Cormac MacConnell: Women tell revealing stories of rural Ireland

Carrigoran House, Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co Clare

I will make a full and free confession at once, and get it off my chest.

The crime I committed last week was that of savagely attacking a crowd of pensioners, most of them female, some well over ninety years of age.

I should be ashamed of myself, but I am not.

I tore into them like a day’s work, as they sat there shocked, in a crowded room in Ennis. I gave them no quarter.

In the same frenzy, roaring like a bull, I verbally abused a farmer’s wife named Brigid Liddy, and I even had a go at the Mayor of Shannon, PJ Ryan, who was present too, for wearing a chain of office which was as upmarket as one of those Charvet silk shirts that Charlie used buy by the dozen from Paris years ago.

They were all so cowed by my attack, I swear, that when a pin dropped out of the Mayoral chain, as I concluded, we all clearly heard it bounce twice. 

There again is the pure truth.

I suppose I should explain the reason for my outburst in the Glór arts centre in Ennis.

Brigid Liddy, a volunteer worker in the Carrigoran Health and Wellness Centre near Newmarket on Fergus, had asked me to launch an unusual book called “Of pleasant days gone by”, which she and assistant volunteers had compiled from the memories of the weekly guests at Carrigoran Centre.

I agreed, and the book dropped through my letterbox a few days later, at a time when I had just three hours to meet a writing deadline for an American paper.

I had the yarn ready in my head, when I idly opened the book for a quick scan, and next thing I knew, it was four hours later, and a New York editor with a voice like a circular saw was on the phone, threatening to fire me for missing my deadline.

And that is why I was so angry at the launch.

They had a mike set up for me, but I fired it out of my way and roared so loudly I could be heard outside.

The trouble was, you see, that I am a hardy old tradesman of the alphabet who raised a family that way, telling yarns, and here, in this bloody book, from the pensioners, were hundreds of better yarns, told better, looking and sounding better than anything I’ve ever written.

And here was I, with the Yanks threatening to fire me, because I was led astray by their work.

I felt as insecure and offended as a Luas engine driver. The truth, yet again.

I will give ye a scattering of the memories collected by Brigid and her colleagues.

They come, mainly, from the first half of the last century, and many of them deal with the realities which rural women faced up to during those decades.

Here is just a small sample.

* “Christening usually happened within a week of the baby being born, and the names used were mainly saints’ names.

“The mother wouldn’t have been present, she had to go through a religious ceremony called ‘Churching’, which was intended to make her fit to re-enter the Church!”

* “A few months after marriage, our local priest would call to the house, and after making some small talk, would ask if you were ‘expecting’, and if not, what were you going to do about it.

“When there was a five-year gap between children, at the baptism of the baby, the priest asked why his gap had happened”.

* “I asked my father where babies came from, and he told me ‘from under a head of cabbage’.

“I was an only child and wished for company, so I went out to the garden and began digging. 

“My father came out and asked me what I was doing and I told him I was trying to find a baby”.

* “When I was about 20 years old, my father’s friend sponsored me to go to America.

“It was necessary to have somebody to take responsibility for you before you would get a visa to travel.

“Even in the late 1950s, you still had to travel with a big envelope carrying your X-rays, to prove that you were healthy, that your lungs didn’t have TB.”

See what I mean.

No wonder I was so jealous, and the pages teem with hundreds of musings and memories from the ladies and gentlemen who are weekly guests at Carrigoran House.

I am not going to give them any more free publicity, for sure, even though all the proceeds of sales of the book go towards dementia care programmes at the House. 

I have to say that the website for the establishment is www.carrigoranhouse.ie and copies of the book are available now in all good book stores, including the Ennis Book Shop. 

But do me a favour, and don’t turn “Of Pleasant Days Gone By” into anything like a best seller, please. 

If that happens, the New York editor will surely fire me, and replace me with one of the anonymous pensioners whose language and memories are so much richer and rarer than mine.

Sadly, that is the pure truth again.


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