Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives -#Memoir #Waterford #Ireland #History – The Colour of Life – Work on a Timber Gang – 1942 by Geoff Cronin plus an audio extra


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. I hope those who have already read these stories will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

My husband spent some time with Geoff in Ireland and asked him to record some of his stories and if you missed yesterday’s post about James the Landlord, you can hear if from the storyteller’s personal perspective.. Over the coming weeks I will share one of the recordings with the stories I post from the book

 

Here is today’s story from the book….


Work on a Timber Gang – 1942

In September 1942 I had just left school and had decided I was going into the National Forestry Service. I made an application and found that I would not be admitted to the forestry college at Avondale, Co. Wicklow, unless (a) I was a farmer’s son, or (b) I had experience in forestry. I could not meet either of these criteria, and so I decided to join a timber gang and gain the necessary experience.

The war was at its height and at the time timber was at a premium both for firewood and for commercial purposes. Consequently there was a lot of activity on farms and estates, which had saleable timber and so there were many timber gangs active in my area.

There was a big old estate originally owned by Lord Bessborough – one of the Ponsonby family, which had been bought by the Oblate Fathers. The mansion had been converted into a Seminary, and they were selling off the timber to recoup their original outlay.

The Timber gang – Mikey, Jack, Dan and Petey

Carman Petey Welsh and helper at Bessborough Estate Winter 1942.

The estate was in the village of Piltown, Co. Kilkenny, twelve miles from Waterford where I lived, and two and half miles from Carrick on Suir. This village had a Creamery, a hardware shop, a pub, a grocery shop, an undertaker, and a population of about forty or fifty people.

There were two gangs of timber men working the estate, one gang was felling the hardwood, mainly huge oak trees which dotted the parkland, and which were going for firewood to fuel the steam boiler at the Creamery, and the other one was felling the softwood, Spruce and Scotch Fir, which went to a sawmill in Waterford. The man who ran the softwood gang was a friend of my family and he agreed to let me join his team for the experience.

So it was when my mother and I went to Piltown one Saturday seeking a place for me to stay five days a week. We found a vacancy with a Kerry woman, Essie Brosnan by name.

The digs would cost four shillings per day, sharing a room with an assistant from the local shop, and I could get a bus to go home at the week-end. All was agreed and the following Monday morning I reported for work, carrying my own axe, with a certain amount of self-assurance. I had been working on a farm in Woodstown during the summer, and I felt very fit and tough enough for anything the timber scene could throw at me.

The gang consisted four men, Mikey, the foreman, Danny, his right hand man, and two car-men, Peter and Jack, whose job it was to pull out the timber after it was felled, and cut it into lengths of twelve, fourteen and sixteen feet, and cart it a mile and a half to the railhead at Fiddown. They were paid by the ton. I remember particularly the wonderful smell of resin from freshly cut Spruce, mixed with the smell of leaves on the ground and the faint smell of the camp fire where the men were having their lunch break. It was midday when I cycled into the camp on that first day and was welcomed by Mikey the foreman.

Yours truly On the Timber Gang

“Will ye have the tay?” he asked. I declined, having had a snack in the digs when I checked in there earlier.

This was a Specimen Scots Fir Tree – 78 feet to the first fork – Which Mikey Wall (on Right) and I felled at the Grand Gates of the Bessborough Estate in Piltown, Co. Kilkenny in 1942.

“Show me the little hatchet you have,” he said smiling indulgently. I did so and he examined it “That’s not a bad edge ye have,” he said. The others examined it and there seemed to be a general air of amusement. I had no idea why this was, but it got my hackles up slightly.

“Here” said Mikey, now engrossed in filling his pipe, “While I’m having a smoke, maybe you’d take the front out of that tree there,” indicating a black Spruce, about three feet in diameter.

I took off my jacket, spat on my hands and squared up to my task, determined to show these guys a thing or two. My first two strokes took out a piece of wood about two inches wide, and half an inch deep, and the shock to my arms and wrists was unbelievable. A quiet snigger from Danny and the Car men reached my ears as I went in again with no better results.

Mikey let me go on for ten minutes, by which time the Car men had left to get their horses, and then he said “Here boy, take a rest for yourself and let me give you a hand.” I did so, and watched this little man – he was five foot four inches and in his late fifties – as he picked up an axe with a seven pound head, and addressed the job – my “axe” had a three and a half pound head.

Well, as he hacked into that tree, chips four and five inches wide, and two inches deep began to fly and in ten minutes flat, it was ready for the saw.

“Come on now,” he said, “get on the other end of the saw” – it was a five and a half foot cross-cut saw, and I knew how to use it so I knelt down and Mikey passed one end of the saw to me and we began to cut until we were about a third of the way into the tree.

“Now boy, get a hammer and two wedges out of the bag there, and knock the wedges into the cut to keep the weight off the saw.”

I picked up the seven-pound sledge hammer, and did the needful. We continued sawing and when we got two inches or so from the breast cut, I uncoupled my handle and he withdrew the saw from the far side.

Carman Petey Welsh

“Now” he said, “stay close to the butt and watch the top of the tree.” He took the hammer and drove the wedges in until the tree went out of the perpendicular, and down she came with a crunching thump. I sat down on the stump, and Mikey filled his pipe, and when I tried to get up, I found I was stuck! Mikey laughed – the resin had flowed up in the stump, and I had to yank myself free.

“That’ll only season the trousers for ye,” he said.

In that first day, Mikey and I felled four big spruces, and I honestly thought the day would never end. When Mikey said, “We’ll knock off now,” the relief was immense.

“We’ll hide the gear here ’til morning,” he said. “Bring up the bag with the other two wedges.”

Left to right – Jack Roche and Petey Walsh (Carmen), Larry Cantwell and Claus Cantwell , Mikey Wall (Foreman), Danny Sullivan, G. Cronin, Dick Cronin..

I went to oblige but when I caught the neck of the sack, though the wedges in it weighed no more than three pounds, I just couldn’t lift it off the ground. I was completely exhausted, and just about managed to walk the short distance to the spot where we had left our bikes.

Then I discovered that Mikey would cycle seventeen miles to where he lived near Clonmel and he would cycle the same distance back to work the next day! This little man was made of IRON!!

When I got back to the digs, I just ate my dinner and fell into bed and slept around the clock. The process of waking and getting up is something I shall never forget. Every muscle in my whole body was screaming in agony, and it took me quite a while to loosen up. Fortunately, I was left with Danny that day, trimming the trees we had cut the day before, and cutting them into lengths for the car men. This was a different exercise, equally strenuous but at least I was not on my knees punishing every muscle in my back.

Mikey had been off through the woods checking trees marked for felling, and deciding how they might be got to the nearest road or track for transport. After the lunch break he said, “Come on now young man. We’ll go to the shop and get you a proper hatchet” – he never called it an axe – “That thing you have is only fit for making kindlin’.” At the hardware shop I watched while he went through the rack of axes, and finally he handed me one. It was a “Black Prince” with a hickory handle and a five and a half pound head. “This should do ye nicely,” he said, and as we took it to the counter I saw that the assistant was my room-mate at the digs. “That will be thirteen shillings,” he said, and I paid up.

On our return to the camp Mikey showed me how to sharpen the axe with a file. Then he demonstrated how exactly to use it, left handed and right handed, how to cut the boots – big roots – off a tree prior to putting the saw to it, how to under-cut when starting the breast cut etc. In fact, the things expected of an efficient timber man. Then he left me on my own to practice as I trimmed the trees already felled and he departed with Danny to fell some more.

On the days that followed, I got to know the car men, and I marveled at their expertise in getting two and three-ton logs past all kinds of obstructions on the tracks where a cart could be used. I learned how to use levers, skids, stobs, squeezers, wire ropes, chains, combinations of block and tackle, shear legs and Weston Block for lifting logs onto a cart and tricks and dodges too numerous to mention. Nothing was impossible to these guys and no stick – their term for a sixteen foot log – was too big or awkward to be got onto a cart. Their horses too were expert in their own way and they knew the routine for each kind of procedure.

