Pake Crehan of Rushestown Newbridge has seen a lot in his 88 years. “A little stiff but otherwise in good nick” was how he described his state of health when we spoke about old times in the company of his wife Delia and some of the extended family in their comfortable home recently.
Like most other small west of Ireland farmers, Pake Crehan had no option but to go outside the gate of his small farm to supplement his income and he has great stories of his time working with the Irish Land Commission when they were dividing big estates back in the 1950s and 1960s, such as the massive D’Arcy Estate up beside where he lives.
Pake told me when the Land Commission official came into a parish to interview farmers for the lands in question, a strange hush fell over the place and whilst everybody knew the reason why the Land Commission man was amongst them, very few dared to say what questions they were asked, not to mention how the questions were answered and over the period of a few years there was an uneasy feeling in the area.
It must be remembered back in the 1960s a farmer with 30 acres must have felt all his Christmases had come at once if he got another 10 or 12 acres from the Land Commission, nearly a 50 percent jump in land ownership. Many a farmer and his family dreamt for years of the three little fields outside their fence that might one day be theirs.
Pake Crehan himself and his good friend and neighbour, the late Larry Kenny, rented a small part of the D’Arcy’s Estate during the long interlude between when the Irish Land Commission acquired the estate and when the lands were distributed. “We both bordered the D’Arcy Estate, we needed the extra bit of space and deep down we also felt that it might do our chances no harm of getting a bit of the land. After a long wait of several years, we were successful and it did make a difference to our way of life at the time.”
Pake Crehan was a progressive small farmer. In 1965 he purchased a Ferguson TVO tractor and a two-furrow plough for the princely sum of £360 from Mickey Joe McDonnell of Ballygar, and like many others at the time did a lot of contract work for his neighbours to help pay for the tractor. However, it was 10 years later, 1973, that he decided to go the ‘full hog’ and purchase a new tractor a Universal from Curley’s of Kiltormer, who were the main importers of these tractors from Romania.
Pakie paid £950 for the new tractor, which he still uses to this day and which will be proudly displayed at this year’s Vintage Rally in Mountbellew, to be held on the 23rd and 24th July.
The late John Curley of Kiltormer was a shrewd businessman and he imported large quantities of Universal tractors which were stockpiled in Kiltormer for distribution all over Ireland.
I remember very well the hectic activity around Curleys at that time and as a young fellow I purchased a Universal tractor similar to Pake Crehan’s in 1973 also. In my case we had a Ford Dexta which was imported second hand from the UK by the late Claude Lyons of Briarfield, who unfortunately passed away a few months ago.
After 10 years of exceptional service, the Dexta was getting rattled and we decided to trade it in for the new Universal which looked a really impressive machine for its price at the time.
I remember the deal very well, although it is now almost forty years ago. I had to part with £650 and the Dexta for the new tractor, which turned out to be a good bargain at the time and it proved to be a useful machine. It wouldn’t stand in with the new tractors of today but it worked away nice and quietly. Incidentally, I bought a new Pierce Light fingerbar mower, I remember it had a yellow colour and it was yellow by nature as well!
It was a useless machine, as my late neighbour Ned Keane said one day as we tried to cut a heavy crop of hay, ‘you would be better off with a scissors’! That mower was in the scrap heap inside a few years.
Tommy Gilchreest of Newcastle, Aughrim, who worked in Curley’s of Kiltormer for over 17 years, said thousands of farmers dealt with John Curley and he credits the man with making new tractors affordable to small farmers at that time. Tommy Gilchreest remembered over 200 new Universal tractors being parked at the back of the garage in the early 1970s and on one particular day alone, 17 tractors were sold.
I remembered a good after-sales service for our Universal when a mechanic named John Sabour from the Romanian factory called to our farm to adjust the clutch. Over 15 staff were employed at Curley’s during those years and it brought great prosperity to the area.
Pake Crehan remembered many of the farmers and overseers who were very much part of Pake’s life when working with the Land Commission, names like Vincent Carew of Ahascragh, Mick Quinn of Ballinamore Bridge, Tom Coffey, father of the internationally-known Coffey Bros. Construction Company; Jimmy Moyles of Monivea and latterly Tim Crehan of Cloonshivna, Newbridge, comes to mind, God rest them all.
When the activities of the Land Commission slowed down in the late 1970s and 1980s, Pake Crehan and several of his neighbours got work on building sites in Galway City and Pake worked with Brennan Construction for many years.
“It was 40 miles each way from my home to Galway and believe me, after leaving home at 6.30 am and returning at 7 pm, it was a long, hard day. We pooled our travelling arrangements by car, there was no alternative ways of getting there. The once-daily Longford to Galway bus got to Galway around 12 noon, so it was no use to us.
“I then had to do my farming chores when I got back home and believe me, feeding cattle out in a field on a dark winter’s night is not an enjoyable affair, but as everybody else was doing it, we took no notice,” he said.
Pake Crehan credibly represents a generation of small farmers who worked hard to raise and educate their families against all the odds and as a consequence, can now sit back in their golden years and survey with pride their worthwhile legacy, both to their own families and to the wider community as well.