Friday, June 06, 2008

Return visit to Craig-y-nos- Barbara O'Connell- 2008

(from left to right) Jean Griffiths, Barbara Paines and Jean Shakeshaft in the grounds of Craig-y-nos Castle, 1953.

Yesterday Barbara O’Connell ( nee Paines) returned to Craig-y-nos for the first time for over 50 years.

Barbara went with a friend and she was glad of her emotional support.
“I started shaking when I got here.”

She had to allow herself some minutes to compose herself before walking into the courtyard.

As she did the clock struck 10 o’clock.

Her day had begun early with catching the 6 am bus from Ely to Cardiff railway station, then taking the train to Neath and the bus up the Swansea Valley to Craig-y-nos.

“It was a journey my mother would have made every month for over a year. It really hit home how hard it must have been for her and also at the same time visiting my three sisters who were in a sanatorium in North Wales.”

Gareth from the castle took her around the wards.

He told her there were 10 beds in Ward 2 and she was able to correct him: "More like 18-20”.

She added:“There were seven beds in my corner of the ward,” and she was able to list the names of all the girls in that corner.

(I know it seems incredible now when you see the size of the ward to think they had 18-20 beds in there but that is what I remembered and when I checked my diaries that is the number I had written down. Since then other girls have confirmed it. However, when you see the size of the ward it seems very difficult to imagine how they squeezed 18-20 beds in there.)

The arrival of the black and white television for the Coronation in 1953 meant that one bed had to be removed, says Barbara. I remind her that the gift of an aquarium from “Friends of the Hospital” meant that another bed had to be removed to make way for that too.

Barbara found the grounds “ overgrown....they used to be immaculate when we were there.”

She spent some time alone sitting by the lake and this helped to put the past into perspective.

They had just completed their tour when there was a big thunderstorm .

“We sat in the marquee outside until it passed then we got the 2.15 bus home. I had seen what I wanted to see. I had had enough.”

Barbara is glad she made that return visit though it turned out to be more emotional than she had expected.

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