The whole experience amounted to what today would be termed a steep learning curve, and it stood me in good stead for the rest of my life. The work was physically very demanding in dry weather and even more so when movement was hampered with wet clothing, but very rewarding.The lunch time breaks were great fun and very educational in more ways than one, and as time went on and my body became attuned to the work, I could sail through the day, go shooting duck after dinner, and later on, cycle into Carrick-on-Suir to the Forester’s Hall and dance the night away to the strains of a band who knew only three tunes!

I stayed with that gang until the end of January, when I was being paid twenty-six shillings a week, and the friendships I made at that time lasted for many years. In the event, I never joined the Forestry Division, and instead went into my father’s Bakery business, as he needed my help at the time. However, the knowledge and experience gained came in very useful later in my life. But that’s another story.

Lunch break with my brother Dick

***

On the timber gang when we’d be packing up in the evening, we could see flocks of crows (Rooks) making their way to the roosting place called ‘The Mountain Grove’ ten or twelve miles away. Mikey recalled a night when the weather was so bad that the crows had to walk to the mountain grove.

©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 and 1940s courtesy of Geoff Cronin. As always your feedback is very welcome. thanks Sally.

Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives -#Memoir #Waterford #Ireland #History – The Colour of Life – James the Landlord 1939 by Geoff Cronin


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. I hope those who have already read these stories will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

James the Landlord – 1939

When I lived in Woodstown in the 1930s our house was on the edge of a sandy beach which stretched for half a mile in either direction and our landlord, James, lived in the cottage next door.

James was a lean, old, guy in his late eighties. He had a full head of curly hair, a square foxy beard and spent a lot of his days chopping firewood from a huge stock of logs in his front yard. In his young days James had been a stone mason and his wife had been the cook in the “big house” which now stood deserted on the wooded estate nearby.

There was an eight foot high storm wall which ran the length of our house – and the cottage next door. This protected both properties from the sea when the tides ran high. In the winter we had to barricade the french windows at the back of the house and I clearly remember going to sleep to the regular thump of waves crashing against that wall. In the summer holidays those french windows were always open and we could just walk out, pop over the wall and be on the beach, or in the sea if the tide was a high one.

James the Landlord, collecting cockles

On a fine evening, after she had listened to the nine o’clock news on our battery radio, my mother would stroll out to the storm wall for a quiet smoke and a chat with James. He would also have heard the news and it would be discussed in detail, as well as the weather forecast. James knew how to turn on the radio and how to connect the batteries but he had no clear idea of how it worked or what “airwaves” were. The Irish broadcasting station was “Athlone”, the BBC was just “The English Station” and the whole apparatus was popularly known as “The Wireless”.

On one occasion James’s wireless broke down and when the local bus arrived he handed it to the bus driver with instructions to bring it to the wireless man in town and ask him how much to fix it. On his return the bus driver reported that it would cost thirty shillings to fix it – it needed a new valve. James was shocked at the cost and told the bus driver to enquire “what would he charge just to fix Athlone!”! After much argy-bargy he capitulated, paid the thirty bob and the wireless was returned “as good as new!”

I recall the time when King George V of England was ill and dying and there were hourly bulletins from Buckingham Palace regarding his condition. Mother and James were in conversation about it:

“Well James,” she said. “What do you think about the news?”

“Ah ma’am they’re bulletin about it all day,” he replied, “and I think meself that the poor bloody bugger is shagged.”

He was right you know and the king died next day.

When the war came and the German propaganda machine came into play the infamous James Joyce, or Lord Haw Haw as he was known, could be heard coming through the BBC line and contradicting everything the English announcer would say. Because of the varying strength of the signals, each station would come and go amid bursts of crackling interference. James thought their contests were very entertaining and he would refer to the announcers as The German and The Englishman.

One evening the contest had been hot & heavy and James described it to my mother as follows:

“The Englishman came on the wire and he commenced giving out the news and the next thing was The German got up behind him and shoved him off the wire. Then, after a while, The Englishman got strong and managed to get back up on the wire and you couldn’t hear The German at all, except in fits and starts. But then, after The German got a rest, he got up on the wire along with The Englishman and they started shouting at each other and there was a fierce struggle and be the ’tarnal didn’t The Englishman get the better of The German and pushed him off altogether. Then The German got right wicked and commenced shovellin’ gravel up agin the wire for pure spite. After that we got the rest of the English news and there was no sign of Lord Haw Haw, but begod it was a right battle between the two of ’em.”

Incidentally, the “gravel” was radio interference which occurred when the station was being “jammed” and there was a conflict of signals.

James told my mother on another occasion that he was giving up listening to the weather forecast from Athlone and was changing his allegiance to The Englishman because he was “giving out much better weather!”

At an earlier stage I began getting slightly envious of James because he owned three goats which provided him with milk. He also had two dogs, Mikey and Barney, who used to come running when I played the mouth organ and they would sit down in front of me and howl unmercifully.

I had a dog of my own, a female named Jack, which I had acquired from a man called Larry who was famous for having a wooden leg. Incidentally, for a fee of a penny Larry would hand you his stick and let you hit his leg with it. This went on for some time until one kid hit him an unmerciful whack on the wrong leg! Needless to say, the air turned blue on that occasion and the culprit’s parentage was called into question in no uncertain manner and this ended the “penny a whack” game.

Now, I couldn’t wait to have my own goat and I got a kid through the generosity of a pal I used to meet on the school bus. He told me to call to his parents’ farm and I could take one of the kid goats recently born there. I gladly accepted and having walked the two miles to his place I then had to carry the kid back to my home in my arms. There is an old saying “Even a hen is heavy if you carry it far enough!” – and I really learned the truth of that by the time I got home.

With the aid of a baby’s bottle I fed the kid until it was strong enough to join James’s “herd” as they went out to graze. I called her Dora and she would follow me about like a dog. When in time she had kids herself and was giving milk I only had to whistle and she would come to be milked.

Woodstown 1937 – Left to Right James (The Landlord), Two workers at the Barron Estate, Billy Gough – worker at the Salmon Weir next door to our home.

But to return to James – he was an expert carpenter, though that was not his trade. He was also a great gardener and a mine of information on all kinds of plants and vegetables. He had a large garden which supplied him with vegetables all year round and he tilled it himself until he was in his late ninety’s. As a boy, I hung around him a lot and he would help me with small carpentry jobs and advise me how to handle and feed my ferret, show me how to dig lugworms for fishing, how to milk a goat, or to harvest a can of cockles on a Friday to be eaten in lieu of fish. In short, he was the source of information about anything except new fangled contraptions like the wireless!

One day I found him in the garden, sitting on an old worn bench in a sunny corner and he was chewing on an onion. I was amazed and asked him why a raw onion? He said “you should eat everything that grows and comes in season – that’s why the lord put it there.”

James’ brother Patsy lived with him and he seemed very odd to me. It was said that he was a bit daft, to put it mildly. Apparently he had at one time farmed a smallholding in Rosduff, a nearby townsland, and he had kept pigs.

An apochryphal story told against Patsy related how when pig-feed went up in price he decided that, since pigs had no intelligence, he would simply reduce the rations to the irreducible minimum and maybe even train them to do without food altogether. The story goes that he almost had them trained when for some strange reason they died!

***

Our house on Woodstown Beach was a double-fronted villa type building, standing in its own grounds, and the rent was thirty pounds a year. On one occasion, when my father was paying the rent, James asked him if he would consider buying the property. The asking price was three hundred pounds and my father thought that this was exorbitant and didn’t buy. Such were the economies of the 1930s! Today’s value on the same house would be a hundred and fifty thousand, at a conservative estimate.

