Sligo teacher Gillian leaves behind a trove of cherished memories etched with her love of nature
Gillian McMorrow (née Regan), of Carrickleitrim, Manorhamilton (formerly Derryloughan, Tullaghan) was a teacher who taught in many Sligo schools and most recently, Carbury.
She passed away at University Hospital Galway, on March 31, 2023, following an illness.
She is survived by her beloved husband Jim, son Donovan and daughter-in-law Ciara, daughter Laura and her partner Yosef.
Predeceased by her adored father Oliver and brother Gordon, words can’t express the loss felt by the remainder of her Regan family: mother Mae; siblings Ollie, Jon, Barbour, Davy, Jean, Sandy, Alison, Karen, Colin, and Stuart; and extended clan of sister-in-laws, brother-in-laws, nephews and nieces, grandnephews and grandnieces.
My abiding memory of Gillian, or Gilly as our family affectionately call her, is of her wedding day, March 18, 1983. I was pageboy on the big day, along with my brother Stuart and our nephew Jason.
For a seven-year-old, the day had a magical feel to it; one that’s captured in a stunning photo taken by my sister Alison as Gilly and Jim exit Kinlough Church of Ireland as a married couple, emerging through a kaleidoscope of confetti into their new shared world.
Were there a Lovers’ Almanac of 1983, this image would appear on the front cover.
The reception was held in Duncarberry Lodge, Tullaghan – a place Gilly held dear as it was something of a halfway house when she worked there as a teenager.
Here she forged her fast friendship with Celine Connolly, sister of Maureen who would become our eldest brother Ollie’s wife.
Duncarberry Lodge acted as a launching pad from which these two Leitrim beauties would, after a day’s work, head into Bundoran to turn heads.
They would often arrive on the back of Ollie’s or Jon’s or Barbour’s motorbikes. Jim didn’t stand a chance.
He nearly missed that chance though. After their first encounter in The Astoria Ballroom, he asked Gilly for her phone number before she headed back to college in Dublin.
The number he rang five times was answered by a Chinese family who threatened to call the police if he rang again.
She hadn’t intentionally given Jim the wrong number, and, realising her mistake she tracked down his home address on Main Street, Manorhamilton, and sent him a Valentine’s card with her correct digits. Jim still has the card.
In the ensuing 40 years they built together a beautiful life, with their home atop a hill in Carrickleitrim, just outside Manorhamilton.
Gilly transformed that empty field – which contained only a fairy-ring the day they put down the foundations of their new home – into one of the finest gardens in the northwest.
That garden became many things to Gilly, but it was fundamentally a sanctuary where she entered a deeply healing and reciprocal relationship with Mother Nature: one where they both grew.
When the hearse pulled up that winding lane on Saturday afternoon, it wasn’t just Gilly’s family and friends that came out to guide her home.
Silence descended and for a moment the birdsong became a chorus, as Jacob’s Ladder broke through the clouds to illuminate the trees, shrubs, flowers, and the lush lawns that Gilly had in turn sustained and taken sustenance from.
It was a reassuring experience: as devastating as Gilly’s passing from this world was, the world was telling us this is how things pass.
Gilly, like her mother, contained the ability to manifest both plant and animal life. (It would be hard to argue against the point that there was a great deal more animal in the 12 creatures that Mae and Oliver Regan brought into this world, than the two refined beings Gilly and Jim are responsible for.)
Donovan, Gilly loved you and your gentle, modest spirit. And, yes, she worried about you too much. And she was sooooooooo happy that you met and married Ciara because she knew she never had to worry about you again.
Ciara you are everything Gilly could have asked for in a daughter-in-law and she was thrilled for you both about the pending arrival of her first grandchild, due in just two weeks from the day she died.
It goes without saying that Gilly would have been an incredible grandmother. As my sister Jean said, Gilly didn’t seek to bring children into her world, she inhabited theirs. She met them as equals and they loved her for it.
Laura, Gilly was so proud of you, your adventures, and your life as an artist. She greatly admired powerful women, particularly those who did what they had to do with quiet determination and grace, just like you.
She was grateful that she and Jim played a part in creating the woman you have become. And she had a sweet spot for Yosef too.
Gilly would have appreciated the church’s ambiance on the day of her funeral, adorned as it was with local wild flora. As Jim noted, there isn’t a plant that grows in Irish soil that Gilly couldn’t identify.
While members of the family gathered to make it worthy of her final goodbye, we remembered the many times Gilly had imprinted her elegant style on the church for occasions ranging from family weddings to funerals,
Easter and Christmas services, and of course her cherished Harvest Thanksgiving. Mum, who passed on to her eldest daughter the art of decorating this church for every occasion, give it the final touches and her blessing.
Mum, along with Jim, Donovan and Laura, we’re thinking especially of you at this time. You’ve now outlived two of your beloved twelve children (Olly, Jon, Gilly, Barbour, Davy, Jean, Sandy, Alison, Karen, Gordon, Colin, and Stuart) and your force-of-nature husband Oliver.
For those unfamiliar with this little church of ours, the clock on its tower is dedicated to our beautiful brother Gordon, who died in 2002. Dad passed on to his eternal magical mayhem in 2011. Now they are joined by Gillian.
A big family brings with it countless blessings but too many goodbyes. And in this time of loss, we remember Sandy’s late husband Terry, and Barbour’s late wife Bernie, and all who have gone before us.
Gilly knew she was dying. I now realise she had accepted that on levels her family were not yet ready or able to.
She spent enough time in intimate commune with nature to understand when a living thing’s essence was departing.
She spoke these past weeks of the wonderful circles of friends she was blessed with throughout her life: Sunday School and Church, Sligo Grammar, the Astoria crew of her youth, the Church of Ireland Teacher Training College in Rathmines, her teaching colleagues, her many hillwalking, tennis, and yoga friends, and her wide circle of extended cousins.
She may not have gotten to say goodbye to all of you in the way she would have liked, but that’s ok because her smile every time she saw you said more than a goodbye ever could.
Rest in peace Gilly. You will remain forever in our hearts.
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