I was born in Camp Street in 1910. There were nine of us, four girls and five boys, and we lived in a small thatched house. Almost all old houses were thatched then. We had only two acres of land on which we grazed two cows and reared their calves. We were able to sell some milk to the Workhouse as well. We rented conacre to grow crops for food for ourselves and some pigs and fowl, in order to survive. They were hard times. All of our family emigrated: seven went to the USA and one went to England. He was involved in the D-Day landing in France, and survived.
Early School Days
I went to the convent school for one year where I made my First Communion. Then I went to the ‘Master’s school. We had many teachers in my time there, but only two at any one time. They were Heffernan, Moroney, Cooney, Marne, Fitzgibbon and finally Gerard Lee who continued on to his retirement when he was replaced by Frank Kyne. Classmates of mine were : Ml. Joyce a brother of Tom (The Sheriff), John Joyce, Billamore, Noel Dunseath (who lived where Tom (Yank) Healy retired to), Tommy Healy, Jim Egan, Frank Cunningham, Jimmy Holleran, Main St., Eddie Lydon (pub), Ml. John Faherty (he lived with his uncle, Sonny Staunton, Old Chapel), Dickie Walsh (who lived in a thatched cottage where Tommy Geoghegan now lives), Dickie Walsh, Old Chapel (related to the other Dickie). I only ‘mitched’ once when we were too late for school and we spent our time in the hay in Egan’s shed. Before Confirmation we had catechism every day for three weeks and we also had to take notes on Christian Doctrine off the blackboard and write them into your copy books and learn them off by heart. The priest also instructed us.
I used to sell mayflies but was hopeless at picking the fresh ones, then next day the gents (that’s what the anglers were called then) wouldn’t buy mine, so I gave up. My brother Martin made lots of money on them. They were sold for 6p per dozen. Nowadays they are bought for £1 per dozen. I did a lot of fishing on the Corrib with my father and we did well too. I was only fifteen when I started. It was part of our means of livelihood. There were no engines only rowing. There were ‘Three Fish Houses’, one in town, one in Baurisheen at Molloys and Jones Ferris who lived near us. The fish was packed and sent off by train to be sold in the London Fish Market. The first out board engine was brought to the town by a visiting angler. Soon afterwards Martin Lee, Jones Ferriss, Manny Kelly and Mike Heraghy, all from Camp Street bought engines. I bought my first engine in 1932 after my father died in 1931, aged sixty six. It was a Johnson 3HP. I continued fishing having gained all the necessary experience from my father.
My First Job
In those early days we rented a bog from Jack O Flaherty, Lemonfield but we got one later on when Lemonfield bogs were striped by the Land Commission in 1937. When old enough I went to work for the County Council. My first job was demolishing the old Workhouse buildings. Its boundary walls enclosed about 12 acres, and are still in excellent condition after 150 years in existence. I also remember knocking the old gatehouse to Clareville House before the County Council laid down a new road in front of the old Georgian house (built by the Martins of Ross). The old Connemara road ran at the back and had a dangerous bend and steep hill which when frozen horses could not draw a full load.
The new road ran right through the grand lawn of Clareville house running down to the river, unfortunately, but I suppose it was essential at the time. Jack Fahy lived in Clareville House then. It was 1927 the workhouse stones paved the new Galway /Clifden road which was also being tarred about that time. Michael Joyce, Portcarron, father of Martin and Bill Joyce was the ganger on that job.
The First Aeroplane seen in Oughterard.
While working west of Clareville , an aeroplane passed overhead. It was the first any of us had ever seen. We later learned that it was Col. Fitzmaurice and his crew on the first plane flight from east to west, having left Dublin and was heading to the USA, in 1928. The flight was successful and a splendid occasion surely. A few years earlier a plane crashed near the Oughterard Racecourse (where St. Paul’s is to day) but no one was injured. It must have been an emergency. Later still Lord Iveagh of the Guinness family owned a seaplane and used to circle over Oughterard before landing on Lough Corrib near AshfordCastle, Cong, which he owned.
Memories of the Workhouse
When the workhouse closed down in early 1922, the inmates were transferred to the old folks home in Loughrea. It was a long way for the Connemara people to travel, maybe by ass and cart, to visit their loved ones there. It was a very great loss to the people of Oughterard who depended on it so much, and supplied all food stuffs and veg. etc. necessary for such a huge establishment. The inmates who died there were mostly taken to their own parish graveyard, but those who had no relations or anyone to claim the body were buried in a pauper’s grave, a little cemetery nearby in Canrawer. Locals of course were buried in Kilcummin graveyard. One non local who had lived here for some time before going to the Workhouse, Colm De Bhailis, Connemara writer and poet, was buried in Kilcummin. A workhouse meant exactly that – you worked for your keep if able. It was also called a ‘Poor House for the destitute’.
