Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives -#Memoir #Waterford #Ireland #History – The Colour of Life -Cattle Dealing and The Ferguson Tractor 1948 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 that I posted in 2017. I hope those who have already read will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

Cattle Dealing and The Ferguson Tractor 1948

ACT I

It was the first Monday of the month, “a Fair Day” in Waterford, and the Hill of Ballybricken was a hive of activity. “The Hill” was an open space with the Bull Post standing roughly in the centre of a 250 yard triangle. The perimeter was lined with small shops, and houses interspersed. Most of the shops faced north, and most of the better houses faced south. Two of the largest pubs faced south also, and consequently enjoyed whatever sun there might be.

Corcoran knew from long tightly held experience how important it was to stand your cattle on the sunny side, and when he woke his son Willie at three o’clock that morning he was already planning his strategy. They had to walk the bunch of white faced cattle eight miles to Waterford, and he knew only too well the folly of driving the animals too hard and having them arrive exhausted and looking limp and God forsaken in the cold dawn light. No, he told himself, start early, bring them along nice and handy, rest them and let them get a drink at the stream in Callaghan and get them to the sunny corner in Ballybricken near the first pub at the rise of ground.

Oh, Corcoran knew his business alright – two days before the fair he had moved those cattle into the old four acre field behind the house. The grass was long there and the ditches thick for shelter, and the beasts ate well in the heavy grass, which also cleaned their legs and hooves.

The cattle looked well now as the sun topped the hill and Corcoran knew it, and the best of luck attended him with the arrival right opposite of that “Mane little ferret”, O’Toole, with his four dirty old worn out cows, and two of them with only one horn apiece. The contrast was perfect and he stood there quietly and patiently with Willie; his son, and his seven white faced bullocks … and they waited.

Willie was leaning over the back of a bullock, watching the road to the main shopping area when he spotted his man. Corcoran had his back to the lamp post at the corner, looking the other way.

“Watch out, Father” said Willie, “Cooper the butcher is comin’ straight for ye.”

Corcoran never moved as he replied “Tighten up them beasts now boy, and get their heads up.” Willie deftly obliged.

Cooper advanced up the hill to the fair, his eye scanning, sorting and marking automatically as he surveyed the scene. He had his own reasons for heading in Corcoran’s direction – it was a sunny corner where you could stay and talk harmless blather to whoever was there, while you checked and spotted what was on offer, and anyway, the thought of a nice hot whiskey by the fire in the corner pub had filled his mind as he drew near the lamp post.

Corcoran’s heavy voice cut through his vision –

“Willie, go over and tell Mr. Molloy I haven’t all day to wait.”

Willie, well schooled, headed off through the crowd towards Molloy’s Butcher shop where he would buy a pound of beef sausages, wait in the shop, and “rush” back with the news.

“He’s gone to the railway, Father! but will be with you soon” Just as Cooper was engaging Corcoran senior in what might be regarded as civil discourse.

Cooper opened – “A hardy morning there.”

“’Tis nearly dinner time,” parried Corcoran “and I can tell you there’s no bargains left this time of day.” Willie glowed with admiration as his father casually stepped on to the footpath while speaking, making himself a foot taller than his adversary.

Cooper mentally slaughtered, quartered and weighed the seven beasts with a glance as he replied, stepping up easily beside Corcoran “Ye know, there’s nothin’ here today only small, miserable little beasts… no good at all for a butcher.”

Corcoran bristled “Yer not by any chance callin’ them cattle miserable, are ye?”

“Ah not at all me dear man, sure I was sayin’ only the other day that a mejum size bullock could have his place in a butcher’s shop – although they have a lot of bone, ye know like.” Cooper said easily.

Willie had gone back to leaning on the nearest bullock – he sensed the line tightening between the two, but as yet he couldn’t make out who had hooked who, so he concentrated on watching the rivulets of urine and dung which flowed along the gutter between his boots.
“Keep your head down boy” he told himself “and don’t distract the oul’ fella while he’s puttin’ manners on the butcher.” He was not, however, prepared for what came next as Corcoran displayed his mental agility.

“Ye know,” he said looking straight into Cooper’s eyes, which were watering slightly with the cold, “I owe you an apology.”

“For what?” said Cooper, completely mystified.

