Milestones along the Way – Tradition and Smoke Signals by Geoff Cronin


Tradition

Three friends were in the habit of meeting every evening in their local pub to have just one drink on their way home from work. Each would buy in his turn and the round was three halves of Jameson Whisky. Well, after some years one of the friends was transferred to another town and his two pals continued to buy and drink the traditional three halves – just not to forget the absent one.

However, before the year was out a second member of the trio was transferred, leaving one solitary friend and he decided he was not going to forget his two pals. To that end he continued to buy the three halves which he drank – what else could he do?

Anyway this went on for some time until one day he went into the pub as usual and ordered just two halves of Jameson – The barmaid served them up and timidly asked “is one of your old friends dead”? To which he replied “ah no, it’s just that I’m off drink for Lent”!!

Smoke Signals

My first encounter with cigarettes was when at age six, in the early ’30s, I bought a packet of five Woodbines for two pence at Kirwan’s in John Street where I lived. Having smuggled them home, I went into the back yard, out of sight and lit one up. When I stopped coughing, having accidentally inhaled a mouthful of smoke, I found myself staggering about, felling dizzy and finally being sick all over the place. I didn’t smoke again till I was twenty!

The variety of cigarettes available in those days was endless and I can recall many of the brands:- Players, Carolls And Gold Flake were the main leaders and then there was Churchman’s, Passing Clouds, De Rezske Minors, Craven A, Kerry Blue, Drumhead, Players Weights, Senior Service, the list goes on. The price of smokes varied from Woodbines at five for twopence to sixpence for ten of the main brands and a shilling for twenty. The fancy brands cost up to one shilling and threepence for twenty.

Of course “serious men” of that time smoked a pipe and while the lower classes used a clay pipe the more respectable citizens used a Briar or even a Meerschaum, and a Corncob, an import from America, was for the more adventurous.

The equipment required for the pipe smoker seemed endless – the tobacco pouch, the pipe cleaners, the tobacco jar, the universal tool for tamping, reaming and stem cleaning, the pipe rack and the absolutely essential penknife also the pipe cover for smoking outdoors. Lastly the special big box of matches favoured by pipe smokers called “Swan Vestas”.

The shop which stocked all these items was called a Tobacconists and also stocked cigars, cheroots, humidors for storing cigars and of course tobacco in all its forms, namely plug, rubbed and loose mixtures plus many tinned proprietary brands such as Bruno, Mick McQuaid, Three Nuns, Players, Black Cavendish, Reilly’s Twist etc. Chewing tobacco was also stocked and then there is snuff. This last item was made by grinding up tobacco leaves and stems into a fine powder and was consumed by snorting it. Small containers, waistcoat pocket size were used to carry a supply on one’s person and in that context it was considered good manners to offer the open box to a friend or friends in company to have a “pinch of snuff”.

It was on such occasions that a very mean person, unseen by the donor, would squeeze a penny edgewise in the pocket between finger and thumb thus creating an indentation in both so that he would get a bigger pinch of snuff. Such a man would be known as a penny pincher which led to the general term “penny pinching”, meaning economising to excess.

It is not generally known that in the ’30s tobacco was grown in Ireland for a number of years and there are still examples of the tall drying houses where the leaves were dried for a period after harvesting. Once can still find antique silver snuff boxes which are collector’s items though the practice of “snuffing” still exists.

Incidentally, there was a factory in the Back Lane in Waterford, Hanley’s by name, which produced clay pipes until the early forties if my memory serves me right. The clay pipe broke easily and very often the stem would break off in the pocket leaving the bowl with a very short stem, but it could still be used and was known as a Dudeen or Jaw Warmer.

In fact I can remember as a child seeing old women smoking Jaw Warmers behind their shawls and when a jaw warmer eventually broke it was not unusual for it to be ground to a powder and mixed in with a measure of snuff as the clay pipe would have absorbed a considerable quantity of nicotine in its life so it closely resembled the snuff.

 

©Geoff Cronin 2010

About Geoff Cronin – 1923 – 2017

There were few jobs that Geoff could not turn his hands to, and over the years he mastered an impressive number of professional undertakings. Master baker and confectioner, mobile cinema operator, salesman, band leader, senior executive and master wood turner, storyteller and writer.

