Five Years In Ballingeary

By Seán Kelly, Clifden, Co. Galway.


On a recent visit to my cousin, Seán Ó Súilleábháin, Currahy, he kindly gave me six issues of  The Cumann Staire Journal covering the years 1993 to1998 as well as two published volumes of pictures from Ballingeary and Inchigeela. I very much enjoyed reading all the articles, songs, recitations and studying the photographs. There were periods of sadness also when I saw that good friends of mine in the past had died. It was a nostalgic trip down "Bóthar na Smaointe"


Tá árd-mholadh tuilte ag an gCumann Staire as ucht an sár-obair atá déanta agus atá a dhéanamh acu le naoi mbliana anuas. Lean ar aghaidh leis an dea-obair mar is mór is fiú bhur saothair do na daoine atá at teacht ’bhur ndiaidh.


Having derived such pleasure from reading the six journals, and since I worked and lived in Ballingeary for more than five years, I got the urge to put pen to paper myself to relate some memories of Ballingeary and of some of the people who made an impression on me. This is to reciprocate in a small way the enjoyment I have received from the efforts of others. The photographs for this article a from my own collection and that of my uncle, John O’Sullivan, Douglas, Cork.


Arrival In Ballingeary

I am originally from Coolea, the son of Diarmuid and Maggie (nee O’Sullivan) Kelly, Doireancuilling. I came to work at Ballingeary Post Office and Shop for Séamus Twomey on the 29th June 1948 at the age of 15. I left there on the 8th November 1953 and four days later I joined the Gardaí.


My Uncle, John O’Sullivan, Currahy, Ballingeary, was already working in the Post Office when I arrived and he remained for a few years afterwards. When John left, my cousin on my father’s side, Dinny Cronin, Gurteenakilla, arrived, so it was a real family affair. Dinny was 19 years of age when I left the Post Office and I didn’t meet him again until 1996 when he came to visit me at Clifden, Connemara. He was then aged 62 and I didn’t recognise him at first until he gave me a clue by telling me we had worked together 43 years ago. He expressed some surprise that I had not recognised him immediately, so I attributed my failure to loss of memory.


Séamus Twomey was a kind boss to work for. He never once told me off and was always very considerate. My Uncle John was far more demanding and he turned out to be my "real boss".


Very few people had a telephone in Ballingeary in 1948. As far as I can remember, there were only three – the Gárda Station, the Priest and Ronan’s Mill. When they wanted to make a telephone call, they rang the Post Office and gave the number they required. We would contact the exchange in Macroom who would advise that they would ring back later. A half an hour’s delay was not unusual. In the meantime, the impatient caller might enquire if we had forgotten about the call. Urgent messages were conveyed by telegram. One telegram I remember delivering was to relatives of Cornealius Lucey, at Carrignadoura, the day he was named as Bishop. Since it entailed a journey of more than three miles, I earned myself a Half crown (12½p). Occasionally a big volume of telegrams was received on the same day such as a death. One such death I remember was that of Cáit Ní Mhuineachainn, Gort na Péice, the well known singer who died tragically in 1949. Two hundred telegrams must have been received then.


The Post Office

In the Post Office, our first job in the morning was to open the seal of the mailbag and sort the post. There were three postmen, all using a pedal bicycle – Séan Domhnall Liam Kelleher, Dan Tade O’ Leary and John Sheehan. The person inside the counter would pass each letter to the appropriate postman.


One morning, I remember coming across a letter addressed to "Mrs. Cronin, Carraignadoura, Ballingeary". I can recall that there were five people who could answer to that description. I was wondering what I should do with the letter when Séan Domhnall Liam said to me: "I know who that letter is for and furthermore I know what it is about". I think this is an example of the intimate and trusting relationship that existed between the public and the postman-on-bicycle. The postman worked hard and usually until after 6pm. Often their bicycles were stacked up with parcels and you’d wonder how they were able to manage.


The phone unit in the post office was about one foot wide, two feet long and about six inches deep. One day I was standing inside the counter when there was heavy thunder and lightning. The belly of the phone broke through its casing, went right over the counter and landed on the floor. At the very same instant, the bulb over my head smashed into a thousand smithereens. Far from being frightened by it, I rather enjoyed the experience. This was pre-electricity time so the light must have been powered independently.


The Tilly oil lamp came on the market about 1950. I remember I took one of them home as a present. The bulb was a silky fabric but once lit it formed into a round shape and if touched, it disintegrated. The lamp had to be pumped which produced a buzzy noise, but the light was magnificent. When hung up it brightened the whole room and cobwebs could be seen where they were never seen before. When this lamp was been assembled, the excitement of the children and indeed the parents had to be seen to be believed. To produce the same excitement nowadays one would have to land a helicopter in the front lawn.


