Tag Archives: Oral history

Lenten Traditions in Ireland: Black Fast days and Salted Women!

In the late 1930s in Ireland the Irish Folklore Commission set about enlisting National Schools (Ireland’s Primary level schools) to help gather folklore. The idea was that the schoolchildren would get stories from parents, grandparents and neighbours about traditions, legends, superstitions, pastimes, trades, cures and any aspect of life in the local area. The children recorded these stories on exercise books. Schools all over the island (all 26 counties) took part in the project that lasted several years. Over 50,000 schoolchildren from 5,000 schools took part,resulting in over half a million pages of manuscript, known as The Schools Collection, or in Irish,‘Bailiúchán na Scol’. This wonderful collection is online at http://www.duchas,ie/en. Although not yet fully transcribed, and with much of it in the Irish language,there is a wealth of information here, including some stories highlighted today by Duchas on Twitter. (@duchas_ie).

Since Lent began yesterday, Duchas has highlighted some references to the penitential Lenten season. The day before Lent is Shrove Tuesday, known as Pancake Tuesday or Mardi Gras in other cultures, then we have Ash Wednesday, Chalk Sunday and Salting Monday. Ash Wednesday, Spy Wednesday (the Wednesday before Easter) and  Good Friday were known as’ black fast days’. In other words only a small amount of food was permitted.  I had not heard of the Chalking Sunday mentioned below,  and love the idea of being salted to be preserved! After all we preserve  fish by salting, so why not women too! Here is an extract from The Schools collection on Lent, beautifully written in the hand of a pupil in Tubbercurry, County Sligo.

Lent School collection

Lent Schools2The actual entry can be seen here.

More about The Schools Collection

The Schools Collection has an extensive amount of information on traditions and social history. Looking at my own County Donegal village, I found three schools that had submitted material to the collection. Manor Vaughan school right in the  village has contributions describing the number of houses in a townland, how many houses were thatched or slated and common names as well as nuggets of information long since forgotten. This record is one such and is an invaluable snapshot of the townland of Aughalatty in the late 1930s.

Not all were in English however. Mulroy School, where my grandfather was the teacher, also participated. The Mulroy transcripts are in Irish. My grandfather seems to have written the stories collected himself, so we don’t know if he merely transcribed them or if he actually collected them from the contributors. He has several contributions from a Mary Vaughan then aged 67 and I wonder if she might be the old woman I  remember in a black shawl when I  was growing up in Carrigart in the 1950s.

Schools collection 3

My grandfather James Gallagher (Séamus O Gallchobhair) recorded this story about Landlords as recounted by Máire Ní? Bhaughan, Mary Vaughan , aged 67.

The Schools Collection can be searched here and some patience is required. It can be explored by county and by name and by topic. It is a work in progress, but even at this stage it is a rich treasure trove of social history and may even be of help to people trying to trace family history. It is a site that this blog will return to as often as possible, as I continue to explore my own social history through these fascinating pages. In the meanwhile, as I am single and the first Monday in Lent approaches, I am hoping that someone might consider throwing salt on me to preserve me a while longer!

Further information:

Visit the Duchas website at http://www.duchas.ie/en:

 

 

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Countryside, Irish Culture, Irish Traditions, Living in Ireland, Social History Ireland

God, she struck me till she tired of it

“God, she struck me till she tired of it”  These were the words of Hannah Herrity, describing one of the many beatings administered by her father’s second wife.

The story of Hannah Herrity, produced by Dunfanaghy Workhouse

The story of Hannah Herrity, produced by Dunfanaghy Workhouse

Hannah Herrity lived through the hunger and deprivations of the Famine in Ireland. She told  her life story to a Mrs Law who befriended her and who wrote her story exactly as Hannah recounted it. These oral history manuscripts recording  the life of  “Wee” Hannah as she is known, now form the basis of a  permanent exhibition in the Dunfanaghy Heritage Centre, located in the old Dunfanaghy Workhouse, County Donegal.

Dunfanaghy Workhouse, Co. Donegal

Dunfanaghy Workhouse, Co. Donegal

Hannah Herrity was born in Derryreel, just outside Falcarragh, County Donegal, Ireland in 1835 or 1836. She was the eldest child of a local travelling tailorman and his wife Susy. In the early years of the Famine (probably 1847 or 1848) Susy died in childbirth with her 5th child. Hannah describes how her poor mother suffered and tells of her being laid out with the newborn baby beside her and how she felt her father’s tears of sorrow falling on her hair and face…Hannah would have been about 9 or 10  years of age.

Hannah’s father married a neighbour girl to care for the four surviving children, but as Wee Hannah recounted,”God help us, it was the black day for us he took her”. She was subjected to many beatings – neighbours would rescue her and allow her to stay at their home, safe from the enraged stepmother.

