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John Quinn met his wife Olive in Blanchardstown sanatorium. The shy, young teacher and the confident beauty fell in love – letters flew between them and diary entries recorded heady times. In June 2001, they went for a trip to Rosslare to celebrate Olive’s recovery from a recent illness. Olive went for a swim in the sea as John watched fondly from the shore – it was the last time he would see her alive.
Since her death, John has tried to make sense of his devastating loss by weaving together a selection of letters, some written during their courtship, some written by John after Olive’s death, diary entries, anecdotes and poems to illuminate his account of their life together.
This book includes John’s first book about Olive, Sea of Love, Sea of Loss, and John’s recollections about and letters to Olive in the ten years since her death.
John Quinn is a much-loved broadcaster and radio producer who was the recipient of numerous prestigious radio awards during his twenty-five years with RT€. He is also an accomplished author and writer of fiction and non-fiction, including Sea of Love, Sea of Loss, an intimate and inspiring book, written as a tribute to his late wife Olive. A skilful and engaging storyteller, his children’s novel, The Summer of Lily and Esme, was described as an instant classic and won the 1992 Bisto Children Book of the Year. His most recent work, The Will to Win (co-written with Sean Boylan), was published in September 2006. John Quinn lives in Clarinbridge, Co. Galway.
Shakespeare wrote that ‘grief casts a thousand shadows’ and in Letters to Olive Sea of Love, Sea of Loss, Seed of Love, Seed of Life, John Quinn now reissues the original 2003 publication of his personal letters which followed the death of his wife Olive, recording the thousand and one ways in which he grieved his loss. The present volume however includes a new part written ten years later charting the years of painful change and adaption that followed but which have also brought seeds of hope and renewal for him.
It requires a particular kind of courage to disclose some of the deeply personal material to be found in those early letters. Even the renowned C.S.Lewis, who published a similar ground breaking work which became a standard in the field of bereavement, A Grief Observed, did so anonymously in order to protect himself from the inevitable questions that would follow.
John Quinn has chosen to reveal himself in order both to reflect on his own particular loss and as a means of helping others to comprehend theirs. In her preface Marie Murray describes the letters as a tribute to married love in all of its realities and the response of early readers to the first publication echoes the honesty they too found in his description of married life.
This latest publication with its poems, reflections and intimate thoughts framed within the context of love, faith and eternity provides both a testament to one man’s bereavement and also a source of hope and renewal for those similarly affected who take the time to read it.
- Fr Paul Clayton-LeaClogherhead, Co Louth
The Beginning of the Adventure
Of course, dear reader, you remember where you were on 22nd November 1963, when an assassin’s bullets echoed around the world? But can you remember where you were exactly two years later – 22nd November 1965? I can, because it was a defining day in my life.
I presented myself for admission to James Connolly Memorial Hospital, Blanchardstown, Dublin – affectionately known to its inmates as the Blanch – a sanatorium for the treatment of tuberculosis. TB had ravaged the country in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, before its advance was checked by developments in medicine and the building of a number of sanatoria like the Blanch. In his book, Ireland Since the Rising, Tim Pat Coogan notes how the slum-dwellers of Dublin gave much of the credit for this to Dr Noel Browne, TD – ‘the man that gave us the free TB’.
I was a few weeks short of my twenty-fourth birthday, a primary teacher, earnest and diligent in my work and study (three weeks earlier, I had been conferred with a BA degree, pursued through evening classes), but also gauche and not very wise in the ways of the world.
In the summer of 1965, I had been on a five-week study-tour in the United States with a group of teachers. It had been a marvellous experience – three weeks’ residency in New York State University and two weeks on tour – Niagara, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington. We were guests in the White House and the Capitol, meeting President Johnson, Bobby and Ted Kennedy, former President Eisenhower and many others – a once-in-a-lifetime experience that certainly helped me develop socially. I remember, on the flight home, trying to arrange a date with one of the women teachers, who told me I was very talented, but that I didn’t give of my talents enough and that I needed to be much more outgoing. I told her that, ‘at home’, I was very shy and had an inferiority complex. She refused to believe this. She also refused me the date (the ‘line was engaged’), which, of course, further punctured my self-esteem.
Come September, I resumed teaching and – true to form – began studying at night in UCD for a Higher Diploma in Education. Teaching and study – and very little social life. I developed a persistent cough that caused some annoyance, but little bother otherwise. So, when the mobile X-ray unit visited Earlsfort Terrace one November evening (an indication of how real the TB threat still was), more for fun than anything else, I joined a few friends to ‘have our photographs taken’. The fun quickly dissolved a week or two later when I was summoned for a second X-ray. A shadow had been detected on one lung and, even though I had no symptoms other than the cough and did not feel ill, the message was clear: I had TB and would have to spend some time in Blanchardstown. How much time was not clear. Three months? Six months? Nine? A year? It was all very uncertain and not a little unreal. It was a particularly hard blow for my mother as, a few weeks earlier, my father had been taken to hospital with a heart attack.
So, it was a somewhat bemused and nervous young man who was admitted to Ward 5, Unit 2, on that November evening, to join Dan, Jimmy, Ned, Arthur and Paddy – just in time for ‘rest hour’, from 5–6 p.m., followed by a ‘boiled egg tea’. It was a Monday evening, so the three young men who were ‘on grade’ were allowed go to the weekly film show after tea. It gave me the opportunity to discuss life in the Blanch with the older men – Ned and Paddy – and, in good dutiful teacher fashion, to write out notes on my Finglas students for the benefit of my successor.
Dr Monica Clay welcomed me to Blanchardstown. Across the Atlantic Ocean, her namesake, Cassius, would successfully defend his World Heavyweight Boxing crown, while I would – hopefully – sleep.
When we were young
I wonder did our paths
In Navan maybe
At a football match,
Or in a sweetshop
At a McMaster pageant?
Or later –
Did you pass
St Patrick’s on a bus
And catch a glimpse
Of a shy, awkward student
Who wondered if
He might meet and love
Someone like you?