Mary (Mai) Flynn was born on December 14th, 1921. She was the first child born to Michael and Nora Flynn (nee Mannion from Killererin). Her grandfather, Peter Flynn, had moved with his family from Kilmore to Creevaghbawn when the lands there were “striped” by the Irish Land Commission in the early 1900s. From her early years she remembers attending Christmas parties which were organised for the local people by Bobby Burke in Toghermore.
Six more girls were born to Michael and Nora in the following years – Annie (R.I.P.), Eileen (R.I.P.), Margaret, Delia, Norah (who died at the age of four months) and Julie. Mai attended Aughaglorah N. S. but the emphasis on education in the late 1920s and early 30s was not what it is today!
At the age of eighteen Mai emigrated to Manchester. She worked in the White Horse Hotel and as the Second World War took hold, she went to work in a munitions factory in Eccles, Manchester. She took lodgings with her cousin, Sheila Cusack, nee Bodkin from Kilmore. She has vivid memories of working twelve-hour night shifts and queuing for rations in the morning. She remembers the air raid sirens, the bomb shelters, total blackouts and the bombing raids.
Return to Creevagbawn to get married
Mai returned to Creevaghbawn in 1943 and married Patrick Coen from Clogherboy in January 1944. Their first child, Michael, was born in January 1945 and he was followed by Joe, Gerry, Bernie, Tom, Pat, Mary T., Noel, Pete, Norrie and Joan in the following twenty years.
Life on a small farm
Life on a small farm was not easy in the 1940s and 50s and Mai was no stranger to work on the farm. Like many women of her time she helped out with tying oats, sowing and picking potatoes, weeding beet and many such jobs where an extra pair of hands was invaluable. This was the age of self sufficiency when two pigs were killed each year and every farm had its quota of hens, ducks, geese and turkeys. But this meant more labour intensive work as extra pots of “spuds” were boiled daily to feed the pigs and poultry. Cows had to be milked by hand, calves fed, sheep sheared and turf saved in a never ending cycle of farm work.
This was the age of the travelling shop when a few score of eggs went a long way in paying for the few groceries which had to be purchased each week. Twenty or more turkeys were ready for sale at Christmas to help pay a few bills and buy Christmas presents.
Working in Tuam Sugar Factory
Patrick Coen worked in the Tuam sugar beet factory for many years during the annual beet “campaigns” and though life was difficult, combining shift work with heavy winter farm work, the wages were a great boost to the low income of a farm.
Death of her parents
While Mai worked on the farm in the early years she was lucky to have her mother, Nora, who helped to rear the children. Nora died in July 1973 at the age of 79 having been predeceased by her husband, Michael in 1950.
Death of her husband
Mai suffered a great loss in November 1993 when Patrick died unexpectedly but she recovered from her loss and, despite a few visits to hospital in recent years, she is looking forward to the President’s cheque in ten years time.
(Mai has gone to her eternal reward since the publication of this article. Ar dheis Dé gi raibh a h-anam dílis.)