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1920: The Year Diphtheria Struck by Mary McGonagle Johnson

Writing.ie | Magazine | Mining Memories | Tell Your Own Story
Mary Johnson

Mary McGonagle Johnson

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In the churchyard the snowdrops 

Push their way through cold earth,

Their soft petals cover this grave,

A comfort blanket for the children,

 Whose names are etched on this cold stone.

 No snowdrops raised their heads that year. 


I picture the scene, imagine the pain

Of the woman standing here.  

Heart frozen in grief as the box is lowered.

Sobs shake her body as earth clatters

 On Danny, her first born. 5 years old.

January 21st  1920.


She has no time to mourn him,

 For diphtheria has another in its grip.

January 22nd    Just one day later,

John, 2 years old, lies here too.

 Now baby James, 8 months old,

 Fills her empty arms, gives comfort

 For a little while, but not for long.

 Before that year is over 

 His name appears here too.

 Doctors didn’t give a reason

 When her health begins to fail.

No conclusions needed,

This cold stone tells her tale.

October 1921.      Mary.  28 years old. 

 Her name passed on to me.

(c) Mary McGonagle Johnson

About the author

I was born on a small farm in Malin Co Donegal, I left school at 14. In those day there was no opportunities for further education unless you had money. I did read a lot when I was young, and sometimes thought that I would love to write.
I left Ireland in 1964 and went to Manchester. After a few years, I decided to go to night school and study for O’levels, with the intention of eventually becoming a teacher. When I applied to teacher training college, I still didn’t have enough qualifications, so they set me a mature students entrance exam, which I passed. This was 1974, I had a 5 year daughter at this time. After my training I taught for a short while , and had my son in 1978, I then stayed at home for a few years,but continued to study with the Open University. I graduated with my second degree a year before my daughter graduated from Lancaster University.
I entered a competition in Ireland’s Own in the early ’80 and had my story published, I also had a story published in Woman’s Way. I then joined ‘The Manchester Irish Writers.’ We published four books of short stories and poetry, all of which I feature in, under the name Mc Gonagle Johnson. We also performed our monologues at Manchester Royal Exchange.
At present I’m trying to write a novel, I have written 47,000 but seem to be stuck there. That story is based on my family history.

  • The Dark Room: A thrilling new novel from the number one Irish Times bestselling author of Keep Your Eyes on Me
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