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...a glimpse into life on Vancouver Island, needle felting, photography, food, gardening, etcetera...etcetera
"Happiness always looks small when you hold it in your hands, but let it go, and at once you learn how big and precious it is."
Maxim Gorky

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Ballad of Runway O'Reilly

His life was not an easy one.
Growing up alongside 4 sisters and 3 brothers, it was always a struggle for his ma and da to make ends meet.
Ireland in the 1920’s was particularly tough for such a large family but they did what they could.
All of the kids worked to keep the family fed. Tending the garden, fishing, looking after the family cows…not much time for play.
But sometimes, on his way home from the village, wee Jack O’Reilly would hop over the fence into the neighbours field and dream…first lying on his back looking up into the clouds…imagining what it would be like to hover along side those magnificent puffy shapes.
How the blue sky over the landscape beckoned to him!
Effortlessly, almost taunting were the birds high above…the swallows swooping, the hawks endless gliding, the flocks of the other, older geese in perfect formation.
Jack so desperately wanted to join them in their flight but he had much to learn about the ‘art’ of such skilled flying. He would practice his takeoffs along the dirt track, gathering as much speed as he could and then…that moment of takeoff…just barely making it off the ground and clumsily flapping his little white wings for a dozen or so yards before he got tuckered out and had to come down.
But the one thing he had always been good at was his landings. They were perfect, flawless and so smooth. Touching down at just the right moment and gently coming into a light jog before slowing down to a calm and controlled stop.
And so he followed his dream when the chance came…
The year was 1939. Jack was 19 years old. The world was at war once again. His fathers tales of the first war were mostly about his buddies and the laughs, but Jack had later learned that there was so much more that the Da would never speak of. The mud, the rain, the trenches and worst of all the bearing of witness to the horrors of death and destruction all around him.
But Jack signed up anyway. Off to Northern Ireland to join the RAF.  As a young gander he kept practicing his flight skills until he finally gained the confidence he needed. He was nicknamed ‘Runway O’Reilly’ not only for his skilled landings but  for his beautiful takeoffs which he had perfected as well.
Runway O’Reilly took many a novice pilot under his wings to teach them all he knew.
His romantic versions of flying soon turned into flights of survival and fear though.
The raids over Northern France were the worst. 
The enemy was ruthless and Jack lost many a mate. 
 He was especially endangered for his roll in various top secret missions but kept faith that he would return home to Ireland some day.
It was on such a flight near Paris, near the end of the war that Jack thought it was all over…blindsided by a blast, down he went and then…darkness.
The next thing he knew he was in a crisp white hospital bed. At first he thought he was in heaven and that the nurses moving around him were angels floating about. 
He soon realized he was in a makeshift shelter for the wounded in an abandoned stone church, the bombs and blasts still roaring all around them.
But there was one beautiful red head who was not a nurse. Genevieve was her name. She would come to feed him and help him take his pain medicine. She had been living nearby in a village when she saw Jack come tumbling out of the sky. With her sleek and quiet skills of navigating, she found him and brought help to him, transporting him to the medics in the church. She had removed his leather helmet, stuffed it in her rucksack and had forgotten about it until months later after Jack had healed and been smuggled into Spain.
He never saw her again but had dreamt of her long red hair and her kind, lovely amber eyes. It was these two things, he believed, that were the most powerful medicine he needed to heal.
Jack returned to Ireland 7 years later, married and had goslings of his own…
but he never forgot the kindness of Genevieve and always wondered what had become of her. 
He hoped she had made it through the war safely. 
On sunny, spring days, Jack will find himself gazing upward...to those times so long ago...
...the kindness and bravery of one special soul would never be forgotten.



Curious about that red head in the army hospital?
You can read Genevieve's part of the story here

'The Ballad of Runway O'Reilly' will be on display (and available for purchase) at 
The Sidney Fine Arts Show October 14th, 15th and 16th.
You can see more about the show here

A  few details about the piece...
Jack O'Reilly is needle felted over a wire armature with wire
in his wings to give them shape.
He is 13" high and 13" form wing tip to wing tip...

His helmet was handmade by me from a synthetic leather with tiny metal grommets  and
his scarf is a piece of eco dyed silk I made as well ...

Jack is adhered to a part of a vintage toy globe on top of a vintage
wooden thread spool, complete with a tiny compass.
I have signed and dated the piece on the bottom...

One of the most special parts of the piece is a scaled down copy of a real telegram
sent to my Great Aunt Thora by my Great Uncle Leonard.
It was at the end of the war while he was still in France.
It reads "All o.k. Thank God it's over. Chin up. All my love."
It has been treated by a form of glue to stiffen and protect it and is adhered into a slot in the globe ...




3 comments:

farmlady said...

Oh Kerry... he is, indeed, a handsome and brave goose. Thank you for the story and your talent as a felt artist.

Limner said...

Such magic! You have a treasure trove of memorabilia to draw on for illumination. Am off to read the other side of the tale. Thanks for such a lovely.

Jacquie said...

Now that's a great tale. Sounds like the rumblings of a book me thinks...