Clara Flanagan - Poet of Belledune
By Marie Grant
I sit in the living room of the Flanagan Home next to a smiling-faced grey haired lady whose youthful eyes sparkle with the enthusiasm held only by one who has a zest for life.
Photo: courtesy of Jeffrey Bento-Carrier, Campbellton Tibune
I am here to interview Clara Flanagan, an 81-year old resident of Belledune, New Brunswick. I hope to gather from her a view of this Irish community that can be shared with viewers of our Virtual Irish Trail, a website project in the making by members of the Irish Canadian Cultural Association of New Brunswick.
Soft Irish instrumental melodies emanate from the stereo as I chat with Clara. Her daughter, Emmie, adjusts the volume before leaving us to our discussion.
Clara proudly points out her recent projects, dioramas of nativity scenes fashioned from beach rock craftily shaped and painted into images of Mary, Joseph and the baby in the manger. This is one of the many hobbies that fill her day.
Clara’s daughter, Joanie, maneuvers her way into the room. Mentally challenged from birth, she reaches out to me awaiting a touch or hug, and after I embrace her gently, Clara tenderly ushers her away. She directs Joanie toward the plush toy that her younger sister Kathy had just brought in. Satisfied with the attention from the new visitor and following her mother’s directive, Joanie saunters off toward the kitchen.
Clara goes to her bookcase and returns with copies of her poetry--a hard-covered journal filled with hand written entries meticulously centered around pasted cut-out images; a soft-covered binder of a recently published anthology entitled Fragments of my Life
and four small booklets termed Eastern Breezes
, a series she had started in 1997. I quickly scan through her work, noting the artistic format and the related titles. I concentrate on the selections that relate to early Belledune community, hoping to single out historical facts and Irish connections. There are so many entries that I find myself overwhelmed by the enormity of her collection. I pause a moment to review “First Settlers In Belledune”, “Turgeon Post Office”, “Roherty’s Light House”, “The Old Rink”, “Phantom Ship of Bay Chaleur”. Here lies a wealth of historical details about this community that I now call home, written in Clara’s poetic fashion.
As I get up to leave, equipped with her life’s memories, I stop a moment near Clara’s ‘craft’ table. An assortment of cut out pictures, beach stones, scrap paper, paint, scissors, glue are scattered about. Christmas pieces are in various stages of completion in preparation for an up and coming bazaar. Her paintings, mostly nature scenes, adorn the walls around her den. Ever since her retirement from teaching, Clara has been engaged with her many projects and pastimes. She proudly shows off her thirty plus posters that she has made for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. These she loans out to the community each year when they put on events during the month of March.
After a quick good-bye to Joanie, I take leave of Clara and her treasures, eager to scan the many poems she has entrusted in my care. I have attached a few, which I feel portray the early Belledune community -- its buildings and people.
Turgeon Post Office
Author’s note: Mrs. Edmund Daley tended the post office in Turgeon for many years. Mr. Alphonse Legacy Sr. faithfully drove the mail twice a day from the station. He drove all those miles in the summer with his horse and wagon, and all through the cold winter with his horse and sleigh. The ‘Local’ was the passenger train, which also carried the mail. Other post offices in Belledune were located in Lower Belledune, Belledune River and Culligan
The office was part of Mrs. Daley’s store
Where people gathered each day
When it came time for the mail
We kids were on our way.
When we heard the whistle of the ’Local’
We’d tremble with anticipation
Until the mailman would arrive
From the old Turgeon station
The bulging sack was emptied
On top of the counter, near the door
With letters and papers scattered about
And parcels arranged on the floor.
In winter the office was moved inside,
Away from drafts and cold
Where we sat around and listened
To the many stories that were told.
The land mark is now long gone
And faded into the past
But its memories are a treasure
And will forever last.
Belledune River School
Author’s note: In early Belledune there were four schools, which were built around 1850. I attended the Belledune River School for eight years. Some of us walked almost a mile daily to attend class. On cold blustery winter days our parents drove us, horse and sleigh, wrapped in old buffalo blankets which did not smell very good, but it was far better than walking in a storm. This poem describes a regular school day
Take your slate and pencil
Your pen and a straight rule
Then we’ll walk down memory lane
And visit Belledune River School
We walk into the entry
Where all the coats are hung
We wait there in the shadows
Until the bell is rung
At roll call we hear familiar names
Called in a voice so fine…
Aubie, Curry, Comeau, Cormier, Doucett, Daley,
Guitar, Hodgin, Killoran, Grey, McDonnell, Moriarity, O’Conner, Roherty, Shannon (mine)
We look around the classroom
Painted a smoky blue
The color fits the atmosphere
Which has a hazy hue.
