Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives -#Memoir #Waterford #Ireland #History – The Colour of Life – The Rosary 1955 by Geoff Cronin


My father-in-law, Geoff Cronin was a raconteur with a encyclopedic memory spanning his 93 years. He sadly died in 2017 but not before he had been persuaded to commit these memories of his childhood and young adulthood in Waterford in the 1920s to the 1940s.

The books are now out of print, but I know he would love to know that his stories are still being enjoyed, and so I am repeating the original series of his books. I hope those who have already read these stories will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

This week is the last story in the series and next week I will begin sharing one of Geoff’s other books which I hope you will enjoy.

The Rosary 1955

On February 16th 1949 I married Joan Flanagan in St. John’s Church, Waterford at eight o’clock in the morning. The priest who officiated was Rev. John Flynn, my wife’s first cousin, the best man was Jack Flanagan and the bridesmaid was Irene Murray, both first cousins of my wife.

I was employed by Irish National Insurance Company Ltd. As a clerk, and my pay was four pounds twelve shillings and seven pence weekly. My wife earned three pounds a week working as a book-keeper in Jack Flanagan’s Fish and Poultry business, and our rent on 30 St. Ursula’s Terrace was nine shillings and sixpence per week.

Pregnancy dictated that my wife quit her job in June of that year, and it soon became obvious that my income would not support us, so I went “moonlighting” as a free-lance pianist for local dance bands. The rates were one pound for an 8–12 dance, and one pound ten shillings – maybe two pounds – for a 9–3.

In time, we moved house to 46 Lr. Newtown, and by 1955 I had my own dance band, still moonlighting, the job was slightly better, and I had four children, but that’s another story.

Geoff & Joan Cronin Wedding Photo

At the outset of our marriage, my wife being a religious woman, it was decided that we should say the family Rosary every day. So, each evening after dinner, the family would kneel down, elbows on chairs, and recite the five decades of the Rosary plus “the trimmings”. The latter consisted of prayers for deceased family members, for the souls in Purgatory, for the canonisation of Blessed Martin etc. etc. and took half as long as the Rosary.

But, what with travelling all day and moonlighting until four or five in the morning, the Rosary had a hypnotic effect on me and I would “nod off” after the first decade. I just could not stay awake and only responded with “Holy Mary, Mother of God etc.” whenever my wife gave me an elbow in the ribs, which was frequently! She was a pragmatic woman, God rest her, and it was agreed that however short my night’s rest would be, I would not be disturbed before 8 a.m., and if any of the children woke during the night, she would get up and attend to them.

I came home one morning about 4.30 a.m. after playing at a dance, fell into bed exhausted, and fell fast asleep immediately. I was not to know that one of the children who was teething had got my wife out of bed five or six times, and she was exhausted too, and her temper not the best. When the child woke again and cried fit to wake the house, she prepared to get up yet again when she beheld me fast asleep and snoring gently.

It was the last straw! She decided that I should be the one to get up and see to the child now crying loudly. To that end, she gave me a smart elbow in the ribs and got the instant response “Holy Mary Mother of God” etc. Well, worn out as she was, that good lady just had to laugh as she resignedly got up and soothed the child, and she told this story many times against me over the years that followed.

©Geoff Cronin 2005

About Geoff Cronin

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

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

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

Thank you for visiting today and I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of Waterford in the 1930s and 1940s courtesy of Geoff Cronin. As always your feedback is very welcome. thanks Sally.

Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives -#Memoir #Waterford #Ireland #History – The Colour of Life -Cattle Dealing and The Ferguson Tractor 1948 by Geoff Cronin


My father-in-law, Geoff Cronin was a raconteur with a encyclopedic memory spanning his 93 years. He sadly died in 2017 but not before he had been persuaded to commit these memories of his childhood and young adulthood in Waterford in the 1920s to the 1940s.

The books are now out of print, but I know he would love to know that his stories are still being enjoyed, and so I am repeating the original series of his books. I hope those who have already read these stories will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

This week’s audio track is a tall fishing tale.. The Haul of Bass as narrated by Geoff Cronin

 

Cattle Dealing and The Ferguson Tractor 1948

ACT I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corcoran’s heavy voice cut through his vision –

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

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

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

Cooper opened – “A hardy morning there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For what?” said Cooper, completely mystified.

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

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

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

“Good look” he murmured as the door closed.

ACT II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ay, good luck Jim” said Willie.

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

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

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

***

Postscript

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

©Geoff Cronin 2005

About Geoff Cronin

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

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

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

Thank you for visiting today and I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of Waterford in the 1930s and 1940s courtesy of Geoff Cronin. As always your feedback is very welcome. thanks Sally.

 

Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives -#Memoir #Waterford #Ireland #History – The Colour of Life – The Nuns At The Glue Pot 1946 by Geoff Cronin


My father-in-law, Geoff Cronin was a raconteur with a encyclopedic memory spanning his 93 years. He sadly died in 2017 but not before he had been persuaded to commit these memories of his childhood and young adulthood in Waterford in the 1920s to the 1940s.

The books are now out of print, but I know he would love to know that his stories are still being enjoyed, and so I am repeating the original series of his books. I hope those who have already read these stories will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

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

You can listen to Geoff telling this story or read… either way I hope you will enjoy…

 

The Nuns At The Glue Pot 1946

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Note:

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

©Geoff Cronin 2005

About Geoff Cronin

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

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

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

Thank you for visiting today and I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of Waterford in the 1930s and 1940s courtesy of Geoff Cronin. As always your feedback is very welcome. thanks Sally.

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


My father-in-law, Geoff Cronin was a raconteur with a encyclopedic memory spanning his 93 years. He sadly died in 2017 but not before he had been persuaded to commit these memories of his childhood and young adulthood in Waterford in the 1920s to the 1940s.

The books are now out of print, but I know he would love to know that his stories are still being enjoyed, and so I am repeating the original series of his books. I hope those who have already read these stories will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

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

 

Here is today’s story from the book….


Work on a Timber Gang – 1942

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

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

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

The Timber gang – Mikey, Jack, Dan and Petey

Carman Petey Welsh and helper at Bessborough Estate Winter 1942.

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

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

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

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

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

Yours truly On the Timber Gang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carman Petey Welsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunch break with my brother Dick

***

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

©Geoff Cronin 2005

About Geoff Cronin

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

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

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

Thank you for visiting today and I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of Waterford in the 1930s and 1940s courtesy of Geoff Cronin. As always your feedback is very welcome. thanks Sally.