Corcoran hung his head ever so slightly and tapped the toe of his boot with his stick and said in a quiet voice “I was at your wife’s first cousin’s funeral three weeks ago, and I couldn’t get near ye with all them big shot cattle dealers that was there, and I was sayin’ to the wife goin’ home “God dammit ye know, I’m friends with John Cooper these years and many a good beast I sold him and he was always a decent man to deal with and here I am now goin’ home and never even bought the man a drink, will you have a hot whiskey with me now to make amends and never mind the cattle?”

Cooper hadn’t a hope, and he knew it. They disappeared into the pub, and the deal was done. He gave Corcoran twenty pounds less than the cattle were worth, and Corcoran gave him back a fiver for luck, as he knew full well he had got twenty pounds more than he really expected.

He turned his benevolent eye on the steaming glass as Cooper faded to the doorway —

“Good look” he murmured as the door closed.

ACT II

Corcoran leaned back and belched profoundly. Nobody in the crowded pub noticed. Half an hour had passed since Cooper had left with Willie to take the cattle down to the yard behind the butcher’s shop.

A third hot whiskey had warmed him down to his toes. He had sent a kid across to the far side of the fairground to bring back three hot crubeens from the huckster’s shop which specialized in that delicacy. Two of these glutinous morsels he ate ravenously, and having carefully thrown the bones in the fireplace, he wiped his fingers and face in the newspaper wrapping, and delicately rolled up the remaining one in the rest of the newspaper to keep it warm for Willie. Then he opened the top button of his flap, paid for a large bottle of stout and sighed contentedly as he fondled the roll of notes in the inside pocket of his waistcoat under folded arms.

Willie’s mind was soaring with speculation as to what he might do with the half note Cooper had given him for helping with the cattle as he strolled back to the pub. He was feeling hungry now, thirsty too as the sweet smell of stout reached him. Just then there was a hand on his arm…

“Hello there Willie, I heard ye sold the cattle and I’m hopin’ to see yer father.” It was Jim Kirwan the tractor salesman.

“He’s inside in the pub here,” said Willie, “come on, I’ll find him for ye.”

They turned in to the pub and Kirwan took his arm again, “Here, Willie” he smiled, “you’re a go ahead man – you wouldn’t mind having a nice new Ferguson Tractor now, would ye?” But before Willie could answer his father’s voice cut through the smoky air and Willie detected an almost jovial note in it.

“Over here Willie, boy, pull a large stout there for me son will ye, sit down, sit down, here’s a crubeen for ye boy, ye must be hungry.” And looking at Kirwan he continued “Ah God save us all look what the cat brought in.”

“Could I see ye Mr. Corcoran?” Kirwan ventured.

“Of course ye can boy,” replied Corcoran, “as long as yer not trying to sell me one of them cursed Fergusons – what are ye havin’ anyway?”

“A Lemonade thanks,” said Kirwan. Corcoran looked at him pityingly and said loudly “If ye want to talk to a man, ye better be a man – give him a small stout there Miss.”

The stout arrived and the three sat down. Willie tackled the crubeen with enthusiasm and Kirwan tried vainly to control the foam rising rapidly in his glass as he poured the stout with an unpractised hand. He cursed his plight as he saw Corcoran wink hugely at Willie. “I heard ye got a right good price for the cattle Mr. Corcoran, and more o’that to ye,” said Kirwan raising his froth filled glass – “Good luck – good luck” they chorused and drank.

After a pause Kirwan said “The new Ferguson is only £375 for cash.”

“Well now that’s very interesting” said Corcoran “for anyone that would be buying one, but of course I always used horses and me sons the same. We have a right good breed of a horse out our way ye know. He’d be a sort of an Irish draught with a dash of the Clydesdale in him and he’d pull anything.” Another pause as Corcoran rested on his oars and waited.

“‘Tis getting right expensive to keep horses shod nowadays,” said Kirwan studying his glass.

Willie was lifting his chin to nod his agreement when the boot hit him on the ankle bone. He froze and looked at the fire.

“Not when we does it ourselves” lied Corcoran defiantly.

