Graiguecullen Memories By Austin Crowe

Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Austin Crowe
Graiguecullen Memories
By Austin Crowe 1990
Source: Carlow Past & Present. Vol. 1. No. 3. 1990

Photo taken c.1946 — Left to right: Joseph, Harry, Austin and James Crowe.
We all went to Graiguecullen National School, and C.B.S. in Carlow and joined the Army as Privates and Volunteers and received commissions as officers during the emergency, 1939-1946. We all retired with following ranks: 1, Colonel, Joseph; 2, Lieut. Col. James and Austin; 3, Lieut., Harry (at end of Emergency).

I rarely pass through Graiguecullen without visiting what’s left of the family home. Sad to relate all that remains is a four foot high outline of the windows, doors and walls. I stop, look at the ruins, and let memories of the previous forty years come flooding back to me. There were good times and bad times. The happier ones seemed to linger longest when studying those stark remains.

By no stretch of the imagination could one agree that this old house had any architectural qualities which would justify its preservation for posterity. However, this old single storied three roomed house was the home I was born into. It was the house where several generations of Begleys on my mother’s side had lived since they were included in the lists of Voters of 1848 for the Borough of Carlow: The house was also shown on Molands Map of 1703. There was no mod-cons in this house, its main claim to fame was that it flooded every year.

My father married into the house, and the home changed temporarily for a period of forty years during which time I came into the world. Eventually seven of us were born in the house, and we became one half Laois men and the other half Carlovians (though technically we were Carlow men all the time!)

My earliest recollections of my surroundings are lying in some kind of cot in the garden during summer. I watched the bees in the currant bushes; the flowers in the garden and the strange clouds passing overhead, which we later called herring bone clouds. I do not know whether it was going to rain or not but my mother brought me in and placed me in one of the rooms which was at an angle to the rest of the house. There I could hear the sound of the Weir on the river and in later years we learned that this sound meant rain was imminent.

To this day when a southwest wind blows I imagine I can hear this old weir again and it induces a strange feeling of sadness and loneliness of days that used to be.

Attached to our house on the left hand side lived ‘Ma’ and ‘Da’ Hayden, at least that’s what they were called by their own family and the names were continued to us. I barely remember Da Hayden but I do have recollections of sitting on his knee taking an odd puff of his pipe. When he died Ma became granny to the rest of the family and we included ourselves in this and as you will find only in the country towns of those times we lived on each others doorstep.

Granny Hayden often recounted stories of her childhood going back over some sixty years. One story dealt with a Mrs. Kelly who had a shop on the Carlow side of the Bridge, and it was said that she short-changed a number of customers and when this lady died her soul could not rest. She was the subject of an exorcism. An elderly man whom I knew as a child was often pointed out to me as one of the acolytes who attended this particular service. The Hayden’s were a large family and had many relations in America. Our family had no one in the U.S. and we were rather bugged when we would see our neighbours returning home with big cars and beautiful clothes. Some had also acquired the nosey accents of the Americans.

Further to our left at the junction of our street and Barrow St. (which we called “The Baulks”) was located the forge of Mike McDarby known locally as “Mallet” or “Leck of the Hammer”. He could extract music from his anvil, with his light and heavy sledge hammers. One could almost distinguish between father and son when they were working on the anvil. And they were completely different in sound to the other forges of the area. “Mallet” liked playing tricks on us children and often heated up a nut or bolt in his furnace then throwing it out the door for an unsuspecting passer-by to pick up and drop just as quickly.

Great pitch and-toss schools often took place in front of the forge. I often attended some of these schools as a non-participant as I never had the required halfpenny entrance fee. I do recall trying to conceal a halfpenny in the dust of a summers evening, all of us in our bare feet. However, there being mathematicians among. the members of this club, they quickly deduced that a halfpenny had gone astray and started to search around. Everybody was required to move the circle outward and display the sole of their feet. Whereupon the halfpenny was found in close proximity to my toe and one of them seeing through my design promptly gave me a well placed kick in the rear and sent me home.

