Monday, January 31, 2011

SAFETY NETS - THE ASYLUM - Down the ages with STD's and Mental Disorder!







My Great Great Grandmother, Catherine 'Katie' Fagan was born and bred and died in Dublin - 1873-1925:
Life in the nineteenth century tenement suggested an intolerable emotional and physical strain, a constant battle against debilitating disease, a daily assault on the senses of sight, hearing, and above all, smell. Dear Dirty Dublin,by Joseph O'Brien
The Glasgow Hospital Registrar who admitted her daughter Christina (my Great Grandmother) to the Gartloch Asylum in January 1923 made a note that her mother was also in an Asylum!
Until we have evidence, I assume she would have been a patient in the main psychiatric hospital in Dublin.
Richmond Lunatic Asylum, Grangegorman, Dublin
Grangegorman Community Museum
Catherine's father, James Fagan had served in the British Army.
She married a Scottish soldier in a kilt - a Seaforth Higlander.
Their daughter Christina wed a soldier too, but the young Privates brought into their marriage, the baggage of wreckless drinking and promiscuous promises. Thus it has ever been.  

Army medical records show my Great Great Grandfather
Robert Ross receiving treatment for the sexually transmitted diseases of  gonnorhea and syphilis. 
In the nineteenth century this meant the excruciating and embarrassing  treatment of injections of mercury into the eye of the penis. 

The medicine can send you mentally unstable as much as the bacteria. Until the discovery of antibiotics husbands would pass the disease to their wives who could suffer the effects along with any fetus they were carrying.

Sexually transmitted diseases were so common as much as HIV/AIDS or genital herpes are today. Like in today's third world countries much suffering and death in populations is caused by neglect of prevention strategies and/or medication. 
For generations these facts of life would be a silent shame. 

Hospital notes in Glasgow show Christina's father is an alcoholic.(The culture of excessive boozing is not isolated to the armed services but it is a hazard to join up in any age and find yourself  being another casualty of addiction and making a mess of private lives on the outside.)

My Great Grandfather Thomas Clarke left his wife with the nurse, bruised, pregnant  and insane.
I like to imagine she would have had a decent bath, fresh clothes, bed sheets, and regular food: care and attention she probably wouldn't have had for a long time. No responsibilities but to cope with her own deteriorating illness.

Staff at Gartloch ordered Mr. Clarke to attend Tent Hall, Glasgow. It was a condition if he was to receive some money from the Poor Relief Fund.
In 1923 efforts to rehabilitate drunks were run by the United Evangelical Association's lantern slide show on the evils of the alcohol.
No surprise it wasn't enough to piss his demons off. To turn the corner of his multi-diagnosis of epilepsy, alcoholism and syphilis,
the Glasgow authority sends my Nan's unknown father Thomas to the Dykebar Hospital- Paisley. 

He would be a patient there for three years, and his three children, including my Grandmother Kathleen(sometimes recorded by her grandmother's name of Catherine), were boarded out separately as wards of the Parish of Glasgow's Roman Catholic Church.
Knowledge of their mother and father would be lost to them in their life-time. Only today, with access to archives can we shed light and learn about his and her stories, and why a sense of grief is piled upon grief.
Renfrew Districk Lunatic Asylum, Dykebar Hospital.
There was no cure for what ailed them. Overcrowded hospitals and lack scientific knowledge meant that peace and quiet was not guaranteed unless one was well enough to go for a walk in the parklands around the many institutions. Often built on prime acreage in cities around the world they are regularly being revamped as educational or housing establishments.
 Progress for the city of Dublin - Grangegorman Master Plan

The Westmoreland Lock Hospital in Dublin had catered for the majority of the civilian population with Syphilis, and other veneral diseases since 1792. It was a State funded hospital, as the British Government had to invest in the health of it's soldiers so they were able to fight and die - honourably!
Those who had developed psychosis from the disease, alcohol or both would have been admitted to the Richmond District Asylum, Grangegorman.

