Mary was the oldest child of the Forde family in Cuddoo West. Her sister-in-law Mary, wife of the late Tommy, still lives there while their sons Paraic and Tomás and daughters Anne-Marie Courtney, Nuala Dooley, Connie Coppinger and Pauline also live in this general area. Mary’s sister Freda lives in London and her brother PJ lives in Leixlip. She writes her about her growing-up in the area which still holds a special place in her heart.
From 1945 she spent time in Naas and London but decided to return to the west. When Smyth’s land in Colmanstown was being divided and the big house demolished her future husband, Ned Farrell from Kilconnell, was with the Land Commission crew as was her brother Joe. Joe subsequently became famous as the father of the Flying Fordes – basket balling trio of girls for Blarney Wildcats: Annette, Caroline and Miriam. All Irish internationals but sadly Miriam and Annette have passed away. It was Joe who brought Ned Farrell back to the Forde house “gambling” as they used call 25. Ned met Mary and that was that. They shared the same interests GAA, Irish history, Irish music etc. Ned died in 1992 and at that time they were married for 44 years. They had eight children and the second eldest, Emmet, who coincidentally was born in Cuddoo, lined out at right half forward for Galway in the 1971 All-Ireland Senior Football Final. Mary and Ned’s family also include Eamonn, Annette, Patricia, Pearse, Terence, Theo and Ethna.
Mary’s grand uncle, Tomas Rua Mac Giollarnaith (Forde), was heard singing Cill Aodhain (Anois Teacht an Earraigh etc by Raftery) as he worked in Monivea Castle as a gardener. Douglas Hyde, a landlord’s son and later to be Ireland’s first President, was there on a visit, heard him singing and wrote it down. This was where it originated – see “Love Songs of Connacht” by Douglas Hyde published 1893.
This is part of Mary’s life story, in her own words. – December 2019.
MARY FARRELL (Neé Forde) from Cuddoo.
“I look back with gratitude, onward with hope and upward with confidence in the Lord”.
The earliest memory I have is when I am with my father, feeding a little pet bonham out in the barn. I think now it was 1928 when my brother, Joe, was born. I would have been about three at the time. Shortly after that I remember people going away in a horse trap with our new baby. It must have been to a christening in Newcastle Church.
My maternal grandmother, Winifred King née Cunnane, had been an only child in Currafaireen. Her mother was Coleman. Winnifred married Thomas King from Lisiniskea – he ‘married into the place’. My mother was born on December 14th 1893. My parents married in Abbeyknockmoy on the last day of February 1923. I think it was on a Shrove Tuesday. I don’t know how they met – maybe when he was visiting cousins in the Abbeyknockmoy area.
Born on April 25th 1925. I was baptised on the first Sunday in May in Newcastle Church. My godmother was Mary Kelly later to marry Tomas Finnerty in Killaclogher. She only died in 1948. My godfather was Michael Forde. He was married to Katie O’Keefe and he died youngish on August 15th 1930. He was my godfather and the first corpse I ever saw. I didn’t sleep for three weeks after that as I couldn’t understand the brown robes and he looked so different from how I remembered him. I was never too fond of him after I overheard him say that I was getting too much of my own way and should be in bed! At that time the remains were taken straight from the house to the graveyard and usually the priest came and said Mass in the house for the deceased. The neighbours were remarking how my uncle always went to Lady’s Well – cycling in the later years but he had walked there in his younger days – and even though he had been very ill for some time it was on August 15th that he died. His youngest daughter, Bridie Forde, was only two and a half at the time of his death.
I must add all of my mother’s brothers and sisters went to the States. That is except for Mary who died suddenly when she was in her teens and a baby also called Winifred. Margaret emigrated to America, married Hans Harr and died young. Pat went to England and was killed in the 1914-18 war. Tom in America got pneumonia travelling from San Francisco to New York. He died the week my mother got married. The only one to come back from America was William who, being the eldest son, inherited the farm in Currafaireen. He had been in Montana. He married Julia Nestor from Turloughmore. John, who had been working on the farm left for America then. He used to write long witty letters to me at Christmas and came back to visit for the first time after 27 years. Delia settled in America where she had married John Deegan, a builder. They had one daughter, Mary who married Jack McCabe. Delia survived the years of the Great Depression by taking in orphans and fostering them. She had a friend Bridget Kennedy who had been a neighbour of hers in Currafaireen and every Sunday they had a phone call in Irish until Bridget died in her sixties. On 28th November 1938 Uncle Stephen was killed in a work explosion in America. While his mother was dying at home in Corrafaireen she kept calling ‘Stephen’. She died on December 3rd and then we found out about Stephen’s death about three weeks later. Martin married a Cork woman, Kathleen Regan. Theirs was the first white wedding I heard of and they had two bridesmaids. Martin died from measles aged 41. They had two children Winifred and Bobby. This Winifred married an Anderson and they had two boys and lived in 3987 Army St. in San Francisco. Winifred died in April 2016.
Seeds on Nationalism.