Well, we lived there until 1942 when we returned to the city to live over the shop at 12 John’s Street. I donated Dora the goat to James for the enhancement of his “herd” and I believe she lived a long and happy life there. James lived to be over a hundred and was still chopping his own firewood until a few days before his death.

Front view of our home at Woodstown early 1930s.NB. The slats across the lower part of the window were to keep the local goats, which belonged to James the Landlord, from parking on the lower window sill.

My childhood in Woodstown was nothing short of idyllic and I have many happy memories of my time there. One thing I will never forget is the thrill of stepping out the french windows, over the wall and onto the beach in the early morning, when it had been swept clean by the tide, and running along with sheer exuberance knowing that mine were the only footprints on the beach.

©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.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Weekly Round up July 25th – 31st July 2022 – Hits 2000, Nina Simone, Waterford, History, Podcast, Book Reviews, Summer Bookfair, Health and Humour


Welcome to the round up of post this week you might have missed on Smorgasbord.

I hope that you have had a good week.  I know some of you are on holiday either at home or abroad and enjoying different surroundings. Hopefully not too long in the airport and reunited with your luggage. The UK is definitely in a mess in that regard and the strikes don’t help. Whilst it certainly gets the attention of the media, it seems that the only people who suffer are those ordinary citizens trying to get to work or take their families on well earned breaks. I am all for fair wages for a days work, but when a train driver is earning almost three times more than a nurse and considerably more than a fireman, it does seem a little aggresive. Whilst the leadership of the UK is in flux I suppose it is seen as an opportunity to cause as much chaos as possible.

On the home front, rain has caused a stoppage of work for the main contractor. To be honest he has painted three quarters of the outside of the house including all the window surrounds and corner stones in white and it looks amazing. I am quite happy that he has to take a break from climbing ladders after 12 days solid. There are some inside jobs that need attention so you can rest assured he won’t be wasting any time!

Thanks to my friends William Price King and Debby Gies for their music and humour contributions this week and you can find out more about them on their own sites. .

William Price King joined me on The Breakfast show this week for the second part of the hits from 1999 and for the next part of the new series about the legend Nina Simone. William is on his usual summer break until September with his family but he has left me well stocked with his selections for the Breakfast Show and also his posts on the music legends..You can also find William – Blog– IMPROVISATION– William Price King on Tumblr

Debby Gies is on a short break until August 8th when she returns with a brand new series exploring our spiritual well being.. Over on her blog you can you can enjoy her Sunday Review for Count the Stars by Lois Lowry,a fascinating Q&A with Denise Finn, and the perks in living in a mainly senior community.. head over to D.G. Kaye

Carol Taylor  will be here on Wednesday with an exploration of foods and culinary terms in her terrific series A-Z of foods with the letter D. This week on her own blog you can enjoy her Monday Musings, an exploration of the cuisine of the island of Dominica, storecupboard basics with the benefits of bulk buying and cooking and then freezing and her Saturday Snippets exploring the word ‘Magic’. Carol Taylor’s Weekly Round Up

Thanks too for all your visits, comments and shares this week… they mean a great deal..♥

 On with the show…

The Breakfast Show with William Price King and Sally Cronin – Chart Hits 2000s Part One – Destiny’s Child, Santana, U2, The Baha Men

Price King meets the Music Legends – Nina Simone – Part Three – 1960s and Civil Rights

-#Memoir #Waterford #Ireland 1930s – The Colour of Life – The Price Of A Habit – 1937 by Geoff Cronin

#Ireland #History – The Colour of Life – The Shop and Bakery – Family 1840s -1940s by Geoff Cronin

What’s in a Name? Volume One – Alexander – Defender of Men Part One by Sally Cronin

The Obesity epidemic – Where in the Lifestyle can we Intervene? 7 – 14 healthy diet for brain function and hormones by Sally Cronin

Size Matters: The Sequel – #Morbid Obesity, #anti-biotics,#Candida #hormones #yo-yo dieting by Sally Cronin

The new series of posts from your archives will be starting soon and so I thought I would kick the series off with one of mine.

Posts from your Archives – Why I am skipping old age and heading into my second childhood by Sally Cronin

July 2022- #Romance Jan Sikes, #Poetry Harmony Kent, #Dogs #Caravans Jacqueline Lambert, #Flash #Poetry M.J.Mallon, #Dystopian Teri Polen, #Western #Romance Sandra Cox

I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now! #Family #Writing by Judith Barrow

#Reunion Jennie Fitzkee, #Poetrystars Colleen Chesebro, #beefstew Robbie Cheadle, #Communityliving D.G. Kaye, #Raptors Cindy Knoke, #Bears Tofino Photography

New Book on the Shelves #YA #Friendship #Faith – Heroes by Design by D A Irsik

Making Your Mark | Leaving a Legacy | And then… A Grand Exit That’ll Have Their Tongues Waggin’ by Peter Davidson

#1920s #Historical Beem Weeks, #Psychological #Thriller Stevie Turner

#History #Britain Mike Biles, #Poetry Colleen M. Chesebro

#Ireland #Family Mary Crowley, #Thriller Jack Talbot

July 26th 2022 – Another Open Mic Night with author Daniel Kemp – Lottery Win and Appearances Count

Hosts Debby Gies and Sally Cronin – Grammar Police and Butlers

 

Thanks very much for dropping in today and during the week… look forward to seeing you again in the coming days.  Sally.

Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives -#Memoir #Waterford #Ireland #History – The Colour of Life – The Shop and Bakery – Family 1840s -1940s by Geoff Cronin


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. I hope those who have already read these stories will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

The Shop and Bakery – 1900 – 1938

My father, Richard (Dick) Cronin, born in 1881 at 12 John Street Waterford, set up business at that address under the style and title of Cronin’s Bakery. His father Owen Cronin, born in 1846, had bought the premises in about 1875 and had carried on business there selling bread, hardware, flour and meal, and trading in grain on the world market. In fact, he was importing wheat from Canada, among other countries, when the Canadian Pacific railway was being built.

Having gone to Limerick at age 16, my father served an apprenticeship of seven years with the Waterford & Limerick Railway, and became a qualified fitter. (My son Frank has the original indenture papers). He later worked for Dublin Port & Docks Authority as a fitter/engineer, and saw the introduction of the first turbines in Dublin Port. In 1904 he joined the British Royal Navy as an ERA – Engine Room Artificer, and served on Destroyers, Cruisers and Battleships, including a term in the China Seas.

I still remember the names of two of the ships he served on. One was “The Barfleur”, a First-class battleship, and another was “The Vengence”, a Canopus class battleship, which had twelve-inch guns with a range of approximately twenty miles.

HMS Vengeance In Hong Kong Circa 1905

In 1912 he came out of the Navy and returned home to Waterford to work the business with his father.

In the interim, Owen Cronin had bought a grist mill in Kilmacow, Co. Kilkenny, about two miles from Waterford City, and subsequently acquired a neighbouring property of some 37 acres on which stood a gate lodge, a school, and a fine old residence occupied by (I think) the Presentation Nuns, who ran the school. This property included “the pond” which formed the headrace for the mill, which could run for a day and a night on the full of the pond.

Over the next few years they set up a modern bakery at Kilmacow, a thriving milling business grinding oats, wheat, barley and maize for sale to the local farmers and to supply the shop in Waterford.

Richard Cronin Circa 1905

My father used his engineering expertise to set up an electricity generating system for the mill and bakery, and also built the new bakery there. He subsequently modernized the shop in John Street, built a new bakehouse there of some 2,400 sq. feet, and installed a pair of Thompson Steam-Tube draw-plate ovens in it, together with a power driven Dough Mixer and Dough Divider. All the machinery was powered by a Crossley gas engine, for which a new engine room was built, and a gas producer, run on coal and coke was installed to feed the Crossley. Finally, as there was no public electricity in existence, a dynamo was hooked up to the Crossley and electric power and light was produced for the house and the shop. At a time when public lighting was by gaslights, which was fairly dim, the shop stood out like a jewel in John Street.