PSYCHOSIS: a condition caused by any one of a group of illnesses which affect the brain, where there is some loss of contact with reality. With time and proper treatment, most people recover from a psychotic episode. Many never have an episode again.
For some there may be further episodes, especially where there has been insufficient treatment or symptoms do not respond to treatment. Symptoms many also affect how well the person manages day-to-day life, causing varying degrees of psychiatric disability. It is important therefore, that those affected receive rehabilitation and support for this disability, as well as clinical treatment for the actual illness. (The Sane Guide to Psychosis)
Sane website Australia

Dublin in the time Catherine Ross nee Fagan lived  would have been enough to send anybody mad with or without tertiary Syphilis! Poverty and malnutrition and bringing children into the world would have been stressful and exhausting. 
Whilst there were thousands of malnourished Irish experiencing the same living conditions, she would have still suffered the STIGMA of her mental disorder and her CLASS.

                                                     OUTSIDE OF THE ASYLUM
1922-1923 Irish Civil War - and the Rare Old Times Song
from The Dubliners
Compared to most of my maternal lineage, I have a comfortable and stable existence with a husband who doesn't drink and cooks me a steak when I menstruate! Even so, I rely on the safety-net of the public mental health service when I am out of answers. In Catherine's day I would have been labelled a 'pauper lunatic', in 1996 I was a 'client'...of an Asylum with Palm Trees!
Wolston Park Asylum complex c.1938 Queensland


"...admitted for two weeks with a brief psychotic episode characterised by vagueness, perplexity and labile effect with formal thought disorder and auditory hallucinations and possible somatic hallucinations. There was no evidence of clouding and she has been treated for a depressive illness from early 1996...Her final diagnosis was Brief Psychotic Episode with some mood features."

It was a 2-5 year stretch of recovering from the shock and trauma of losing my mind. It affected my ability to work and study and I struggled in valuing my existence.

The voices were clear inside and outside of my head; FIND THE CENTRE. FIND THE CENTRE. I couldn't keep still you see, couldn't stop walking in circles. 
The Aboriginal women knew I was exhausted as I lay on the verandah of my old Queenslander settler home, and I felt their healing hearts.
They sat around me, in the shade of desert bush as if everything was normal, no need to panic, stay centred and go with it, accepting, without worrying; having faith.

A few minutes later and I had to get up again and move. Even my sister Deb who worked her healing ways with the City of Birmingham's homeless and abused had run out of answers, and I wanted to stop going in circles.

I needed modern psychiatric care; I was fortunate to live in a country with free universal health care fought for by the Australian Labor Party - I recovered at the Barrett Centre with the compassionate, knowledgeable guidance of doctors and nurses - saying I could take all the time I needed. 

 HONEY ANT DREAMING - by Lorna Napparula in Lajamanu.
Unlike the flat  straight Tanami desert road raising rusty orange, the road that rose to meet me then was a roller-coaster, of course, of course: the Irish political activist and playwright Sean O'Casey had sat in his Dublin tenement around the corner from my Irish ancestors with voices being put to paper of characters that I can understand -

Bessie: I left her sleeping quietly. When I'm listenin' to her babblin', I think she'll never be much betther than she is. Her eyes have a hauntin' way of lookin' in instead of lookin' out, as if the mind had been lost alive in madly minglin' memories of th' past....(sleepily) Crushin' her a' fanciful(she nods her head and starts wakefully) idea that dead things are livin', an' livin' things are dead...
The Plough and the Stars,
Sean O'Casey: Three Dublin Plays, Faber&Faber

I didn't know about the Irish in my veins then, but I did feel the ages, past, present and future seizing my psyche and body. 


For my Great Great Grandmother Ross nee Fagan - she was in her grave after two years of being hospitalised. There was a family plot at Glasnevin Cemetry, to bury her in on  March 27th 1925 in the Irish Free State, aged 54yrs. Her husband Robert, lay under her from his buriel the year before, 1924, age 55yrs.

Their daughter Christina, dead at 28years in Glasgow was probably given to the anatomy students as a gift to science and a small recompense to Gartloch Asylum for her care. 
Christina's husband, my Great Grandfather gave their three children to the Catholic parish of Glasgow as he was in no mental or bodily fit state to care for them.
It wasn't long before he was admitted to the 'Paisley Asylum' near Glasgow, and until I gain access to records, one could assume that he suffered multiple diagnoses which required treatment for three years.
His death certificate suggest that on his release he got a ship-yard labouring job on the Greenock docks, and re-married, but he had given up on connecting with his bairns - scattered as they were. 
Unknown to his adult children and grand-children he died in 1950 aged 58yrs.

