From the Fireside

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Reminiscence of a time gone bye! (the 40s and 50s in the Athenry area)

This is of times past, a time gone forever, a time when neighbours came to our house and we went to theirs, when storytelling was at its best and sharing was taken for granted, when old and young were happy in each others company and moved at a leisurely pace.

People walked to Mass through the fields, on empty stomachs as fasting for communion was essential. It was not unusual for people to walk six miles to Esker monastery for seven o’clock Mass on Christmas morning. Often people, who were fasting, would faint on the side of the road because even when they were not fasting food was scarce in many houses. Years later, as times got better they travelled in side-cars, traps and other horse drawn vehicles. For those who could afford it a special horse was kept for transport, normally one lighter and faster than the common workhorse. The journey, by horse, to Mass in the early morning was often an exciting experience with neighbours competing with each other and passing each other out along the way.

Nearly forgotten nowadays are the yards in the town where the farmers ‘parked’ their horses for their stay in town.  The Morrisseys from Moorpark always left their side-car in Brodericks, Feeneys, Ballinloughane in Durcan’s yard – now the ‘Shopping Basket’, Mullins in Glynn’s yard and many more in Sweeney’s and Fox’s yards. It wasn’t as simple as parking a motor car at the kerbside. The horse had to be taken from under the trap and tied in a stall where he was fed to keep him contented.

Our Neighbour, Johnny Conway for Moorpark, was the last man in our area to travel in a pony and trap – a lovely grey pony, a lovely ‘mover’. “Up out of that” he would shout to the pony on his way to town. This pony was so quiet that Thomas Brannelly who lived in Moorpark Gatehouse as a child often walked under the pony’s legs when he was out grazing. The only horses and ponies in our area nowadays are hunters and show-jumpers. The love of the horse never left the area. Ann, Tommy and Neilus Morrissey are keen followers of the hunt – The Galway Blazers. Gerry and Shane Feeney have won many prizes in the show-jumping arena. Many farmers keep a brood mare as ‘the place wouldn’t be right without a horse about’.

Conways now live in Moor House (Moorpark) where Shawe Taylor lived. Monaghans lived for a time in the gatehouse and than moved to Cregmore and then the Brannelly came to live there. It is now in ruins. The Finns came from Lisheenavalla. Other Moorpark families are the Egans and the Mullins. The older members of these families went to school in Carnaun before Lisheenkyle School was built in the 50s.

John Connolly, whose family now live in Pollnagroagh, once lived where Bernie Morrissey now lives. His father, Mike, bought that land when he came home from America. Sarah O’Malley (Harte) had a shop in Coshla. Sonny Egan’s pub- Egan’s of Coshla- is known far and wide. A man called Kidd lived where Micheál Higgins now lives. A new name in the area is John Trowell from Killeenen,  who married my sister, Christina Curry. Their daughter Irene attends Carnaun School. Pakie and Pierce Feeney have built new houses next to Seán and Teresa Feeney in Ballinloughane. Frank Coffey, son of Mick Coffey, Maurice Condon and Seán O’Brien, son of Tommy O’Brien, Grange, also live in the same Townland.

A Kelly family lived in Barrett’s Hill where the Currys and Trowells live now. Nearby stood the Constable’s Hut used by the RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary) when on patrol. Once, one of them asked the Kellys to rear a goose for him. He had one wing painted so that he could distinguish it from the others. Christmas came and went and they joked that they would have a goose for the dinner but they were lucky that they did not kill it for the R.I.C. man came back, took his goose and without as much as thanks walked off with it. The R.I.C. was not all like him. Tim O’Regan, who taught Gaelicism and Patriotism in Carnaun School and his brother Pete, who played tricks (and spent some time in Galway Jail for them) on the R.I.C. like flying the Free State flag on the chimney of the Barracks in Athenry were sons of the local R.I.C. Sergeant who found it hard to be sympathetic to the cause of the freedom of Ireland and serve the King of England at the same time.

Still remembered fondly by many families in our area, especially the Rafterys of Coshla is a Constable Taheny, whose son Dan, a noted historian, occasionally visits his friends locally. The Rafterys came to ‘Farrington’s Place’ from the Clare Galway direction.

In the ‘Trouble’ times there were three men shot in Coshla. There was a headstone for a Rooney man on the side of the road. Shawe Taylor from Moorpark, a landlord, was ambushed and shot on his way to the fair in Galway at two o’clock in the morning. Later, in a reprisal shooting, Tom Egan was murdered in his own kitchen and is buried in Moorpark cemetery. May they rest in peace!