The business of the mill and two bakeries had been booming and in 1920, prior to the big modernisation programme at John Street, my father had married Claire Spencer and they began living over the shop – my grandfather having retired to live in the house at the mill in Kilmacow.

However, just at the point where my father had launched the new business, disaster struck. There was a country-wide strike by Agricultural Labourers, and all my father’s employees went out on strike in sympathy with them, even though he had no dispute with them. In fact, they were the best paid workers in the city. The net result was that the two bakeries and the mill had to close down and even our grain store in Conduit Lane off the quays, was picketed. There were forty men on the payroll at that time.

A cargo of oats had been purchased just before the strike and was stored, loose in Conduit Lane on four floors of the building, and my mother, who was pregnant at the time, had to help out at the store by turning the oats with a miller’s shovel to prevent the grain from overheating and going bad, and hopefully saving the cargo.

Millstone from Cronin’s Mills Kilmacow, Co. Kilkenny – Now demolished.

I was born in September of that year, 1923, and the men had stayed out for eleven months, which resulted in a huge bank overdraft for my father, as he had lost heavily during the strike.

In the twelfth month, a deputation arrived at the door of the shop at midnight, with the proposal that “the lads would be satisfied to come back to work on the following Monday” even though the agricultural labourers were still on strike.

Needless to say by that time the whole injustice of the thing had stuck “crosswise” in my father’s gullet, and he replied in caustic terms, comparing them to “a pack of cowardly cur dogs come back to lick up their vomit.” “Well,” he said, “it was swept out 12 months ago!” He never employed one of them again, or even any of their relatives.

By the end of the strike the modernisation programme, which was to have been a huge success, ended up – not just for that reason – as a struggle to overtake the losses which had been incurred during the strike. But my father did overtake those losses, chiefly by concentrating on the trade in flour and grain, and he showed an uncanny instinct in watching the grain market and taking some huge gambles on the movement of international prices. In short, he brought the business back into profit over the next seven or eight years, and ended up – by repute – one of the richest men in the city.

As part of the recovery plan, my father established a poultry farm at the mill in Kilmacow, and to do this, he purchased the winners of the world’s laying competitions held in England, and also the prize-winning hens of various breeds of fowl all over Britain. The breeds he bought were Buff Rocks, White Wyandottes, Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, Jersey Giants, White and Black Leghorns, and the produce, eggs, were being exported at good prices to England.

Then in the 1930s, the Irish government, led by deValera, embarked on the “Economic War”.

All the ports were closed to imports and exports, and anything which had to be imported was subject to prohibitive tariffs and excise duty. Up to then, Waterford was exporting huge numbers of livestock, cattle, sheep and pigs, and we had the largest bacon factory in Europe, namely Denny’s. In fact, most of the employment in the city was provided in the docks. The shipping industry, in all its aspects, was the lifeblood of the city which was known as “Waterford of The Ships”.

As far as the Cronin business was concerned, the effect was disastrous. There was no more export of eggs, the price of which fell from one shilling and sixpence a dozen, to fourpence a dozen, which was absolutely uneconomic, and I recall that three hundred pure-bred champion fowl were sold to a poulterer for seventeen pounds – a mere fraction of their value.

Flour, maize and all grain could no longer be imported, and the grain store had to close down. The mill also ceased to function and in fact, all mills had to be licensed and be given a quota saying how much you would be allowed to grind. Our capacity at Kilmacow as 200 tons per week, but when our license came, the quota was two and a half tons per week. At that point, my grandfather closed the mill. The bakery there had already closed following the strike.

The effect of the economic war on the national economy was devastating. The farmers suffered immeasurably due to lack of markets. For instance, they were told by politicians to “throw the calves in the ditch”, and I vividly remember seeing two calves being sold outside our shop for one shilling and sixpence, and a three year old bullock being sold in the street for thirty shillings. Milk was being poured down the drains – literally – and the object of the whole exercise was “to starve John Bull”, cutting off all our own lifelines in the process, and it lasted long enough to shrink the Cronin business to near extinction.

During this period, my grandfather died, the mill was sold (for buttons) to appease the bank and “the Convent” and its lands were also sold, leaving only the shop and a shrinking trade in bread.

Next came the Government order controlling the price of bread, a vote-catching ploy. The price of flour and other ingredients was not controlled, nor were wages, fuel etc. Our staff shrank to four or five, and the writing was on the wall.

The family home had been in Woodstown from 1928 to 1942, and about 1936 my father was taken ill with mastoid trouble in both ears, and spent almost 12 months in hospital in Dublin.

During that time, my mother cycled into Waterford very early each morning – 8 miles – and ran the business, cycling home to Woodstown each night. My father had ten operations on his ears and throat, and seven of those were done by Oliver St. John Gogarty, and three were done by Dr. Curtin, a surgeon at the Eye and Ear Hospital in Adelaide Road, Dublin. Gogarty was a high-flying social figure at the time, and had his own private aeroplane and his own nursing home in Baggot Street, and he charged the earth for his services. My father paid him £300 for one operation, which was not successful and ended up having the job successfully done by Dr. Curtin, whose fee was £30!

Anyway, the final chapters concerning the shop in John Street are detailed elsewhere in this saga, but to give you some idea of the scale of operations, I shall enumerate the staff, which consisted of the following:-

Three shop assistants cum bookkeepers
Three van men
Three porters cum cleaners and delivery
Thirteen bakers
One engine attendant and
Three housemaids, who lived in.
The balance of forty was employed in the mill and the grain store on the docks.

I should mention also that our bread was famous for quality and our Christmas Bracks were known worldwide. I can remember tea-chests being filled with bracks and shipped to Australia and America. When the bakery was in full swing, we were using a hundred sacks of flour per week, which was two hundred ten-stone bags and at the end this was down to two and a half sacks per week.

During the war – which was known as “the emergency” – the law was such that no white flour could be milled or used to make bread. The order of the day was brown flour and brown bread – known as “Black Bread”. This regime went on from 1939 to 1947, and the law was rigidly enforced, any contravention being met by heavy fines or imprisonment.

Things, however, had become desperate, and we (my father and I) decided to enter the black market in white flour to try to save the business. My father’s expertise in the milling business came into play here, and through various contacts, a length of milling silk was obtained and he and I went to work each night after the shop closed, and worked until 2 a.m. sifting the regulation brown flour into its components, i.e. white flour, bran and pollard, and everything had to be cleaned up and hidden before the bakehouse staff came on duty at 4 a.m. The white flour could then be sold for one pound per stone – the brown flour cost approximately three shillings and six pence per stone, and a very small amount of white bread was baked twice a week to cater for invalids and such like.

The drill was that I would get up first in the mornings and open the shop and start the day’s work, get the one van loaded and deal with the early morning trade. My father would stay in bed until about eleven and then appear in the shop.

Now my father was a short man, only 5 ft 4½ ins. tall, but he was fifteen stone in weight – 46 ins. in the chest and 48 ins plus in the waist – and after a late night was often too tired for formality. He just kicked off his shoes, loosened his tie, and dropped his pants where he stood, and fell into bed practically fully clothed, minus shoes and pants.

Richard Cronin Circa 1922

On one particular occasion, when I opened the shop in the morning, a Jewish businessman from Dublin arrived and quietly asked me for eight stone of white flour in eight separate bags. I took out a ten-stone bag from hiding, and weighed out the eight bags onto the counter, stowing the remainder under the counter. I then took the money and proceeded to close up the eight bags which the client was taking out to his car. Our most trusted employee, Jimmy, was standing by keeping an eye out on the street for anyone who looked like a government inspector.

Just as I was closing bag number eight, Jimmy whistled from the street, and in walked a man unmistakably an inspector.

“I want to see the proprietor!” he said, in a peremptory tone.

