"Up the Quarry and down the Pike, that's the way to ride a bike." This little ditty was sung by many generations of the children who grew up in Quarry Street and Pike Street, in Thurles, Co. Tipperary.
Quarry Street was later named Mitchell Street, after John
Mitchell, a Co. Derry man who founded the newspaper 'The United
Irishman' in 1848, and was elected M. P. for Tipperary in 1875.
Pike Street was later named Kickham Street, after Charles J.
Kickham, whose highly-acclaimed literary works include the famous
Knocknagow, a story of the Homes of Tipperary.
These two streets ran parallel to each other, and were linked together by Lime Kiln Lane
( later called Ikerrin Road ), and Borroway. The original entrance to St. Mary's, the Protestant Church, which was erected in 1820, was in Lime Kiln lane. Both Protestants and Roman Catholics were buried side by side in St. Mary's graveyard.
Jack Kelly, my Grandfather on my mother's side, was born in
Quarry street in 1894, and lived there all his life. His wife,
Mary Fennelly, was a native of Moyne, a little village near
Thurles. Their marriage was blessed with fifteen children, all of
whom were born at home. Eleven survived, ten girls and one boy.
Each of the children was Baptised in the Cathedral of the
Assumption, in Thurles.
There were two Convents in Thurles at that time. One was run
by the Nuns of the Presentation Order, and the other by the
Ursuline Sisters. My grandparents sent all of their daughters to
the Presentation Convent school. John, the only boy in the
family, spent the first two years of his school life with the
Nuns. Then, after receiving his First Communion, he attended the
Christian Brothers' School.
My Grandfather worked for a number of years as a truck driver
with Ryan's Brewery Stores. He worked a six - day week, and on
Sundays he was allowed to use the truck if he needed to travel to
a hurling match. So, after attending first Mass and having a
quick breakfast, he'd pack a few sandwiches and then collect a
number of his friends. Their money was pooled to buy fuel for the
truck, and to pay the entrance fee to the match, great care being
taken to ensure there was enough left over to buy a few pints on
the way home. Jack's 'taxi', flying the blue and gold coloured
flags, and packed with loyal Tipperary supporters, often wound
its way to the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick, and Pairc Ui Chaoimh
in Cork. The hurling matches were usually replayed many times in
the truck on the journey home, and many a referee had his name
mentioned in connection with his need of an urgent appointment
with an optician. But, win, lose, or draw, songs like
'Slievenamon', 'It's a long way to Tipperary', 'Danny Boy', and
'South of the Border', were the order of the day, especially
after the vocal chords had been well lubricated by Arthur
Jack was still working at Ryan's Brewery Stores when, on November 25th., 1933, President de Valera cut the first sod of the Sugar Beet Factory in Cabra, Thurles. Some years later, Grandfather applied for a job at the factory, and was employed as a casual labourer. He later trained as a crane operator and, during the sugar beet campaigns, was responsible for emptying the wagons of beet which came by rail to Thurles.
Jack had a good job in the Sugar Factory but, having such a
large family to rear, he had to find some way of supplementing
his wages. During the months of March to September, he cut and
saved turf, most of which he sold. He would arrive home at 6.15
in the evening, having worked hard all day at the Factory. Then,
as soon as he'd finished his tea, he'd cycle the five miles
journey to the Peat Bog and work at the turf until dark.
When the children got holidays from school, Grandmother took
the whole family to the bog. They left home very early in the
morning, and didn't return again until dusk. She and the younger
children travelled by ass and cart, while the rest of the family
used 'high nellie' bicycles. In those days, some bicycles used
'tubeless' tyres because, after countless puncture repairs, the
tubes were discarded and the tyres stuffed with rags or straw.
At one stage, Jack left the Sugar Company and worked full -
time at the turf, doing contract work for a number of people. His
son John was now a teenager, and was skilled with the slane, the
spade used for cutting turf. John was left - handed, and this
meant that he and his father could stand side by side on the bank
of turf, one of them cutting and throwing the sods to the left,
and the other to the right. Some of the girls were 'catchers',
and had to catch each sod of turf the slanes - man threw. The
older girls were 'wheelers', and their job was to wheel out the
loaded bog - barrows. Grandmother and some of the other girls
were 'footers', and they stacked the sods, a dozen at a time, in
such a way that the wind could blow through the stack and the sun
could get at each sod.
The ass worked on the bog, too. It's job was to pull a home -
made sled, which had been constructed from galvanised iron and
wood. This sled, loaded to the top with the dried sods, was
pulled, sometimes through very wet, soggy ground, to the area in
which the turf would be piled when it was ready to be brought
home. The turf which was to be used by the family was brought
home by ass and cart, high creels having been fitted to the cart.
This meant that those who had travelled in the cart to the bog
that morning , had to walk the five miles home in the evening.
