James Mac Cullagh
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Memories of Glenelly: by Helen Bailie
Glenelly, Glenelly, how lovely thou art,
Where summer and sunshine have shone on my heart,
Far away I may wander, far away I may roam,
But I'll never forget you, Glenelly my home
Glenelly…..what does it mean? Some people say it is 'gleann ealaigh', meaning 'glen of the cattle', but I remember as a young lass we had a turf bank off old James Neddy (Conway) in Aughdoorish. We went up every summer to work the turf. We crossed over Oughtbui (yellow pass) burn, up and over Broughashinny (Bank of the foxes), past a stone alignment (like headstones) in Padiana's field. I never did find out what that was. We thought it might be graves, (but if so the people buried were very short) and out to the Oughdoorish Road….quite a walk at any time- never mind working in the turf later. It wasn't my favorite pastime. I hated spreading the turf after as when they were wet they were very heavy and your back soon got sore. When they dried and had a skin on them, they had to be turned. That wasn't too bad. Next they were 'footed' (put standing in fours on their end), then they were 'rickled' and then 'clamped' (built in small stacks). All this took time. Wet weather held up the drying process and in the evenings the midges were rife. During our days there, at midday, we used to go over to Neddy's house where Mary Jane would make us tea or often give us a share of the dinner. The old folk used to talk and we would listen. (We weren't allowed to butt in those days!) I remember old James, (who spoke fluent Irish), telling me that Glenelly got its name 'gleann eachlai' from the name of a little horse which was used in the mountains. I didn't pay much heed at the time but I remember reading in later years that a small horse, a cross between a Raghery and an Irish pony, was used on the farms in Munterloney, in the Sperrins. So maybe there was some truth in it.
However, my favorite meaning is that St. Patrick, who is supposed to have visited these glens (and whose cook, St. Athghin), set up Bodoney ( both Domhnaigh, God's Sunday Hut) Church. St. Patrick crossed the hill, saw the glen and said, 'gleann eile'…..'another glen!' I suppose he was sick of the sight of them for the Sperrins are full of glens, but Glenelly is the best of the lot. So many glens lead off it and all resound with their glorious, lilting Irish names…… Glenchiel, Glenerin, Glenroan, Aughdoorish, Meenacrane, Glensass, Meendamph, Oughbui, Oughmama, Garvagh, to name but a few, you could go on for ever!
St. Patrick wasn't the only saint to have visited Glenelly. St. Colmcille, born in Donegal, had a sister who married and settled in Glenelly. She was the mother of St. Colman Ellis who founded the abbey of Ely in Co. Offaly and Muckamore in Co. Antrim. When I was young (and no T.V.!) talk and storytelling was the major entertainment. There was much talk about the future and foretelling of what would happen. There was supposed to be a copy of Colmcille's prophecy in the Glen and it was often quoted. I think a family called Carolan was credited with owning it but I could be wrong in that. It was hearsay, and it was a long time ago.
Glenelly was the place of my childhood… indeed, my 'growing up'. At that time a lot of the older generation would have spoken Irish and nothing else, especially the ones in the mountain areas. The next generation would have spoken English and Irish but alas, my generation had little if nothing of our glorious heritage. There was a smattering of Irish in everyday speech, which, I hope, still persists to this day. Weatherwise they would talk about a 'gurly' day (garbh-la), or an old neighbour of ours would say when a thundershower was imminent, 'I think there's going to be a 'plimp'. Or when the cows were coming home, you would be told to 'ceap' them and turn down into the 'slap' (a gateless opening). If you did the job well, you might be rewarded with a 'ceaper' of bread.
It was a good life then. We didn't have much of this world's goods but everyone was in the same boat. Neighbours were friendly and generous. Doors were always open to everyone, or, as they said then, they 'lay on the latch'. They didn't have locks and keys then, a wooden bolt behind the door, but it was seldom used.
