‘The people who made us what we are today’

I must admit that I have driven through Kiloughter village probably only half a dozen times in my life. It is located just off the Headford Road, at the start of the Curraghline, about four old miles from Eyre Square. Bordering the Ballydooley village, there cannot be more than a dozen houses there, but it is not an insignificant place. Thanks to a charming and beautifully written book by John Connell, Kiloughter has been brought forward as a mirror of old rural Ireland, which in the space of a few decades, has slipped away from us.*

Born August 8 1927, John does not begrudge the fact that today’s farmers have to have up-to-the-minute labour saving machinery; or that every household has machines for the day-to-day chores, and that village silences have been changed with cars and tractors passing through every hour of the day and night. He recalls, however, the village of his youth out of respect and admiration for the people whose ‘strength of character through all kinds of hardship, who walked the byways and cosáns, or pathways that we now walk in their footsteps, the people who made us what we are today.’

‘Gone are the sounds of the iron-shod timber cartwheels on the roads, each with their own, barely perceivable sound difference. Gone too is the sound and sight of the mower in the meadow sharpening his scythe, the lowing of a hungry calf waiting for his mother to be milked so he could have his feed, the squealing of pigs, and the hee-haw of the donkey.’

Mad and reckless

The same custom of ‘Dragging Home’ was observed at weddings in the area, as it was among the scattered communities between Moycullen and Spiddal. After the church ceremony all the horses and side-cars were lined up outside the church for the journey home. The bridal car would lead the way at a steady canter or trot. When it had gone a good distance the rest would set off, often at a mad and reckless gallop. The young bloods urging their horses forward, girls screaming with delight, older residents coming along at a more sedate pace. It was important not to pass out the bridal pair, but nothing to stop some taking a detour to show off their skill and daring. Arriving at the bridal home there would be a bountiful breakfast. Celebrations would continue all day until late into the night.

Matchmaker’s advice

John tells a story of a farmer in the village who was anxious to marry one particular girl in a different parish but was afraid that his small farm might not be good enough for the father of the girl’s inspection.

The farmer spoke to the matchmaker and told him his worry. The matchmaker told him to leave his worries to him. The first job was to get permission to marry the girl.

They duly called to the girl’s house, the customary bottle of whiskey was given to the father. Negotiations began. The girl and her mother waited in an adjoining room. The girl, however, knew the farmer, and was keen to marry him. The father said he liked the young man, but would come and see his farm on Saturday.

Following the advice of the matchmaker, the wall adjoining the young man’s farm and his neighbour’s farm, was temporarily removed. The cattle from both farms were allowed to mix together. When the father came to inspect he was delighted with the size of his prospective son-in-law’s farm. He immediately gave his blessing.

A severe warning

That particular marriage was a long and happy one. It was rare for any couple to go away on honeymoon. The couple usually took a day off, and started into their normal lives after that. Yet, like so many communities of the time, many people emigrated. But John was lucky because his mother and her two brothers emigrated to America, only to return to Kiloughter later. One brother remained, and his family are still in touch with the Connells.

Other family relations emigrated to New Zealand, and there was hardly a homestead in Kiloughter which did not have someone living overseas. Each departing son or daughter would be given ‘an American Wake’ which would start off as a party with drink and dancing, and great praise for qualities of whoever was going. But then as dawn approached ‘a mighty ologón (crying or lamination ) would come forth from the kitchen’. Everyone did not expect to see the emigrants again in their lifetime.

Usually the father of the house would solemnly tell the boy to be honest and forthright in all his dealings. The mother would be more specific in her advice to the girl. She would be told never to forget her prayers, or her Catholic faith, or her Sunday Mass. She was also advised to be polite and courteous always, and sternly warned that if she wanted to avoid trouble, to keep her virginity until she met her prince.

‘A terrible shame’

After the last goodbyes and tears, the bags would be packed into a waiting hackney or maybe a neighbour’s or relative’s car hired for the occasion. ‘A few siblings or close friends would accompany them all the way to Cobh in county Cork.’

There was a man in the village, Máirtín Pheadar, a gentle giant of a man, who had returned to Kiloughter having spent most of his adult life working on cargo ships. He had a small garden where he and his brother sowed early potatoes and vegetables. ‘As the garden was too small to bring horses into it, they would pull the plough themselves.’

Máirtín Pheadar must have taken a shine to one particular girl because when she emigrated he met her mother and shouted: “ It’s a terrible shame for you to let that little girl to go to that country. Don’t you know the sun splits the lime rock there!”

It was a poor consolation for the woman whose daughter had left Kiloughter. The daughter had joined the stream of emigrants who left small villages like Kiloughter, many of whom never returned. But John Connell has given us a glimpse of some of them. They have not been forgotten. Every village should have a John Connell.

Next week: Scotland the Brave

* Kiloughter of my youth - Eighteen thatched houses and stories from the past, By John Connell, printed and bound by Kenny’s Galway. On sale €12.

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