Of the common people there is a definite tradition that many went to join the French from the district between Monivea and Galway. My great grandfather (Sean Mór macGiollarnáth) who was twelve years old in 1798, and lived then at Corrafaireen between Monivea and Abbeyknockmoy, saw men of the district go north armed with scythe blades to join the French. There was some revolutionary activity around the area in the 1920s also:
During the month of June, 1920, 2nd Lieutenant King and Volunteer Keilly, Roundfield, took part in an ambush at Killatoher, about two miles from Monivea, on the Athenry -Mountbellew road. They were the only two members from Monivea Company to take part in the ambush. The other members present were John J. Cullinane, Patrick Cullinane, and Thomas Kennedy, Cussane Company; Michael and Patrick Burns (brothers) and Patrick Healy, Newcastle, Monivea, Darby Forde, Robert Lally, Peter Dolly, now deceased, Michael Jordan, Killacloher, Monivea, Skeahana Company, Walter Costello and Waiter Coppinger, Skeahana Company, Patrick Ruane of Menlough Company. The latter and Darby Ford were in charge of ambush. The ambush was prepared for a party of R.I.C. who were expected to accompany a boycotted farmer, named Houtchinson, of Ballybane, Skeahana. The R.I.C. eventually retreated under safe cover. One rifle and four bicycles were recovered by the I.R.A. (attacking party). The attack was carried out at great risk, as lorries containing military might pass at any moment. A large number of military were stationed in Athenry, only seven miles away. The arrest of Captain Dolly, 1st Lieutenant Kelly and 2nd Lieutenant King of Monivea Company was ordered immediately after, but all escaped or evaded arrest until after the Truce. (Ref: Bureau of Military History, WS1727, page 6),
My father’s mother was Mary Lally from Abbey and she died young. He also had a brother, Martin, who died the year my father walked to the Broadstone on his way to England at the age of 15 and a half. My grandfather, Martin Forde, was the man referred to by Douglas Hyde as Mairtin Rua O’Giollarnath who Hyde met en route to Monivea Castle. He was married twice. His first wife was Reagan from Tobber Geal, Doonane. My father had two step brothers William in America and Peter in England. His second wife was Anne Lally, my grandmother. Then my father had a sister Margaret who married Michael Treacy in Ryehill and one brother Mike married to Katie O’Keefe. They lived on the home place in Doonane. He had cousins in Briarfield called Molloys. One of them, Mary Delia was a teacher and she visited our house a few times with Delia Treacy. He also had Finnerty cousins in Gleannaveil and Mary Bridget and a couple of her brothers came a couple of times. When I was 14 I was sent to represent the family at a funeral in that house. Molly Forde came with me. The dead man was Stiofáin. He was buried in old Abbey cemetery. The first time I was in that cemetery was for my grandmother’s (Winnifred King) funeral on December 5th 1938. She was buried in the new cemetery but my grandfather, Thomas, who died young, was buried in the old Abbey.
My father, Pat as he was known, was 27 years in England. He used to say ‘England is a quare place’. He worked most of the time in the Sanky Sugar Factory in Liverpool.He had a medal which exempted him from conscription in the 14-18 war and a nice watch. The back of the watch would open and I can’t remember what was written on it but he got it when he left the factory as well as a photo of the entire staff. I hope the watch is still in the family.
Jack Gilligan told me once that some of the money sent home by my father to be lodged in the bank in Athenry went to ‘fortune’ his sister Margaret. He also bought a trap for his father to get to Mass. Anyway when he came back from England he bought the house and land at Cuddoo from Jimmy Quinn and Biddy. This old couple spoke Irish and the deal included that they would have a residence for life in the house and Biddy – who had serious arthritis – would have a seat to Mass on Sundays. Old men used to come to visit them. Biddy died first on February 14th 1938. My father had gone card playing at Carey’s when she died suddenly. Biddy was a great knitter and I learned to knit even before I went to school. She was 65 and we missed her more than my grandmother as she lived with us and shared with me brooches and necklaces which she had got from her nieces in America. Jimmy, her husband lived until January 16th 1940. They are buried in Doonane though there is no grave marker to be seen.
My father’s family lived in the next village, Doonane and we were very familiar with them. All that family went to school in Garbally N.S. and then they emigrated to England in their late teens. Kitty was the only one to come back. Kitty was reared down in Ballinamona and we didn’t see much of her til later years. She married Tom Broderick and lived in Cloonkeenkerrill.
When my youngest brother, PJ, was born in May 1939 Jimmy Quinn got a bad turn and I had to go for the priest. My brothers and sister were in school, my mother and baby in bed and I had to run to the bog to tell my father. I believe Jimmy was anointed in all 12 times before he died. He was in his 80s and used to wear size 12 shoes. I often heard him saying ‘0h Lord, leave me the use of my feet’! He had a cousin Jimmy Burke who lived near Kilbeg Wood, below the Doonane graveyard. Burke used to tell us that he was in Turloughmore when a faction fight began and he came for Jimmy Quinn on horseback to help him as they were both good faction fighters, so the scéal was told by Jimmy anyhow.
My grandmother King used to come and stay in our house whenever there was a baby born. She died in December 1938 aged 78. Freda is my only sister and the only thing I remember about her arrival on October 30th 1930 is of Katie Forde coming and toast being made on a long fork and it was brought upstairs for Mother. Katie was my aunt-in-law, a sister of Malachy O’Keefe. He was a builder who built some houses with balconies in Cleaghmore, Ballinasloe and he also built Ballinamona Park and O’Keefe’s Terrace in Tuam.
School days in Tiaquin.
I started school in May 1931. I had been kept at home until Tom was ready to go. I was well able to read at age 5 as my mother used to get a neighbour, Freddy Jordan, to bring me schoolbooks which the infant class used. Mother was a good Irish speaker and so were all the family on my mother’s side. They lived about ten miles away in those days and did not visit too often. They usually came between Christmas and the New Year. They came in a sidecar but I remember my Uncle William coming on horseback a few times.
Tiaquin N.S. was built in 1925, the year I was born. It was a two teacher school with Mr. Rohan and Miss Fleming, (later O’Boyle). It was a mile and a half around the road but when we were older we could take short cuts through the fields which made the journey at least 10 minutes shorter. Tom didn’t like school. I did, until I was put into first class in July and deprived of márla and blackboards and ball frames.
We went to school through the fields and the bogs and often jumped rivers to get into Gullane’s plantation which was a short-cut to Keogh’s shop. Sometimes we had to bring a sod of turf if the school supply had been short around the end of March. I got slapped a few times for being late. I never got slapped for lessons. I suffered from bronchitis and in my early years I missed a lot of school. The teacher, Mr. Rohan, used to send for me if the Inspector was coming so I must have been considered ‘brainy’ as the old folks used say. At this stage Mr. Rohan was an old man. He had very little Irish and it was disappointing to hear my cousins in Ryehill getting £2 deontais or scholarships for Irish speaking. Tiaquin School didn’t apply for anything like that. Neither was the school involved in the Schools’ Manuscripts Collection gathered under the direction of the Irish Folklore Commission 1937-38.