My parents didn't really belong to Glenelly. My father was from Co. Clare. He was a tailor and as children we were known as the 'Tailors'. His father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather before him were tailors. After his mother died, he fell out with his father and left home. He went to his Uncle Patrick (who was a tailor) and finished his trade there. Then he set off as a journeyman tailor and eventually made his way to Co. Tyrone and to Plumbridge. My mother's father was a master tailor, as was his father before him, and when there was a rush of work he would hire journeymen tailors to help him out. He hired my father and that was that. He met my mother, they got married and moved up to Glenelly to live. And so began our sojourn in Glenelly.
Their first home in Glenelly was in Aughdoorish. They lived in the house on the site of Edmund Conway's house. It was owned by a woman called Josie. They rented half of the house and Josie had a shop in the other half. In my day, Mary Ann and Maggie Frank Paddy (McGillian) lived in it. They were neighbours of the McCormicks, the Falls, the Browns, Mary Anne O' Neill and Neddys (Conways). My sister Annie and my brother Jack were born in Aughdoorish and Maggie McCormick was Annie's godmother.
Then they moved to Corramore, to Mortar's wee house at the top of Corramore Road. There their neighbours were the McKennas, Francie (Phil) Cassidy and his mother Rosie (Coyle), (who both spoke fleunt Irish), John Hollywood and his wife Alice (Coyle) amongst other. Tommy, Mollie and Joey were all born there. In 1930, Mrs. Mary Rodgers, principal teacher in the Girl's school in Legcloughfin, was retiring and selling her house. It was built on half an acre of land sold to her by Johnnie Donnell's father (…..McCullagh). My father had a win on the horses (he was fond of a wee bet) and was able to buy the house from her. They moved to Legcloughfin, beside the school, and there I was born. Two sisters were born after me, Sadie who died in early infancy, and Peggy who died in a tragic accident in Glenlark. She tripped into a pot of boiling water. She was so badly scalded that she died in Omagh hospital that evening. She was only six years old. I now have the doubtful distinction of being the only person born in that house to be still alive!!!
Life in those days wasn't easy. People had the basics in foods. All around were farmers. They tilled their basic fields, sowed their crops and harvested them. Many farmers had one horse, but it took two to pull a plough so they teamed up and shared the work,' capall-comhair'. Some farmers still dug with the spade. Old Johnnie Donnell beside us, I remember him digging his fields from top to bottom with the spade, and I can still see him coming home tired and weary in the evening. He had a dog Daisy, and it would collect the cows for him for the milking. He was a great old man. He had a kale garden, like most of the farmers, behind the house. As well as kale, he would sow early potatoes and he had rhubarb growing too. He would share the early potatoes and the kale. We had no farmland but Johnnie and the Sheerins would let my mother sow a few drills of potatoes and that would do us all year. Johnnie thatched his own house. There was a hedge of osiers between his and McCloskey's meadow. He cut the 'scolbs' there and the rushes grew in the bottom of his own field. It was always wet there as a stream cut across McCloskey's land and ran through Johnnie's. The fields were set out in 'run-dale' fashion. Every farmer had fields above and below the road but they didn't always run straight, one farm's fields slotted into another.
Johnnie, next door, was a farmer
He'd only a wee farm of land
Boys, he was a powerful worker
And tilled the whole lot by hand
He'd four fields from the road to the river
And over his kingdom he'd toil.
He'd the same from the road to the mountain
And to him it was treasured soil.
He'd a tidy wee house at the corner
And its roof he would lovingly thatch.
It was only a kitchen and pantry
And its door always lay on the latch.
Inside the walls they were whitewashed,
It just had an earthen floor,
And when John teemed his spuds at the fire
Sure the water ran right out the door
He'd always a cow or a heifer
And one or two hens scrapin' round
He'd a dog that would answer to Daisy
And a better dog couldn't be found
His house was a great place to ceilidhe,
The lads would collect there at night,
And Johnnie would wait for their coming,
With the turf fire well alight.
The reek would curl up the broad chimney,
The kettle would hiss on the hook,
The chat, it flowed backwards and forwards,
It was worth writing down in a book.
