It's a long time since Mary and I were at Ardlaghan School,
where Bridget McGee and Master McGeehan were teachers. From
Monday morning until Friday evening, you wouldn't hear one word
of English. How could you have English, when it was only Irish
that was spoken? Master McGeehan would give a boy a knife and
he would tell him to go down to that ditch of Charlie McGlynn's
and cut five or six big sticks and he would use them on the
pupils. But I had the best of times with Miss McGee.
|Eddie (b.1913) and Mary (b.1911)
Paddy Francie Harkin, who lived in Galwolie, was selling
paraffin oil and an odd evening my mother would give me a
jar and after school time I would go down and Miss McGee would
walk with me. She said to me one time: "If you don't
stop your capers you'll never learn. You're full of capers."
There were five in our family...Biddy, Jimmy, Dan, Mary and
me. Every child took two turf to school every day. Master
McNulty was teaching in Ardlaghan School. Nobody would ever
get near the fire. The master would stand in front of the
fire the whole day and pull up his shirt and warm his arse
to the fire. One day, Wiley got an old bull horn. Then he
got this big thick turf and he made a big hole in the turf.
At that time there was a blasting powder. He packed the horn
with powder and he put a good cork in it. Then he put it in
the hole in the turf. "I took me time," said he,
"I waited 'till there was a good lock in with their turf
and then I went in and put mine in the pile. The fire was
coming on grand, and the master came up and put on the turf.
Then it exploded and the master got it in the arse.
I left school at fourteen - I never went much anyway. I spent
many's the day down at the river. There was a school in Lettermore,
Carriagh, during the night in wintertime. The teacher's name
was Nancy Hicks. She was a good teacher, an old woman. She
was there all winter, and all the young people gathered around
every night and learned. She stayed in William Condie's all
winter and in the summer she left. She was a traveller. She
had no home.
My grandfather built this house that we live in. He got this
farm, but there was no house on it, so he built a wee house
made with sods. He had to carry the stones before he was able
to put a chimney on the sod house. He used to say that he
was able to catch the moorhen up the chimney.
My father worked on his own farm. There were nothing going
at that time. Whatever you took out from the ground was your
living. Sure, there was no dole...the only thing he got was
the pension when it came out. It was two and six (12½p)
and then it went up to ten shillings (50p).
McFadden's of Breenagh had a shop in the area. Below that,
there was a man called Burns. He had a wee family, and he
had a donkey and cart, and if you had eggs or butter he would
take them to town and whatever goods you wanted, he would
take them home. No money exchanged hands. It was all swapped.
We had great evenings in this house when we were young. John
Simey Doherty would come here and stay. There used to be a
dance here nearly every night. They would gather here and
Mickey Paddy Dan Toner and his uncle, Paddy Toner would play
on the fiddle. There would be three or four fiddlers. Mickey
would be here every night and there would be dancing here
until late. A lot of neighbours, from Ardlaghan up to Letterbrick
and out to Meenlaharry, would come to the house to dance.
And the ones from far away might get a cup of tea if there
was any to spare. They would leave around half past ten or
eleven o'clock during the winter. There would be dancing and
singing. They would dance the sets, the highlands, and the
siege of Carrick and reels. What bothered them at that time
was that they were afraid that the night would get too short.
It was only during the long winter evenings that they had
the time to dance.
There were a lot of travellers in this area. Most of them
were gathering spuds and crops and some of them had tin cans
selling them and making them. John Love was through the country
gathering old coats, wool and quilts. When he had a good load
he would put it in a barrow. Seven hundred weight and he had
his mother sitting on top. He would put a rock on the barrow.
Then he would go out to Glenswilly and there was another load
there and he would go to Letterkenny. He was strong.
Once however, when he went up Letterkenny street one of the
police stopped him. John had overloaded the barrow. They arrested
him and the mother. They gave him a summons. He was fined
half a crown. John said that was the luckiest day for him.
