Galway emigrant celebrates 101st birthday at historic Michael Collins table

Angela Gawthorpe, Michael Murphy and (seated in wheelchair) Michael Porter (101)

Angela Gawthorpe, Michael Murphy and (seated in wheelchair) Michael Porter (101)

A UK-based Galway emigrant older than the Irish State itself has celebrated his 101st birthday at the same table that Michael Collins reputedly sat at with the first Irish Cabinet in 1922.

The celebration for Tynagh native Michael Porter was held on December 21 at the current home of the historic table in Morpeth, Northumberland, England.

Michael was born in Tynagh in 1921 and was taken into care at Nazareth House, Sligo at the age of four following the death of his mother.

He renewed contact with his family in Galway in 1941 and emigrated to England in 1943, working on civilian war work in the Midlands during World War Two.

He married a Northumberland girl in 1946 and moved north, working as a coal miner for 12 years and later as an insurance agent. He never revealed to his family that he had been raised in a religious institution in Ireland and both his wife and daughter died believing he had grown up at home with his family in Tynagh, unaware he had ever been in care.

Michael retraced his life story with a local historian, social worker and author Michael Murphy several years ago, leading him to acknowledge for the first time that he had been in care and “rid of the burden of concealment.”

It resulted in two books being published by Murphy about Michael’s early childhood in Nazareth House and those of other care home boys. Michael Porter now lives alone in the coastal village of Newbiggin-by-the-sea in Northumberland.

The century-old 3m long, dark oak table is owned by a daughter of a Cork-born physician Kathleen Casey-McPhillips, Angela Gawthorpe.

Dr Casey and her husband, Belfast-born Major James McPhilips, bought the table at an auction in Cork in 1965. It was advertised and sold as the actual table around which the first Irish cabinet had sat.

It was originally bought by someone else at the auction for £8 but recognising the table’s historical significance, Major McPhilips persuaded the buyer to sell it on to him for £30. It came with documentation authenticating its provenance.

It is thought the table may have originally come from the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, which is where Michael Collins and his committee drafted the Constitution of the Irish Free State.

Dr Casey qualified as a medical doctor in Cork in 1943, joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and rose to the rank of captain. She moved to England in 1969 with her family of nine and died in 2001.


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