In my time, the roads around Graigue, were not tarmacadammed. Almost every evening including Sunday afternoons the street was full of activity. Either, football, hurling or handball were the games most played by my pals. Little or no transport disturbed the peace, hence, the freedom of the streets. Trivial pursuits such as togging out for games were for girls, a ragball or tightly rolled sheets of the daily paper as a ball, hurling sticks expertly made by nature and extracted from hedges. Goal posts made of jerseys were the only requirement. With no referee time limits were not imposed and matches could go on for hours. The only half time allowed was when a horse and cart passed by.

The handball alley was the wall beside Willie Doogues’ butchers shop and store. Sunday afternoon was the usual time laid down for twenty one and an ace, Tucker Ward, Casey Nolan, Nick Hand, Ned Begley, Paddy Hayden and many more became heroes of Graigue after certain outstanding matches. The step at our front door was a convenient spot to watch these games, which produced tremendous handballers, unknown and unsung heroes known only to the local inhabitants.

One man in particular whose left hand had been injured from childhood could play handball with one hand and should the ball pass on the left side he would whip his hand around his back to return the ball with never failing accuracy.

We also played “pictures” with cigarette cards pitched toward walls from a distance of about five or six feet. The one nearest the wall got the opportunity of tossing the other players cards against the wall at the same time shouting “pictures”. Down the “Baults” or Barrow St., we played “Relieve Oh” a game played with blocks of stone thrown towards a large stone, the one furthest from the centre stone was chased back to a try point and the game recommenced.

Girls usually played hopscotch on the paths and marked out six equal squares in chalk, usually a “peggy” made of light flat stone or a small tobacco box filled with clay was used, and pushed forward by hopping on one foot and trying to keep the “peggy” within each square. They also played “Heres the Robbers coming through” and a boy considered “good” would be allowed to play with them, which not a lot of us were inclined to do for fear of being considered sissies. We often played with the girls if our pals were not around. The “top” season was held in Summer when the roads were dry. If it rained it meant that tops could not be flogged up and down the street, due to mud on the street. However, we did make use of the mud and built mud pies and dams in the channels much to the annoyance of the road users. Girls played a game called “chainies”. I could never find out what the origin of this word was; However, they laid out broken pieces of crockery in squares and used them as a form of barter in buying and selling more “chainies”. Perhaps since the village of Graigue was the “Irish Town” of Carlow in olden times, the children were continuing games and ancient customs long since disappeared.

“Forninst” us, across the street in, “Jane Villas, “lived Liz Farrell. She lived a quiet life and kept very much to her self until some celebration took place in the Street. The locals certainly enjoyed themselves when football victory was to hand, and there were bonfires in the “Baulks” with loads of turf. I felt at the time that it was a terrible waste of fuel with so many houses affected by dampness from flooding. This encouraged me to misappropriate three sods of turf from the load and dump them into my house. However, so many kids started doing this that the firelighters ran us away before we could contemplate removing any more turf. For years afterwards my conscience was so affected that I was in terror of going to confession. Some day please God I shall send back three sods of turf to Graigue G.F.C. or if they can price it for me I will be glad to defray the cost. However, we did contribute sixpence towards the cost of the bonfire and a percentage deduction should be forthcoming. Many were the ways of celebrating a successful football match.

There was a thatched pub at the end of our Street. The pub was located in a strategic position and any movement by police across the bridge was immediately noted and effective action taken to counteract a raid. Withdrawal from the pub was rapidly carried out by the use of a ladder which scaled the priests wall and sanctuary was afforded to the ‘Pilgrims’ in the shrubbery of the garden, I have no idea as to whether the curate was aware of such exercises. How do I know all this you may well ask? Well, you see, my uncle was often one of the merry band who took part in these operations. In this pub was born Charles S. Glover who composed the music for the ‘Rose of Tralee’ written by Mordaunt Spencer. His father was a boozing companion of my fathers and this did not contribute to making taxi driving (my fathers occupation at the time) a profitable business.

