I was born in 1903, the youngest of 9 children, about 2 miles from Kilconnell, Ballinasloe. My late mother was a schoolteacher; and my late father, Tom Kelly, having obtained a job as a herd for Shaw Taylor, Moorepark, Athenry, the last landlord to farm the huge Castle Lambert estate, my family moved to Castle Lambert in 1908.

This huge estate was run by the Lambert family in the last century, a branch of which resided at Castle-Ellen, Athenry, the birth place of Edward Carson’s mother. Hay baling and ploughing by steam-engine was carried out on the Castle Lambert estate in the last century, and at one period, milk produced in Castle Lambert yard was taken by horse and cart to Athenry Railway Station, and by train to Dublin for daily delivery.

On the subsequent division of the Taylor estate, my father acquired a small farm, which myself and my family have farmed and where we live to this day. I commenced adult life as a tradesman, having worked and trained for a period with my cousin, Larry Morgan, a carpenter in Ballinasloe, and grandfather of Billy Morgan, the well known Cork All-Ireland footballer and trainer.

I built my first house in 1932, a two-story slated house, for the Rooney family, Monatigue, Craughwell. This style of farmhouse with 2 large gables with chimneys was popular in the 1930s and 1940s with 3 or 4 bedrooms upstairs, and a large kitchen, sitting room and scullery downstairs. Sometimes, a downstairs bedroom was included behind the sitting room.

There were no concrete blocks or cavity walls or central heating in those days. The walls were built of mass concrete, filled into timber “casings”, which were then raised, row by row as the walls progressed upwards, and the house roofed with “Blue-Bangor” slates. All concrete was mixed by shovel in these early years, an 8:1 mix of sand and cement for walls, and a 3:1 mix for plastering.

Outside finishes were wooden floated plaster or “rough cast” finish, either by pebbles dashed on to plaster, or with a plaster/pebble mix dashed on to the house. Inside walls were steel-trowel plastered and hardwall finish applied.

Generally, a roofed and reinforced water-tank was built beside the house to collect roof water. Also, surrounding walls at front, with gates, and paths, were constructed. I also made the front and rear doors, windows, and fitted glass.

All houses were painted both inside, outside, before I finished. Rooms and ceilings got emulsion paint, with oil-paint and varnish used on windows and doors. All help for the tradesman was provided by the farmer or owner, as help was plentiful in rural areas in those days.

I built a number of similar two-storey houses around my home locality, for the Kelly and Connell families, Castle Lambert, for “Sonny Ryder, Derrydonnell, for John O’Malley (now Paraic’s), Cashla, for Jimmy Farrell’s family, Boyhill, for Frank Curran (now Donnellan’s) Farnablake, and for Larry Fox, Carnmore.

I built a two-storey house in Old Church St., Athenry, for Professor Heavey (now Teresa Kelly’s hairdressing salon, “Finesse”), and I reconstructed Mattie McNamara’s house in Old Church St. (now the Old Church Diner).

Those early two-storey houses were built for a fee of £50 while the Co. Council grant came to £75.

During this period, I made a timber foot-bridge across the Clare river, at Grange. The bridge, which has since been replaced by a concrete structure, was made at Castle Lambert from larch timber and taken by horse and cart to Grange.

In some case, I drew the plans for these houses, and made out the full list of building materials required, down to the last nail. This was needed to obtain quotations from the builders’ providers, usually Corbett’s Hardware, Northgate St.,(now D. H. Burke’s) or Sweeney’s Hardware, Cross st., Athenry (now Frank Sweeney’s Auctioneers).