Geoff Cronin published his first book in 2005 at age 82. The Colour of Life is a collection of stories of life in Waterford during his childhood and early adulthood in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. This was followed by two further books that related tales of further adventures in Waterford and Dublin.

Thank you for dropping in today and you can read The Colour of Life, The Black Bitch and the previous chaptes of Milestones in this directory:

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/the-colour-of-life-by-geoff-cronin/

The Black Bitch and other Tales – Lateral Thinking by Geoff Cronin


Lateral Thinking by Geoff Cronin

The widow O’Gorman was worried. She lived on a tidy farm of thirty seven acres and her only son was thirty five, a strong healthy man… and “not a stir out of him”, as they say in the country.

He was unmarried and showed no sign of changing that situation. But the widow was a far seeing and practical woman conscious of the fact that one of her fields adjoined a field of a neighbour who incidentally was also a widow having an only daughter who was ‘idle’ as they say, i.e. she was single, and her name was Eileen.

After much deliberation Mrs. O’Gorman decided to take her son Willie’s future in hand, spurred on by the vision of the two farms eventually being joined by matrimony and making a holding which would be the envy of three parishes. So, on the next fair day, she ‘happened’ to meet Eileen’s mother in the town and invited her into the snug at the bar and grocery shop for ‘a chat between neighbours.’

Two small glasses of port helped to get the small talk out of the way and Mrs. O’Gorman put her cards on the table.

“Did it ever cross you mind that my Willie and your Eileen would make a nice match?” She ventured.

“Well now, isn’t that strange,” said Eileen’s mother, “my dream is out.”

“A week ago didn’t I dream that them two were standing at the altar!”

After that exchange, the two widows got down to business and the match was made, while the two people most concerned were totally unaware of what had gone on behind the scenes.

The following week Eileen’s mother said, “I was baking today and I made a currant cake and after the milking I want you to bring it down to Mrs. O’Gorman this evening.”

“I owe her a turn, you see, and this is by way of a thank you.”

“Alright mother,” said Eileen, “and do you think I should wear my blue dress?”

“You might as well look your best calling on the neighbours,” said her mother, tongue in cheek.

It was Willie who answered Eileen’s tap on the door.

“Come in Eileen, this is a nice surprise,” he said, eyeing her appreciatively.

“I just called to give yer mother this currant cake,” said Eileen.

The widow took her hand and thanking her for the cake said, “come in girl and we’ll have the tea, that blue dress suits you well – doesn’t she look lovely Willie?”

“Now Willie,” she said, “show Eileen the little white faced calf born this morning, and the new span on the hayshed, while I put the kettle on.”

Willie smiled and said, “come on Eileen, I’ll give you the guided tour.”

The pair left the house and Willie showed Eileen all the features of his little kingdom, answering her every question – she was a farmer too, after all – and she showed a genuine interest in all that Willie had to say.

The whole process took longer than they had anticipated and darkness was falling by the time they returned to the house.

“Come in now, letye and have the tea,” said the mother, “and don’t worry about the dark Eileen, ’cos Willie will see you home safely.”

‘The tea’ being over, the pair were ready to depart when the widow said, “Willie, take this stick and give it to Eileen’s mother for I know her back is not the best… And bring me a bucket of water from the well on your way and carry this hatching hen under your arm –

Eileen’s mother lent me that hen… And tie the goat at the head of the boreen on your way.

Eileen thanked the widow as they left and Willie looked decidedly unhappy. The widow was making sure he didn’t have a free hand going up the boreen! Anyway, the couple headed off down the lane which by now was quite dark.

As they got to the really dark part, Eileen stopped suddenly and said, “Willie I’m afraid.”

“Afraid of what,” said Willie testily.

“I’m afraid that you might try to kiss me,” she said, leaning suggestively towards the ditch.

“And how exactly would I do that?” said Willie displaying the load he was carrying.

“Well,” said she smiling boldly at him, “I thought you might drive the stick into the ground and tie the goat to it and put the hen under the bucket.”

Postscript

Willie and Eileen married the following spring and the union of the two farms was the envy of three parishes.

* * *

Malaprop on four wheels

“Me father had a Ford Angela first, then he got a Ford Perfect but he crashed that and now he’s driving around in an auld chiropody.”