On a lighter note here is a report of ‘Outrage in the Townland of Castle Lambert, 5th. December, 1838 – Pig stealing reported by Parson Lambert Esq.

‘On the night between the 30th. November and the 1st. December inst. Pigs valued about £4.00 were stolen from John Egan of Castle Lambert and sold in the market of Gort on the 1st. December by Bridget Hynes otherwise Looby or Luby of Polacapal near Athenry to Patrick Kelly of Gort, who with John Egan swore informatory against Bridget Hynes or Looby and a warrant issued for her apprehension, which was handed to the Acting Constable at charge in Athenry who having received information of her being in the vicinity of Monivea sent the warrant to Constable Maxwell of that station, by who she was arrested and transmitted to Gort. In consequence of her arrest I have not visited the scene.’ 

John Hynik, Chief Constable, Oranmore, 7yh. December 1838

Years ago there were dances held in the loft in Shawe Taylor’s house in Moorpark and the people came from miles around the locality to enjoy themselves and they were great fun. One night the land agitators fired shots into the barn but thank God no one was hurt. These dances ended at the light of dawn. On the way home the youngster often played tricks on their neighbours.

On unfortunate man woke from his evenings drinking in the town to find himself as usual in his ass-cart at the gateway of his house. The ass normally negotiated the journey on his own and stood patently at the gate until it was opened for him. The only difference this time was that the cart was outside he gate, the shafts were through it and the poor ass was tackled to the cart on the inside of the gate. This was only one of a ‘wave’ of ass-cart and such jokes which swept Ireland at the time. Often a man woke up, after a drinking session, to find himself in the middle of the kitchen, still in his ass-cart and wondered how the ‘fairies ‘put him there.  There is also the story of the ‘prime boys’ who took the police horse from the barracks in Athenry. The muffled his feet with bags and took him during the night. There was great uproar and searching for a few weeks. Imagine the amusement in the crowded Friday Market Place when the horse trotted home to the Barracks on his own with a straw man (fear bréige), in police uniform, on his back.

The process of education in school was mostly repetition. Everything was repeated soften that something was ‘bound to stick’. A sharp slap of the cane often helped the process and kept the scholars alert. But school was made bearable by the amusing incidents which occurred on a regular basis.  One day a boy brought an apple to school. He scooped out the inside and filled it with ashes. His friend was delighted to be offered a ‘bite’. His chocking, coughing and yellow face brought tears of laughter to all the classroom. Even Babs O’Regan, the teacher, found it hard to keep a straight face.

The story is told of the teacher in to Boy’s school in Athenry, who got an unwilling boy to make the tea for his lunch. This boy thought that if he ‘flavoured’ the tea a little with a generous spoonful of ashes from the open fire that he would not get the job again. Imagine his consternation when the teacher declared, after lunchtime, that “it was the finest tea he ever drank”. Three spoons of tea in the pot openly and one spoon of Ashes covertly was the order of the tea making in that school for a long time afterwards.

The first step to manhood for many of the boys was a cigarette – normally made of tea leaves and many a poor lad suffered from tummy ache afterwards. The older boys, who were lucky enough to go, often smoked beet pulp in old pipes at the ‘pictures’ in Murphy’s Town Hall in Athenry. There was no talk of lung cancer in those days when a ‘pull of the pipe’ or a ‘chew of tobacco’ was a cure for a toothache. Anyone caught smoking in Carnaun School, though, got the stick hot and heavy. The journey to and from school was of course the most enjoyable part of the day. As we sauntered along we swapped news and stories and played games and tricks.

There was great fun one morning when the Feeney boys, Pierce, Seán and Pakie, borrowed three donkeys to bring them to school. By the time they reached Doherty’s Cross (Cahertymore Crossroads) many more pupils joined them to try out their riding skills. They were all dead late getting in to school having left the donkeys in Rabbit’s field until evening. The School Master, Tim O’Regan was waiting for them at the school gate with “I’ll give ye what ye gave the poor donkeys”.

Going to school on wet mornings was not a very enjoyable experience. Often we arrived in school with out shoes and socks sodden and had to sit in the cold with the wind blowing in under the door. One morning fresh in my memory was the day we were ‘attacked’ by hailstones as we crossed Waltie Walshe’s farm. They were as big as marbles and we couldn’t get to the wall in time for shelter so we had to bend down and stay in the middle of the big field with our legs being lacerated by the hailstones – no tights, jeans or wellington boots in those days. Our bare legs were wet and swollen from the cold that morning and we found it hard to drag ourselves along – a three mile journey for us then. Nowadays the ‘bus-children’ don’t know such hardship, thank God! But all days were not like that!