We had nib pens and the ink was made up from powder in the school and put into inkwells on each desk. We had small square cases called attaché cases for school. Only the girls used them. We brought homemade bread and butter for lunch. A relation of the Rohans came home from America one year and gave a party for the school children. There were sweets, a yellow duck and books and pencils. I got a book and was I disappointed to get the same book, an Irish reader, again at Christmas. We had Macmillan’s Class Reader in English. I also remember reading A Lad of the O’Friels and Glenanaar. Some stories scared us like the story of the Children of Lir turning into swans. Could that happen to any child I used to wonder.
First Holy Communion and new clothes.
I got my First Holy Communion at our house station on November 9th 1932.That was usual at the time. A lovely neighbour Mrs Kelly gave me a little bird-shaped brooch. She was a sister of Darby Forde. I remember a pig was killed the same day. Darby Forde was the butcher. Around that time Jack Burke and Mick Glynn came home from the US because of the Depression. Jack Burke was a great story teller, describing life in America and how impossible it was to get work of any kind after the Wall Street Crash.
I remember the big snow of 1933. It lasted for weeks and we couldn’t see any ditches or drains in the field. All was white. The snow had to be shovelled down from the windows and doors. Stephen was born in May of that year. I have faint memories of going shopping with my mother to Monivea and getting polka dot cotton at 3d per yard in the new shop, Hansberry’s I think. It was run by various families at different times but we always called it ‘the new shop’.
I had a lovely white frock and shoes when I was confirmed in Newcastle Church. I was 13 years old as I had been sick three years earlier. Tommie Whelan had a shop near the church and we got lemonade and biscuits, a big treat in those days. It was June 1938. The red lemonade had run out when it came to me and I was disappointed at only getting white. We only got lemonade at Christmas but I knew it should have been red. Usually on the big day one was taken to visit relations to show off the style and get a few bob. First communion outfits and also confirmation ones were put away then and handed on from one child to another.
The Galway Blazers hunt used to come around in winter time and it was a bit of excitement and colour. One day the big boys left the school at lunch time to follow the hunt and didn’t come back. Some of them have since gone to their reward. Boys would be regularly kept at home from school when there was farm work to be done and sent back when things were slack. These lads weren’t very academically inclined and spent their time playing tricks and annoying the girls. In Tiaquin school there was a lot of smoking. Keogh’s shop was visited at lunchtime and we got sweets, mostly bullseyes, in exchange for used copies. Ned Keogh made little packages for spices like ginger and caraway seeds by winding the pages of the copies round his fingers. My pals and I bought Players Weights with our pennies – 3d for a package in 1937. Woodbines were 2d for 5. At that time we collected cards from the dearer brands which the adults bought and there were series of butterflies, dogs, cars but we rarely managed to complete a set. I had one pal, Annie Lally, who lived with her grandmother and she used to have cigarettes and matches in her bag. Her grandmother was a smoker. Annie was 8 months younger than me and she went to Garbally National School. My other friend Nonie Carey – she married Peter Hardiman -was an only child. She and I went everywhere together except to school as she went to Garbally also. We enjoyed going to the woods in Kilbeg for bluebells and met other children there, all picking flowers for the May altar for home and school. For good measure we’d bring some to the graveyard and put those on the graves of old people who had died. But when one of our neighbours Lawrence Beirne died from meningitis on Christmas Eve aged only 13 we realised that death wasn’t only for old people. Lawrence’s father died the following week.
From a shed roof at home my brothers and I often watched funerals arrive at Doonane graveyard by horse and cart and side cart. We’d see the golden box being carried in followed by the big crowd in dark clothes all together like a big black cloud.
Sometimes I’d hear my father say ‘There’s a light in the cillínichán tonight’ which meant they were burying a baby who had died before baptism.
In those days TB was rampant. I remember a few different times when pupils were called out of class and brought home early in the day and we’d be told to pray for his mother or father who had died.
‘Dev’ versus the Fine Gaelers.
My father was a great man for supporting Fianna Fail. De Valera was next to God, he told us that himself and Willie Carey were off on their bicycles to Tuam or any place there was a meeting. Paddy Beegan is the name I remember from that era. He was a T.D. from 1932 until he died in 1958.Our teacher was a Fine Gaeler and had his favourites in class. He said Fianna Fail turf was ‘spadge’ and he sang ‘Nobody goes to the workhouse now ‘cos they call it the county home,’ Once in 1937 he gave me a boxful of envelopes and addresses. It was Fine Gael literature for Kilconly, Tuam. I wrote that address so many times on the envelopes and in comes my father and nearly put the lot into the fire but mother intervened and I was crying. I’d be afraid to go to school the next day if I wasn’t allowed finish them. I remember the big bonfire on the hill near the graveyard after the 1937 election – the cheering nearly wakened the dead.
Only a few scholars went to secondary school in Athenry. One I recall was Maisie Moran who later got into the Civil Service. A Murphy girl from Wood village was at that time cycling in and out to the convent in Athenry but she died aged 17. When I finished in Tiaquin I got a navy gymslip, the uniform for Mountbellew Tech, made by Ciss Ruane. I cycled the 8 miles on my new bike. But I got a bad dose of bronchitis and that ended my formal education in September 1939.
Life on our family farm.
Most farms had names on their fields. We had Annas Hill, the Well Field and the Meadow for example. In the early 30’s I remember my father used to have cattle on the 11 month or ‘conacre’ system’ over on the French’s estate land at the back of Clancy’s. That was before the Land Commission took over the land. There was a lot of agitation for the Hutchinsons in Ballybane, Crowes in Currendoo and Ffrench’s estates to be divided among local farmers who had very small farms. These lands used to be let for conacre and we had some for years in the Mullagh Hill near Dooley’s house and some in Ballybane. Land was measured in collops. A collop is as much land as will support grazing for one cow or 3 sheep or a horse. Potatoes and oats were the crops grown there and I spread slits, picked potatoes and bound oats there. So did most of my neighbours. McGiverns of Galway bought the potatoes. I went to Galway on the bus with my father and he bought a new bicycle after getting his cheque for £33 for 11 tonnes of Aran banners. We had tea and chops in Lydons. If I went to Galway with mother it was tea and confectionary. I preferred the lamb chop!