Christina's brother James Ross and his cousin James Fagan were fighting fit at 19years when sent to France in 1914. His cousin died in action and James Ross won a medal and stripes for his efforts with the Machine Gunner Corps of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

He was war wounded, but he married, and managed a job in the seat of Imperial power, Dublin Castle - the Paymaster's office.
Being the most well-off member of the family in Great Longford Street, it was probably James who made sure of a place for the Ross-Fagan kin in Glasneven Cemetry - no Celtic cross or names inscribed - numbers on file, but one up from the paupers grave.

Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
It wasn't War that killed the war hero, Home Guard of WW2 and Civil servant -  at 46years of age; the epidemic of Influenza in 1940 knocked him out. 

During my recovery I would take a little walk around Wolston Park complex.
I came across two small chapels, one obviously Protestant because of it's sedate appearance compared to the decorative Catholic shelter. 
My choice was made easier by the beauty of  a stain-glass window on the right of the altar. 

Poetry had been my companion since I left home at 16; my own musings and the inspiration of others: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty - that is all 
        Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."(Keats)

It was the masterful picture of  a strong young woman with sword to the ground in the chapel window which I thought might be Joan of Arc which drew me in. Mesmerised by the artistry and boldness, but not being brought up a Catholic I didn't understand that whilst the religion itself was patriarchal and against the equality of women there was a long history of venerated females. 

I must have been mad for when I returned to the Nurses station I requested a Priest! I thirsted. I had to follow my curiosity. It was also an excuse to confront my demon:
Only hours before I had been overwhelmed by a whirly wind of ancient antagonisms with my mother as a source of victim to the almighty Catholic God and the Word which cursed her illigitimacy, engendering stigma and cruelty for generations.

The Hierachy wanted those babies to be baptised in the one true faith, but treated them with malicious contempt. I was mad, and angry, and I broke out into tears, huddled into the ground, letting everything empty - all the sadness and tragedy. I wanted to avenge the injustice!

Father Smith came(not very Irish - I felt like I was not getting an authentic representative!). Perhaps I was right, because I gasped when he said he hadn't noticed who it was on the window.(Of his own chapel!) 

He was going on a retreat, he said and would bring an answer after the weekend. 

Monday morning the priest brought me a little card and told me her name was Saint Dymphna - the Patroness of the Mentally Ill, the Insane, Epileptics, Intellectually disabled - she covered anything to do with the brain and it's disorders!
She was nothing like the medieval girl-page of the chapel window I had been attracted to, but the little booklet about her legacy was a revelation and gave me faith in the ability of human beings to be caring and enlightened.

In the 7th century, in Roman Catholic Ireland, Dympna was born to  a noble Irish lady called, Odilla. She was a Christian married to a pagan Irish King of Oriel. His name was Damon.

Dymphna was growing to be as beautiful as her kind and compassionate mother, but tragedy struck when Odilla died when her daughter was 14 years old.

The King was grief-stricken but as time went on, everybody in the kingdom was wondering if he would ever get over the loss, so his advisors suggested he find a replacement! 

They sent out horsemen all over the land looking for a beauty to equal his dead wife, but they couldn't find her. However, one day King Damon's daughter caught his eye - Dympna could be his wife returned to him. She was a gift from the gods. She was his!

His advisors didn't see anything wrong in the King marrying his 15 year old daughter - they were only concerned he would be back to his old self and do his job of ruling.

Dymphna got scared at her fathers advances towards her, so she told her life-long priest, Father Gereberne and they made plans to escape.

When the Moon was in darkness, they silently made their way to the boat waiting to carry them across the treacherous North Sea, praying they would find a safe haven. 
Very weary, they landed and went ashore, finding refuge in the forest of Geel where there was a chapel of  St. Martin. 

However, her father, the King was so mad at not getting his own irrational way that he became obsessed and sent all his spies to find the girl and her priest.

Dymphna and Father Gereberne had slowly begun to be known to the people of the village. It didn't take Dymphna long to learn the local language, although being a lot older the priest could only learn one word at a time, but he knew his Latin, the universal language of religious clergy, so he could share Mass wherever he went.

