My earliest memory is being taken to Lisselton School when I was 4 years old. That was 79 years ago.
The first thing I recall is that everything was new to me! The pupils and the teachers were new to me the first day. The second day, I went to school on my own. I teamed up with some of the Allens, my neighbours, and they became school friends of mine for my young life in football and so on.
The old school at that time was in need of repairs and, shortly after I started there, we had to walk to Ballydonoghue church for the most of a year, without shoes, while the school was being repaired. A lot of my friends got colds, standing all day on the flags in the church. Mrs Scanlon (Pidge Pierce) who was our teacher at the time insisted that we take a sack bag under our arms to school to put under our feet to stand on, to insulate our feet from the cold of the flags. We used to put these in a little heap in the corner in the church when the school day was over.
The school was rebuilt by Pat Keane, the contractor, with new gables and partitions and so forth, and it was at that time that the wall in front of the school was built. The playground was enlarged as well, because when I went to school first we had a very small playground. Three little haggards owned by Ned Collins who lived across the road were acquired by the parish priest for some small sum. When the school was repaired we had a much improved place, elaborate for its time.
“What made me dislike that language”
Irish was the order of the day. One half-hour of English, and the rest of the subjects were all in Irish. I think that was one of the biggest mistakes that was made by the government. It left five of my classmates illiterate. Sadly, four of those emigrated to Britain in the late 1940s and early 1950s and they could not write home to their mothers. That made me dislike that language. During my lifetime I’ve been addressed a few times by prominent people in the Irish language and I’ve told them “Do that no more!” One of those people was John B Keane who got very upset, but when I explained my case and gave the names of two of the lads who could not write home to their mothers, he thought it was sad. But in Asdee, our neighbouring parish, the teacher there – who was a Master Moriarty – taught each pupil how to write a letter in English. He used a sheet of paper and wrote “Dear mother” in one corner, with the date and a few lines like “Working on buildings mostly”, etc. But Master Brown in Lisselton School was obsessed with Irish – nothing else mattered, even though we might not have a bite to eat, no shoes, no weather protection. To teach that language was all he wanted, and it turned most of us of us against Irish, and remember there was over 80 boys and over 80 girls on the roll at the time. The same set-up was in the girls’ room. The slow-learners at the time were left playing marla on their own. Very few had the opportunity to go to any other school.
After schooldays were over, all youngsters had to do was go working with local farmers or on their own holdings, and when they got old enough, they emigrated. I hated to see them going because they usen’t come back in a hurry. If they did come back, they were different people. Quite a number of them are buried over there and a few were found dead on the street, after falling into hard times. They weren’t able to rough it as the years rolled by. One of those who died was brought home all right to be buried because his people were able to do so.
“A wrench, a hammer, a chisel”
Even though I was born on a hillside farm, my interest was in mechanics, and anything to do with a wrench, a hammer and a chisel. My first project was a bike. I went up the hill to Davy Kissane’s house in Lacca. His son, Mike Kissane was a general repair man and could repair anything – clocks, bikes. He had just moved over the Hill to begin his married life in Laheseragh. The other son, Jim, was in the house that day. I told him my story and said that even if I had the frame of an old bike it would be a great start. Jim came out with a pike and started prodding around a hedgerow. At one point the pike came into contact with some iron object and my heart jumped for joy! He cleared around it and there the frame appeared with weeds and grass on it! To me, there was gold there! Jim pulled it out, cleared off the weeds and said “That’ll give you a good start!”
I put it on my shoulder and marched down the hill. There was a brass plate in front of the frame below the handlebars that was corroded from the weather. On the way down, I started cleaning that with scraws that I picked from the side of the road, and by the time I got home the brass plate was shining. And written on it was “Sunbeam” – that was the name of the bike. And that made my day!
I had the core of the bike, and that led on then to the other parts – chain wheel and chain. I got these from Seán Gunn who lived over the road. There was a bit of a tangle there, because Seán wanted a razor, and he knew my father had two of them, so I took one and gave it to him, and I got my chain and chain-wheel. Then, the back wheel I got from Paddy Connor who lived back the road at that time. He was from Ballyduff and was married to Jo Sheehy. He had a spare back-wheel and he kindly gave it to me. And he led me on to Seán Francis who had a front wheel, and now I was getting somewhere. I got a saddle from Paddy McNamara of Killomeroe – he used to ramble here because this was a rambling house. But I was short of two tyres and two tubes. The Dunlop “Cruiser” tyre (28X1.5) was a half-crown, the Dunlop “Champion” was four shillings, and the Dunlop “Roadster” was a shilling more – it was top of the range. So I started with my half-crown tyre, and bought two for five shillings, and two tubes for one and six apiece. I was craving off my mother for a long time and I eventually wore her down! My father wouldn’t listen to me. I got ten bob off her and I had three bob left and I decided to treat myself. I bought black jack and came home as happy as Larry! And Mrs Beasley, the shopkeeper, says to me before I left – “You’re lucky”, she says, “Tyres will be very scarce soon!” The war was about to start. The funny thing is during the war I had new tyres and lads that needed them more to go to work had no tyre!
