A CLONROCHE MEMOIR

 

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1.Background.

The Clonroche of my recollection, which is of over half a century ago, was a place very different from the thriving village of today. My early recollection is of a hamlet of about 30 houses, without electricity, indeed with no mains services at all, spread along the main Enniscorthy - New Ross road, It had three pubs, two forges, one main shop and two small shops. Then, as now, it had no church, but there was a Garda station with a sergeant and four gardai who didn't need modem equipment when the main crimes were riding a bicycle without a light and after hours drinking.

In the late 30s, the mid point in my "memoir", the second street, the "Villas" and a number of other new houses were added. With this came mains water and sewage, but still no electricity. Indeed the last thing I did in the village in the latish 40s was to go around with a man from the Rural Electrification department of the ESB to try to establish the level of demand for such a service. The response was usually either "what is so-and-so next door doing" or else "what was good enough for my father is good enough for me". Rural electrification came to Clonroche despite this survey, not because of it!

My father's occupation was somewhat unusual. The entire economy of the area was based on agriculture. His business was selling items such as dairy equipment (anybody remember "separators" and "chums"?) and bicycles to the farming community - items which introduced mechanisation into what had been a primitive and stagnant economy. Don't forget this was a mere decade after a bitter civil war, and the economic war with Britain was at its height. But he was ahead of his time: he also introduced the radio, then called the "wireless" (a word now being reinvented), and other battery based electrical goods into a community that regarded such magical items with great awe and suspicion.

He was the owner of one of the few motor cars in the district - I think probably the parish priest (one Father Michael Murphy) and the vet (one Larry Sweetman) would have been the others. It was a rare bull-nosed Morris Cowley two seater with a "dickey" - the boot opened up to take two further passengers al fresco. He was lucky enough to sell the car at the outbreak of World War Two (which we then called ("the emergency") just before petrol supplies were cut oft for the princely sum of £5. Just imagine what such a collector's piece would fetch today.

The said 'emergency", the war, changed his life, and mine completely. Supplies of the goods he sold were cut off and with that his livelihood. The family literally became penniless, and he had to "emigrate" to London, where in the 1940s there was a considerable Clonroche community, including his brother-in-law who had earlier emigrated for similar economic reasons. Eventually my mother and I joined him, so that by the end of the 40s the family had gone from Clonroche for good.

 

2.The Ross Road

 

So; from a fading memory, let me attempt to set out the village as I recall it. I have not been back for many years, but I do intend to pay a visit in 2001 and if there are survivors left with clearer memories than mine or with sufficient interest to have taken notes, I would dearly love to meet them

Starting at the top of the hill, two largish, and at the time, modem houses faced each other across the Ross Road. In one lived Master Doyle, principal of the nearby national school, where he taught the seniors, fifth and sixth class as I recall. He was a natural teacher and those of us lucky enough to have shared his wisdom were fortunate indeed. He came originally from West Cork, and taught us Irish with a blas that is far removed from the "TV Irish" of today, but then his family would have been native speakers. He introduced us to subjects that must have been well outside the normal curriculum, to such an extent that when I presented myself for secondary education, I was pushed straight into second year. His wife was a teacher in a nearby village, Poulpeasty.

Across the road, in Hillview House, lived my Aunt Mrs Josie Holden, also a teacher, who took the middle grades, third and fourth classes. She was noted as a strict disciplinarian, something that must be very difficult these days. Mrs Power, wife of the stationmaster in nearby Chapel station, took the juniors, infant's first and second classes. Well I remember the trains, steaming through the middle distance with old men setting their watches by them. The station and the line have long since been removed, an act of vandalism imported from the Britain of the "Beeching" days -railways were old fashioned and had to be removed.

Anyhow: one of my early recollections was being left in the tender care of the said Mrs Power. On my first day. To help combat any loneliness I might feel I was put to sit with my cousin Chrissie Holden, to my great embarrassment. We boys regarded girls as very' strange creatures indeed, but this early co-ed system in the country gave us a certain advantage over our town and city cousins that I never regretted. It gave us a confidence in the company of the fair sex" which was the envy of our "townie" friends. The old school is long gone and with it the desk on which my initials were carved, what I would have given to possess it had I but known.

