Frank Coyne’s Memories – Part 4


Courting Mary, Wedding Bells, A Yellow-Pack Honeymoon

and the Home-Coming

Mary and Frank

Mary (right) on her Wedding Morning with sister, Rosie

Courting Mary and drifting together

Around this time, the hurling club moved its activities to Walty Walshe’s field in Carnaun, directly across the road from Jack and Mary Williams and their family.

Each evening when it got too dark for hurling, a couple of dozen lads would sit around on the bank of the road and on the wall chatting and talking and joined by Jackie, Tommy, Peggy, Chrissie and Rosie, the children of Jack and Mary.

A few weeks after my first visit there, another young lady emerged from the house and joined in conversation with some of the people gathered outside the gate. I found out that this was Mary, another sister, who was a trainee nurse in Ballinasloe, home on a couple of days off.

A short while later, two young fellows came on bikes from the Turloughmore direction and disappeared from view around a sharp bend near Carnaun School. A few minutes later, Mary and Peggy walked up the road and also vanished from view around the bend.

You didn’t need to be Einstein to fathom out what was going on there.

A couple of weeks later, Mary was home again and we did exchange some conversation – not a lot. I wasn’t very shy on the hurling field but talking to women wasn’t my forte. Anyhow she was too busy flirting around the rest of the crowd. She wasn’t short of attention.

Gradually, we sort of drifted together, met at a dance, cycled home together, and got comfortable in each other’s company. She was nineteen and I was twenty, the year was 1959.

I couldn’t believe my luck. I couldn’t understand what a trainee nurse could see in me – a clod buster with no education. It must be the new bike.

There being no phones, the postman was the only means of contact, so if a letter arrived, I knew she would be having some days off and she would arrive on the train from Ballinasloe. She lived in the Nurse’s Home there.

I wrote earlier about not knowing what was coming down the line, little did I know that it would be on the railway line from Ballinasloe…

She had caught my eye on the first evening she appeared at the gate on her way to meet her date, Tommy Hession from Mirah but it was like looking at an expensive item in a shop window and you hadn’t tuppence in your pocket.

Now, I wouldn’t tell her that andI hope you don’t either. She might only start getting high notions.

The next couple of years were happy times, hurling on summer evenings, chatting and talking afterwards, playing “Twenty five” on the long winter  nights in Jack Williams’s house. At a penny a head nobody won or lost very much but you always had to keep an eye on Pa Rabbitte as he could always manage to steal the ace of hearts.

Marquee dances were very popular in the summertime or you had the pictures in Murphy’s Hall in Athenry.

A troubled and anxious time

Teresa and Pat Kennedy visited Mary on their wedding day.

Then suddenly early in 1963, disaster struck, Mary contracted meningitis. For about eight months, it was touch and go. Several times the family were called in to the hospital as they were unsure if she would survive. Right through the summer, I would travel with her family to visit, while her family would also visit on weekdays.

The low-point came when the consultant said he couldn’t give an opinion on whether she would survive or not. “Where there’s life there’s hope” was all he would say”

Eventually she started to show some improvement and shortly before Christmas she was deemed fit to go home but with a huge way to go before recovery was anywhere near complete.

Less than six stone in weight and having to learn to walk again, it was still a great relief to everybody that she made it home for Christmas.

An example of how dire things were earlier on, could be gauged from a conversation with a neighbouring lady who went to visit her in hospital. “Ah the poor craythure” she said, ”She’s not for this world; she has a faraway look in her eyes”. Not very reassuring don’t you think?

Engagement and Nelson’s Pillar

After five or six months of gradual improvement she agreed that we would get engaged, so off we went on the train to Dublin.

Bought the ring in McDowell’s in O’Connell Street, had a meal and climbed Nelson’s Pillar. She wore the ring on the journey home. That was 1964.

That was it; no parties; no big celebrations; everything was low-key, even my own family were not privy to the occasion, but Mary’s family were.

Off to London- a change of scenery

In August of that year, two of Mary’s sisters were home from London on holidays and I was in for another surprise when she said she would like to go to London for a while. And no, she wasn’t pregnant, even though it was hinted to me by a few busybodies. She just wanted a change of scenery after being ill for so long. So off she went on the train on the 15th August. She had given me strict orders not to go to the station to see her off as it might make parting a little messy.

We fast forward to Christmas and she arrived back, looking refreshed after four months in London and having worked in an office during that time. We had a fairly lively discussion and decided to fix the 3rd August 1965 for our wedding day.

A “church wedding”- one of my greatest days

We got married in NewcastleChurch at 10.30 am which was usual in those days. The church in Athenry had been knocked down to make way for a new one and a disused old bag factory was used for saying Mass. So, we decided

Mary and Frank signing the marriage register.

Wedding at Newcastle Church, 3rd August 1965

L-R: Peter Holland, Frank, Mary and Rosie Williams.

L-R: Margaret Coyne, Mary Coyne, Nora Coyne, Sabina Coyne, Frank, Mary, Joe Coyne, Carmel Coyne, Pat Coyne, Joe Coyne.

Children (L-r): Kevin Boylan, Triona Boylan, Brian O’Brien, Rose Ann Boylan.

The Wedding Party outside Newcastle Church

that a “factory wedding” was not very fashionable, so we opted for Newcastle Church, and a “church wedding”.

The wedding breakfast as it was called in those days was held in Hayden’s Hotel in Ballinasloe. The guests consisted almost entirely of aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters and numbered fifty two.

The meal cost one pound and a half a crown per head which was classed as expensive, as it was almost a day’s wages for a man.

But it was one of the greatest days of my life. A day, which at one stage, I thought would never happen. Two years earlier it looked as if a funeral was the most likely outcome.

Two Wedding Receptions in Hayden’s Hotel, Ballinasloe

Bertie Campbell and Shiela Keane; Frank and Mary.

A “Yellow Pack” honeymoon

In those days weddings finished up about six o’clock in the evening, thereby giving everybody plenty of time to get back home. We embarked on what you could say was a “yellow pack” honeymoon. Some people might even describe it as “cheap-skate” but in those times it was hard to shake off that old “pócaí follamh” syndrome.

It was arranged that we would travel back to Lucan with my cousin Peter and stay with him and his wife Maureen in their house in Lucan. We also had the use of a car for the week to travel around CountyDunlin and the scenic WicklowMountains. We also attended a ballad session at the Embankment in Tallaght. So, it was a very enjoyable honeymoon with a visit to the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin thrown in for good measure.

Homecoming night

 Frank carries Mary across the threshold 

The homecoming was another memorable occasion with friends, neighbours and relations gathered in the barn, which had been cleared out and swept by my brothers and sisters.