* * *

Describing a brown haired man who grew a luxurious beard:-

He’s like a rat lookin’ out of a bale of oakum!

©Geoff Cronin 2008

About Geoff Cronin – 1923 – 2017

There were few jobs that Geoff could not turn his hands to, and over the years he mastered an impressive number of professional undertakings. Master baker and confectioner, mobile cinema operator, salesman, band leader, senior executive and master wood turner, storyteller and writer.

Geoff Cronin published his first book in 2005 at age 82. The Colour of Life is a collection of stories of life in Waterford during his childhood and early adulthood in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. This was followed by two further books that related tales of further adventures in Waterford and Dublin.

Thank you for dropping in today and you can read The Colour of Life and the previous chapters of The Black Bitch in this directory:

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/the-colour-of-life-by-geoff-cronin/

The Black Bitch and other Tales – The Last Public Execution by Geoff Cronin


The Last Public Execution by Geoff Cronin

My father told me that my grandmother’s people owned a pub in Ballybricken, from which there was a clear view of the old gaol. At this time in the late 1800s the custom was that criminals would be hanged publicly and Waterford gaol was the scene of many such hangings and so the pub did good business on those occasions.

The Waterford gaol is long gone, replaced by municipal buildings now. But in its day it had a very imposing cut limestone front which housed a massive arched door about twenty feet high, above which there was a superstructure rising to perhaps fifty feet which framed an arch with an opening some eight feet high.

When a hanging was to take place a platform and a gibbet emerged from this archway and the unfortunate criminal would be dropped through a trapdoor in the platform in clear view of the assembled gathering. This of course was a horrific sight and was meant to be a lesson to all would be wrongdoers.

The last hanging at this site was witnessed, I am told by my grandmother and her story as passed onto my father is as follows:

The man to be hanged was convicted of killing a relative and the family was well known in the area but as the date of the execution drew near the official hangman refused to do the job and the authorities were forced to hire an out of town hangman. This man, however, was killed, being hit by a brick on the back of the head while walking up a dark alley in the city and the hanging had to be postponed pending the appointment of a substitute.

For some unknown reason another professional could not be found and the job was on offer to anyone who would take it. In the event a man was given the job as a once off and he agreed provided he wore a hood and thereby remained anonymous, but he was not a professional.

Now I should tell you that the rope at the gibbet was secured to a drum, which had a stop mechanism, allowing a selected length of rope to run off when the weight of the man came on it.

On the day however, this inexpert hangman, neglected to check the stop mechanism, which was ‘off’ and when he shot the bolt opening the trapdoor, the rope paid out without stopping and the unfortunate man fell down into the street. At this point the hangman, not to be outdone, operated the drum manually and winched his victim back up through the trapdoor and declared him dead.

A sequel to this story occurred, when my father was a boy and happened to be in my grandfather’s shop one day when a rough looking old man came in for some bread. One of the shop hands, whose name was Neddy Eustace, had some words with this man and a fierce altercation erupted between the two. It ended abruptly when Neddy shouted. “Who shot the bolt?” and then ran down John Street with the man in hot pursuit. Neddy however, being the younger, soon lost him by running up Crossbottle Lane and down the back lane

Later on Neddy told my father that the old man was the one who did the last public execution in Waterford. The secret was not as well kept as it might have been.

©GeoffCronin 2008

About Geoff Cronin – 1923 – 2017

There were few jobs that Geoff could not turn his hands to, and over the years he mastered an impressive number of professional undertakings. Master baker and confectioner, mobile cinema operator, salesman, band leader, senior executive and master wood turner, storyteller and writer.

Geoff Cronin published his first book in 2005 at age 82. The Colour of Life is a collection of stories of life in Waterford during his childhood and early adulthood in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. This was followed by two further books that related tales of further adventures in Waterford and Dublin.

Thank you for dropping in today and you can read The Colour of Life and the previous chapters of The Black Bitch in this directory:

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/the-colour-of-life-by-geoff-cronin/

The Black Bitch and Other Tales Serialisation – The Matmakers – by Geoff Cronin


This was my father-in-law’s second book published in 2008 and I will leave Geoff to tell you more about it.

