Social Life in the 1950s/1960s,
No ‘Hanky Panky’ and “Respectable Ladies Do Not Sit on Gentlemen’s Knees’’.
Subsistence farming and renewed acquaintances
Meanwhile, back at the ranch,-to quote the old cowboy cliché- the everyday chores of subsistence farming went on regardless, an almost parallel life to your sporting activities.
When I returned to Park after my sojourn in Castlerea, towards the end of 1954, I began to renew acquaintances and friendships especially connected with the hurling pastime.
No ‘hanky panky’
One fair day around that time, I met Frank Feeney from Knockbrack and he told me there was a dance in the hall in Monivea on Sunday night. And so it was arranged that we would go. The hall was a small building with a corrugated iron roof and it stood where the Fr. Sammon Memorial Hall now stands. I think the band was Jack Curran and his brother Mike from Cappaghmoyle with Seamus Murphy from Monivea as drummer and vocalist. I got to know them better in later years and they were brilliant musicians.
Of course, I wasn’t able to dance so we sat around watching the talent and trying to pick up a few moves and steps. The hall was owned by the parish and the priest was at the door checking tickets and keeping a close eye on the dancers. No hanky panky!
Learning to dance
Sometime later, the hurling started up in Kennedy’s field in Carnaun. When the hurling would finish on a Sunday afternoon a few of us would go into the house.
They had an old wind-up gramophone with one of those big cone-shaped sound apparatus on the top. It was there I learned how to dance the quick-step to the sound of Gene Autry, the American country and western singer singing “Buttons and Bows”.
It was there I also learned to dance an old-time waltz- I think it was Jimmy Shand and his Scottish dance band recording that was played. Kitty and Della Kennedy were the people who really gave me my first dance lessons.
“Respectable ladies do not sit on gentlemen’s’ knees’’.
Craughwell Parish Hall was a very popular dance venue in the fifties and sixties. It was run by the Hall Committee but the parish priest was the boss. He would sit inside the door keeping a close eye on everything.
There was a large notice on the wall about three feet square which read:
“RESPECTABLE LADIES DO NOT SIT ON GENTLEMEN’S KNEES”.
I have seen him enforcing the rule on more than one occasion.
There would be hundreds of bicycles lined up against the walls along the road and some inside field-gates nearby. Inside the hall was a small storage area with shelves and a counter to the front where you could check-in your top coat for a few pence. You were given a ticket with a number on it and a corresponding number was pinned on your coat.
A half a crown was the general charge for admission; there were eight of these to the pound. Today’s equivalent would be 12.5 cent.
The social dance of the year
The social dance of the year was always the Galway Sheep Breeders dance. It was held once a year and was always packed to capacity.
Farmers and their wives, who hadn’t been out for the previous twelve months, both young and old but mostly old would arrive in all their finery, some of them a little bit tipsy. It was generally referred to as the “Ram Dance”.
In those days dancing was not allowed in pubs and drink was not allowed in dancehalls, so the only drink was a mineral which was a choice of lemonade or orange which cost six old pence and a small pack of six or eight plain biscuits which was four old pence. (240 pence to the pound).
If you were dancing with some lady and you asked her if she would like a mineral and she accepted, well things were looking good.
A lot of long term relationships started off with the invitation “would you like a mineral” likewise some of them never got off the ground at all when the answer was a resolute “No thanks I’m not thirsty”.
‘Michael Maher’ and cycling home in the dark
Cycling home from the dance was often as much fun as the dance itself. Young people going the same direction would often cycle in a bunch maybe eight or ten and the banter and jokes passed the time, talking about who had a mineral with who and what couple left the dance early.
Some of the cyclists would have lights on their bikes and some would not. If you left home on a bright summer’s evening to cycle maybe ten miles to a dance, a light on your bike would have been the last thing on your mind. There was strength in numbers, so the haves and have nots would often travel in convoy in order to avoid getting caught by the guards.
The guards at that time took a very “dim” view of unlit bikes, as you would often have a guard standing at a crossroads to catch those nocturnal law breakers.
When he stepped out in the middle of the crossroads and shouted “Halt” at nine or ten young fellows on bikes with heads down and pedalling like hell, he was lucky to escape being knocked over and maybe grab one of the unlit culprits. Then, if the guard did not recognise you, you had the option of giving a wrong name, so there was no way of proving who you were or not.
