Memories of “The Doctor Mack”
My grandfather, Patrick McNamara, passed away on October 22, 1941. The older people living in Maghera today knew him when they were young, and they remember him very well.
He had worked as a coachman, generally driving a coach with a team of four horses for an estate, Kiltanon, located near the village of Tulla. As an old man he was widely known in the community as “The Doctor Mack” because of his knowledge of horses and to this day people refer to him by that nickname.
On this page are some memories of “The Doctor Mack.”
The speakers are:
Pat O’Halloran is a farmer who lives in a historic house known as “Nixon’s Cottage,” located on the road between Tulla and Maghera. On the day my son and I visited him in September 2000, he was busily repairing his tractor and one would hardly suspect he is close to 90 years old. Mr. O’Halloran’s family, going back to his great-grandfather, Jeremiah O’Halloran, were noted blacksmiths. He told me that his father and my grandfather were great friends, as they conversed on an almost daily basis about horses.
When my son first approached Pat O’Halloran and explained that he was the great-grandson of “The Doctor Mack,” the old man responded by saying, “That’s amazing, I was thinking of the Doctor just the other day....” And when I walked into his farmyard he seemed to be studying me. As my son introduced us, Mr. O’Halloran laughed and enthusiastically greeted me by saying, “I could tell the second I saw you that you were related to the Doctor. I swear, you are the image of him. If I was in the Sahara Desert and I came upon you there, I would think of the Doctor!”
Michael Dinan is a retired carpenter and a noted fiddler who lives at the Maghera Crossroads. His father, Peter Dinan, was a carpenter and a coachbuilder, and was a great friend of my grandfather. Michael has very vivid memories of my grandfather, as do his sisters Nora and Bridget.
Mary Harrison is also a sister of Michael Dinan, and is the proprietor of Harrison’s, a venerable pub at a crossroads south of Maghera.
Kitty Kearney was the sister of Tom Kenneally, who was married to my father’s sister Teresa. Kitty passed away in 2000 at the age of 92.
Michael Kenneally was the brother of Tom Kenneally; Michael lived in the farmhouse where my grandfather spent the last years of his life. Michael passed away in November 2000 at the age of 88.
Pat O’Halloran: “He knew everything about horses, and in those times, around here it was all horses. The Doctor worked for many years for Kiltanon House. That was the big estate here, it was owned by the Molony family. He was in charge of all the carriages and the horses. There were buildings on the estate with special rooms where they kept all the harnesses. He was in charge of all of that. It was very elaborate. The harnesses would be hanging in these rooms. And they had a special heating system to keep the harnesses dry and at the right temperature. My father would visit him there and sometimes he’d take me. On a winter’s night it was a warm place to be, and the Doctor would sit and tell stories.”
Michael Kenneally: “He would work for the gentry, as we called them in those days. And he knew more about their horses than they did.”
Pat O’Halloran: “He had driven a coach for many years, and he knew the roads around here like the back of his hand. Kiltanon House is gone now. But you can still see the huge iron gates of the old estate. The Doctor drove a ‘coach and four’ through those gates many a time.”
Nora Dinan: “I remember that he always loved to know the news. We lived at the crossroads, and we always seemed to have a newspaper in the house. People passing this way from Tulla would bring us the newspapers. And the Doctor Mack was always curious about the world and wanted to know the headlines. He’d visit and want to see the newspaper. As children we would all read the different sections of the paper, and so it would be spread around the room. Oh, the Doctor Mack would get so annoyed by that! He liked things very orderly! He’d put the newspaper all back together. And I still remember this, he’d look at us children and say, ‘This newspaper looks more ruffled than read!’”
Kitty Kearney: “The Doctor Mack was very smart. He knew so much. If he said something, that's the way it was. And you wouldn’t go against it.”
Mary Harrison: “The Doctor was quite a cook. He loved to make soup, and it was wonderful. And if he was visiting and my mother was cooking, he always had suggestions about a recipe. He would help, as he really loved to cook.”