I worked on the farm until I was 19 years old. That time the lads used to get paying jobs – Tom and Joe worked on the bogs in Colemanstown and Attymon. It was expected that women and girls worked out in the fields spreading manure and slits, saving hay, spreading and saving turf in the bog and later filling the carts to take it home. We filled barrels for spray and picking stones to reclaim land. I remember the scythes being used for cutting oats and ‘taking out’ and binding and stooking. Then the oats were threshed with a flail and the winnowing was to let the chaff fly off. Later the threshing was mechanised and the machine owners were Tommy Hassett, Mick Connors, and Hardimans. The wheat used to be taken to Farrell’s Mill in Athenry to be ground and also they also took oats for porridge meal. We loved to watch the millwheel turning when we got the chance. I remember one journey to Tuam in springtime. That was to sell the oats. I got my first watch at Leufer’s jewellers and we visited Malachy O’Keefe. But on the way home we saw the light at crossroads area between Ryehill and Abbeyknockmoy. My father said it was someone had been killed there.
Women milked cows and fed calves and pigs and bonhams, turkeys, geese, chickens and ducks. Fowl was the only way women had of making a few bob for style or new clothes and for housekeeping. There never seemed to be enough time for doing things. When I hear the word recycling now I think of the time an overcoat was turned inside out to get another few years out of it. Flour bags were made into sheets and pillowcases as well as bibs and nappies for children. In some old school photos the children seem to have a lot of white, some of which were overalls made from flour bags. Geese were plucked dry so that the feathers could make pillows and goose grease was used for rubs for rheumatism or sprains and sometimes to polish the harness. Pearl barley was the cure for kidney problems, liquid paraffin was never used in our house but the neighbours had it. My father made scaltin from oatmeal and buttermilk and sugar as a cure for a cold. I couldn’t bear to eat it but my father liked it.
I hated churning in the dash churn – made up of a clapper, dash, skimmer butter spades and a big wooden dish for making up the butter. Loads of cold water was needed for rinsing and when all trace of buttermilk was removed and some salt added it was a lovely flavour. Mother made very good butter and would sell some during the summer time. Ned Keogh would ask for it and send Black Swan butter to our house to get the homemade butter for himself. He was a generous shopkeeper and we liked going there. He was a great Fianna Fail man and used to sing Bold Phelim Brady, the Bard of Armagh. One time I got a shilling from a neighbour and spent it all on Kerry Cream biscuits in the shop. Before he got married you could find a nice plate or saucer in a half-hundred of grain or some foodstuff as Ned wasn’t bothered about a scoop if it wasn’t under his hand. At election time if there was a male customer before you Ned would tell you to sit down and wait. He’s be singing Paddy Beegan’s praises and himself and George Moran used to do the canvassing and he’d discuss that with male customers and we’d have to wait.
Sport and Dancing
In the ‘30’s Dr. McQuaid was against girl’s athletics or camogie. He said that Christian modesty must be safeguarded and girls shouldn’t be flaunting themselves before the public. A lady called Miss Mitchell came to teach Irish Dancing. She taught Freda who was nearly 6 years younger than me. I made and outfit for Freda a floral skirt and lemon top. There was a Feis in Walls Field. Tom Walls was our postman. He got injured at some stage in a match between Newcastle and Kilconieron.
We had a local dressmaker called Madie Forde and a travelling tailor called Joe the Tailor. He used to make pants and suits for my brothers. I remember he measured Tom and Joe with his tape and he said; ‘You could hang the devil between the two of them, God bless them’. He took away the material and brought back the garments a few weeks later. For some reason a tailor’s rates were five times as dear as that of a dressmaker.
Tailors and dressmakers.
Some men wore bainíns and clogs for working. Dan Kelly, a tailor made bainíns. Peter Jordan in Moylough made men’s suits and later there was an O’Hara man near Menlough. I remember going with Tom one time to a tailor named Kavanagh somewhere below Kings in Currafaireen. Life was simple and getting new clothes at that time didn’t happen too often and one had to go to get fitted and later return to collect. During the war that wasn’t as easy as tyres for bikes were so scarce and coupons were needed for everything – even socks!
We had to go to the dressmaker’s house. Madie had a sewing room upstairs and the piles of brown paper parcels would give the idea that it would be some time before she made our frocks. She charged half a crown or 2/6d to make a frock and 4/s for a coat. She died in her early forties and I got a slap from my mother for staying too late at the wake. Mother never had any time for wakes and said nothing went on at them only devilment and she prayed and hoped that there would be no wake when her turn came. The Lord answered her prayers in a most unusual way. She died on Good Friday and had two nights in Newcastle Church before she was buried on Easter Sunday. She was a very religious woman and always prayed for the missions. She got religious magazines like Africa and the Far East but also one of St Anne de Beaupré. Mother was an avid reader and Annie M.P.Smithson was a favourite author. When they were younger Uncle John would chase across the fields to Ballyglunin Station to buy reading material. But when I got a copy of Gone With The Wind as a present from manageress Mrs Keeley (Mrs Lawlor’s sister) at Christmas time during my time in Naas Mother tore out a few pages that were deemed not suitable – the original form of censorship!
Mother and father.
Mother was a home loving person. She was very fond of flowers and her garden had lupins, dahlias, marigolds and peony roses as well as a box hedge. She wouldn’t allow any coarse or vulgar language in the course of conversation. I remember her trying to pull up the earth wire of the radio one evening when there was foul language in a play – it might have been ‘The Plough and the Stars’ – as PJ was listening and he was only nine years old. She would have turned off the radio of course only for her son-in-law being present and he was listening to the play. We were never allowed to call her anything but ‘Mother’. Some of our neighbours called their mothers funny names like ‘Maw’, ‘ Muddin’, ‘Mommie’, ‘Muddy’ and even ‘Cormie’. The Flaherty’s always called their aunt Biddy ‘Godeen’. I think that was because she was godmother to a few of them, she having no children herself.
