Newcastle, Athenry, Folklore 1937 (Part 1)

Source: National Folklore Collection, N.U.I. Dublin

Compiled by Fas Teamwork Scheme 1990/1992. Sponsors: Athenry Project Sociery. Team Leader: Mrs. Marie Fahy.


In the year 1839 there was a great storm in this country. The old people when telling of all the harm it did would describe it as terrific. Big trees were knocked to the ground, stacks of hay and stacks of corn were scattered all over the place. Hardly any haggard escaped from harm. At that time our own chapel was building and the west side-wall was knocked to the ground. It is said that when the storm was over the people had to spend one week gathering all that was scattered.

A thunder storm does not occur so frequently here in Newcastle, though there is one particular spot not far from here in Thomas Mahon’s land where the lightening very often enters the ground. We had a storm very recently and it did a lot of harm on a farmer named Healy at a place named Greethill. Whether it came down the chimney or came through the end of the house it is not known. The village people were visiting at the house. Some of them were playing cards at the table and one was repairing boots. Immediately the table was thrown on the floor and the men were tumbled round the kitchen. The man who was repairing the boots was sitting on a chair by the fire and it took one leg from under the chair on which he was sitting. It went out the door and killed three cows and a pony, in a cabin nearby. It also scattered a heap of stones at the gable-end of the house and entered earth there.

The Old Schools

There was an old school in this locality which is now a closed up hall. Previous to the building of that old school in 1856 the people used to go up to Esker. They also went into Athenry where there was a school which was taught by a man who lived there named Watt Quinn. There was an old Protestant school in this district not more than two hundred yards from the old national school. This old Protestant school was built by a Miss Hall who lived in Knockbrack for the purpose of proselytising.

When the Parish Priest of this parish at that time heard that some of the children of his parish were going to the Protestant school he was very much annoyed and thus he got up this old school in opposition to it. Previous to these old schools there were hedge school-masters. These teachers either taught under a hedge or in a cabin. They would go around from place to place and would spend a day or two in each district. The favourite book was “Read ma daisey” which meant reading made easy. This was an English book as there was no Irish taught at that time. The children wrote on slates with lead pencils. The master sat on a stool or stone and the pupils sat round him. There were very good scholars and the people liked them very well.

The Old Trades

During the winters eighty or ninety years ago the female members of the family made flannel and frieze. This work has died out now in the home and the people go into the shop and buy their own clothes. But there are some other trades existing yet such as basket makers, whip makers, tailors, smithys and carpenters. All the other trades which were in use almost one hundred years ago have died out also. Almost every house had a spinning wheel and if not they got the loan of one from a neighbour. Then the people spun the wool which was taken off the sheep during summer. When they had it spun into thread they took it to the nearest weaver in order that he would weave it into cloth to make blankets and báiníns. When it was brought home it was put into a tub of boiling soap water. Everybody got into the tub in turn and jumped on the cloth until it was well saturated. Then it was taken up and squeezed and was hung out to dry. When it was dry it was brought in and hung on a door. After which it was carded by drawing a card on it in order to draw out the wool to the surface. Next it was left on the table and it was smeared all over with honey. Then the woman of the house got a plate and some oats and rubbed it all over the honeyed surface thus putting a wavy appearance on it.

Match Making and Marriages

When any young man in the country is about to get married, he has his eye on the young girl he wishes to marry for some time previous to the marriage. Then he sends a neighbour or friend of his, generally a man to ask the girl or the girl’s parents would they agree to the match. The man would not go to the girls’ house during the day or at night time lest anybody might be there and would get to know about it because there is much secrecy in the matter. So he does not go to the house but it is settled at the fair or market.

(1)   Nothing can be got locally dealing with this paragraph

(2)  About a mile and towards the north from Lieklea bridge on the road leading from Athenry to Tiaquinn it is a field named Szesecam. In this particular spot are a number of thorn bushes growing in a circular formation, outside of which stands the crooked bush and on the north side of the circle of bushes the ground is rising towards the centre causing a slight elevation. Towards the west of this elevation and just inside the bushes is a deep hollow and in this stands the stone banked by earth at the back and over which Mass was said in the open during the Penal Days.

