Nonie Hardiman, Doonane - (Part 5)
The Travelling shop:
In my young days there were 2 travelling shops – Cheevers in Athenry and Christy Mannion from Barnaderg. We always bought from Christy. He was a lovely man and he arrived on Saturday evenings. He had all the news from his stops along the way and discussed the latest political news and music events with all his customers. He stocked the 4 stone or 8 stone bags of flour which were heavy. His helper was Tommy Boyle and Tommy often carried the flour into the house while Christy waited at the “road gate”. Catherine Fahy used to leave her thatched house in Doonane and cross a field to meet the travelling shop. She was a single lady and loved to hear the latest fashion and dance news. Christy danced the “twist” with Tommy Boyle in the van so Catherine would know the “new” dances that were in fashion. He was an uncle of Celine Hession, the famous Salthill dancing teacher and grandfather to our great Gaelic footballer Michael Donnellan.
Most families kept a pig. The pigs were fed on potatoes and crushed oats and barley. Johnny Lally gave me a bainbh once and I reared him until he was a fine big pig. It was such a sad day when he was taken to the Athenry Mart. I got 17 pounds for that pig but was very sad to have to sell him. One pig was always kept for killing. That was a big day on the farm but I hated to hear the squeeling of the poor pig. John Clancy was usually asked to kill the pig when he was tied on a cart. Afterwards the pig was cleaned out and scraped and hung on a ladder overnight and the blood drawn into buckets. Next morning the work began of boning and cutting into sides of bacon coated with salt. The salt had to be rubbed into the pieces to preserve the meat. Sugar was added to the ham to give it a sweeter taste. The blood was mixed with oaten meal and a special recipe to be made into the most delicious puddings. It was the custom around here to give away some of the meat (ribs or a pudding) to the neighbours. They returned the compliment when they killed their own pig. The pig meat was stored in salt in a large press and supplied enough meat for most of the year. My mother used to often give a piece of bacon to the Travelling women when they came begging to the house. Mrs Cawley and Mrs Warde were two nice women that I remember.
The last Sunday in July was “Reek Sunday”. People from every Parish set off to Croagh Patrick for the Annual pilgrimage. We all brought strong shoes and a stick and many a time it rained for the whole duration of the climb and a fog covered the view. I climbed it four times in my twenties and Peter climbed it seventeen years in total. Afterwards, we went to Campbell’s for the dinner and came home stiff and tired but with a sense of achievement at having descended safely as the “coming down” was always much worse than the climb to the top.
Salthill for the holidays:
In July or August, if the weather was looking good, my mother would take the brown suitcase from under the bed and announce “I think I’ll go to Salthill for a week”. It was unusual for farmers to take holidays but my mother loved to set off on the bus and enjoy a week beside the sea. She took the oldest child with her and boarded the bus at Killaclogher bridge. The case contained clothes for the week ahead but also homemade brown bread and prints of newly churned butter and fresh eggs. At The Square the case was left in at Welsh’s pub while she visited the shops following which she collected the case and got the bus to Salthill and stopped opposite the Church. She stayed at the same guesthouse every year and it was run by a widow dressed in black clothes called Mrs. Synnott and her housekeeper Mary Ellen Owens. The garden backed on to the sea and the guests often walked to the sea from the dining room. The road had not been built along the seafront at this stage so the Promenade started at Seapoint. Next door to Synnotts there was a grocery shop, Curley’s and there was a constant flow of delivery bicycles running errands to the townspeople. My mother loved to look out at the boats and ships passing and at the flashing light of the Lighthouse. She knew there was a place called Tawin at the other side of the bay but it seemed a long way off. The food was good and the rooms comfortable at Synnotts and many of the same people came every year. Every day she attended Mass in Christ the King Church and Rosary in the evenings. Dozens of nuns attended Mass and Rosary and they wore the long black clothes and veils with large Rosary beads dangling as they walked. During the day she walked the promenade and dipped her feet in the sea water. Her cousin Jack Moran would sometimes arrive from Tuam and they caught up with all the news while Jack rubbed Nivea cream on his nose much to the amusement of my mother. Galway was small then and she often met other women and they had long chats. The evenings were spent in the sitting room chatting, coffee was served but my mother never drank it and then it was off to bed. The lights shone in from the Sarsfield Hotel across the road. On Friday Willie arrived on the bus to spend two nights in Salthill. Only then did they walk down the street to The Bal pub where he had a “half one” and she took a sherry. The few days were relaxed and a visit to O’Leary’s and a walk through the gardens near the Hanger Ballroom was always pleasant . They took the Roscommon bus home feeling refreshed after their holiday.
Cooking and baking on the open hearth:
The open hearth was the way people cooked in my younger days and it was the 1960’s before we got a range in the house. The first range was a black Stanley 8 and this made life much easier. Before that everything was cooked on the big open fire of turf and logs. A crane hung across the fireplace which held the handles for the various pots. Big round heavy pots were used to boil potatoes for the family and what was left over got fed to the hens and pigs. Baking bread was done in a cast iron oven. The oven had 3 legs and the red coals from the fire were placed under the oven and on top of the lid. My mother was a brilliant baker of brown bread and I also loved to bake the brown bread. Toasting was made by holding the slices of loaf with a long handled fork near the fire until the bread was toasted. My mother made pancakes, currant cake, scones, marble cake and treacle cake and fruit cakes for special occasions.
Favourite everyday foods in our house in bygone days:
Cally – made with new potatoes – it was really delicious. The new potatoes were peeled, boiled and mashed with chopped scallions, salt and a little milk. The mash was piled on the plate with a “well” in the middle and a big knob of homemade butter placed in the middle. This was eaten on its own.
Pancakes: These were made by my mother on the open hearth in a cast iron pan – and not just on Shrove Tuesday. They were made with flour and eggs. They were about an inch thick and smothered with butter. She used to arrive out to the hay field with jugs of tea and pancakes and we relished the rest under a tree and the pancakes!
Brown soda bread was made every day. Wholemeal flour, white flour, salt and buttermilk and correct kneading produced delicious bread. White bread, egg, little sugar and buttermilk also made lovely scones, raisins were added and these were eaten covered in butter and sometimes warm!
Currant cake – white bread with added raisins, sultanas or currants – again eaten with butter .
The dinner table: Besides bacon and cabbage and the usual food, the following also arrived on the kitchen table from time to time.
A pig’s head, pig’s tongue, lamb tails, herrings, eels. The pig’s head was boiled, the lamb tails were fried as were the herrings and the eels.
Mushrooms. In August, a trip to the field yielded the button mushrooms. They were a treat and tasted wonderful, they were often just left on the fire or on the range with a pinch of salt and eaten immediately. Otherwise they were fried in the pan.
A salmon poached illegally from Killaclogher river was a rare treat when the river was “lit” by my father and a few neighbours – despite the presence of a bailiff in the area. Care was taken that the Garda was not in the area inspecting dog licences or carrying out a census. If this was the case the fish was hidden.
The well was a very important asset to have in a field near the house. Several trips a day were made through the gate to what was called the “well field”. A small well was a source of clean spring water, it wasn’t fenced in and had a few stones and a flat step down to the water and it was safe to drink as there was no silage or manures to pollute underground water in those times. Two buckets would be brought to the well and filled and carried, one in each hand, to the house and left in the kitchen for use throughout the day. For other purposes water was filled from a barrel beside the shed which was softer “rain water” used for washing. For drinking water a trip to “Tobar Geal” was made and this was known to be very good water and the well never dried up no matter how warm the weather got in Summer. People came from near and far and still do to this day.