The soup pot at Dunfanaghy Workhouse

The soup pot at Dunfanaghy Workhouse

At the height of the Famine, Hannah sometimes had  to go to get the ‘broth’ in the village, each family having a ticket depending on the number in the household. She staggered and crawled home with it, too weak with hunger to walk properly, and so ravenous that she was tempted to help herself to the contents.  There were four houses that had land to grow oats in Hannah’s locality, otherwise people like the Herrity’s went hungry. Hannah did not seem to get her fair share of rations at home and often the neighbours would give her food, knowing that she was being starved by her stepmother. Two of her younger brothers died during this time.

Following a particularly severe beating and fearful that she might be killed while he was away, Hannah’s father arranged for her to go into service with a kind old lady in Doe who fed her and kept her happily for three years. After the old lady passed away, Hannah went to work for an unkind man who paid her badly and worked her hard and did not give her sufficient food and here her health began to fail. Eventually poor Hannah had to leave employment and had to walk over 60 miles (100km) to the hospital in Lifford where she remained for a year, and where, even though she was sick, she had to work.

Eventually Hannah ended up in Dunfanaghy Workhouse. She  described the horrors of life there with a particularly cruel matron ..”well there’d be maybe seven or eight dead in the morning..And god help us, she would strip the bed clothes down off them, and they’d be pulled out on the floor..the weemen said you’d hear the head of the corpse cracking down the steps till it was put in the dead house below”

A Seven Body Coffin as used at the Workhouse. The bottom slid open so it could be reused

A Seven Body Coffin as used at the Workhouse. The bottom slid open so it could be reused

Hannah survived the awful experience and spent many years afterwards travelling about from farm to farm taking work where she could get it,wandering the roads around Sheephaven Bay,finding kindness in some houses, and none in others. Eventually she could no longer work and took to begging.

Engraved glass on the door to the Dunfanaghy Workhouse Heritage Centre

Engraved glass on the door to the Dunfanaghy Workhouse Heritage Centre

She came to the attention of  Mrs  Law, wife of the local member of Parliament, who arranged for a one- room cottage to be built for Wee Hannah in Parkmore, and here she lived out the remainder of her life in relative comfort. The neighbours were good to her and saw that she did not want for anything. Mrs Law  interviewed Hannah and recorded the story of her eventful life exactly as Hannah told it.

Hannah (Heraghty) Herrity appears on the 1911 census, as the head of her little household in Parkmore. Here we can see where she applied her mark to the census record as she was unable to read or write. She died in 1926 at about 90 years of age. Thanks to Mrs Law, Wee Hannah’s story  is heard by hundreds of visitors to the Dunfanaghy Workhouse, a real reminder of the brutality of life for  the poor in 19th Century Ireland.

Sheephaven Bay and Dunfanaghy from Horn Head. Image Wikimedia Commons

Sheephaven Bay and Dunfanaghy from Horn Head. Image Wikimedia Commons

Outside Dunfanaghy there are three graveyards – the Catholic one and the Protestant one and  between the two is the Paupers Graveyard where victims of the Famine are buried.  Wee Hannah Herrity lies beside her friend Mrs Law in the Catholic part.

 

I am truly grateful to Dungfanaghy Workhouse for sending me the beautiful image below of the marker in the Famine Graveyard. It is a very fitting tribute to those who are interred here in a ‘no-man’s land’ between the two other graveyards. Basic, stark and rugged – such was their lives and deaths.

imageWee Hannah’s story played out in the general area where I grew up. I lived  some 14 miles from her home and at one time my great uncle was a catholic priest in Falcarragh and my grandmother was his housekeeper. I wonder did they know her?  Hannah worked out at Horn Head at one time, a beautiful headland that I saw every day from my bedroom window. At one point she told of being out in the snow and falling into a drain in my own Rosguill area. Growing up, we never heard of a person like  Hannah, making her way alone through life in such deprivation and hardship.

On the day of our visit to Dunfanaghy Workhouse last year torrential rain made photography difficult.  A future project will be to take photographs of Hannah’s Places for this blog.