My mother looked after and nursed the old people who lived with us even though they were not related. She used to pray that she would never have to be looked after herself. And again she got her wish. At 78 she began to fail and after about six days in Galway Regional Hospital she died on April 8th 1972 which was Good Friday. Her remains reposed in Newcastle Church on Holy Saturday night and she was buried in Doonane graveyard after Requiem Mass on Easter Sunday
My father was the traveller in the family. I must have taken after him. He worked hard at his daily jobs but he enjoyed life as well. He went to plays in Athenry and Monivea and Moylough. A few times there were plays in the school by the local dramatic society. ‘The Will and the Woman’ was one I remember. After seeing ‘The Workhouse Ward’ Tom and I went up on the settle bed and pegged everything at one another imitating what we saw on the stage. Later I joined the Skehana drama group and I usually got the part of an old woman which meant having a fistful of flour shaken on my thick black hair to make it grey! The plays were put on to subsidise the hurling team.
Card playing was another great pastime – 25 mostly. Jack Gilligan told me my father used to walk to Abbeyknockmoy to play poker. Our house was a regular card playing venue and we often had ten or eleven people visiting for that. We used to have games of 9/25 for fowl and money. All had to be over at 11 o’clock and Mother said the rosary as soon as the last one was out the door. She usually went for a rest between 8.30pm and 11pm. She couldn’t sleep if she had wanted to with all the noise. All of our family were card players. Freda was very good, even at an early age. There was always a few standing at the back of the players watching and commenting. I don’t think we would tolerate visitors that regularly now.
We all looked forward to The Stations and great preparations were made for Mass in the house. We had to put sand on the avenue and the house was whitewashed outside painting and papering went on inside. We would have three priests, a canon and two curates out from Athenry. Between them they heard confessions, said Mass and collected the dues. The neighbours would send loads of cakes for the occasion. Children were invited for their own spread after school. In the night time there was music and dancing. I helped some neighbours, Anne Ryan, Mrs. Byrne and Mrs. Clancy to prepare for the stations. One time I had to cycle to Athenry to get oranges for the priests’ station breakfast. I also waited on the priests even though I was a bit scared of them, they were so serious. One time I had to cycle to Athenry to get oranges for the priests’ station breakfast. At the time I’m writing about we had to be fasting from the night before therefore a full breakfast was needed. Now it’s a simple meal – mostly sandwiches and cake. Two men from this village were sometimes designated to have breakfast with the priests, usually whoever collected the dues for Easter and Christmas.
Monivea and Menlough were our dance halls. Once a month they would be held when I was a teenager. We often walked to Monivea and raided Fahy’s orchard on the way home. One time Freda and I went to Woodlawn. It was a ceili and very good but we thought it a long cycle. Willie Forde came with us. We were only supposed to be in Monivea. Another time when I was about 17 I went with Eddie Tracey to Gurteen Hall which was really an old church. When the new Fr. Griffin Memorial Church was being built we were asked to sell books of tickets. A Fr. O’Reilly came to the school. There was a gymkhana in Colemanstown as a fundraiser too. Careys was a visiting house at the weekends. They had a gramophone and Delia Murphy records were wonderful to listen and to waltz to. Martin Samways, a thatcher and Darby taught us how to dance a set (of kinds). Martin Samways came to work at Monivea Castle – he married a widow named Nellie Flaherty.
I was always a bit of a romantic – still am- and Bing Crosby and Gene Autry were my favourite singers and of course John McCormack. Then there were dances at Garbally Castle with the Holians and some other fella from Clooncurreen playing the music.
Apart from those dances, the only entertainment we had was visiting each other’s houses. Whenever I was staying at Kings in Curafaireen for a few days Mary and I used to be sent to Donohues in Abbeyknockmoy for some groceries. At that time Maimie King, a cousin, was an assistant in the shop and God bless her she was generous to us with sweets. Usually around August 20th, St. Bernard’s Day we climbed Knockroe Hill to St. Bernard’s Well. We did fifteen rounds of the well as we said the rosary and other prayers and then we drank the water from the well. Last time I was there was in 1950!
My grandfather’s birthplace, Lisiniskea was a nice place to visit. It was a long thatched house – it had a sewing machine and a box on the wall for polish and a brush. There were three members of the King family living there. Mary, John and Paddy. They were a very close family and when Tom got married and went to live in they cried for weeks. They were very friendly people and Mary always had a lovely currant cake for us. Some years earlier a member of that family – I think his name was Darby – had drowned overboard either coming from or going to England. There was also a brother, Peter, in England but eventually he came back to Lisiniskea and ended his days living with his nephew Martin in Oakwood.
At times when I visited Treacy’s in Ryehill I also visited Lanes. They were cousins on the Treacy side – nothing to us. We had nice summer weather in those days and in June and July we would go on picnics, usually a modest feast of tea and buns and tarts and iced biscuits if you could get them. Everyone brought something to the picnic and we’d pick a hilly spot for the spreadThe Monivea Races were on June 29th and I used to hope to meet Uncle William there as he was always good for half a crown. Once he paid my 2/s fare to Knock on the bus. I happened to be over visiting on the weekend of the Ryehill pilgrimage to Knock in August 1938. I ate grapes for the first time in Knock. There was a pile of crutches and sticks in the corner of the church, not far from the altar. My grandmother King witnessed a cure there. A woman who was a pilgrim for years was able to leave her sticks behing and walk home. Grandmother King used to go to Knock every year while she was able. She was a great one for her holiday in Salthill and went there for 33 years in succession for a two-week stay. My mother would go and visit her there a few times as I remember.
Lady Day and fairs.
