U.S. academic plans to write book about life at naval station

Meg Carroll with some of the letters written by her grandfather Philip Gallagher.
Meg Carroll with some of the letters written by her grandfather Philip Gallagher.

An American professor of literature whose US Navy grandfather was stationed in Ture for two years from 1918 to 1919 is to visit Derry next week.

Meg Carroll is an associate professor at Albany College in New York, which has given her a grant to research the period that her grandfather Philip J. Gallagher was stationed in County Donegal.

Philip Gallagher pictured at the US Lough Foyle Naval Air Station.

Philip Gallagher pictured at the US Lough Foyle Naval Air Station.

She is appealing to local families who may have pictures or know of stories about the time her grandfather was stationed at the US Lough Foyle Naval Air base to get in touch.

During Philip Gallagher’s time in Ireland he wrote more than 50 letters home to his mother, letters that have carefully been preserved by his family for the past 100 years.

After Mr. Gallagher’s death in 1972, at the age of 70, Meg said her grandmother began to talk about the letters he had written from Ireland.

“She told me how much he valued his life in Ireland,” she said. “My mother told me that he talked about his time here, and how meaningful it was, all through her childhood. He had always planned to bring his family here but never could.

This is a different slice of a war story, a beautiful social story.

Meg Carroll

“After his death I looked at his letters with different eyes. Firstly as a grand-daughter reading the youthful voice of her grandfather, and secondly I wanted to read what he was saying about Ireland.”

Meg revealed that her grandfather had worked on the construction crew at the Ture base.

“This meant that he had free time every night,” she said. “He went into Derry and attended concerts, he went to Greencastle, he visited the Giant’s Causeway. He met people and in the letters he speaks about the people he met and how wonderful they were. He says how people invited him to their homes for dinner, and how he dated a girl.

“The base itself hosted dances once or twice a month and had a small orchestra of musicians among the sailors. “They’d invite the neighbours in and they had cars that brought people back and forth to the base from Derry and Moville. On the fourth of July they had a barbecue, and a big victory dance after the armistice.

A letter written home by Philip Gallagher almost 100 years ago.

A letter written home by Philip Gallagher almost 100 years ago.

“There were hundreds of people from Donegal and Derry going on and off the base for social events. So it seemed to me that a lot of people must have been making friends.

“What I want to do is try and find families that have the same kind of memories as my family. Maybe someone will remember members of their family speaking about the dances.

“My grandfather was invited to homes in Derry, went to a ceilidh in Moville, spent time in the Drumaweir Hotel in Greencastle, and attended numerous concerts in the Guildhall and Opera House. From his letters I have a list of over 20 names of friends he made and people he met, including Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham who owned a hotel in Derry, the O’Neill family of Ardowen on the Northland Road, and a dentist named McCormack.”

She also revealed how her grandfather wrote about being in Derry during the election of 1918, and how he attended the victory party of Joseph O’Doherty of Creggan Street, who was elected to represent Donegal.

“I did some research and found out this was a big deal,” she said. “Joseph O’Doherty went on to be in the first Dail and was a pretty big name in the early years of the Free State.

“I had an amazing opportunity in 2009 when I met Joseph O’Doherty’s daughter Briege, who was 90, and I gave her a copy of the letter where my grandfather writes about her parents, and that was really a lovely experience.”

Meg’s trip to Derry next week will be her third time in the city, but this time it is specifically to research the base at Ture.

She revealed how she made met well known Derry historian Mickey McGuinness who sadly passed away in 2014, when she attended a conference in Nova Scotia in 2011.

Meg explained: “Mickey told me he had been interested in the World War I base for a long, long time and he felt it had been forgotten about. We corresponded and I shared letters and pictures with him.

“Mickey shared a chapter from a manuscript that a friend of his had written about the base. It reads like part of a day book of someone who was on the base.

“I don’t know who wrote it but I’ll be bringing it with me and I’m hoping someone will recognise the author.

“Two years ago I googled all of the churches in Derry and Donegal and emailed all of the pastors asking if I could put a notice in their church bulletins.

“From that I got some interesting letters including ones from Sean Beattie, Richard Doherty and Charles Doherty, and all of them knew Mickey. I still feel that Mickey is guiding me through all of this.”

Meg says she hopes to write a book in the next year if she can speak to enough people who can share their stories and memories handed down by relatives.

“This is a different slice of a war story,” she said, “a beautiful social story. I’m hoping to go to Washington DC next year and look at the naval records there.”

Next week Meg is hoping to visit the site of the naval base at Ture, alongside Richard Doherty and Sean Beattie.

During her stay she will be staying at the Maldron Hotel, Butcher Street from August 1 - 8. She can also be contacted by email on margaret.carroll@acphs.edu if anyone would like to get in touch with her to share any information or family stories they may have.