I was cycling home from Craughwell one night with another fellow who had no light on his bike. His name was Michael Maher. At the Cemetery Cross near Athenry we were stopped by a guard. He took out his notebook, licked the top of his pencil and said “What’s your name”? My friend replied “Michael Maher” “Come on now” said the guard, “Tell me the truth, you are the third Michael Maher to pass here tonight.”
It seems some of his friends who got caught earlier had given his name, it took a while to convince the guard that he was the real Michael Maher.
Chips and stolen apples
Another venue which we would cycle to in the fifties and early sixties was the old school-house in Abbeyknockmoy. It was about eight miles away and cycling home in the early hours of the morning, hunger would get the better of you and you would be hardly able to push the pedals around. At least when you would cycle to the Hangar in Salthill you could buy a bag of chips from one of the vans parked outside Seapoint.
On more than one occasion we raided an orchard in order to get some sustenance for the long push home.
I particularly remember coming home from a dance in Ballymacward and going into an apple garden in Gurteen and having to beat a hasty retreat with the dog snapping at our backside.
There were several small local halls operating at that time. One of those was Carroll’s of Cregmore. It was a family run affair, attended by mostly locals and with a group of local musicians.
Melee fights at dances
Fights at dances were part of the entertainment and Carroll’s was no exception. It was not unusual for a dance to be held up while a melee occurred at the end of the hall with men cursing and women screaming. It was not unusual for a woman to take off her shoe and use the high heel as a weapon.
Those rows were generally caused by and could be categorised under the headings (A) a row over a woman, (B) a dispute over a hurling match, (C) somebody trying to force his way in without paying or sometimes no reason at all just some young fellow with a few drinks- spoiling for a fight and hoping to make a name for himself. He generally ended up being thrown outside the door, where he would proceed to throw stones at the corrugated iron roof, until the doorman went out, gave him a few thumps and a kick in the behind and sent him on his way.
Murphy and ‘Bun’
Another small country hall was Murphy’s in what was known then as Bailebothar, it is now known as Ballinvoher. It is in the parish of Turloughmore, close to the parish of Abbeyknockmoy near Laragh. It was run by a fairly old man and his daughter who was affectionately known as “Bun”.
At some stage they had built a lean-to at the side of the hall, with an opening into the hall. It served as a ladies room, where they could hang up their coats and powder their nose.
The wall at the lower end of the lean-to was only about six feet high and some of the local boyos found that the roof was not securely attached to the wall at the low point and could be raised to allow people to scramble in underneath.
One night Murphy could see that there were more people in the hall than paid at the door so took a walk outside. At that point there was one man holding up the roof and another fellow halfway in. The fellow holding up the roof ran and dropped the roof, trapping his mate with his head and shoulders in and his backside and legs hanging out.
Murphy had a good ash plant with him and he lay into the backside of the trapped unfortunate. By the time he extracted himself dancing was the last thing on his mind.
Back in the fifties there was always tribal warfare between supporters of neighbouring hurling clubs and it was no different between Turloughmore and Carnmore.
One summer’s night before it got really dark, there was a dance in progress in the hall. The old man was outside keeping an eye on the young fellows hanging about when he saw a group of men cycling towards the hall. When they got close enough for him to recognise them, he hurried inside shouting “Bolt the door and squeeze against it, Bun. The Carnmores are coming”. This became a catchphrase among the dancing fraternity in that area for years afterwards.
The Ranch House
Keavney’s in Cummer was another popular venue. It was bigger than a lot of the village halls, it could hold a couple of hundred people, so could afford to hire bigger bands. In later years, when Andy Keaveny retired, its name was changed to the Ranch-House and it took on a new lease of life. It would have been around a ten mile cycle there and ten miles home in the small hours of the morning and it could be raining. People didn’t mind getting wet on the way home but it was a disaster to get wet going there.
St. John’s night, 23rd June in Cussaun
Another source of entertainment in those times was the bonfire dance on St. John’s night 23rd June in Cussaun and sometimes Castle Ellen.