The 15th of August was Lady Day in Athenry. People went to the well to do the rounds; some went on the eve or early in the morning. There might be mass there at 11 o’clock. But in my young days the hobby horses were the real treat and once we got sight of the Archway we thought we were in Wonderland.
November Day was ‘Fair Day’ in Abbey. I associate it with getting the Christmas goose and apples, both from my aunt Margaret Treacy. Her sons Eddie and Mattie used to wheel turf for us and stay for the week. A few times in the ‘30’s there would be a hiring fair in Athenry and we had spailpeens doing the wheeling.
The boys got off to fairs and markets but girls seldom got out except to sell turkeys or buy the Christmas which was a real treat and took all day. That was usually after getting a beet cheque or American dollars, money being scarce in those days. Lots of goods were got during the year ‘on account’ or ‘on tick’ and people paid well for it in the end as the shopkeeper had his interest added on and you could never bargain if goods were not being paid for at the time of purchase. However at Christmas time there was always a Christmas box put in when all the messages were in the tea chest, port, a big brack, tea, lucky bags, sweets and tobacco at Burkes shop I saw a little chest type card box and when you opened the three drawers they held Christmas cards and the cards had a lacy bow. They were smaller and more decorative than the ones of later years. Four pence for one. Biddy Quinn used to send one to Boston. We would get cards from my uncle and aunt and from 3987 Army Street, San Francisco when my two uncles were alive. There was always a great look out for Uncle John’s as it contained dollars and may the Lord reward him for his generosity. I hope he is in Heaven.
At Christmas we made pudding from goose blood, using the skin of the neck, sewn up at both ends, to boil it in. My mother was a great one too for a good Christmas cake, rich and fruity but icing wasn’t used locally at that time. Christmas ’38 was fierce frosty for about three weeks. Special frost nails were put in the horses’ shoes in order to go on the tar roads as they were called.
We had a jar of sarsaparilla made from a pod with water and sugar on top of the dresser. It burst one night in the middle of the Rosary and the clock got broken. Elderberry wine was another homemade speciality. Once when our parents were away our Tom found a jar of wine of some sort under the stairs in the parlour and he drank a good bit of it. After a while he couldn’t stand up. The old couple were very loyal, they might threaten what would happen ‘when your mother gets home’ but they would never tell on us.
In 1939 the World’s Fair was on in New York and Sara Diviney went because she was a teacher and they got special cheaper rates. She stayed with my aunt and uncle for a week while she was there and took home a parcel of nice clothes and a school bag and pencils for us. Mother went to visit Sara in September and collected the parcel leaving me in charge of PJ who had been born at the end of May. It was a nice fine day and we had a swing up. A couple of neighbours came by and I wasn’t going to stay indoors as I really loved swinging. I took PJ out and he got a little swing as well. I used to knit him little suits and he was a great novelty for a while. There weren’t any neighbours of his age in the village at that time and he told us he only had the dog to play with. He was about six years younger than Stephen who had a problem with bronchitis and got very bad health in his young days.
World War Two.
That same year, 1939, the war started in September and we were a bit scared listening to older men talking of the terrible things that happened in the last war. This one was to be a lot worse and it lasted until May ’45. De Valera called for: One more sow, one more cow. One more acre under the plough. There was compulsory tillage during the war years and city people got allotments and turf banks. Ploughing competitions started then as well hence the annual plough dance which became another important date on the calendar.
During the war sugar and lots of other things were scarce. I filled up a couple of forms saying I had fruit for jam making and we got an extra two stone of sugar for that. Not a lot of jam was made. Martin Jordan was very fond of sugar and I made a bargain with him to get his bike for a day in return for one pound of sugar. Freda used to have cigarettes and she made a few bob on them. She wasn’t smoking then but I was. I must have been a chancer as I got a few gallons of oil for reading and card playing by filling in another form claiming that I had an incubator for rearing day-old chicks. We did rear day-olds which we used to get Elmbank chickens from Duggan’s but we reared them with a hen.
On St Patrick’s Day 1943 De Valera broadcast his dream to the nation. His ideal Ireland would be ‘ the home of happy people who valued material wealth only for right living, people who would be satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted to leisure and things spiritual; it would be a land of bright and cosy homes. Fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, happy children, athletic youth and comely maidens whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of old age’.
What hopes he had! Could he but see how things have turned out since. Nobody seems satisfied in this constant rat race to keep up with and maybe pass out the Jones – causing stress and other illness.
The Land Question and Landlords.
In the early forties there was a campaign of land agitation to get Hutchinson’s estate divided. Gates were opened at night to let out the graziers’ stock and the cattle were driven until the lads who were driving them got tired. Sometimes gates were locked or walls were knocked. If there was ploughing going on they took the coultur off the plough and threw it in a bog drain. Young lads would be decked out with blindfolds so that they could swear that the saw nothing going on. Shoes were covered after going through ploughed land so they couldn’t be traced going home. The Land Commission, which had taken over from the Congested Districts Board finally bought the land and divided it out among small farmers who deserved it and their descendants are still cultivating it.
Then in some places there were disturbances relating to gardens being ruined with poultry crossing so some were offered an opportunity to move up east near Dublin. Some people from around Monivea/Belleville moved just as far as Ballymacward. A family could be divided about moving – in one case the mother baulked at moving and just said ‘no’. The end result was that family got no addition when land was divided. Around 1940-41 you would see carts coming down from Belleville loaded up with their belongings; churns, beds chairs, bags of barley, oats and wheat, seed from their old land ready for their new land. They were heading off to new places in Rathcairn where they would get a new house, a barn and maybe a cow byre.
Hutchinson’s were Church of Ireland. They kept to themselves and went to church in Monivea at 3 o’clock on Sundays. There was George and Charlie but no women except the Catholic housekeeper. We used a mass path across their land to get to Skehana church – from Cuddoo to Doonane to Garbally Castle – one part of the village came out at Hoade’s gate and we came out at Ruanes.