On arriving home, a large pot of spuds was boiled, and then
tipped out on to the middle of the table. It was then a case of
'stretch or starve.' Occasionally, the family enjoyed the luxury
of bacon and cabbage, but the evening dinner usually consisted of
spuds and buttermilk. Then, after getting the younger children
off to bed, Grandmother baked the home - made bread which was
needed for the following day. This was baked in oven - pots,
which hung on a hook on the crane over the open fire. Some of the
children had the responsibility of sitting in the corner, turning
the wheel which operated the bellows that kept the fire going.
This freshly baked bread, along with some hard - boiled eggs, was
the staple diet for the turf - savers. Just before bed - time,
the stirrabout, or yellow meal, was boiled. This was re - heated,
and served for breakfast at approximately 6 a.m. on the following
morning. The rule was that the family had to be already on the
road to the bog before the Chapel bell rang out the Angelus at 7
a.m. The girls took it in turns to do the 'catering' on the bog.
At twelve noon the fire was lit, and the clear bog water boiled
in Billy - cans and kettles. The home - made bread was then cut
into slices and buttered. After the shells were peeled off the
hard - boiled eggs, the tea was wet, and the long - awaited call
of "come and get it", drew the weary workers to the
open - air kitchen. Then it was back to work until evening and
the long journey home again.
After a number of years of contract work on the bog,
Grandfather returned to the Sugar Factory. Though he worked long
hours, the wages were not very good, so again he sought to
supplement his income, this time by rearing some pigs in the shed
at the back of his little terraced house.
He bought the bonhams when they were just a few weeks old, from his good friend and neighbour, John McGann. They were reared on offal and scraps, and bits of food that were left over after the family meals. Occasionally, a bag of pig - meal was purchased. Whenever this happened, the pigs' rations were really stretched, in an attempt to make the bag of meal last as long as possible.
Grandmother played a large part in the rearing of the pigs. On
the day they were bought, she helped Grandfather put the rings in
their noses. Each day, she sent some of the children to collect
the scraps and leftovers from the relatives and neighbours. She
then prepared the food, and fed the pigs. When the bonhams had
been sufficiently fattened, and the day of their departure had
finally arrived, she always sprinkled them with Holy Water, just
before Jack took them on their last journey, to the buyer from
Roscrea Bacon Factory, who visited Thurles each week. Some of the
proceeds of the sale was used to purchase a few more young pigs,
and the remainder was usually spent on clothes and shoes for the
One of the customs in Jack and Mary's family was that on Saturday night the clothes were ironed, and all the shoes polished. Then, on Sunday morning John and his sisters were all taken to Mass in the Cathedral. 'Last Mass' was their favourite, because it included a lot of singing in Latin, which was done by the student priests from St. Patrick's College, and seminarians from the College of the Pallotine Fathers.
Many of my grandparents' traditions and customs had been handed down to them by their ancestors. Jack and Mary taught these to their children, and they in turn passed them on to our generation. This was especially true concerning their religious beliefs and practices. My grandparents always had a great love for the Blessed Virgin, and were very much influenced by the Roman Catholic Church's teaching concerning Mary.
Back in those days, most of the people involved in praying to
Our Lady sincerely believed that it was God who granted their
petitions, but that it was Mary alone who actually distributed
all favours and graces. Some of the words of the `Prayer after
the Hail Mary', are as follows;
"Mother of God - and our Mother - Our Advocate and Mediatrix, thou who art the Treasurer of God's Graces, and who dost Dispense them as Thou seest fit - Oh, we beg of thee the Forgiveness of our sins."
Jack and Mary depended upon the Blessed Virgin for the daily
protection of their family. Each night at bedtime, Grandfather
would kneel down at his chair in the kitchen and say his prayers,
asking Our Lady to look after the children. Whenever a
thunderstorm occurred, Grandmother took the bottle of Holy Water
and, while sprinkling it on each child, called upon the Queen of
Heaven to protect them.
In those days, parents were instructed by the Church to ensure
(a) Recited the following prayer, which is called the 'Morning Offering of Reparation';
"O Jesus, through the Immaculate heart of Mary, and in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass being offered throughout the world, I offer you all my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day, in reparation for the offences committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for my sins, and the sins of the whole world.";
(b) Said at least five decades of the Rosary daily.
(c) Wore the Scapular of Mount Carmel, as a sign of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
(d) Invoked the daily protection of St. Michael against the wickedness of the Devil, by saying the following prayer, which was also said after Mass: "St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, Prince of the most heavenly host, by thy divine power, cast into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits who now wander throughout the world seeking the ruination of souls."
The words of this prayer to St. Michael were a constant reminder to people of their need of daily protection against the Devil, and certainly instilled in their minds a certain amount of fear at the prospect of hordes of evil spirits wandering around, intent on the damnation of their souls. The concept of the need of daily, and particularly, nightly protection, was very much part of the mindset of the generation of people who lived in my grandparents' time.
