Part 3 - LIFE OUTSIDE THE
"Killeen's pub in Shannonbridge
marked our southern boundary."
"When you have a bit of
ground they think you're in God's pocket."
It was backward
countryside all along the Shannon bank; so during the struggle for independence,
or The Troubles as we say, this was a favourite place for the boys on the run.
They moved back and forth from Carricknaghton or Clonown to Clonbonny and from
Clonbonny back up to Ballinahowen. As there was no road into Lower Clonbonny
there was no way the Black and Tans could pursue the lads with their lorries.
One of my uncles used to stay out at night on the road listening for the Crossley
Tender while the boys were sleeping. As I said before there were few mechanically
propelled vehicles that time other than what the army had.
A number of
well known freedom fighters slept around here when they were on the run. One
of them was Jim Tormey who was shot "adout" at Cornafulla; he was "waked" above
at the end of the Long Island, in a place called Curraghbui. The Old IRA buried
him in Clonmacnoise but, and isn't it a terrible thing, the Tans dug up his
corpse the next day. Then there was George Adamson, Brigadier General George
Adamson, who was shot in Athlone. I remember the old people talking about other
boys like Paddy Logan from Carricknaghton, a Dowling fellow from St Kieran's
Terrace, and Gerald Griffin.
I knew of only
one close shave; it happened when The Tans came in one morning through Kilgarvan
Glebe from the Ballinahowen direction. Con Costello from Kilgarvan, who was
on the run himself, came down this way roaring to the boys that the Tans were
coming. But they were too lazy to get out of the bed and were almost caught.
The Tans fired at them but they were able to escape down the callows and across
the Shannon. None of them were hit but the people who had been sheltering them
got a bad going over with butts of rifles.
As I grew older
I became aware of different agitation and strange happenings in the dark of
the moon. At the time the big estates were being divided under the Ashbourne
Act of 1885 and the Windham Act of 1903. I think the landlords were offered
a 12% bonus above the market value of the land from the British government to
sell out. In any case some of the landlords didn't want to sell; however there
was a method of putting pressure on them known as "cattle driving". The idea
was that a crowd of men who wanted land divided went in on a landlord's estate
and drove off his cattle during the night. The landlord then might have to spend
two or three days looking for his cattle. It was arranged that only one man
per household was involved at any one time; the idea was that if men were arrested
or questioned by the guards there were always others from the different households
to take over.
We had no police
force here in 1922 but I remember both my uncles being arrested by the Free
State army for cattle driving. The arresting party was lead by Lieutenant Jimmy
Duffy who later became a building contractor in Athlone. I remember seeing the
soldiers sitting in this kitchen with their brand new rifles. My uncles were
brought to Athlone Castle where they had a great time until they came before
a J P, or Justice of The Peace, named Michael Hughes of Dublingate Street. He
was sympathetic to their cause so the case was dismissed and my uncles were
released for lack of evidence; however they were never seen driving cattle again.
One of the
cattle drives I remember was when cattle were beaten into the river on this
side and were forced to swim across the river to the Roscommon side. On another
occasion cattle were beaten into the Boar river which flows into the Shannon
south of the Long Island; they then beat them up onto the road at Bloomhill
and some of the cattle got nearly as far as
they were collected. Cattle driving was just one of the many ways people tried
to annoy landlords in the hope that they would eventually sell their land and
This is the
content of an old newspaper cutting I found in the house:
"Raids in the
Midlands, farmers house looted.
Armed men raided
the residence of Mr Robert Geelan, Currygranny, Athlone, a Protestant farmer,
locked him up in a room for hours while they kept carting away valuable property
worth hundreds of pounds and removed 26 head of fat cattle from his farm. That
night Mr Geelan was removed blindfolded to an unknown destination, from which
he escaped. Mr Geelan has been the victim of numerous raids and annoyances for
Jas. Mullins, Bernard and Kieran Nally and Patk, Farrell, Clonbonny,
near Athlone were remanded in custody until next District Court by Dr Thos.
P McDonnell, P.C., at Athlone, charged with intimidation with firearms of Mrs
by threatening her that if her son did not leave the employment of Mr George
Allen, of Creggan,
a Protestant neighbour, she would be shot. Macken and Mullins were further charged
with having on 14th inst. held up Mrs Scally and her son on the public highway
at Garrycastle and used threats against her because her son worked with Mr Allen."