Our neighbours, the Brannellys from the gatehouse, having lived in Dublin for a while, were the first to wear plastic coats. One morning Anne lost her coat on the way to school across Coffey’s farm. It was so light she never missed it. However, on the way home, there was no sign of it. Six months later we saw what looked like the plastic coat under a bush but it was all chewed up by the cattle.

The old days were days of hardship also. Water had to be drawn from the wells in buckets. Tim Rabbit’s mother was able to carry a bucket of water on her head while carrying two more in her hands from the well in Walshe’s farm. Peter Morrissey often told the story of having to bring two buckets of water from Tobarnaveen on his way home from school and go back later for two more before he got his dinner. His mother was in Lambert’s house at six o’clock every morning to milk the cows there. For this she got milk for her family and she used to say that it was such a treat to have plenty of milk to drink. The story is told of Tom Mullins who spent a morning thatching a certain house and even though the man of the house was lying dead inside Tom wasn’t told as there was nothing in the house (food or drink) to offer him if he came in to sympathise. They were proud people!

In another house in our locality when there was a death they had to go to the neighbours in the morning for bread for the anointing as there was none in the house and no flour to make it with. As against that when another family left the area they had a police escort as they had such wealth with them.

Our roads were never without a camp of Tinkers or Travellers. O’Brien’s bohereen was a popular camping site. Their horses and donkeys grazed on the ‘long acre’ – the roadside. Some families came year after year and we knew them well. They came for ‘a drop of milk for the child’ with ‘I’ll say a prayer for you!’ Then they wanted buttermilk, something ‘to grease the pan’ – meaning a lump of bacon from the barrel or clothes and shoes for the children. They always got something in every house because they were genuine hardship cases, sleeping in poor, damp and cold conditions. I remember a dead Cawley man ‘laid out’ on the side of the road, one morning on our way to school. After gathering sticks, for the fire, during the day they sat around their campfire at night telling stories and smoking pipes. The Tinker men mended buckets and made new ones for the well and the potato picking. They fixed saucepans, kettles and cleaned chimneys for the local people.

Nearly all the farmers in our area had ‘Spailpíns’ – migratory workers from Connemara who came out to the ‘Achreidh’ (Achreidh na Gaillimhe – the plains of East County Galway) especially for the potato harvesting. The ‘hiring fair’ was held after last Mass on a Sunday. The men stood outside Paddy Glynn’s Pub, Daly’s Corner and Dempsey’s Butcher shop at the top of Old Church Street. Sometimes they numbered up to three hundred and they were hired for a few shillings a week especially at the potato picking time. The farmer ploughed out the potatoes with the horse and plough and then the Spailpín followed him ‘crúbing’ out the potatoes or ‘spuds’ as we called them with his bare hands – a terrible job in wet conditions. Picking the rows of potatoes after him was then a job for the children. The school was closed for a fortnight at this time of the year, usually in the month of October. A pit was then made for the potatoes to keep them for the winter. This consisted of a wide trench of about 12 inches filled to a height of three feet and covered first with straw and then with soil. This kept the potatoes frost free for the winter. Some of the Spailpíns were treated well and came to the same farmer year after year while other were treated badly – they had to work very long hours and at night were made wash the potatoes for the pigs.

Every house had a few pigs and the bacon, cured in a barrel of salt, cabbage in season and potatoes was the main diet of the people. In autumn the children gathered beech nuts for the pigs. Every pig had his teeth pulled out with a pinchers and later his nose was ringed to keep him from rooting up the ground or lifting up the pig sty door off its ‘bocháns’ (hinges).

Bonhams or piglets were brought to the market in Athenry on a Friday to be sold. The creels were put on the horse cart for the occasion. Fully grown pigs were driven along the road with a rope on their hind leg to the market – a tough task as a pig will neither ‘lead nor drive’. Disputes over the buying or selling of some bad bonhams often arose and gave vent to wry comments such as “Didn’t they fairly hold their youth” (the bonhams were older than normal and now very big) or in answer to the question “How are the bonhams doing?” expecting that by now they should be fine and fat. The reply to this was normally “They are on their second cock of straw “ implying that they ‘couldn’t be fattened.

Killing the fattened pig was almost a ritual. There was great excitement when the pig was stretched out struggling and roaring on the horse cart. The blood poured out from the fatal knife wound in his throat. This blood was saved for the making of delicious puddings. The ‘man of the house’ shaved the pig with a razor and hot water. That evening the children were sent ‘post haste’ to all the neighbours with bags of the delicious ‘gríscíns’ or the pork steak which is eaten fresh. The bacon was stored in a big wooden barrel of salt and was the staple diet for most people.