Introduction

In this book I have tried to provide a flashback on Waterford of the thirties, in the early days of Radio, Cinema and before Television. Asphalt had not yet been laid on the quayside or the main street, and at night the principal streets were dimly lit by gaslight. Side streets were pitch black, as were alleyways, and the district court had cases against cyclists who were fined two shillings and sixpence for having no light on their bike. The weekly papers reported offences of No Dog Licence; Drunk & Disorderly and cases of Land Disputes & Cattle Trespass.

Interspersed among the facts & folklore you will find the tall stories, observations and old sayings which make up the fabric of oral tradition in the ancient city of Waterford.

The Matmakers

They arrived at the old limekiln at the Corrig end of Woodstown beach on the last day of May. The old man, gaunt and grey, his wife, small and swarthy, their son, Jimmy who had his own small black pony, his brother Mick whose curly black hair came down on his forehead and their young sister whose name I never found out.

They paid me little heed as they set up camp, fixing a tarpaulin across the opening under the kiln, which was like a fair sized cave and anchoring it along the ground with a row of stones just leaving a corner loose for entry. Next, they spread about six inches of clean straw on the floor of their cave, which was quite dry and presto a place to sleep was created in less than twenty minutes.

What fascinated me was the fact that nobody was giving orders. There were no arguments or discussions about what to do next. It all just happened.

Next, the old man set up a site on which to build a fire, convenient to the cave. Pieces of driftwood were collected from the beach and the mother filled a can with fresh water from the stream nearby. Before I could take in all that was happening I found myself being asked. “Would you like a cup of Tea?”

I accepted the invitation and joined this family drinking tea around an open fire on a fine May evening.

The fact that these people were ‘Tinkers’, ‘Gypsies’ or ‘Itinerants’, didn’t seem to matter and I fell easily into conversation with Mick who was around my own age. He told me that his brother’s black pony was called Jenny and she pulled the smaller of their two carts for Jimmy. Their main means of transport, a light, sprung cart was drawn by the larger brown mare, called Peg and while Jimmy would find grazing for the small pony it was Mick’s job to look after the mare and if I came back before dark, I could help him.

My home was only a quarter of a mile up the beach from the camp and I cycled back there in the last hour of daylight to find Mick fitting a makeshift rope bridle on the mare. Next thing he took hold of her mane and swung up on her back.

“Follow me.” He shouted as he took off at a gallop up the lane to the road. Here he took the road towards a lonely byroad, more than a mile away. I followed on my bike and eventually caught up at a place called Drumrusk where Mick unceremoniously turned the mare loose and said.

“We’ll go back now, she’ll be OK there till morning and we’ll come up and get her then,” he gave a satisfied nod. “She can graze the longacre.”

I learned later that the longacre meant the grass verges on the roadside. Riding cross-bar, the bike took us back to the camp and I went home, promising to come back at dawn to bring back the mare. We found her a mile further up the by-road and I made it back to the house just in time for the bus to school.

June saw the beginning of the summer holidays from school and I was able to spend some time at the matmakers’ camp. Incidentally, the reason they were called matmakers was simply because they made and sold mats made from the Maran grass which grew on the sandy upside of the beach. They cut this grass with a sickle and left it to dry for a day or two. Then they made a long plait about two inches wide, which they stitched into a circle with hemp thread. When the circle was about two feet wide the free end was cut, tapered and bound into the edge of the circle and there you had a mat to sell. Sometimes they made oval shapes and as the Maran grass dried it showed different shades of green and brown, adding to the character of the mat and its saleability.

A lot of the mat work was done by the mother while the father made brooms out of bunches of the Maran grass, fixed to the end of straight sticks of elder, which grew by the stream near the camp. They were easy to cut and skin and they dried to a golden colour once the bark was removed. He also collected bean tins, fruit tins and the like and these he made into drinking mugs, pint and half pint measures and such. Some tins were cut into strips which in turn were rolled into tight cylinders and served as rivets to fix mug and jug handles to their respective tins.