Moving down the Ross Road towards the village centre puts me at a disadvantage. The upper and lower parts of the village, the Ross and Enniscorthy roads, were at odds as much as the north and south sides of Dublin. Thus I cannot recall the details of the Ross Road families. I remember the Floods, Johnny, a civil engineer I believe, and his family of hurling fame (I'll talk about the Rackards later on, they were from nearby Rathnure). My recollection of Floods was of a threshing engine, drum and pitcher, which did the rounds in the autumn threshing season, lying idle for nine months. It aroused in me a passion for steam that has remained with me to the present day - I still enjoy visits to Stradbally, Moynalty and the restored steam railway lines in England. Though not yet a teenager, my enthusiasm was so obvious that I was allowed to drive the engine once or twice, a thrill that I recall to this day!

 

3.The Village Centre

Moving on towards the village centre, we come to the butcher's establishment run by the Collins family. This would be typical of the country businesses processing local produce that have long since been replaced by supermarkets importing goods from the ends of the Earth. Such is progress, I don't know how the produce today would compare, but the length of credit available from Mr Collins sure wouldn't.

Nearby lived the McLaughlin family. George had been a garda since the foundation of the force and nothing untoward happened in the village without his knowledge. So there was little or no crime. Potential thieves knew that George would have them under lock and key within hours of a robbery.

Soon we reach Mr Buckley's emporium. I think this was originally a forge, but later became a general engineering centre where anything that moved, and broke down, got fixed. I imagine this would have included the bull-nosed Morris, although my dad was no mean hand himself with spanner and wrench.

Across a field known as the "Lawn" in a large old rambling farmhouse covered in ivy lived the Dier family, whose farm extended back up the hill behind 'Hillview House". Sam and Gracie were the old couple. Their children were contemporaries of mine, and although we went to different church and school we all mixed very freely without any of the problems that beset other parts of the county. Sam generously allowed the local GAA club to use one of his fields before they could afford their own. Sam was a keen fisherman, and the local Boro River provided rich pickings. I recall a prize fish stuffed and mounted in its case in his front parlour. The family was very musical, and I recall Mrs Dier's sister Cissy making valiant efforts to teach us the piano. The girls did well, but the boys I am afraid regarded this as "cissy" no pun intended.

We now come to the centre of the village, ground more familiar to me. Across the widest part of the road, here known as "The Street", two public houses faced each other, owned by families that were closely related. On the one side was Malone's presided over by the matriarchal Mrs Malone. Her daughter, Angela, married Tommy Doyle from Old Ross and the business eventually became Doyles, which I understand it remains to this day. I, of course, would not have ventured into these mysterious clubs whose membership was severely restricted to the elderly male members plus the odd "traveller". How times have changed.

Across "The Street" was O'Brien's pub run by "old Martin" O'Brien. Now this was an interesting family whose path and mine crossed and re-crossed over the years. I will come back to them later; suffice to say that they left the village, and Ireland, for good in the late 30s. The pub was taken over by Pat Brown who owned the large general grocery store nearby. Now THAT was an establishment of some note in the village. It was used not only as a shop that sold most of the local requirements, but as a social meeting place as well. People spent a long time in Browns; it must have been very inefficient by modem mass production standards, but it filled a need when the pub was not as communal as it is today. The shop is still there; by chance it has now' become "Greens"!

 

4.Entertainment

 

Around the comer from Browns lived Pat Mullany. I recall little about Pat, but I remember that his enterprise brought the glamour of Hollywood to Clonroche. Pat acquired a film projector and sound system and installed them in the local village hall. We had seen the "movies, there was a cinema in Enniscorthy, eight miles away and I recall seeing films such as "Going My Way" with Barry Fitzgerald, and "National Velvet" - my word is Elizabeth Taylor that old? Now we had the magic twice a week in our own home village. It was not very comfortable. Wooden forms in the body of the hall provided the cheap seats, probably about 6d (just over 2p in today's money). Chairs on the stage provided the upmarket seats, probably about 1/6 (7.5p). Pat's favourites were Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald in "Maytime", all a bit harmless by today's standards. But we enjoyed it.

The "hall" provided a lot of entertainment. There were whist drives and other card games; and there was billiards. We could probably not afford a full set of snooker balls; anyhow billiards was more popular then. Bob Rochford was in charge - he took the money, acted as timekeeper, and kept the tables and cues in good shape. But the highlight of our young lives was the occasional DANCE. When the hall was turned into the Ballroom of Romance. Dave Moynihan and his band from Ferns were hired at great expense and dancing went on until dawn. I was well under the age limit imposed by the parish priest but if one had the shilling or so entrance fee, one got in.

The local GAA club provided more healthy recreation. Hurling was the popular choice, and on long summer evenings we repaired to Diers' field for practice. To call it training" would be a bit over the top. The Floods were the local exponents but occasionally the Rackards came over from Rathnure to play with us. To take a ball off Nicky or Bobby Rackard was a great thrill - they probably let us do it just to make us feel good.