“Just one moment, sir” I said, as I handed bag number eight to the customer, who departed swiftly.

“Jimmy,” I called, “This man wants to see the boss. Would you run upstairs and call him please?”

Jimmy knew exactly what was going on, and he duly went upstairs and woke my father with the announcement that there was an inspector downstairs in the shop.

As described by Jimmy afterwards, “The man leapt out of bed, jumped into his trousers, shouldered his braces, and stepped into his shoes while donning his jacket, glasses and hat.” Thus composed, he arrived into the shop, every inch the proprietor, and invited the inspector, who incidentally had declared himself, to accompany him into the office.

Meanwhile, I told Jimmy to take the half sack of white flour to the shop next door, and say he’d collect it later.

The inspector had been seated in the office with my father standing over him. The man seemed to go quite pale, and got up to leave, with my father following him. I didn’t hear what had been said earlier, but as he got to the door, my father took him gently by the arm, and nose to nose, said quietly “I wouldn’t come back here if I were you – it would be very VERY unhealthy, and another thing, Mister, this country will never be right until people like you are strung up by the arse and shot like a dog in the street.” The man walked away, very quickly, and he never came back.

My father stood at the counter, his face flushed with a dying anger and I saw him struggling to get his hand into his trousers pocket, unsuccessfully, and no wonder, for he had his trousers on back to front! Jimmy saw his predicament and guffawed, and then I saw it and I laughed out loud, and then my father, standing on his dignity up to then, spotted the problem and groaned “Oh Bloody Wars” before exploding into laughter.

So ended a very funny episode, which I recall with great affection for my father.

***

Owen Cronin – My Paternal Grandfather

Owen Cronin was born in 1846, the year of the great famine, and I believe he came from Fermoy, Co. Cork. He died when I was quite young and in all of my memory of him, he lived in the mill house at Kilmacow, Co. Kilkenny. Because of this, I saw him rarely, except for Sunday visits to the mill during which he and my father had long discussions about the price of grain, on world markets, and the business of the mill.

I remember him as a quiet old man, bald, with piercing blue eyes and a walrus moustache. He fascinated me, as a child, and I remember that he had a walking stick with a devil’s face on the knob, which frightened me. My only real contact with him was on the occasions when he used to complain to my mother about my escapades in the mill – and they were many! Most memorable was when I decapitated his prize rooster by throwing a slate at it. His exact words were “That one is a little devil”. Sunday visits to the mill were suspended for three Sundays after that.

Owen Cronin – Circa 1890

My grandfather knew all about horses and horses were his hobby all his life. He was regarded as “a great judge of a horse”. In his young days, he was friendly with a horse dealer named Anderson, who used to buy horses (troopers) for the British Army – and for Charles Bianconi, father of the stagecoach network, which served as public transport at that time. At a later stage Owen Cronin became a friend of the famous Bianconi, and used to buy horses directly for him.

As a young man, he was sent to Leeds, in England, to learn the textile trade. When he returned, he toured the country selling boots, to the mostly barefoot country people.
In or about 1875 he bought the premises at No. 12 John Street from a Mr. Murphy. He then set up shop in grain, feedstuff and hardware. Then, because there was a bake-house attached to the premises, he also set up in the bread business. In time, this became his main trade. Later, he acquired the mill and the Hermitage at Kilmacow.

When my father was married, Owen Cronin gave him the property at John Street, plus a sizeable amount of cash – £10,000, I believe.

Once, I came upon him at his bureau in the mill house, when he was having a raw egg and a glass of whiskey. I was about four years old at the time and asked him for a drink out of his glass. He gave the glass to me, with one of his rare smiles, and I took a goodly slug! I thought I had swallowed a red-hot poker, as I coughed and gasped for breath.

He patted my back and sad to me; “Now boy. What you just had was Drink. So, always remember this… It’s a good servant but a damn bad master!” I never forgot those words.
Owen Cronin was never known to say a bad word about anyone. He was most highly respected in business circles and was noted for his integrity. I just wish I had known him better.

©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.

Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives -#Memoir #Waterford #Ireland 1930s – The Colour of Life – The Price Of A Habit – 1937 by Geoff Cronin


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. I hope those who have already read these stories will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

The Price Of A Habit – 1937

Birth and death are common events in the life of a farm and people of the land tend to be stoical about such matters. In the 1930s, farming where I lived was at a low ebb. Things were very tough on the land and you had to be tough in every respect to make any kind of living on a farm.

A farmer’s wife had no soft options then. She worked in the house, lucky if she had water laid on, managed the family, the small yard animals, the dairy, the fowl and all produce from those areas. To her, a shilling was a shilling and if anyone knew the value of it in real terms, she surely did.

So it was, when her husband died and the priest and the doctor were gone, the woman tackled the pony and drove into town to complete the funeral arrangements. She stabled the pony in Dower’s yard at the Car Stand and made her way up John St. to the far end of the Apple Market.

In the corner of the Market Square was Davey Power’s Undertaking Establishment and Coffin Shop and, when he had sympathised with the widow, a price for the coffin of her choice was negotiated.

This done, she said, “Well now, Mr. Power, what are you going to charge me for a decent habit (shroud) to bury him in?”

“Five shillin’s,” he answered.

“Is that the best you can do, now, Mr. Power,” she said, “and me buyin’ the coffin an’ all?”

“That would be the very best I could do, ma’am, for a good decent habit, “he replied, “an’ you won’t do better.”

“Thanks, Mr. Power,” she said, “but I’m goin’ up the town and I think I’ll do a lot better. I’ll call in to ye on me way back.”

Davy Power was “crabbed”, as they say in Waterford, and sorely annoyed that his price should even be questioned.

After leaving the undertaker the woman went up Michael Street, round the corner to Patrick Street and into Veale’s Drapery Shop where she purchased a habit of reasonable quality for three shillings and sixpence. She straightened her hat while waiting for her change, put the parcel containing the habit in her basket and set off again for the undertaker’s.

As she turned the corner of the Apple Market she saw Davy standing outside the door of his shop, where it was nice and sunny, and she passed by the open hall doors where women were sweeping out their hallways and continuing with the brush across the pavement. There would be an audience for what followed!

Davy took the offensive as the woman drew near.

“Well ma’am,” he said loudly, “were you able to get a cheap habit up the town?”

“Well,” she echoed, just as loudly, “I got a very good habit in Veale’s for three and sixpence an’ it’s every bit as good as what you offered me for five shillin’s.”

With that she handed him the parcel and turned on her heel. He would be out later to coffin the man.

Davy tore the parcel open and shook the garment out of its folds and looked at it, disdain on every line of his face.

“Alright, ma’am,” he called after her, “but I must tell you this, his arse will be out through that in a week!”

***

Asked why he had never married, a country bachelor replied – “Why would I give away one half of me dinner to get the other half cooked?”

©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.

Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives -#Memoir #Ireland 1930s – The Colour of Life 1936 – #Waterford -The Station by Geoff Cronin


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. I hope those who have already read these stories 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.

Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives -#Memoir #Waterford #Ireland 1930s – The Colour of Life 1936 – #Waterford – The Financier and The Farmer’s Wife by Geoff Cronin


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.  I hope those who have already read these stories will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

The Financier and The Farmer’s Wife 1936

Smullian was a Jew who lived in Parnell Street when I was a boy. His wife was by way of being a very good singer and featured in the Wallace Grand Opera Society which had been thriving there in my father’s time.

Smullian had a brass plate on the outside of his front door which glittered and said “J. SMULLIAN. FINANCIER”. In fact, he had a money lending business and he also bought and sold “job” lots of groceries and salvage from marine claims which arose in the port from time to time – there was a considerable cargo trade in and out of Waterford Port in those years.

The money-borrowing clients, mostly poor people, would not necessarily be in the market to buy salvage goods from Smullian, but he was well known among the farming people of the outlying areas who came to town once a week to sell their butter and eggs and were always on the lookout for a bargain of any kind.