They chatted till drawing near midnight
And then they'd get up to go home.
They'd all call "Goodnight" to each other,
And go off, leaving Johnnie alone.
Those lads they have spread the world over,
From home to the ends of the earth.
Some settled and reared up a family,
While some have departed in death.
Old Johnnie has gone to his rest too.
He's met with his neighbours above.
Och! He was a dacent oul' craythur,
I'm sure he's enjoying God's Love.
Johnnie, like all the other farmers, whitewashed his own house. Lime was often spread on the land to help the crops. A load of limestone would be delivered to the 'street'. There it would be 'sloughened' (sileachan?) This was mixed with water and the resultant 'wash' was applied to the walls. Many of the farms had their own lime kiln (tornóg). The 'whitewash' was used inside and outside the houses. Later years brought the distemper, the paint and the wallpaper. The insides of the houses were whitewashed too. They usually had one room and a kitchen with an earthen or stone floor. The kitchen had an 'outshot' bed or 'cuíl-leaba'. It was built into the wall. Usually the parents or grandparents slept in it. During the day it was curtained off from the rest of the kitchen. Some houses had a loft or 'half-loft- in the kitchen. Sometimes it was used for sleeping quarters or for storage. In my young day a lot of the single storey thatched houses were being replaced with the two-storey slated buildings. Nowadays it is all beautiful new bungalows and modern houses.
The housewives had their share of work to do on the farm. Besides being responsible for the biggest share of the childrearing, they kept the house, provided and cooked the food, reared and looked after the poultry, milked the cows, often helped in the fields and did the many chores that needed doing. It is one of my earliest memories seeing Sarah Tracy and her sister Biddy (Glenchiel) as an old woman scything hay in the meadow beside their house, as I was on my way up from McConnell's shop. I remember they had on long, red skirts with a black apron over them. Most of the women then wore black shawls. Coats were just coming into fashion. Most of the older women wore black: black blouses, black skirts, black stockings and black aprons. I remember an old lady, Mary-Ann? Pat Davy (Morris) going up the chapel wearing a beautiful black coat with a beaded cape on it. She was a little woman and as she walked the strings of the beads swung from side to side. I thought it was the loveliest thing I has ever seen, the height of fashion. On reflection, it had probably come from America.
The women were also responsible for providing the clothes for the family. They sewed and patched and darned. They made patchwork quilts for the beds. They knitted socks and 'ganseys' (geansaí- sweaters). These were knitted from sheep's wool. When the farmed clipped the sheep, the fleeces were sold for extra money. Some of the wool was kept back for the family's use. This was then cleaned, carded, and spun into wool. Many a time, I carded wool for Mary Jane Neddy. She showed me how to card and roll the fibres into 'rolags' ready for the spinning wheel. She even let me have a go on the wheel. I'm sure I made a pig's ear of it but she was very kind. She used to spin and knit a lot. Extra socks were sold to make more money. When I was young, they cost 6d a pair for good ones and 4d a pair for rough ones. Most of the sheep kept then were 'Ragherys' or mountain sheep. Their wool was very hard and wiry. Some of the farmers kept sheep with a softer fleece. I don't know the breed, lowland sheep, Leicesters maybe. Usually someone in every family could spin and most houses had a spinning wheel. In my day, Mary Ann O'Neill was the best spinner around. She could spin wool as fine and even as a spider's thread. She lived in Aughdoorish in the Old Mill. She had a gramophone and her house was a great gathering place. She had a lot of records and I think we all learned to dance there. Many a reel and 'Sets' was danced on her stone floor. Besides Mary Ann, Alice Duffy (Molloy) of Sperrin, was well known for her spinning. There was a programme on television years back showing her as the last spinner in the Sperrins. Some people, tired of the monotonous colour of the sheeps' wool, dyed it. They used natural plants to do this. We used to be quite envious of those with coloured stripes etc. in their ganseys. Among other things, they used 'crottle' (crótal- a rock linchen), bracken, nettles, and alder cones were the favourite for a good black dye. By the time I had learned to knit, shop wool was becoming plentiful. I think the Second World War was the cause of this. It meant a decline in the 'homespun' industry. With the subsidies for growing extra crops etc there was a roughness of money and people didn't have to rely on their own resources so much.