In those days women rarely visited pubs unless accompanied by their husbands. If a drink was required at home someone, usually a male of required age, had to go and collect it. It fell to my lot one day to do this, I was only eight years old and my parents could have been prosecuted should I have been caught. As my mother at this particular time was unable to leave the house, she remained at the door to be on alert least a policeman arrived on the scene. I went as requested and placed the order for a jug of porter in Brennans Pub.

As Mrs. Brennan proceeded to draw from a barrel I heard her say to herself ”Oh yes, a jug of stout”. I did not comment on this as I felt that I might be taken for an idiot since I did not know the difference between porter and stout at the time. However, to make sure that everything was correct, as I walked towards my mother I shouted out “I asked for porter and she gave me stout” quite a few of my mothers friends were standing around and with knowing nods and winks they let my mother know they knew she was having a drink in secret. As I approached the door imagining that I had done a good job, the jug being carefully taken from me, I received a clip in the ear, which propelled me, bawling my head off, down the garden.

Sleatty Street - from a watercolour by Austin Crowe.On the right hand side of our house lived the Donoghues. They were great bird fanciers and fishermen. On Sunday mornings during the summer, I recall listening to their collection of Finches, Linnets, Sky Larks, bursting with song. “Grazey” could imitate any kind of bird by whistling and usually was able to attract strange birds to his cages in this way. Poor old Mrs. Donoghue liked to puff a pipe and I think she did this without her husbands’ knowledge because we often saw her hide the pipe in a hole in the wall and placing a stone over the hiding place. Sunday mornings had a distinctive aura about them in our street; coming from early Mass one could smell bacon and eggs cooking in most houses, this helped to sharpen the appetite by the time one got home.

The beautiful mornings with hazy fog rolling across the Barrow, cocks crowing, hens and chicks busily scratching for early worms. There were distinctive sounds to be heard from the bells of the Catholic and Protestant Churches, and sometime around eleven o’clock everyday the big diesel electric engines on the Quay started up and showed rings of black smoke before bursting into life. Public and private lighting was produced here for Carlow and Graigue over the previous forty years until the arrival of the E.S.B. in the mid thirties. Our house used the oil lamp and candles until the late thirties. My father always maintained that it was too costly for the average worker like himself. All during our school days we had no lighting other than oil and candles.

"Floods", this and other photos of Austin's neighbours, supplied by George Haughney.At the bottom of our garden was the half field - half bog, bounded on East and West by muddy drains much subject to flooding in Winter time. This was the field where we learned most about wildlife. It was unbelievable the various types of bird and animal life that inhabited this field. In early Spring, we searched the boggy area for boglark resting in tufts of grass. Usually, this bird could disguise the location of it’s nest by landing a considerable distance away and running through the grass.

We only located the nests by accident and when the lark flew out of the nest, she dragged herself along the grass as if she had a broken wing and only when she thought that there was no further danger to the nest did she fly away. Jack Snipe also lived in this bog and were usually shot during the shooting season, but it would take four or five to make a reasonable meal for one person. They were also the cause of a near accident to myself and my sister. We were both playing in the field near the drain when we were splattered with gunshot from a distance by two gunmen who turned out to be the local Registrar and Judge. I often wondered afterwards what would have been the outcome of the court-case should we have been injured. Luckily there was a dip in the ground near the drain and this shielded us. As children, we were unaware of the danger, however, the gunmen did not worry as they did not check on us afterwards.