(3)  Under paragraph three we can get no further

Names of places round about us

Tyaquinn – The origin of Tyaquinn comes from a hermit who lived there by the name of Oescsin. The gable of the house in which this hermit lived is still standing. It was blasted several times with dynamite, it would warp but it would refuse to fall. It was said at this gable the hermit had his altar. It is supposed that Oescsin prayed during his life that this gable should stand.

Newcastle – Newcastle got its name from the last castle which was built by the O’Kellys of Hy-mary. The castle was not long built when it fell or was knocked down by some other chieftain.


It is easy to see that it is a forge with all the waste iron that is thrown about it and there is always a horseshoe nailed over the door. The smith has a good deal of tools; he has five or six different sized hammers and every sized punches and sledges. He also has a large bellows for blowing the fire when he wants to redden an iron. The smith has a vice and a rasp also, he used the rasp paring the hoof after putting on the shoe. The implements the smith makes are slanes, gates, ploughs grubbers and tyres for wheels of carts. He puts the tyres on the wheels also. He has a stone wheel where he leaves the wheel of the cast while he is putting on the tyre.


There are no tailors in this half parish but there are two in the other half parish of Athenry. They work in their own workshops. Shirts are made from woollen cloth bought in the shops. Shirts used to be made from the linen grown in this place and then fronted with softer linen which was bought in the shops. Stockings are knitted in the homes also. The thread is got in the mills. I do not know of any spinning wheel in this district at present.

The Patron Saint of the District

There is no Patron Saint in this district but there is one in Tyaquinn. His name is St. Deacain. He had a small monastery in Tyaquinn where the Richardsons built a house afterwards. There is one end of the monastery standing still. There are more old ruins of Churches in this district. There is one in the graveyard and another outside it. The people have an old story about it. They say these Churches were built by a saint and by monks and while they were building a woman passed by and she did not say “God bless the work” then they would not finish it.

A Fair

The fairs of this district are held on the first or second Friday of each month and they are always held on the streets in Athenry. They were held in May, July and October. Buyers come from all parts of Ireland to Athenry to buy horses, cattle, sheep and pigs. There is toll paid on every fair and market day in Athenry. Patrick Doherty is the toll collector in Athenry. He collects sixpence per head for cattle, threepence per head for pigs and twopence per head for sheep. He rents the toll every ten years from Blakney of Abbey. When the people were selling any animals long ago, they had to make the bargain before the market cross which stands there.

The Landlords

The Richardsons of Tyaquinn, the Halls of Knockbrack, the Dalys of Dunsandle and the Mitchells of Belville.

As far as I know the Richardsons and the Halls bought their property from the Burkes who lived in Newcastle as we have heard the Richardsons of Tyaquinn were not landlords but for a very short time. They treated their tenants well at all times and they never evicted anybody. These landlords did not act very cruelly to their tenants. They only attempted to evict one person in Shudane but they did not succeed. Long ago a person would not cut a rick of turf for sale or if he did he would have to give half the price to the landlord or if he drained his land the rent would be raised or if he got a new frieze coat the rent would be raised also.

Food in Olden Times

Long ago the people had not very good food to live on. They lived principally on what they raised themselves which was generally potatoes and oats. They ground the oats with two stones one was shaped like a basin and the other fitted into it. In the top stone there were three holes. There were handles in two of those holes and the other where the corn could be put in. This was called a quern. The food the people had for their breakfast was oatmeal bread, some butter, a mug of milk and sometimes an egg. Very often the people did with this, until after a hards days work they had their supper of potatoes, an egg and buttermilk. They never used tea during the year except at Christmas and Easter and at that time they only got two ounces. The people used a lot of milk and they also used a lot of potatoes. They seldom used meat except when they killed wild birds or wild animals. Very often if the people had any work to do they went out and finished it before their breakfast. In the poorer districts the people only had rye bread. It was called arán seagal. It was very hard to eat this bread.

Buying and Selling

Long ago the shops were not as plenty as they are now because the people did not buy much only things such as starch, blue and candles. There was a shop in this district. It belonged to the Jordans of Newcastle. It was called a “Shebeen”. In this shop groceries and stout were sold. There was also another “Shebeen” in Newcastle. It belonged to Mrs Healy. All she used to sell was “poteen” which she used make herself. There is nothing sold outside the Chapel in this district but in Skehanagh meat is sold outside the Chapel after Mass on Sunday still. The people had not much money long ago because they had no way of getting it. The markets were held in the towns. They used to be held in the streets of the town or on the fair green if there was any one in the town.

Houses Long Ago

Long ago the people had very bad houses. They were all made from stone and sometimes of turf or clay. Then there were sticks and branches left on top and straw or rushes left over them. There were only two or three rooms in the houses. They were very uncomfortable because they were very damp and there was only a hole in the top for letting out the smoke. There was a bed in the kitchen; it was called a settle bed. It was left against the wall near the fire. The fire was in the middle of the floor and there was no hanger for hanging the pot or kettle on. There were two or three doors in every house, one in the front and another in the back and another in the room. There were three small windows in the front. The floor was made from stones and smoothed with doib duibe. There was a half-door in every house long ago to keep out the hens. The fire was made of turf and timber. The light they had was a stump of dry timber in the middle of the floor and when it was lighting well this was the light they had.


There was once a giant who lived in Athenry and he wanted to throw a stone from Athenry to Monivea and it fell in a place named Ballydavid about a mile from Athenry and it now marks the first mile stone.

They say there is an underground passage in Ballydavid castle that passage goes from the castle to Andy Loughnanes garden and crosses the road between Potters and Dillons.

Old Prayers

Long ago the old people were very good and holy. They used to say the rosary every night. It was the rosary that kept the faith alive in the Irish people when the English Government made a law that a priest could not say Mass. When a person came into a house he would say “God save all here”, “God bless” or if it was going home you were the people of the house would say “Safe home” meaning that you would get home safely by “Gods help” or if you did a good turn for a person he would say “God spare you your health or your eyesight”.

The Graveyards

There are three graveyards in this parish. The names of them are TempleMoyle, the old abbey and the new cemetery. TempleMoyle is in the half-parish of Newcastle. The other two are in Athenry. People are not buried in the old abbey now but they are buried in the other two graveyards.

There is the ruin of an old Church in TempleMoyle. There is also a monastery in the old abbey in Athenry. People are not buried inside the old ruins. There is a tomb in (Athenry) TempleMoyle but no people were buried there for over thirty years. The tomb is built with stone and is not very big inside. It is also built down in a hollow near the wall.

There is also a graveyard for unbaptised children in this parish. It is situated in Patrick Keogh’s land. Places like that are ??? no babies are buried there now ???? buried along by the wall of the wall the graveyard.

Things that are not valued in a House

In every house long ago there were crosses on the roof in honour of St. Brigid. They were made of straw and two sticks. Where they were made they were put on the roof of the house.


There were a family named Murphy’s living in Ballyboggin. They were great weavers. The house they lived and worked in can be seen by the side of the road yet. They died a number of years ago and there were no weavers like them in Newcastle since.

Whip- Making

There was a family named Watts living in Ryehill and Monivea. They used to make whips from the hides of donkeys. They bought old beasts and in this way they made whips and used to sell them to the local farmers through-out the country and there is one of the Watts still living in the parish of Monivea, a whip-maker. His trade was to plait so many cords together and that would make a whip.


There was a family named Cooney’s living in Knockatogher, Athenry in the parish of Kiltulla. They were great tradesmen for making churns and barrels and in them times no churns were made but a churn called a “dash churn” and barrels. They died about 60 years ago and the rest of them went abroad and there were no people like them in the parish since.

Candle Making

Long ago the people had no lamps or candles. They spent a few hours every week gathering the green rushes in the bogs, then they brought them in and dried them by the fire. When they were well dry, they carefully peeled the outside green skin off. They then melted tallow on an iron pan known as the “grisit” and dipped the peeled rushes in it they then left them in a safe place.

Lamps of Long Ago

Long ago the people had lamps which they made themselves. They got a small bottle, like an ink bottle, and put a cork in it. They then made a hole in the cork and stuck the thick part of a feather which is known as a quill in the hole in the cork and put a bit of cloth in the quill. This lamp burned very little oil and it was only lit on rare occasions and burned very quickly because the quill in which the wick was stuck very soon took fire.


Long, long ago flax grew in several fields and bogs. The people took great care of it. They spent several days pulling the flax in the fields because they had no mowing machines that time. When they had it all pulled they took it to a drain in the bog and left it steeping for nine or ten days. They then took it up and spread it on the grass to bleach. When it was well bleached they took it in to the house and shackled it with a stick called a “shackle” and made it like wool. The old women used to weave it into threads. Long ago the old women used to go to the weaver’s shop and spend a day warping the threads which they made from flax and then the weaver finished it and made the cloth. The day on which the women went to the weaver’s house was a great day for the childrBasket-Making

In the village of Knockbrack there lived about 60 years ago a great basket-maker named Thomas Cummins. He did not come from anywhere in Connacht and no one knew who his father or mother was. His name was found written on a piece of paper which was sewed to his coat. He could make fine baskets out of any sort of rods and he died at the age of 75 years.


Those people of long ago did not thatch their houses as the people nowadays. They thatched them as the people nowadays thatch their hay-stacks with rows of ropes straight across their houses. They never used straw, it was always wild rushes. In those days there were no shops but few, and I have heard of people who walked up to thirty miles for their necessaries.

Gertrude Curran, age 13, Cappamoyle got the following account of “Trades of Long Ago” from her father John Curran, Cappamoyle, Monivea, Co. Galway.

There were no candles long ago. The people used to gather rushes that grew on boggy ground. They used strip off the green peel off the outside and leave them lying on the ground three or four days. Then they used to dip the rushes one by one into tallow and light them. They were sold for a farthing and each one burned for three or four minutes.

Baskets were made by weaving rods in and out thus forming it into a basket. Ropes were made by twisting roots into a plait and they were also made from the bark of a tree. They people dyed clothes by boiling different coloured roots and washing the clothes in the water that came out of them. The people weighed silver and gold against dried grains of wheat taken from the middle of the ear. The people used to spin long ago by tying the thread on to a small stick called a distaff and by putting a spindle in and out through it. Whips were made from rods by weaving them into a plait.

Kathleen Morris, age 12, Shudane got the following account of “Trades of Long Ago” from her father Thomas Morris, Shudane, Monivea, Co. Galway.

Long ago the people cut the thickest rushes and soaked them in grease and left them by the fire side to dry, then they used to light them and they served as candles.

Priest Hunting

There was a priest living in Gurteen named Fr. Griffin. He was appointed chaplain in Galway and was living near Salthill. One night in 1920 about midnight a lorry load of “Black and Tans” came and told them that a man who was dying wanted to see him. He went with them and were near the beach before they killed him. They buried him in the road but a man who was passing saw a piece of his coat sticking up through the road. He was then buried in Loughrea Cathedral.

Long ago the people of England hunted the priests from place to place. The soldiers often gave large sums of money to anyone who could tell them the whereabouts of a priest. In a village where there were hills and hollows the priest usually said Mass down in a quarry in a field with a high hill to hide him, the priest said Mass on an altar made of stone always because there were no Chapels, the English soldiers had them burned. There is a Mass rock in the middle of a rushy field near a wood. There is a story attached to this rock which says that one day a priest was saying Mass with a great number of people. The soldiers came on them unexpectedly and killed them all except the young priest named Fr. Beirne and a poor old woman who had fled into the wood at the approach of danger. A patch of blood was seen on the rock sometime afterwards but now it is covered with moss.

Long ago when the priest used to be reading Mass two men used to be on guard for fear the soldiers would come and kill them all. So the priests used to hide themselves at a place called Knockdoe, a place where there was rocks and caves.



BY J.D. COSTELLO, BELCLARE, TUAM SOURCE: THE CONNACHT TRIBUNE 1909 In a pretty spot on Galway I would always like to be Where the boys ...