Men are not to be forgotten in the contribution to farm life. They tilled the fields, sowed the crops, tended them all summer and harvested them in the autumn. That was a busy time for them. They worked from dawn to dusk- no nine-to-five jobs then. They usually teamed up to do the harvesting. They went to their neighbours to do the hay-making, the corn gathering etc. The corn, or oats, was a tall crop and if there was a storm at all, the stalks would be blown down and wouldn't rise again. When it came to harvesting the corn had to be 'rodded' (held up with a rod for the reaper to cut it). This job usually fell to the children. It was a job I hated. When the 1st of May came it was a custom for all children to shed their shoes. Rain, hail or shine, you went on your bare feet. Now there were always thistles growing amongst the corn. When you were holding the rod to raise the corn stalks you had to walk backwards and had no chance of seeing where the thistles grew. Naturally you tramped on every thistle in the field- it was no joke! Potato gathering followed that- another backbreaking job. But the potato gathering was good fun. There was always a crowd in the field and many a clod of clay or bad potato found its way from drill to drill…aimed at unwary backsides! Then there was always the tea in the field- a sumptuous feast, loads of newly baked soda bread, lavishly spread with 'country' butter, mugs of tea (although cold) or buttermilk- food fit for the gods indeed! Then, there was harvesting of corn, reaping, tying into sheaves, stoking, building into 'lumps' and the final building of stacks in the stackyard. This was a great social occasion for neighbouring farmers gathered with their dogs. As the bases were cleared for the stacks, all the rats ran out and the dogs killed them. There was much noise and shouting. When the last farmer had his corn in, there would be a dance. It was the custom then for men to give their sweethearts a 'harvest knot' or 'true-loves knot' which they had fashioned out of the golden stalks of corn. There were many varieties of these. The custom has long died out since no corn is grown now.
It is a pity that all the old customs have died out, as they were great social occasions. There was no 'home-entertainment' then. 'Ceilidhing' was a great pastime. At night people gathered in each other's houses. They talked, told yarns, ghost stories, sang and danced, played cards. Any outstanding event demanded a 'ceilidhe' or house dance… a wedding, or someone back on a visit etc. The glens people were always very self-sufficient. They had a shoemaker, a tailor, a forge, a barber, shopkeepers and musicians could always be relied on to turn up for the ceildhe. The kitchen was 'redd' (cleared of unwanted furniture) and the dancers stirred the dust as they thumped the floor, a stone floor.
'Swing your lassie and mind the dresser!' the cry went up. (You can be sure that floor was easy to sweep the next day.) The celebrations went on till the early hours of the morning. Half way through the proceedings, tea would be served, just tea and soda bread. People would be called on to sing. There were always plenty of performers, the new songs and the old were sung and everyone joined in. When the musicians got tired, the non-dancing crowd would 'lilt' and the dancers danced on. There were always well attended, the ceilidhes. One wee fellow, when questioned by his mother as to how many were at a certain ceilidhe said, 'The full of the house and the full of the outby'… a great recommendation indeed! There were great, those dances. Many a time we were walking home at five in the morning. The white mist would be lying low along the river, the stars fading in the sky and everything so quiet and peaceful… That was a long time ago another life, another age.
A lot of the social life centered on the Church in those days. Sunday Mass was a great gathering place. The men always gathered at the church wall until the last bell rang. They stood three and four deep along the wall (I suppose talking and viewing the 'talent'). The chapel would be crowded, the stairs and gallery, packed. People from a distance would have come by horse and trap. The traps were lined up on Cranagh streets, some of the horses in the Navvy's shed or Mullan's field. Some people came on bikes and the rest on foot. The only car in the glen was Francie Mc Connell's. In the church, the men sat on the right-hand side and the women on the left. In the gallery where the choir was, it was kind of mixed. On the Sunday after a wedding, it was the custom for a newly married couple to go to the galley and everyone gawked at them coming down the stairs. 'Show Sunday' it was called. There were no honeymoons in those days. If you got the whole day off to get married, you were lucky. Usually, it was a half-day.