The Shop

Groceries of all types were sold in the shop, as well as Petrol, Coal, Hardware, Flour and Meal. Connie Corkery was the Lorrydriver who worked with us and very efficient he was. Bread came from Thompsons of Cork in baskets about four feet long by two feet wide and two feet deep, with casters to facilitate movement. At least four of these baskets of bread would be delivered during the week. Nobody asked that time for a loaf of bread – it was always a pair of bread (2 loaves) and very occasionally a half pair. The price of 20 cigarettes was 1/5 (7p)


Most customers kept ‘Monthly Accounts’. The items were written into a passbook held by them. The shopkeeper entered the items into a Daybook, which had to be later transferred into a Ledger. There was a discount of 2½% if paid within the month, but in practice this discount was given even if the time limit was not adhered to.


Ration Books were in vogue in the late 1940s. The books were about six inches long by about four inches wide and contained about thirty pages of coupons, like raffle tickets. There were about twenty coupons on each page. These coupons had to be cut with a scissors and pasted on to a sheet. The process was very time consuming.


Wedding reception invitations

Séamus and Máire Twomey were married during my time in Ballingeary. I remember Séamus asking me to send a wedding reception invitation to all his customers – two from each house. I set to work diligently and consulted every DayBook, Ledger or other records which I thought would be of help. The result was that I produced stacks of addressed envelopes. A further supply of cards had to be printed. Later, I discovered that I hadn’t done the job as successfully as I thought. Some people were disappointed because they received no invitation. These included good customers who always paid on the button so their names didn’t appear on any Daybook or Ledger. Even if delayed nearly half a century, I would like to offer these people my apology for not including them on the wedding invitation list. The wedding reception was held at Tooreenduve and people turned up in their hundreds. I saw several people there to whom I didn’t remember sending any invitation. The refreshments were severed in Dick Twomey’s house and the dancing took place in the hall on the opposite side of the road. One guest I remember was Bishop Timothy Manning (later Cardinal of Los Angeles) who sang " Molly Malone".


At lunch time the boys from the school across from the Post Office used to visit the shop to buy sweets with their pennies, usually a three penny bit – a copper coin the size of 10p with a rim like the present 50p. They would first look into the shop and if the Boss was not present they wouldn’t come in but laugh and giggle outside. If the Boss’s car – an Austin, ZB 1668 – was parked outside, they would bide their time until he appeared. Then they all made a beeline to him to make their purchases, while I didn’t get a look in. I often wondered why they were so discriminating with their custom.


Playing With the Sharks

I always believed that to become a first class card player, one had to play with the "sharks". There used to be a card game every Saturday night in Johnny Amhlaoibh O’ Leary’s house across from the forge. The players there had the name of being the best in the locality. I decided I would try to attach myself to that school which would stand me in good stead in years to come.


I turned up early the first night and was received very warmly by the people of the home and by each player as he or she arrived. They enquired if I was able to play 35, nine players, partners. I assured them that I was quite familiar with it. I didn’t get playing immediately, but as luck should have it one of the players had to leave early so I got his seat for the last half-hour. At an early stage I could see that their reaction to my play was not favorable, but in fairness the criticism was muted.


The next Saturday night when I arrived, I was told I couldn’t be fitted in as they had nine without me. So I had to be content to be first sub and the chances of my being called on were very slim so long as there was any breath left in the others. Not to be put off, I ventured again the third night. It so happened that only eight other players were available so I thought to my self "third time lucky". After much hesitation, it was decided to start the game and I was invite to take my seat. One man had the cheek to add, "until somebody else comes". We cast for partners and one of my partners was Tim Moynihan, Carrig.


Tim was a middle-aged man but to my sixteen years old eyes, he appeared ancient. He was so sharp and observant that I suspected at the time that he was able to read the cards through their backs. He could guess where every important card was and he was right more often than not. This group of players had the hateful habit of holding a pointless "postmortem" after each game was played and all their comments seem to be directed towards my contribution to the game:


"Why didn’t you go in your place?"

"Why didn’t you go into your partner?"

"Why didn’t you stick Mick – You knew he was 20?"

"Why didn’t you let May go – she was only 5?"