There were people at the courthouse and they gave him plenty
of money. He gathered five or six pounds.
There were a whole lot of people travelling around then,
including women. Turlough Harkin, he should have been a priest
but he took to travelling. They were all homeless. They would
stop in houses and some would have three or four bits of sticks
with them and a covering and they would shelter under it all
night. When travellers died, they were buried at the poor
house in Stranorlar, which was called the County Home.
There were fairies. One night Mickey Lynch, Meentagrannagh
was raking up in Carlin's of Meenanea. When he was returning
home at bedtime, he came to a quarry near Jim Sheonaigh's
house and he saw a nice light in a nice window. A fairy came
out and told him to come in. The fairies were singing, dancing
and eating. Mickey thought he wasn't in a half an hour and
the fairies went away very sudden and Mickey was out on the
road and it was three o'clock in the morning.
I heard the Banshee myself. I heard her, her lonely crying.
It was a sign that someone was going to die. Other signs of
a death or misfortune were that you might see a light or you'd
find a big brattle. I heard Jimmy, my brother, say he had
a field of spuds up in Carrick. He had them dug and he, John
and Owenie went up and clayed the pits. They had them clayed
and Jimmy said: "John will we stop for tae." John
said: "No, I'm going home to feed the horses." Just
then there was a wil' brattle, and Jimmy thought the half
of the barn was tumbled by the sound of the noise. When he
got down there was nothing at all wrong. It was a sign though.
That was the time that Pat Bán McGlinchey died.
In old times when a person would die, there were no boxes,
and they would wrap the body up in blankets. On the day of
the burial, they would take the doors off the byre and they
would get big long sticks and put them under the door, and
the corpse would be lying on the door and four men would carry
it to the graveyard. They took the back door with them.
I have the cure for sore backs. You used to get pitch to
buy in big lumps in the shops. You would cut a square off
an old pair of corduroy trousers which you placed on your
back. You would place on the plaster of pitch on top of it.
They placed a red-hot iron on the pitch. Oh, you would go
mad through the house. If it burned you, the woman of the
house would get a pandy of cold water and throw it on your
back. I saw my father putting it on my mother and my mother
putting it on my father.
Burrell, the whitest thing you ever saw was used for a cough.
It's like a wee white shamrock. You boiled it in a saucepan.
It's green and then it turns white like corn flour when it
is boiled. It's hard to find it now. It grows in wet places,
in puddles of water.
The priests were holy terrors. People were afraid of the
priests. Fr. Gibbon was in Glenfin. He had the power. Samuel
Donaldson was the landowner, and the house that Fr. Gibbon
was living in was owned by Donaldson. He would come to the
house to see if everything was tidy, especially the midden
(manure heap). Father Gibbon always kept two cows, and the
midden wasn't very nice. It was going up to the gable of the
house. "You must tidy up that midden", Donaldson
said. Donaldson went home and the next morning he had diabetes.
As much as they could carry to him he couldn't stop eating
and they had to send for the priest. They said that Fr. Gibbon
had put a curse on him.
There used to be big missions in Glenfin. They'd last for
three weeks. Once, on the last Sunday of a mission, the priest
said "The missions will be closed at 6 o'clock up in
that field this evening. Everyone is to bring candles".
All the people went to the field that evening and didn't a
big wind get up. They thought the candles would be blown out,
but every one of them stayed lit and it was a big gale. They
did indeed. The priests had the power right enough. My mother
lived to a big age; she was 98 when she died. She was the
last of the lot. We're the last of this family, only two of
us left now, me and Mary. The rope's getting short Mary.
Edited extract from Anne
McMenamin's book, 'When We Were Young', a delightful collection
of stories and photographs, collected around the district.
The book may be purchased by contacting the publishers, Voice
Publishing Co. Ltd., Main Street, Ballybofey, Co. Donegal,
Ireland. Email: email@example.com