For a week beforehand we would be collecting timber from the woods around Castle Ellen and piling it in a convenient spot on the side of the road. You would pick a spot where the road would be reasonably wide and suitable for dancing. It would be usually in Rabbitt’sboreen or Kelly’s tank in Cussaun. A local accordion player would supply the music. It was often Mickey Walshe, who worked in McHugh’s shop in Cartymore. Between dancers and onlookers you could have up to one hundred people both young and old.
The dancing would go on until the early hours of the morning, the light from the bonfire providing illumination.
In those days we owned a public dipping bath for sheep. We would dip the sheep for a large number of farmers in the area. It prevented maggots and disease from attacking the sheep.
We would appoint a day now and again to do the dipping. It so happened one year that the day appointed was the day after the bonfire.
Some farmers liked to bring their sheep very early in the cool of the morning, so as I came around the bend near our house at half-past three the first flock of sheep were going in the gate.
There was nothing for it only change my clothes and get down to work. I dipped the last sheep at ten o’clock that night having clocked up eighteen hours and almost three thousand sheep. It was the last time we appointed the dipping for the day after the bonfire.
Marquees – the death-knell for the small village halls.
Around that time, (the fifties) the marquees began to become popular as dance venues and they sounded the death-knell for the small village halls. Some of them could hold five or six hundred people and could afford to pay the top showbands in the country. The Royal Blues, The Nevada, The Mighty Avons, Donie Collins, Dermot O’Brien, The Regal, The Premier Aces, Joe Dolan, the Des TretwellDanceband, The Raindrops, and ceili bands, Ciaran Kelly from Athlone, the Donoghue Sisters from Tynagh with their brother on the drums. The KiltormerCeilí Band was also very popular.
Almost every village and sports club in the country ran marquee dances for a couple of weeks every year during the summer months.
The ones convenient to Athenry were Newcastle, Derrydonnell, Monivea, Turloughmore, Abbeyknockmoy, Cussaun and of course Athenry itself.
It wasn’t until cars became more plentiful in the sixties that they really took off and started to show a good profit.
But then the showbands started to get greedy when they saw the big crowds and they killed the whole business when they started to charge enormous fees for appearances.
The large halls were still able to get the big bands. I remember Jim Reeves and his band playing in the Hangar Ballroom.
Getting a lift to Seapoint or the Hangar was often a problem if you didn’t feel like a long spin on the bicycle, so you would search around Athenry on a Sunday evening for somebody who had a car and they were few and far between.
There were a few car owners and if you contributed a half -a-crown towards the cost of petrol they would take you to Salthill and they would also go dancing themselves. Some older people would often travel in and go for a few pints and a bag of chips afterwards from the chip van. One such man was a Mike Gill and on the way home in a merry mood he would always sing “The road to Dundee”.
P.J. from Moyvilla
One funny incident I remember concerned a man called Pat from Castle Ellen who found himself late one night in Salthill with no lift home. After a search around, he came across a man called P.J. from Moyvilla who had a motorbike but had been in the pub all night. It was a last resort but Pat asked him for a lift as far as Derrydonnell. “No problem” said P.J. “sit up behind there”. So Pat sat up and made himself comfortable. “Off we go” said P.J. and he let up the clutch a bit too fast and the bike did a bit of a “wheelie” and Pat fell off, landing on his backside on the road.
P.J. quite oblivious to what happened took off like a rocket and headed for Derrydonnell. Somewhere outside Oranmore, he failed to take a bend in the road, struck the wall and ended up in a field. A motorist who had seen it happen, pulled up and went to P.J.’s aid and asked if he was ok. “I’m alright “he said “but how is my mate Pat?” They searched high and low but there was no sign of Pat.
By this time Pat had brushed himself down and was searching for another lift home unaware of the frantic search that was taking place outside Oranmore for his remains –dead or alive. But Pat was very much alive and turned up for work next morning.
Ceili Bands and Set-dancing
The most popular ceilí bands to play in the Hangar in those days would have been Malachy Sweeney from Donegal, Richie Fitzgerald also from Donegal, Jackie Hearst from Northern Ireland and the Gallowglass from Co. Meath, whose fiddle player had a most unusual instrument. It had a horn like a trumpet attached to the top of the fiddle. It projected the sound and gave it a most unusual tone. Of course, Kieran Kelly from Athlone was also very popular and Kevin Rohan from Tiaquin played the violin with the band and in later years he went on to play with Shaskeen.
While on the subject of dancing, I would have to mention set dancing.