The barn was swept and the walls decorated with dancing carnival posters

L-R: Pat Costello, Pat Kennedy, Michael Coyne.

A half barrel of porter was tapped and standing in the corner and Peter Holland played the accordion for dancing.

Joe Coyne stepping it out

Triona Boylan and Angela Holland

Mary and ? Curran

Frank and Mary in the kitchen of the old house after their honeymoon

Tea and sandwiches was supplied in the kitchen, with a glass of whiskey for the older age group and lemonade for the youngsters.

It was probably one of the last traditional barn homecomings in the area. An old thatched house didn’t have enough room to cope with friends and neighbours, so you had no option but to go “rural” and evict the bags of oats and pig-meal and “rise the dust” for the night.

Living with her in-laws

This was the end of one stage in the life of Mary and me and the start of a much more serious one. It took a lot of courage for Mary to come to live in an old thatched house with no running water, no central heating, a chemical closet for a toilet and a large open turf fire.

The only nod towards modernity was a gas cooker with a barrel of gas standing in the corner. My parents were in good health and active and lived with us.

Not the very best way to start married life and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody but I had very accommodating and helpful parents and we made the most of life in a situation which had very basic amenities. No car, so the shopping was done and carried home on the bicycle.

From Concrete to Crystal and Scary Moments in Northern Ireland

Galway Crystal, Merlin Park, Galway

Employment and Supporting a Growing Family

Mary and Frank with (L-R) Frank, Kevin and Joe

In May 1966 our first child was born, a son whom we named Joseph. It was both a happy and sad occasion.

When I went to collect Mary and the baby from the hospital, I also took my father into the hospital as a patient. He had been diagnosed with cancer some days earlier. We were told there was not much hope for him, and he died on the eighth day of August. It was ironic that the death of one Joseph coincided with the birth of a baby Joseph.

Another son, Frank was born in October 1967 and it was about this time that I decided that the land was not producing enough of an income to provide and improve the way of life which modern living standards demanded. So I decided I must get a job, but at twenty nine years old and having left school at fourteen, there was not a whole lot of situations open to a country mug.

My brother-in-law, Tommy, worked in the Connaught Laundry and he told me there was a vacancy for somebody to feed the soiled clothes into the washing machines, press a button and put them in the dryer. Couldn’t be simpler.

So I applied, and was called for interview and the interview went something like this-

What was your last job? –  Picking spuds

Are you used to machinery? – Ploughs-harrows

Have you a tractor? No – I work with two horses

Have you a car? No- but I have a good bike

How would you get to work?  I would get a lift from my brother-in-law.

The lady said she would consider my application and inform me by post.

As expected, a couple of days later, a letter arrived saying I was unsuccessful in my application.

So the bottom line was- I wasn’t fit to throw peoples dirty linen in a washing machine and press a button – how low can you go?

You may be able to grow spuds, beet, turnips, mangolds, oats, barley, milk cows, produce lambs and work a pair of horses but to some people that was work that didn’t need any great intelligence.

So a different approach was needed – a job where strength was the priority, so in February 1968, a friend, who worked in Galway Concrete Company told me there was a vacancy there. I applied for and got the job.

Plenty of physical work, loading concrete pipes onto lorries, travelling out to farms erecting mass-concrete walls for silage pits.

Then one day I was asked to test concrete pipes for leaks using a system of water under pressure. As well as that, I had the task of taking samples of the aggregate used to make the concrete, put it through a series of different size riddles and calculate the percentage of different size aggregate in each sample.

Also take a six inch cube of ready-mix, allow it to set for a few days then put it under a hydraulic press until it cracked and you recorded the P.S.I. which it withstood before cracking.

I enjoyed this work and when things got busy, I was out doing manual work again. I didn’t realise it at the time, but the experience I gained at the testing of the materials was to have a great effect on my employment for many years in the future.

Honda Transport

Shortly after I started work with Galway Concrete in February 1968, I bought a  Honda 50 moped in Raftery’s in Mainguard Street. The price was about fifty pounds (the price of a bullock) and I travelled to work on this. The wage was about eight pounds a week and if you got a bit of overtime it helped to pay for the Honda. This Honda came in very handy. On Sunday afternoons, we would go to Mary’s parents in Carnaun, with Mary on the pillion seat and Joe, who was close to two years old, wedged in between us. Helmets weren’t compulsory but I’m not too sure about three on a moped.

At least it was a step-up from a bicycle built for two- didn’t we look neat going down the street on a moped built for three.


Well, roll on September and Mary was expecting our third child that month. She was taken into maternity and I stayed at home from work for a few days to look after the other two children.

I was at home for four or five days when a registered letter arrived.  I duly signed for it and I could hear some coins rattling inside. How nice I thought to myself, there’s somebody sending me money.

Inside were a few pound notes, some coins, my social insurance cards, stamped up-to-date and a slip of paper with the words “Compliments of Galway Concrete”. Nothing more, what a nice compliment. I was being “fired” from a distance, something similar to a ballistic missile being fired from Oranmore and aimed at the house.

Mary and Jack Williams with Joe and Mary Coyne with baby Frank

‘Crystal’ employment

This was a regular occurrence as the work was seasonal, no union, mostly farmers or their sons worked there and hiring and firing was not unusual.

So the hunt was on again for a job. I had got used to a regular wage packet and it had made a huge difference besides waiting for the next fair day to come around or maybe sell a couple of tons of spuds. So, I scanned the Connaught Tribune on Thursday evening and spotted an advert for a factory job with Galway Crystal Glass.

Duly wrote a letter of application and was called for an interview. I must have done something right, because within a few days I got a letter offering me the job at a starting wage of nine pounds and ten shillings a week. This was very good wages in 1968, with the added bonus of being indoors, out of the wind and rain and winter just around the corner. The only drawback was, it meant a six o’clock start in the mornings to check on and feed the animals and be in Galway at eight o’clock. But I was just delighted to have the chance to work like that as the wage was considered very good for an unskilled worker.

The experience I had in Galway Concrete, testing pipes, calculating the different percentages in the size of the aggregate was a great help in the interview and swung it for me.

My job was to work in what was called the “acid room”. The design on the glasses was cut using a spinning, sharpened carberundum stone, so the cuts were a grey opaque colour and needed to be polished.

This is where the acid room took over. This consisted of four large, two hundred gallon tanks, one caustic soda, one hot sulphuric acid, one hot mixture of sulphuric and hydrofluoric and final one very hot water tank.

