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.
The Station – 1936
In the combined parishes of Killea, Crooke and Faithlegg, when I was a boy, there was an event called “The Station”. I never could find out why it had that name for it had nothing whatever to do with the railway, the nearest one being some ten miles away. In fact it was the term used in country places to describe a Mass which was said in a parishioners house each year – and it was a signal honour to have one’s house selected by the Parish Priest for this purpose.
The venue would be announced at Sunday Mass and even that announcement was sufficient to establish one’s status in the community. The particular areas to be “covered” by each Station would be decided by tradition – and probably influenced by the electoral register. The effect was that every person in every area, or at least the head of the household, would attend a Station Mass once a year and one of the objects of the exercise was that “dues” would be paid on that occasion.
The normal “dues” would be paid at the church door on a Sunday and the names of the contributors would be read from the altar AND the amounts contributed. The Station dues seemed, to my young mind at the time, to be an extra tax on a struggling rural community and the method used was a sort of “sweeper” arrangement to pick up the stragglers and squeeze the maximum out of the parish.
On the occasion of the Station, confessions would be heard and Mass would be said. Then, at the end of the mass, the priest produced his book, stood before the altar and called out the names of the parishioners. When your name was called you walked up to the priest, handed him your offering – in front of all your neighbours – and he would mark his book accordingly.
Although I was quite young, I was living in Woodstown when I first witnessed this procedure, I felt that it was demeaning and unfair. However, such was the standing of the clergy at the time that this process was accepted.
Another aspect of the Station was that people went to endless trouble and expense to “do up” the place in advance of the priest’s visit. Farmhouses would be whitewashed; yards would be cleared of dung-heaps; cow-house doors would get a lick of paint; parlours would be freshly papered and have fires lit in them and, of course, children would be scrubbed clean and dressed in their Sunday clothes – all because of what the neighbours might think and so that they could hold their heads up going to mass on a Sunday and “nothing could be said!”
When it came to my family’s turn to host the Station Mass I was eight or nine years old and I well recall the fuss that was created and how every corner of the house had to be completely cleaned. All the family got special assignments for the day: My sister was to answer the door and to show people into the drawing room; my younger brother had to make sure that the dogs were kept in the back yard and my mother was preparing a sumptuous breakfast in what we called the “sea parlour”, which overlooked the beach.
My job was to light the fire in the drawing room, and to see that it was kept fed with coal and logs. The altar for the mass was set up in that room and I made sure that it was nice and warm.
When “the day” arrived it was cold and frosty and the ladies of the parish arrived in good time for the Mass and positioned themselves in a semicircle around the fire. The men hung around outside, smoking their Woodbines and chatting, as there would be no point going in until the priest arrived.
Meanwhile, my young brother, having secured the dogs, rambled in to see who had come.
Peeping around the door jamb he beheld several ladies with their backs to the fire, skirts raised, toasting their bottoms! Having noted the colour of the “ample” knickers, he retreated silently and reported what he had seen to rest of us kids. Amid great whispering and sniggering the rest of us went in turns and gazed at this remarkable sight.
When we told my mother that we knew what colour knickers old Mrs. so & so was wearing she threatened us with hellfire and brimstone if we breathed a word of this to anyone. We retreated hastily from the kitchen but we could hear her laughing.
A story is told about a priest who was doing the Station Masses in his parish. He had developed a taste for Mustard and at that time mustard had hardly been heard of in country districts. It was the custom for the hostess of the Station Mass to provide an especially good breakfast for the priest and he could look forward to fresh eggs, home cured bacon, home made black & white puddings with fresh cake bread and strong tea. The only thing which might be missing from this princely spread would be – you’ve guessed it – a spot of mustard.
Well, you see, mustard wasn’t really in general use and rather than embarrass the hostess by asking for something she didn’t have the priest took the habit of carrying a small tin of mustard, ready mixed to his liking, in his pocket. So, if it came with the breakfast well & good, and if not he could discreetly use his personal supply.
It so happened, on this particular morning, that when the priest’s breakfast was served there was no mustard to be seen on the table. Deciding to resort to subterfuge, he deliberately dropped his knife in the floor knowing that his hostess would fetch a fresh one from the kitchen, which she did. While she was out of the room the priest put a good dollop of his own cache on the side of his plate.
When the lady returned with the knife she looked at the priest’s plate in absolute horror. She grabbed the plate and began to back out of the room saying “I’m awful sorry Father, them hens are everywhere. I’ll get you a fresh breakfast!!”
So much for carrying your own supplies!
Describing a returned emigrant who had put on a lot of weight:
“He has a neck of meat on him like an American priest!”
©Geoff Cronin 2005
About Geoff Cronin
I was born at tea time at number 12 John Street, Waterford on September 23rd 1923. My father was Richard Cronin and my mother was Claire Spencer of John Street Waterford. They were married in St John’s Church in 1919.
Things are moving so fast in this day and age – and people are so absorbed, and necessarily so, with here and now – that things of the past tend to get buried deeper and deeper. Also, people’s memories seem to be shorter now and they cannot remember the little things – day to day pictures which make up the larger canvas of life.
It seems to me that soon there may be little or no detailed knowledge of what life was really like in the 1930s in a town – sorry, I should have said City, in accordance with its ancient charter – like Waterford. So I shall attempt to provide some of these little cameos as much for the fun of telling as for the benefit of posterity.
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.