All of a sudden they were set upon by the Celtic King and his soldiers. When Dymphna refused to go back with him to Ireland and marry him, and turned her back, to kneel at the chapel alter and pray, the man was blind with rage. He raised his battle sword and cut off his daughter's head.
Pottery sculpture @

The wonderful thing about this story that has been passed down by oral tradition over hundreds of years, is that the people of Geel wanted to do something good in the memory of Dymphna and her priest who was also slain, and in a way that showed compassion to the mentally deranged like her father had become.

After reports of miracles, people would come to the town if they were mentally ill so a hospital was built, but there were still too many coming, so the villagers began to take in guests. 
It became a natural thing to do, so even today it is known that once mentally ill people are getting better, they are fostered by a family, found work and generally become part  of the community.

In 1247 the Pope called her a Saint. In 1996 she fulfilled my love for learning something new - the grand adventure.

 Secular Saint in Australia is cartoonist  Michael Leunig......


 Thanks to a local G.P. I was finally given a diagnosis of Bi-Polar Mood Affective Disorder. MILD Type2.

It made so much sense. Then began a new regime of monitoring and managing the madness - mainly deep depression with SSRI's and sodium valproate for mood stabiliser. You become an Encylopedia and occasionally  contribute to society's knowledge in book, in blog, or public speaking.

It is a Science, experimenting with medicines until you get the right doseage with the least harm. After a couple of years my Psychiatrist and I found LITHIUM enabled me to function in the world - the right balance.

I may get the shakes a bit, but there are tiny pills for that, and I might believe in the reality and evidence of Science rather than fly with the Angels, Witches and want Jesus as my Lover, BUT I am doing what I like doing, WITH SLIGHT DISABLING SYMPTOMS that single me out as
A Square Peg In A Round Hole....

Finding the Centre - in Australia
Uluru, NT Tour 1989

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


 The Chair
Walking the streets of inner-city Dublin, July 2010 - rain macks a must - give the Guiness a miss(yuk!), because I'm an Anglo-Celtic-Australian and I like Lager as a thirst-quencher.
Unlike most of my working-class forebears I'm not a regular drinker, having grown up with too much alcohol abuse in family circles - the refuge of the sad, the oppressed and addicted no-hopers, and the men who become monsters to their women and children.

What prevented the people from rising to their potential? The British Class system where the selfish gene is prominent, causing a continuous battle between the greedy capitalists like the Dublin Councillor slum lords who over decades avoided spending their money to maintain decent habitation for their tenants who paid the rent. Illiteracy, alcoholism, disease before antibiotics, are all typical living conditions of the people of my DNA.

No wonder they spent a lot of time in the pubs rather than their one and two room hovels - even today, there's a fire burning, Irish fiddles playing and when I taste my first sip of Jameson's whiskey there's magic in me, and my surroundings, and the rain outside is a picture of contented detachment, and everyone inside is in good spirits.

Lorcan's 1916 Rebel Walking Tour, paused at the memorial
to James Connelly, creator of the Irish Labour Party.
He was executed for his role in the Easter Rising.
I contemplate the uncovering of family history and how shocked I was that my Irish relatives were not Republican rebel activists, but fighting for the English!

I was born in Birmingham, but for some unconscious reason and ignorance, my passion and sympathy always sided with the Irish who wanted to be free of the British. 
When I was 11years old, the  Birmingham pub bombings went off.

Mum was on a date in the city. 

It was terror terrible, seeing it on the news, alone, my sisters upstairs asleep and knowing Mum might be in the middle of all that mayhem, but he was a responsible chap, John and put her in a taxi home, and I didn't have too long to worry. Even so I always felt there was a bigger story than what was being reported; this was a consequence or revenge to some injustices over there. Gerry Adams was banned from the BBC, the IRA were terrorists and I had to have my bag searched at the children's library in the city.