The glasses were put into polypropylene baskets and were dipped in rotation in the different tanks. The whole object of the exercise is to melt off the old surface of the glass and leave it with a gleaming new surface. When the “gentry” are having their whiskey in a gleaming crystal glass they never realise the different processes it goes through. It took about fifteen minutes to polish each basket of glass, but the real job was to keep the acid mixture right.  Hydrofluoric acid is so powerful it would melt a hole right through the glass, so only a few pints was mixed with two hundred gallons of sulphuric acid, it was still powerful enough to destroy a basket of expensive glass if you weren’t careful.  Of course, protective clothing and gas masks had to be worn as it could be a dangerous operation.Anyhow, I got the hang of it after a week or so and was quite happy there.

Ram in the backseat

At this stage I traded inn my Honda 50 and bought a little Mini Minor, blue in colour.

One of the first jobs I had to do with the little Mini would be a bit out of the question with today’s fancy cars.

I had bought a big black-head ram from the Agricultural College and no ways to take him home so I took out the back seat and pushed the ram inside.

He travelled home in style and seemed to enjoy the attention of the people as we drove through Athenry. You would even think he was smiling back at them.

Building a home

I worked in Galway Crystal for almost eighteen months. At this stage I decided that I needed to build a house with modern amenities as the family was getting big, numerically. So in January 1970 I spoke to the Manager and told him my reason for leaving.

He was very understanding and said when I had the house built, to come back and I would get work. It was very hard to leave as I was getting twelve pounds and ten shillings which was good wages at the time, but I had saved some money and the house was needed so it was down to some real work.

L-R: Joe Coyne (Frank’s brother from Liverpool), Kevin Coyne and

Frank mixing concrete with shovels.

Building a house in those days was very different from present day systems. The foundations were dug entirely by hand, up to four feet deep in places. The stones for filling foundations and for sub-flooring were all drawn by pony and cart. Concrete blocks were loaded on to the scaffolding by hand and the mortar all mixed with the shovel.

All roofing and other timber work was cut with the handsaw. Not one electric tool was used in constructing the house.

When it came to plastering, washed sand was unavailable, so all the sand needed had to be washed in a barrel of water using a very fine riddle. By the time you had the house built you were a very fit man with muscles like a body builder. I had a handy man by the name of Michael Gill working with me, so between the two of us we did a lot of manual work.

I feel I must digress for a moment.

The completed Coyne home

 Mealtime in their new home.

Standing: Frank, Mary with baby Mary and Bernie.

Seated: Frank, Peter, Gerard, Kevin and Joe.

Tea Time in the Coyne Household a few years later.

Back: Frank, Gerard, Kevin, Frank, Joe and Neighbour, Margaret Flaherty.

Front: Mary, Peter and Mary.

The maturing Coyne Family

Back (l-R): Mary, Mary, Frank and Gerard

Front (l-r): Kevin, Peter, Joe and Frank.

The front garden of the new bungalow

Around that time there were still some people in the locality who believed they could bring bad luck on people by burying eggs or a lump of butter in the crops of people that they envied. I had come across eggs buried in drills of potatoes and a neighbour found eggs buried in some of his cocks of hay. My uncle found a lump of butter in his crop of mangolds.

Which event leads on to my experience in building the house. The load of sand for plastering was tipped on the roadside in front of the house. One morning as I filled a barrow of sand I came upon two eggs buried a few inches deep in the sand. Obviously somebody didn’t like me.

To counteract the “curse” you were supposed to take the eggs on a shovel, making sure not to break them and throw them over the wall, onto the roadside if possible, if not, then the neighbour’s field will do fine. If you don’t believe in this sort of thing, and the eggs are fresh, they’d be very nice scrambled on toast.

I wasn’t taking any chances with my two eggs, so I took them on the shovel and deposited them on the road side. I was a bit like the auld fellow that was asked did he believe in fairies. “No”, he said, “But they do be in it”.

Duck eggs were supposed to be far more potent than hen eggs. If you really didn’t like someone and you wanted to bring the house down on top of his head, then two duck eggs stuck in the thatch some night, and “fait accompli”, or so we were told.

I often wondered why people with super-natural cures were called “quacks”. Was it something to do with the duck eggs?

Gerard and Peter Coyne

Gerard after his appendix operation and Peter with his broken leg while playing rugby for Monivea.

Shortly after the episode with the eggs, the cement factory in Limerick went on strike and cement became unavailable, so house building came to a stop. The eggs seemed to be working! If they were they must be powerful eggs because the whole country was at a standstill.

The strike went on for a couple of months, but in the meantime I got information about somebody that was smuggling cement from Northern Ireland.  I managed to get a ton at twenty eight pounds compared to the usual price of seven pounds

So, building work was resumed interspersed with the usual farm-work, sowing the potatoes, ewes lambing, saving the hay and going to the bog.  All the water used in building the house – making concrete, mortar for laying blocks and water for washing the plastering and had to be taken on to the site in barrels carried on the pony cart and all the mixing was done with shovels. 

It was very primitive compared to today’s methods where you have ready-this and ready-that and the walls of a house goes up in a few weeks – and you don’t even have duck eggs to contend  with.  I know of one man that built his house ‘piece-meal’ – when he had a bit of money and some time to spare he would work on the house.  It took him four years to build his house but at least he was not in debt.

Confirmed Cousins

L-R: Cousins, Anne Williams, Peter Coyne and Séan Cronin.

Banks and the Small farmer

In those days banks would only laugh at a small farm-holder if he asked to borrow even a couple of hundred pounds, so the motto was ’if you can’t afford it do without it’.  You had no other option but go and roll up your sleeves and get down to work.

Farmers, both big and small were loathe to borrow even if it was available to them, as they didn’t have a regular income to pay back the borrowings.

Snobbery and ‘fleas’

Strange to say but there was a lot of snobbery among the different strata of society fifty or sixty years ago.  The educated and well-to-do looked down on country people in general – the large farmer looked down on the small-holder and he in turn looked down on the labouring class – it brings to mind the rhyme:

‘The bigger fleas have smaller fleas

Upon their backs to bite’m

The smaller fleas have tiny fleas

And so, ad-infinitum’

So it was no wonder the ducks were laying over-time to provide eggs to go with the wishes of bad luck that were not uncommon at the time.

Kevin and Frank’s Confirmation

Back: Joe, Mary and Frank.

Front: Gerard, Peter, Mary, Kevin and Frank.

People and their strange beliefs

Some country people had strange beliefs and fears.  When I started to build the house I had to move across the road from the east side to the west side.  One day a woman who lived a couple of miles away was cycling by and she stopped to chat.  She said it was a great mistake to build there as you should never move to the west to build a new house; that it was very unlucky to move towards the setting sun.  Always move towards the rising sun. More people became upset if they saw a couple of magpies on the road.  To meet a red haired woman on the road was supposed to be another bad omen.

