of their lives, a small man with a huge personality.

On the 6thMay 2014, Charlie quietly passed away, leaving behind a very large void in the community and in the lives of his family and loved ones.

Charlie was one of those characters that left a lasting impact on those who met him. Visitors from far and near would enquire about him on their return visits to the locality and no matter who they were, he always remembered their names and where they came from.

Charlie was born in Faugher in October 1948. Although his home-place at the time was the Jockey’s farm at the back of Carnamaddy, his mother Madge had gone down to stay with her sister Hannah while she was having one of the Gallagher children and shortly after Hannah had her child, Charlie decided he was going to make an appearance too.

They lived on the Jockey’s farm until Charlie was about 18 months, moving briefly to what Charlie always referred to as “The Widow’s” in Derryherrif, before settling in Madge’s Mother’s home place in Carnamaddy, Breslin’s Farm. It was there that Charlie would call home for the rest of his days.

Charlie, like most of the children in the area, attended Kildarragh School. His sister Ann affectionately remembers walking to school with him in his younger years, holding his hand on the journey up. He attended school until he was about 14 and obtained his first pair of long trousers in the Co-Op for his 14thbirthday with money that Ann sent him from Birmingham for his birthday.

Charlie’s first job, like many, was in the Veneer Factory in Derryart. He was so young that his mother was still receiving Children’s Allowance for him at the time. Charlie had so many fond memories of the factory. He was employed as a Saw doctor and he learnt to drive under the expertise of Eric the Butcher. In later years, he accompanied the driver, Willie Kelly, into Derry as it was thought safer to have two in the lorry at that time.

Charlie ended up being somewhat of a hit with the girls in the factory at that time, because of his trips into Derry. New record releases were always available in Derry first, so the girls would place their order with Charlie and he would bring back their records on his return.

Charlie moved to England in the 70’s to work for a while in Birmingham and Bristol. He often spoke of one of his favourite memories from Birmingham, when he and his brother Danny and Roger Murray met up, dressed up to the 9’s to go into town. Whilst walking down the street, they passed a wedding coming out of a Church and the wedding guests had all gathered on the steps of the Church for a group photograph. Roger beckoned the other two and the three of them climbed the steps and gate-crashed the wedding photograph, before moving off, laughing at the thought of the bride and groom wondering for years to come who the 3 mysterious guests were. These original “Photo bombers” were well ahead of their time!

Returning to Ireland, Charlie met his future wife Teresa from Falcarragh. He worked for a while in Cork, where she was based, before they both moved back to Donegal, 1 week before they married in August 1977. They set up home in Carnamaddy beside his parents and raised their children where Charlie himself had been raised.

Charlie and his sister Nan and brother Danny in 1967

Charlie was an avid fan of darts and enjoyed playing in the local leagues for many years. He played for teams in Roses Bar and when Mc Carry’s re-opened in 1991, Charlie took great pride in becoming a permanent darter for them, winning many trophies.

Many people will remember Charlie for his fine talent of writing poems (or recitations as he would call them). Neighbours and friends were always worried about him hearing a story or incident about them, because you could be guaranteed that he would write a verse or two about it.

One of his proudest achievements was when he was asked to compose a poem about Creeslough for a local film which was being made by ladies from the community. The time frame was short, but Charlie did not fail to deliver and he took great pride in the fact that it had been uploaded to YouTube, a fact that he was made aware of by a Canadian couple who were visiting Mc Carry’s and who told him that they had really enjoyed listening to his poem online.

Charlie frequented Mc Carry’s often and would look the picture of contentment sitting in the smoking area with his drink and cigarette, chatting to whoever was there, enjoying the company of both young and old and hearing stories of minor disagreements between the young ones at discos. Spotting a young lad with a bruised lip or a black eye, Charlie would often remark to the injured party “you didn’t get that for doing the Stations of the Cross at Creeslough Chapel…”

Charlie in Mc Carry’s bar Kildarragh

In October 2010, Charlie was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and started treatment immediately. This was to involve aggressive chemotherapy and later he received Stem Cell treatment in Dublin before being given the all clear and going into remission.

It was during this time that Charlie really enjoyed the simpler things in life. He loved being surrounded by his grandchildren and enjoyed taking them for walks, teaching them about the wildlife and gathering berries and nuts. He got great enjoyment from the deer that used to appear in the evenings out the front of his house and the pheasant hen and chicks that used to come every year and loved to see them being led up the lane by their mother. He also became a keen gardener, growing vegetables and loved picking his own peas for dinner.

As Charlie’s health improved, he started to venture out more and even made an appearance in the St Patrick’s Day parade in Creeslough in 2014, quite by accident. Charlie’s wife Teresa was playing in the parade with the Meenderry Band and Charlie had remained in the car at the chapel. Boredom overtook so he and his sister Ann decided to drive up the street as far as Roses to pass the time until she was finished. Creeslough View filmed the parade and at the very back of the parade, Charlie can be seen.

Charlie & Pat Robinson, brother of Sir Gerry Robinson. The Rakes Falcarragh, late 70s early 80s

Little did we know at the time, this was to be Charlie’s last trip out. In April, after routine blood tests showed up some abnormalities, Charlie was informed that he had Leukaemia. Although he was bitterly disappointed with his diagnosis, he faced it with the same steel and determination he had faced his previous illness with. In telling his family members, he told them that he had climbed the hill before and got there, and now he was back at the bottom. But he was determined he was going to climb it again. Unfortunately this wasn’t to be.

Charlie was transferred to Galway to start his treatment and never lost his spirit. Just over a week before he passed away, he insisted on watching the Donegal game and gave out to the screen the whole way through. Unfortunately the illness proved too strong for Charlie and he gradually drifted into a deep sleep, before passing away peacefully surrounded by family on the 6thof May.

Charlie, Ava, Teresa and Conor May 2010

When Charlie introduced himself to people, he would always refer to himself as being “better known than respected”, however, the huge crowds that attended his wake and funeral, and the tears of not only family and friends, but also neighbours and young and old would have proved him wrong on that remark.

Creeslough lost a fantastic character the day that Charlie passed away. It seemed bitterly cruel that somebody who had fought so hard and just seemed to be getting back on track could be taken away so unexpectedly. His passing was a shock to the whole community, but the family have received great comfort in the stories that people have told them about different memories they have of Charlie, the majority of them funny stories. He had a great sense of humour and always had a classic one-liner on the tip of his tongue; Charlie was never short of an answer.

Charlie left a lasting legacy for his family in his recitations, each one written out carefully and each one based on a true story or event that happened in the locality. After his passing, his wife Teresa discovered some recitations that he had been working on, based on recent events in the area.

They broke the mould when they made Charlie and he is very sorely missed by his family and friends. No doubt he is looking down on us, enjoying a wee “Jamey” and a smoke with his friends who have passed before him and still putting the world to right.

Charlie is survived by his wife Teresa, children Martin, Mairead, Cathal and Michael, his sister Nan, his brother Danny and his 6 grandchildren.

Written by Mairead Murray

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