Other birds located there during Winter were Plovers (both types), Coot and Wild Duck of various species. The Corncrake was very common during Summer. Whenever the grass was cut, we often found their nests and reared some of the Corncrakes, they left for the wild after about a fortnight with the hens. Swans and Wild Geese sometimes came to rest there after flooding they moved elsewhere. Otters and foxes were seen in this field, the otter remained near the river banks. At various times, eels, perch and trout came up the drains. There was a system of fishing for eels called “Porting” which entailed a rod, with a quiver made from a sally tied at an angle on top of the rod, the line being about a foot and a half long. The hook, with worm was stuck on the quiver. This in turn was pushed into holes in the wall, hook and worm were left neatly inside the wall tempting the eel. The eel usually took the bait, but one had to act swiftly and flick the eel from the wall as otherwise he would curve himself inside the hole and the force could break the line.

Paddy Haughney and John Moore.It was a tradition among the Graigue people that the bodies of the six hundred United Irishmen were brought to the quarry in Ninety Eight Street from Tullow Street down through Cox’s Lane, across the River Barrow and through the Bog field via Connaught Lane (known as the Well Lane in my time), into the quarry in John’s Street, now Ninety Eight Street. This operation was supposed to have been carried out at the dead hour of night.

I cannot see why the remains of the insurgents should - have been brought across the river at Cox’s Lane when there was a bridge available. However, the local ghost story tellers used to terrify us with stories regarding corpses being brought across the field and out at the back of our house!

Janey Hoare of Henry St. was the seanacai for our street. When she visited our house there was an immediate rush for the best seats around the fire or the two hobs. If we could, we would sit in on the hobs.

The fire was a psychological focussing point, it was bright and not as frightening as the darkness behind us. Incidentally all story telling was done in front of the fire. And after the first few headless horsemen, the dead coach, and the Bodh or the Banshee stories (Kitty the Hare couldn’t hold: a candle to her) the nervous strain: would take effect and gradually the listeners would request an escort to the bedroom. One would not look out the window lest the Bodh or the Banshee might be seen looking in.

Kate Helegan with familyWhen the kitchen was cleared of children the adults could get down to some serious talking and the odd glass was filled from the jug containing stout! Some people had gatherings at street corners and story telling was interspersed with the odd sing song, “The Rose of Mooncoin” or “I’m Afraid I’ll Never Be Able To Plough The Rocks of Bauon”. The location for these gatherings was the junction of the street we lived on. Some times the sing songs went on till about 2 or 3 a.m. and when my father had to get up at 7 a.m. the situation was a disadvantage to him as he was a light sleeper. Once after a song and about to commence “By The Bright Silvery Light Of The Moon” my father went out to the back yard and having found a tin can he threw it over the roof of the house and it went clattering up the streets towards the singers, needless to remark at 2 a.m. in the morning the tin can fell like a rifle shot in the centre of the street and this had an immediate effect on the more nervous of the midnight singers. They scattered in all directions and did not return for about 3 months when they had regained their composure.

Down the Baulk or, to be more correct, down Barrow Street, lived Mary Dooley in a rather large house facing into the river Barrow. There was a lovely green in front of the house and it was often used to play games including cricket, which was most un-usual for those days. I recall one occasion Martin McDarby getting a blow on the forehead from the cricket ball and he was completely knocked out. Mary often threw a party. A turkey or a goose was raffled for a few pence and there was the usual Cęili dancing with a local playing an instrument. A barrel of porter was in the room where youngsters were forbidden to go.

Across the field behind our house near the river bank were the ruins of the Barrow Navigation Company Stores. North of the Stores were two docks for the barges using the river. Only one remained when I lived in Graigue. Above these docks was the foreman’s house and in my time Bridgie Melia, her brother and mother lived there. Bridgie had green fingers and had a beautifully kept house; it was like a doll’s house. She kept every known type of flower and vegetable and though she may not have known the Botanical names she did make an excellent job of growing them and whenever I asked her the names, she called them by such names as “Salt and Pepper”, “Tea and Jam”. Bridgie was my Godmother and I can say without a shadow of doubt that she must have been the most generous person to hold the auspicious rank of Godmother.

Every Christmas up to the age of fourteen, she gave me a present either in the form of money or a small toy. Her protection of the Company’s property was total. No one was allowed to remain in the vicinity of the buildings no matter how well related to her. The Barrow Navigation Company eventually became the Grand Canal Company and apparently with the advent of the Railway to Carlow, business began to slacken and the premises were moved across the river to Carlow Quay.