Mullagh Hill belonged to the Blades and Crowes, near Tiaquin, had a smaller place. When the Crowes were leaving Mrs Crowe invited us to come and help ourselves to what was in the garden so we got lots of flowers and plants from Mrs The family always produced buttermilk, apples and honey as well. The year I was in the Railway Hotel in Athenry I got a letter from Mother saying at last Ballybane land was divided and they had got a fine piece of land at last after years of agitation. A few years after that Ffrench’s land was divided and the Fordes got Mullagh Hill.
My sister Freda who lives in London since 1948 says we are getting away from all the things she used to look forward to when she came home like a good drink of fresh buttermilk, homemade bread and country butter as well as fresh eggs. Also visitors calling and card playing. She liked the 25 game – three threes partners. She started playing in her teens and was always winning.
In 1939 the road was made from the top of Jordan’s boreen by our place and joined with the Doonane road. It was nice fine weather when it started and there was a good few men working on it. Sand was got from our sand pit and horse and carts were drawing sand. Dick Madden was one of the gangers. I can’t remember the others except there was a Peter Keady. They used boil a kettle for their lunch in our house. The work went on for about a year and a half.
The mission, sore feet, first doctor and wakes.
There was a mission in Skehana that same October and we used to walk there every evening. I was after getting a new pair of shoes and I had a sore foot but I wouldn’t stay home from the mission even though the new shoe was pressing on my sore foot. It wasn’t better until after Christmas. I had to stay home with my foot up on a stool during the Christmas festivities because flesh had grown on the wound. A chemist in Broderick’s in Athenry told me to put white powder, borax, and a bandage on it and keep the weight off it and at last it healed. We never had a doctor in our house until 1949 when Stephen got appendix and he was sent to the Central Hospital in Galway. On 16 January 1940 Jimmy Quinn went to his reward. There was black frost at that time. The wake was for two nights and there was Mass in the house and the remains were brought by horse cart straight to the graveyard. Burkes in Colemanstown were the undertakers. The same arrangements had been in place when Biddy died suddenly in February 1938. They were both insured for funeral expenses. O’Meara was the man who collected the money 1/s a week for years back.
There were two other houses in the village in my young days. Pat Bawn (Greaney) was related to the Gilligans and Paddy Gilligan lived with him. If anyone asked Paddy what Mass he was at ‘first in Newcastle’ was the answer. Pat Bawn died one November day and a few years later Paddy got work in the Ballymacward area and he left the farm to his nephew, Jackie.
Anne Glynn and Jack Lyons lived in the other house. She was really a Mrs. Ryan Jack Lyons from Moore near Ballinasloe and he couldn’t speak. He was really cross and we knew some of his sign language. I helped to prepare their house for a station one time and it was ‘whitewash kitchen, paper room and red paint on everything’. One thing I noticed and I never saw it before or since was a framed picture of Anne’s sister’s headstone in America. Mary Glynn was her name and I can’t remember the rest of it except Brooklyn. After Jack Lyons’ death Tom Glynn lived there. He used to play a few tunes on a melodeon. At that time house dances were the usual. Beirnes and Gilligans had a lot of those dances and always after a station there would be a dance at night time.
The story goes that Anne and Jack sold turkeys in Athenry and as they were going home late in the evening they bought a flashlamp. Normally they would have had a lantern on the cart. The shopkeeper had turned it on when they bought it but when they arrived home they couldn’t turn it off. Jack threw it into a bucket of water but when it still didn’t quench he drew a few belts on it to finish it off. Anne used to wear a white head scarf – maybe a flour bag- and she called it ‘mo binneóg’. ‘Tis I that regrets my youth’ she’d say after she carrying a ciséan of messages and she going off to light her pipe.
The Irish language was sprinkled into everyday speech. Dort do lamh I lan do gcorn – twist your hand in the full of your fist. According to Mother this is what Mike Treacy said as he was untackling the horse – his way of asking for pancakes. His home was in Ryehill Demesne between Blake’s estate and the Blade estate.
The bogs opened up in 1941 at Colemanstown and Attymon. Tom and Joe and all the locals worked for Dignan, the ganger in Colemanstown – he was a brother of the Bishop of Clonfert- and they did some piece work and made a bit of money. My father use to sell turf to people in the Derrydonnell area. I spent a few summers saving and helping with the turf and was rewarded with an outing to the Tuam Races.
The first wedding I was ever at was Mai Fahy’s. It was held in the house and the ceremony was in the evening like all weddings in those years. Wedding presents were very small affairs in comparison to what is given now, maybe a holy picture or a pair of pillowcases. During the war years there were coupons for all clothing so there weren’t many new outfits bought. Ration books decided on the quantity in those days. I got my first pair of high heels in Keogh’s shop at Easter 1941 and wasn’t I delighted in my lovely brown shoes. I always favoured a stiletto heel and a straight back!
Sometime around that period Jackie Fahy and Tom Ford took off to work in a bog in Kildare. I think the address was Timahoe. I got a letter from Tom looking for his ration book. I think he was back home in about nine days, heels skinned and in need of a rest. There was a great fáilte for the prodigal son coming back home. Joe was already working with the Land Commission and indeed he stayed with them over 50 years, retiring in 1993.
We didn’t get papers every day and when we did it was always The Irish Press. Topics of the times were the war, the blackout, the rationing and Hitler winning so far. There were always accounts of ships being torpedoed and other war news. Hitler was winning for the first few years and there was not much else to read except for Clery’s shop and then the Connacht Tribune had the Blackrock sales -1/11 1/9,3/6 for lots of men’s and women’s wear in those days. There was a class held in Griffin’s house in the summer of ’43 –butter making and poultry rearing – given by a Miss Keohane from Ballinasloe. A crowd of us went and she showed us how to operate on a hen with a hard craw as well as cheese making with rennet and a few other things.
The LDF and FCA.