My parents told me of a local man who was cycling to Tuam when he met a red-haired woman on the road so he turned back and went home.  He believed it would be very unlucky to continue on.

Can you imagine the chaos we’d have on the roads in Ireland if that belief still existed today. You’d have cars doing U-turns in every direction trying to avoid the red-heads. “Jaysus Maggie, was that a red-head in that car. Arrah no Pat, that was Maebh with a streak of orange and a few high-lights. Now you mind the driving and I’ll keep an eye out for the red-heads”.

A black cat on the road was always regarded as an omen of good-luck, but it is hard to understand why this is the case. The supposed evil nature of black cats became official Roman Catholic Church doctrine in the tenth century when Pope Gregory the ninth announced a link between black cats and the devil.   The persecution of black cats became widespread as a result.  So much so that there was an explosion in the rat population and they carried the bubonic plaque all over Europe in the twelfth century.  The hostility to cats reached its height in the thirteenth century when Pope Innocent VIII ordered the killing of every cat in Christendom, black or otherwise, because they were in cahoots with the devil.

Every night when a group of them came together and started their caterwauling and screaming, they were planning the destruction of human souls and communicating with the devil.  If the Pope said so, what could the ordinary person do?  I’m sure the rats were delighted.   Anyhow, the next time you see a black cat: just consider how lucky he was that his ancestors escaped the clutches of the Roman cat crusaders.

‘Cures’ and ‘Quacks’

While on the subject of beliefs and myths, I feel I must mention a “cure” that some “quacks” performed when I was young.  It seems to have been quite common before my time but it existed in the forties and early fifties.

If somebody had what they called a ‘bad chest’- a persistent cough and trouble breathing – the quack maintained that the problem was caused by the small cartilage or bone situated at the lower end of the chest-bone, just above the stomach.  It can be easily felt with the finger.   He would claim that in some people this turns inwards and caused chest problems.  It was called by the Irish word ‘Cleithin’ and he claimed he could turn this bone back to its proper place.

The procedure consisted of leaving the butt of a lighting candle on the offending bone, then he turns a glass tumbler upside down over the candle and leaves it there until all the oxygen is burned off and the candle quenches.  At this stage the loose flesh is being sucked up into the glass and has a good grip.  He then catches the glass and gives it a jerk and hey presto – you are cured but your belly is a bit sore and your pocket a bit lighter.   This was known as ‘lifting the cleithin’ and it was fairly widespread in earlier times when T.B was rife and people were slow to go to the doctor with dire consequences.

‘You come back’

Well, normal life must go on, so one day towards the end of June 1970 and with the house half-built, I was saving hay in a field not far from the house.   It was a lovely summer’s day, when a car pulled in the gateway.

A man got out and came across the field.  As he got closer I recognized him as Ernst Schober, the German foreman from Galway Crystal.  After a few words he said ‘you come back’ in his slightly broken English.  I explained that I didn’t have the house finished yet, and he said ‘You come back.  I give you twenty five pounds’. Well, I thought, I must be dreaming.  Double the wages I was getting only a few months before!

Well, I didn’t need any persuading.  I was in the factory almost as fast as my German friend.   I could now afford to employ another person to work on the house and I thought how different from a short time before when my lady-friends in the laundry deemed me unfit to ‘drive’ the washing machine with the load of dirty linen.

‘O Lord it’s hard to be humble but I’m doing the best that I can’.   I was put in charge of that section, which had two other people working there, but it also meant that if things weren’t going well and your fancy crystal glass didn’t have the right glitter, it was my problem.   I stayed in that section for three and a half years.  I then asked for a change of job, as I felt that the acid fumes were affecting my health.

Scary moments in Northern Ireland

I moved to the dispatch section, which involved putting orders together and delivering locally.Gradually I started travelling further a-field – Shannon, Cork, Killarney, Dublin, Donegal, Belfast and several towns around Northern Ireland.

There were a lot of scary moments when I was stopped and searched by the U.D.R. as it was very troubled times in the north.

One morning in the mid-seventies at around 11.30 am, I arrived in a small town in County Fermanagh. It must be five miles from some place because it was called Fivemiletown.   On approaching the town everything seemed unusually

quiet, no traffic on the road, but there were armed U.D.R. and R.U.C. stationed at every corner.  Nobody on the street and nothing moved.   As I drove down the street I felt a bit like that sheriff in the film ‘High Noon’ but not knowing what was going on.  All the shops were closed.   Eventually I spotted the store that I had the delivery for.  The shop was closed but I parked in front of a large window of the shop.  The yard door was open so I went in to investigate and found a back door into the shop.

Inside were about a dozen people and also a very irate fairly old man in a wheel chair and he was shouting ‘Who parked that so-and-so van in front of the window.   I want to see the ‘so and so’ funeral.’

It transpired that a local U.D.R. man had been shot a few days previously and his funeral was due to pass along the street at any moment.I was strongly advised to get the van into the yard as quickly as possible as it wouldn’t be a good idea to have a ‘Galway Crystal’ emblazoned van parked on the route of the funeral of a murdered U.D.R. man.

Having put the van out of view, I took my place inside the big window and had a grand stand seat to watch the proceedings.

The show of force was unbelievable. There were hundreds of armed soldiers and police and sympathisers and I’d say if you happened to wave a tricolour there would be two funerals.

On another occasion I arrived in Dungannonon the day after a car-bomb had gone off in one of the streets.  All the shop fronts were destroyed but it was a hive of activity with carpenters and builders trying to make the place safe.  Of course, that street was closed off but the rest of the town went about business as usual.

Armed police and soldiers were everywhere and as I walked along the footpath a troop-carrier came along the street with a machine gun mounted on top and manned by a soldier and the barrel pointed down at the people walking on the path.

It looked very provocative and it was not very nice to have an English man pointing a machine gun at you as you went about your business.  My son Frank, who was ten or eleven years old, was with me on this occasion and remembers it well.

Another thing I was told to watch out for in the North was, as you drove along a road in the country-side, a police or army vehicle would drive up close behind you and use you as a shield in case they were fired on.

The advice was keep checking your rear mirror and if they were there to pull over and stop or leave the road at the first junction.   It happened to me on a couple of occasions.

Another time in Belfast the traffic was suddenly held up and after a long delay we were diverted away from an area up ahead but nobody seemed to know why.   It was only from the newspaper next day I learned that a bomb, which had been attached to the chassis of a policeman’s car, had fallen off and lay in the middle of the road unexploded.