I had no handlebars, so over at Boland’s I got the steering wheel of a Model Y (Baby Ford). I wedged it down and I had to do an improvised braking system.
“Jesus, a leanbh, you’ll watch where you’re going the next time!”
That bike took me to all the villages of North Kerry. One day I was going down Gunn’s Hill and just in front of Johanna Gunn’s, calves were being driven out on the road by one of the young Gunns. I thought I could avoid them, but I struck one of the calves and I got a fair oul fall. Johanna came out – she was a big, heavy woman, shoving on in years at the time , and she’d be a grandmother to Joe Gunn now and Fr Thady, and a great-grandmother to the priest, Fr David – and the first word she says to me was “Jesus, a leanbh, you’ll watch where you’re going the next time!” But after saying that, she carried me in and she washed my face which was all torn and made a good job and I went off out. The front wheel was bent and I put my bike on my shoulder and went home. Later I straightened it out.
The motoring world
Then I got to know people who were interested in mechanics, and they were few and far between. The Hennessys had a car, and then Bolands had a car, but there was no other car on the Hill. I had a motor-bike for a year, off of Timmy Stack in Ballyconry at £3. That took six month’s repairing to get her going, and that kept me going till 1949. In 1949, I bought my first Baby Ford Y, for £9 10s. I bought it off Breen’s, and ’twas Breen’s first sale, and that took a lot of repairs, mostly body-work. That got me into the motoring world, and that was over 60 years ago.
A place of tears
Seeing that there was no car on the Hill, there was one way of making a few bob. People wanted to go to wakes, funerals, christenings, etc, etc, and that filled a gap there. I did Cobh (Queenstown) when people were going to the States by ship. I did trips to Shannon Airport a number of times. It was a small place at the time, but it was a place of tears as far as I was concerned. People that were going were crying with sadness and people coming home were crying with happiness, and you wouldn’t know the difference between them. I did that for about two years with that car. After a while, I was able to better myself with a better Model Y Baby Ford. Those particular models were made between 1932 and 1937 and they were sold in Mangan’s in Listowel. A new two-door cost £120 and a four-door cost £140. (The model was changed in 1938 to a Ford 8.) The last two that were sold in Listowel were bought by John Guerin for £100 apiece from Moloney who had just bought the garage. John Guerin was a hackney-driver where the supermarket is now. These Fords were fantastic! You had the bare basics. God, everything was so simple! If you look at the electrics, they were a minimum. There was a vacuum wiper and if you were going up a hill, the wipers would slow down and probably stop. And no indicators!
All private cars were off the road during the war years till 1946, and no cars were made. People were slow to buy them. The first car the Bolands bought after the war was off Mrs Pierce in Listowel. They bought another one from Hart in Ballylongford – the late Liam Boland drove these cars.
Nobody seemed to encroach on my territory as regards my taxi-service. God, I carried hundreds! I carried everybody in every house. I carried a hundred people in one day to St Batt’s Well – that was the last Saturday in April. At that time there was a lot of water there and local people used to put rushes around the well. (Now it is beautifully done up, thanks to the local committee.) People used to come from Listowel and Ballylongford and the villages around.
“Mary, if you don’t help me…”
I think the most interesting journey I done was for a woman who lived along the road above. I took her into Listowel to have her first child and everything passed off fine. Listowel was a busy hospital at that time. In the meantime she changed houses and lived up in Ballynoneen. And so, two years later when her time came again, her husband came down over the Hill to me on his bike to take her to hospital. I was at a picture in Listowel and he waited in the house for me. When I came home, I tied up his bike on the car and we went up the Hill, and in a narrow little road where a car never went before to get into his house. I had to take her into the hospital alone at three o’clock in the morning. I went on by Ballybunion because it was the only road that was tarred at the time. When I was down at the Height of the Bogs, she says to me could I go any faster! I knew there was trouble brewing! Tyres were hard to get at the time, so I had gaitors on each tyre, and you could hear the thud-thud as they rotated. I was wondering if I would make the town without one of them bursting! A Mrs Scanlon of Glouria, who was a very holy woman, had given me a little illuminative statue of Our Lady and she told me to put that up in the front of the car and I would be protected, if I had devotion enough, wherever I went. So, just near the cross where the black house was, the railway house, I remember I looked up at the statue and I says, “Mary, if you don’t help me, I’ll never again pray to you!” Same as if I was talking to a priest!
So I continued on to Listowel, and up to the hospital and I jumped out of the car, knocked heavy on the door, and the night-nurse opened the door. She says “You’ll wake my patients!” I told her my story, that I had a lady here who was having a child and she gave one look and she came on with a wheelchair and we got Biddy in the chair. I had to push her down the hallway and the child came on the scene as I was pushing her! The nurse called another girl to help her . I heard what I thought was a cat screeching , and I realised it was the new-born baby! I vanished! I went in to my old car and I was just out to the railway gates when “bang” goes my back tyre! I looked up at the illuminative statue in front of me and I says “Thank you, Mary!” And we’re friends since!
That story is true but it was frightening to me, though!
In 1962 I gave up the hackney business and went back to farming.