Smorgasbord Short Stories – Milestones Along the Way – #Ireland #1930s – Divine Guidance by Geoff Cronin


Following on from The Colour of Life, my father-in-law Geoff Cronin wrote two more books with stories of life in Waterford and Dublin from the 1930s. He collected the stories on his travels, swapping them with others in return for his own and then treating us to the results of the exchange. Geoff also added some jokes overheard just for the Craic…Over the next few weeks I will be sharing selected stories from  Milestones Along the Way.

Divine Guidance

As a young boy I was intensely curious about everything and anything and one day I came across a man I knew digging a hole in a field.

When I asked him what was the purpose of the hole he told me he was digging a well to provide water for the owner of the field. After watching for some time I asked him how he knew where to dig and he picked up a fork of whitethorn which he had cut earlier and said, “I use this”!

I was fascinated as he explained all about water divining saying it was also called dowsing and how in ancient times water diviners were regarded by the church as being in league with the Devil. I picked up the twig and he showed me how to hold it, waist high and with the apex of the fork facing away from my body, and my hands with the palms facing up.

As I stood by the hole, holding the twig as instructed, it began to twist in my hands and ended up pointing down into the hole. It was a very weird feeling and the man laughed when he saw my face. “Be God boy you have it” he exclaimed. “You have a rare gift so you have. Now you know how to find water and it’s not everybody that can do that”!

A water diviner at work

A divining rod.

How to hold a divining rod.

I was elated and he gave me the whitethorn twig to keep and I couldn’t wait to tell my mother and the rest of the family. They all tried to do it and not one could succeed so I became a diviner and dowser through no fault of my own and enjoyed mild celebrity for a while.

Water divining became my party piece and though I never got anyone to “dig a hole” I could find existing water pipes, mains etc. It was many years later, when I put my talent to the test. It happened that my daughter bought a piece of land with the intention of building a house on it and she asked me if I could locate a source of water there. So I cut my twig and walked the land from all angles and located a strong reaction repeatedly in a certain spot which I marked. Subsequently a hole was bored there and a good source of water was found. So I was fully vindicated.

Over the years, I bought books on the subject of dowsing and discovered that builders, before excavating on a site often engaged a dowser to make sure there were no water tanks or reservoirs buried beneath the ground. They also got people with metal detectors but since these could not detect plastic pipes the dowser had the last word.

On a visit to Washington DC I wandered into that city’s biggest book shop – it was as big as a football pitch – and there I encountered an immaculately dressed manager, complete with sharkskin suit and rimless glasses. I asked him where I might find books on water divining.

“How’s that again sir”? He asked.

“Water divining” I repeated.

And he replied “all the new religions are down at the far end of the store”. I had to smile!

©Geoff Cronin 2008

Geoff Cronin 1923 – 2017

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.

I hope you have enjoyed this weeks stories from Geoff and I hope you will pop in again next Saturday. 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 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.