My Refuge

At that time the factory had an agent in Northern Ireland who took the orders and passed them on and I would often take a load down and would go around and deliver to his customers.

He was a Protestant man who was very nice and friendly.  There were times when I had to stay over-night and he would advise me where it was safe to stay and park my ‘Crystal’ van.

One evening after doing a delivery on the Newtownards Road I decided to stay overnight in Bangor but he said it wasn’t safe and the best place was Donaghadee, six miles further on and that became my refuge on a few occasions.

Across the border before dark

One thing I was always told was to get home across the border before dark as a lot of things happen after dark there, and it wasn’t the fairies either.

One day I was delivering in the North and on the way home it was arranged for me to collect packing material from a factory near Warrenpoint.  To get to Warrenpoint I had to travel along a road from Newry, which runs parallel to a narrow sea inlet called Narrow Water.   It passes the spot where eighteen British soldiers were killed a couple of years later.  The scars of the explosions were still to be seen when I passed there afterwards.   I had a long delay at the factory which meant it was very dark when I got to the border crossing between Newry and Dundalk.  In the daytime it was manned by soldiers, it was a security post, not a custom post, so your identity and your vehicle are checked.   But at nighttime, for safety reasons, they will not show themselves and that’s when it becomes scary.  

At first there was an illuminated sign saying ‘Prepare to Stop’ then a little bit further on ‘Stop! Switch off lights!   A huge spotlight is shining directly into the cab and you know that both yourself and vehicle are being scrutinized.   Then the sign says ‘Move Forward’ and a bit further on ‘Stop, Switch off Engine’  You sit there for what seems a long time and you know your mug shot is being compared to somebody on the wanted list and you are glad that there aren’t too many in the country that looks like you.

All this time you’d neither hear nor see anybody but you know that if you made any false move or your foot slipped off the clutch you’d have made the headlines next morning.

At long last the sign changes to ‘Proceed’, you switch on the engine and your lights, the spotlight switches off and you emerge into reality and head for Athenry and a completely different world.

Detectors and Wheels

Entering the North in daylight at that time was no picnic either. One evening I crossed the border from Lifford in Donegal to Strabane in Co. Tyrone which meant crossing the bridge over the river Foyle.

At the Northern end the R.U.C. had a road block and were checking every vehicle and driver.  They were armed with revolvers and one had an automatic rifle clasped across his chest.

Their back-up team was lying in the grass on the road side on the Northern side with their rifle sights trained on the driver and occupants of each vehicle.   It was certainly a situation where you didn’t give any back-chat.

Several times along some country roads I had seen gaps in the ditch a few metres long.  I was told that it was where a roadside bomb had been detonated.  Very handy if you needed an extra gate into your field!

In some of the villages you’d get stopped by a mobile army patrol.   After the usual personal check they would pay particular attention to the wheels of the van.   They would run a type of detector around the tyres while listening on ear-phones and the same attention to the spare wheel.   It seems that explosives had been transported inside the tyres of vehicles.


The town of Enniskillen was completely sealed off with heavy iron gates leading into the town.  They were manned by security during the day.   Shoppers were not allowed to take their cars in.   They had to park in special areas outside the cordon and carry their goods out.   Only specially vetted deliveries were allowed in.  Every evening the gates were locked and only pedestrians could get in.   When the police patrolled on foot they walked one on each side of the street, revolvers on the hip and the rifle clasped across the chest, giving each other cover.

Export-Import Procedure

In those days – the seventies and eighties – Northern Ireland was in effect, a foreign country, which meant that if you were taking goods across the border you had to go through the export-import procedure.  Border Custom Posts had ceased to exist.  They were either closed down, blown up, or both.   You were only allowed to cross the border on certain roads.  The British army had either blown up the bridges or blocked the roads with huge concrete blocks.  The road from Monaghan to Aughnacloy was approved and as both towns had custom clearance offices, this is where I used to cross.

It meant taking your load with manifest and invoices to be examined and stamped and then when I reached Aughnacloy I would go to an agent who would do the import documents and then take them to the custom clearance office to be examined and stamped by  ‘Her Majesty the Queen’s Customs Officer’.It could be a lengthy procedure which meant you had to start early in order to get back across the border before dark, in case the ‘fairies might get you’. 

Galway Crystal and Deliveries to England

Deliveries to England

I was then asked by the Galway Crystal bosses if I would consider doing deliveries to England.  I had only ever been to England once before – to my brothers funeral in Liverpool – and I had never driven over there.

This was in the mid-seventies and I thought it was a great challenge and immediately volunteered.   The first trip was to take a load of glass to Kings Lynn in Norfolk where Wedgewood, who owned Galway Crystal, had another factory.   This meant taking the load to North Wall in Dublin, getting custom clearance there, and getting the boat for Liverpool, arriving there about 8.00 p.m., get custom clearance again and then stay overnight in Liverpool.

The next morning, armed with a few maps, I set off for Kings Lynn, two hundred miles away on the East coast.  There were no motorways going from West to East, so it was entirely good quality country roads.  

As you crossed through the centre of England you drove over the Pennine range of hills, called the Peak District, through the towns of Macclesfield and Buxton and what is reputed to be the highest pub above sea-level in England – ‘The Cat and Fiddle’. It was beautiful countryside with rolling uplands and stone walls and stone-built old farm houses.   Then on through Chesterfield, Mansfield, Newark, Seaford and finally Kings Lynn, with a sigh of relief.

Get rid of your load, have a cup of tea and set out for Liverpool, two hundred miles away.  The boat sails from Bootle at about twelve midnight so you get there in time to clear customs and board a half hour before sailing.

The Ferry and Police Clearance

In those days the Irish Ferries took about eight hours to do the journey, so the procedure was, have something to eat, a couple of pints of Guinness, find a comfortable seat and hope the sea wouldn’t be too rough and try to sleep.

As the I.R.A. was active in England as well as the North, you had to get police clearance before boarding the boat. After giving my name and address the policeman asked, “What is the number of your house?’.  When I said it had no number, he became very suspicious.  ‘It must have a number. How would the postman know where to deliver a letter?’.  When I said that no house in the village or in the town of Athenry had a number, that the postman knew everybody, he was flabbergasted but finally took my word for it and allowed me to board.

London Delivery

Well, that first trip was a success so a few weeks later I was asked if I would go to London and deliver to a few of the big stores there.

It was a bit of a challenge as I had never been to London, but I looked forward to it as I had a sister in Woodgreen, North London where I could stay overnight and make it a family visit at the same time.   The trip consisted of leaving Galway in the afternoon, getting to DunLaoighaire in the evening, getting custom clearance and getting the vehicle loaded on board for eight-thirty sailing.