Dunfanaghy Workhouse is well worth a visit. Here you will hear Hannah’s story in her own words. The exceptionally friendly and helpful staff are very knowledgeable about the area and they have an excellent coffee shop!  ‘The story of Wee Hannah as told to Mrs Law’ is available in their shop. Visit their website at http://www.dunfanaghyworkhouse.ie

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Oral History, Social History Ireland

Tales from the Hearth – In Memory of Kevin McFadden

A couple of weeks ago I received a copy of a very special book entitled ‘Tales from the Hearth’ that has a delightful oral history of my part of Donegal. This book harks back to a time when people visited others houses to exchange stories by the fireside. I am not sure how or where I discovered this publication, but somehow I made contact with Helen who sent me her last copy of this beautiful little book of stories as recounted by her  husband, the late Kevin McFadden.Feb13 001

I grew up in Carrigart, County Donegal, Ireland, in days before television and when the electric lights went off at 10 pm.  On  summer evenings we stayed outside playing until we had to come in for bed, and in winter  we retreated  to the fire after dark. At about 7 pm ‘Spaceships Away’ resounded from the radio, heralding the beginning of the nightly series, Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future! My mother had a few special friends who on a regular basis, would  call to our house in the evenings. Younger children were sent to bed, we older ones helped with the sandwiches – how I loved to see her friends arriving as my mother made a special plate of her famous mouth-watering salad sandwiches, so yummy! (the secret ingredient was vinegar! ). Mrs McFadden, Kevin’s mother, called on a weekly basis, and I recall that she and my mother would exchange weekend newspapers, such as The Empire News, The Sunday Dispatch, The Sunday People and various others. These ‘British’ papers were crammed full of stories of the British Royals, as well as various scandals – the stuff of endless conversation in a quiet rural village! One of my abiding memories is of how they laughed and enjoyed one another’s company!  The McFadden Family lived near us.  Kevin and his brother Patrick  are the ‘stuff of legend’ in Carrigart! One night there was a terrific explosion, followed by total consternation. Patrick and Kevin had taken an oil drum and dropped a lighted match into it…. and  BOOM!  I still remember the bang and  that their hair and eyebrows were singed – they were very fortunate not to have been seriously injured!  I think this was sometime in the early 1960’s, and it remained a significant event in the village for decades!

‘Tales from the Hearth’ re-created these forgotten memories from the 1950’s and early 1960’s just by association. Not only that, the book itself has absolute gems of stories featuring many local characters, many of whom  I knew personally. Paddy ‘Long Barney’ –  have no idea where the ‘Long Barney’ came from  and of course we never thought to ask as these distinguishing nicknames were very common in Donegal, being used to distinguish between families of the same surname and very often, same first names.  Paddy Long Barney features in a most unlikely ghost story , full of the familiar local dialect, which is a joy to read!

My favourite story is about the local football team, The Mulroy All Stars who were provided with football strips by migrant workers to Scotland, the local McGroddy brothers, Johnny and his younger brother Andy. (Someplace in my photo-bank I have a picture of these two legends that I will post when and if I find it). The then 16-year-old Kevin was picked as goalie and proudly defended his goalmouth on The Lea just outside Carrigart,  resplendent in his yellow polo neck ‘rig’. Even the 11 goals that whizzed past his ear did not dent the great pride he had in turning out in fabulous new team colours! I will have great pleasure in showing this story to the sister of the McGroddy boys when I visit later in the year.

Feb13 002

Kevin stands high above The Bar, where the Atlantic flows into Mulroy Bay, Co.Donegal

This little book is a great tribute to the local culture of story telling and yarn-spinning that was part and parcel of rural life in Ireland in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It is also a fitting memorial to a son of the parish who emigrated to Canada but never forgot his roots and the delights of the simple life he lived in rural north Donegal. Ar dheis Dé  go raibh a anam.

I am most grateful to Helen McFadden for sending me this book – I  will treasure it!

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Filed under Irish Culture, Living in Ireland, My Oral History, Oral History, Social History Ireland

The Generation Game

It seems to be a fact of life that the older we get, the more we are interested in our lineage and in the lives and times of the generations who went before us. How many people have ‘kicked’ themselves for not having asked the question to which they now cannot have answers because the person who has the knowledge can no longer remember details from decades earlier or has passed away?

Friends of the Elderly in Ireland are spearheading a ‘Life and Times Biography’ project whereby National School children will collect information from an older person in their community. This inspired project will benefit the older person, the young person and society as a whole, as an oral history resource of enormous value will be compiled in the process!

The programme is at 3 different levels – for an individual student, for a class, or for an entire school year. Each participating student will:

  • Make a friendship commitment to an elderly person
  • Produce a ‘Life and Times Biography’  for that person, and
  • Write an essay on the topic ” When My Elderly Friend Was Young”

The idea is of course to ease loneliness and to develop in young children an appreciation of older generations. Hopefully the resulting data will be compiled and captured as an oral history of times gone by – a wonderful social initiative resulting in a priceless resource captured for posterity!

For more on this Friends of the Elderly Project click here.

Bridging the Generation Gap

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Filed under Genealogy, Older Generation, Oral History, Seniors