Cute farmers, and the equally cute wives of these cute farmers, were known to have dealings with Mr. Smullian from time to time, and it was generally agreed that “he’d have the odd bargain, alright”.

One such lady from the agricultural community dropped in to Smullian’s office about mid-day on a Saturday, after selling her butter in High Street Market. It was a casual visit to see if he had anything interesting to sell, or rather to see if he had anything at all useful at an interesting price.

Smullian treated his client with the utmost deference, he informed her that he had a consignment of Dutch matches, which he fully recommended and she could have a packet of twelve boxes for ninepence, saving a massive 33⅓ percent on shop prices. She looked at the open sample box carefully. She knew, of course, that anything coming from a foreign place could be suspect, but they had good strong stems and fat round heads and she plunged.

“Ninepence it is” she said counting out three coppers and a sixpenny bit and she put the packet in her basket, covering it carefully with newspaper so that “nobody would know her business”.

Now, threepence may not sound much of a saving to you, my dear reader, but you should know that at that time, potatoes sold for sixpence a stone (14 pounds), a seat in the cinema was fourpence, and you could buy five Woodbine cigarettes for two pence, or four apples for a penny. So, a woman who saved threepence on one transaction, could well feel pleased with herself.

This particular lady was well pleased as she drove home to her little farmhouse with her husband in their pony and trap. She had already decided to buy another dozen boxes of these matches next Saturday, and that would see her through the winter months. She had also decided to say nothing to her neighbour ’till the week after, when maybe they’d be all gone.

Eight o’clock mass that Sunday morning was in a cold church, two and a half miles drive from the farm, and it was near ten o’clock by the time they got home, and she knelt at the hearth to light the fire and put on the kettle for the tea. “Himself” was coming in after unyoking the pony when he heard his wife fervently cursing on her knees by the hearth.

“The divil blast that bloody Jewman for a swindlin’ bastard” she ranted.

“Hauld on there girl” said himself, “what’s wrong at all?”

“These God cursed Dutch matches won’t light,” she said, tears of rage and shame rolling down her face, for she had boasted of her bargain to her husband on the way home.

He picked up the box and tried to strike one. No good – another, the head crumpled – one more, not a spark. He put down the box, smiled indulgently at her, and said “you were codded girl” and handed her his own box of “decent” matches.

She lit the fire, got the breakfast, and life proceeded in the house. After the breakfast, she took the dozen packets of Dutch matches and placed them carefully on the chimney-breast, beside the picture of the Sacred Heart, and thought about next Saturday and her anger simmered.

When next Saturday came, she went to town as usual and on arrival she marched with resolute step to the door with the brass place which said J. Smullian, Financier. She went in and rapped on the little office counter.

As Smullian appeared, greeting her graciously, she slammed down the matches, which incidentally had dried off to perfection after spending the week on the chimney piece.

“Them matches are useless,” she snapped. “They won’t light and I wants me ninepence back, and I may say you have a neck to be coddin’ decent people out of their hard earned money.”

“Just a minute Ma’am” he said, totally ignoring the insult. “Let me see.” He took up the nearest box and opened it taking out a match. He looked at it carefully, and then, lifting up his knee in front of him, he reached behind and swished the match swiftly along the underside of his buttock, the friction causing the match to light perfectly. He blew it out and took out another, and repeated the process, and again it lit. As he extinguished the third match, he closed the packet and moved it towards her with a smile.

“There’s nothing whatever wrong with these matches, dear lady,” he said “They light perfectly.”

She reddened with anger and replied “It’s all very well for you to say that Mr. Smullian, but where the hell do ye think I’m going to find a Jewman’s arse at seven o’clock in the morning when I want to light a fire?”

I leave it to you to guess whether or not she recovered her ninepence!

***

Mikey was a very short man who rode a very old, very high bike. He was described by one of his colleagues as being –
“Like a cat up on a pair of scissors.”

©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.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Weekly Round Up – July 11th – 17th – Hits 1999, Nina Simone, Ireland 1930s, Book Reviews, Summer Book Fair, Poetry, Podcast, Health and Humour


Welcome to the round up of posts you might have missed this week on Smorgasbord.

It seems that summer is here with a vengeance and for some on the continent it has brought the dreaded wildfires that put not just people but wildlife at great risk. We count our blessings that we have cloud cover much of the time and we are unlikely to get over 24 degrees. With onshore breezes it does help to keep the heat down. Those of us of a certain age still remember the summer of 1976 when the heatwave went on for several weeks. It looks like this one will be shorter lived and hopefully for those experiencing the severe temperatures and risk of fires will get rain soon.

Work on the house continues and the outside walls are getting the attention at the moment and another couple of weeks and it will be time to look at each room and arrange and dress ready for inspection. I am looking at property sites at the moment in the area that we would like to move to on the south coast and one house I was checking out was dressed immaculately throughout. Clearly the estate agent thought that two very large multi packs of toilet rolls set off the master bedroom ensuite perfectly or perhaps thought they might be a selling point!

Anyway… keep cool and safe.

On the blog front…

On the blog front.. the new series of ‘Posts from Your Archives’ begins in August. With your permission I will browse your posts between January and the end of June 2022 and select two to share in a post on Smorgasbord. They are copyrighted to you and will also include links and books etc. Full details are in the post along with an example of what your post will look like.. already 15 friends have signed up and I am looking forward to diving into their archives.

Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives -#NewSeries August 2022- ‘Lucky Dip’ and Do You Trust Me??

 Thanks to my friends William Price King and Debby Gies for their music and humour contributions this week and you can find out more about them on their own sites. .

William Price King joined me on The Breakfast show this week for the first part of the hits from 1999 and for the first part of the new series about the legend Nina Simone. You can also find William – Blog– IMPROVISATION– William Price King on Tumblr

Debby Gies gifted us some great and funnies this week and will be taking us to Cuba tomorrow morning for an exploration of this island of music, dancing and history.. Over on her blog you can you can catch up with her posts including a post on the massive Canadian outage that resulted in the loss of phone and internet services as well as vital card payments for much of the country… and her book review today for the fictionalised story of Coco Chanel. Queen of Paris.. D.G. Kaye

Carol Taylor will be here on Wednesday with an exploration of foods and culinary terms in her terrific series A-Z of foods with the letter C This week on her own blog an exploration of the cuisine of Djibouti which is a small African country on the north east horn of the continent. Also a peek into her store cupboard at herbs and stock cubes and Carol finishes off the week in style by spilling a great many secrets in her Saturday Snippets – You can read all the posts for the week by clicking on her blog link Carol Cooks2

Thanks too for all your visits, comments and shares this week… they mean a great deal..♥

On with the show

Chart Hits 1999 Part One – Ricky Martin, Britney Spears, Shania Twain, Ronan Keating

Price King meets the Music Legends – Nina Simone – High Priestess of Soul and The Early Years

How the Stable was built and warts 1936

#Ireland 1930s – The Colour of Life – The Devil Finds Work 1936 by Geoff Cronin

Lanturne – Marriage by Sally Cronin

A story from Flights of Fancy… an elderly woman looks back to her twenties and meeting the love of her life during wartime.

Flights of Fancy – Curtains

The Obesity epidemic – Where in the Lifestyle can we Intervene? – 2 to 7 years old – Activity – Sally Cronin

Size Matters The Sequel – The Accumulative Factor of Food and Life

#Life #Forgiveness by Annette Rochelle Aben

– I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now! #Dyslexia #Blogging Hugh Roberts

first in Series – #Shortstories Hugh W. Roberts, #Fantasy Paul Cude

-#FlashFiction Annette Rochelle Aben, #Biography S. Bavey

#Children’s #YA – #Travel Darlene Foster, #Mystery #Detective Janice Spina

#MurderMystery Sharon Marchisell, #Family #Mystery Harmony Kent

Blogger Weekly July 15th 2022 – #Writing Mae Clair, #Kindness John Howell, #Funnies The Story Reading Ape, #Nostalgia Darlene Foster, #Tafftrail Judith Barrow

Hosts Debby Gies and Sally Cronin – Washington Shire Sauce and Hiccups

The Senior Team pass the the funnies along – Legal Shenanigans

 

Thanks for dropping in today and I hope you will join me again next week. Sally

Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives -#Memoir #Waterford #Ireland 1930s – The Colour of Life – The Devil Finds Work 1936 by Geoff Cronin


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. I hope those who have already read these stories will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

The Devil Finds Work 1936

It was the week before midsummer’s day and the farm yard was baking in the early afternoon sun.