“I heard right enough, that a blacksmith can hardly make a living anymore.” said Kirwan as he watched the colour rising in Corcoran’s face. “But” he added quickly, raising his voice to be heard by others, “I suppose it’s because really the ould horse is finished in the farms. Sure ’twould take ye all day to bring a churn of milk to the creamery and your day would be gone for nothing. And sure with the tractor you could be in and back in an hour and not only bring in yer own churn, but carry in the churn for a neighbour, maybe, who wouldn’t be so lucky or maybe wouldn’t have the price of a Ferguson.”

“Faith then” said Corcoran, raising his already big voice, “I heard on good authority that them tractors are no good on hilly land and ye could get kilt off of ’em.”

“Only in the hands of an amachure,” said Kirwan, his voice rising.

“An’ there’s another thing,” rapped Corcoran, “tractors cost money from once you bring ’em into the yard ’till ye get rid of ’em – with oil and repairs and God knows what else – when with the horse ye have his diet for nothin’ and his manure for the land in return and he’ll work away for ye and even if he drops dead, ye have his carcase to sell to the knacker man for a pound or two.”

Ears were cocked all around the pub now as the combatants circled mentally, seeking an opening. There was a hush while glasses were raised and stout was sipped carefully. Kirwan drained his drink, put down the glass and stood up wiping his mouth.

“That’s all history Mr. Corcoran” he said “an’ I’ll tell ye what, I’ll bring out a Ferguson to your farm on Friday at ten o’clock and give ye a free trial and demonstration and you’ll see for yerself that any damn thing your horse can do, my tractor will do it better.” He held out his hand across the table to Corcoran and they shook hands. “Thanks for the drink and Good luck, I’ll see ye Friday. So long Willie.”

“Ay, good luck Jim” said Willie.

Kirwan picked his way towards the door unhurriedly with all eyes on him. “That shook the oul’ bastard” he told himself as he buttoned his gabardine. He was one step short of the door when Corcoran’s voice called out.

“Hey Kirwan, I didn’t ever hear of a Ferguson having a foal.” The door slammed and bawdy laughter followed the salesman down the street.

The Fair, Ballybricken – before the tractor! From a photo by A. H. Poole, Waterford

***

Postscript

Within ten years the horse was gone from the farm, but here and there you would see an odd one. I think that Corcoran’s was one such place.

©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 – The Nuns At The Glue Pot 1946 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 that I posted in 2017. I hope those who have already read will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

Geoff had a band that was hugely popular for dances in Waterford, but also further afield… including here in Courtown where they used to play throughout the summer at the then ballroom. They stayed at the Tara Vie hotel.. which had a rather interesting story with the regard to its name. Tara hill is close to us and from certain angles you get a very good view.. this led to us questioning as to why the hotel is called the Tara Vie… Geoff explained that in about 1914, the ‘W’ fell off and was never replaced!

The Nuns At The Glue Pot 1946

It was five o’clock in the afternoon on the 16th of July 1946. The sky was dark and thunder rumbled intermittently. The rain came down like stair-rods and steam was rising from the warm road. I roused my three friends and we went downstairs for a drink before tea.

Being billeted over a pub wasn’t such a bad idea on a day like this, especially in a seaside village. We were playing in a dance band in the local hall for the season – we were the dance-band – and we would start work about eight o’clock.

The pub was known locally as “The Glue Pot” and as the evening wore on and people ventured out after the rain and made their way towards the dance hall which would be packed with holiday makers. Right now, there were only two old fishermen sipping pints by the window, the barman, Pat, and the four of us at the back of the bar.

I was lifting a lager shandy to my lips when I heard voices and the door burst open and three men came in, all laughing uproariously. Two were fishermen and the third, called Ritchie, was obviously a returned exile. It turned out he was back from the building sites in England and had been ‘trailing his coat’ around the village for days, drunk as a lord and looking for fights.

Apparently, he had got his belly-full the previous evening when he had insulted an army gunner in a neighbouring pub and been promptly “butchered on the spot” by the said gunner.

Looking at Ritchie now, I knew he has both truculent and dangerous and when, he offered us a drink we declined with “much thanks”. So now, he stood at the bar with his two henchmen, smoking, shouting at everyone at large and drinking rum and blackcurrant “to keep out the wet.” He looked a sorry sight. The cheap brown suit was stained and limp. The black eye was green at the edges. A large cut adorned his swollen mouth and his high cheek bone was grazed.