Old Clothes were collected too and the buttons cut off and sorted by size while the materials were sorted and washed clean and tied in bundles to be sold to workshops, garages and also by bulk to the rag merchants in town. There was a good price to be had for clean sorted rags and also the buttons. Jimmy ‘did his own business’ but also collected hay for the ponies and sometimes a bucket of oats or a few mangolds or turnips which they loved. Mick’s speciality was collecting empty stout bottles – a penny for the half pint size and twopence for the pint bottle – which could be sold over the counter at the local shop. There was no pub in Woodstown in the thirties and men used to cycle to Killea or Callaghane pubs where they could buy a few bottles of stout. These would be brought to the beach and when empty were often discarded so the weekends often yielded a bonanza for Mick and his willing helper.

The staple diet of the family was rabbits and they were plentiful in the dunes along the beach, but the old man knew his tides – when the mackerel were in; when the herring were coming etc – and regularly went to Passage and Dunmore of an evening and returned with fish for the family supper. They never seemed to be short of food but nevertheless my friend Mick was always hungry and anytime we went hunting or tickling trout together he advised me to bring a bit of grub. And so I often raided our pantry at home to meet his needs. He taught me many things, including how to ride the mare bareback and to make a bridle for her and finally I was able to ride her back to the camp at the dawn of day. I will always remember one day when Mick and I took the mare to the village blacksmith to have a shoe put on. I held her while Mick did the business with the smith.

“How much for a bishop?” asked Mick.

“Sixpence, fitted,” said the smith, “and you do the rummaging.”

“Right,” said Mick and motioned me to a pile of cast-off shoes in a corner of the yard.

“I’ll show you,” he said, picking out a thin old shoe from the pile.

“We want another thin one that size,” he said, and I soon had a suitable one.

“The smith will weld the two of those together and they’ll do the mare just fine,” he said.

“That’s a Bishop.”

And it came to pass.

I could fill a book with all the things I learned from that travelling family and I only realized much later in life that for the few months I spent in their company, I had in reality attended a university of survival.

One morning in August, I went up to the camp only to find it empty. They were gone – just… gone.

I felt lost for a week or two and then it was back to school time and though my life took many twists and turns from that day to this I will always remember the matmakers with affection and gratitude.

Postscript.

Twenty odd years later I met Jimmy in Waterford – he had given up travelling and had a job locally. He told me that Mick had gone to work in England laying aircraft runways and had been killed during an air attack. I never saw Jimmy again.

* * *

Retribution

It was on the occasion when the farmers of Ireland had organised a “Monster” march through O’Connell Street, in Dublin, to protest about something which is now forgotten.

Crowds of people had lined the streets to witness the spectacle and many of the onlookers shouted encouragement and sometimes derision at the marchers.

One Dublin wit surprised the rest when he called out “Ye never had luck since ye poisoned the rabbits!”

* * *

A boatman telling about one of his clients:

“That man was never on a boat in his life and he came to me to go fishing and wasn’t he wearing a pair of Cadbury thrills and polished shoes.”

©GeoffCronin 2008

About Geoff Cronin – 1923 – 2017

There were few jobs that Geoff could not turn his hands to, and over the years he mastered an impressive number of professional undertakings. Master baker and confectioner, mobile cinema operator, salesman, band leader, senior executive and master wood turner, storyteller and writer.

Geoff Cronin published his first book in 2005 at age 82. The Colour of Life is a collection of stories of life in Waterford during his childhood and early adulthood in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. This was followed by two further books that related tales of further adventures in Waterford and Dublin.

Thank you for dropping in today and you can read the previous book The Colour of Life in this directory:

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/the-colour-of-life-by-geoff-cronin/

The Colour of Life – James the Landlord – 1939 by Geoff Cronin

Status


My father-in-law’s memoirs continues with this story from 1939 about his home in Woodstown, Waterford.

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 picking cockles at Woodstown 1939

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 William 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 – 1923 – 2017

There were few jobs that Geoff could not turn his hands to, and over the years he mastered an impressive number of professional undertakings. Master baker and confectioner, mobile cinema operator, salesman, band leader, senior executive and master wood turner, storyteller and writer.

Geoff Cronin published his first book in 2005 at age 82. The Colour of Life is a collection of stories of life in Waterford during his childhood and early adulthood in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. This was followed by two further books that related tales of further adventures in Waterford and Dublin.