It didn't help that the Police manufactured Guilt when truth and justice was all that was ever wanted. Why did I side with the under-dog? Was it the sense of injustice and cynicism passed on from my Mother, as a female, born Catholic and illegitimate in a different war? Or was it also because I perceived how her Mother looked strangely disapproving upon mum's personality, when she herself had spent a life containing secrets and sins? 
Of course Society is to blame! Kathleen senior may have been born in a Glasgow slum, to drunken parents who spent time in a Mental Asylum, leaving her an orphan and always on her own, just like her daughter would feel - but she was able to re-invent herself by marrying the right man, creating superficial comfort and respectability .
Most importantly, Mr. and Mrs F educated their daughter into middle-class profession. This was progress.

Thankfully the stigma scarred souls of my Grandmother's era has gradually eroded with the advent of civil rights and feminist rationalism - no Secrets necessary anymore Nan(and Nan!).
Justice facing Dublin Castle, her back to the People.
When I learned my Great Grandfather Thomas Clarke and Great Great Grandfather Robert Ross were British soldiers, married to Irish Catholic women in the discriminatory, impoverished tenements of Dublin my first thought was, how could they shoot at their own? 

They must have had some personal responsibility to provide for their family and joining the army was attractive in high unemployment. Rents were high in Dublin even compared to London. If they wanted to eat a bit more than their daily bread being pawns of the British Empire so be it.
They were the proletariat; the workers, uniformed, hard drinkers, wife beaters and transmitters of sexual diseases to their wives...Ordinary men getting on with the job, but did they bother to vote?

Saturday, January 15, 2011


My mother was sure her red roots were Scottish - from an Edinburgh heritage where her mother came well that was what she was told.

We lived in a street of post WW2 Irish migrant families.They treated her as one of their own;the local priest would stop her in the street and ask her why he hadn't seen her at Mass!

Even the Avon Lady gave her a little bottle of Holy Water from Lourdes. Mum played down she was christened a Roman Catholic. She was a bastard brought up by Nuns.

She was a Cultural Catholic,loved a drink and singing Irish songs, but that was it. Her maternal dna is Celtic from her mother to her Irish Grandmother who was in the thick of the Easter Rising 1916.

Kathleen Higgins nee Clarke of Exeter Rd
Selly Oak, Birmingham.

There was also another Kathleen Clarke in the Motherland: 


Daughters of Thomas Clarke & Christina Ross.
Nan on the right called Kathleen.
The origins of modern maternal family traumas arose out of Westminster sending English WW1 recruits to deal with the struggle for Irish Independence...

Private Thomas Clarke was not sent to Europe - he was part of a contingent sent to suppress the Irish Republicans, and based at Richmond Barracks.
GUNS/GIRLS/GUINESS - at least Tom married Christina before their baby was born into stigma of a "bastard".

 SS Michael&John R.C. Church, Lwr Exchange St. Dublin, now
back to its origins as "Smock Alley Theatre", Temple Bar, est 1668.
Christina's brother James Ross was married here in 1919. He had returned from France with a medal and with injuries so set him to work in Dublin Castle - the centre of British Administration.

My Nan's confusion about her parents was because  she didn't know them. In 1918 they left Dublin for Glasgow. Thomas's family had moved there from London for work.

Below is the reason why their three children became wards of the State and Church in Scotland.

Longford St(Great)nr Aungier St, Dublin circa 1950.
Ross family docs. say they resided at No's 1 and 6, 1918-1940.
Christina Clarke nee Ross, would leave behind her mother-city, her family of Dubliners; the Ross and Fegan kinwho lived amongst the overcrowded, squalid tenement slums which were regarded as even worse than London, Birmingham and Glasgow.

Her father, Robert Ross made the trip to Dublin with the Seaforth Highlander in 1891. Irish Home Rule agitators were putting the pressure on Westminster again.
After his service he stayed in Dublin's fair city, as a Carrier and married an Irish woman called Catherine 'Katie' Fegan, daughter of a pensioned British army Irish soldier, James Fegan.

A British soldier after the 1916 Rebellion
My Great Grandfather would not be the immortalised Irish Republican leader Thomas Clarke who had been executed at Kilmainham Gaol as a ring-leader and signature to the Irish Republican Proclamation in 1916. 
Our Thomas was a regular soldier, one of 5000 British troops in the city, which would rise to 50,000 after the 1916 Easter Rebellion. 