When my grandfather
was young he and my uncles brought turf to town by water in big boats called
cots. By the way there were no boat builders in Clonbonny; our boat builders
were in Athlone - the Wards and a crowd above at Brick Island called Kinnevey.
The next nearest boat builders were down at Shannonbridge. In any event cots
were like small Galway Hookers; they were broad beamed and 25 feet long and
they were worked with a long pole on one side and an oar over the deep. The
pole was like a scaffolding pole with a spike at the end of it and it was used
along the bank. My people used to carry about seven ass-loads of turf at a time
and when they reached Athlone they pulled in at the weir wall. They brought
their cleeves with them so they could cart the turf up the laneways of the town.
Townspeople bought a cleeve or two at a time and of course there were bigger
orders from places like the military barracks, the Woollen Mills and Hobby's
Sawmill. Lots of other people brought turf to town in cots; Sidney Shine's father,
who later became a manager in Lyster's, brought turf in a cot from Curraghnaboll
to Athlone. In later years it was more usual to use an ass and car for this
But in general
everyone walked into town and I believe when I came here as a child there were
only two bicycles in the townsland. All the walking was done cross-country;
the people went through the fields till they hit the railway line at Bunnahinly
and then they walked the railway line until they came to Bonavalley bridge.
Usually they went to St Mary's church or the Friary. At that time you had to
fast from midnight the night before if you wanted to go to eight o'clock Mass
and receive Communion. So you had to walk for two hours without a bit in your
stomach. But the long walk didn't seem to matter because when there was a Mission
in town the people used to go night and morning to the church. I remember as
a child being brought to the old Friary where there was an upstairs gallery.
There were some wonderful carved wooden statues there. Years later I saw the
present Friary being built on part of what was the Allen estate.
Of course we
sometimes went to Mass in Clonown on the other side of the river. We used to
pull down the river from the Nally place and across the river by the lower end
of Long Island; then we used to walk up the fields where we'd pass people like
Tim or Lawrence Geoghegan, or one of the Curleys.
going to Mass I remember as a young fellow often going to the bridge of Athlone
on a Saturday morning and watching the Ganlys and other islanders coming with
boxes of eels, perch and pike. There were three fish women who used to scale
perch: Mrs Brohan, Mrs Duffy and another person whose name I can't remember.
There were usually more scales on Mrs Brohan then on the perch. Sometimes they
skinned the fish but it takes a good perch to make him worth skinning.
house to house was one of the few pastimes we had in the old days. Our boundaries
were limited and we mostly relied on local news and gossip. We talked about
farming, cutting turf, saving hay or the little things that happened such as
a fellow falling into a drain.
In this world
with no wireless and just the occasional newspaper strangers, and especially
tramps, always caused a stir. Most of the tramps who came around here were decent
old men who had travelled Ireland. When the lads saw them heading for one of
their usual houses they'd all flock there in the evening. If you were to see
the rapt expression on their faces as they sat round the fire listening to the
yarns from these travelling encyclopaedias! They were mines of information and
they'd have stories from off down in the South Riding of Tipperary or from up
in the Glens of Antrim. One story would lead to another; perhaps they'd tell
a story about some "strong" farmer down in Cork and how his cattle broke out
and ate some poisonous shrub and died, one after the other.
At night the
tramp lay across the fire after it had been raked; bread and butter and tea
were all he got but of course if you gave him more he'd eat all you hoisted
on him. He usually had a round ball of a canvas bag, nearly like a plum pudding
on a stick. You'd be amazed at what he'd pull out of it - it seems he wasn't
blessed with a lot of pockets - everything was mixed up together. As a child
I remember watching an old wizened tramp rooting in his bag; I saw him taking
out a grain of oaten meal, a pipe, a bit of tobacco, old clothes and more food
down at the bottom. The next morning I studied his every movement until he started
off out the road again.
The Red Beggar
Man and a little fellow, Pat in the Car, up from the north of Ireland, either
Longford or Cavan, were regular visitors. Pat had a little car like a barrow
with three shod wooden wheels, one in front and two behind. He used to sit on
a seat and press himself along with two sticks with iron spikes. He had little
short legs and a fully-grown man's body. He was a brilliant chat.
We also had nice old women
who come out from Athlone. One of them snuffed so you could smell her a mile
away. She used to have a little mustard box full of snuff and she'd give my
granny a pinch of it whenever she came. We used to give her a "lock" of eggs
or spuds and she'd get a sup of tea before she'd go.