One of the earliest houses I had built, in the l93Os, was a bungalow for John Thornton in Spiddal, an uncle of the well-known boxer, Máirtín Thornton. I had also built a bungalow for Jimmy Hynes at Lisduff, Coldwood. This style of dwelling house became popular in the 1940s and 1950s, and I built bungalows for Tommy Madden, Pack Higgins, Thomas Higgins, Johnny Grealish and Hughie Kelly in Lisheenkyle; for Johnny and Jack Kelly, Castle Lambert; for Frank Curran, Veterinary Surgeon, Pollnaroagh; for the Clancy family, Castle Ellen; for Angela Burke (nee Egan) Coshla; for Greaneys and Mike Fox, Carnmore; and Monaghans, Moyvilla.

In addition to building houses, I carried out renovations and extensions to numerous dwelling houses throughout my career, especially prior to having the “Station” Masses. Back extensions and bathrooms were added to Kellys, Connells, Freaneys, Mick Dunleavys and Moylans at Castle Lambert and Johnny Grealish’s, Lisheenkyle. Other improvements were carried out for Sean Ruane, Tony Burke, Eugene Quirke, Joe and Nonie Higgins, Michael and Aggie Courtney, Castle Lambert; John Joe Ruane and The “Bernan” Kelly’s, Lisheenkyle; Connolly’s, Birchgrove; Josie Duffy and Eamon Brady, Moanbawn; Morrisseys, Deerpark; Brodericks and Conways, Moorepark; and Willie Cullinane, Grange.

I also carried out renovations in Bridge St., at Curleys and Torpeys (formerly Nurse O’Gorman’s, now Rooneys), and at the Square Inn (then Kevin Whelan’s) and Torpeys shop and pub (now Iggy’s) in Cross St., Athenry.

I also undertook improvements at Poniards, Derrydonnell, Rafterys, Egan’s Bar, Mattie William Higgins, Eddie McDonaghs (now John), Lardners and Hessions, Coshla; Burkes, Cregmore; at Paddy Coffeys, Tim Rabbittes, Stanley McHughs (now Laffertys), Cartymore; at Walter Walshs, Ballybacka; and for Mike Joyce, Phil Fahy, Coens and Jack and Tom Rabbitte, Carnaun, and also to Carnaun National School.

I made a set of diningroom tables for the Sisters of Charity who had come to Coolarne Convent in 1928, and who taught a domestic science course for girls. I also worked at Canon Bomforts rectory (now Drs. Vivian and Ann Brennan’s), including erecting headstones for his domestic pet animals, and I carried out restoration work at the Protestant Churches at Athenry and Monivea.

I renovated a house at Taylor’s Hill, Galway for Mr. Glynn, former Ulster Bank Manager, Athenry, cycling to Galway each morning and being brought home by car each evening.

I also undertook improvements at Mrs. Hogan’s pub, Prospect Hill, Galway, aunt of my wife, Bridget, and at Mike Costello’s (now Gerry’s) Toberroe; and at Eagles,Keane’s, Healy’s, and Dominick Mannion’s, Greethill.

Several other farm buildings were also constructed during my career, including barns, cowbyres, piggeries, cattle crushes, dungsteads, water tanks and troughs,walls, gates and pillars, etc.

In 1973, I paid a visit to New York, to my brother Jimmy and family, and to visit the families of my brother Thomas, and sister Lily, and my other nephews and nieces. While there, I got the opportunity to climb the Twin Towers (which were then the tallest buildings in the USA) before they were fully completed and officially opened.

Other local tradesmen, craftsmen, carpenters and painters who worked during my era included Joe Maloney, Christy Howley, Jimmy Cleary, John Lawless, Michael John Quinn, Michael J. Gardiner & Sons, Waltie Burke, Martin Qualter (father of Pat, Jimmy and Martin), Christy Barrett, the Gibbons brothers, Michael Farrell, Clamper, and Paddy Cahill and Peter Mahon, blocklayers, who built the walls of a number of the more recent dwelling houses that I constructed.

One of the latest houses I built was a two-storey house for Paraic and Peter Dunleavy, Ballygurrane, and I concluded my career by building two bungalows, one for myself and my family at Castle Lambert, and my final house for my son, Vincent and family, at Lisheenkyle.