When the last of our family were reared, and gone their own way in the world, we were back where we started- on our own. Mary, sitting one side of the fire doing the crosswords and I on the other side reading a book while in the background we always had ceilí music playing.
About 1990, a lady named Anne Cullinane from Corofin started teaching set dancing in the Community Hall in Newcastle and so we went along.
She came there one night a week. She was a great teacher- a real perfectionist. The steps had to be right and the movement had to be right or you didn’t move on to the next part. She would teach beginners one part of a set each night, so it took four to six weeks to learn one set depending on which one it was, set dancers would understand this.
The Connemara Set and the Galway Set were the easiest to learn, so those were the first to be taught.
You then went on to learn The Plain Set, The Caledonian, The Corofin, The Kilfinora and many more in the following years. In the finish up we had learned in excess of twenty five different sets, from counties Mayo, Galway, Clare, Kerry and some Northern Ireland counties.
It opened up a whole new social life for Mary and me. We travelled to celií dances all over North Galway and South Mayo, South Galway and all around Clare especially Kilfinora.
Kilbecanty was also a great place for a ceilí with some memorable nights with the Tulla Ceilí Band and the Four Courts.
We have attended ceilí dances in Limerick, Lixnaw, Killarney, Kenmare, Galway City and of course Athenry where Michael Cannon is keeping the show on the road in the Community Hall.
Ceili Dancing in Denmark
But some of the very enjoyable ceilís that we attended were in Denmark – would you believe. Set dancing is very popular in several cities in Denmark, especially Copenhagen and Arhus. Every year towards the end of April, the Arhus set dancing club hold a weekend dancing.
As we have a son who lives there, we have gone to visit him at a time that coincides with the set dancing weekend. We have always got a great welcome, because strange as it may seem, we were the only two Irish set dancers. The set dancers were all Danish
About eighty-five of them, with four Danish musicians belting out their finest of Irish music. You could easily imagine yourself to be in Kilfinora.
We have made many friends in Denmark, some of whom have called to visit us in Park and more of whom we have met at the Willie Clancy weekend in Milltownmalbay, Co. Clare.
Dancing, priestly sermons and poking courting couples
Dancing in the fifties and sixties inevitably lead to what was the subject of a lot of priestly sermons at Mass and by the missioners on their annual mission in Athenry, it was that great occasion of sin – company keeping. I have seen the missioners pounding the pulpit with their fist – company keeping and the moral dangers associated with it.
We even had a curate in Athenry who would patrol the unlit lanes and dark places around the outskirts of Athenry, particularly at weekends. If he came across a courting couple, he would poke them with his walking stick and tell them to go home, but not before asking their names and threatening to tell their parents. I would like to see the reaction if it happened nowadays.
There is a story told about one young fellow who was so frightened by the sermons that he went to confession and told the priest that he was company keeping with a girl. “And did you sleep with her” thundered the priest. “Not a wink father” stuttered the frightened sinner. You could put different meanings on an answer like that.
Arrival of Electricity, Match-Making,
“Sorry for Bothering You, Miss Murphy” and ‘Rabbit’ Poitín
Pat Kenny and Paraffin oil for the wall lamp
Before the coming of rural electrification, an important part of the shopping list was a gallon of paraffin oil for the wall lamp. Most grocery shops would have a barrel of oil out at the back of the shop. From the tap they would measure the required amount, taking care to keep it far apart from the groceries as it has a rather pungent odour – to say the least.
Pat Kenny, who lived in Caheroyan, drove a small oil truck which carried five or six hundred gallons. This truck had a tank with a tap at the back-end. He used a five gallon can to deliver oil to the shops. This had to be carried by hand- no hose.
Some country people used paraffin oil as a remedy for head lice. When we were young at school you knew who had head lice when you got a strong whiff of paraffin.
Arrival of electricity
At times like this you would often think about going to England. It was only in later years that you realised it was not the Utopia that you thought it was and they had to work hard and save up to pay for their holiday at home.
Still and all, life on a small farm in the fifties was no Utopia either. Between Athenry and Cussaun crossroads, which is four miles, nobody had a phone, nobody had electricity and nobody had piped water.
The postman was really the connection with the outside world. In those years Bill Keating, who lived near the Arch in Athenry was our regular postman. He would always come to the gate and whistle loudly when he had a letter for us and it was always eagerly anticipated as it was from some member of the family in Australia, Liverpool or London.
