Ballingeary in the Nineteen Forties


By Donncadh Ó Luasa, Baile An Chollaig, continues his

look back at life in the 1940s. Here he also highlights

the mixture of Irish and English in peoples daily conversations





The changes that have taken place since I was young in the forties are very great indeed. In the countryside in particular, the coming of electricity played a major role in the changing lifestyles. Before then, there was darkness all about at night and a dread of the dark – no outside lights and poor lighting in houses, with candles and double-wick paraffin oil lamps being the main source of illumination. Fairy stories were abundant and some people changed their seats from near the door to near the hob as they listened – they feared that the door would burst open at any second and that the big black dog that was allegedly seen at the lios would charge in and annihilate them! Apart from lighting, imaging all the other electrically driven devices that had not yet reached rural houses – washing machines, dishwashers, tumble dryers, electric cookers, shavers, hoovers and a myriad of other gadgets that are now taken for granted.


Very few homes had a running water supply as water pumps needed electricity to operate and a gravity supply wasn’t available everywhere – consequently there were no taps, sinks, baths, or water closets. Nettles grew in abundance near most houses. There were no televisions or videos. Some people had gramophones which were wound manually. The vast majority of homes had no telephones, never mind mobile phones! Very few had motor cars. Not many got second-level education as it is now known. People had patches on their clothes, darns on their stockings, taoibhíns on their boots and craobhabhars in their eyes! Incidentally, the cure for craobhabhars then was to apply a spit whilst fasting in the morning. We often hear of pigs in the parlour, but big sows were brought into flag-floored kitchens to farrow, sick calves were tied to the leg of the settle and hens were put hatching under the stairs (glugars and all!). The mail was brought from Macroom to Ballingeary in a horse and trap (or was it a side-car?). And there wasn’t even a biro to write a letter!


Looking back, it would appear that we were very deprived then, but let’s not forget that we didn’t know or care about all of to-day’s modern gadgets, no one else had them either and what we never had we never wanted, as they say. People seemed happy with their lot – they were compensated by their close links with their neighbours and all the social gatherings of the time – meitheals, scoraiochting, dances, wakes, quilting parties, killing pigs, cutting turf, thrashings and so on. Most people were great conversationalists and many were great characters as well. There was never a dull moment albeit at a different level from to-day’s social scene. There was no "clubbing" then, I assure you!



I suppose the English language of the time, as spoken in parts of rural Ireland in particular, had an Irish blas (still has in some places), many Irish words were included and the construction of sentences had and Irish language form as well.


In the following dialogue I have tried to emulate a conversation which could have taken place in the nineteen forties – consider it against the background I have described. The characters are fictitious. I have tried to use the phrasing of the time, which I have underlined in some instances. There is no particular theme as indeed there would not be in a casual visit such as the one portrayed in the dialogue.

I hope you enjoy it, or as they say nowadays: ‘Enjoy!’



Nell: Good-day yourself, you dickens – come in out of the draught – take off you oul’ clogs and warm your spágs to the fire – sit on the stooleen or if you like stretch on that settle and take things aisy for a tamall. Anyhow you are more than welcome – ‘tis a cure for sore eyes to see you – ‘tis donkey’s years since you darkened our door!

Patsy: A chroí o’n diabhal, ‘tis ages since I called scoraiochting but I was going over the short cut anyway to them cousins of mine and I said I’d call in to see how ye were getting on, ye poor devils. I won’t stay a minute but a heat of the oul’ fire would be great on a hardy day like to-day. I saw Seáninin Bán over there in the fieldeen and I’d say he was burying a dead Bonham – I heard someone saying that Seainin’s pig got the diamonds lately and the diamonds are bad old buachaills let me tell you!

Nell: Do you know something – you could be right. How are they all at home anyhow? Is the Sean-bhuachaill over the muchadh? Although ‘tis a nasty oul’ machail they say it wouldn’t make you kick the bucket – ‘is fad saolach iad lucht muchta’ the seanfhocal said.

Patsy: It said that alright. Still, I’d rather not have the muchadh but sure everyone has some galar – sure the hens even get the pip.

Nell: Lig dom!

Patsy: Some animals get the mange and the cows fall into bog holes; and sure maybe after pulling ‘em out, a pratie might choke ‘em. ‘Tis whatever is for you! Sure did you see Tadhg below – he used be out walking with the sheep dog rounding up the sheep and what happened! – the dog got a heart attack. They all thought Tadhg would get one, but no one knows!

Nell: Well, you’re the red dickens for the oul’ stories – you should write a book! I was south of the lake last night and they were saying that there was a fierce crowd at the pattern in Kilmore some night lately – at the platform above near the quay wall you know.

Patsy: Ha hawdy! That’s the way!

Nell: Are you traochta Patsy? You were a lively dickens one time then, but the oul’ years catch up on all of us. They fly, boy! How are the pins by you? And I’m not talking about pins and needles. Is it walking you came?

Patsy: No – I came on the saddle horse. Did young Seáinín come home from school yet? I thought he might stick a bag on the horse’s head with a feedeen of crushed oats. I suppose pollard might sicken him. I was going to call to the forge for a few slippers but the place was full of horses so I will leave it alone ‘till some other day. I had to throw a sugan over the cock of hay that was falling before I came. Had you any look at the weather glass in the carhouse lately? I wonder will we get a braoinín soon. I make out that my bones are talking to me! Sure ‘tis time for ‘em, says you.