Thank you for dropping in today and you can read the previous chapters of The Colour of Life in this directory:

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/the-colour-of-life-by-geoff-cronin/

The Colour of Life – The Shop Part Two – 1938 by Geoff Cronin


Continued from last week –

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.

The Shop 1938 – Part Two by Geoff Cronin

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.

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.

About Geoff Cronin – 1923 – 2017

There were few jobs that Geoff could not turn his hands to, and over the years he mastered an impressive number of professional undertakings. Master baker and confectioner, mobile cinema operator, salesman, band leader, senior executive and master wood turner, storyteller and writer.

Geoff Cronin published his first book in 2005 at age 82. The Colour of Life is a collection of stories of life in Waterford during his childhood and early adulthood in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. This was followed by two further books that related tales of further adventures in Waterford and Dublin.

Thank you for dropping in today and you can read the previous chapters of The Colour of Life in this directory:

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/the-colour-of-life-by-geoff-cronin/

The Colour of Life – The Price of a Habit – 1937 – by Geoff Cronin


The Price Of A Habit – 1937 by Geoff Cronin

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 – 1923 – 2017

There were few jobs that Geoff could not turn his hands to, and over the years he mastered an impressive number of professional undertakings. Master baker and confectioner, mobile cinema operator, salesman, band leader, senior executive and master wood turner, storyteller and writer.

Geoff Cronin published his first book in 2005 at age 82. The Colour of Life is a collection of stories of life in Waterford during his childhood and early adulthood in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. This was followed by two further books that related tales of further adventures in Waterford and Dublin.

Thank you for dropping in today and you can read the previous chapters of The Colour of Life in this directory:

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/the-colour-of-life-by-geoff-cronin/

Please pop in tomorrow for another chapter from The Colour of Life.

The Colour of Life – The Station – 1936 by Geoff Cronin


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!”

About Geoff Cronin – 1923 – 2017

There were few jobs that Geoff could not turn his hands to, and over the years he mastered an impressive number of professional undertakings. Master baker and confectioner, mobile cinema operator, salesman, band leader, senior executive and master wood turner, storyteller and writer.

Geoff Cronin published his first book in 2005 at age 82. The Colour of Life is a collection of stories of life in Waterford during his childhood and early adulthood in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. This was followed by two further books that related tales of further adventures in Waterford and Dublin.

Thank you for dropping in today and you can read the previous chapters of The Colour of Life in this directory:

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/the-colour-of-life-by-geoff-cronin/

Please join me again next weekend for two more chapters from the book. thanks Sally

The Colour of Life – The Devil Finds Work 1936 by Geoff Cronin


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 – 1923 – 2017

There were few jobs that Geoff could not turn his hands to, and over the years he mastered an impressive number of professional undertakings. Master baker and confectioner, mobile cinema operator, salesman, band leader, senior executive and master wood turner, storyteller and writer.

Geoff Cronin published his first book in 2005 at age 82. The Colour of Life is a collection of stories of life in Waterford during his childhood and early adulthood in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. This was followed by two further books that related tales of further adventures in Waterford and Dublin.

Thank you for dropping in today and you can read the previous chapters of The Colour of Life in this directory:

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/the-colour-of-life-by-geoff-cronin/

Please join me again next weekend for two more chapters from the book. thanks Sally

The Colour of Life – How the Stable was built in 1936 by Geoff Cronin


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!!

***

Propositions made by a farmer to a prospective labourer.
I’ll give ye ten shillin’s a week and I’ll ate, or fifteen shillin’s and ate yerself
Ten shillin’s a week and the run of yer gums.
Ten shillin’s a week and yer peck.

©Geoff Cronin 2005

About Geoff Cronin – 1923 – 2017

There were few jobs that Geoff could not turn his hands to, and over the years he mastered an impressive number of professional undertakings. Master baker and confectioner, mobile cinema operator, salesman, band leader, senior executive and master wood turner, storyteller and writer.

Geoff Cronin published his first book in 2005 at age 82. The Colour of Life is a collection of stories of life in Waterford during his childhood and early adulthood in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. This was followed by two further books that related tales of further adventures in Waterford and Dublin.

Thank you for dropping in today and you can read the previous chapters of The Colour of Life in this directory:

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/the-colour-of-life-by-geoff-cronin/

Please join me again next weekend for two more chapters from the book. thanks Sally