A General election was held in Dublin on December 14th 1918,
the same week as Christina and Thomas's son  Herbert was born. 
The overwhelming vote was for Sinn Fein of 73/105 seats in Parliament, calling for an Irish Free State.
Thomas had his discharge papers and was getting him and his Mrs. out of there before everything got crazier!

My Grandmother Kathleen Margaret Alice is born.

THREE YEARS LATER - CHRISTINA CLARKE succumbed to a most awful common disease of Syphilis with little sympathy from her husband who was described as needing alcohol education at the Temperance Union hall. Domestic Violence showed up on his wife's body. 
Penicillin hadn't been invented so the misery and mortality of Syphillus, rife in the British Army was spread to their wives and children.

Great Grandmother on her death bed at
Gartloch Asylum Glasgow, 1923.

CERTIFICATE OF EMERGENCY: I the undersigned.................being...................hereby certify, on soul and conscience, that I have this day, at Eastern District Hospital Glasgow in the County of Lanark, seen and personally examined Christina Ross or Clark, and that the said person is of unsound mind, is a proper Patient to be placed in an Asylum, and is in a sufficiently good state of bodily health to be removed to the Asylum at Gartloch.
And I further certify that the case of the said person is one of emergency. 2nd January 1923

Entrance to Gartloch Lunatic Asylum, Glasgow
with kind permission of Mark Murphy(c)at flickr


LENGTH OF TIME INSANE : A few days    Number of attacks   First

SUPPOSED CAUSE : Organic Brain Disease

SUICIDAL ; Might be     or DANGEROUS  Yes



She is dull, depressed and resistive in her manner and conduct. Confused in her ideas and lacking in a sane appreciation of  her surroundings. She shows the signs of organic Brain Disease. (initialled)
She is dull and depressed in her manner and conduct, inchoerent in her speech, and resisistive to attention. She shows no sane appreciation of her position. She is unable to look after herself.  (initials)

HISTORY : Aunt: Mrs Ross 182 Kilmarnock Rd. Glasgow.

Patient is supposed to be three months pregnant.
Three weeks ago she developed violent headaches. Had to be in bed. Later became stupid and finally confused.
Transferred to E.D.H. Has 3 children Last 14 months ago. No previous nervous breakdown.
One miscarriage two years ago.

Mother in Asylum
Father Alcoholic?

2 JAN 1923    CONDITION ON ADMISSION:         

Hair dirty.                                No deformities.                     Haematoma           - left eye

Large haematoma on Gut. aspect of left leg. Multiple small bruises on shoulders and legs. Lungs normal.
Heart action weak              cardiac .              slightly enlarged.
2 finger breadths               (patient hasn't been catherised)  No sign of milk in breasts.
No other signs of          visceral disease. Pupils semi dilated - no reaction.
                                   Patient no temperature but is weak and unable to stand.

(Nurse Notes)

Patient appears to be in a   b               condition
She can be roused but is unable to answer questions properly. She apparently has no idea of her surroundings
and is resistive                                           . She appears  to be  rather exhausted and toxic looking.
Supposed to be three months pregnant.

Patient has improved mentally.Appears brighter and is taking more interest in her surroundings.

            improving but really slow mentally.

Improving mentally but still               unstable.

FEB   Patient very much improved.

MARCH  Patient is clear mentally but simple.
              Appears to have a                of soft palate.

APRIL    Patient suffering from G.P.I. and is presently very helpless, demented and dirty.

MAY      Three days ago patient developed Broncho Pneumonia and died today. G.P.I. Broncho pneumonia   

MY RESEARCH (or why my Grandmother became a Ward of the State and Church)

General Paralysis of the Insane (G.P.I) The syndrome of the mental disorder was identified in Paris mental hospitals long before it was identified as a result of syphilis. Antoine Laurent Jessé Bayle (1799-1858) described it in 1822. Louis Florentin Calmeil (1798-1895), in 1826, called it paralysie générale des aliénés (paralysis general of the insane).  Although this name stuck, many alternatives have also been used. These include general paresis (favoured in the United States) and dementia paralytica. 
General Paralysis of the Insane is now counted as one of the forms of neurosyphilis (syphilitic infection of the central nervous system). It is the main one leading to psychiatric disturbance. 

