Sadly he never quite made it home to his native Donegal.
We recently ran an article on Fanad man Hughie McElwee and how, despite leaving his native Donegal in 1953 to travel the world, never forgot his roots in Ballyheerin.
Hughie passed away this week aged 94 leaving nothing but fond memories of all those touched by one of life’s true gentlemen.
In honour of his life, we have decided to republish the article which was kindly written for us by Hughie’s grand nephew Sean Matthews.
“Hughie McElwee hasn’t been home to his native Donegal in more than 60 years. But the 94 year old still keeps up to date with al that is happening in his native county. He is one of thousands of Donegal people who have lived their lives abroad.
“Since leaving his native Donegal in 1953 Hughie McElwee has never forgotten his Irish roots in the small village of Ballyheerin on the Fanad Peninsula.
“Despite travelling and working in mines from the Yellow Knife in Canada to becoming co-founder of Mt Isa Irish Club in Northern Queensland, Australia, Hughie is evidently reminded of his native Donegal by the family pictures and portraits which adorn his living room.
“Now living in Auckland, New Zealand, Hughie is still recovering from a hip replacement and heart pacemaker.
“Hughie recently celebrated his 94h birthday at home with friends and family who came from as far as the United States and England after spending over ten weeks in hospital describing it “as one to remember which helped me get things back on track.”
“An avid reader, Hughie enjoys a glass of red wine every evening and according to his best friend Jim Gallagher, also from Frosses, Donegal “Hughie’s is a homely Irish home which is always welcoming to anyone.”
“Daniel O’Donnell always visits when passing through which brings a sparkle to his eye but it is his generosity that Hughie is known for.
“Jim fondly remembers a moment in the early 1970s when “Hughie kindly paid two weeks rent for a homeless mother and her young family who met on the streets after being kicked out for rent arrears”.
“Born in 1919 into a family of eleven including five brothers and four sisters, Hughie first worked as a farm labourer in the North, before emigrating to Scotland and England where he joined the Royal Air Force in 1946 for six years.
“After a brief spell in Canada, his next journey took him to Australia which “in them days took five weeks and conditions out in sea were quite difficult compared to today,” says Hughie.
“After a brief stop in Perth and Sydney, Hughie along with other fellow travellers made their way to the Mt Isa mines where they built the Irish mining club from scratch. Hughie proudly shows me his inscription on a framed photo commemorating the building of Mt Isa.
“Emmigrating across the Tasman Sea to Auckland in the early 1960s was a bit of a culture shock and quite different to what it is today as Hughie jokingly says “I was quite lucky in them days because all the pubs closed at 6pm but I had a key to the nearby city hotel so me and my friends were ok.”
“Hughie never married nor returned to Donegal and now resides in a nursing home in Auckland, and is always keen to relate stories of his past days.
“He has one remaining sister Bridie who lives in Corby, Northamptonshire and both are in regular contact including a close network of Irish friends but is still “proud to be Irish and from Donegal.”