Lizzie Hore with neighbours.The horse drawn barges fell into disuse as the diesel engined barge was brought into service. The horse drawn barge was used once again during World War II. The barge system was let fall into disuse in the l950s under C.I.E. who felt that it was cheaper and faster to use railway and lorry transport. When one recalls that barges were launched sideways by Messrs. Thomas Thompson during the War and the wonderful work in making our canals, it is difficult to believe that slow moving merchandise could not be carried on the canals and in this way relieve some of the congestion we now have on the roads.

As barges were gradually withdrawn from the Barrow only turf barges used the Graiguecullen side. James Doyle from Athy stored turf in the Old Navigation Stores and supplied most of the area with this form of fuel for over thirty years.

There were “saw pits” in the vicinity of the old stores though I’d never seen them in use. There were unloading baulks still in place where these saw pits were originally located. Close by the stores, weigh-in scales were to be seen, there was also a hay bailing machine close to the dock. The system was worked by a horse attached to a central pivot which in turn worked the bailing machine inside the store, through a connecting shaft or axle. I can recall seeing the baler in action only once and I regret to say the same about the groving dock. At the end of the Thirties no more barges were tied up at the Graigue side of the river. What a sad day for commerce on the River Barrow.

Opposite our old house was located the butchers shop originally the property of Tommy Mara who was my Godfather. However, Willie Doogue, the present proprietor purchased it from his uncle in 1932. He will always be remembered by our family for his charity; every Christmas we received a Christmas box in the form of meat, and this helped to make many a Christmas happier in times of considerable poverty.

Eddie and Mary Moore.Recently passing through Graiguecullen, I felt that 40 years had not altered anything; as if to welcome me back, there was the old enemy, the flood, in the ruins of my home. Can one imagine what memories this brought back to mind, almost 40 years to the day! There I was standing at the edge of the great tormentor of my parents. That March forty years ago as my mother and myself sat by the fireside, I heard the trickle of water through the back door. I checked the rear entrance to see what was happening, and the flood was almost one foot deep. On opening the door, the water started to fill the house rapidly. Immediately my mother and myself had the task of lifting everything to minimise the risk of damage to our miserable items of furniture. Most items were raised on boxes above four feet; the boxes were kept for such emergencies.

We worked steadily for about half an hour, at this stage the water had risen to four foot outside in the Street. While furniture and bedding were made reasonably safe it was now necessary to get my mother out to the drier areas in Ninety Eight Street. We had no boat, no vehicle to do this so I hoisted my mother on my back and waded through four feet of water towards Ninety Eight Street. Since the rest of my family were away we were accommodated for a few days by my Aunt in Bridge Street.

No one, only those who have lived under these circumstances, can imagine what it was like returning to a damp, cold, wet house. We received assistance once when St. Vincent De Paul sent us a few bags of coal to dry out the house. To this day I cannot understand why such conditions of living were allowed. Of course, as children we used the flooding as an excuse to dodge school, and we mostly enjoyed it. The County Council laid planks and blocks to allow people to enter their homes but if the water was over two feet high nothing could be done as the planks would float away.

It was quite a game with us when meeting an elderly person half way’ on the plank, to jump up and down and of course the vibration would cause reaction, shouting and roaring at us perpetrators took place until our parents appeared.

In recent years I could not understand why the flooding of the Shannon received such attention when the same situation was to be had so to speak on the door step of the media.

Needless to remark, snow brought the floods, in 1933 the drifts of snow were about four feet deep. We prepared accordingly for the flood which would follow. All kinds of engineering solutions were proposed one of which was the drainage of the River Barrow close to the Bridge and removal of the island in the centre of the river. The mud and sludge was dredged from the river by steam-dredger and was carted by horse bogie on rails into the old field at the rear of our house. The intention was to build a dam across the centre of the bog.

