Courtney Family // Vancouver, B.C. & County Dublin

Contributed by Eilis Courtney

I contribute to this project in honour of my family.

My paternal grandparents were John Courtney (b. 1881) and Margaret Sweeney (b. 1889) who both came from Northern Ireland. John graduated top of his high school class in Newry, spoke five languages, was an amateur musician with a great sense of humour, and with his wife Margaret, also an amateur musician, raised 10 children in Drogheda. My maternal grandparents were Matthias (Matt) Derham and Elizabeth (Eilis) Kelly. Matt was born in Skerries in 1883 and was a carpenter by trade. He joined the Irish Volunteers and was mobilized in 1916, but missed the action in Dublin as the roads were blocked, so he and his comrades could not gain entry to the city before the surrender. For his involvement, he was interned in Frongoch Prison in Wales where he spent some months before returning home. He was married in 1919 to Eilis, a teacher of Irish heritage from Birkenhead, England.

In October 1920, the Black and Tans were on the rampage in the Skerries area and they called to my grandparent’s house. Matt managed to escape and was put up at a safe house until he escaped through Canada to New York, where he worked as a carpenter on the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Eilis and their newborn child went to England to stay with her aunt until Matt and she were reunited in 1921. They returned to Skerries and raised seven children – four boys and three girls. Matt was posthumously awarded the Easter Week 1916 Commemorative Medal.

My father, Michael (Kevin) Courtney was born in Drogheda in 1920, the fourth in a family of five boys and five girls. My mother Catherine (Kay) Derham was born in Skerries in 1926, the fifth in her family. They were married in 1953 and raised five children: John (1954), Kevin (1956), me (1959), Deirdre (1964) and David (1965). My childhood memories are of games with my siblings, laughter and music throughout our house and fun summer holidays. In the ‘60s we vacationed in Ireland, making day trips to Drogheda to visit relatives and most summers renting a house in Skerries for a month. In the ‘70s, because my father imported shoes from Italy, we were fortunate to enjoy wonderful holidays in northern Italy. In 1979, my brother John emigrated to Canada with his wife, Geraldine. I followed them to Vancouver in 1988, originally just for a year but I ended up having a successful career at The University of British Columbia for over 30 years. I didn’t look for the Irish in B.C. when I first arrived, but the desire to connect with my culture was strong so since 2008, I have been involved with the Irish community in B.C. through various organisations. I love my adopted home but my heart will always be in Ireland.

Eilis Courtney, 2020.