Drinking German tea, and other stories from South Galway.

Pete Lane, now in his 80s, who went to Ballindereen national school, spent most of his busy working life ‘on his knees thinning beet’. He had a friend Tommy Staunton from Lough Cutra, who had fought in World War I. Before Tommy went ‘over the top’ he was delighted when each soldier was handed a ‘little glass of brandy’. After which, Tommy claimed, you had no fear in the world. One day they were fighting the Germans, and managed to drive them out of their trenches. There they found a boiler of tea. It was still warm. The men settled down for a good cuppa but the officer warned them that the tea might be poisoned. Nobody cared if it was poisoned or not. ‘We were so exhausted an killed out’ that they enjoyed the break while the fighting continued.

Pete met his wife May in Tooreen, and brought her to the cinema in Kinvara. She was a May Carney from Clarinbridge and 20 years old. ‘There were no long engagements then. We were married in Oranmore at a very fast ceremony. Married and out the door. We had a ‘breakfast’ they called it then. We went to Dublin for a few days, then home. We worked hard, but when you are young you don’t notice it. Milking cows, feeding calves and pigs. We had hens and turkeys. You got good money for them especially at Christmas. I’d make the butter, and all the children’s clothes. I loved sewing always. Women were great. It was a different life. We had no jobs outside the home, but we had plenty to do. Non stop from morning to night, but you were well rewarded.’

Pete and May Lane (65 years married, and happy ), are just one of 35 interesting stories just published in the third volume of oral narratives, compiled by Pauline Bermingham Scully, all gathered in south Galway.* Despite the hardships of 50 or 60 years ago, and the stories of childhood struggles (told by a reader on this page today ), her interviewees invariably display great humour, wisdom and fortitude, which as far as I can glean, was generally reflected all over the country. Most people worked on their small farms, in shops in the nearby towns, or emigrated to America and England even if only for a few years. Home was where the memories started, and gave a shared identity to a whole community.

Growing up Mary Moylan, who left school early to work at home, remembers that people strictly observed church holidays. People took Lent seriously and ‘with great dignity’. ‘People fasted, everyone went to Mass on Ash Wednesday and received the ashes. It was a time of penance. Then we would be excited when Easter Sunday arrived. We would all be off to Mass excited and dressed up; after fasting for 40 days we could eat sweets.’

Electric sandwiches

England treated Tony Mannion ‘great’. ‘But I worked hard. It’s easy when you are fit and strong. I always made sure that I did the job right.’

But there were drawbacks to living away from home. When you started off first finding the right digs was a challenge. Some places would not allow Tony to sit in the family lounge. ‘You were upstairs on your own.’ But you could be lucky and find a digs that would give you a good dinner in the evening. If there was a gang of men working on a particular job you’d ask the landlady to make sandwiches for lunch. ‘We would be wondering what kind we got. It could be tomatoes and hardboiled egg, or two slices of bread with nothing. Then you could get other sandwiches called ‘electric sandwiches’, when you opened up, you got a shock!....it was that kind old craic we had.’

Tommy Fergus

Peadar Gardiner, the well known musician, recalls a great night playing with the Standuns at their home in Spiddal, and the Conlons, when they were joined by the Dubliners who had just played a concert at Teach Furbo. The Dubliners were playing practically seven nights a week at the time, and were at the peak of their fame. The session at Standuns was amazing, but their driver was in despair of getting them back to Dublin. Peadar told him to be patient and let the drink and the tiredness do their work. Sure enough about 2.30 in the morning Barney McKenna, Ronnie Drew, and Luke Kelly collapsed one after the other. Everyone helped pile them into the car.

As a young man Pat Barrett worked at Tommy Fergus’ bicycle shop in Barrack Street, Gort. Tommy was a very obliging man and worked all hours to get the job done. But he was obsessed with politics and religion and would talk to all and sundry on these topics. Late one night he was still open, when a man on his way to Dublin called to ask if Tommy would fix a puncture on a wheel of his car.

Tommy obliged while at the same time going on about de Valera, the church, and everything else non stop. When the job was done the man asked Tommy where did he get his education as he was so knowledgable about everything. Tommy looked at him. He referred to everyone as ‘sonny’.

“Listen, Sonny, when I went to school it was the revival of Irish, the Ten Commandments, and a kick in the arse.”

NOTES: South Galway Stories: Oral Narratives, by Ms Bermingham Scully, published by Book Hub Publishing, on sale €15.


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