The town boy cycled slowly through the big yard gate and freewheeled down the sloping yard, past the cattle pens on one side and the big hay-shed on the other, through the arch under the corn loft and stopped by the dairy. Here he dismounted and dropped his sweet can on the steps of the dairy. It was a new, shiny can with a wire handle and although carefully washed by his mother, it still smelled of the boiled sweets which it originally contained. Now, however, it was used for the daily collection of six pints of milk from the farm.

Sweet cans were very much part of life in those days. Boiled sweets were made in Hartreys Sweet Factory at the apple market in Waterford and they were packed in tin cans holding five or six pounds weight for dispatch to the shops. Shopkeepers would sell the can when empty for sixpence or might even give one free to a good customer. In any event, they were in common use in the country for carrying milk, water from the well, blackberries, mushrooms, cockles from the beach, butter, nails for building, lugworms for fishing and anything else you could think of.

Now the town boy sat by his can on the steps of the dairy facing the back door of the house where the scotch cattle dog dozed in the shade. The dog hadn’t moved for he knew the boy well and was used to seeing him come to the dairy and wait there for Kevin, the farmer’s young son.

The boy did not dream of approaching the back door to “call” for his friend because inside that kitchen dwelt Katty, the housekeeper, and she ruled with an iron hand. She had big feet with boots like a man, an apron made from a cotton flour bag and her hair, which fascinated the boy, was plaited at either side of her head and the plaits were then coiled up over her ears like black headphones. Her heavy unsmiling mouth showed a front tooth missing and her voice was like the crack of a whip.

Katty, a faithful retainer of the family, was regarded by the boys as a “murderous oul’ bitch”, in private of course, but the truth was that she catered for a family of nine plus four farm hands, saw to the calves, made the butter, cured the bacon and baked the bread and, as a kind of recreation, she looked after the fowl, her pride and joy.

With the work load she had, Katty was quick to grab any bit of help she could and Kevin was constantly being “nailed” to carry buckets to the calves or feed the dogs or turn the handle of the butter churn or bring in water from the pump or any one of a hundred other chores which so often kept him from joining his pal.

The town boy resented her, for he was hungry for company and loved everything about the huge farm and the fun he and Kevin had when they got together. For a town boy it was heaven – peeping in at the massive bull, diving from the top of the hay in the shed into the loose hay below, dipping apples into the cream bucket in the dairy and harpooning imaginary whales with hay pikes. It was the kind of magic which only ten-year-olds can weave.

As the town boy sat there, thinking of what he and Kevin might do and wondering how soon his pal might appear, two of the farm hands walked by on their way out to the fields and their rough voices cut through his thoughts. “…an’ when I was puttin’ out the cows this mornin’ there was a big vixen standin’ at the orchard gate lookin’ in at the hens in the haggert,” said Mossy.

“Jazes boy,” said Stephen, “I’d say she have cubs above in the corrig and with the rabbits gone scarce there now she’ll be down after Katty’s hens any minute.”

“Begod, Mossy, ye’re right,” said the other man, “I’ll tell Katty to tie the dog in the haggert for a few nights an’ maybe the boss would give you the gun in the mornin’ when ye’re goin’ for the cows.”

The two men passed the boy, engrossed in their talk, and paid him no heed, but he pondered their conversation and all that it entailed and marvelled at the thought that one hungry fox could cause so many problems in the farm.

When Kevin appeared, it was an hour to milking time and they set off up to the big hay shed chatting like a pair of magpies.

In the shed they climbed the ladder to the top of the first bench of hay and scrambled up the rest of the way to the top. There they could touch the hot iron roof and they lay down on their bellies and peeped down into the haggert where the hens were picking about the place and clucking quietly among themselves. They were coming in from the orchard in twos and threes now, as feeding time approached and soon Katty would be along with her bucket of scraps and a scoop of grain to feed them and talk to them like children.

Suddenly the town boy sat up, his eyes dancing.

“D’ye know what I heard a man telling my father last night?”

“What,” said Kevin.

“Well,” giggled the boy, “he said that if you got a hen and put her head under her wing and swung her from side to side seven times the hen would go fast asleep.”

Kevin hooted with laughter and so did his pal and they rolled around in the hay till they were out of breath. As they sat up facing each other and the laughter was about to erupt again,

Kevin said, “Hey, I wonder if it works?”

There was a silence for just a moment, then the pair slid down to the first bench and dived to the bottom.

It took a bit of running before they caught the hen and she squawked loudly as Kevin held her up. Then the town boy grabbed her head, lifted her wing, pushed her head under and lowered the wing to enclose the head. Kevin held her in front of him like a rugby ball, a hand on each wing.

“Come on,” hissed the town boy, “swing her.” Kevin did so and they counted together as the bird was swung side to side, three, four, five, six, seven. Kevin stopped. The bird was limp in his hands.

“Look at her legs hangin’ down,” said the town boy, wonder in his voice. “Jazes Kevin, she’s asleep. It works.”

Kevin laid the hen down on its belly and they both looked at it. It didn’t move.

“Oh Jazes,” said Kevin, “maybe she’s smothered.”

The town boy poked the hen and she rolled on her side. He gently touched the wing and out slid the hen’s head. Her eyes opened and she fluttered up with a loud squawk and ran off down the haggert. The two sat on the ground in silence, their boy’s minds racing with the enormity of their discovery…and the possibilities it opened up, and, as they looked at each other, the town boy reached out and took his pal by the sleeve,

“What d’ye say, Kevin,” he grinned, “if we catch all the hens and put ’em to sleep all around the haggert before Katty comes up to feed ’em?”

“Oh Jazes,” said Kevin, his eyes widening, “she’ll think they’re dead or something.” They laughed as they herded a bunch of hens into an empty stall and closed the door. One by one they brought the sleeping hens out and laid them about the haggert, all on their sides with the head underneath so that they couldn’t wake up.

They had just put out number fourteen when they heard Katty starting up from the kitchen with her bucket. They barely had time to get to the top of the hay in the shed before she arrived. They peeped down to watch from the safety of their hiding place.

The hens who were not asleep heard Katty too and started to run towards her as she headed up into the haggert. They reminded the town boy of the men who took part in the fathers’ race at the school sports.

Katty was crooning her usual “chook, chook, chook,” as she rounded the corner, her hand in the bucket to scatter the food. She looked up, stopped and dropped the bucket, her mouth open as she gazed around at the scene of carnage.

“Aw Jesus, God,” she wailed, “me lovely hens, God curse an’ blast that hoor’s melt of a fox. He’s after eatin’ the heads off all me lovely hens.

Donny, Donny, come boy,” she yelled, summoning the big cattle dog.

“Mikey, get the gun quick,” she howled, “the fox is in the haggert. Help, help,” she cried at the top of her voice, “the fox, the fox.”

Everyone seemed to arrive together: the dog and Mikey, Mossy, and Simon who were on their way in for the milking when they heard the shouting. They were all looking at Katty, her face tear stained and her eyes blazing.

“Can’t ye see what’s after happenin’,” she bawled, “lookit me hens, will ye. Can’t ye go and get the bastard fox and don’t be standin’ there,” and she bent down to pick up the nearest “body”.

