Mother’s memories as a returned emigrant

Published in Personal History

I lived in London until I was 8, then my family (Mam, Dad and I) returned to live on a farm outside Boyle.  Both my parents were Irish, having emigrated to England in the 1940s as there was no work in rural Ireland and for most 2nd level education and definitely 3rd level education was not an option.

Having returned in 1974, I found country life in North Roscommon very different from life in London.  We no longer had a telephone, nor did most of my school friends – and if we needed to use a phone, we had to visit one of our neighbours, (I think two of our neighbours had telephones at that time) and all calls were made through the operator – pick up the phone, wait for the operator to respond and ask for Boyle 3 or whatever the number was you wanted.  I remember when the digital exchange started in Boyle in the early 80s and even then some of the outlying exchanges remained manual.  I was then away in 3rd level and had a friend from Croghan who rang home once a week, she had terrible trouble with the operators in Galway and often was connected to a little old lady in Cloghan, Co. Offally and not her mother in Croghan.

While my father was alive, ours was a rambling house and two or three nights a week a few of the neighboring men would arrive in for a chat with my Dad.  I still don’t know if this was because he was a good story teller, travelled or that my mother was a good cook and always had scones, apple tart or treacle bread to eat with the mandatory cup of tea or indeed if it was that both my parents liked a warm kitchen and always had a good fire in the range.  Two of the neighbours didn’t really get on that well, and while they were civil to each other, the arrival of one would normally result in the other leaving early.  The television was always switched off, tea was made and the men would chat.  Cattle prices, land sales, theft, the weather and crops were the normal things I remember.  There was always chat about deaths, people being sick, moving into or out of the area (and who they were related to).  In November, Mam discouraged these visits and sent Dad off out to visit, if he wanted news!  She had stuff to do, like Christmas cakes and puddings and other bits and pieces for Christmas.  The other great thing in November was there were always “25” card drives, normally on the Friday nights which offered a prize of a turkey, a hamper or a ham for Christmas – these were ran for school funds, before Parents Associations and Boards of Management took on this role.  In early December there was always a parish bazaar, this involved ticket raffles, spin the wheel type raffles, guessing the weight of the prize, like a Christmas cake or the quantity of something like a giant glass jar of sweets, which you then won if you were the nearest person to the right answer without going over.  It was all innocent fun which didn’t cost the earth and got everyone in the area socialising with each other.

Mam’s cooking for Christmas was an epic occassion.  Firstly she would decide on which recipes to use.  As a trained chef, she liked to change what she did from year to year and did not believe in complacency in the kitchen.  She cooked a light and dark cake for us and she also cooked cakes for each of her three sister-in-laws and a Christmas pudding for her own mother.  The cooking of the Christmas puddings were a mammoth task, basking in tradition.  Once the recipes were decided on, the fruit was weighed, and stepped overnight – day one; then the dried ingredients were weighed and sorted.  The mix was put together on day 2 and had to be stirred by all members of the family, she often had Granny staying with us for the winter and her brothers just seemed to know when to call to be involved in this tradition (not bad, when you think there were few phones and no mobiles or internet).  Day 3 involved the steaming (for hours and hours, or so it seemed) of the puddings and finally the storing (after having re-wrapped them in muslin).  The cakes were a much more civilised contract, the fruit having to be stepped overnight but the mixing was straightforward and then the long cook in a slow, constant oven.  When cooked, the cakes were wrapped in fresh greaseproof paper and put in caketins.  They were given a weekly drizzle of brandy until the icing was done a week or so before Christmas.

Marie Layden has agreed for this story to be published on history Ireland

Signed: Daniel Layden

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