The ferry was called ‘Columba’(left) and it had two decks down in the hold for commercial vehicles and cars and several upper decks for passengers.

The crossing took roughly four hours so you arrived at half-twelve or one o’clock, get custom clearance and by three o’clock in the morning you were ready to hit the road for London – three hundred miles away.

The roads in North Wales were very crooked in those days, just ordinary country roads, so the plan was to get over them as soon as you could and head towards Chester, get on the end of the M6 and head south.

By this time it was bright morning and the motorway was like a racing track; trucks, buses, vans, cars, all hurtling along at breakneck speed and here was the country bumpkin from Athenry trying to hold his own.  When one of those huge juggernauts passed you by you’d almost get sucked in by the vacuum they created.

Well, by this time the belly was starting to rattle a bit so I pulled in at the next motorway café.

Inside, I saw all the truck drivers ordering a full breakfast so pretending I was an old hand, I did the same.   The amount of food piled on the plate for the truck-driver was unbelievable.  You had rashers, egg, sausages, potato cake, mushrooms, beans and a pile of toast and everything oozing grease.  When you looked around at the drivers you could understand why they were all eighteen or twenty stone.   I was a skinny twelve and a half stone and I struggled to finish, but I had enough cholesterol to do me for a week. 

That afternoon I rolled into Woodgreen on my inaugural trip to London.  My sister lived on Alexander Park Road in the shadow of Alexander Palace, which is perched on top of a hill and can be seen from a long way away and served as a great point of reference to home in on when you were unsure of your direction.

Frank outside the Tower of London

Well, having reached Wood Green was only half the journey as I had to find Harrods on Bromton Road, the next morning.   But a good meal and a good night’s sleep at my sister Mary’s house left me ready for any eventuality that would come my way.   In the finish up I arrived at Harrods which is a huge building with entrances from three different streets and deliveries at the rear.

Having got rid of some of my load there, my next drop was at Windsor, a small village west of London and there, overlooked by Windsor Castle and a large statue of Queen Victoria at the top end of the street, I got rid of the rest of my load. 

Then it was head for Wood Green, which was a job in itself as you could drive for hours in London and still not have got out of there.   In the end, I got to Wood Green at about four thirty, had a hurried meal and started out on the three hundred mile run to Holyhead.  At that time of the evening it was chaos trying to get on to the M1 in North London and it was a baptism of fire for a greenhorn from Park.  You certainly wouldn’t want to be suffering from claustrophobia as you were surrounded by miles of cars, coming from every direction, at snail’s pace all trying to get onto the M1 and head north.

Home on the Ferry

At about 12.30 a.m., I rolled into Holyhead tired, but delighted that my trip had gone well so far.

At that time of the morning it was like the middle of the day with trucks and cars unloading from the ferry and hundreds more lined up, waiting to get on.   I still had to get custom clearance as you didn’t have open borders with the E.C. at that time.

At 3.00 a.m. I was on board the ‘St. Columba’, ready for sailing at 3.30.  I thought to myself, everybody at home is sleeping soundly and I am over here in Wales in the midst of all the hustle and bustle, trucks revving up and men shouting directions, the Welshmen speaking Welsh with the odd f… word thrown in to add weight to whatever they were saying.   It seems there is no Welsh word to cover that, it seems to be understood universally.

Every driver of a commercial vehicle got a free meal, so breakfast was being served at 4.00 o’clock in the morning and it was devoured with gusto – a big fry-up with second helpings – followed by a pint of Guinness and you would sleep soundly for the next few hours, no matter how rough the sea.

The ferry operators regularly carried race horses to and fro between Ireland and England, but if they expected a stormy crossing they wouldn’t carry horses for safety sake.

So, when the announcement comes over the public address ‘No horses traveling tonight’, you knew what to expect.   It’s alright for humans but not good enough for racehorses.

On occasions like this I had worked out my own antidote to seasickness.  I had a good fry-up at 3.00 in the morning, followed up with two pints of Guinness, then find a quiet corner and lie on the floor, your feet towards the front of the boat and allow your body to go with the flow.    I never failed to hold on to my breakfast!  So much for sea-sickness tablets! 

Other London Trips

My trips to England took me as far north as Harrowgate in North Yorkshire, to the midlands with deliveries to Burslem, the heart of the area known as the Potteries.

The headquarters of Wedgwood which was situated in that area of Stoke-on-Trent was also a port of call.It was situated in the centre of a very large farm of land with a half-mile long avenue, which crossed over a river before it reached the factory.   What a fabulous place to work.

The trips to London took me to various well known establishments, apart from Harrods; there was Debenhams on Oxford Street, which meant you had to negotiate the round-about at Marble Arch.   It had six or seven lanes of traffic, all ‘choc-a-bloc’ so if you happened to get trapped in the wrong lane you could be circling for an hour before you got out.

Likewise, Piccadilly Circus was no place for a clown as you had to have your wits about you to avoid getting lost.

Gerred’s on Regent Street was another drop-off point.  On a couple of occasions I had special deliveries to the headquarters of the Bank of England on Threadneedle Street, known ‘The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’

On one trip I had a special piece of Galway Crystal for delivery to the residence of the Indian High Commissioner on Pall Mall, a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace.  The man who accepted delivery asked if I would like a cup of tea – seeing that I had come all the way from Galway – and, of course, I jumped at the invitation.   It is one of my greatest boasts, that I had tea in the residence of the Indian High Commissioner.   What a change from ‘crubin’ spuds on your hands and knees on a frosty morning!

On one occasion I was driving in the general area of Buckingham Palace /Houses of Parliament.   Approaching a junction, the several lanes of traffic came to a halt, with police cars and motor cyclists lined across at the lights.   Nobody seemed to know what was happening but after five or ten minutes, the Queen in her ceremonial carriage drawn by several pairs of white horses with footmen and outriders came through the junction.  I was about a hundred yards away.   She waved as she passed by!  I was amazed that she recognized me at that distance!   Of course I snubbed her and didn’t wave back.

‘Galway Crystal’ logo and the London Irish

Having the name ‘Galway Crystal’ emblazoned on the side of the vehicle attracted the attention of a lot of Irish people in London.

On one occasion I had just parked in Wood Green.   As I got out of the vehicle, two ladies came along the path.  One of them asked if I had come from Galway.  When I said yes, they said ‘We are from Athenry’   It turned out they were Burke sisters from Clamper Park just outside the town.

