My father-in-law, Geoff Cronin was a raconteur with a encyclopedic memory spanning his 93 years. He sadly died in 2017 but not before he had been persuaded to commit these memories of his childhood and young adulthood in Waterford in the 1920s to the 1940s.
The books are now out of print, but I know he would love to know that his stories are still being enjoyed, and so I am repeating the original series of his books that I posted in 2017. I hope those who have already read will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.
How the Stable Was Built 1936
Mick and his wife Peg lived at the top of Failun (pronounced Falloon) hill, on the road which went from Hickey’s Cross in Rosduff to the Fairy Bush in Killea. They occupied a “labourer’s cottage” with a half acre at the back and the rent was ten pence per week.
Mick had injured his leg some years before and that leg was slightly shorter than the other one and he walked with the aid of a stick. Because of his disability, Mick was virtually unemployable, since the only work available in the area was of the labouring variety.
Over the years he had scraped together the price of a black ass – two pounds – and a trap, which went for thirty shillings at an executor’s sale, came his way the following year. Thus equipped, Mick was able to earn a shilling or two doing errands, to and from the Gaultier Creamery Shop, for neighbours. Apart from that he spent most of his time tending that part of the half acre which wasn’t set aside for the ass to graze.
Peg hired out as a charlady, at two shillings per day, to any lady who needed her services and it was on that basis that my mother took her on to do cleaning, washing, ironing and general housework at our home in Woodstown. She would walk the two and a half miles to our home and arrive at eight thirty on the dot – and always in the best of spirits. She had never been to school and could neither read nor write but she was an absolute mine of information on all matters relating to country living and survival. One of her great goals in life was that she an Mick might live to draw an old-age-pension – it was five shillings a week then, and a dog license cost the same amount! Incidentally, Peg always referred to her husband as The Man and the locals always knew him by that name.
Our charlady with her husband (The Man), the famous ass plus my younger brother & sister David and Claire & friends -1933
My mother enjoyed Peg’s company, not just because Peg never arrived empty handed – she would always bring a few fresh mushrooms, or a can of blackberries, or a small bunch of wild flowers. This woman had a generous heart and my mother appreciated that fact. She loved music and my mother would switch on the radio when Peg arrived and both of them would enjoy that continuous programme called “Music While You Work”, which was a ploy used by the BBC to keep the factories of England going at top speed during the war.
Come lunchtime, Mother would sit down with Peg and get all the gossip and on one such day she said to Peg “I’ll just switch off the wireless while we have our lunch.”
“Oh, yes,” said Peg “let the poor fellows off to their lunch – they’ve been playin’ there all mornin’!”
On her day with us Peg’s husband, The Man, would arrive about four o’clock with the ass & trap, to bring Peg home. While he waited for her to finish he would tether the ass and head off into the woods to collect a “bearth” of sticks to take home for the fire.
Mick had a wealth of songs, which he would sing in a sort of monotone, and also a repertoire of poems and country stories. As kids, we loved the songs best. Titles like “Pat Hegarty’s Auld Brother’s Britches”, “Workin’ on the Railway, “Toora Loora Loo” and “The Monkey Married the Baboon’s Sister” intrigued us no end.
The man was making plans to build a stable for the ass, he told us, and when we saw him cutting some nice straight poles in the wood he told us that these were to make the frame of the stable. This frame would be covered with iron sheets he said and we wondered how this might come about. In the event the solution was a composite one. First of all the man visited all the sites where road works were taking place and he bought all the empty tar barrels for sixpence each and ferried them home in the trap. When he thought he had enough – it took two months to collect a sufficient number – he set about removing the bottoms and lids using a hammer and cold chisel. He finished this stage by opening up the side seams, and then he waited.
Almost a month passed by before a day arrived when the steam-roller came over the top of the hill and approached the man’s cottage. Mick hailed the driver, whom he knew well, and when the roller stopped he got the road workers to spread the opened up barrels on the road. Whereupon the driver took his steam-roller over and back across the barrels until they were quite flat. Then the road workers brought the “sheets” into Mick’s yard, where they were thanked. The man had the covering for his stable which he duly nailed to the frame, making sure to put them on with the tarry side up! This dodge would save painting the stable as it would be tarred all over and waterproof.
One of the local stories which The Man had was about an old church ruin which was situated in a field near his cottage. Apparently the church had been torn down during the time of the Penal Laws and one of the holy water fonts had survived.
The legend was that if you had warts on your hand you only had to dip the hand in the dew that collected in the font and say three Hail Marys and the warts would disappear.
Now I had a massive wart on the ring finger of my left hand and couldn’t get rid of it, no matter what I did. I tried all the known “cures”, like dandelion juice, rubbing it with a snail and sticking him on a thorn bush, etc. etc. These “cures” had no effect and in desperation I decided to try the holy water font in the ruined church, although to be honest I didn’t really believe in it.
Mick agreed to show me where the ruin was – he did believe – and informed me that part of the ritual was that I should go up there on foot, no manner of transport was allowed. This meant a walk of almost three miles there and another three miles back and this was a daunting pilgrimage for a boy of ten.
I thought about it for a week or so and eventually decided to “go for it.” On the appointed day I set off early, having arranged for a pal to join me. We arrived, very tired, at Mick’s cottage at about mid-day. We accomplished the final leg of the journey and when Mick pointed out the ruin I went in unaccompanied and dipping in my afflicted hand I said the prayers.
On the way back to Mick’s house, I decided secretly that I would watch my wart day and night and never take my eyes off it, to see if anything would happen, and I told no one about this dark secret.
We got a cup of tea at Mick’s and he told us it was not mandatory to walk back and he very kindly tackled up the ass & trap and drove us home, much to our relief.
Now to this day I cannot explain just why I forgot to watch that wart, but forget I did. My previous obsession with the wart just evaporated and when I did remember to look, about a week later… the wart was GONE and no trace of it remained. I swear that this is true but don’t ask me how or why – I just wasn’t looking!
By the way, seventy years later, I should tell you that it never did come back!!
©Geoff Cronin 2005
Thank you for visiting today and I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of Waterford in the 1930s courtesy of Geoff Cronin. As always your feedback is very welcome. thanks Sally.