One large blackboard in the front
A map hangs by its side
The windows are small and dusty
Little light comes from outside
A round stove stands in the center
With a long pipe to the rear
Where students warmed their toes in winter
If they were lucky enough to sit near.
Through the back door lies a woodshed
With its musky odor of bark,
Carved in the wall are initials
Where young artists made their mark
A water pail in the corner
A tin cup by its side
The teacher sitting at her desk
Eyes from which no one can hide
There is the usual rustle
Of pencils and some whispers too
But each one knows the terror
Of what the strap can do
When the afternoon is over
And the teacher says, “Don’t run!”
The classroom clears in minutes
Another school day is done
This, my friend, is a memory
Of the little country school
Where I first wrote my ABC’s
And learned the ‘Golden Rule’.
Paul Devereaux’s Store
Author’s Note: Paul Devereaux’s store later became Sid’s Store (Sid Shannon). It was located near the church. Another store was located in lower Belledune, managed by Mr. Alex Landry. Mr. Clement Doucet ran a canteen and garage in Turgeon. Miss Drucilla and Miss Jane Hodgin had a store in the Belledune River area.
Going to the store with my mother was always a special treat
To see the shelves all neatly piled with many things to eat.
I’d shyly glance around the room, which looked so huge to me
And carved into my memory are the treasures I would see.
Just ahead of my eyes when I stood on tiptoes
Were large bottles of candy along the very front row
Then I’d glance behind the counter where barrels and packages stood
And at the old pot-bellied stove surrounded by blocks of wood.
Farmers sat there side by side, talking about the weather
It was a comfortable spot where they could get together
All along the back wall hung harness and hardware of every kind
Sleigh bells, forks and shovels-everything one wanted to find
To the left were long brown shelves filled with boots, stockings, knives and plates
Pencils, pens, picture frames, dolls, and a scale for measures and weights
Open containers lined the aisles holding everything from sugar to nails
Beside them on the floor were many sizes of pots and pails
All along the windows were many forgotten things
Boxes of yellowing paper and dusty flies with silver wings
The music of the doorbell lingers as my mother and I walk through
And then we walk home together beneath the skies of blue
The wonders of that old country store which only a child could see
Will live with me forever, no matter where I’ll be.
Author’s note: The first lighthouse was built in 1866. In 1906 it was replaced and Mr. Bill Roherty became its keeper. From then until 1971, the Roherty family kept the light burning faithfully. In 1976 it was destroyed by fire. The light no longer sweeps the bay, but it remains a ‘Treasure of the Heart.’
Roherty’s Light House
Over the waters near Roherty’s Point
A roving light warned of danger
Where many great hidden rocks
Could break a large ship asunder
For years and years the lighthouse stood
And silently blinked its eye
Never failing to give the signal
To visiting ships that might pass by
The Roherty family were faithful
And tended the light with care
Days of the week, months of the year
Someone was always there
The quiet reflection has faded away
Leaving a memory bright
Of the lamp that never faltered
No matter how stormy the night.
The Old Rink
Writer’s note: My brothers and neighbours cut trees and cleared land to build the rink on my father‘s farm.
Give me a sheet of shimmering ice
Where the cold winds blow
And I will reminisce with you
About our rink of long ago.
Carved in the forest
Where the trees were cut by hand
By my brothers and neighbours
On my father’s land.
Surrounded by birches
And dark evergreens
A prettier sight
Could never be seen
It was not an arena
With roof tall and high
But a great place to skate
In days long gone by.
A well in the corner
Was the only water source
To flood the ice after skating
And to drink, of course
On a wire was hung
A little oil lantern
Sending great shadows
In a circular pattern.
Snow banks surrounded
This magical place
Where we swayed and glided
And had many the race.
There was hockey each Sunday
Right after dinner
And our Belledune team
Was always the winner.
A smoked-filled shack
And an old oil lamp
When we were cold and damp
It was a sad time
When the ice would go
No more fun
‘till the cold winds blow.
The rink and old friends
Have long gone away
Placed with all memories
Of our great yesterday.
A Lamp In The Window
Author’s note: At my home a lamp was placed in the upstairs window every winter night at 8 pm. The skating rink was just up the field close to home. All the kids followed the same rule, “Lamp in the window…Time to go home.”
