Interview with Mary Nally, Ballyglunin

Killererin Heritage Society

Mary Nally, Ballyglunin
R.I.P. 11th January, 2014

Interviewed by Bernadette Forde and Mary Dunleavy, October, 2013

Early Years

I was born Mary Cunningham daughter to Sarah and Stephen Cunningham of Annaghill on 31st October 1918. I had 3 brothers, Patrick, Joe and Sean. My father was a farmer, ahead of his time in some ways. He had worked on a farm in Roscommon looking after a herd of 50 cows. In the days before tagging of cows was obligatory, he kept a notebook detailing the name of each cow, the daily milk yield and lactation period. My mother had a singer sewing machine and made my christening gown and shirts for my father. She also baked every day despite having severe arthritis in her fingers from an early age. Both my parents spoke Irish.


I attended school in Annagh N.S. from the age of 5. It was an all-girl’s school with approximately 100 pupils. The school consisted of 2 rooms. My journey to school was a ½ mile walk along the main road. Many of the children walked 3 or 4 miles across fields. Miss Dempsey was the school principal. Her nickname was Forty Coats. She cycled from her home in Ballinderry in all weathers carrying schoolbooks so she needed lots of coats. Mrs. Ryder was the junior teacher. Each year, the pupil’s parents brought an ass-cart load of turf to the school for the small open fire. An ash plant was the much used instrument of punishment. Franciscan Brothers from the local Brooklodge monastery taught in the nearby boy’s school.


At the age of 17, I moved to Dublin where I worked as a civil servant in the G.P.O., O’Connell St. I worked there for 10 years until my marriage in 1945. Bicycles were the most common mode of transport then. On 1 occasion, my friends and I cycled from Galway to Slea Head in West Kerry. We made a few stops en route and as there were no signposts during the war (World War 2) we inevitably lost our way. As it was getting late in the day, we called to a house for directions and a man in his nightshirt came to our aid. On another occasion, I cycled from Galway to Sligo for the races with my brother Sean, From Dublin. I frequently cycled to Arklow and once cycled to Waterford for the weekend. During the war, trains from Dublin to Galway ran on Mondays and Thursdays only.  Travelling home for a long weekend meant taking the bus to Athlone on Friday evening, staying there overnight and cycling to Annaghill on Saturday. The return journey was by train from Ballyglunin station on Monday. Due to a coal shortage the trains were fuelled by turf which resulted in a very slow journey.

During my time in Dublin, I played junior camogie with Dr. Crokes in the Phoenix Park. The club jersey consisted of a gold colour blouse and purple gymslip. I was a regular spectator at Croke Park on Sundays and on occasion attended 3 or 4 matches on the 1 day. I had the privilege of playing there once.

First Communion

For my First Communion, I wore a white dress made by my mother, a white veil and white shoes. My mother and I walked 3 miles to the parish church in Corofin and got a lift home from a neighbour in a sidecar. I don’t think it rained – it was June. Some weeks before, there was a religious examination in school by a very cross priest. Fr. Hannon was P.P. We didn’t have a camera so there were no photos.


I travelled to Corofin church with my parents in my father’s pony and trap and was confirmed by Archbishop Gilmartin. We still didn’t have a camera to take photographs of the day.


It was forbidden by the church to eat meat on Fridays. When father had potatoes or oats to sell, he would travel to the Galway Market (15 miles) in his horse and cart and bring home fish. Otherwise, we relied on a travelling fishmonger who called on Friday mornings with his donkey and cart. Marriages were not permitted during Lent and dances could only be held on St. Patrick’s night. The Mission was always held during Lent. The church was packed every night to hear the visiting priests breathing/roaring hell-fire and damnation and the fear of God into all present.


My parents reared geese, ducks and hens. Some days before Christmas, my father would kill a goose and pluck it. Mother prepared it and on Christmas Day, our goose was cooked in a cast iron pot on the open fire.
The duck down was used as filling for pillow cases. Pillow covers were made from bleached flour bags.  Mother would have made a Christmas cake which was very special as dried fruit was precious. A separate cake made with caraway seed was baked specially for my brother who disliked dried fruit.  One morning my eldest brother made a pot of tea and on drinking it realised he had put caraway seeds in the pot, ugh!


