Peg Donnellan, Ballynakilla, Togher
Interviewed by Mary Dunleavy and Bernadette Forde 5th July, 2012
pps 463 - 471 Killererin - A Parish History
I was born into the Fahy family of Tygreenane, Barnaderg in 1932. My parents were Brigid Lyons and John Fahy and they earned their living on the family farm. When they got married, there was only a blessing in the Church as there was no Mass at the time. I had 6 brothers and 2 sisters and my Aunt Katie also lived in the house with us.
I married Michael Donnellan R.I.P. on 29th June 1963 the same day as President John F. Kennedy came to Galway city. I remember Pat Lyons on the wall outside the hotel with his walking stick, waving at the President. I have lived in Ballynakilla, Togher for 49 years as of today.
My Home Place
My home place was a typical house of the time. It had 2 bedrooms. All the girls slept in 1 room and the boys in the other. There was also a settle bed in the kitchen. A settle bed was a piece of furniture shaped like a long narrow rectangle which opened out to form a bed and blankets for the bed were stored in it. Some of the children slept here. It was a common piece of furniture in most kitchens at the time. The other rooms in the house were the kitchen, parlour (good room kept for special occasions) and eventually we had a bathroom. The house was whitewashed regularly on the outside and distemper was used as the paint of choice inside. The only heating the house had was the range cooker in the kitchen and the bedrooms had open fires where turf was burned. If it was a really cold night, we used to use an earthenware jar filled with boiling water to heat the bed.
Our house was lit by paraffin lamps and 1 of the girls’ jobs was to clean the globe (glass surround) and to keep the paraffin topped up. We also had paraffin lamps on the wall in the kitchen and parlour. Going to bed at night, we used to use a candle to see where we were going. Electricity came to the area in 1954 but my family didn’t get it until 1956. When the electricity came in 1954, I remember there was a dance in Comer’s Hall to celebrate.
Water from the Well
We got our water from a spring well behind our house. There was also a spring well behind Lyons’ house in the next village. They were my aunt and uncle.
Families in our village
The families that lived in our village when I was growing up were the Fahys, Boyles, William and Brigid Cunningham, Dan Cunningham Duggans, Joyce’s, Connells, Rooney’s and Mannions,. The families that died out of the village since were William and Brigid Cunningham, Duggans, Brigid Cunningham and Fahys.
Way of Life
My father was a farmer and also used to cut the hay and corn around for the neighbours as there was no other mowing machine in the neighbourhood. The women in the area used to knit and sew but in that small village, there was also weaving and Michael Fahy was the local blacksmith. Johnny Duggan (brother of Maureen Rooney) was the local carpenter. He had 2 girls but his wife died in hospital at the age of 29. She was Mannion from Brierfield. Pat Lyons,(Cottage) who was an uncle of ours and lived nearby, used to do the thatching as also did Willie Cunningham. Houses used to be thatched once a year usually before Christmas otherwise, in the summertime. The tools of thatching were a wooden mallet and scallops which were made from hazel rods.
When my brothers and sisters and I came home from school, we were expected to gather the eggs from the hens and make clean beds for them. In the summer, we used to make the hay into cocks of hay and make hay ropes to tie the cocks of hay down so that they would not blow away with the wind etc. We used to bind the oats and tie the sheaves of corn etc. Farming life was busy and there were many chores such as looking after the sheds, making butter and baking. We used to cook a big pot of potatoes for the hens over the fire and all the animals had to be looked after. We used to keep pigs, cows, calves, horses, donkey and sheep. I remember when the sow had her bonhams, we used to have to stay up at night with her or she would roll over on top of them. The horse was used for ploughing, tilling and sowing, bringing home the turf, hay and corn. The donkey also was a working animal, used more in the bog.
Killing the Pig
Killing the pig was a big farming tradition and the man that used to carry out that task in our village was Tommy Duggan. The first thing that was done was to tie the pig to the cart. He would be stretched out on top of the cart; and then his heart would be pierced with a sharp knife. The noise of his squealing could be heard for miles around. When the pig was blooded, the intestines were cleaned and filled with a mixture of blood, oatmeal, nutmeg, mixed spice etc. and made into puddings. The puddings were turned inside out and boiled in a pot with hay. I don’t really know why but maybe to stop them bursting. This work was usually done by the women and in the meantime the men got to work on the carcass. The skin was shaved with boiling water and then the carcass was filleted and salted and cut into fletches. Spare ribs and grisheens were given to neighbours.
Threshing was a big event on a farm. For the threshing, two people used to work together and a meitheal was formed with the neighbours who would all come to help. We would do the same for them, helping out on their farm when it was their turn. The housewife was also very busy getting dinner and tea for the workers.