I had a reasonable explanation for all of these questions, but it was impossible to get them to understand. I was under constant pressure by the time it came to my turn to deal. I had a feeling that they would gang in on me if there were any further complaints. I dealt the cards and to my great disappointment, I turned up the ace of Clubs. I knew I had to put down a card and take that one up. I felt that no matter when I played it, someone would find fault and that it would be the cause of losing my seat. Worse was in store for me because when I looked at my hand of cards, I discovered I had the 5 of Clubs. I wondered how I could get out of this alive. I made a quick decision so I turned down the 5 and took up the ace. At least now I had one less problem – damage limitation I would call it. The ace of Hearts came into me so I wasn’t able to take my dealing trick. A cold card was led and I traveled with my ace as they all knew I had it, but unfortunately the Jack fell on it, even though I was nothing coming. At this stage my partner, Tim Moynihan, must have suspected something. He threw in his own cards and he reached across and picked up the card I had turned down instead of the ace. At first he held it at arms length and then he drew it up close to his face and finally he hit it hard down on the table for everybody to see. "Let me out of here", he said, "I must go home and tell Katie".


That night for all of us the game was over and for me personally the game was up. My reputation as a card player was in tatters. Twenty years after that card game, I happened to meet Tim Moynihan in Ballingeary during a visit there. We had a long and enjoyable chat about old times. When cards were mentioned he asked me if I remembered the night when I put the 5 robbing. I didn’t have the courage to tell him that I had done it deliberately as I knew he wouldn’t have believed me. I regret now not having told him as he died without knowing the truth.


The Forge

In my spare time I used to visit Connie Manning’s forge to hear the banter between Connie, Danny Pheig and the customer of the day. Connie was about seventy when I got to know him; he walked with a slight stoop with both hands behind his back. After each animal was shod, Connie and the owner would go to Shorten’s for a drink. The owner would go first and Connie would follow five minutes later. He would walk to the Post Office (it was then on the same side as the forge, where Emerald Mail Order is now), then cross straight to the other side. He would continue on that side until he was directly opposite the pub and he would cross the road again at that point. Rightly or wrongly it was believed that this route afforded the least view from the window of Connie’s home and that this was the reason for avoiding the direct route.


He didn’t like to see a teenager coming with an animal. He usually found some excuse to advise the youngster to take the mare home and to tell his father to come tomorrow.

One day I was in the forge when three American nuns came to the door and enquired if it was here that the Bishop’s father worked. Connie replied that it was but that he had gone to Cork to-day. The nuns went off very disappointed. I asked him why he didn’t admit to being the Bishop’s father and he replied, "Ah, they would only be interested in photographs. They would never think of asking you if you would like a drink."


Connie smoked a pipe and I regularly sold him 2-ounce plugs of tobacco. The cost was 3-shillings/3 pence (16p). He was anxious, rightly or wrongly, to get the tobacco as moist as possible. I remember handing him a plug one day and he remarked that it was very dry and hard. I showed him all the other plugs and he selected one. He handed me back the original one saying, "That will do the Cummers".


If Connie was alone in the forge he might ask me occasionally to hammer something on the anvil, either he thought I was good at it or else he wanted to get rid of me. This day he asked me to hit a red iron, which he held onto with big pliers. I deliberately hit the iron not on the anvil but at the side of it. This resulted in the iron flying from his grip and landing into the half barrel of water. I could see by the expression on his face that I had better make a run for it, so I headed for the door. Before I reached it, the pliers landed at my feet and Connie shouted at me: "Blast you, it is well your father knew what he was doing when he sent you east there".


Next to the Post Office on the other side lived Mick Barry, a mature man of stout build. He was known to be an exceptionally good Lorry driver and an expert mechanic. Everybody held him in high regard. He was in the shop one day when a big lorry pulled up for petrol. The driver happened to be a light and scrawny fellow aged about eighteen with shoulder length unkempt hair. He swaggered in and out of the shop with no inclination to engage in small talk. I could see by the way Mick Barry looked at him that he wasn’t impressed. When the lorry started up again and took off very briskly, Mick Barry muttered to himself, but loud enough for me to hear: "Lorries don’t care who’ll drive them now".



Another job I used to do was to organise and run the dances or ‘Céilís’ in Coláiste na Mumhan every Sunday night. I would sweep the floor on Sunday morning and shake dance crystals on the floor in preparation for the night. The entrance fee was 6d (2½p) and the band consisted of Danny Kelleher, Gurteenfliuch, on the accordion. His fee was five shillings (25p), which was very good value for money. The hall was usually crowded – all travelling on pedal bicycles. As well as dancing, people were called on from time to time to sing or recite. Din the lodge and his sister Abbey were class performers. One very popular duet of theirs was "One day for Recreation is gan éinne beó im’chuideachta". Diarmuid Ó Mathúna was another reliable person to call on and his contributions were greatly appreciated.