Nell: We were over in Leary’s the other night quilting – there were nine or ten of us there, all prodding away with our needles – we made a few slachtmhar quilts and we had a good taoscan of fun too and we had a good taoscan of wool spared – enough to make another quilt. Sheila Betty was saying that she heard the banshee some other night earlier on.

Patsy: I heard the banshee a few times myself on the night my uncle died. Aren’t we getting very brónach – could we talk about something aerach! What about the fellow who stretched on top of the heap of broken glass on his bare back and then he got someone to walk on top of him. That was after second Mass last Sunday on the road below the Chapel.

Nell: I think that’s another brónach story. Oh cripes! I didn’t offer any thingeen to eat – I forgot – I suppose you’re starved! What would you like? I’ll throw down a few black puddings for you. You can have ‘em there near the fire. We killed an iochtar last week and we filled the puddings – we haven’t too many spared as we gave a good few to the neighbours – they were mad for ‘em! I suppose it was a case of ‘blas milis ar phraiseach na gcomharsan’. They ate ‘em anyway! I think they are all still alive.

Patsy: ‘Dead alive with their eyes open’ as they used say about the fish for sale! Anyway, thanks for the cupán – ‘tis a kind of a thirsty evening. Have a mugeen yourself – here’s the ponnie – I’d say ‘tis a bit hot. Spill some of it into the saucer to cool it! Do you know that I am kind of tired – I had to go down the boreen with the lantern last night after the dance – I was a bit worried about the lads, but they came home alright after.

Nell: You’re an awful man to be hunting ‘em like that!

Patsy: Yerra, ‘tis better be sure than sorry – they are great oul’ caythurs all the same! We weren’t half as criochnuil as ‘em when we were their age. Sean is only fifteen and if you saw all the jobs he can do – he can cut turf with a sleán, cut furze with a scythe, clean the soot out of the chimney, milk the cows, feed the pigs, draw out butts of dung and he can even do a small biteen of ploughing and we have no wheel plough – if we had it would be handier for him. And if you saw him skinning rabbits! As they say there would be skin and hair flying!

Nell: I suppose he will get the place!

Patsy: (No comment). Do you know that I am getting codladh ghrifin from being in the one spot since I came in – I think I’ll go on my corragiob for a tamall. I’d know did I tell you already about that fellow that used to call around there long ago. They said he went to the doctor one time as he felt a bit quare. The doctor examined him, told him to say ‘ninety-nine’ and so on. Then he told him that the news wasn’t too great – ‘I’m afraid your heart isn’t good’ aduirt se. "Well" says your man "I wouldn’t give a damn if ‘twould do me while I’d live!" I don’t know whether he was codding or in earnest but he had his own ideas anyway. Maybe I told that story before – my memory could be failing a bit.

Nell: A handy answer – I suppose he was full of brains. I make out ‘tis time for ‘himself’ to be home – I hope the bull didn’t have a go at him or that he didn’t tumble into a clais and hurt himself! If he isn’t back soon we’ll have to go looking for him. By the way did anyone see the strap of the razor? I think he is going to that wake to-night and he might want a bit of a shave.

Patsy: If he came back soon I’d ask him to give me a bit of a touch around the ears – I’m after getting damn hairy lately but sure I suppose the biteen of thatch will keep out the cold from an old boy whose blood is getting thin! And I have the scissors and all.

Nell: You told me a story a while ago about the man of the bad heart. Did you hear the one about the fellow who bought a new clock? He told his neighbour that it would go for eight days without winding. The neighbour says back: "And if you wound it how long would it stay going for!"

Patsy: That’s a good one alright. Sure I suppose idle people must be doing something im’ bhriathar-sa. I must be putting the road off me soon like the bate-out young stocach who put the stairs up off him as fast as he could. But young lads don’t have much patience, go bhfoire Dia orainn!

Nell: ’Tis a bit early for you to be going home yet. Stay another tamaillin – maybe you’d ate a bit of stirabout before you go.

Patsy: Yerra I won’t – I’ll be having the tay when I’ll go home. We had a good old evening scoraiochting. I thought for a tamall that we’d get a taoscadh but sure ‘tis the way the evening cleared up greatly – the top of Diuchoill is fierce clear so I better be slipping away.

Nell: Slan so. Sprinkle a dropeen of the holy water on yourself for the journey.

Patsy: Oh a chroi o’n diabhal I nearly forgot – could I take the ‘last’ with me? I was going to put a half sole on my shoe to-morrow. The Lord spare ye the health ‘as ye wouldn’t take the money’ as they say. Caithimís uainn é mar scéal. Slán aris.

Nell: Mind yourself near Mickey Drummy’s – there was an oul’ stone out there on the road – mind don’t it knock you! I don’t mind now if you don’t get ‘loscadh daighe’ after that stirabout but sure you’re as strong as a horse. You’re lucky to have the horse – have you a saddle for him or is it an oul’ bag you have up on him? ‘Is fearr marcaiocht ar ghabhar na coisiocht da fheabhas’ they said and, by the hokey, all them oul’ saying had a lot in ‘em.

Patsy: I’m going now at last!

Nell: Fair weather after you and snow to your heels!


Donncadh O’Luasaigh

Baile an Chollaigh

Feabhra 2003