Willie and Ghillie O’Connor
“That’s another one for your collection!” Willie O’Connor smiles, drawing breath after singing ‘Lough Sheelin Side’. “My father-in-law would sing it. It was always very good.”
Though Willie and Ghillie O’Connor now live in New Ross, the third largest town in County Wexford, they actually met and married in England when Ghillie was sixteen. Willie, seven years older than his bride-to-be, had arrived in England when he was seventeen and had travelled around the country working in many different occupations. Having always been good with his hands, Willie tended to work in manufacturing and over the years has turned his hand to make everything from a poitin still (which he never used!) to a round top wagon (which is on display in Johnstown Castle Museum in Wexford Town).
Neither Willie nor Ghillie attended school, but after the arrival of their five children, Ghillie became frustrated at her inability, as a devout Catholic, to read the Bible to her children. This frustration coincided with the regular visits of Jehovah’s Witnesses to their home and after learning about the religion, she became a Witness herself. Her new congregation began to teach her to read, visiting her house every Friday night, and within six months, Ghillie could read the Bible.
Willie and Ghillie’s parents and grandparents had tended to settled in County Wexford though would travel far and wide. The couple learned their songs from their relatives and friends who sang at every get-together, be it at a campfire or in a pub. “My mother was a fantastic singer,” Ghillie recalls. “My dad was, too, but my mother, she made it her own.” Subsequently, Ghillie never really thinks about her own ability to sing, as “everyone around me was just so good.”
Both Willie and Ghillie fear the death of the old songs. “It’s a culture, isn’t it?” Ghillie says. “We haven’t been to the pubs for years, and that’s where you’d hear them sung. My memory isn’t what it was and I’m worried I’ll forget them.”