Eventually in 1956 electricity came to our area and it changed night-life completely. You could now read the Connaught Tribune as you sat in the centre of the kitchen floor. You no longer had to back in under the old oil lamp on the wall and jostle for position with some other member of the family who would be shouting “You’re blocking the light”
Some houses, especially older people just got one light installed in the kitchen. They couldn’t see why you would need a light in the bedroom because that’s where you went to sleep – and whatever!
One old lady when asked what did she think of the electric light, she said “It’s very handy, I put it on while I’m lighting the lamp.
For people living in the country, 1956 and the coming of electricity was really the dividing line between the dark ages (pardon the pun) and the road to modernity.
People didn’t rush out to buy electrical items. They had neither the money nor the need. An odd family, here and there bought a fridge but a fridge wasn’t really a necessity in those times.
The wiring of some of the old thatched houses was a problem for the installers. Can you imagine a four or five feet thick wall, mostly rubble filled, covered up with up to two inches of white-wash built up over a couple of hundred years? What sort of rawl plug would get a grip there? I know one house where the installer decided he would need a fairly long rawl plug so he cut the handle of an old twig, almost four feet long. He hammered this in the full length before it got a grip. Some rawl plug.
Strange as it may seem, the coming of electricity led to all new houses built after that time having running water and toilets installed.
Water and Sanitation
The water which was collected off the slate roof was stored in a concrete tank holding a few thousand gallons. This in turn was pumped, using an electric pump to a supply tank in the attic, from where it was gravity fed to the kitchen and toilet and in later years to oil-fired central heating.
Prior to this when a new house was built, the toilet and back kitchen would have a concrete roof on which was built a shallow tank which collected water from the roof. This in turn gravity fed the taps and the toilet. In wintertime, the excess water over-flowed into a large tank at ground level. In summertime, when the overhead tank ran dry, a hand-pump was used to pump water from the ground tank.
Again, the old thatched house didn’t have the roof to collect the water nor the attic to house a supply tank, so you collected water as best you could from the roofs of a few old rusty sheds and where you went to use the toilet depended on what the weather was like and which way the wind was blowing.
I know of some two storey slated houses built in the late thirties and early forties which didn’t have toilets built- in at the time. It was over twenty years later before the toilet was added on.
There is a story told about the old man whose son returned after many years in the United States, to take over the family farm. He had with him his very modern American wife. The first thing they done was to build a modern bathroom with a shower. They then cleared an area of the haggard and set up a barbecue with a table and chairs.
Every evening the couple would sit outside having their supper but the old man refused point blank to join them. “When we were growing up”, he said, “We ate our supper in the house and went to the toilet in the haggard. Now they eat in the haggard and go the toilet inside the house”
Another man I knew renovated his old house and installed a toilet – which to him was a huge step towards a modern life style. In the pub one night he was telling a friend what he had done and the friend said “and Patch did you put in a shower”? “Indeed I did not”, said Patch, “Dodging them I’ve been all my life”!
I suppose that prior to the coming of electricity we lived a bit like the hill-billies in the Appalachian Mountains. Match-making was not unknown – I knew a couple of bachelor farmers who had wives found for them by a third party.
It usually involved taking the prospective groom to the lady’s house. The bachelor would have a bottle of whiskey in his topcoat pocket and if he liked what he saw, the bottle was produced and if he didn’t, it was kept for another day. One matchmaking effort I know of ended up with the matchmaker and groom being very bad friends. The bargain was, the matchmaker was to get five pounds for the introduction and another five pounds if it led to marriage – which it did, but the groom reneged and didn’t pay the second fiver, they never spoke to each other for the rest of their lives.
I knew of one bachelor farmer whose mother had died a short time beforehand and who needed a “replacement”, was taken to meet a prospective candidate for his affections by a go-between.
During the discussions on the “terms of agreement” and being a straight talking man, he stated “It isn’t for anything I want you but to do a bit of house-keeping”. How very romantic?
Surprisingly they got married and went on to have a family, how he got around the housekeeping clause beats me!
“Sorry for bothering you, Miss Murphy”.