Hence two of the worst floods took place in 1933 and 1948 despite the building of the dam. The dredging of the river was of immense interest to us as youngsters particularly the heavy steam dredger which was used to complete the work, tied by steel hausers to each bank of the river. It was mounted on very large pontoons with a central area for coal burners similar to a steam engine and had to be lit very early in the morning so that a good head of steam would be available by the time the men came to work at 8 a.m.

We envied the driver of this machine, his manipulations of the controls which worked the grabs, his method of casting such a large instrument under the bridge or into the island grabbing huge mouthfuls of mud and sediment. Then his accuracy in dumping the load into the bogies waiting to be filled.

Paddy Keating was one of my neighbours who had been employed with his horse to draw the bogies into the old bog. He was a friendly man and a great old worker. I often heard him shout up towards his house which backed into the bog. “Rosie tell your mother I want a packet of fags and a mug of tae”. Paddy’s only contribution to the unusual was his odd bottle of stout on a Friday night, Paddy accordingly would arrive home singing his favourite song. Paddy was susceptible to the numerous ghost stories which were told at night around the fire and none more so than the one about the exorcism of the local shopkeeper near the bridge and who was supposed to have been seen in the form of a dog at midnight.

During the Winter campaign season at the Beet Factory, Paddy worked with my father on the seasonal work which was available. He always waited for my father to accompany him home on the late shift at 1a.m. in the morning. However, it did happen on one occasion that shifts did not coincide and as a result Paddy had to make his way home on his own. It so happened that the local curate had a big brown setter which was much given to sleeping in the middle of the road at night time. There were only a few public lights in the street and therefore small objects could not be seen at night, Paddy successfully rounded the bridge when he stumbled across the dog lying in the middle of the road at this late hour. One does not have to have a great imagination to suppose what must have gone through Paddy’s mind when one considers the hair-raising stories he must have heard. Paddy picked himself up and disappeared down the Street towards home at the speed of light.

Pictured in the Scots Church: Austin with his schoolmaster of former days, the late Aidan Murray.Snow and flood seemed to be synonymous with Christmas. At least to our young minds these phenomena seemed to bring out Jack Gambon and his assistant accordion player. Jack came around just prior to Christmas calling out the names of the individual occupier of the houses in each street in the area. As children, it was difficult to stay awake and hear him coming to call out the names, “Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Crowe at one o’clock a fine hardy morning”, this was followed by a bar of music. It was wonderful to hear him on a dark frosty night coming towards the house from the distance and when he had called your name, he would go to the next neighbour and so on, until his music and his name calling would fade away. It was difficult to explain the feeling of melancholy and, at the same time, happiness which overcame one with the continuance of this old custom.

Of course, whether Jack knew it or not he was carrying out the old custom of crying the “Waites” which was introduced when towns were walled. The town crier carried out his perambulation of the towns defences, and gates, shouting out the hour and whether everything was well. However, Jack turned this old custom to his advantage and while not telling the inhabitants whether the defenses were in order, he called out the time and their names; subsequently, however, should one not have paid the required marks for the previous years name calling one might not have their names called out the next year.

Did we enjoy our family life in this old house? Of course we did! Our family of seven enjoyed a great family atmosphere despite the poverty. No, not that everyday was perfect, and my mother often instilled discipline with a swift kick in the pants. On many occasions when we were about to receive punishment due for our indiscretions, we would, with the speed of light, disappear to the safety of the bog where my mother was afraid to follow for fear of dark lucre's!

In 1948, my father was offered better accommodation with my uncle on the Tullow Road, much to my mother’s disappointment. She felt that she was leaving all the friends that she had grew up with, and despite the fact that the new house was free from the fear of flooding etc. she never settled down there. Her heart was in the old house in Graiguecullen and I can now well understand her feelings because now after all my years away there also rests my heart.

Austin Crowe. c1990

Source: Carlow Past & Present. Vol. 1. No. 3. 1990

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