He was glaring at no one in particular when the door opened quietly to admit two very young nuns of the order of “The Little Sisters of the Poor” and they were “on the quest”, with small collecting boxes held before them.

They looked fearfully past Ritchie and approached the barman who gave them a shilling out of the till and tuppence out of his pocket. They passed by the two old men and came towards our table. We were delving into our pockets to oblige when Ritchie reeled over and looked malignantly down at the two young girls as we dropped some coins into their boxes.

“Over here, Pat,” he bawled, “these two ladies are going to have a drink on me, isn’t that so Sister?” he leered.

Pat came up to the bar counter obediently and the little nun said, “alright so, you can buy us a drink.”

They both put down their collecting boxes on our table and stepped up to the bar beside Ritchie, as he regained what composure he could. Grinning hugely at all and sundry, he threw a pound note on the bar counter and said quietly, “what’ll it be girls?”

The little nun replied without blinking, “two large Powers, please.” The barman blanched visibly and Ritchie crowed, “fill ’em up Pat, bejazus, I never saw a nun drunk yet.”

Pat placed the two large whiskies on the bar with a glass of water and set up Ritchie’s glass beside them. A hush fell on the room as we watched the little nun pick up her glass without adding water and her companion did likewise. They turned to face Ritchie as he absently raised his glass, his battered face wore a bewildered look.

“Good luck and God bless you,” said the nuns in unison.

“Aye, good luck,” said Ritchie, downing his by now badly needed rum and black. As he did so, the nun produced a bottle from the pocket of her robes, and her friend produced a small funnel and placed it in the neck of the bottle and, while we watched, the two glasses were emptied into the bottle, the cork replaced and the lot disappeared under the robes.

In the silence which followed the nuns picked up their little boxes, smiled angelically at everyone, said “God bless you all,” and left!

***

Note:

The Little Sisters of the Poor cared exclusively for old people in their many convents and hospitals throughout Ireland and accepted any kind of donation which would contribute to the comfort and well being of their patients.

©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 that I posted in 2017. I hope those who have already read will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

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 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 that I posted in 2017. I hope those who have already read will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

The 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 that I posted in 2017. I hope those who have already read will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

The Station – 1936

In the combined parishes of Killea, Crooke and Faithlegg, when I was a boy, there was an event called “The Station”. I never could find out why it had that name for it had nothing whatever to do with the railway, the nearest one being some ten miles away. In fact it was the term used in country places to describe a Mass which was said in a parishioners house each year – and it was a signal honour to have one’s house selected by the Parish Priest for this purpose.

The venue would be announced at Sunday Mass and even that announcement was sufficient to establish one’s status in the community. The particular areas to be “covered” by each Station would be decided by tradition – and probably influenced by the electoral register. The effect was that every person in every area, or at least the head of the household, would attend a Station Mass once a year and one of the objects of the exercise was that “dues” would be paid on that occasion.

The normal “dues” would be paid at the church door on a Sunday and the names of the contributors would be read from the altar AND the amounts contributed. The Station dues seemed, to my young mind at the time, to be an extra tax on a struggling rural community and the method used was a sort of “sweeper” arrangement to pick up the stragglers and squeeze the maximum out of the parish.

On the occasion of the Station, confessions would be heard and Mass would be said. Then, at the end of the mass, the priest produced his book, stood before the altar and called out the names of the parishioners. When your name was called you walked up to the priest, handed him your offering – in front of all your neighbours – and he would mark his book accordingly.

Although I was quite young, I was living in Woodstown when I first witnessed this procedure, I felt that it was demeaning and unfair. However, such was the standing of the clergy at the time that this process was accepted.

Another aspect of the Station was that people went to endless trouble and expense to “do up” the place in advance of the priest’s visit. Farmhouses would be whitewashed; yards would be cleared of dung-heaps; cow-house doors would get a lick of paint; parlours would be freshly papered and have fires lit in them and, of course, children would be scrubbed clean and dressed in their Sunday clothes – all because of what the neighbours might think and so that they could hold their heads up going to mass on a Sunday and “nothing could be said!”

When it came to my family’s turn to host the Station Mass I was eight or nine years old and I well recall the fuss that was created and how every corner of the house had to be completely cleaned. All the family got special assignments for the day: My sister was to answer the door and to show people into the drawing room; my younger brother had to make sure that the dogs were kept in the back yard and my mother was preparing a sumptuous breakfast in what we called the “sea parlour”, which overlooked the beach.