I heard of another couple who were brought together by a matchmaker. He was a very shy, bashful individual who had never travelled outside his own small area, unwise to the vagaries of the outside world
She was born and reared in a fairly remote area, what they would call in the countryside as ‘set swell back from the tar road’ (if you lived near a tar road you were expected to be really cool). She had the mark of the wellingtons on her shin and wore a ‘binoge’!
He being shy and polite referred to her as “Miss Murphy” even when they decided to get married. On their wedding day they went back home to his house, no Lanzarote for them, not even Ballybunion.
That night when it was time to go to bed, they knelt down and said the rosary to save them from all harm, more people died in bed than any place else he said, t’was a dangerous place.
They both went to bed and lay there for a good while looking at the ceiling, which they couldn’t see because they had no electric light. Eventually he decides to break the impasse, tapped her on the shoulder and said “sorry for bothering you Miss Murphy”.
Well whatever spot of bother they got into must have gone ok because a few hours later he tapped her on the shoulder “could I bother you again Miss Murph?” said he.
There is a slight possibility that this may have been fiction because “dúirt bean liom go dúirt bean leithí” (a woman told me that a woman told her), but sure women wouldn’t lie about such things.
Like our distant cousins in the Appalachians, moonshine (or poitín as we call it here), was easily availed of.
Every few miles of the road there would be an ‘agent’ or retailer where you could pick up a bottle or two. These people wouldn’t be poitín-makers, they would buy ten or twenty gallons and bottle it, maybe add a dash of water, and sell it on. It was in great demand especially around the Christmas as it was half the price of whiskey.
People learned how to judge the quality of a glass of poitín even without tasting it. When the poitín is poured into the glass, a ring of small bubbles would form around the edge of the glass. These would only form if it was of good quality and were known as the ‘beads’ or ‘rosary beads’ as some older people would call them. If the ‘beads’ did not appear it was treated with extreme caution.
In the fifties, there would have been a retailer in Cussaun, one in Cregmore, Moorpark,Carnmore and Kiltrogue.
On one occasion I went to a man’s house for a bottle. He took a spade from behind the kitchen door and walked up the field. When he came back he had a bottle of the ‘craythure’ which was caked with clay, it had obviously been buried.
A lot of it came from the Headford area and the islands in Lough Corrib. One of the best-known purveyors of the illicit spirit in those times was Martin Thornton from Connemara, he was an All-Ireland heavy-weight boxing champion, so you didn’t complain to him about the quality of his poitín.
He would both wholesale and retail it around the area and his best known port of call was to a large bachelor farmer, (large man – large farm) known as Tom Pheadar, he would take a large amount and retail it off.
Even in those days scams were perpetrated on the country people. A stranger would come into the area in a car with the boot full of bottles of poitín, and he would go from house to house selling his booze.
He would open a bottle and put a little drop in a glass for the prospective customer and it was always very good. Later that night when the buyer decided to have a nightcap he found it was almost pure water.
Another man I heard of at that time was a rabbit-catcher by trade. He was a regular sight cycling along the road miles from home with up to ten brace of rabbits hanging from the handlebars and the carrier.
The guards suspected he was also dealing in poitín but could never get any proof. They searched his house time after time but could find nothing, just rabbits hanging all over the place, some had passed their eat-by date so they didn’t get too close.
But the guards kept a close eye on him and found he would go into houses miles from home, when asked he would say “sure I got hungry, I went in for a bit of grub, and I gave them a rabbit for their trouble”.
Eventually the guards stopped him on the road and examined his furry cargo and found each rabbit had been eviscerated (a fancy word that) and a bottle of poitín stuffed inside each one.
Some of the people from around Barna and Moycullen sold cartloads of turf at the Saturday market in Galway and they would hide the poitín in the load of turf for delivery to their customers in the city. The Connacht Tribune would regularly report cases of people being brought to court charged with making poitín and being caught in possession.
Fines wouldn’t have been enormous back then and some judges would be sympathetic to the fellow caught with a couple of bottles and fine him a few pounds.
Some of the excuses given in court were often very amusing. One such case involved a man from Oughterard who was charged with possession of twenty two bottles. He told the judge that he had it for a calf that was sick. He was convicted and fined and at the end of the case the judge said “by the way, how is the calf”? “He died, your honour” said the man, “I’m not surprised” said the judge, “it was probably alcoholic poisoning”
Another man in Rosmuc was caught with a gallon. He swore he never drank a drop in his life, but that he used it as a “rub” for his wife’s rheumatism.
