Personal History – Paddy Gavin

Published in Personal History

My grandmother Peggy Butler was born in the south Dublin suburb of Cabinteely in

September 1922. She spent all of her childhood there and in the surrounding parts of the city, with her three younger brothers and five younger sisters. After primary school, she completed a secretarial course in the Technical School in Bray, County Wicklow and she worked as an office clerk in Findlater’s Department store in Dublin city for several years.

In 1959, when she was 37 years old, she met my Grandfather Hugh McConnell, a farmer from west County Cavan, at the wedding of one of her cousins and less than a year later they were married in Westland Row Church in the city centre. After their marriage, she moved to his native Doogarry, near the town of Ballyconnell. I can only imagine the colossal culture shock it must have been for this city girl to move to a thatched farmhouse in a rural area where she knew nobody, had no electricity, no running water, no shop nearby, no public transport or proper roads, and no family support.

The labour-intensive environment of a farm was not one that she was at all accustomed to and it was a huge change from city life. she was required to get up very early each morning and feed the various animals on the farm, including cattle, pigs and hens. My grandfather worked in forestry for a number of years directly after their marriage and so my grandmother was often left to manage the farm by herself during the day. They had no tractor on the farm, only a horse, and so a lot of the work around the farm was very hard and physical.

Also, domestic chores such as washing clothes and dishes were made very difficult by the fact that the house had no running water supply and the nearest well was over half a mile away. Therefore every time water was needed in the house for cleaning, cooking or sanitation, she had to walk to the well and manually draw water from it in buckets. She remembers that even several years later when she had four young children she would have to make several trips to the well with buckets in order to fill the bathtub. In terms of cooking, she had only an open fireplace to use, a huge change from the ovens and stoves in Dublin.

There was no public transport system in Doogarry, and my grandmother used a bicycle to travel everywhere – the shop, neighbours’ houses, mass and even the local dances. She remembers that one Sunday morning, within a few weeks of moving to the country she put on her best clothes and cycled the five miles to the church in Ballyconnell for morning mass. The road, however, was wet and muddy and by the time she arrived at the church her stockings, leather shoes and best skirt were soaked and coated in muck and stones! This certainly taught her a lesson and, after this experience she made sure her best clothes came out only for infrequent gatherings such as weddings and parties.

It has to be remembered that the Ireland of 60 years ago was a very different place to the Ireland of today, especially in rural areas. Agriculture provided a living for the vast majorit of people living in the countryside, and it was very important that the tasks and chores around the farm were carried out expertly and frequently. Many tasks, such as the milking of the dairy cows had to be performed twice a day, and life was always very busy around the farm. As well as cattle to feed and milk, my grandmother would have had to feed and clean out the chicken-coops and pig-sties daily, along with all the usual indoor chores such as cooking and cleaning. It must have taken years for her to be able to carry out these jobs as well as her country neighbours, given her urban background.

My grandmother remembers that for several years after her move to Doogarry, while her new neighbours were all very kind and welcoming, she felt that she was regarded as a blow-in by the locals. However, given that she was 89 last September, and is over 60 years living in Cavan, she has well and truly earned her place in the community and this is certainly not something that can be said of her anymore!


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