The protection of the Blessed Virgin was especially sought in
those days, as many of the people who lived in the Quarry at that
time believed the street to be haunted. Some of the old houses in
the Quarry were built on a 'Mass - Path'. This was a track upon
which the people who had lived many years previously had walked,
while on their way to Mass. The occupants of some of these houses
claimed that sometimes, late at night, they could hear noises
which resembled the sounds of the walking, and even the talking,
of those who, now long dead, had faithfully travelled the Mass -
Then there were reports of a hearse and funeral cortege being
seen leaving Borroway at midnight, and proceeding up the hill to
St. Patrick's cemetery. A number of people claimed to have seen
this happen, and one man was reportedly confined to bed for six
months, suffering from severe shock after witnessing the late
Many people also reported seeing a large black dog with red,
fiery eyes, patrolling the street regularly, very late at night.
This spectre was called 'The Black Dog from Hell.'
Most of the residents of the Quarry claimed to have heard the Banshee. The Banshee, it was said, followed certain Irish families. They said she could be heard crying, as a warning that a member of one of the families was about to die. Some people claimed to have actually seen the Banshee, the ghost of a small woman, who combed her hair as she cried. If somebody found a comb on the ground, they would not dare pick it up, in case it belonged to the Banshee. They feared she might return to collect it that night. Exactly who this Banshee was, nobody knew. Many years ago, it was the custom in several places in Ireland to hire women to cry at funerals and wakes. These women were called Keeners, and many believed the Banshee to be the ghost of a Keener, who returned to cry for those who were dying.
But the Banshee and the Black Dog from Hell were not the only
ghostly residents of the Quarry, as far as the locals were
concerned. Some of them claimed to have either seen or heard the
'Headless Coach', a ghostly, horse - drawn hearse. While very few
claimed to have actually seen this terrifying sight, many people
reported hearing the sound of the horses' hooves, and of the
wheels, and even the sound of the driver cracking his whip as the
coach sped through the street late at night. The arrival of the
headless coach was, apparently, confirmation that someone in the
immediate area was about to die. Some even feared that the dying
person might be taken away in the coach and never seen again.
A lot of people believed that certain 'signs' of impending
death followed their families. For instance, if three loud knocks
were heard, it was regarded as a warning that very soon somebody
in that family would die. One of the families which lived near my
grandparents' home believed that if a picture which was hanging
on the wall fell down, it was a certain indication of the
impending death of a family member. According to these families,
the signs had followed them for many generations.
To help counteract seen and unseen dangers, most families had
a Holy Water font hanging just inside the front door of their
homes. The fonts were kept topped up with Holy Water, which
people brought home in bottles from the Chapel. Before leaving
home, the members of the household would dip a finger in the Holy
Water and bless themselves, making the sign of the cross. This
was considered to be a very effective means of protection against
accidents, illness and misfortune. The Holy Water was especially
used if a person had occasion to be out late at night.
Among those most likely to be out late at night were the local fishermen. Many of the men from the Quarry who fished in the river Suir, which flows through Thurles, caught their fish at the 'shaky bank', the 'bleach', and the 'terrace'. Some of the 'experts' preferred to fish for eels at night, so they dipped the barrel - corks, which acted as floats, in white paint, to make them easier to detect when the fish were biting. But, irrespective of how good the take was, these fishermen made every effort to ensure they were home well before midnight. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, the river Suir had claimed the lives of a number of people over the years. Some had drowned accidentally, but others had committed suicide. The fear of encountering the ghosts of some of these unfortunates ensured the river bank was vacated long before the midnight hour.
Secondly, a number of people had reported seeing a headless nun walking around the grounds of the Presentation Convent, late at night. The fishermen had to pass this very spot on their way home from the river, and preferred to do so as early in the night as possible.
But for these fishermen, superstition was not confined to the
river bank. A strong rod was needed when fishing for large pike.
This was often made from a good thick branch of a sally tree. One
of the places in Thurles which had a selection of trees,
including white thorn, sally, and elder, growing in it, was 'The
Fort', which was situated at one end of the Quarry, at
Loughtagalla. This 'Fairy Fort' was believed by many to have been
the habitation of the 'Little People', the Fairies. Some of the
locals claimed to have heard them play haunting music, and to
have seen them dance around the Fairy Ring. Fearful of offending
the Fairies by breaking sticks in the Fort, those in need of
fishing rods looked elsewhere.
Superstition and fear were part of everyday life for many
people. Their conviction of the need of daily protection against
the forces of evil resulted in a lot of them depending more and
more upon the Blessed Virgin Mary to be their guardian. Devotion
to her was widespread, and in almost every home, the family
Rosary was said daily.
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