Another excuse often tendered in the Connemara courts was “my wife needed it to make the Christmas cake”.
Well, so much for the juice of the barley. It played a significant part in the life of the country people back in the fifties.
Home or Away and the ‘Raleigh Rattler’
Thinking among the crops
Well, company keeping is far from your mind in early June as you find yourself in the middle of a field of beet or turnips, canvas bag tied about your knees, kneeling down between the drills, thinning out the young plants and pulling weeds which were thriving much better than the crop.
The weather at that time of the year was often very unsettled, one moment you could have scorching sun on the back of your neck and minutes later you could be racing for the shelter of a bush as a deluge of a summer shower swept across the field. Then you went back and knelt down where you left off, except now your fingers were caked with wet clay and the weeds all around you were dripping wet.
That’s when you would start to think about the present and the future. You spent most of the time in the fields on your own with plenty of time to think and nobody to talk to but yourself, unless you were working near the road and a neighbour might pull up for a chat or a passer-by might shout “God Bless the work” and the standard answer was “And you too”.
And so you often thought about your six-day working week, no wages, and no holidays.
The only light at the end of the day-long tunnel was to swallow down your supper of bacon and cabbage, grab your hurl, jump on your old rattler of a bike and away down the road like a bat out of hell. (What would a bat be doing in hell anyway?)
My patched up “giobógs”
And then every summer, your brothers and sisters would arrive home on holidays, dressed in nice clothes and money in their pockets.
I would meet them at the Railway Station with the pony and trap to carry their cases and themselves and they were always delighted to be home. All the while I would be comparing my patched up “giobógs” with their nice city clothes and my hob-nailed boots with their shiny black shoes.
Growth into a life with twists and turns.
When you are eighteen, as I was in 1956, and you are looking forward to being twenty and being a man, time can seem to move very slow.
Long days in the fields, most of the time on your own, six day weeks, sometimes seven, no holidays. We knew as much about holidays as the cat knew about his father, not to mention bank holidays.
Well, a year passed by and another one trudged after it and lo’ and behold I was twenty years of age. A man at last or so I thought but it’s from that onwards that life starts to get serious with all its turns and twists.
Home or Away
Emigration was widespread in those years. Dozens of the young people I went to school with and got acquainted at dances and hurling matches, all emigrated, mostly to England and a few to America.
The vast majority had left school at fourteen. Second level school had to be paid for, so was unaffordable to most young people.
The problem with emigrating was, you needed money to buy clothes and your ticket, so a lot of the young fellows would do seasonal work with farmers, wheeling turf, saving hay and picking spuds until they had enough money to go.
Some of them would work in Bord na Móna for a while at the backbreaking work of footing turf.
I once heard BordnaMóna described as “a place or state of punishment where some young people suffer for a time before they go to England”
One man told me he worked locally for three pounds a week, but for his first week on the buildings in London, he got fifteen pounds. Could you blame him for going?
Ireland was churning out scores of thousands of young people, mostly uneducated, to go work as labourers for Murphy and Wimpey on construction works and roadbuilding.
Family size-Rural and urban divide
Back then families were large, ten or twelve children in a family was quite common. Contraceptives were forbidden, thanks to a dominant church and a subservient government. So, the law said it was a crime and it dealt with you in this life, and the church said it was a sin and the devil would deal with you in the next.
So you couldn’t win unless you did like the woman in the rhyme;
“A mother of eight one night sat up late
And sewed up the front of her husband’s pyjamas
Now the moral of this little rhyme
A stitch in time saves nine’’.
I often wondered why the families of the country people and the working people were always much larger than town families. It was not unusual to have ten or twelve children in farming families; there was even one family in the parish with twenty-one children, whereas shopkeepers, guards, doctors, and office workers would have three or four. Did they know something that their country cousins did not?
I mentioned earlier about the uneducated people who emigrated to England in the forties and fifties. They may have been lacking in formal education, but they were smart and intelligent and many of them went on to be very successful.
The hard road is a great education.
Mark Twain, the American author of Huckleberry Finn, said, “Never let school get in the way of your education.”