A lamp in the window shone its bright eye
Through the old spruce trees of days long gone by.
In my memory it lives like a star ever bright
I can see it there still, as it blinked through the night.
At eight pm sharp that old lamp would glow
From the rink we would see it and say, ‘Time to go!’
All the kids knew it was time to go home
Off came the skates, and soon we were gone.
For us it was torture to leave the fun there
But it was a symbol of parent’s love and care.
An unwritten law, which we all did obey
An old lamp in the window…a fond memory today.
Sid Shannon’s Barber Shop
Our hair had to be cut before it looked like a mop
So away we were hurried to Sid’s Barber Shop.
Now this shop was not large,
a room in the old home
We would climb the ancient stairs, and he would appear
With his clippers, scissors and comb.
My brothers and I would line up in a row
The boys were always the first to go.
And sit in the magic barber chair
Where Sid clipped their tousled hair.
I remember the smell of the musty old house
Mixed with the aroma of shaving lotion
And the hum of hand held clippers
As I sat waiting without motion.
The whole episode cost just twenty-five cents, and we felt light as a feather
We said not a word as we raced home together.
When I was very young, stories were told each day
Of a ship on fire on the Chaleur Bay
People including my father and mother had sighted the great inferno
Saw sailors running on the deck with no safe place to go
Many times I’ve cast my eyes across the water of silver blue
Hoping NOT to see the phantom ship, but at the same time hoping I do.
Where is this ghostly galleon which roams the water at night?
The secret lies well hidden beneath the salty waves of white.
I wonder sometimes if she’ll return, but I really wouldn’t want to know
She’s a mystery and a legend, and it always will be so.
The next poem highlights the locals’ analysis of what was seen by those who witnessed the Phantom Ship
Phantom Ship of the Bay of Chaleur
An eerie black darkness is shattered
As a reflection meets the eye
Then fills the bay with brightness
As a ship goes sailing by.
Not just any ship this is, you see
For the flames are burning bright
The masts are red with fire
And sparks light up the night.
Close to the shore, heat can be felt
As reflections dance on the sand
There’s a creepy, chilling feeling as
This ‘spectre’ is seen from the land
The decks are filled with sailors rushing
And running the whole ship wide
Trying to escape the inferno
But there is no place to hide
The hot flames leap from bow to stern
‘til the ship is all aglow
And black smouldering masts fall
Into the waters below
Father: Albert Shannon
Mother: Martina Guitard
Brothers: Leonard, Walter, Placide, Cecil, and Byron
Sisters: Yvonne and Louise
Aunt Lena: My father’s sister who lived with the family
Paternal Grandparents: James and Elizabeth Shannon from Tipperary, Ireland
Maternal Grandparents: Mr. & Mrs. Jacques Guitard (he from France, she from Quebec
According to early historians, François Guitard was the first permanent settler in this area. The name “Belledune” means ‘pretty dune’ because of the mounds and sand dunes along the shore of the bay. François was my great, great grandfather.
Belledune Author, Historian Celebrates her Community
By Jeffrey Dento-Carrier
fr: Cambellton Tribune, 2005, with permission
Clara Flanagan, 78, of Belledune has spent several decades keeping her family’s, and her community’s, history alive through verse and prose.
Called by many “Old” Belledune’s “unofficial” historian, the former schoolteacher, and mother of eight, is a self-published author who has released several volumes of her work in recent years, with another planned for 2006.
She is a regular contributor to the Village of Belledune’s official monthy newsletter, The Messenger, and has also recounted her history through Fragments Of My Life, a chronology of her life and times and that of her extended family.
She told The Tribune Thursday she started writing on a more regular basis when she retired from teaching in the late 1980’s.
She had taught in the Belledune, Jacquet River and Bathurst school systems for 30 years, earning respect from her teachers and colleagues for her friendly manner and dedicated service.
“It’s something I wanted to do (when I retired),” she said. “I don’t write every day, but when I’m inspired I’ll put a lot on paper.
Her verse and prose cover a wide range of topics, everything from social events she attended, to the beauty of the community, to an important event in the past that has impacted the village and its residents.
Her most recent contribution to The Messenger deals with a midwife who dedicated her skills to bringing children, including herself and her brothers, safely into the world.
Flanagan added she is glad that members of her family, and citizens of the region, enjoy her work and she will continue putting her thoughts, and memories, down on paper for as many years as she can.