Rioch's Monastery, Inisbofin, Lough Ree
sun is setting as I drift near clustered trees
lazy mind is listening to the murmur of some bees
a saintly hush
draws me near
upon the rocky shore, a pilgrim, rapt, unseen
is captivated where saintly men have been
a wave, a muffled sound, from over by the shore
it the voice of Rioch on his island home once more?
the scene is changing as I climb to the ancient place
no longer fallen down, full of benediction's grace
and gaze a moment, unseen by the saintly throng
lifts to heaven on clouds of pious song
the bees from droning; to some monks in gentle chant
Lord above their maker they praise his loving hand
too is talking to the Lord of all the lake
creatures all around their evening homage make
the hymn is dying and the saintly men depart
the little tasks which keep them on this earth
fire is out, their smoke still curling through the trees
men were not God's sowers but His fully ripened seeds!
On the river
my travelling was confined to one or two miles north or south of Clonbonny
as I couldn't afford an engine. However, I'd row for the rounds of the day
and the Long Island, Calf Island and Wren Island were second homes to me.
Devenish island and Killeen's pub in Shannonbridge marked my southern boundary
and the hazel bushes of Yew Point in Lough Ree were as far north as I went.
of Clonmacnoise and his disciples must have had a better way of travelling
than me because they had monasteries up and down the river. St Rioch set up
a monastery on Inisbofin in the middle of the lake and I believe the ruins
of a monastery can be seen there to this day.
back to the country near at hand, I should mention that in the old days the
Wren Island was a graveyard for unbaptized children; there were several other
such graveyards or "kileens" nearby. One was about a mile across the fields
from here at a place called Shankhill on Willie Byrne's farm. It was at the
side of a hill which was once part of the Johnston estate. I think way back
there must have been an old church or a monastery there.
neighbours were the Hensons. Every night at about eight o'clock the old man
Mike used go out to milk the cows. After about 20 minutes he'd come in and
take down the melodeon from the top of the press and say, "This is an auld
tune I thought of and I sittin' under the cow; I didn't play it this years
and I said while it was in my mind I'd come in and play it." So he'd come
in and play before going out to continue the milking. His brother, Jimmy,
who could neither read nor write, had songs to the world's end; he might have
the odd word wrong but he'd have a word that sounded like the right word.
go into Hensons any night and say, "Mike give us an auld tune" and the next
minute there'd be a crowd in for a dance. Mike used to change the music depending
on who was dancing and how good they were. I've never seen a half set on the
television or anywhere else like the one that was danced along the Shannon.
Apart from the usual "all hands in", swinging and so on it had about eight
figures and a chorus after each figure.
In the early days nearly
every house and stable was thatched in the winter. The people could only
do a bit of their house each year because they only had about half an acre
of oaten straw. Hazel rods were also necessary for thatching but there was
no shortage of them because it was all a hazel coppice up on the hill of
Knockinae. These bushes were regularly trimmed back to the stumps and new
shoots kept growing; so there was a continued supply of new hazel rods.
If you leave a hazel bush uncut it gets scraggy and blocks out the light;
fewer and fewer nuts grow and the auld bush eventually dies off. Anyway,
I saw bundles of hazel rods for sale up near the courthouse in Athlone,
outside Murrays, the salt store, or Grenham's. They were a shilling for
a bundle of a 100.
A bit of thatching.
You could make three two-foot
staples from each bundle. To make a wooden staple or clamp we beat the rods
with a mallet and then twisted them. Finally we put a sally "stretcher"
across the width of the straw and into the staples. We also called these
staples "scollops"; a word which must come from the Irish scolb. This puts
me in mind of the expression: "Ní hé lá na gaoithe
lá na scolb," the windy day is not the day for the scollops.
fellow could put up a bit of thatch but if you wanted a perfect job you got
the expert. The best thatchers around here were Peter Nally, from Nally country
up by the Shannon, a lad out from Knockinea, Bill Daly, and Tommy Hickey from
down below where Fintan Nally's big shed is. They were three very good thatchers.
It was all straw thatching in those days. We didn't use reeds because all
you have by the Shannon of reeds wouldn't be the breadth of the kitchen. I
know that up in Lough Ree there are acres and acres of reeds, but that was
a long way for the people to go in the old days.
I can thatch
myself and for years everyone was annoying me and telling me that I should
apply for the grant to replace the thatch on my house. They annoyed me so
much that "begad" didn't I apply. After a while an inspector came from the
County Meath to look at my work and measure the house. The next thing didn't
I get a letter saying that the Minister had accepted my application and that
I would be getting £733.