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A Farm Workers Story

by John. Manning, originally of Tirnaspideoga, Inchigeela, Co. Cork.

In the 1930s, the late Seán O Críodáin, beannacht De lena hanam, who was a schoolmate of mine, sat and passed an examination and was awarded a scholarship to Carysfort Preparatory Training College in Dublin.  His first appointment was to a three- teacher school in Rathpeacon, the most easterly townland in the parish of Blarney, in the Diocese of Cloyne.  In a few years the principal retired and Sean was upgraded.  The school was comparatively new, built in 1932, on a site purchased from a local farmer named Dick Walsh, near the Mallow road.

  Mr. Walsh had a daughter married to a Mullane man at Rathduff, halfway between Cork and Mallow.  When a little girl of theirs got to schoolgoing age it was a goodly distance to Grenagh on one hand, or Burnfort on the other.  It is now 1945 and though the war is over, there is still no petrol for private cars.  It was decided, or agreed, that the child, Mary, came down to the grandparents, uncles and aunts and attend Rathpeacon School. Sean became friendly with the Walsh's and they with him.

Walsh senior had retired.  The son had a Milk Contract with a milkman named Bill Flynn at Dillon's Cross on the North side of the City, four miles away. In the 40's, we  had  long warm summers and milk wouldn't hold or 'keep' for 24 hours.  There was as yet no electricity and the fridge was not invented.  Consequently milk had to be delivered twice a day, 8.30 in the morning and 4.30 in the afternoon.  These deliveries occupied much of the farmer's time.  Sean Ó Criodáin was asked if he knew any young fellow west along who would be willing to come along and do the needful.  Sean contacted his brother Danny and mentioned that perhaps one of the Mannings of Teernaspideoga would be interested.  Danny gave me the letter to read.  A good character was given of the Walsh's, and I have no doubt but the same was given of me to them.  There was no mention of their being extensive farmers.  Of course I jumped at the job.  It would be cushy, or so I thought.  Little did I know what I was letting myself in for.

In a few days a letter arrived telling me to come along, and directions on how to get there, and to bring my ration book.  Tea, sugar, butter and flour were still rationed.  I bought a bicycle from the late Jack Sweeney of Tooreenlahard - he lived near me at the time.  I tied up my few belongings and headed on for Coachford, Dripsey, Canon's Cross, Cloghroe, Tower, Blarney, Monard Shovel Mills, which was in it's heyday at the time, up the Boreendarg, on to the Mallow Road and there was the School,  and Walsh's a few hundred yards further on.  It was the month of September.  They had threshed the week before.  I arrived around mid-day.  Jim, my boss, introduced himself and Mary, a sturdy lively girl who was to call me in the morning at 7 o'clock.
After a meal the afternoon was spent tidying up the stallyard and washing and greasing the milk-butt (as it was called) and the runners.  It was shaped much the same as the old farmer's manure butt, but was a lighter structure and mounted on springs.  A nine inch-wide length of board stretched across served as a seat.  In a few hours a brother Sean arrived home from Dunlops.  Later, another brother Dermot arrived from the O.K. Garages, and yet again another brother Dick arrived home from University, where he was doing medicine.  He qualified in 1948 and took up duty or practice in Wakefield Hospital in Leeds.  That wasn't all - the next to appear was a posh lady off a bus.  Her name was Nellie, a Milliner in Mannix & Culhane's in Washington Street.
Boy, was I embarrassed and felt very much out of place.  All were strong hefty men and I discovered later that they were on the local tug-of-war team.  The old man used boast that he had four sons to shoulder his coffin to Grenagh Cemetary.  Strangely enough, three of them have long since gone to their eternal reward.

With such a large number in the household there was no way I could be accommodated therein.  I was given a bed in a loft over a storehouse of various farm equipment - a harrow, a scuffler, a seed machine, as well as two-prong pikes, four prong pikes and shovels, but no foodstuff.  My room was approached by a step ladder.  I say "step", not rungs.  As yet there was no toilet facilities in either building.  A two-inch-square wooden chute, out through the wall at the back, served as a urinal.  It was stuffed with some material to keep out the draught.  Rural Electrification had not come this way just yet, but households were being canvassed before I left.  A candle and matches got me to bed, and write a note home.  I felt extremely down-hearted and disappointed.  However, the bed was comfortable and I slept well.

