Christina Cavanagh Keenan

Matriarch of the family that this site is honouring, Christina Cavanagh from the start lead an interesting life and whilst it may be a little confusing looking back on the facts of her birth, it doesn’t take much imagination to feel the joy, confusion and tragedy of that day.

8 December 1932: A Birth and Two Deaths at Derrymacstur

December 1932 was supposed to be a time of joy for the young Cavanagh family.  The young couple had been blessed with three children in 3 years and the fourth was due before Christmas.  The last child born Eileen had a twin who didn’t survive, so the new baby was to be an extra blessing.

Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.  Although we were brought up knowing the story, it is only when you look at the facts as to what happened that you realise how tragic and life changing the events of the day actually are.

It all started well enough and when Mary Keeffe sent for the Doctor everything seemed OK.  However, Mary had a difficult delivery 14 months before when she gave birth to twins, with one of them dying. This may be partly the reason that when she gave  birth to Christina, she continued to hemorrhage badly and consequently died of heart failure.  Another tale is that Dannie Cavanagh believed the Doctor, who was not the normal one, had taken drink.  He was so distraught after the death of his wife that he considered going after him with his shotgun but was talked out if by other family members.

Nearly unbelievably this was not the end of the tragedy for the day.  Dannies mother, Ellen McGuire lived with him, and she also died later that day.  Records indicate that she died of old age, she was 87 after all, but there is absolutely no doubt that her health had to be effected by the events in the house at Derrymacstur.

So Christina Philomena CAVANAGH was born on 8 Dec 1932 in the house at Derrymacstur, Roscommon, the same day her mother Mary Keeffe, and grandmother Ellen McGuire, died in the same house.  Her name Christina Philomena was chosen by her uncle, Michael-Thomas Cavanagh.

The Family Splits

So the 8 Dec 1932 is a key day to the future of the Cavanagh family. Instead of the joyous Christmas they were preparing for all year, the family was temporarily split up.

Each of the children were given out to family to mind. One of the sisters, Mae, went to the Maison family in Renefarna, who were first cousins to the Keeffe family. The other sister and brother, Eileen & Jim, were given over to the Mahon family, where Dannies sister Jane (nee Cavanagh) looked after them. The newborn child, Christina was given over to the Duignan family of McLoughra, Annaduff, Leitrim, where Dannies eldest sister, Mary Anne (nee Cavanagh) looked after her.

Return to Derrymacstur (Except Christina)

By early 1933 Dannie had recovered enough to be able to cope with the return of the children. However t,he family decided that the youngest, Christina stay with the Duignans for the foreseeable future to allow him to try and raise the rest of the family.

Christina Cavanagh – Living With The Duignans

The Duignans were Patrick Duignan and his wife Mary Anne Cavanagh (Dannies sister) who had already raised their own family by the time Christina came along.  It is likely that the arrangement for Christina to live with them was to be a short term thing as  they both were relatively old to take care of a newborn, being in their late 60′s at the time. However, the arrangement worked, and when it was decided to extend Christina’s separation from the family she stayed where she was. Despite their age, they proved to be good parents to Christina and she was very fond of them.

The Duignans liven in McLoughra, Annaduff, in Leitrim, which was a good distance, especially in them days away from Derrymacstur homestead.  However Dannie would visit on a regular basis, normally every week, rowing over the Shannon to get to the house.

By the time she was calling herself Christina Philomena Cavanagh Duignan, but did not know that her favourite uncle Dannie was actually her father. However, she was known locally as ‘The Orphan’, so it is likely she was aware something was up.

She was educated in the local school in Annaduff and proved to be very academically bright. This was to be a reoccurring theme of her life, where she was often shown to be far smarter than her formal education level.

However, with a smart child can come some difficulties and Christina was super confident and competent and soon she had the Duignans around her little finger. Her sisters remember hearing stories of Christina ‘running the house’, deciding not to go to school (as she was ahead of everyone anyway) and even getting her clothes tailored in the local town. Dannie took the decision that this wasn’t on, and explained to her the situation and that she was coming back home to Derrymacstur.  She was about by this time, and in truth the Duignans were struggling to keep up with her. Christina remembered that she was very fond of Dannie, but the news was a complete shock to her at the time.

She wasn’t separated very long from the Duignans as shortly afterwards Mary Anne and Pat Duignan also moved to Derrymacstur. All her life Christina maintained close relationships to both the Cavanagh and Duignan branches of the family.

Silly Tales

Anyone who got to know Christina was quick to acknowledge that she had a sharp wit and a mischievous sense of humour, and there are several example stories given.

Mae related a story where on a whim, Christina told Tommy Keeffe that word had reached town that his brother was back from the USA, and was in Dublin. Tommy went home and declared the same to the family who proceeded to get the place ready for the visitor.  Tommy had decided that he should go and meet the brother, and had already left to go to the train station before being persuaded that it was all a joke.  Christina, who was a decent poet, wrote a poem about it.  This has been recently rediscovered and I will transcribe it at some stage.

After meeting her future husband Jim, every time she went back home to Roscommon from Dublin she was pestered as to when they family would meet the man, or even see a picture. This was especially the case with Bridgie Keeffe who insisted on seeing a photograph. Christina cut a picture of an actor from the newspapers and presented him as the boyfriend and Bridgie declared herself impressed. It was only later Bridgie realised the deception, although it is not known as to her first impression of the ‘real’ Jim Keenan.

Even with her children she could extract some fun from unusual circumstance.  When her son got drunk at an early age with two of his friends, they made the mistake of coming back to the house.  In fairness, she did take care of them, until about 6 in the morning when she rousted them from bed for breakfast, only to present them with very lightly fried eggs.  Luckily, she has already opened the back door for the rush.

Adult life, Family & Death

Although she had been picked out as having the potential to further her education, she left school early like so many others at the time.

Her first job was at Carnadoe Dairy, a job she got by writing as essay as to why she deserved the job.

Christina and her sister Eileen, were sent to work in a house in  Listowel, Kerry for a short-time.  This was reported in the local papers, but I haven’t been able to find a copy (hint).

From May 1953 Criss was an a post office assistant in Aughnasheelin Post Office, Carrick-on-Shannon, Leitrim.

She was ill with having her appendix removed on 9 Aug 1955 at County Hospital, Roscommon. living in Dublin at the time, she went back to Roscommon to have the operation.  Her boyfriend at the time, Jim Keenan came to visit Criss on the 15th, travelling with their friend Mick Lyons in a blue van from Dublin (and bringing a present of cigarettes!!!).  This would have been one hell’va trip, especially with the roads, in a van at the time.

Marriage & Family

She met James Keenan in about 1954, when he delivered product to a store she was working in at the time.  She put her on him, and used thev excuse of a bet to get a date with him.  By Dec 1955 they were engaged, and marriage followed in Jun 1956.

The couple lived in Rathmines and Christina ran a grocery store “Keenans” while Jim continued his job as a van salesman.  The family lived above the shop. They maintained the shop until 1969, when the family (now with five children) moved to Artane, Dublin 5.

In 1966 Keenan & Kennedy Butchers Ltd was formed, and Jim & Christina were part owners and directors of the company.

Christina Philomena Cavanagh died of a brain aneurysm on 29 Jun 1996 at the age of 63 in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin 9, after collapsing at her home in Artane.  She was buried on 1 Jul 1996 at Clonalvy Cemetery in Meath. Her funeral took place on 1 Jul  from the Our Lady of Mercy, Artane, then she was buried beside her husband in Clonalvy Cemetery in Meath.

One of her poems was used on her memorial card.



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