Two big annual outdoor events deserve mention. The "big day" at Castleboro on 29 June was the Catholic fund raising event of the year. It was a day of sporting and cultural events - there were some lovely Irish music and dancing competitions. As the evening wore on I believe another type of sport was practised, in which young people attempted to lure members of the opposite gender behind the laurel bushes for reasons that puzzled us kids no end. I am sure it was all innocent fun (that was long before the days of TV), but Father Murphy was very suspicious.

The second event was a sports day in aid of the Church of Ireland funds; both communities helped each other on these occasions. It was held on another of our many "holy" days. It attracted some of the top athletes in the country. I was particularly interested in the cycling. My father had been a racing cyclist of some note, but was at his peak during the First World War when international competition was impossible. In these days of professional and semi-professional sports it is hard to imagine the great excitement and pleasure we got from these very amateur athletic meetings. "Other times, other manners".

 

5.The Enniscorthy Road

 

Moving back now to our descent towards the Enniscorthy Road, which is a part of the village I knew very well, we come first to Doherty's pub. It is no longer "Doherty's" but in my day Lizzie, the last of the family from Borohill House ran it. It is now the Cloch Bawn, the White Stone, noted on Bus Eireann timetables as the official stop in Clonroche. During the War, with almost no cars on the road, the nightly arrival of the Great Southern bus, driven by an old codger called Clem Boyle, was an event of great excitement. With it came the Evening Herald straight from the press in Dublin, a parcel or two and maybe one of our emigrants on a holiday visit. If this happened to be one of our young ladies, now glamorous and sophisticated by city life, then the excitement knew no bounds.

We now reach, once again, two interesting old houses facing each other across the Street. One is a large farmhouse, unusual for a centre village site, occupied by the Tector family, Willie and Florrie. They owned a large farm stretching back from the village and were very directly related to the Diers, brother and sister having married brother and sister, if you follow.

The eldest of the Tector children was Willie junior, later better known as Bill. Bill was an academic and a sportsman; farming was not for him. He had a most distinguished career in both his chosen fields but in Dublin, not Clonroche. Bill was capped for Ireland in Rugby, was captain of Portmarnock in golf and in his teaching career became headmaster of Sandford Park School, to mention but three peaks in his life. Sadly his retirement did not last as long as he and his family deserved.

Back to Clonroche: in the house opposite Tectors' two dear old ladies lived on to a great old age. Mrs Maggie McCarthy and Mrs Helen Kelly were aunts of my father, members of the distinguished O'Neill family. They returned to Clonroche in retirement from Tramore and Dublin respectively. The only member of the next generation was Maureen who lived in Wolverhampton for many years with her husband, Paddy Lambert from near Wexford town. Alas, I attended her funeral there in January 1999. They were a devoted couple; I was not greatly surprised when Paddy joined her within the year.

Then on to Breens. Jim had a forge further back up the street; his wife ran a small shop. Then came Tom Kehoe the mason. Then our house completely different in my day to what we see today. I recall the small windows and the walls over two feet thick. We did not have running water until the 30s, sounds incredible nowadays, and we never had electricity Which means there were real oil lamps left behind, what a pity' not to have such genuine antiques today. And in the 40s of course, in the absence of oil, we had to use candles. These are making a comeback in the fashionable suburbs of the 2000s. Further on there was the garda barracks, with, in those days, four gardai and a sergeant; but there was little crime, the aforementioned George McLaughlin saw to that.

Then there was Pat O'Brien's.' l think he was a carpenter, and opposite him, the Sinnotts. In my time the Sinnotts moved to Crossabeg near Wexford town, and Browns bought the farm. That literally was the end of the village; there were only green fields between Sinnotts and Enniscorthy.

 

6.Families - the O'Briens

 

I promised to come back to the O'Brien family. There was "old Martin" who ran the pub that subsequently became Brown's and Murphy's. His wife was Mrs O'Brien -respectable matrons were not then known by their Christian names. They had two sons, Martin and James, and they were closely related to the Malones across the street, also pub owners. They must also have been related to the Tectors, because James was better known in Clonroche by his second Christian name, Tector. Indeed they were related to a number of families, my own included and Martin once graphically described this for me, He produced a complicated "family tree" which, alas, I have mislaid; it would have been useful for this memoir,

Both Martins were very friendly with my father, the younger one because of his interest in mechanical and electrical matters. Between us three we built a radio, a "Wireless" from a kit, some achievement in the Clonroche of the 193Os. I remember Martin made me a large, complex, kite that flew beautifully until, alas, I fell on it and broke it. Anyhow, times were hard and in the depression of the 30s the pub was sold. After spending some time in Waterford the family moved to Shepherds Bush in London, where their house became a meeting place for many "Clonrochers" including my family during the 1940s.