Priests had to be notified 3 Sundays in advance of an intended marriage. Letters of freedom were required when getting married outside of one’s own parish. On the 23rd October, 1945, at 9a.m. in The Church of the Holy Family, Aughrim St., Dublin, I married Austin Nally, Brooklodge. Our Best man was Johnnie O’Maille of Ballina village, later of Galway and bridesmaid was my best friend Bríd Madden from Co. Clare. Our honeymoon was spent in Belfast and Bangor Co. Down.


I then moved into the house in Brooklodge where Austin was born and reared. Austin’s grandparents moved from Ardacong, near Tuam to live there. His grandfather James and later his father Thady were employed as herdsmen on the Blake estate. Thady resided with us until his death in 1958 at the age of 92.
The house was once used as a barracks. A small room with no windows was used to hold prisoners. It was subsequently referred to as “The Black Hole”. The house was originally a single storey structure.  Threshing of corn took place in a room to the side.

In the 1920s, Austin’s older brothers had a garage behind the house from where they provided a car hire service. The service consisted mainly of conveying people who were emigrating to America and England to Ballyglunin station and bringing prospective brides to the church on their wedding day.  Austin drove a car at age 14 and could barely be seen behind the steering wheel. In the early years of our marriage, we were hosts to nightly sessions of card playing. Participants included the signalman and porter (between train times at Ballyglunin Station), the attractive post office assistant from next door and male neighbours from Ballina village. The most popular game was 25. Many a trump card was reneged on, under the light of the paraffin lamp which was suspended from the ceiling.


Stations were held in this house once every 12 or 13 years. Whitewash was prepared and internal and external walls were painted. White linen cloths were washed, starched and ironed specially for the occasion. The iron was heated from the open fire and when considered hot enough for the job in hand, a steel cover was attached. After the Mass, the priest dined on a boiled or poached egg in the parlour in the company of the householder. Neighbours and friends – totalling 32 – were treated to a fry which was cooked in a cast iron pan on the open fire. The priest was usually the first person to leave and as soon as he was out of sight, porter from a barrel and a bottle of whiskey were produced. The talk began in earnest. It was a wonderful social occasion.


Fairs were held locally 2 or 3 times a year in the villages of Abbeyknockmoy and Turloughmore. It necessitated rounding up the animals the day before, holding them in sheds or pens overnight and setting off early on Fair day. My father drove cattle to the fair in Athenry, a journey of 9 miles. He set out at 11p.m. the night before and walked through the night. When the cattle were sold, he returned home by train to Ballyglunin station. Bringing wethers (sheep) to the fair required a certain degree of agility as they were partial to grass in any field en route. In those towns and villages on the day after the fair, wheelbarrows, shovels and buckets of water were the order of the day.


At harvest time, the corn was cut with a binder and the sheaves were made into stooks around the field for drying. They were then transported to the haggard and built into large stacks. Some weeks later, Paddy Delaney arrived with his thresher and a meitheal in tow. It was dusty work. Rats could be seen scurrying in all directions. The oats were stored as feed for the animals and the straw was used as bedding. When the job was done all the men came back to the house for a meal of bacon and cabbage.  It was then on to the next farm.


Brooklodge has seen many changes over the years. The Blake family sold their Estate in 1964. It had been owned by them for 300 years. The Estate comprised of a Georgian house and 637 statute acres.  They had employed many local people. Of all the families resident in this area in 1945, ours is the only one remaining. Many new families have moved here in recent years so life continues.

(This interview and many others are included in our recently published parish history which is available to purchase at €25 through this website or in the following local outlets: Centra, Barnaderg; Barnaderg and Ballyglunin Post Offices; Spar supermarket, Abbeyknockmoy; Easons, Tuam or online via Kennys Bookshop, Galway.  Interviews were carried out with Margaret (Peg) Cleary, Michael Comer, John Cunnane, Joe Devaney, Mary Dolan, Peg Donnellan, Bríd Fahy, Maisie and Bea Fahy, Mary King, Christina Mannion, Mattie McGrath, Stephen McWalter, Margaret Monaghan, Ger Morris, Nellie Mulry, Pake Nicholson, Johnny Potter, Delia Shaughnessy, Fursey Whyte and Nora Williams.  Topics are varied and broad ranging and a joy to read)

This page was added on 14/04/2016.

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