It is pleasing to look back and reflect on the many changes which have taken place throughout a long and rewarding career, as I enjoy my retirement with my wife Bridget and family.

Epilogue: The above interview with the late Pat Kelly, R.I.P. took place about eight weeks before he peacefully passed to his eternal reward on 18th May 1996, and it narrowly missed inclusion in the previous issue of the Athenry Journal.

Since then, some friends of Pat, including our Journal Editor, Finbarr O’Regan N.T., have referred to Pat’s literary interests and abilities, and this has prompted me to enquire into this aspect of Pat’s life.

It appears that Pat was involved with both producing and acting in local plays and drama during three distinct periods of his life, and involving three different groups of local actors and actresses; during the 1920s and the 1940s, before he was married, and at a later stage, after his marriage to Bridgid Costello, during the 1950s and l960s. lt is hoped to write about these plays and the characters who took part in them, in a future article in The Athenry Journal.

A man of great character he declined to accept the old age pension while he was “still fit for work”. Pat was also a noted singer, and was asked to sing at several “Station “parties, in houses where had carried out renovations, painting, etc., prior to the “Station” Masses. He had also hurled with the Derrydonnell Hurling Club, and at one period, had acted as Secretary/Treasurer for the Club.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Bernard Connolly.

Editor’s note in the following Athenry Journal – December 1996:

In the Pat Kelly interview in the last issue Bernard Connally inadvertently omitted to mention that Pat also built Tom Keane’s house in Rathmorrisey. He tells that Tom ‘had a great six months with Pat while the building was going on. There was a great rush to complete the job before Tom’s wedding to Eileen Fahy from Loughrea’. Helping Pat on that occasion were Joe Connell from Castle Lambert and Josie ‘The Giant’ Duffy from Mounbaun.

Eamonn Madden’s story related to Bernard Connolly for the Athenry Journal 1997

I grew up in the medieval town of Athenry in the 1920s, when life was much different than it is today, in 1995.  I represent the 5th generation of the Madden family, which originated in Bawnmore.  These were the early years of Irish freedom, following the Treaty of 1922, and the new Irish Free State was struggling to find its feet, following 700 years of Anglo-Norman and English rule.

Then came the 1930s and the Economic War, which started in 1932, when Eamonn DeValera, the Irish Taoiseach, refused to pay any further ground-rents of Irish property to England.  This resulted in the boycotting of all Irish cattle being shipped to England, which continued for more than five years, causing tremendous hardship and poverty to Irish farming families who could not sell their cattle.

Then came the Second World War, from 1939 to 1945, causing further hardship for the Irish people, and bringing with it the era of “compulsory tillage” and resulting in “ration-books” for each family for items such as tea, sugar and butter, lasting up to the late 1940s.  Tea, cigarettes and tobacco were traded on the “black market” during this period.  Tea traded at up to a 1 per lb.  During these decades of the twenties, thirties and forties.  Irish farming centred around horses to carry out all farm work, from ploughing, cultivating, carting, and harvesting of all crops, to providing transport for farm families by trap and side-cars and common carts.  Also by saddle, to Sunday Mass, to the weekly markets and for shopping, to the monthly livestock fairs, and to weddings and funerals.

My family operated a blacksmith’s forge in the town, and this was the central pivot of operation for shoeing horses, cart- making and the shoeing of cart-wheels, the manufacture of gates, farm implements, ploughs, harrows, scufflers, etc. and for the making of household implements such as fire-tongs, fireside cranes and crooks to hold pots and ovens for cooking meals and boiling potatoes.  All pig food was boiled at the kitchen fire, in those days, to provide home produced bacon and also pigs for sale at the local market.  Also butter, eggs and poultry were produced, both for home consumption and for sale, providing badly needed cash-flow to purchase clothes, footwear and flour, tea and sugar.