My job was to light the fire in the drawing room, and to see that it was kept fed with coal and logs. The altar for the mass was set up in that room and I made sure that it was nice and warm.

When “the day” arrived it was cold and frosty and the ladies of the parish arrived in good time for the Mass and positioned themselves in a semicircle around the fire. The men hung around outside, smoking their Woodbines and chatting, as there would be no point going in until the priest arrived.

Meanwhile, my young brother, having secured the dogs, rambled in to see who had come.

Peeping around the door jamb he beheld several ladies with their backs to the fire, skirts raised, toasting their bottoms! Having noted the colour of the “ample” knickers, he retreated silently and reported what he had seen to rest of us kids. Amid great whispering and sniggering the rest of us went in turns and gazed at this remarkable sight.

When we told my mother that we knew what colour knickers old Mrs. so & so was wearing she threatened us with hellfire and brimstone if we breathed a word of this to anyone. We retreated hastily from the kitchen but we could hear her laughing.

***

A story is told about a priest who was doing the Station Masses in his parish. He had developed a taste for Mustard and at that time mustard had hardly been heard of in country districts. It was the custom for the hostess of the Station Mass to provide an especially good breakfast for the priest and he could look forward to fresh eggs, home cured bacon, home made black & white puddings with fresh cake bread and strong tea. The only thing which might be missing from this princely spread would be – you’ve guessed it – a spot of mustard.

Well, you see, mustard wasn’t really in general use and rather than embarrass the hostess by asking for something she didn’t have the priest took the habit of carrying a small tin of mustard, ready mixed to his liking, in his pocket. So, if it came with the breakfast well & good, and if not he could discreetly use his personal supply.

It so happened, on this particular morning, that when the priest’s breakfast was served there was no mustard to be seen on the table. Deciding to resort to subterfuge, he deliberately dropped his knife in the floor knowing that his hostess would fetch a fresh one from the kitchen, which she did. While she was out of the room the priest put a good dollop of his own cache on the side of his plate.

When the lady returned with the knife she looked at the priest’s plate in absolute horror. She grabbed the plate and began to back out of the room saying “I’m awful sorry Father, them hens are everywhere. I’ll get you a fresh breakfast!!”

So much for carrying your own supplies!

***

Describing a returned emigrant who had put on a lot of weight:
“He has a neck of meat on him like an American priest!”

©Geoff Cronin 2005

About Geoff Cronin

I was born at tea time at number 12 John Street, Waterford on September 23rd 1923. My father was Richard Cronin and my mother was Claire Spencer of John Street Waterford. They were married in St John’s Church in 1919.

Things are moving so fast in this day and age – and people are so absorbed, and necessarily so, with here and now – that things of the past tend to get buried deeper and deeper. Also, people’s memories seem to be shorter now and they cannot remember the little things – day to day pictures which make up the larger canvas of life.

It seems to me that soon there may be little or no detailed knowledge of what life was really like in the 1930s in a town – sorry, I should have said City, in accordance with its ancient charter – like Waterford. So I shall attempt to provide some of these little cameos as much for the fun of telling as for the benefit of posterity.

Thank you for visiting today and I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of Waterford in the 1930s courtesy of Geoff Cronin. As always your feedback is very welcome. thanks Sally.

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 that I posted in 2017. I hope those who have already read will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

The 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 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 that I posted in 2017. I hope those who have already read will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

The 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 that I posted in 2017. I hope those who have already read will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

How the Stable Was Built 1936

Mick and his wife Peg lived at the top of Failun (pronounced Falloon) hill, on the road which went from Hickey’s Cross in Rosduff to the Fairy Bush in Killea. They occupied a “labourer’s cottage” with a half acre at the back and the rent was ten pence per week.

Mick had injured his leg some years before and that leg was slightly shorter than the other one and he walked with the aid of a stick. Because of his disability, Mick was virtually unemployable, since the only work available in the area was of the labouring variety.

Over the years he had scraped together the price of a black ass – two pounds – and a trap, which went for thirty shillings at an executor’s sale, came his way the following year. Thus equipped, Mick was able to earn a shilling or two doing errands, to and from the Gaultier Creamery Shop, for neighbours. Apart from that he spent most of his time tending that part of the half acre which wasn’t set aside for the ass to graze.