DEATH CERTIFICATE OF CHRISTINA CLARKE Nee ROSS died May 14th 1923, 4.55am Gartloch Asylum
Glasgow, Scotland

General Paralysis of Insane,  Broncho Pneumonia,  3 days. Cardiac Failure 1 day 


A sexually transmitted disease caused by a bacterium called Treponema pallidum. Can also be transmitted to the fetus of infected pregnant women. Early symptoms are often mild and may go unnoticed; other symptoms may include ulcers either on the skin or internally, and skin rashes. More serious symptoms may occur if syphilis remains untreated. Usual treatment is penicillin by injection; however other antibiotics can be used if necessary. Treatment is usually effective against further transmission by the patient after 24 hours.

Neurological complications at this stage include generalized paresis of the insane which results in personality changes, changes in emotional affect, hyperactive reflexes, and Argyll-Robertson pupils, a diagnostic sign in which the small and irregular pupils constrict in response to focusing the eyes, but not to light; Tabes dorsalis, also known as locomotor ataxia, a disorder of the spinal cord, often results in a characteristic shuffling gait.



Great Great Grandmother, Katie Ross nee Fegan/Fagan had also gone insane...

It's probable she was a patient in Dublin's Institution of Grangegorman/St Brendan's.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Nazareth House, Rednal

If one gets married into a family that you can fit into with ease, and your father and mother-in-law likes you as a human being, involve you as a member of the family - you are truly blessed...Mum and her new mother-in-law were Bingo buddies for years. 
If they won they shouted BINGO or HOUSE!

Being treated as if you were their daughter  was accentuated by an acute sense of estrangement from her biological mother who she had been told was dead by the Nuns. 
It wasn't until she found some letters sent to her in Australia whilst cleaning the Reverend Mother Rita's office, that mum was able to call out her guardians were LIARS.

She was 16years old.  

A coping mechanism to growing up in an Orphanage is to imagine a life well-lived with a man who loves you, with a family of your own making in a home you own.

Mum's dreams came true, including her decision to have her children christened into the Church of England at Saint Wulstan's conveniently located in the same street.

Kath's mother was a Roman Catholic and married a devout Polish Catholic man, so Kath senior was mighty disapproving of her grandchildren breaking the Clarke family mould.

The final nail in the coffin of belonging to any fold of religious faith especially to Kath's Mother church was when I was born.
A priest was doing his rounds in the QE2 hospital. He found the new Mother in bed with a brand new baby and asked if she was Catholic.
I told him I wasn't religious but I was christened one, so he said to come to him to arrange for the christening, but when he asked about your father and I told him he was a Protestant he said Canon Law classed you as a bastard!
Julie - the Papist's bastard 1963
crocheted blanket made by Kath Higgins nee Clarke,
God-parents Auntie Pat & Fred Shakespeare.
The Higgins clan were not church-going except for the spiritual insurance of baptism on their off-spring, a common ritual for most English families.
Higgins: Twin Christenings, Exeter Rd. Selly Oak 1965

In the early years of her married life to Brian, Kath soon showed her sense of  injustice at the inequalities in their relationship when it came to their social life. 
They had never really gone out together as a couple, because it was always with Bri's mates. Then when the kids came along she was the one who had to stay at home, cook his dinner, have his shirt ironed for him to go out for a pint.

Kath resented being the little Mrs. at home. Life was too short and when he didn't come home straight from work either and his dinner was cold she boiled!
She knew where he was alright... a few doors down at the cafe, an illegal card game was on, so she watched the clock, sent me back up the stairs to bed, and made a phone call to the cops...

My dad never knew who had given the police a tip off until 1999 when Mum told me it was her. The police had raided the cafe and Dad managed to escape out the back in the nick of time. When he burst in through the door, out of breath, explaining he had jumped over peoples back garden fences to avoid getting arrested, Kath played innocent.
If Brian wasn't going to take her out, then his mother would! She and Elsie were supports and companions - it helped they enjoyed similar recreational pursuits: Bingo and Darts.

In the early 1960's women couldn't be members of the Selly Oak Ex-Servicemens Club, or the Hubert Rd Social or Conservative Clubs where their husbands were members. 
Women were banned from the Snooker rooms, which irked Mum when filled with the Whiskey spirit; Defying the rules she would march into the back room, pick up a cue, until 'guided' away by an embarrassed husband...if only Dad had championed his wife's desire to have a game of snooker with him, but he didn't have it in him to challenge the establishment.