A new ‘Raleigh Rattler’
Well, I think that is enough about the “origin of the species” around Athenry and come back to reality and the reality being it’s 1958 and I am twenty years of age and my future lies somewhere down the tunnel of time.
The chink of light away in the distance could be daylight- or the light of a train coming hurtling down the line and could blow your future to kingdom come.
As a matter of fact, there was something coming down the line which would be life changing, but I hadn’t spotted it yet. But more anon.
My old rattler of a bike was beginning to be a bit of an embarrassment. I suppose you could call it a cannibal of a bike, because it had devoured bits and pieces of many different bikes. You’d be hard pushed to tell what make it was. The odd rub with black paint helped to put a respectable look on it.
Arriving outside a dancehall on this flying bedstead of a contraption was not good for the ego so the decision was made to buy a new bicycle.
On a visit to Corbett’s, I was shown this flyer of a bike. A Raleigh with carrier, a gear-case, which kept chain–oil off your trouser leg, a Miller dynamo and a leather Brookes saddle. A real Rolls Royce of a bike.
At that time I was suffering from a slight touch of ”pócaí follamh”, so it was agreed that I could buy the bike on Hire Purchase or HP as it was called then, – not to be confused with the sauce with the same initials.
The arrangement was, I would pay a deposit of one pound and ten shillings, and twelve monthly payments of ten shillings, a total of seven pounds and ten shillings, making it a couple of week’s wages for a working man- and a lot longer for me.
It was reported some years ago that a lot of American men suffered from a condition that doctors called “walletitis”. It was caused by sitting in to drive their car with a big fat wallet in their back pocket.
This aggravated the nerves in their rear end and caused sciatica and lameness hence “walletitis”. I can assure you there was no “walletitis” in the countryside around Athenry in the fifties. We didn’t know what a wallet looked like.
At a time when cars were scarce on the road, a new Raleigh bike gave you boasting rights. With a dynamo which lit up the road for a couple of hundred yards, you had motorists flashing their lights at you because they were dazzled by this interloper with one big light.
I no longer had to hide my bike in the bushes a distance from the dance hall; I could now park right up beside the door, with a big padlock on the back wheel. Stealing of bikes was quite common in those days.
Going to Mass on Sunday was another opportunity to show off, parking right up at the gate- again with a big lock. Just because somebody done a bit of craw thumping and sprinkled himself with holy water, didn’t mean he wouldn’t steal your bike.
The Williams Family of Carnaun
Photos: Mary Coyne (nee Williams)
Mary and Jack Williams
The Williams Children
L-r: Jackie, Peggy, Chrissie, Mary and Tom
Jack Williams (Father) and daughter, Sadie
Chrissie, Rosie and Sadie playing See-Saw on the legs that supported a corn stack, The legs prevented rats from climbing up into the corn stack
Young Williams Hurlers
Front (l-r): Jackie, Rosie, Chrissie, Tommy. Back: Peggy
Mary’s aunt, May Williams, who was home on holidays from the U.S.A. driving a horse and cart on the Carnaun Road.
Chrissie, Mary and Jack Williams
Chrissie, Mary and Rosie
Waltie Gill, (Uncle) Pa Williams, Tommy Williams.
Aunt Margaret Williams and the Williams’ New House in Carnaun.
Sadie Williams and Mary Williams (Mother)
Heading off to Mass
L-R: Jackie, Tommy, Rosie, Chrissie and Peggy
Sadie and (Mother) Mary Williams
Jack and Mary Williams and Motor Car.
Sadie Williams, John Francis Sullivan, Mary Williams
Rosie, Chrissie (Bride), Angela Hynes
Peggy Williams, Margaret Williams, Sadie Williams in London
Nurse in St. Bridget’s Hospital, Ballinasloe,
L-R: Kathleen O’Rourke, Mary Williams, Mary Staunton, Mary Mannion.
Sadie and Peggy Williams
L-R: Chrissie Williams, Tom Rabitte, Peggy Williams, Frank Coyne, Jack Williams, Rosie Williams, Jackie Williams
Outside the Williams’ House in Carnaun
Back: Jackie Williams, Peggy Williams. Sitting: Mary Williams, Mary Williams (Mother). Standing: Frank Coyne and Baby Joe Coyne.
The Williams Family
L-R: Tommy, Rosie, Chrissie, Jackie, Peggy, Mary and Sadie.