Peg hired out as a charlady, at two shillings per day, to any lady who needed her services and it was on that basis that my mother took her on to do cleaning, washing, ironing and general housework at our home in Woodstown. She would walk the two and a half miles to our home and arrive at eight thirty on the dot – and always in the best of spirits. She had never been to school and could neither read nor write but she was an absolute mine of information on all matters relating to country living and survival. One of her great goals in life was that she an Mick might live to draw an old-age-pension – it was five shillings a week then, and a dog license cost the same amount! Incidentally, Peg always referred to her husband as The Man and the locals always knew him by that name.

Our charlady with her husband (The Man), the famous ass plus my younger brother & sister David and Claire & friends -1933

My mother enjoyed Peg’s company, not just because Peg never arrived empty handed – she would always bring a few fresh mushrooms, or a can of blackberries, or a small bunch of wild flowers. This woman had a generous heart and my mother appreciated that fact. She loved music and my mother would switch on the radio when Peg arrived and both of them would enjoy that continuous programme called “Music While You Work”, which was a ploy used by the BBC to keep the factories of England going at top speed during the war.

Come lunchtime, Mother would sit down with Peg and get all the gossip and on one such day she said to Peg “I’ll just switch off the wireless while we have our lunch.”

“Oh, yes,” said Peg “let the poor fellows off to their lunch – they’ve been playin’ there all mornin’!”

On her day with us Peg’s husband, The Man, would arrive about four o’clock with the ass & trap, to bring Peg home. While he waited for her to finish he would tether the ass and head off into the woods to collect a “bearth” of sticks to take home for the fire.

Mick had a wealth of songs, which he would sing in a sort of monotone, and also a repertoire of poems and country stories. As kids, we loved the songs best. Titles like “Pat Hegarty’s Auld Brother’s Britches”, “Workin’ on the Railway, “Toora Loora Loo” and “The Monkey Married the Baboon’s Sister” intrigued us no end.

The man was making plans to build a stable for the ass, he told us, and when we saw him cutting some nice straight poles in the wood he told us that these were to make the frame of the stable. This frame would be covered with iron sheets he said and we wondered how this might come about. In the event the solution was a composite one. First of all the man visited all the sites where road works were taking place and he bought all the empty tar barrels for sixpence each and ferried them home in the trap. When he thought he had enough – it took two months to collect a sufficient number – he set about removing the bottoms and lids using a hammer and cold chisel. He finished this stage by opening up the side seams, and then he waited.

Almost a month passed by before a day arrived when the steam-roller came over the top of the hill and approached the man’s cottage. Mick hailed the driver, whom he knew well, and when the roller stopped he got the road workers to spread the opened up barrels on the road. Whereupon the driver took his steam-roller over and back across the barrels until they were quite flat. Then the road workers brought the “sheets” into Mick’s yard, where they were thanked. The man had the covering for his stable which he duly nailed to the frame, making sure to put them on with the tarry side up! This dodge would save painting the stable as it would be tarred all over and waterproof.

***

One of the local stories which The Man had was about an old church ruin which was situated in a field near his cottage. Apparently the church had been torn down during the time of the Penal Laws and one of the holy water fonts had survived.

The legend was that if you had warts on your hand you only had to dip the hand in the dew that collected in the font and say three Hail Marys and the warts would disappear.

Now I had a massive wart on the ring finger of my left hand and couldn’t get rid of it, no matter what I did. I tried all the known “cures”, like dandelion juice, rubbing it with a snail and sticking him on a thorn bush, etc. etc. These “cures” had no effect and in desperation I decided to try the holy water font in the ruined church, although to be honest I didn’t really believe in it.

Mick agreed to show me where the ruin was – he did believe – and informed me that part of the ritual was that I should go up there on foot, no manner of transport was allowed. This meant a walk of almost three miles there and another three miles back and this was a daunting pilgrimage for a boy of ten.

I thought about it for a week or so and eventually decided to “go for it.” On the appointed day I set off early, having arranged for a pal to join me. We arrived, very tired, at Mick’s cottage at about mid-day. We accomplished the final leg of the journey and when Mick pointed out the ruin I went in unaccompanied and dipping in my afflicted hand I said the prayers.