Oats was the main crop sown, also some wheat and barley. Oats and barley were kept to feed the stock and poultry on the farm. The wheat when threshed was sold to a Mill and made into flour. Whole oats were fed to sheep and horses, sometimes oats would be brought to a local mill and rolled to be fed to cattle. The corn when brought into the farmyard would be made into stacks in the haggard, raised off the ground on a stand made of stones and timber. If the corn was left there over the winter the stacks would be thatched with straw held in place with scallops (made of hazel) and straw ropes.
The threshing machine was worked by a tractor probably a Fordson Major, (the maker of the Threshing machine was Garvie) with a pulley wheel and belt. There was a pulley wheel on both tractor and thresher. When the machine was up and running 2 people would work together, 1 on the stack would fork a sheaf to another man on top of the thresher to cut the band (tying it together) cutting the bands and feeding in to the thresher and another person would feed it into the drum. The corn came out one side and the straw on the other. The corn came out in 3 shoots into 2 cwt canvas bags attached by hooks and stored in the barn. The corn was graded, 2 shoots clean and 1 shoot with chaff in it. 1 or 2 people would look after the corn. On the other side, 2 men would be taking away the straw, 1 forking it to the other to make into a cock.
After the Threshing
When the threshing machine came into an area, they would thresh for all the farmers in the area or village. It was really a social event and when the day was over and the threshing was done, we would have a party and all the workers would share a lovely meal and there would be a sing song later. Paddy Delaney (R.I.P.) Ballina, Treacy’s, Ballyglunin and Delaney’s from Brierfield had threshing machines back then.
Horse-drawn threshing machines
Before threshing machines came to farms, some farms had their own machines worked by horses. The machine for threshing was in a shed connected on to a pole worked by 2 horses going round in a circle in the yard. The corn was then put through a machine called a winnowing machine to separate the corn from the chaff.
Before that, corn was separated from straw by a flail (beating the corn off) usually done in a loft between doors or windows to blow away the chaff. Straw was also used for bedding in sheds and oaten straw for thatching houses.
Some farms in the village would have visiting workers or Spailpin Fánach as they were known who used to come year after year and help picking the potatoes and beet and turnips. These would be transient workers who would sleep in the house and get their food and a small wage. Some were of a more permanent nature. I remember one of these by the name of Jim Hughes who stayed and worked in Curran’s house, Garra for many years and an O’Malley man used to come to Dunleavy’s of Barbersfort.
Going to Work
At that time, children usually went to work at 15 years of age, usually to the Co. Council and the ESB. Otherwise, they went at 16 or 17 to England or America. My brother John went to Dunmore to work in Collins’ shop at 17. He used to also help out on their farm as they had a mowing machine led by 2 horses and he was the only one able to use it as we had 1 at home. My brother Paddy went to Kildare working with Bord na Móna and before that went working in Henry O’Brien’s in the 1940s. In his early twenties he also went to a farm in Tipperary.
Common Ailments and cures
The common illnesses apart from the usual coughs and colds were TB, Appendix, Diphtheria and we never heard of cancer. Home cures for common ills would be chicken broth, senna (to purify the blood) and a hot flannel on the chest for infection. For toothache, we were told to smoke a pipe to kill the pain. Also another cure for toothache was pour whiskey on the affected area or take an aspro or an anadin tablet. I remember 4 people in the parish who were hospitalised for viral meningitis. They were my sister Mary, brother John, Willie Fleming and Sonny Farrington. Diphtheria and contagion were other serious illnesses. I recall a Conroy woman married to Dr. Grace who died of Diphtheria.
During the day, as a family, we enjoyed 2 full meals. Breakfast consisted of brown bread and a boiled egg. Dinner was at 1.30 or 2 and we usually had chicken or bacon both of which were home produced and plentiful. On a Sunday, we would have either roast chicken, beef or lamb followed by jelly and custard. Jelly was not like now it was like fine sugar then.
At Christmas time, we would go to town for the extra shopping. A goose would be bought for Christmas day but first we would have to sell our turkeys and ducks. The alcohol that would be bought would be porter and a Winter’s Tale (sherry). There would be no shortage of meat at Christmas time. We would also have rich cake and jelly and custard and a rare treat of chocolate. The sweets of the time were caramels, bull’s eyes, Peggy’s leg, liquorice snake and sticks of rock.
A travelling shop used to come to our door every week. We used to have 2 calls a week, 1 from Christy Mannion’s travelling shop and the other was Cheevers’ from Moylough. The eggs our hens produced used to pay for a lot of our weekly shopping. The items we used regularly buy were tea, sugar, flour, (sometimes raisins and currants), cigarettes. They would also have twig brushes and Clarke’s tobacco which was sold in ‘plugs’ (small rectangular shape) for sale.