Rural and urban life centred around the monthly cattle, sheep and pig fairs held on the streets of Athenry town on the first / second Friday of each month.  There were also four horse-fairs held each year, on the first Wednesday of January and May, and on the second Wednesday of August and November.  “Horse-breakers” were a feature of these horse-fairs.  Their job was to continue negotiations with the seller after the dealer had bid and moved away.  The object of the manoeuvre was to “block” the next dealer from moving in to make a bid. These “horse-breakers” were a well known feature of all horse fairs throughout Ireland, and are still to be seen today in action at the famous Ballinasloe fair.

The “cheap-jacks” featured at every fair and market in the town, trading second-hand coats, jackets, trousers, etc., and other new clothes and footwear called seconds”.  Another feature of these years was the migrant labour force which came from Connemara to work with farmers in the Athenry area to sow the spring crops, to save the turf, to pick potatoes and to “pull” the sugar-beet, turnips and marigolds.  In 1949, the late James Ruane of Prospect and Ruane’s Engineering Works, who had earlier introduced home-generated electric light to Athenry town, was awarded the agency for the famous Ferguson 20 tractors.  Stories are told of individual farmers who took a horse for sale to Athenry horse fair and drove home their newly purchased Ferguson 20 tractor, having paid their deposit.

During these early years, the breeds of livestock which predominated around Athenry were the double-dairy Shorthorn milch cows, and Hereford and Aberdeen Angus beef cattle, Galway sheep and the Large White pigs.  During the 1950s, the black and white Friesian cattle were introduced; also black-head Suffolk and Oxford-Down rams, and Landrace pigs.  In the late 1950s, four Galway Co-Operative Livestock Marts were established: in Athenry, Tuam, Ballinasloe and Gort.  This was made possible following collections from local farmers, who became shareholders, mainly inspired by the NFA.  The traditional monthly fairs slowly declined in the following years.

In the 1960s, milk production for butter manufacture was introduced to Co. Galway by the establishment of the Co. Galway Creameries, now Mid-West Farmers Co-Op. and Dairy Society at Kilconnell, with branches at Athenry, Clonberne and Athlone.  These two enterprises were a major business boost to Athenry town an surrounding locality, which continue to prosper from their influence to this day.  The 1970s saw Ireland join the EEC, bringing a honeymoon period of increased cattle prices, followed by a rapid collapse in 1974 from over-production without proper markets and, towards the end of the 1970s, a rapid rise in interest rates following Ireland’s break from sterling, causing further farming hardship in the early 1980s.  Continental breeds of beef cattle, such as Charolais, Llmousin and Simmental had arrived in the 1970s, and now form a substantial portion of Athenry’s annual beef production.  Silage has taken over from hay as the main winter feed for cattle and sheep and slatted houses and hay sheds have replaced the traditional “tram-cocks” and “sheep-cocks” with the pole in the centre, which had dotted the local countryside for generations.

The Irish Draught Horse had almost disappeared from local farms as tractors took over, but are now making a revival as breeding animals, crossed with thoroughbred stallions, to produce “sport horses” for hunting, show-jumping, and leisure riding.  Athenry town is the centre of the world famous Galway Blazers foxhounds hunting territory, and hosts the annual opening meet in October.  The hunt caters for substantial numbers of foreign visitors on a regular basis and a number of local liveries supply mounts for them.  The level stone-walled fields provide open and safe country for hunting, which is unequalled throughout Ireland and abroad.  In this regard, it is pleasing to see the large following of young boys and girls who regularly ride hunt ponies, and the local landowners are to be complimented for regularly receiving the hunt over their lands.

The Athenry Agricultural Show has been held for the last 107 years and the Athenry Gymkhana for the last 32 years, without interruption, and I am pleased to have been a member of both societies for a considerable number of years. Thoroughbred horses are making an increasing contribution to the Athenry locality and horses with local connections have already won the Digital Galway Plate and the Guineas Galway Hurdle.  I am proud of our past local history and traditions, and hope that the future changes will enhance our town and locality.