On the way back to Mick’s house, I decided secretly that I would watch my wart day and night and never take my eyes off it, to see if anything would happen, and I told no one about this dark secret.

We got a cup of tea at Mick’s and he told us it was not mandatory to walk back and he very kindly tackled up the ass & trap and drove us home, much to our relief.

Now to this day I cannot explain just why I forgot to watch that wart, but forget I did. My previous obsession with the wart just evaporated and when I did remember to look, about a week later… the wart was GONE and no trace of it remained. I swear that this is true but don’t ask me how or why – I just wasn’t looking!

By the way, seventy years later, I should tell you that it never did come back!!

***

©Geoff Cronin 2005

Thank you for visiting today and I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of Waterford in the 1930s courtesy of Geoff Cronin. As always your feedback is very welcome. thanks Sally.

Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives -#Memoir #Waterford #Ireland 1930s – The Colour of Life – The Miser 1931 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 that I posted in 2017. I hope those who have already read will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

The Miser – 1931

When I was a boy, in the early 1930s, there was always music in our house. My mother was an accomplished pianist and singer and my father had a very fine tenor voice. He would sing songs such as The Trumpeter, Songs of Araby, The Toreador’s Song from Carmen and Friend of Mine and my mother would play the accompaniment on the piano. They sang many duets also and on wet days and Sundays as children we would gather round the piano and mother would play all the popular and comic songs of the day. A right old sing-song would be enjoyed by all. I vividly remember my favourite, which was “Minnie the Moocher”!

Both my parents were heavily involved in the Wallace Grand Opera Society in its heyday and consequently they knew everybody in the musical scene of the day and most of their friends came from that circle.

Two of their friends who often visited us were a Jewish couple, Isaac Levi and his wife Florence, whose maiden name was Goldring. They were immigrants from Poland and had fled from there in the early 1900s when Jews were being persecuted. Incidentally, they told me that they had been promised in marriage to each other when they were children.

Classical music was their forte and they often regaled us with duets; he on the violin and she on the piano. I still vividly recall their rendition of Brahm’s Hungarian Dance which was “something else”.

Levi had a shop at No. 8 John Street, Waterford, where he dealt in furniture and antiques and did good business. My father told me that when the Levi’s came to Waterford and took the shop at No. 8, they had with them a very old man, probably the uncle of his wife, and he carried on the business of money lending. As part of that business he used to buy gold sovereigns and half sovereigns and it was known that he would pay one pound and sixpence for a sovereign and ten shillings and threepence for a half sovereign. These coins were solid gold, with a milled edge, and were worth one pound, and ten shillings respectively. The sovereign weighed one fine ounce while the half sovereign was half a fine ounce. At that time all precious metals were measured in “Troy Weight”.

Now this old man could be seen daily sitting in a rocking chair, in the window of the furniture shop, holding in his hands a small Buckskin bag and shaking it constantly as he rocked to and fro. It was this practice that earned him the nickname “The Miser”. The street urchins and indeed many adults used to congregate outside the shop and could be heard saying “see how he loves his money, even the sound of it jingling in his money bag.” They could not have guessed the old man’s secret!

My father explained it to me as an object lesson to illustrate the acumen of the Jewish businessman. Apparently the old man collected the gold coins for a particular purpose. When he had collected whatever he considered to be a sufficient number of them he put them in the small leather bag and shook them for, let us say a week. Then at the end of that time, when he emptied out the coins, there remained in the bag a residue of gold dust. This happened because the milled edges of the coins rubbing against each other, when the bag was shaken, resulted in tiny flakes of gold coming off each coin.

The real beauty of this procedure was that when fifty coins went into the bag the same fifty came out again and the deposit of gold dust, however small, was a net profit. So, to quote my father, you can have your cake and eat it … if you know how!

This story, which is true, instilled in me a very healthy respect for Jewish businessmen which has remained with me to this day.

©Geoff Cronin 2005

Thank you for visiting today and I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of Waterford in the 1930s courtesy of Geoff Cronin. As always your feedback is very welcome. thanks Sally.

Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives -#Memoir #Waterford #Ireland 1930s – The Colour of Life – The Crane 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 that I posted in 2017. I hope those who have already read will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

The Crane 1930

The Grey Heron was always known as “the Crane” among the locals of Woodstown when I was growing up there. A large and apparently solitary bird, frequenting bog holes and other lonely places, it fascinated those of us who hunted rats, and anything that moved, along the banks of the streams near our home.

For my own part, I found the mysteries of nature so amazing that I was able to believe most of the lore I was able to glean by talking to those more knowledgeable than myself in that pursuit. Often I stood quietly and listened avidly to the conversation of the local men when they sat on the stone at the “Gap” of a summer’s evening, smoking their blue fumed pipes, or playing a hand of cards on the balding grass patch where the sand showed through.

It was in this way I learned all about the crane; how he had only one long gut and was so nervous that if you could get near him and make a really loud noise, he would drop dead – “and why wouldn’t he, with only one gut. Sure it stood to reason.”

Another well proven fact was that if a man were to shoot a crane, on purpose, or even by accident, that man would never be able to father a child. Indeed I heard that precise reason given as to why a neighbour and his wife had no family. The fact that they were both in their fifties when they wedded seemed not to enter into the particular discussion.

It was on one of my listening sessions that I heard the following story, declared at the time to be “as true as Jazes.” Here it is as near verbatim as my pen will reach:-

*****

“Meself and another fella were down in the lower village of Cheekpoint one evening near sunset and we were sitting on the wall by the bank of the river watchin’ the shallows to see if there was any fishin’. T’was a weak tide, slow and still by the bank where the water was slack and you could see the mudbank beginning to show up the river a piece. We were there thinking of nothing at all when down floated an auld crane, and dropped into the shadow of the bank in a few inches of water. We were looking down on him from above and could see him as clear as anything.

They’re very nervous, ye know, and of course they have only one gut inside in ’em.
Anyway, he stood there, still as a stone, takin’ in everythin’ We never moved and after a while he began to stroll around slowly, watchin’ the water to see would he find his supper – they ate crabs and small fishes and that class of thing.

Did you ever see the way he walks? Well, I’ll tell ye; he never lifts the foot out of the water and never a ripple even though his feet are as long as your hand. Lookin’ at him goin’ along like that, you’d think he couldn’t move fast, but upon me song, you’d be wrong! Wait till I tell ye now – the next thing we saw was yer man (the crane), frozen still, like a stick lookin’ down be the side of a rock and his neck crooked back like an “S-hook”, and not a stir out of him.

I thought bejazes he was gone asleep, when quick as a flash down went his head into the water – and you know they have a bake like a feckin’ harpoon – up came the head again and he had a fair sized eel caught in his bake.

Well, straight away, he lifted his head up in the air, opened the bake, and down the gullet went the eel – it was all over in a second – but hauld on now till you hear…

Off he went, strollin’ like before, but he wasn’t gone three yards when out came the eel wriggling out of the crane’s arse and dropped into the water – they have only one gut ye see, and there was nothin’ to stop the eel goin’ right through yer man.

Well if that crane moved fast when he first caught that eel bejazus he moved twice as fast now. Round he swung, took a step a yard long, down went the bake and up again like a flash with that eel caught again. He paused for a second and swallowed the eel for the second time.

We thought that was that, and the oul’ crane had bested the eel, but true as God, we were wrong again. No sooner did the crane start to walk again, than out of his arse wriggled that eel again, and down into the water he dropped. By this time, we were looking out of our mouths at the carry on. We never seen the like before.

Well, bejazus boy, lighnin’ was slow compared to the speed at which that crane turned and dived on the eel for the third time, and he caught him tight in that big bake. He wasn’t goin’ to be done out of his supper, d’ye see. But now, he didn’t swallow the eel this time. Instead, he held him in his bake and commenced to look around slowly. After a while he walked in to where there was a fair sized rock stickin’ up-out of the water. An’ then bejazes, didn’t he turn his back to the rock, lifted his tail, sat down on the rock, and swallowed the eel with one gulp. Well he sat there for a full ten minutes until, I suppose, the eel smothered inside him. At any rate, when he walked off through the water, that eel never appeared again. And that’s a fact boy – there’s cranes for you now!!”

©Geoff Cronin 2005

Thank you for visiting today and I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of Waterford in the 1930s courtesy of Geoff Cronin. As always your feedback is very welcome. thanks Sally.