Stations where Mass was celebrated by the priest in a house is still done today. When I was growing up, it was a huge affair to get ready for the Stations. A lot of carpentry work would be done around the house and painting and papering of walls etc. The neighbours would come in to help. The house was whitewashed. The walls were always painted white and the doors painted red. We used to have a half-door. Fr. Curran was the curate at the time. When he came to the house he would have his vestments in a box which he would bring with him. We also had to raise the table so the priest wouldn’t have to bend while saying Mass.
The priest was held in very high esteem and after Mass Fr. Kenny who was the Parish priest at the time along with his curate, and clerks (as the mass servers were known at the time) were served their breakfast in the Parlour (good room). The table would be set with an egg stand and saucer and egg spoons, side plate. As well as the boiled egg he would be given brown bread and cake. Nobody ate until the priest was finished.
Girls usually got married in their twenties. Men were usually in their late thirties or early forties. My own parents married in 1919. They had no Mass, just a blessing and prayers. After the Church, they came home to the Bride’s house for a few hours and then they took off in a trap down the same road until they came to his house. Neighbours would have a wisp (pitch fork with a sod of turf soaked in paraffin oil which was lit) and walked before the bride and groom to the house. All would enter the house and there was music and dancing until the early hours. At the time, there were a lot of “made marriages”, especially if land was involved.
Michael Donnellan and I got married in 1963 in Killererin church at 9 a.m. in the morning. I wore a white taffeta dress below the knee and we were married by Fr. McGauran. We went to the Warwick hotel afterwards for our reception. I remember someone singing ‘Shanagolden’ at the table. We had 100 people at the reception. The hotel provided the band. At 4 p.m. we took the train to Dublin, but got off in Athlone and stayed at the Shamrock Lodge from Saturday to Wednesday. When we returned home, Bea Monaghan had a party here in our house for us. Michael’s father and sister Kathleen lived in the house with us. Kathleen stayed just for 3 months when she left to get married.
Michael’s father used to work for Guinness’s when he got married but he always wanted to come home. When they eventually returned to Killererin he moved into a house opposite Sonny Jennings’. He was told if he waited awhile, they would get him land and eventually, he got this farm where I live today.
In summertime, we walked to school barefoot. We used to love that. I went to school in Cloondahamper. Mrs. White, who was an aunt of Rooney’s and mother of Fr. Oliver White, was a teacher there as was Mrs. O’Reilly from Louisburg. Mrs. Whyte had infants to 2nd class. Mrs O’ Reilly taught in Garra school before she came to Cloondahamper. She was the principal and had from 3rd class up. I remember children from Boyles, Duggans, Connells, Cunningham’s and Kelly’s going to school before their time to keep the numbers up. My brothers and I walked 2 miles to school. School started between 9 and 9.45. There was no shelter on our road so you could be soaked in wintertime. We were all in one room together. There were almost 65 pupils’ altogether. When Mrs. White left, other teachers followed. McManus, Costello, Connors, Julia Devane, Coolourty and Joe Ferry from Donegal. He used to cycle from Moylough. He was a good teacher and a lovely singer.
In primary school, we studied Irish English, Maths, Geography and history and did a primary cert in 6th class. When we made our First Holy Communion, we had a lot of catechism to learn and at that time, people used to kneel at the altar rails. We all wore white dresses and a veil.
If you were aged 11 or 12, you were kept home for potato picking, sometimes, the school would close for a week (October). Each family had to bring turf to heat the classrooms and it was the job of the 5th and 6th class pupils to light the fire for the teacher. The appointed pupil would get the key off the teacher and have the fire lit before class started. In the summertime, we used to pull wild flowers to put in fireplace. We also used to have a May altar on the window for the month of May. The girls from 3rd and 4th class used to have to do the dusting and cleaning of the school.
The desks were long and wooden and about 6 pupils used to sit to each desk. Each desk used to have ink wells and we used to write with a pen with a nib. Blotting paper was used to blot away our smudges. We used to play with plasticine and I also remember writing on slates with chalk.
When we were making our confirmation, we had 6 solid weeks of religion. We also used to have to go to Killererin every Sunday after dinner to answer questions on religion from Fr. Curran and Fr. John Sweeney. Garra, Cloondahamper and Barnaderg schools would all be together for this. For confirmation, we used to have a big and small catechism. Bishop Walsh was the bishop at the time. We wore a white dress and veil for the occasion with black patent shoes and white socks. Because of Fr. Curran’s connection with Garra, they were always confirmed first but we were delighted when Cloondahamper beat them. When we were confirmed, we got a medal. I remember being asked to spell balm and was delighted when I got it right.
I remember Fr. Sweeney got shell-shocked after the war in England. He was never the same after that. The people were very lonely after him when he left Killererin parish. The priests used to stay in Greaney’s in Lissavalley and later in Devane’s in Peak.
The games I can remember being played are rounders, skipping, hopscotch etc. I remember getting money from a teacher for skipping at school.