Joining a card game like Cribbage, Pontoon or Poker was discouraged. I suspect the men were afraid of a woman beating them for example, Kath Higgins! The Committee succeeded in diverting their female folk into the entertainment room with Bingo!
Every Friday night the kids knew they would have a babysitter, and in later years I would sit with Grandad who had Parkinson's Disease so if he had a fall I could phone the club to reach Nan.

So popular grew the game in the 1960's with the associated money raked in for fundraisers that there was Bingo running four times a week, and there were other games elsewhere to fill in the missing days.
It wasn't regarded as gambling, or a harmful addiction. You grew up accepting it was an integral part of community culture. I experienced the adrenalin pumping, heart racing, breathtaking build-up to having your last two, then one number called, to win a cash prize.
Children could discreetly attend Bingo if there wasn't a babysitter available. A mother would take her child to sit and be quiet with their drink and crisps and if you were lucky your mum would let you mark a booklet for her. 

Kath and Elsie also travelled further afield on the buses to have a different experience of  a game of Bingo. One such night the pair walked up Dawlish Rd. to catch a bus down to Stirchley where there was a large commercial Bingo, with a large jackpot. For one brief moment my Nan stepped of the kerb to see if the bus was coming and a car came speeding around into Raddlebarn Rd. and run her over and over...

At Selly Oak Hospital she was dead, but only for a brief time until the doctor revived her. It would be a long road to recovery, but everybody knew she was going to be fine when she wanted to go around the club for Bingo!

Darts was another shared recreation of daughter and mother-in-law. 'Ladies Darts'  was not taken seriously in the pubs and clubs but there was a team put together at the Conservative Club, where her father-in-law, Albert was a member.
Kath took home the trophy cup for seven years in a row, and stood with pride-of-place on the mantle-piece. When the Conservative Club closed down a couple of committee members came to retrieve the cup
When her marriage to Brian was over and he was living with Barbara, Elsie went out of her life too. It was a double loss. Kath didn't understand why her mother-in-law had to withdraw from their relationship because her son had another woman. That painful loneliness was reclaiming her, but she would survive. 

Kath's mother wasn't aware of her daughter's prowess at darts and other games - or how good she was at crafts,  how popular she was as a work canteen cook! Their contact was brief and unpredictable. 

Kathleen senior kept her distance physically and emotionally, even from her grandchildren. There were a couple of Christmas's that showed promise when presents were given and an invitation to Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. It was pleasant. Strange. We were the outsiders.

Mum reckoned it was obvious that she could never be good enough - as though she was like a stray cat, needy and demanding and my Grandmother didn't want to give her what she needed; the story of her origins, and why she was abandoned and sent to Australia?

 Photo taken by Grandmother on surprise visit before emigrating. Zoo excursion.

Who could have predicted that in 1978 when Kath and her new husband  Derek who had genially esconced himself into the affections of  the family would emigrate to Melbourne? Then,
within a year she would disown her own daughters for her drunken life with him? She was afraid she would end up lonely. He was her mate.

Unlike my mother who invited her mother to her wedding at the last minute, I didn't want to invite Mum and Derek to mine. Their  alcohol fueled behaviour  would embarass me. It made it easier that I didn't have their address. We had become estranged.

My husband Roy and I did drive overnight from Adelaide to Melbourne airport when my sister informed me of their return to England. We said goodbye civilly at the airport waiting for their departure back to Birmingham, where they missed the pubs and clubs.
It was incredible that HERstory was repeating itself; Sporadic contact by long-distance was made when they saw fit to let us know where they were living. It was about ten years where we didn't even know if they were dead or alive, then a call in the night to say they were having a great time in Canada or Malaysia!

Fortunatley I too was blessed with a dedicated mother-in-law who said she regarded me as her own daughter.
Our first generation Australian daughters had a doting grandmother growing up - a vital ingredient to a sense of belonging and identity with strong Yorkshire accents!
 Nancy and Archie - grandparents to Jasmine and Haley, Highett, Victoria 1990.

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