The neighbours gathered in ‘Meitheals’ to help each other with the seasonal work. ‘Many hands make light work’. The work was hard but there was great fun also at the threshing of the corn when the sheaves of oats from the huge stacks were threshed in the threshing mill – the corn seed was extracted from the straw and the chaff. The bags of oats were stored in the loft. The story is told of a certain man who was taking things easy during the threshing. He always took the bag when it was only half full, put it on his back and brought it up to the loft. He was heard to mention that ‘the bags were getting very heavy’ but he didn’t realise that that some of the boys had a big stone in the bottom of each of his bags when they ‘copped on’ to his tricks.

There same boys often played tricks on their neighbours. A man brought his car into Higgins’s Garage in Old Church Street in Athenry stating that it “had lost the power overnight”. On inspection the mechanic found the boot of the car full of stones.

During the haymaking, tea or lunch (the ‘rusheen’) in the meadow was a particular treat for the children and a well earned necessity for the men. The lunch was taken out to the field by the woman of the house, the bottles of tea kept warm in woollen socks. The men sat in the shade, rested, ate and drank while the horsed tasted the freshly cut hay and swished their tails to the flies. They had nosebags of oats on the horses during the lunch period on a ploughing day and in my mind I can still see the horse throwing up its head to ease back the collar and hames that had slipped forward out on its ears.

Other great and wonderful occasions were the fairs held on the streets of Athenry every month. The big fairs were in March and October. Imagine the whole town packed tight with cattle from Swangate to Caheroyan and from the station to Eamonn Madden’s forge. Every farmer had a special place or ‘stand’ for his animals. The people form our area ‘stood’ their animals outside the houses of Niall Morrissey, Pat Brody, Tim O’Regan, Babs O’Regan, Leo Mahon, and up to Kathleen Hansberry’s Hotel. Most of the business people had boardings outside their premises to protect their doors and windows. It took half a day to erect the fence outside Hansberry’ Hotels – a job for Joe Maloney and his helpers Tommy Qualter and Batty Cunniffe. The shops and pubs had sawdust on the floors and the whole town was a mess afterwards.

The County Council men led by Joe Shaughnessy had a big horse drawn brush to sweep the streets afterwards. The buying started around four o’clock in the morning and lasted well into mid-day. Bargains were sealed with a handshake and celebrated with a drink afterwards. Going into the pub for a drink gave the farmer time to make up his prices and ensure that he was not being ‘codded’ by the dealer. The buyer marked his cattle with a snip of his scissors to the hair over the tail or with a stick of raddle.

The story is told of a man who lived above the town who brought thirty six ram lambs to the fair which he sold singly. This entailed buying a drink and having one in return. “I had seventy one ‘mediums’ (half pints of porter)” he said. “How is that?” he was asked. “Well, one person, reneged” giving the man’s name. I went home” he says, “did a few jobs around the yard and then came back into town for a ‘real’ drink and found some farmers making fools of themselves and falling around after a few pints.

It was a real treat for the children to be brought to the fair and as the men sealed the bargains with porter they might get a penny bun or a drink of lemonade and as the morning wore on the could be seen dozing on a stool in the corner of the pub or standing outside the door sucking bulls-eyes or chewing liquorice sticks.

Feeding the farmers, dealers and jobbers was big business on fair days. Mrs. Maloney in Old Church Street might cook five of six boxes of herrings on a Friday. On Thursdays she cooked a huge roast for the hungry men.

In the evening the farmer brought his cattle to the train and loaded them on to the wagons and after being paid would return homewards often with some replacement stock bought earlier in the day.

Newtown is across the road from our house. The story is told that when the tenants were evicted from Castle Lambert, formerly known as ‘Aughrim Park’ by the Lamberts when they first came, they settled in Newtown. There were thirty eight families living there at one time. One of the last evictions in our area was the Broderick family who were forced to go and live opposite Eamonn Whelan’s house in Ballygurrane. During their stay the children went to school in Athenry. Sometime later, thank God, the got their land back.

Shawe Taylor’s little daughter died in a riding accident on the lawn in Moorpark. She was riding side-saddle and a sow frightened the pony. She was dragged along and received severe injuries to the head before the pony was finally stopped. Her poor Mother was not the same afterwards.

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About this record

Written by Kitty Morrissey

Published here 05 Feb 2021

Page 094 of the The Carnaun Centenary Book archive.

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