Pat O’Halloran: “I remember that you could show him a horseshoe, and he could tell you what leg of the horse it had come from. He could look at the wear on the shoe, and he could explain it to you. When it came to horses, there was nothing the Doctor couldn’t tell you.”
Bridget Dinan: “We always called him ‘The Doctor.’ It’s funny to think about now, but as a child it never occurred to me that his first name was Patrick, or that he even had a first name. Everyone always called him ‘The Doctor’ or ‘The Doctor Mack.’”
Pat O’Halloran: “He was such an active man. He was a small man, and oh, he was active. He would walk from Maghera to Tulla all the time. And he would always stop in to see my family, either on the way to Tulla or on his way back. I remember that the Doctor always wore a waistcoat and a watch chain, and you know what he had that was special on his watch chain? A little compass! It would hang right in front. I remember that well because when I was a boy he would show me the compass, and he taught me how a compass worked. I thought that was brilliant.”
Kitty Kearney: “When we were children, we’d see him all the time and he would be fishing. He was always fishing. And sometimes we’d see him walking up the road, in the direction of Ballinruan. He had a friend there who had a lake and they would fish together. He had a bag with straps that went over his shoulders, and he would have all his fishing gear on his back. And he would be carrying a big fishing rod, and he would say hello to us all.”
Michael Dinan: “Oh, he was a great one for the fishing. He was always at it. Up at the river, by Nestor’s Bridge, you would see him. He’d be catching his trout.”
Pat O’Halloran: “When I was a boy he brought me nuts he had gathered, a big sack of them. And he showed me how to open them and what a big kernel they had. Hazelnuts. The nuts were delicious, but until he showed me I didn’t know you could eat them. He showed me where the trees were where he gathered them. He would get them in October. Some of the trees are gone now, but there are still a few left, and every October I still go and get nuts where the Doctor did.”
Michael Kenneally: “He was well-liked by all. And he always had a funny story to tell you.”
Mary Harrison: “He was always reading something. I remember one day I came home from school and walked into the house and the Doctor was visiting my parents. He had a magazine with him and he showed me wonderful photographs in it. You didn’t see many magazines here in those times. And I have no idea where he got a magazine, but he always seemed to have something to read.”
Pat O’Halloran: “He always carried a blackthorn. Never saw him walking along the road without his blackthorn.”
Michael Dinan: “I would be working in the carpenter shop, and he would bring in new blackthorns that he had just cut. He’d ask me to trim them a bit and finish the ends. And he would always laugh and say I did a good job, otherwise he wouldn’t bring me his custom.”
Pat O’Halloran: “In Tulla, there was a pub named Brennan’s, and two brothers owned it. The Doctor was a great friend of the Brennans. He would never think of going to Tulla without seeing them. And the Doctor would sit in Brennan’s pub and talk about horses for hours. He knew everything about a horse. He could look at a foal and tell you its prospects. People would seek him out for that. And they would always want the Doctor to come and look at a sick horse and tell them what to do about it.”
Nora Dinan: “He would visit my father, and they would tell stories in the carpenter shop. And he would walk into our house and say to us, ‘Is this morning, afternoon, or evening tea?’ He was always such a charming man. One day he saw a neighbor on the road and he told him he had been coming down the road to visit us, but he didn’t feel well, so he was turning back to go up to his own house. And then he must have taken to his bed, and a few hours later his son in law Michael Broderick found him. He had passed away in his sleep. Very peaceful, God rest his soul.”
Pat O’Halloran: “Quite well I remember the Doctor’s funeral. People from all around came. And the war was on, of course. So there was no petrol for motorcars, and people didn’t even have tires for their bicycles. But they walked, and others came on horseback. And there were horse carts, sidecars and traps. And I remember the Brennans from Tulla after the Doctor died, they were lamenting that he knew so much about horses and now he was gone. And who would ever know what he knew?”
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