The hen fluttered awake and ran off squawking. The colour drained from Katty’s face as she touched the next corpse which also woke. The men began to titter as Katty gave the next one a savage kick, causing it a rude awakening. And on she went, wielding her big boots in a service of resurrection while her audience howled with laughter and ribbed her unmercifully.

Katty glowered at them all, picked up her bucket, wiped her nose with the tail of her apron and started back towards the house. The laughter tapered off and Mossy ventured, “Shure, I’d say this was only the young fellas that done it for divilment, Katty.”

“Well,” said Katty, quietly, “we’ll see about that.” She was standing by the dairy now, looking at the town boy’s bike and his sweet can, Then she headed for the kitchen door, calling over her shoulder, “’Tis milking time, get in the cows.”

The two culprits had cleared out fast when the first hen woke, slipped out on the yard side of the hayshed, down the back avenue into the meadow beyond where they laughed and rolled about in the grass, mimicking Katty in her distress, and hooting with laughter till their sides were sore. Afterwards they went on down the strand where they re-enacted whole charade, taking it in turns to be Katty and using piles of seaweed as the sleeping hens. Finally they headed back towards the farm, flushed and tired.

The milking was over and they could see the cows on the hill road going back to the fields. The town boy knew it was time to collect his can of milk an’ get home for tea and Kevin had decided to get back into the house through the orchard door before Katty got back from the dairy. It was her practice to supervise the milking, see the various churns and cans filled correctly and separate the cream before tea time.

The town boy eased his way through the wicket gate behind the calf house and peeped round the corner. His milk can was filled and ready on the trestle table by the dairy door. He could hear Katty inside washing the separator cups and laying them out to dry on the butter table. He walked quietly to his bike and wheeled it over to the table. He reached out quickly, gripped the wire handle of the can for a quick lift and an even quicker getaway. For some unknown reason, however, the handle came adrift at one side and six pints of milk hit him on the chest, soaking him clear to the soles of his feet. In the process he fell over and the bike landed on top of him.

He looked up to find Katty standing over him, reaching down to lift the bike and, as he stole a sidelong glance at her face, he could see the gap in her teeth. She was actually smiling!
“Mossy,” she commanded, “bring up a clean sack here, the poor little townie fella is afther drowndin’ himself with the milk.” Mossy obeyed and helped the lad up, wiping him vigorously with a rough, musty grain sack.

“Aw, begod,” he said, “ye’ll hafta learn how to lift a can of milk if ye’re to live in the country.” He laughed as the boy began to squelch about in the milk filled shoes, trying to pull the wet clothes out from his body. Katty was laughing too and Simon and Mikey came on the scene and gave the boy a cruel, country ribbing.

Quite suddenly, Katty said, “that’ll do ye now, get on about yeer bisiness the lot of ye,” and, to the boy, “come in here, child, till I fix that can and fill it for ye.”

With that, she took a pliers from the pocket of her apron and deftly closed the loop at the end of the handle and clipped it in place.

“Get on yer bike now, and I’ll hand ye the can in case ye’d spill it again,” she said. The town boy did as he was bid.

“Thanks, Katty,” he said quietly, very close to tears now and, as he looked at her, he thought her hard features softened a little as she said, “Go on now boy and I hope yer mother won’t be too hard on ye.”

He cycled slowly out the gate and as he freewheeled towards home he kept getting this picture of Katty taking the pliers from her apron pocket. He was in sight of his own gate when it dawned on him.

“The bloody oul bitch, “he whispered to himself, “she did it on me. There was nothing wrong with that can at all. She doctored the handle on purpose” …and he still had his mother to face!

What followed when the town boy got home is best forgotten. Suffice it to say that words like ‘Amadan’ and ‘butterfingers’ were used and his brother gave him a proper roasting particularly since an examination of the can revealed no fault in the handle. The boy went to bed sore and sorry for himself.

In the farmhouse tea time came and as the table filled up Simon asked Mossy if he had remembered to leave the alarm clock in the haggert to wake the hens in the morning.

Laughter exploded and Mikey capped Simon by saying that today should be known as the Day of the Headless Hens. More laughter ensued which Katty ignored and, as she began to cut more cake bread, she conjured up for them the misfortunes of the little town boy.

Mossy chimed in with “Begod ’twas funny alright when he stood up and the milk spurted up out of his shoes.” Kevin laughed as loudly as the rest, though he felt a twinge of uneasiness he could not quite explain.

Kevin went to bed early that night, partly because he was tired, but also to keep out of Katty’s way, just in case of repercussions.

He woke next morning to her usual call, “Come on, Kevin, breakfast!” He stepped out of bed, straight down on a sharp pebble. The pain was savage and he hopped about holding his foot, only to land on another pebble. He yelled in pain, hopping and jumping about and landing on a pebble every other time. Eventually he got out on to the landing, crying with pain and trying to hold both aching feet at once. Katty came up the stairs two at a time, shouting as she came.

“What in God’s name are ye doin’ Kevin?” She got to the landing and the tearful lad pointed to the bedroom floor, littered with pebbles.

“They fell out of yer pockets when you were undressing I suppose, come on now, stop yer bawlin’ and dress yerself,” and, as she went downstairs, her final words came faintly, “maybe somebody put ’em there for a joke.”

“Some friggin’ joke,” said Kevin, trying to put a foot under him. It hurt!

The whole breakfast table had heard the story by the time Kevin appeared and everybody laughed and poked fun at him about it. He didn’t rightly know which hurt most, his pride or his feet, and when he saw Katty absently fishing three pebbles out of her apron pocket with the comment “them little stones seem to be everywhere today” he almost choked as he realised the truth of what had happened.

It was a very chastened town boy who arrived at the dairy step that afternoon and he was joined by an equally quiet, almost sullen, Kevin and they wandered up to the hayshed discussing their respective tales of woe and wondering what else was to come. They both agreed that they had tangled with a force much greater than their own and with far, far more expertise and finesse.

“Jazes boy,” said Kevin,” we should never have done that with the poor oul’ hens.”

“I know,” said the town boy, “Katty loves every one of ’em like they were children.”

“And did ye see the state she got into when she thought they were dead?” Said Kevin. “’Twas like hell at a wake.” The town boy nodded, and they fell silent, sitting in the hay. They never heard Katty coming into the shed till she spoke.

“Come on you two,” she said, “in to the kitchen. I want to talk to ye.”

They followed her in, eyeing each other fearfully. She closed the door behind them and the two sat together on the big furrim behind the table, backs to the wall, looking small and nervous.

Katty picked up a huge knife and quickly cut two long slices off a fresh soda cake and spread them with salty butter and newly made gooseberry jam. Next she poured two mugs of tea and laced them with plenty of milk and three spoons of sugar each. She began to talk quietly and as she talked she moved the feast towards the two boys.

“I was wonderin’, said she slowly, “if ye’d agree with somethin’ I read there a while ago about practical jokes. It was this fella was sayin’ that practical jokes are great fun for everybody, except the one havin’ the joke played on him. What would ye say to that now?”

“I’d say ’twas the truth,” said the town boy.

“An I’d say the man was right too,” said Kevin without hesitation.

“Well,” said Katty, “I was thinkin’ the same meself. Now, let ye ate up and drink up and be out of my kitchen in five minutes.”

The boys needed no second invitation, but grabbed the delicious bread and sucked up the sweet tea gratefully and exchanged a meaningful glance over the top of the steaming mugs.
Katty turned her back and pretended to poke the fire.

***

A small farmer engaged to be married to a very plain looking, but wealthy, girl was asked if he couldn’t have got a prettier prospect. He replied –
“Well, I reckoned that a bit of money never spoiled a good lookin’ girl.”

©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.

Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives -#Memoir #Waterford #Ireland 1930s – The Colour of Life – How the Stable Was Built 1936 by Geoff Cronin


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. I hope those who have already read these stories 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

 

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.