Martin used his engineering skills to advantage on the production of aircraft parts in one of the large Works in West London (my father likewise) and he became a great aircraft enthusiast, something he passed on to me. Together we visited the Farnboro and other Air Shows for many years. Oddly, he never flew' due to a medical condition that I imagine must be related to vertigo. His visits to Ireland, and his beloved Spain were always by surface travel. I visited him shortly before he died, and found be had a mind as sharp as ever, and a better recollection of Clonroche in the 1930s than I did. What a pity he could not have been here to help me on this Memoir!

But it was his brother Tector who made the O'Brien name well known in London. He reverted to his first name for business and was well known as 'Jimmy O'Brien' in his chosen profession of catering and entertainment. He was older than I and by the time I got to London he was already well established as Manager of one of the top Clubs in London. I speak not of the "sleazy joints" in Soho, but of the exclusive establishments frequented by the rich and famous. Eventually he started his own Club in Regent Street just across the road from where I worked in Aer Lingus. The quality of his Food and drink and the glamour of his cabaret show drew the top people: film stars, diplomats, oil-rich sheiks from the Gulf. By a combination of hard work, long experience and great professional skill, be became very successful. To my knowledge he owned property in France, Switzerland, Ireland as well as his huge home in fashionable Hampstead. Again, his retirement was not as long as he deserved, and, when he died he requested that he be laid to rest in Cloughbawn. What a contrast to Regent Street!

I have taken as an example just one of the many families whose stories would be of interest. I will leave it to others to fill the gaps.

 

7.Conclusion

 

I suppose, before closing, I should outline a little of my own story. It is very much less glamorous than the last above-mentioned, but it gave me a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction. It did not have a very auspicious start. Remember my father had been forced to emigrate during the war, so I found myself as a young teenager with, I was told, some academic ability but without the resources to pursue it (which would have meant boarding school). However, I managed to get a bicycle and cycled the 17 miles a day to and from Enniscorthy Christian Brothers who provided me with a good secondary education that has enabled me to pursue the career of my choice and go on as an adult to third level and reach heights I would not have dreamed about at the time. So when people nowadays moan about being disadvantaged by reason of birth or location I simply say "GET ON YER BIKE".

I started working life with two little jobs that I look back on with nostalgia. Living opposite the Post Office (run by Tectors in an annex to their house) and possessing a bicycle, I had a brief career delivering telegrams. In these days of fax and e-mail it is hard to imagine the wonderful world of the telegraph and the message to a remote country house that could bring great joy or great sorrow. Anyhow - the fee for the delivery averaged 1/6 (7.5 p) and often was so difficult to collect that I did without. The second, more short-lived was driving a Fordson tractor on a remote farm. The engine ran on paraffin oil, but had to be started on petrol, and skilfully switched over to oil at the right time. There are probably not many people extant who recall the satisfaction of starting these early Fordsons, few who recall the joy of success at the first pull-up of the handle.

Anyhow, in London my desire to travel lead me to join Thos Cooks Travel Agency. The travel bug combined with the aforementioned enthusiasm for aviation prompted me to join Aer Lingus as a temporary clerk in 1951. When I retired, forty odd years later, I was the fifth longest serving staff member. During that time I indulged to my heart's delight in my travels. Africa, Southeast Asia, America, East Europe and my favourite Italy, I loved it. I spent over 20 years in London and the past 30 years plus in Malahide, and in all that time paid only a few brief visits to Clonroche. Shame on me!

It occurs to me that there are many other names I would have liked to mention, but space and patience is running out. There was Dennis Larkin the postman - he must have known everybody for miles around through delivering the mail. My next-door neighbour Martin Carroll, the oldest inhabitant - he must have been born at a time when there were people still alive who remembered the 1798 rising. Another old boy was Mylie Hendrick; he had travelled a bit, I think in the British army. He began my travel lust with a phrase: "the first mile of travel is the first book of learning" I remember it well, and I agree.

In this memoir I have avoided mentioning anybody still alive (with one brief exception - can you spot it?) or anybody such as wives or children that did not live in Clonroche in the 1930s. I think that is best. Anyhow', I will leave it there; I have tried to remain anonymous but would welcome comments via the Editor or my e-mail wjmurphy120@)eircom.net so I suppose that gives the game away'.!

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