Another time I was in a slow moving traffic in an area known as Park Crescent in Central London.   There was a double Decker bus in the lane on my right and the conductor was standing at the open door.  He shouted ‘When are you going back to Galway’   I shouted ‘tomorrow’ and he asked ‘Any chance of a lift?’  When I asked ‘Where to’, he said ‘Inverin’ and with that the traffic moved on.   Ships that pass in the night!

The Galway Crystal Van in the Dales of Yorkshire

Early one morning, having disembarked from the ferry at Holyhead, I was travelling through North Wales and pulled over in a lay-by to have a rest.   After a while a car pulled in and the driver got out and came back and tapped on the


window.  He explained that he was from Connemara but working in Wales.  He had an application form filled out for a job in Galway but there was a country-wide strike by postal workers in England so he couldn’t post his application and would I post it when I got back to Ireland, which I did.

I never heard if he got the job but it’s just an indication of the attention the name ‘Galway Crystal’ attracted as you travelled around England.

Rosslare to Fishguard Ferry

Sometimes if others sailings weren’t suitable, I would take the Rosslare to Fishguard route.   This meant that you had to head south when you disembarked in Fishguard in order to pick up the M4 which took you across the Severn Bridge and on by Reading and into West London where I would pick up the North Circular and on to Wood Green and my sister’s house.

To see and travel on the Severn Bridge is really worth the journey.  It’s a four-lane bridge, about a mile long and almost five hundred feet above the water.  You certainly needed a head for heights.

Amazing English Countryside

Coming from the West of Ireland – where farms are relatively small – driving through England was certainly educational.   In some areas the countryside was a blaze of yellow with huge fields of oil-seed rape in full bloom.  Some of these fields would have been twenty and thirty acres in size.   In other areas peas for human consumption were grown on a large scale.    It was not unusual to meet large tractors with trailer loads of green peas heading for the canning or freezing processors.

The Lincolnshire windmills used to drain the land with Frank and his nephew, Steve, and the Galway Crystal Van in the foreground

Of all the areas the most amazing was the reclaimed and drained marshes of Lincolnshire.   As far as the eye could see, flat rich land, no fences, even along the roadside.  The huge fields were divided by deep dykes, which took the water away. Every type of vegetable you could think of was grown there in vast areas: Cauliflower, broccoli, sprouts, onions, carrots, strawberries, also tulips and daffodils.

Those fields had lay-bys on the roadside where the trucks would be loaded directly from the fields.   Another thing that was unusual was the fact that the majority of people working in the vegetable harvesting were women and they all seemed to wear what we call in I Ireland a ‘binog’ or headscarf.

Here and there, an old windmill still survived from the days in the eighteen hundreds when they were built to pump out the water from the marsh or fens as they were called in Lincolnshire.

Originally, hundreds of people were brought over from Holland as they were the world experts in drainage and hence, the old windmills or in other words ‘wind pumps’, which were used to pump the water into larger dykes and on to the river and sea.

They must be very honest people in Lincolnshire, with such an abundance of fruit and vegetables for miles along the roadside and not a fence in sight; it must be tempting to pick up an odd bag of produce.

Your biggest danger would be getting drowned in one of the dykes, either accidentally or deliberately by the owner of the crop.

A bit further south, around Peterborough, was a great sugar-beet growing areawith huge fields with everything mechanized from the sowing to harvesting.   No such thing as down on your knees, thinning or weeding.

You began to realize that in the West of Ireland with small fields and small farms you hadn’t a hope of catching up.

Further south again towards Cambridge and beyond were vast cornfields where wheat is grown year after year without having to rotate with root crops.   The soil is so deep and using deep-digger ploughs they can bring up fresh soil from deep down.

I have seen them using five and six furrows deep diggers, pulled by a huge tractor and, instead of rear wheels, the tractor had caterpillar tracks like that used on a bulldozer.

That was forty years ago.  At that time at home if you were seen chugging along on a second-hand Ferguson 35, people would think you were coming up in the world.   I remember, back in the fifties, a man with a little Ferguson 20 with a little rotavator attached, getting plenty of hire-work tilling the land for farmers and we thought he was ultra-modern.

Family Holiday to London

It is said that travel broadens the mind.  It certainly opened my eyes.In 1979 I decided to take the family to London for a holiday.

On an earlier delivery run I took two of the sons and left them at my sisters in Wood Green, then piled the rest of the family, four children and two parents into an old red banger of a Cortina, which had a petrol problem.

Feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square

This problem manifested itself by the engine cutting out if you went over forty miles per hour. Well, I got to London and showed the family all the highlights: Tower of London, Madam Tussaud’s, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and much more. At the end of the holiday the real test came, to get the family of six children and two parents from London to Athenry in a temperamental old Cortina, which would

All lined up in Kew Gardens

occasionally cut out and we would have to drift over to the hard-shoulder and give it a rest for a few minutes and then off we would go again.  It looked as it if was just getting short of breath carrying a family of eight and just needed the odd rest.

Cortina with a Corset

Luckily there was no law about seatbelts in those days or we would have been in trouble, but we got home safe and sound and very tired and short-tempered.

Some days after getting home and having failed to diagnose the respiratory failures of the old Cortina I decided to take off the petrol tank and investigate. Inside I found a woman’s corset rolled up and partly blocking the petrol outlet. This explained the occasional shortage of energy fromwhich the old Cortina suffered.

The car had been owned by a couple of different farmers before I bought it. And it seemed one of them lost the petrol cap and used the discarded underwear as a stopper until somebody pushed it in too far. It was probably the first Cortina ever to wear a corset.

The Coyne Family ‘Band’

Back (L-R: Frank, Joe, Frank. Front (L-R): Kevin and Gerard.

 Baby Mary, out front, leading the Coyne Family ‘Band’

(L-R): Joe, Peter, Gerard, Kevin and Frank.

 Mary (centre) playing the accordion in the Convent School Band

 A Return to Farming and Building a Home

Unemployed and a return to farming

Galway Crystal went into liquidation in the early eighties and that put a stop to my gallop around Ireland and England.

I decided to stay at home and concentrate on the land. Growing vegetables seemed a good idea, probably encouraged by what I had seen in Lincolnshire.

Sowing Cabbage

Frank driving the Massy-Ferguson and behind are Joe and Frank doing the planting

I started off with a couple of acres of cabbage and carrots. I gradually built it up to twenty or more acres of potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, cabbage and cabbage plants.

Every morning I would do a tour of all the shops in Athenry and they all supported me in my venture.

At that time there were at least ten family shops that sold vegetables including grocery and butcher shops. I also sold to a couple of wholesaler vans who would call and collect.