Times have changed a lot since then. The war came in 1939. With it came the ration books, the identity cards and the gas masks. The food rationing didn't affect us too much in the glen. There was always a roughness of butter, potatoes, vegetables and milk. Subsidies were paid to the farmers for the crops they grew. This meant ready money for them. A lot of the young people went away to work, again for more money. I think this was the beginning of the change of life in the glen as I had known it. Peggy, my sister, died in 1942. I went away to school after that, and my brother, Joey, went to America after the war. I wasn't home much after that, only on holiday time. My mother and father were on their own so they sold the house in Legcloughfin in 1959 and moved to Co. Down. They died there but are buried in Glenelly with my two sisters. I go up now and again to visit their grave and to call with old friends (not many of them left, sad to say). Even our old house has gone, burned down in an accident. Not a trace now of our family, just as if we had never been there, just the old bones in the graveyard. As I said before, I'm the only one left who was born in that house.
To me, the glen has changed. It is no longer the old friendly place I grew up in. The houses no longer look the same, the old school has tumbled down and has been replaced with a modern, up-to-date building in Cranagh. All the trees around the Church have gone. The hedges and ditches that used to separate the little run-dale fields have disappeared. The hedgeless fields now look like great, green lawns, devoid of the variety of crops we used to admire. The old Glenelly River still flows on, although it has been deepened and no longer floods the homes along its banks. Turf, for those who use it, is no more cut with the old 'sleán', all machine done now. I wonder if anyone remembers the 'losaid'? or what they would think of the custom of boiling the potatoes, draining them through the losaid at the front doorstep, and then setting it on the table. Potatoes and salt were the order of the day then, with a nice slice of home-cured bacon, or a salt herring roasted over the tongs… no fancy shiny saucepans then. Every house was equipped with a large iron pot, complete with 'bools' for hanging. They had a flat-bottomed oven for making the bread or frying the bacon. The 'harnin'' (hardening) iron was also needed for the oaten bread. The crane, hooks and links, a griddle, an iron kettle, a tea drawer and a pair of tongs completed the cooking necessities. All of these were made in the 'forge'. Food was cooked on the open hearth and you couldn't beat the taste of it. There was no running water, you had to go to the spring well for that. But like everything else, all of that way of life has gone.
Even the roads have changed. The old sandy, stony roads that we ran over in our bare feet are different. In our day, they had potholes made by the horse-drawn carts. These holes were filled in with course stones. There was a place at the foot of Kerlin's loaning in Legcloughfin, to store the stones. It wasn't out of the ordinary to see a man sitting there 'knapping' stones (breaking them with a hammer into smaller stones). He was later replaced with the stonebreaker, a great invention of our time. Many a 'stonybruise' was collected on our travels over those roads, and many a thorn too. We always looked for the sandy patches on the roads or ran along the ditches. Well, it's all changed now, for the better, I suppose. I have grown old and away from it all, nothing left but the memories! Good memories, fond memories of bygone years.
The wind is howling hard tonight
Around this house of stone.
It brings me back in memory
To my childhood in Tyrone.
I can see myself in those bygone days
Run barefoot through the grass,
And then along the dusty road
And along Sheerin's Pass.
I can feel the stones beneath my feet.
They were hard and sharp and sore.
That poor old road is tarmaced now,
The pot-holes are no more!
If I close my eyes, I can hear again,
The wind in the trees, on the height.
I can hear the sough of the rush of the burn,
As the water falls foaming and white.
O God be with those happy days
When we ran wild and free.
They will always be in my memory,
When I hear the wind in the tree.