19 December 2002 Edition

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Fógraí bháis

Susan McCreesh

The Mother of a Martyr

Susan McCreesh, née Quigley, was born on Monday 4 October 1920. "Monday's child is fair of face." She was the seventh child and the youngest girl in a family of five girls and three boys. Susan was born in a turbulent year and lived through turbulent times. The Tan War 1919-1921 was at its height in 1920. It was a year also when Terence McSweeney, Lord Mayor of Cork was arrested on 12 August and died on 25 October after 74 days on hunger strike. That year also saw the Government of Ireland Act passed in December, setting up two Partionist parliaments.

Susan was brought up on a farm in Dorsey Hearty in South Armagh. She attended Carrickrovaddy School and in the '30s went to work for Ernest Trimble, a bank manager, in Belfast. She then went on to work for Charles Magee in Newry, where she looked after John Magee, who later became the Bishop of Cloyne and assistant to the Pope. Susan's next appointment was as housekeeper in the Parochial House in Derrymacash, Lurgan, where Cannon John Magee was PP. Susan spent five years there.

Susan married Jimmy McCreesh of Roxboro, Cullyhanna, on Tuesday 5 June 1945. The newlyweds set up home in Ned's, in her homeland of Dorsey, where their first son Patsy was born in March 1946. Marie was later born in August 1947. Brian and Bridie's births followed while Susan and Jimmy lived in Ned's.

In August 1951, the McCreesh family moved to McCrink's Riverside View, Camloch. They lived there in a house rented from Barney Turley, situated opposite the RUC Barracks. Jimmy began work as the Newry R&D lorry driver in May that year. Soon later came the birth of Malachy. Then in 1953, Michael was born, followed by the death of Susan's mother in February 1954.

During the winter of 1952, due to the weather, the river overflowed and flooded the houses. Doubts were then raised about seeing out another winter in the house and a move to higher ground was the order of the day. So on 11 July 1953, the family moved to St Malachy's Park, Camloch.

Susan was described in a letter from a friend, Sister Mary Martin: " I remember that gentle young mother with her loving little children around her feet and Susan always smiling, never ruffled, a perfect Irish lady."

Raymond was born in February 1957, followed by Teresa in May 1960. Tragedy struck in 1959 when Jimmy, working at the engine of his lorry, accidentally cut his fingers on one hand off. A long recovery period ensued and the family struggled on and survived.

In the '70s and with what is termed 'the start of the Troubles,' Patsy moved to England, Marie qualified as a teacher and went to work in Guildford, Surrey. Brian obtained his BA in Maynooth and continued his clerical studies. Bridie passed her A levels and went to college in Wolverhampton. Malachy attended Newry Technical College. Michael and Raymond were at St Coleman's College and Teresa to St Paul's school. With fewer children at home, Susan took a part-time job in the Boulevard Hotel, then her last official employment was a part-time job with Sheridans and the farmers at SAFE in Camloch. Her daughter Teresa later joined the staff there also.

Susan's daughter, Marie, was the first of her children to marry and she did so to Leo Madden. Later came Susan's first grandchild, Leo Junior. Brian was ordained in Carrickcruppen on 17 June 1973. He then celebrated his first Mass in St Malachy's Chapel, Camloch.

Later that year, in October, Bridie emigrated to Australia, where she married Steve Higgins in Sydney in December 1975.

The late '70s and early '80s were dominated by the arrest, imprisonment and death of Raymond. He was arrested on 25 June 1976, and on his arrival to the Maze Prison, began the blanket protest. Raymond then began the hunger strike in 1981 and died in May of that year. That May and every May thereafter was a very hard time for Susan and the family.

Later that year, on a visit to Ardmaine Nursing Home to visit her brother, Peter, Susan was sitting beside Peter and Minnie McCoy of Dorsey who was about 91 or 92 at the time. An argument broke out between two of the elderly residents, one unionist and the other nationalist or even stronger. Minnie leaned over and whispered to Sue, " She doesn't know that you are the mother of a Martyr."

The third family wedding came in August 1983, the first on home soil, when Teresa married Gerard McClelland. All the family and neighbours got their chance to enjoy the festivities, although these were marred a few days later by the tragic death of cousin Martin McCreesh in a car accident outside Dundalk.

Susan and Jimmy every year went on pilgrimages to Knock and then in the Autumn of 1981 Susan took her first overseas trip to Lourdes. In 1987, Susan took another trip to Medjugorie, while all the time still observing her religious devotion to our Lady of Knock.

1989 saw the fourth wedding in the McCreesh household; this time Malachy became the first male to marry. Susan flew 3,000 miles to America to see her son marry Bernadette Sheridan in Philadelphia. Susan then went on to Niagara Falls with the married couple and from there to New York, where she visited Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the World Trade Centre, Wall Street and 5th Avenue.

Before leaving New York, Susan and son Michael rallied in aid of Joe Doherty, who had escaped from Crumlin Road jail in June 1981

Susan's last trip to Lourdes was in May 1993 with the Lower Killeavey Group.

On an outing in 1993, Susan made her annual visit to Knock Shrine and then to Bundoran. The holiday was disrupted when Susan suffered a slight stroke and was taken home from the Hills of Donegal by ambulance to Daisy Hill Hospital. However her inner strength and determination came to the fore and she beat back the crisis.

Susan's sister, May, died in September 1993, followed a month later by her brother-in-law Paddy McCreesh, and in June 1994 her brother Peter Quigley, the last official resident of Dorsey Hearty, went on to his eternal reward.

In June 1995 she and husband Jimmy celebrated their Golden Wedding Jubilee. That occasion was probably the last McCreesh/Quigley gathering, where a good time was had by all. Unfortunately, the photos and video of that night are all that remains to remind the family of some who have passed on. Jimmy's brother Peter McCreesh died later that year in December, and Jimmy followed two years later in July 1997.

The late '90s brought ill health to Susan. Her foreign travels ended. There was also the peace talks and moves to end the conflict in our society. Susan lived to see the change in atmosphere and to see the closure of Crumlin Road, Armagh and the H Blocks of Long Kesh. Susan played her part to keep Trimble and the unionists happy when in 2000 she decommissioned the first gun when the RUC came looking for her late husband Jimmy's shotgun.

Unlike her husband Jimmy, Susan lived to see her son Fr Brian made PP in the parish of Kilkerley on Valentine's Day 1998 and to celebrate with him the Silver Jubilee of his ordination in the same year.

In 1999, Susan became a great-grandmother with the births of Tia and Sian to Leo and Kerry.

Susan McCreesh died on 15 October last and is buried with her husband James in Cullyhanna.

The description of Susan's Christian name was very apt to her personality and demeanour.

Susan    "This lady is good, happy and very beautiful, she has secret qualities, and down to earth opinions. She will make the most of things even when the chips are down. She is admired everywhere and by many. A princess in the court of life."

An Phoblacht
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