All in all I was doing alright with a lot of help from the family of five sons and a daughter who was a great help. All was going well for a number of years but gradually costs were increasing while the price of vegetables remained static due to imports from the large commercial growers in Holland, Lincolnshire, north County Dublin and other European countries where vegetables were grown on a massive scale.

I started to scale down the amount of land under vegetables production while at the same time contemplating my next move to keep the show on the road.

Saving Turf in Cloonkeen bog

L-R: Frank Coyne, Margaret Coyne (Liverpool), Anne, Margaret Coyne (Child), Joe Duffy (The Giant), Patrick Holland, Peter Holland

Frank and children cutting and saving the turf in Cloonkeen Bog

Footing the turf

 Carmel Coyne hard at work.

Working for Jarlath Cloonan


Back on the road again

In 1999 I was approached by JarlathCloonan who asked ifI would be interested in driving an oil truck doing domestic deliveries, and also petrol and diesel to smaller independent filling-stations around a large part of County Galway. Of course I was delighted to be offered the job as I had a licence to drive both trucks and buses.

Having driven all around Ireland and a lot of England, I was now getting the chance to drive around the highways and byways of my native place. I really enjoyed travelling around meeting old friends and making new ones having the chat and conversation and of course having the cup of tea in the country houses.

Bohermore and ‘Loveen’

Apart from the countryside there was one area in Galway city that I enjoyed calling to and that was the working class area of Bohermore.  They were first and second generation country people who had moved to Galway to work and had never lost their homeliness and you were always offered the cup of tea and you would be addressed as “loveen” by the women that is.

Iraq War and Oil

Shortly after I started driving the war broke out in Iraq and oil got very scarce so nobody got more than one hundred gallons so there was a huge backlog of calls and an even bigger influx of new customers. Jarlath and myself often worked until twelve o’clock at night to try and get around to everybody but to no avail, it took months for normality to return to the oil business.

I remember one day calling to a lady in Galway who had ordered oil. She started off about the war in Iraq. She blamed the Americans for everything, saying there would be thousands killed and “it is only blood for oil”, then she said “give me a hundred gallons”. She had no idea that it was demand from consumers like herself that was driving the wars in the Middle East.

Areas covered with oil deliveries

I really enjoyed travelling around the country side, meeting people, having the chats and making friends and acquaintances.

The area covered would include North as far as Mountbellew and Glenamaddy, and west as far as Clonbur, Cornamona, Rosmuc and even Lettermullen: all over Galway city and out to Barna, Inverin and Oughterard: South to Ardrahan and Gort, Killineana and even the odd run to Feakle, Ballymacward, Gurteen and Attymon and all over the parish of Athenry. So I got to know every bog road and boreen.

On a few occasions I was “loaned” out to Greaney Buses in Ballymac and Spain

Coaches in New Inn when they were short of a driver. It was generally taking college students to matches from either Loughrea or Portumna. It took a bit of patience dealing with at least sixty five screaming teenagers,often all girls, especially if they won their match.

I really enjoyed driving around the countryside and meeting people but all this came to an end in nineteen ninety-nine when both of my hips succumbed to the wear and tear and I could no longer keep going. Later that year I had both hips replaced.

Living in interesting times

Mary and I reared six children, five boys and a girl who was the youngest of the family. They were Joe, Frank, Kevin, Gerard, Peter and Mary.

They are all good and healthy and making a life for themselves. We have eight grandchildren, all good and healthy, so when four or five of them happen to come to visit together they leave the house as if a bomb had gone off but that’s all part of the game of life.

There is an old Chinese salutation or wish: ‘May you live in interesting times’. Well Mary and I have certainly lived in interesting times and have witnessed some of the greatest changes the world has ever seen.


In the forties even bicycles were hard to come by and on Sundays streams of people walked to Mass. Nobody for miles around owned a car, maybe the doctor and priest. The cows could graze quite safely along the side of the roads. I didn’t know of anyone with a tractor during that decade. It has come to the stage where the whole country is crawling with cars and tractors.

Air travel for the ordinary person was unheard of and unaffordable. If an aeroplane passed overhead people would rush out of the house to get a look even though it could be a little biplane with a set of wings across the top, another set across underneath and strung together with wires.

Nowadays people are flying all over the place: daytrips to London, shopping in New York. My daughter, Mary, who lives in County Galway, regularly flies to Hamburg for a business meeting and home again that night. Now you can fly to the moon and travel in space.

All this is a massive change from cobbling together an old ’rattler’ of a bike from bits and pieces which you scavenged here and there. It was quite common to borrow a neighbour’s bike if you had a long journey and he had a good one.


Another of the great changes was the means of communication. When we were young the phone lines didn’t extend out into the countryside. Only the priest, the doctor, the Garda barracks and post office and a few of the larger businesses had a phone. Communication with family members who had emigrated was by letter post and there could be months without any communication.

Nowadays I see very young children with their own mobile phone and they sending texts to the other side of the world.

When I was growing up the equivalent of text was the telegram. This was where one post office would send a coded message over the phone line to a specific post office. The receiving office would write out the message and put it in what was always a green envelope and it would be delivered to the person in question by the telegram boy travelling on his bicycle. This was always a youth in his teens, dressed in uniform and peaked cap, who would generally go on to be a postman. The receiver of the telegram would usually have to pay a couple of shillings for delivery.

Mary’s Wedding in 2010

L-R: Peter, Joe, Gerard, Mary, Mary, Frank, Kevin and Frank

Frank and Mary’s 50th Wedding Anniversary 3rd August 2015

Seated (l-r): Mary, Frank and Mary.

Standing (l-r): Kevin, Gerard, Joe, Frank and Peter.

The present time

Fast forward! It’s now January twenty seventeen. I’m in my seventy-ninth year and Mary is in her seventy-eight year. We are both in our fifty-second year of married life. We consider ourselves very fortunate to have survived to this stage in our lives. The last ten to twelve years have been uneventful except for a succession of marriages, births and deaths. One thing I’ve learned is that life is very fragile.Some years ago I had four brothers and six sisters, and now I’ve one brother and three sisters.

Of course, replacements have come along in the form of grandchildren and the future is being taken care of, but when you reach my age your future is behind you.

Harry Lauder, the great Scottish comedian and singer, summed it all up when he wrote and sang the very moving ‘The End of the Road’ after his son was killed during the Second World War:

‘Keep right on to the end of the road,

Keep right on to the end,

Tho’ the way be long, let your heart be strong,

Keep right on round the bend.

Tho’ you’re tired and weary still journey on,

Till you come to your happy abode,

Where all the love you’ve been dreaming of

Will be there at the end of the road.’

Sunset in Park, Athenry (Photo: Frank Coyne.