One of the funniest performances I can recall was Tadgh Hugh, Augheris, saying a recitation about Love. For those of you who don’t remember him, he was less than five feet tall and aged about sixty at the time. After closing time at Shorten’s one night, he arrived at the Coláiste wearing wellington’s, which were up to his knees, and was sporting a beard, which was in the making for at least a week. He stood up near the stage to say the recitation. Even if he had said nothing, people would have enjoyed his very appearance. He gave us his recitation of "Love" which went down a treat. I later called at his home and he very kindly gave me the words. I have recited it at many a function since then, but I’m afraid the performance is only a shadow of Tadgh Hugh’s.



During my period in Ballingeary, I went on a Pioneer excursion in a bus on two occasions – to Youghal and to Ballybunion and very enjoyable they were.


I was one of ten Strawboys who went to a wedding reception at Keimcorabhuaile. I cannot remember the Bride and Groom. We had great excitement making the suits the previous night. Some fellows were expert at it and others were not. Our leader was appointed and all the other members were given a number. When we arrived at the house there was great welcome for us. The leader made a short speech offering the good wishes of the Strawboys to the Bride and Groom and requested permission to remain for two dances and for some members of our party to sing. The leader called on about four of our party to sing. Good singers tried to change their voices so as not be identified. Bad singers didn’t have to change as opening new ground came naturally to them. Refreshments were offered and availed of and the leader made another speech of thanks before we left. What impressed me a lot that night was that the girls we danced with made no attempt to pull off our straw hats to identify us.


I started to learn how to drive a car in Ballingeary. It was a Baby Ford owned by Timmie Jamsie O Leary, Derryvacouineen. One Sunday evening I was driving from Currahy to Ballingeary. As I passed Galvin’s house I discovered that I couldn’t stop the car. I had forgotten what I should do. I took the next by-road to the right up against the hill and it stopped from itself.


In 1985, I was part of a committee raising funds for our local Golf Club. There was a draw each month for twelve months and the first prize each month was a motor car. Tickets were a £100 pounds each. I sold a ticket to Timmie Jamsie and he won a Ford Orion. I drove his prize from Clifden to Galway where I met Timmie and his nephew from Derryvacouineen. I was delighted to hand over a new car to him since he was so generous with me in the early 1950’s to allow me to drive his Baby Ford to the ground.


The Sunday’s that I didn’t visit home I used to visit my Grandparents, Dan Mick Eoghan and Margaret O’Sullivan, in Currahy. About a mile further on at a road junction, I used to play pitch an’ toss with Mossie Buttimer, Diarmuid Murphy and others.


Another memory I have of the 50’s is Paddy Quill’s music. He was superb on the Violin and Accordion. I remember hearing that he won the All-Ireland Championship with both instruments, the same year. That record must be unequalled. He succeeded in combining this high standard of musicianship with a rapidly expanding business. Long may he continue to entertain his listeners.


The Bag Pipe music was very popular in Ballingeary in the early 50’s and I’m glad that the tradition is living on.


In December 2000, I attended a ‘Hill Sheep Farmer’s Dinner Dance’ at the Abbey Hotel, Ballyvourney. I met old friends since my Ballingeary days – Paddy Donnacadha Phad, Mary Dan Mór, Tadgh Twomey, Currahy and Timmie O’Leary, Derryvacorneen. Mary and I reminisced about the enjoyable times we had at the dances we had at the Coláiste. She mimicked me announcing the next dance – clapping her hands and saying: "An céad rince eile, Waltz ar an Sean Nós".


I have very fond memories of Ballingeary and I am always happy to meet people from there. To this day whenever I am testing a pen or biro to see if it is working, the word I usually write is "Ballingeary"




L – John O’Sullivan, Frances Hishon?, and Sean Kelly in 1950

M – In Gougane, Nellie Cronin, (Dinny’s wife), Noreen Jim Cronin, Borlin, John O’Sullivan, Currahy, Cait and Din (kneeling) O’Sullivan, Keimaneigh.

N –Out side the post office, 1950s, Joan O’Callaghan, Peggy Moynihan, Kathleen Mahony, Dromanallig, and Bina Jerh Lucey.

O – Connie Manning, the blacksmith, in Ballingeary in the early 1950s

P - Sean Kelly and Joan Dan Tade O’Leary, Gurteenakilla in Ballingeary in 1951.

Q – Connie Manning out side his forge in Ballingeary in 1938