We used to go to Dan Cunningham’s who had a gramophone, for dancing and singing. We learned singing and dancing there. The Flemings too were all musical. It was the custom for the women to bring knitting and they used to sit around gossiping. On Bonfire night, a bonfire was always lit at the “Big Bush” which was literally just a big bush at the corner of Fahys. Turf and bog deal was used to light the fire. I remember Delia Cunningham burned her 2 hands at the bonfire 1 year. Kitty Cunningham used to sing and play the accordion. My mum used to knit navy socks for school. We used to go to Comers hall dancing and that is where I met my husband Michael who was a cousin of the Flemings. Priests used to give out about company keeping but still they used to come from Cooloo and Turloughmore and all around to Comers. Lizzie Connell made tea and sandwiches in Comers’ Hall and always fed the bands. Dances used to start at 9p.m. and go on to 3 in the morning. The men and the women would be lined up either side, men in collar and tie and hanky and watch and no doubt a packet of sweets in the pocket. Brylcreem and brilliantine would be in the hair.
For cattle, sheep and horses. March and October were the 2 big Fairs in Tuam. Fairgreen at the top of Tullinadaly hill on the right was the place to be in March if you had cattle, sheep or pigs and an extra day was laid on in October for horses, mostly yearlings and foals.
On Fair day, they would leave the house at approximately 2 a.m. and walk cattle and sheep to Tuam. The farmer would have help to drive the cattle etc. usually, neighbours or family members. They would have a flash lamp and stick and a person would go in front of the cattle to stop the stock from going into yards and gaps in field. On arrival in Tuam, they would stay on the streets and when it got bright they would move down to the Fairgreen (cattle).
On days of sheep fairs, the farmer would put down a pen in the Fairgreen with wire and stakes to hold the sheep the day before. Farmers had a certain place held each time of the Fair for their pen. When a buyer bought the cattle, they marked them with raddle and gave the farmer a ticket. The farmers would ask a certain price, and usually a deal would be done by the buyer involving other farmers. ‘Clapping of hands took place to seal the deal. The farmer went outside the bank to be paid cash by the buyer (name of bank would be listed on ticket). Then the farmer brought the cattle to the railway station to be transported to the buyer’s farm. The main buyers of cattle were the Bruton brothers (father and 2 uncles of John Bruton – former Taoiseach and Richard Bruton T.D.). Buyers always looked for luck penny after paying the farmer.
Sheep sold were usually a year old, ewe hoggets and weathers. Butchers would be buying weathers for killing. Ewes would be sold for breeding. The sheep then, were usually Galway breed.
Farmers sometimes went to Galway to fairs. They would usually leave the cattle etc. the day before at a farm on the outskirts of the city. Another fair, farmers usually attended was Ballinasloe for the Horse fair. Farmers bought foals and yearling fillies and colts, mainly Irish Draught, working breed. They would have kept the horses for a year or two and train them i.e. pulling a cart or ploughing and sell them on then to farmers. Horses bought were walked home as there were no horse boxes then, only bicycles to follow them.
Sheep shearing was another big day on the farm. The farmer would be gathering his sheep from early morning, setting up pens for sheep and the number of shearers would depend on the size of the flock. Usually, there would be eight to ten men shearing, a man with a crook catching the sheep, 2 people tying the wool and taking off all dirt (daggings) off fleece. Wool packs would be tied up to the rafters of shed held on 4 corners. Wool fleeces were put in packs and packed tight, when full, they were taken down and sewed with twine to fasten. Sheep when shorn were branded with farmers’ mark. Food and drink would be in plentiful supply that day – usually ½ barrel of porter tapped. A party was held when work was done. May was usually the month for shearing. Children on the farm helped carrying fleeces from field to shed for packing.
Stephen McWalter’s brother John was killed in world war 2. Joe Joyce’s sisters were nurses in the war. All letters that were written home were opened and censored in case any sensitive information relating to the war was inadvertently given out. When they were writing home, the girls used to say “Coffee was very hot” if the bombs were falling in London. Nora Connell (Tom Connell’s sister) died when her daughter was 2. Ration books were the order of the day; tea, sugar, bread and soap (Sunlight/Lifebuoy). pension books had coupons in them. The teacher and her husband would buy any surplus off my mother that she would have.
Banshee in Derrybaun – Johnny Gilligan in near Derrybaun. Peter and son John went to fair – left 2 girls (Connells) home and heard the banshee.
Hawthorn was never lit in the house (it was considered bad luck).
If you met a person with red hair, and you were on your way to the fair you’d have to turn back.
If you had a thorn bush, it was considered bad luck to remove it.
Duck eggs were buried in ditches to bring bad luck to people.
Fóidin na Mara – couldn’t find your way out – but if you put your jacket on inside out, that would sort the problem.
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