Morning came, Mary called, cows driven in, milking by hand, pony rounded up and harnessed, a hurried breakfast and off we went, Jim accompanying.  Rathpeacon is a high townland - well, at least it's not level like the adjoining townlands - down Sweeney's Hill, on to the Commons Road, over Blackpool Bridge, into the Watercourse Road, Leitrim Street, Coburg Street, McCurtain Street, up Summer Hill to St. Luke's, where I was to collect the Examiner each morning, and woe betide me if I should forget,  up Ballyhooley Road to Dillon's Cross and there was O'Flynn's at No. 152 Sun Row.  At this stage now the delivery would be down to the one run per day.  I was introduced to O'Flynn, his wife, two sons and two daughters, each having their own areas, delivering milk in pints and quarts from door to door.  The Contract was for 16 gallons per day, or as near as.  If the supply showed slackening off, an extra milking cow was purchased.  We emptied our churns, and on the way home Jim took me to another O'Flynn's in Oliver Plunkett St., butchers, where I was to collect rashers and sausages every Saturday.  Eugene Sullivan, Lios, worked here.  Next on to Rice's Cash Stores in Grand Parade where I was to collect the week's groceries - this was a standing order.  Next, to Kingston's in Shandon Street where I was to call occasionally for sheep's heads for greyhounds, and lastly to McLernon's at Blackpool Bridge for three pr. bread each day.  There were no cars or lorries or trucks on the streets, only all horses and ponies.  My pony would stay 'put' at my stops provided I secured one wheel with a short length of chain and a hook.

From the highest point of the land on a clear day I could see Shehy, like an upturned eggcup, some forty miles away in the distance.  The highland of Mashanaglish outside Macroom hid the view of Douce and Doughill.  A view of the three peaks could be seen, again, on a clear day from a point a few hundred yards past the Fox and Hounds Pub on the road to Templemichael from Dillon's Cross.  Come Saturday night and my pay was beside my tea-plate  1.5/-, 25 shillings, and my card stamped.  After a year the pay increased to  1.8/-, and I had   1.11/- when I left in 1947.  There was no half-day or day-off, or holiday.  It would be many a long day before a body would be a millionaire on that kind of money of 25 shillings per week of seven days.
Stretches of the Mallow Road and the Cork to Dublin Railway could be seen from every part of the land.  When three buses went out in the evening it was time to stop,
one bus for Newmarket, one for Limerick and one for Newcastlewest, and when a mail train arrived from Dublin it would be 6 o'clock.  Should it occur that we wouldn't see the buses, we would hear the Angelus Bells or the hooters from the Sunbeam and Gouldings factories.
One morning, a year later in 1946, I had delivered my milk and was returning to the farm. I had traveled twenty yards, when, lo and behold, a link in the ridgeband gave way and the shafts dropped down, not to the ground, but as far as the chains of the britchen allowed.  The pony, which was normally an easy going animal, dashed off at an alarming rate, and no amount of pulling or tugging would get her to slow down.  Off down Ballyhooly Road and Summerhill to the Coliseum, three quarters of a mile, when I got on the level I thought I could get her in check, but no!  Passersby stared at me, taking me to be a ferocious driver.  I can tell you it was no laughing matter.  "An té ná bhfuil láider, ní foláir do beit glic".  What did I do, but guide her on to a tubular bus sign and got one shaft inside it.  That held her, but with the force of the impact, I was pitched forward over the pony's head on to the street.  Luckily I wasn't hurt but was in shock.  It was my good fortune that the harness had no spikes sticking up.  Several people came to my assistance with twine and straps.  The sign was bent over from the vertical to the horizontal.  I cannot remember if there was a  Garda on the scene.  A week later Walsh got a bill for 10/-.  He wasn't very pleased.  I could have been killed.

Come 1947 and rationing was discontinued and petrol was beginning to flow once more.  A method of farming that Walsh and his neighbour had was to club together on a Saturday when the brothers were off, and hire a lorry to draw four, five or six loads from the Corporation Dungyard.  Refuse at that time was mostly horse dung and household ashes.  It was filled and emptied with four prong pikes.  This was brought along and emptied near the heap of farmyard manure, which was a feature on every farm at the time.  This heap was mostly straw and was cut in berches with a hay knife.  The occasional bits of glass and broken bottles were to be found in the Corporation manure.  On a day when Jim and self were forking over the manure, we put the glass to one side on the ground, to be collected later.  Teatime came up, off with the boots and in.  When we had sat at the table the old man went out and when he saw where we had left the glass he came in in a fury and banged our two heads together.  It hurt me pretty well , and I can tell you, as well as hurting physically, it hurt my dignity.  I had a good mind to smash my cup into his face, but I held my peace.  He never apologised or said he was sorry.  He was the type of man who would do the same on the morrow, if the occasion warranted.  I could never care one whit for him after that, and I left soon after.

John Manning, October, 1999