Philomena Gallagher is an exceptional woman. She had a basic education in Portadown – primary school followed by two years at the ‘Tech, hoping to enter a nursing career. But that ended abruptly when her mother fell ill and she had to go home and care for her.
Then, she spent several years packing shelves in a grocery store in town, followed by another stint in a supermarket.
Yet, today, the effusive grandmother of seven has a Bachelor of Social Sciences Degree from Queen’s University and a Master’s Degree from Trinity College, Dublin, to her credit. She has beaten cancer. And she has just published her first novel – a gripping tale, called ‘Island Woman’, about ‘doomed’ love, set in the remote island of Arranmore (population around 500) off the Donegal coast, where Philomena spent a year of her life.
“Interesting, to say the least,” said Philomena, who lives at Ashley Heights and whose love for life has been enhanced as she counts her lucky stars with the cancer under control. And a follow-up to her novel is on the way, with the first one now available on-line, and the ‘hard ’copy due in a few days.
She isn’t giving away the plot of ‘Island Woman’ – just that it runs through the 1930s and war years. Her publicity teaser says that Kachelle Harkin and Dairmuid Charlie McGinley, both islanders, have a love that it deep and pure, yet doomed.
The cover show a couple entwined in one another’s arms. It’s aimed at the Irish-American market, and the prologue (exclusive to the Portadown Times) begins – ‘Below the grey Atlantic sky lies a crescent band of rugged land, the Island of Arranmore, Co Donegal. Far to the west, great rollers of misty sea constantly demand attention and roar upon its beaches and staunch rocks. Crying gulls shriek and soar, attempting to ride the white horses on the roaring tide’.
Philomena has been an avid reader since she was seven, and during the supermarket years, she underwent an adult Outreach Education programme, which led to a Certificate of Distinction in Women’s Studies and a tutoring position with the writers’ group at Pinebank in Brownlow.
As a result, she had several short stories, plays and poems published, as well as six CDs of her skilled story telling. And she wrote the authorised autobiography of the acclaimed Irish trumpet player Johnny Carroll – Erin’s own’ Man with the Golden Trumpet’, entitled ‘O Mein Papa’. “It sold very well,” she said. “And I also collected my two degrees along the way – a Bachelor of Sociology in Women’s Studies at Queen’s and the Masters as TCD. It was all very satisfying.”
And she was proud that, coming from a Catholic background that the Presbyterian Church in Dublin gave her a generous grant to help her through Trinity.
It all gave her the taste to pen her first novel, and she set it in Arranmore as her mother-in-law Rosie Gallagher hails from there and Philomena spent a whole year on the island – “the quiet and solitude is so different from Portadown.”
Portadown, though, will feature in the follow-up with a male hero.
‘Island Woman’ is a tale of heart-warming, heart-breaking love, loyalty, pain and loss, and is published by Harrison Print in Bridge Street. To order a copy, telephone Philly Books/Harrison Print on 3833 0252, or get it on-line at email@example.com