The son of a Derry man who never forgot his roots has made a personal pilgrimage to the city to fulfil one of his dad’s final wishes.
Eoin O’Hagan’s father Frank left Derry as a young man along with others in search of employment in Dublin and after finding work and meeting the love of his life Nuala, he spent the rest of his life living and raising his family there.
Eoin said however that his father’s strong pride in Derry, along with his accent, never changed, and he would often regale his children with tales from his youth.
“He would sit in his armchair smoking his pipe and telling stories of Derry and he would be crying at the memories,” he said.
Frank O’Hagan, who passed away in February at the age of 92, was born in 1926 and as a boy lived in Duke Street in the Waterside. His own father Daniel was a train driver for the Donegal Railway Company, based at Victoria Road Station at the end of Craigavon Bridge. Frank would later paint the trains his father worked on, one of which can still be seen at the Foyle Valley Railway Museum.
And in a claim to fame, when Craigavon Bridge was reopened in 1933 Frank, then seven years old, ran across the bridge before anybody else and was therefore the first to officially cross it.
Young Frank served his time in Shannons Electrical Contractors under John Hume’s father, Samuel. He worked on naval vessels at the docks, getting to know and become friends with many of the sailors who docked in Derry.
“When he was working at the docks in that time during the War so many of the boats went out and the fellows he had made friends with never came back. They died in the cold North Atlantic,” Eoin said.
Due to discrimination in pay and opportunities, with a group of other young men, he departed from Derry in 1948 and headed south to Dublin, boarding with relations, the Swanns.
The Derry man, after working with various contractors, secured a position at Dublin Airport in around 1954, and worked there, latterly as an electrical supervisor, right until his retirement in 1987. Shortly after starting work at the airport, he met his future wife Nuala in 1956 and they would go on to have nine children: Moira, Donal, Eithne (d.), Eoin, Fionnuala, Roisin (d.), Grainne, Frank Junior and Feargal.
Eoin, who worked under his father at the airport, said that while his father had made a life for himself in Dublin, he never forgot his roots. “He spent 70 years down here and all he ever wanted was to go back. He still had a strong Derry accent and everything was about Derry and Tyrone, where his family originated. My parents got a house in the middle of the airport and when the airport got extended we ended up in a house between the two runway, 100 yards each way.”
After Frank’s retirement in the late 80s, with the construction of a new runway the house was demolished and by then the family had moved to Glasnevin. “He wished he was back in the airport and back in Derry,” Eoin said.
He also recalled how they would visit family in Derry for holidays in their youth, but that these visits more or less stopped as the Troubles intensified. “My father would still go up for weddings, wakes, funerals.
“He always watched what was going on in Derry from Dublin. I remember Bloody Sunday. He was in tears watching that. That was a tough time for a Derry man to be away. I remember climbing up onto a roof to put a black flag up.”
As children, Eoin and his siblings only came back up once when their cousin, Magilligan chaplain Fr. Frank O’Hagan, was ordained. And there was one occasion when his father (who didn’t even drink) “went missing for a week in Derry” after the Oakleafers won the 1993 All-Ireland.
When Frank died earlier this year he was buried in Dublin at Dardistown Cemetery in a plot directly behind that of his late daughter Eithne and very close to where the family grew up beside Dublin Airport.
In honour of his father, last week, Eoin travelled from Clare to his father’s grave in Dublin, retrieved some soil from it, and brought it to Derry to scatter on the graves of Frank’s own parents in Ardmore Cemetery. “As part of my grieving process I decided last week I would bring him home to Derry.” Eoin said.
Eoin documented the trip to Derry, via the O’Hagan clan’s ancestral home Tullaghoge in Tyrone, with photographs and a video diary he uploaded onto his Facebook page.
He said he was glad he had made the trip: “Frank O’Hagan wished he was back home in Derry. He is now!”