The ballad of Kathleen and Stan: A sadly abandoned courtship

My great-aunt’s father strongly disapproved, so Stan left Kathleen a parting gift

The book of Wordsworth poetry Stan gave Kathleen held a secret

The book of Wordsworth poetry Stan gave Kathleen held a secret

 

Among the many dusty and dog-eared books that clamber across our shelves, there is an especially curious edition of the Poetical Works of William Wordsworth.

The first thing one sees upon opening the book is an inscription, dated October 2nd, 1909, which reads: “To Kathleen from Stan.”

We know that “Kathleen” is our great-aunt Kathleen O’Flaherty, but all we know of Stan comes from a story our granny told us when we were young.

The story goes that Kathleen was being courted by a man named Stan, but her father strongly disapproved of the match and the courtship was abandoned. As a parting gift, Stan left Kathleen a volume of Wordsworth’s poems, which concealed another, more conspicuous token of his love: the heart of the book had been hollowed out to hold a box of jewellery.

In the final pages are the faint, handwritten words: “Till you exchange for Heaven that happy ground.”

The words echo the last line of Wordsworth’s St Catherine of Ledbury, a sonnet that recounts the medieval legend of Lady Catherine Audley. According to the legend, Audley left her home at the behest of a heavenly vision, which decreed that she should wander the land and could only settle where she heard the miraculous sound of church bells ringing by themselves.

The centre of the poetry book had been hollowed out to hide a jewellery box as a love token inside
The centre of the poetry book had been hollowed out to hide a jewellery box as a love token inside

Kathleen O’Flaherty also wandered, but her travels brought her in the direction of more discordant sounds.

She joined the nursing corps of the British army and was dispatched to Europe shortly after Christmas in 1914. According to her file, Kathleen took “charge of a group of small wards, where the most acute surgical cares [were] nursed”, and surgeons held “a most high opinion of her worth”.

Upon the conclusion of the war, Kathleen continued to wander, swapping the military medical stations of Europe for the sugar cane plantations of Oahu, Hawaii. There she continued her work as a nurse in a more serene environment, up until the morning of December 7th, 1941, when Pearl Harbour came under attack from the Japanese, and Kathleen’s experience in a war zone was once more called into action.

She was to spend the rest of her days more peacefully in her adopted island home, and is buried in Oahu cemetery in Honolulu.

We don’t know if Kathleen ever met Stan again, but, in Hawaii at least, she seems to have found her happy ground.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.