During the war years the Local Defence Force were defending the country as they used to say – blotting out signs on schools, barracks and post offices in case any German landed and it would be better that they didn’t know on what part of Ireland they had arrived. Later the LDF became the Forsa Cosanta Aitiul. They used to wear heavy dark green uniforms and overcoats. Our lads used to go out on cold winter nights to meetings and they would be talking too about the great times they had at Finnar camp
Rationing was very severe during the war years. We got a couple of bags of white flour and tea bags on a few occasions from my Aunt Delia in America, and we got Christmas cake in1943, welcome gifts surely. Fruit was very scarce for cakes and my mother used to sift wholemeal flour through a silk stocking in order to make sweetcakes as we used to call them. She used cocoa, eggs and sugar and sometimes made seed cake with caraway seeds.
Home cured bacon gave a special flavour to cabbage and spare ribs and griskeens were a real treat. We didn’t have the variety of vegetables that’s around now – just onions, parsnips, carrots and turnips. We always had rhubarb but sugar was so rationed that tarts were scarce.
I had been hoping to go to England since I was 18 but we had to get a passport and have it signed by both parents when younger than 21 so my father wouldn’t sign and all I ever heard from him was ‘England was a quare place’ Had he lived until now would he not have thought his native Doonane ‘a quare’ place too!
I really was fed up of farm work and no money so I took off to the Railway Hotel in Athenry and Lord, I got a rude awakening. It was work from 6.30am until all hours of the night. There were no regular hours, a half day once a week starting at 2.30pm and every third Sunday off from 3pm. In fact I didn’t get home from July 18th until October 28th when Tessie Murphy’s stations were on. Tessie Murphy was a great one for books and many a good read I had of Annie MP Smithson. Her titles included The Walk of a Queen and The Marriage of Nurse Harding and they always lived happily ever after! Anyway I got home overnight for her station but had to be back before noon the next day.
The hotel was beautiful and the food very good and it was a busy place. As there were no cars on the road, sales reps and other business people travelled by train and stayed in the hotels. We had regular ‘residents’ also – the local doctor Finnerty, the young vet, two solicitors, a dance teacher two nights a week and a music teacher.
We had no trade union of course and you could be asked to do anything even mind or feed the boss’s grandson now and then. I pinched him once as I did not want to be a babysitter in my young days and I wasn’t asked to do the job again as the young lad bawled a bit and some other one had to mind him. Staff came and went rather quickly. Any experienced ones didn’t stay very long. You could always leave and there would be plenty of others ready to take your job as work opportunities for women were scarce.
The hotel had a really big ballroom. I remember helping to put up 37 beds for the big October Fair. These single men’s beds were stored down in the basement where the staff quarters, kitchens and store rooms were.
On the first floor was really posh with a bar, a dining room to seat 50, a lounge, a private sitting room, three bedrooms and WC and the kitchenette and a little room where Dr. Finnerty held his private surgery. Upstairs there were single, double and three-bedded rooms and one bathroom and WC and an extra toilet. The owner and his wife, Duffys, lived in a separate house called The Arch. But it was Mrs Duffy who actually ran the hotel. It changed hands over the years and the hotel became a training college for CERT chef and now it has been taken over by the GRETB.
By 7.30pm on Christmas Eve I got off home. Joe came to meet me and, as far as I can remember, I got a half pound of tea and a bottle of port from Mrs Duffy and orders to be back by midday on St. Stephen’s Day as the Hunt Ball was to be held on that night. I saw more style and drink on that night and when I saw Upstairs Downstairs on TV I really could say that’s how the hunt crowd behaved on that night. There seemed to be no scarcity with them even though it was still wartime in Ireland and we had to measure a spoon of tea for every customer and put the tea in a tiny bag until it was needed again as no second packet went on as Mrs D. was very strict. But she seemed to have a store of tea somewhere whenever Fr. O’Malley or other priests called; they got good tea in their silver tea pots. The film Gone With the Wind was on in Galway but none of us got to see it. All the Duffy’s went as well as Fr. O’Malley. Sylvester Duffy, a student in Rockwell College, later became a priest and spent most of his time in America. He died a few years ago. He had one brother who was an engineer. His three sisters had wardrobes of clothes. How I used envy them in those war times and coupon times. Where did they get all the coupons needed for their trips to Dublin?
The weather seemed to be fairly good that year, though I didn’t see much of the outdoors. There wasn’t much off time. I did manage to get to the Back Lawn (now Kenny Park) as it was called to see a hurling match and on Lady Day I got off at 6pm and later I went to the marquee. I had one very nice friend, Mary Nolan from Wicklow. Alas she only stayed three months. She was experienced and was used to proper off time. The cook was from Gurtymadden and she would work from dawn until dark and told everything to the boss or so the gardener, Bill Lynskey from Gloves, told us. He was alright. He went home every evening. In the garden there was all sorts of vegetables and spectacular arrangements of sweet pea, the first place I ever saw them and I make sure I have them every year in my own garden now.
The bar was a small place to the front of the hotel. That’s where I first saw men get maith galore. They had a regular crowd of cronies including Mikey Hession, a Taylor man who owned the saw mills. Martin Finnerty the doctor’s brother was there with Kelly the vet and some young trainees he had. One of them was Pat Daly from Lough Mask House and we all had our eye on him including the boss’ daughter Joan Duffy who later married a vet from Kilconnell, Paddy Murphy.
‘Browned off’ and off to Naas to the ‘horsey’ crowd!
The high turnover of staff continued and it was a busy place even in springtime. There was no sign or a regular half-day or any extra pay no matter how long one worked. We did get a few tips which helped but I was getting browned off and so in mid February 1945 I borrowed a bike and came home. It snowed for ages and we had frost as well so it was week before the bike was left back in at the Archway in Duffy’s yard and that was that until I got a job in Lawlor’s of Naas in April. A Mrs. Hayes had an agency and I applied there and I got a telegram one evening to be there on the following Saturday. Someone came with the telegram from Monivea and I was at a mission in Newcastle church that evening. So I set off for my first adventure away from familiar people and places where I found a different Ireland altogether.
Mary is currently putting other important periods of her life in print and it will be published here later.