On the 9th May 2019, I received a very exciting email through this website from Cathryn Gilmore, none other than Kathleen Goligher’s granddaughter! It’s amazing how a little website like this can connect people around the world to a long-forgotten story. To hear from William’s descendants was so exciting and then to find Kathleen’s relations too…I’m speechless.
Email: May 9th 2019 (with added notes from subsequent conversarion)
Cathryn: I was very close to her (Kathleen) – I was born in her house and we lived nearby so there was hardly a day when I didn’t see her. She died at home in 1972 after a battle with breast cancer and she didn’t speak about her global fame. Unfortunately, we ( the grandchildren) didn’t know anything about the spirit connection until by chance I saw an article about Nan in the News Letter (Belfast newspaper) when I was a university student. By that time she was very ill and my mother didn’t want me to quiz her about it. I was given the strong impression by my mother that Kate’s history held some kind of sadness and regret for her and it was painful to bring it up. I can’t say whether that was to do with William’s death but I suppose it might well have been. She was a very sweet, kind, generous woman and she must have been shocked by the death of a man who was so close to her for so many years. I only wish I had known earlier about her story because I would have asked more questions.
Kathleen and my grandfather, George lived in a beautiful house in Cultra which they called Nacoma apparently after one of the spirits that Nan had contact with.
My mother and aunt did give me some information about the Goligher circle but I don’t think she carried on sittings much after her children were born. I was amused to see on Wikipedia that she had been elevated to Lady Donaldson which is incorrect! She lived on Lady Road (?) so I suppose that was the confusion.
She was an absolutely lovely lady. Although I don’t think I believe all the spirit contact I cannot believe that she would have knowingly been fraudulent in any way.
I am not sure how much I could tell you about Nan that you don’t already know but I would be happy to talk to you if you felt I could be of any help…
And so, we spoke. I admit I called her as soon as I saw her email, hoping she wouldn’t think me pushy or overly-keen. Cathryn was generous enough to let me publish notes on our conversation here. This is not word-for-word, but a precis of our conversation. Let me say that this was one of the most exciting moments in my career as a writer and journalist. I can’t say entirely why but I hope all will become clear. Most importantly, I learned that Kathleen Goligher was a kind, humble, generous grandmother and friend. I knew she was a good person – I sensed as much – but I’m intrigued that such a guileful young woman became so self-deprecating as an older woman and, at the risk of annoying spiritualists, I think it’s a telling relief that she let go of her supposed paranormal powers after the birth of her children. I think she was deeply affected by William’s death and she tired of going along with other people’s demands that she continue with her performances. I suppose I’m saying that she was a young woman who enjoyed the attention her ‘powers’ brought but she went on to understand the damage her seances inflicted:
Cathryn: I was very close to her as a child, visiting her house almost every day because it was near my school in Bangor. I used to swim in Pickie Pools and spent a lot of time around Pickie Rocks as a child so it’s strange to think of William ending his life there when it has such happy memories for me.
One day when I was at university, I saw Kathleen’s (Kate’s) picture in the paper and recognised it straight away and asked my mum about it. She gave me the impression it wasn’t something to discuss with Nan at the time.
Kathleen died soon after of breast cancer as a woman in her mid 70s. I wish I had asked her more questions and it’s more of a regret than ever now I’m learning more about her. I had no idea that she was this well known! But talking to her about her past…it wasn’t the thing to do.
I do remember as a child, looking at these old photographs in a box of faces and apparitions and strange visions and I wanted to ask about them but was told not to. In fact, I did ask her about them and she would say not to worry about them. I just wish I’d asked more.
Kathleen married a medical herbalist who became her husband, Mr Donaldson. He was a handsome, interesting character with a flair for the dramatic. He opened a medicinal herbalist shop next to another man who did the same so you had two herbalist shops side-by-side and by all accounts they were very successful, lifting Kathleen out of the relative poverty of her childhood. The couple lived with their growing family in a lovely, big house and her father moved in with them too. He lived until his 90s and was well-loved. He was a gregarious and well-respected man with a big personality.
Kathleen was a popular, warm, humble, kind, loving, honest, decent woman who never made any reference in her later years to any spiritual powers. She was generous and never once referred to her spiritualist past.
ANDY: This is barely a reflection of my conversation with Cathryn who was, to my huge relief, wonderfully generous and understanding. I didn’t make notes as we spoke, so the above is from memory but I can paraphrase by saying that Cathryn was delighted to find some new evidence of her grandmother’s fascinating story but was at the same time, surprised to discover that the kind, fun, uncomplicated woman she knew and loved was part of a very foggy and emotionally charged story of duplicity, worldwide fame, infamy, derision, adulation and suicide. In short, a decent grandmother who loved her family and friends hid a secret and ultimately, tragic, story.
As an author, I suddenly feel even more pressure to do justice to this story.
Marriage Certificate showing Kathleen’s somewhat shaky handwriting: