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Pat O’Looney

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2019 Pat O’Looney

ISBN 9780463162514

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Chapter 2: ANCESTRY

Chapter 3: EARLY DAYS


Chapter 5: THE FARM


Chapter 7: RELIGION




Chapter 11: CHRISTMAS

Chapter 12: FIRST SCHOOL


Chapter 14: COLLEGE



Chapter 17: SUMMER WORK & USA



Chapter 20: AN GHAEILGE


Chapter 22: SPORT





Chapter 27: THE FUTURE

Chapter 28: EPILOGUE


Growing up on a small farm in North Clare during the nineteen fifties would appear to the youth of today as a terrible bore. We did not know the meaning of the word boredom. We had no running water, no flush toilets, no electricity, no television, no mobile phones or landlines and no Internet or social media. But we were happy. Ours was the generation that saw the cobwebs blown away by the powerful glow of a 100-watt electricity bulb, the enamel bucket of spring water replaced by a stainless-steel sink, the Po disappear from under the bed forever, the Tilly lamp become the preserve of the antique shops and the plod of the Clydesdale replaced by the melody of the Ferguson 20 and the Fordson Major. The motor car, for long the preserve of the rich, the clergy and the gentry, became the standard mode of transport of most households by the beginning of the 1970s. Domestic life, agriculture, education and every facet of Irish life changed utterly in the two decades from the mid-fifties to the mid-seventies. Ireland as a nation, under the guidance of Seán Lemass, had begun to open up to Europe and the world, and to take her place among the nations of the earth. By the time we entered the E.E.C. in 1973 Ireland was a different country from what it had been two decades earlier. This was an era when words meant something different from what they mean today: a ‘shower’ was something that always came when we were about to make hay; a ‘partner’ was someone with whom you danced or played cards; if you were ‘gay’ it meant you were in great form; ‘a stripper’ was an old cow that did not have any calf; a ‘hard disk’ was something which caused you severe pain in your back and ‘social media’ was the creamery where you liked and shared stories with your neighbours.

In this memoir I will document my experiences of growing up in such an environment. As a boy of the fifties I have experienced nearly seven decades of change, some of it most fundamental and unimaginable. As we approach the centenary of the birth of our state we live in a world so far removed from that of our founding fathers that they would scarcely recognise the country for whose freedom they fought. We recently celebrated the centenary of the 1916 Rebellion, a celebration which has evoked pride in all our citizens, young and old, and that is something which was badly needed. In our young days the fight for freedom was scarcely talked about except in a hush hush manner. In the civil war which followed the Treaty, many neighbours, and even family members, fought on opposite sides against each other. As a result, there was bitterness on both sides and many of the heroes of that civil war were alive and well as we were growing up. Feelings were still too raw to discuss these matters. Indeed, it was only in recent years that I discovered the small, but significant, part my own mother played in the War of Independence.

My father died when I was five and my mother was left with six young children to rear along with running a small farm. From a very early age we all had to play our part and do the various chores around the house and farm: there were cows to be milked, calves, pigs and fowl to be fed, hay and turf to be saved, vegetables to be grown and harvested.

Though I was only five when my father died, I remember the day well. It was Monday, 9th of April, Census day. My sisters had gone to school and my brother was home for some reason. After breakfast my father completed his last official duty as head of the house by completing the Census of all those who had spent the night there. Little did he know that it would be his last night living there. He then went to the fields to tend to the farm work. Shortly afterwards my brother helped him in to the house. He had suffered a heart attack and we watched as Mama tried to comfort him with a pillow under his head while we waited for the doctor and Canon Cunnane.

As he closed his eyes for the last time Mama said, “Dada is tired and is going to sleep…to sleep…”

Chapter 2: ANCESTRY

Who am I? I think it is important to establish who I am at the beginning of this memoir. My birth was registered as Patrick Gerard O’Looney. In Irish I use the Ó Luanaigh version though in our youth we used Ó Lúanaí. On my father’s side I can trace my ancestry back twenty four generations thanks to my cousin, Professor Brian O’Looney who used the Ó Luanaigh version. Others used different versions of the name; his cousin Liam, also a scholar, used Ó Luighnigh; in later times Looney was used. In my early days being on the Internet I received an email from a Tomás (sic) Montani Looney in Bahia Blanca in Argentina stating that “it was a tradition in my family that our original surname was O’Looney and they lost the O’ on the way to Australia”. There are various explanations for the loss of the O’ from many Irish surnames at emigration. One plausible explanation is that it was a deliberate attempt by passengers to move their names further up the list, like some politicians do at election times. So, O’Brien became Brien, O’Connell, Connell, O’Dwyer, Dwyer etc.

My grandfather, John came from Knockpatrick near Ennistymon and married a widow, Delia McInerney of Tullygarvan, Lahinch who had been previously married to O’Donohue at Drumeevin, Kilfenora. His father, also John, married Mary Morgan in 1857 and moved from nearby Shanbally to Knockpatrick at that time. My grandfather was born in 1872 and at around the age of twenty he emigrated to Boston where he worked on the bridge works for about two years. As a young boy he told us stories of the boat trip from Queenstown to Boston and of all the people who died on board the ship. Anybody who died was thrown ‘hand and foot’ out to the sharks. He also regaled us with his escapades in Boston. Unfortunately, you cannot put an old head on young shoulders and we only half listened to those stories, much the pity today. Bad health forced his return to Knockpatrick after a few years though he had good health for the remainder of his life until he died at the age of 93. At the 1901 Census he resided in a neighbour’s house where he was classified as a servant.

He married in 1906 and my father, John, the eldest was born in December 1907. He was followed by four other children, Katherine (Katie, who married Peter Malone of Ailbrack), Bridget (Bridie, who married Dan O’Connor of Shanbally), Patrick (Pappy, who married Mary O’Driscoll of Ennistymon and lived at Kylemore) and Michael (Miko, who married Kitty McMahon of Kylemore and went to live in Clouna). My grandmother died just before Christmas in 1920 and is buried in Clouna cemetery, her husband living on until 1965 and is buried alongside her.

In July, 1942 my father, John married Mary Commane of Ailbrack, daughter of Patrick (Patty) Commane and Katie Connell, who was also a widow having been previously married to Patrick Talty from Carrowduff, Miltown Malbay. I am the youngest of the six children of John and Mary, the other five being John (J.J.), Mary, Katherine (Kathy), Teresa and Bridget. We were all born at home as was the norm at the time.

Around twenty years ago I documented and published a family tree on my father’s side and this certainly needs updating as many other cousins have entered and left this world since then. My mother’s side of the tree needs to be documented and I still remain hopeful that someone will do that one day.

My grandfather was the first O’Looney to reside in Drumeevin and there has been a family presence there for over one hundred years. He took over the management of the farm which he passed on to my father around the time he got married. When my father died the farm passed on to my mother. Once both my parents had died the farm passed on to my brother. Thankfully the ‘seanbhaile’, the old homestead, is still well maintained and it is good to go ‘home’ on a regular basis.

As I have said, both of my grandmothers were widowed and remarried. It was often an economic necessity for a widow to remarry. She needed a man around the place to manage the farm work and, more importantly, to retain possession of the place. In those days siblings of the deceased man often tried to claim ownership of the family farm after their brother had passed on and in many cases made life very difficult for the new widow. There are stories of a widow returning to her home after burying her husband to find the house had been taken over by her in-laws. This led in some places to a widow remaining in the house while the burial of her husband took place. I think it was John B Keane who told the story of a widow remaining in the house during her husband’s funeral. Her brother-in-law called her out to see ‘the fine funeral that Michael has’. After the funeral passed she went to return to her kitchen only to find the door locked by another brother-in-law. A recent publication touches on the same subject in relation to a Mary (Minnie) Talty of Glendine. Minnie was a young widow in 1885 and having met Parnell at the turning of the first sod for the West Clare Railway in Miltown Malbay she was encouraged to enter a land repurchasing scheme, a remarkable achievement for a widow who had the added complication of being isolated from her community because she refused to quit the land on the death of her husband. “This was expected of young widows at the time, in order to prevent the land going out of the family name in the event that a young widow remarried”. Thankfully my mother was not a victim of those shenanigans.

I worked for thirty-five years as a teacher at Mercy College, Woodford and was Deputy Principal for the final three years there. After I left there I worked as manager of the local group water scheme for seven years and am now officially retired.


When my time came I married Margaret Callinan from Carron and we have lived at Loughrea, Co Galway ever since. I met her at a dance in Lahinch during the summer when she was home on holidays from London. Over a two-week period love blossomed and I found myself going over to London for a week before going back to school. While there, Margaret decided she was going to return to Ireland at Christmas. We got engaged after she came home and were married the following October.

In those days weddings were much simpler than they are today. We were married at Carron church at noon and the reception followed in the Queen’s Hotel, Ennis. There was one bridesmaid and a best man. There were no limousines, videographers or make-up artists. The wedding dresses and suits were hired out. The meal was turkey and ham as was the norm in the day. The music started as soon as the meal was over and the dancing finished around nine o’clock. The custom in those days was that the bride and groom took off just before the music finished. We changed from our wedding clothes into our ‘going away’ clothes and everybody was invited to form a circle around the bride and groom in the centre of the floor as they did their last dance. Then the guests formed an arch to allow the newly married couple to pass under and make their way to the car, which the best man had waiting at the door. As was the custom some of the guests had sneaked out and tied cans to the back bumper of the car so as to attract attention as we drove away. In those days of rear wheel drive cars, the men would lift the rear end of the car off the ground so that it would be impossible to get away until they tired of holding up the car. I never liked that custom as you never knew what might happen as a result of people having been drinking. I witnessed a close call some years later when the groom was driving one of the newer front wheel drive cars. The men at the back did not realise that and proceeded to raise the back of the car. The driver took off and left three or four men on their backsides on the ground. Once front wheel drive became universal, that custom died out, as did the custom of the bride and groom departing with such fanfare.

Nowadays the typical wedding has multiple bridesmaids and groomsmen; several hundred guests; beauticians and hairdressers calling to the house; photographers and videographers; florists, choirs, bands and DJs as well as various novelty items like photo booths etc. Most weddings have an ‘afters’ on the following day and some last for most of a week. I wonder if we were properly married at all! Whatever about the lack of trimmings, we recently celebrated forty one years married, something of which we are very proud. We have three daughters, Michelle, Karen and Eimear, and one son, Shane, all of whom live and work in Ireland.

Traditionally couples get engaged to announce their intention to marry at a future date. This is solemnised by the man buying a ring, usually with a diamond, for his fiancée which she wears on her ‘ring finger’, the fourth finger of her left hand. This is later complemented with (usually a gold) wedding ring on the same finger. In my mother’s time there were no engagement rings but when my time came I wore not only a wedding ring but also an engagement ring. The tradition of the ‘ring finger’ goes back to a time when people believed that this finger had a vein that ran straight to the heart. Then the sciences of Anatomy and Biology came along to debunk that myth. The tradition of having a wedding cake goes back to ancient Rome when a cake of wheat or barley was broken over the bride’s head to symbolise good fortune and the newly married couple then ate some crumbs from the cake. The expression ‘tying the knot’ comes from the actual tradition of tying the couple’s wrists together during their wedding ceremony as a symbol of their bond and commitment to each other. This custom is creeping back again in some humanist weddings which have become quite common.

The custom of brides wearing white goes back to 1840 and the marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert. Though other Royals such as Mary, Queen of Scots had worn white, Victoria is still credited with starting the trend. The terms ‘stag’ and ‘hen’ have been used for the male and female respectively of many species. The stag party custom goes back as far as the fifth century B.C. when Spartan soldiers held a feast and made toasts to the groom on the night before his wedding. Those soldiers would be somewhat amused if they were to attend a modern Irish stag party lasting a full weekend and perhaps in another country. Having always felt very ‘Spartan’ my stag party was held in true Spartan tradition the night before my wedding. It is a practice I would not recommend nowadays for obvious reasons. Hen parties also have become big business with months of preparation being put in by the bridesmaids. The custom of having a honeymoon – in Irish Mí na Meala – also goes back a long way. In ancient times the newlyweds drank mead, a drink made from honey, for a month after they were married. In some traditions the bride and groom went into hiding for 30 days after their wedding. Modern honeymoons are meticulously planned and may even go on for the month.

In our day the practice was to give practical wedding presents. Small electrical appliances like toasters, irons and boards were very popular, along with bed linen, table linen, china and cutlery. Often a newly-married couple were recipients of multiple irons, toasters and ‘companion sets’ for the fireplace. Indeed, forty years on, we still use a carving knife which was meant as a wedding present but we found out on time that the couple had already received one.

Nowadays people are more sensible and the practice is mostly to give money so the couple can decide how to make best use of it.

Chapter 3: EARLY DAYS

When my father died my mother was left with six young children - I the youngest - on a small place. How she coped with her situation I will never understand. We were not well off, but yet we never wanted for anything. Mama worked very hard during those years, milking the cows, managing the house, thinning mangolds and all the other farm work that had to be done. There was no machinery, just pure slave labour. She was a mother and father; a farmer; a nurse; a counsellor; a cook and baker; a seamstress, a hairdresser and all the other things one has to be as a parent. It is to her credit that she raised her family and gave them the very best she could afford. She sacrificed herself for the sake of her children. She was a woman who had no equal. It is another tragedy of her life that she had just reached the point in life when she could enjoy herself and did not have to worry about her children - I the youngest had got a permanent job - and suddenly Mama left us.

Our neighbours were very helpful to us in those early years after my father died. They came in meitheals to help with all the seasonal chores, cutting the turf, saving the hay and sowing the potatoes. We returned the help to them once we were old enough to do so.

My uncle Paddy, mother’s brother, was particularly good to us during those early years. It was he who guided her in what to do and when to do it at the various seasons of the year – sowing the potatoes, cutting the turf and saving the hay, for example. He would cycle from Ailbrack about fifteen miles away, do a day’s work and then cycle back home in the evening. This was in addition to doing his own day’s work which included milking cows morning and evening. The only means of communication that time was by letter so things had to be arranged very well in order to work out. Weather was the only thing that could interfere with the schedule though I am sure that he often got wet as he cycled home after doing a day’s work for us. As soon he felt my brother was able to do things on his own he left him be but I am sure he kept a watchful eye on what was going on for some time.

Though Mama and Dada are both long gone to their reward, their spirit still lives on. I can see Dada with his ear to the radio as if trying to get the very last bit of news before the battery finally gives up. And every day Mama walks from the cow house with her two buckets of milk and strains them through the muslin cloth into the creamery can. If memories like those, though over a half a century old, live on for real in my mind every waking moment then surely “the dead live on as long as their memory lives on”.

The following quote from Helene Lerner reminded me of my mother: “My mother was far from perfect, she didn’t go to the best school, dress in fine clothes, or have a lot of money. But when I look back she had riches that money cannot buy; a big heart that knew only one thing, the love for her children”.

My father was only forty eight years of age when he died. His death was a terrible shock to our family and to the neighbourhood in general. He was a hard-working man and a good provider for his wife and children. My memories of him are scant: dressing in his ‘Sunday Best’ going to mass and other formal occasions; coming back from town with ‘bulls’ eyes for us; listening to the radio every evening for the weather forecast and the news. I also remember him playing tricks with us as we said the Rosary, but ever in view of my mother.

As all of his contemporaries are now gone, I recently spoke to one of our most senior neighbours who remembered him as “a lovely man and most welcoming when you visited the house”. He also remembered where he was when he heard of his death. Ar dheis Dé go raibh sé le mo mháthair.

The Neighbours

Like ourselves, all our neighbours were farmers and we all helped each other out in Meitheals, as necessary. A meitheal is a gathering of people, usually neighbours, who come together to pool their resources to help each other. All the big farm jobs of the summer were completed by meitheals – cutting the turf, killing the pig, bringing in the hay and digging the potatoes.

Most of these were regular callers to our house, either to help us with the farm work in the summer time or as visitors during the long winter nights. In fact there was scarcely a night but we would have some visitors. Sometimes there would be a game of cards or a sing song and we knew all the words of Seán South of Garryowen, Noreen Bawn, The Homes of Donegal, The Boys from the County Armagh, The Toonagh Shibeen and The Pub With No Beer, so often were they sung in our kitchen.

Brian Kearney always came on Saturday nights to get the correct time from the radio, ‘for the morning’ as he used to say. He had a lovely square-faced alarm clock which would fold up into its green cover. He promised me that he would leave it to me when he died. And he was true to his word. When I called to deliver a message to his wife, Katie, some time after he died, she gave me the clock.

“Brian always promised you this”, she said as she handed me the green clock. “It doesn’t work anymore but you might be able to get it fixed.”

A few weeks later, when I was doing the Scholarship exam in the CBS in Ennistymon, I brought it in to Shannon the jeweller. He had it up and running in a couple of days and I got many years use from it.

Our Home

Like the rest of our neighbours, our house was a simple structure built probably before the turn of the previous century. We believe it was originally thatched. My grandfather was a tradesman, mainly a stonemason and it was he who raised the roof and slated it. It had a bedroom at either end and a large kitchen in the centre, as was the case in most country houses of the day. Each room had a fireplace, the one in the kitchen the largest. This was an open hearth fireplace with hobs at either side. Over the fireplace there was a mantelpiece, a shelf the full length of the fireplace opening. In the centre of the shelf was the eight-day clock that my father bought from “The Jewellery Company” in Ennis for £4-10s-0d. It was guaranteed for ten years (we still have the receipt), but it may as well have been for seventy as it is still working. It had to be wound in two places every week; it struck every hour and half hour, once for the half hour and the appropriate number of strikes for the hour. I do not know how we ever went to sleep with its loud striking and tick-tock. It had a little door at the back and inside you could see the pendulum swinging back and forth. The key was also stored in there lest it become lost. When a person died in the house it was customary to stop the clock at the time of death and this was achieved by removing the swinging pendulum.

In addition to being the cooking centre of the house the fireplace also served as the social centre around which family and visitors gathered to exchange news, sing songs and play games. It was also in a semi-circle in front of, and facing away from, the fire that we said the nightly Rosary. Everybody who called was invited to ‘pull down to the fire’, the most friendly of an Irish greeting. The fire served as a source of heat and light; it dried the clothes when the weather was too bad to hang them on the outdoor clothes line; and its coals helped to cook and bake the bread in the big round oven. There was a crane over the fire on which you could hang pots. It was hinged to the wall at one end so that you could rotate it out from the fire for safety in handling the pots. These could be raised or lowered over the fire as required by means of an adjustable pot hanger.

We had a limited number of cooking pots: the large pot for boiling potatoes for the pigs and hens and also for boiling the water on the day of the pig killing; a medium sized pot for cooking for the meitheal; a small one, called a skillet, for cooking the bacon and cabbage for the family on a daily basis; a frying pan, an oven and a griddle, all three of which were placed on a brand, a circular iron frame with three legs. Bread was baked in the closed round oven or on a griddle beside the fire. It was difficult to mind the griddle cake or potato cakes from the falling soot which seemed to be never ending especially in the winter. We took turns sitting on the hobs beside the fire but we often had to cover our heads with a handkerchief or piece of newspaper to protect our hair from the same sticky soot. If that should dry into your hair you would have a most terrible time trying to comb it in the morning.

We seemed to be continually feeding the fire with turf or fire wood as most of the heat was going up the very wide chimney. In the winter time we put on big sticks of bog deal which was very plentiful on our boggy land. These would stay burning for days and at Christmas time we would put on an enormous ‘Bloc na Nollag’, as my mother called it. Sometimes, particularly if the weather was very cold or someone was sick, we lit a fire in the small fireplaces in the bedrooms as there was no central heating in those days. The heated griddle was often used, wrapped in a cloth, to heat the bed before hot water bottles became popular. This was then reheated and shared around from bed to bed. There was also a settle bed in the kitchen. This was a wooden piece of furniture which served as a seat during the day and could be opened out to form a boxed-in bed at night. There was one of these in almost every house in our day. At the end of the settle bed was a tea-chest which, padded on the top edge, served as a playpen for me and for my siblings before me.

At the opposite end to the fireplace was the dresser, an old but beautiful piece of furniture. It was always painted in bright colours and I often wondered how many layers of paint were on it. The lower part had two doors so it was possible to hide things in here. On the upper half there were open shelves for displaying the best delph, the top shelf proudly boasting the willow pattern goose dishes and on the front of the shelves were cup hooks. There were two drawers in between the upper and lower halves. There was also a matching clothes press, painted in the same colours as the dresser, where all our best clothes were kept.

The kitchen table was basic with boards forming the working surface. This was covered with an oil cloth, which went out of fashion many decades ago but has returned in style in recent years. At one stage the table became so worn that we covered it with a sheet of plywood and formica which gave it a completely new lease of life. The table had many functions: apart from eating, we used it to store the enamel bucket of spring water, we did our homework on it and we even sat on it when the house was full. When the pig was being killed in November the table was taken outside and used as a butcher’s bench. The spring water was taken from either the ‘bush’ well or the ‘corner’ well but sometimes when they went low we had to go all the way to the ‘big cabin’ well on the hill.

We had a few wooden chairs but these were used for special occasions only. On a daily basis we used súgán chairs, a wooden frame with súgáns or hay ropes woven across the rungs to form a seat. These were replaced every couple of years, usually in the winter time. Not everybody could make a súgán as it required a particular skill. A gabháil of hay was taken to the house and placed on the kitchen floor. The súgán maker sat on his chair beside the fire with the hay beside him. Then he twisted a fistful of hay to form a loop which was then attached to the twisting bough, made of hazel rod in the shape of a semi-circle with a chord as its diameter and a long handle. Then I or one of my siblings twisted the bough while he fed more hay into the súgán. We walked backwards until we came to the end of the kitchen whereupon we wound the freshly made súgán around the bough and then continued until we were told we had enough for one chair. The súgán was then wound into a rugby-like ball, ready for covering the chair which we had already prepared to receive it. There was a great skill in weaving this through the rungs of the chair as the seat was wider in front than at the back. But it always worked out. Once the job was complete it was then rubbed down to remove the sharp edges of the hay and sometimes a match was set to it to burn them off. In later years we used ‘yarn’ of the type used for tying hay cocks and this was much simpler to use.

There was very little else by way of furniture in our kitchen. The only wall adornment we had was a picture of the Sacred Heart, a standard piece of wall art in every house. It had a little oil lamp on a bracket under it with a red globe. At the top corners of the picture there were two panels with the inscriptions “I will give peace in their families” and “I will bless the house in which the image of my Sacred Heart shall be exposed and honoured”. Below the actual picture of Jesus was a panel where the names of all the family members were entered, beginning with the parents - the children were added as they arrived. Some houses also had a picture of the Virgin Mary with a similar lamp and a blue globe. In addition to professing their religion, many houses also had a picture of DeValera or Michael Collins to which they gave more reverence than they did to the sacred pictures. We never had one of those though there never was any doubt about where our political affiliations lay.

The house had a front door and a back door, known as the South door and the North door, respectively. There were no locks or keys in those days. We had a bolt on the inside of the South door and a latch on the North door whose lever was a piece of a stick, known as a kippen (cipín). When we were out late at night my mother bolted the front door and removed the kippen from the back door and placed it under a bucket outside. When we arrived home in the dark we had to walk around the back, often kicking the buckets around the place before we came on the correct one. There was no chance then that we could say we were home an hour earlier than we actually were. One such night I came home at around 3.00 a.m. and just realised what a momentous event was about to happen. I switched on the television – something we never did at that hour – and, lo and behold, there was Niall Armstrong about to step on to the moon.

There were two small sliding sash windows in each room. The top half of each window was lowered about three inches when the summer arrived and was usually left down right through the summer. Each window had net curtains in the lower half to maintain some form of privacy. There was never any offence taken if someone looked in the window to see who was there before they came in. Visitors just lifted the latch and walked in; there were no fancy doorbells or knocking in those days.

Mother’s Work

My mother was always very busy. First up every morning, she had the fire going and the kettle singing when we got up. It was easy get the fire going. At night we raked it, that is, we covered it over with ashes and that kept it alive overnight so all you had to do in the morning was poke out the coals and put the ashes in the ash pit, put a few soft caoráns on it and you had a blazing fire going in no time. In winter the cows were indoors and were not being milked. From spring to late autumn they were out to pasture and we took it in turns to drive them in for milking. My mother and the girls mostly did the milking. My brother went to the creamery and when I was big enough, I took over the job.

Once the milking was done and we had gone to school my mother tackled in to the many chores she had to perform on a daily basis: bake bread, wash clothes, prepare the dinner, feed the pigs, the hens, ducks and geese, attend to my grandfather’s needs, look after her flower garden at which she was a genius, and many other chores. She was a very honest woman and always taught us to be honest in our dealings with others. She had one small failing when it came to flowers. She believed that the flower you got without permission would grow much better than any one that was given to you and, as proof of that, we still have a flourishing rhododendron which she took by way of a slip on the roadside near Killarney over forty years ago!

At night time she was not idle either. She used her relaxing time to knit, to sew, to mend and to darn damaged clothes and socks. She knitted socks and jumpers for herself and for all of us, and taught us to do the same. She was a genius with the sewing machine and could make dresses, underwear, curtains, sheets and pillowcases for ourselves and for neighbours. She could refurbish old dresses which had become too small for one girl and then pass them on to the next; when a man’s shirt collar became worn and frayed she could turn it inside out and make it look like new again. She had a hand operated Singer machine which she taught us all to use. We would wind the handle which allowed her use both hands and therefore speeded up the work. When the electricity arrived she got a new electric Singer machine which she was able to operate by foot and this again was a great time saver.

A regular occurrence also was dyeing clothes. We purchased a little packet of Drummer’s dye at the local shop and this was thrown in to a pot of boiling water containing the garment to be dyed. The process required considerable skill and the garment had to be constantly turned around so that the dye mix would reach every crevice of the garment. Otherwise you would end up with a multi-coloured, streaky garment which no one would wear. Shoes were also dyed when they became frayed from wear and this gave them new life again. Once the soles and heels began to show uneven wear our local cobbler, Michael Conway was called in to re-sole or re-heel them. He could also replace the toecap on our boots, put tips on the heels to prevent wear and put Segs (triangular studs) on the soles for better grip. Once he brought me a little wind-up man on a motor cycle called ‘Skippy the tricky cyclist’ and I got many hours amusement from him.

Sunday, the Lord’s Day, was a day of rest. It was the day when we went to mass and came home to a feed of Donnelly’s sausages, a few slices of home cured bacon and maybe a fried egg. I don’t think anybody ever made sausages like Donnellys. Before they were fried the skins had to be removed from them by steeping them in boiling water and then squeezing them out of their skins. The frying pan was placed on the brand in front of the fire and there was joy to watch and hear them sizzling in front of us. Then we had our favourite dessert, jelly and custard. Now that was a rare treat. No work was allowed on this day except what was absolutely necessary: milking the cows and going to the creamery, bringing the cow to the bull, feeding the cows in winter and cooking. In particular, sewing and knitting were absolutely forbidden and any such work that was done would have to be undone with your nose in Purgatory. An exception was that in a very wet summer farmers could save hay on a fine Sunday, but would have to get the go ahead from the priest at morning mass. Going to the bog or thinning carrots was out of the question.


There was no waste in those days. Flour bags were minded carefully. Once they were washed they could be sewn together to make sheets and pillow cases, petticoats, boys’ underwear, tea towels or handkerchiefs. My mother was constantly making things from used flour bags. This was not just a rural or an Irish phenomenon; in the United States during the Depression flour manufacturers had their cotton flour bags decorated with bright images of flowers and butterflies so that they could be recycled into ladies’ fashion wear.

Stale bread was used to make bread pudding or ‘goodie’. Left over potatoes were roasted for another meal or used to make potato cakes. Sour milk was used for making bread. All waste food was fed to the pigs sweetened by some animal meal. The skim milk from the creamery was fed to the calves and the pigs. Old newspaper had many uses. The only papers we bought were the Sunday Press and the Clare Champion. Once these were read they were folded carefully and used in time of need. They were used for wrapping our lunches and delivering pork and puddings after we killed the pig in November; rolled up in a ball they were great to start the fire in the morning; cut into nice thin pieces they served as not-so-super-soft toilet tissue; they were also great for cleaning windows. There were many other uses for a piece of old newspaper.

Sweet tin cans, about a gallon in size, were booked at the shop in advance of them becoming empty. Once we got them home they were scraped out of any remnants of bulls eyes or brown cushions which we ate with a spoon. Then we washed them out with hot water. The tin can was then ready to start a new life. We used it, complete with lid, to bring tea to the meadow and was much handier than pouring it into bottles. To fill your cup you only had to dip it in the tea can and presto your cup was full. It was also handy for a young lad for bringing water from the well when he would not be strong enough to carry a full bucket. We carried the empty can on the handlebar of the bike when we were going to the bog and used to stop at the well on the side of the road as we went up Kildea’s hill. If we ran out of water during the day somebody would hop on the bike and cycle about a mile down to the well for another fill.

Jam came in one- or two-pound jars or ‘crocks’. These were also cleaned out and recycled. We put the remains of the two-pound Christmas candles into the large jampots and filled them with sand to keep them steady. These were used to light our way to the bedroom before we got electricity. My grandfather used to get in to bed and throw his hat on to the candle to quench it. My mother always worried that he would set the house on fire but ninety per cent of the time he was successful. The candles were always kept at the ready in case the electricity would cut out as there was some mistrust of it in the early days. The jam jars could also be cut in half and used as sugar bowls or paint containers. The method of cutting was as follows: half fill the jar with cold water to absorb the heat; soak a piece of cord or woollen thread in paraffin oil and tie it tightly at the point where you want to cut the jar; set the oiled cord alight and then the heat cut the glass along by the cord. The remaining half now served as a nice container. The broken glass pieces, if big enough, were used as a spoke shave and were very handy for smoothing a piece of wood such as a hurley. Sandpaper was then used to do the final smoothing.

Smaller, one-pound jam jars also had their use. These were not cleaned out but were left with the jam residue. A hole of about a half inch diameter was punched in the lid, the jar was partly filled with water and the lid replaced. This served as a nice trap to lure the wasps in the autumn. It was a great way to get rid of them. Glass bottles were minded carefully and returned to the shop or public house from which they came as there was a refund of one penny per bottle. Indeed many a young lad that got the nickname ‘bottles’ as a result of his visiting the neighbours to collect the empties.

Once we learned to cycle we were trained to mend a puncture, which was common due to the potholes on the untarred roads at the time. The bike had to be turned upside down, the tyre removed with the assistance of a few small levers, then the tube pulled out as far as possible. The tube was pumped up quite hard and one listened to hear where the air was coming out. If you could not identify where the hole was you would have to get a basin of water and insert the tube in stages. Whenever the damaged part entered the water bubbles began to appear. The tube was dried and marked with chalk around the hole, it was deflated and roughened with a special sand paper, the solution was poured around the damaged area and spread with the finger. It was left a few minutes until it got ‘tacky’; the covering was removed from the rubber patch, it was pressed into place and left for some time to set. Once you were happy with the repair job, the tube and tyre were replaced and pumped up again. It was always important to carry a repair kit and a pump whenever you went to the bog or on any long journey. The same kind of patch was used to patch our damaged wellington boots, though in later years we brought them to Mikie Howard’s bicycle shop so that he could ‘vulcanise’ them.

Pots and pans often developed holes and these were repaired with a ‘pot mender’, two metal washers with rubber or cork gaskets in between and a small bolt through the centre. As the bolt was tightened it pressed the gaskets on the metal which sealed the leak and this often gave many years use to an item which today would be cast in the bin.

One of the most exciting times in our house was when a parcel came from America. My mother’s brothers, John and Siney were living in Chicago and their children were older than we were. So a couple of times a year they sent us a parcel of ‘hand-me-downs’. There was never anything to fit me so I was left disappointed. Sometimes there would be small toys like dolls and I once got a teddy bear. The greatest attraction was always the ‘Cool Ade’ drinks, packets of powder which were added to water to make lovely lemonade, orangeade, lime and other stuff we had never heard of before.


I have always been fascinated by Irish placenames. They are mostly of Irish origin and are very ancient, appearing in the earliest of maps, Petty’s Map of 1683, Taylor and Skinner’s of 1778, Larkin’s of 1819 and the record books like the Books of Survey and Distribution 1636, Tithe Applotment Books of 1823 and Griffith’s Valuation of 1856. Unfortunately those who compiled the records did not speak or understand Irish and so many of the placenames have been distorted by their Anglicisation. There was a standardisation of placenames in the seventeenth century which reduced the number of townlands and many placenames were lost in the process. It was recommended that new and proper names, “more suitable to the English tongue than the barbarous and uncouth names” which then existed, be assigned to the existing townlands. What a butchering those barbarians gave to our beautiful placenames: Caisleán Droim Leathan became Cashlaundrumlahan; Goirtín an Oileáin, Gorteenanilaun; Cill Idir Dá Abhainn, Killederdaowen and Seanbhaile Saileach, Shanballysallagh. Talk about barbarous and uncouth!

In most cases though it is possible, with careful study, to extract the original Gaelic name and hence derive its meaning. There is a place near where I have lived for close on forty years called Srahaunananta on the maps. Many people have great difficulty pronouncing it - not to mention spelling it - correctly. Once you get its Gaelic origin, Sruthán na Neanta (The stream of the nettles), it becomes much clearer. There is another place called Barragarraun, Barr an Gharráin (the top of the grove).

Many of the original Irish names referred to physical features of the landscape, to those who occupied the land or to man-made structures. Words like Knock (cnoc - hill), Kyle (coill - wood), Drum (droim - hilltop), Glen (glean - valley), Owen (abhainn - river), Slieve (sliabh - mountain), Bally (baile - town or habitation), Lis (lios - fort), Dun (Dún – also a fortification), Droghed (droichead - bridge) and so on are found all over the country. Placenames like Ballynacarrigy (Baile na Carraige, Westmeath), Garryspillane (Garraí Uí Spealáin – Limerick), Stradbally (An tSráidbhaile – Laois/Waterford) and Taughmaconnell (Teach Mhic Conaill – Galway) would scarcely mean anything to anybody who does not have a little knowledge of the Irish language. To those who do, they are very informative names. Other interesting placenames I have come across are: Cornafulla (Corn na Fola – Roscommon), Gweesalia (Gaoth Sáile – Mayo), Killeenadeema (Cillín a Díoma – my parish), Lemybrien (Léim Uí Bhriain – Waterford) and Lissycasey (Lios Uí Chathasaigh – Clare). Every county, even every parish, has its own share of interesting placenames which are not all that mystical once the original Irish names have been established.

Our homestead is in Drumeevin (Droim Aoibhinn - the pleasant height/ridge). In our youth there were local names on parts of townlands: ‘Crabaun’ or Ryan’s hill, Knocknaskeha (Cnoc na Sceiche - the bushy hill) which is in the townland of Toormore and on the maps it refers to a hill rather than to a townland. There is also Rossanumera and Drummin, both part of Drumeevin townland. These were probably some of the “barbarous and uncouth” names referred to above! Thankfully oral tradition has kept them alive to this day though I do not know how long more this will continue. We may search in vain today for the feature on which a townland is named; there is no longer a wood in Kylemore though the pleasant hill remains as pleasant today as it did in time immemorial!

Other townlands beside us are Kylemore (An Choill Mór – the big wood), Ballinacarra (Baile na Cathrach – the settlement of the stone fort), Ballagh (An Bealach – the passage, road), Clogher (Clochar – a stony region), Knockroe (Cnoc Rua – the red hill), Toormore (Túr/Tuar mór – the big tower/ field or pasture), Booltiaghadine, Caherblonick, Knockanedan (Cnoc an Éadain – the hill at the brow of the mountain), Derrynaheila (Doire na hAille – the oakwood of the cliff), Gortnagloch (Gort na gCloch – the stony tillage field), Moherbullog (An Mothar Bolg –the bulging ruin) and Ballyculleeny (Baile Cuilíní – the settlement of the fair haired maiden).

Inchovea (Inse Bheithe – the isle of the birch tree, but also known as Innse Feitiph or Innse Ó Bhéith) is an area which includes part of the townlands of Ballinacarra and Toormore but is not in itself a townland. Its main significance is that it includes a castle, the local Catholic church and the national school. Little is known of the castle but it was probably constructed in the latter part of the fifteenth century. It was owned by the O’Connors in 1582 when they were dispossessed and the property was transferred to Teige McMurragh, son of Turlough O’Brien of Ennistymon by order of Queen Elizabeth. In 1604 it was owned by Áine O’Brien, daughter of Teige of Smithstown who married Lochlann Ó hIceadha, a surgeon (the word iceadha means a healer). In the marriage contract Áine promised to bring 8 in-calf cows of her own and all the cattle she could get from friends. The contract is signed by Lochlann Ó hIceadha and Áine made her mark. In 1641 it became the possession of Conor O’Brien of Dumhach who brought some English tenants to the lands in the vicinity of the castle. At the beginning of the 1641 rebellion it was in the possession of John Symson. Conor O’Brien, his wife Mary Brien (Máire Rua) and his brother Torlach are named in depositions made before the Cromwellian Commissioners in 1642. John Symson claimed that, apart from his losses of goods, Conor O’Brien and others drove away some of his cattle and that “about 25th March 1642 Joshua Steele, Tomasin his wife and Robert his brother were cruelly murthered by the hands of O’Bryan of Lemyneth, James Oge McCasy of Ballyganner, John Hickey of Smithstown, Bryan O’Flanagane of Lemyneth…the children of the Steeles were so frightened by the violence thye witnessed at Inchovea that they would not go outside the castle of Tulira where they then resided”. By 1654 it was owned by Dónal Neylon and referred to as the castle at Túr Mór. It is not known when the castle fell into disrepair or whether it was an act of war but it is believed that stones from the castle were used to build nearby houses and out-offices.

Our parish is Kiltoraght (Cill Tórachta) which is the smaller half of the Kilfenora parish and includes the townlands of Ballinacarra, Derrynaheilla, Drumeevin, Kilmore North and South, Knockanedan, Knockroe and Toormore. The inhabitants of these townlands as recorded in the official state records from 1827 to 1911 can be browsed in full at

Kiltoraght was described by Samuel Lewis in 1837 as “on the road from Kilfenora to Ennis; containing 1145 inhabitants” , consisting of about 3,080 statute acres, a large portion being mountain and bog. It stated that “a chapel is now being erected at Inchioveagh, on the new line of road to Ennistymon” and that about 110 children were being educated in a private school. Interestingly, in 1845 the Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland described the same Kiltoraght as “one-third of the surface consists of prime fattening land; and the remainder of good tillage land, but with little bog”. It also states that the church is in a dilapidated state and that the vicar’s house is used as a place of worship with an attendance of four; the Roman Catholic chapel has an attendance of 200 and a hedge school in the parish had 69 boys and 40 girls on its books.

There is a lake in the townland of Kylemore North, called Lough Fergus. The folklore attaching to it is that at one time it was just a well; that a big flood came and the well overflowed to become a lake. Near the lake there is a stone chair reputed to belong to St Fergus who lived in the area. On May Eve people came to the lake to do ‘rounds’ (a set pattern of prayers as one walked around the chair) and pray to have their requests granted. They took home a bottle of the lake water which was reputed to have a cure for sick animals. In my youth this custom was still in practice though I am not sure how many prayers were said there in honour of St Fergus! The river Fergus flows out of the lake eastwards, along by our land, on to Kilnaboy, Corofin, Ennis and Clarecastle where it joins the Shannon. As it goes through limestone country, it goes underground in places. Inchovea castle is situated on the river in the townland of Toormore and can be seen from our house.

The ‘old’ Inchovea school was built in 1847 by F and W Fitzgerald. There were two rooms, the girls’ school and the boys’ school with a teacher’s residence attached. This is the school I first attended though now the rooms were referred to as the master’s room and the miss’s room. Around the time I started school construction began on a new school in the adjacent field. This opened in 1957. While preparing for a school reunion in 2013, ‘the year of the gathering’, I inspected the old roll books and registers as far back as 1855 and was surprised to find them in such good condition. It was a pleasant surprise to find that the first page of a register I opened showed the attendance of my father in 1918. It was nice to see the lovely handwriting of the headmaster in most cases, particularly when using the Irish language in the old Gaelic script. I compiled a booklet containing the names of all the pupils who had attended school there from 1855 up to the time it closed due to declining numbers in 2001, having provided education for the youth of the area for over 155 years. Among those who taught there were: Thomas Sheedy, Mr Curtis, Mary Curtis, Christopher Cullinan, Seán Ó Sé, Mary Lysaght, Tom Honan, Tom Lillis, Delia (Quinn) Arkins, Mary (Healy) O’Dea, Eithne Hickey, John Keane, Margaret Collins and Ann McNamara.

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