Old family photo is focus of clan gathering

LONG GONE... John McCloskey (in uniform) stands alongside his wife, Sarah. Seated in front of them are John's parents, James and Catherine, who hailed from Bridge Street.
LONG GONE... John McCloskey (in uniform) stands alongside his wife, Sarah. Seated in front of them are John's parents, James and Catherine, who hailed from Bridge Street.

A faded family photograph dating back almost 100 years is one of the most treasured possessions of the McCloskey clan from Derry.

The image - which was probably taken in one of Derry’s professional photographic studios - shows John McCloskey, looking very smart in his British Army uniform, standing alongside his wife, Sarah (nee Sharkey).

There was a big turnout at Da Vinci's for the McCloskey family clan get-together.

There was a big turnout at Da Vinci's for the McCloskey family clan get-together.

Seated in front of the couple are John’s parents, James and Catherine (nee McSwine), who hailed from Bridge Street.

It’s a fantastic picture of an era lost in the sands of time but one which underscores an essential element of life in Derry through the decades - family.

No surprise, then, that this old image was all the talk at a recent special family reunion in Derry which attracted members of the McCloskey family from right across the globe.

The McCloskeys can trace their family line back to James and Sarah but the really strong connection comes into play with John’s birth in 1887.

John, a clerk, married Sarah Sharkey, a factory worker from Rosemount, on September 13, 1913, at Long Tower Church, the service conducted by Rev. Charles Kerlin.

At the outbreak of World War One in 1914, he joined the Royal Irish Rifles and was shot twice and badly injured at the Battle of the Somme. Luckily, he survived and returned home to Derry.

According to the family, John apparently made a promise that, if he survived the war, he would go to Mass every day for the rest of his life - a promise which he kept.

John is recalled by surviving relatives as a strict father and “not a man to be messed with”.

Sarah, on the other hand, was a kind and gentle woman and is remembered with great fondness by the family.

In total, the couple had ten children, the first of which was a girl called Catherine, affectionately known as Cassie, who was born in 1914. She died aged just 13, from suspected meningitis.

A second child, James, was born in 1915 but died the same year; a third child, Francis, born the following year, didn’t survive beyond his first birthday.

Seven further children followed, all of whom - apart from Kathleen who died age just six - survived to adulthood. They were Sarah (Sadie), who raised a family in the Brandywell; Mary, who reared her family in Creggan; Ann Jane (Jeannie), who married a sailor and moved to London; Francis (Francie No. 2), who raised his family in Bishop Street; John (Johnny), who worked as an airline steward, settled in London but returned to Derry; and Theresa, who lived in the Brandywell.

From these are descended 24 children, 47 grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren - and counting!

Family members from as far away as Michigan in the USA, Scotland and England, Northern Ireland and, of course, Derry, attended the special family get-together at Da Vinci’s last weekend. It was a night to remember.