There were two springs on the premises and water was taken up by bucket and pulley. Dr. Kennedy O Brien was the local doctor who looked after the inmates and had his dispensary there too. Everyone attended the dispensary where they were given free medicines. There were no chemist shops in the area at the time. An old in mate looked after the doc’s bike and he kept the dispensary tidy. Denis Nee from Rosmuc was the caretaker and lived in the gate lodge. He was the last to leave the workhouse and spent the last years of his life in Loughrea.
The workhouse was burned down in 1922 in the troubled times. But the Boardroom, the old chapel, dispensary and gate lodge survived the blaze. The Boardroom was used for dances, the chapel was re-roofed and a wooden floor fitted by Fr. Hyland and it was used as a CYMS hall. Fr. Mc Cullagh later had plays, concerts and whist drives there. The travelling play companies put on plays during the winter until O Sullivan’s hall was opened just before the war.
The British Barracks, Camp Street
The old British Barracks at Camp Street had been vacant for many years until the Black and tans with their wives occupied it in 1920/1921. It to was burned in 1922. There was a ball alley attached to the barracks. The Roe family who owned the site held dances in the old stone building just inside the gate. It was sold in 1936 and the bricks used as fill for the new road at Maam Cross. The R.I.C. barracks in Camp St. where Eamon Mc Geough now lives was closed down in 1921 after The Treaty was signed and the ‘Irish Free State’ was established. The last RIC members were Barret, Conlon, Reidy, Thompson, and Whelan.
Troubled Times 1922
During the time of the troubles in 1922 the roads between Oughterard and Galway were impassible because of blown-up bridges and other hazards. John’s father and two brothers rowed from Oughterard to Galway and back in the one day in order to pick up luggage belonging to John’s brother who had just returned from America to Cork. Two girls from Spiddal were with his brother on the liner from America. The girls brothers had an old car and they collected the three trunks in Cobh, Co. Cork (as Queenstown as it was known then). John, his brother, his father and a neighbour Willie Watts rowed the boat down the river, into Lough Corrib, down the river Corrib by Menlo – it was a great place for regattas and all kinds of sport. My father used to go there years ago when he took part in regattas on the river.
The trunks weighing 200 pounds were carried from the station by horse cars. They carried them into Woodquay.
Roads were Impassible
You couldn’t get through the roads so one had to go through fields. You’d go down the new line road and past the field where the travelling crowd used to park. You’d cut up through the hay field and you’d come out through the back avenue through Lemonfield,past the big house which was O Fflahertie’s estate. You’d come out on the road there past the big trees at Ardvarna. You know the dark place in Ardvarna as you come out the road?. There are lights there now. They knocked the trees both sides of the road and the the bridge at Moyvoon two miles down was blown up and you had to go into fields again.
My mother and brother went into Galway before he went back to America. They went by car. It had seats with backs, two behind and two in front, it wasn’t a side car. It was a fine summer’s day. My brother stayed ten weeks at home and he was off again.
Dances and Card Games in Oughterarad
An occasional country house dance was held after the ‘Stations’ or maybe a wedding. An old cow-house in our yard was re-roofed and floored by Joe Lydon and dances were held there. No drink was sold there but they had their share of it before hand!! They were very enjoyable functions. It was called ‘The Silver Slipper’ after a famous London dance hall!
Card games were very popular in country houses in the 30’s and 40’s.
My wife died in 1990. Later on I visited the States four times in all over the next few years and stayed with my brothers and sisters for maybe five weeks at a time. I had travelled in the Mauretania, Queen Elizabeth & Hamburg American Liners, also a couple of flights but it affected my ears. My last flight however, I sucked sweets on take off and before landing which did the trick – there was no more ear popping!
Fishing on Lough Corrib
I gave up fishing a few years ago aged 84. My largest trout taken on the troll was 17¾ lbs. I caught a 10lb specimen trout on the Invicta wet fly and had to go to Dublin for my certificate. I bagged many a salmon on the lake too. I love the Corrib and always felt quite at home out there, a wide open space with grand scenery. It was a lovely place to be and I felt happy and free and at peace within myself and with GOD.
Now I sow my vegetable garden and that provides the necessary exercise. I also go to town most days to shop, to eat and meet some friends for the craic. Of course I have a gargle or two to keep the machinery oiled and ticking over! My faithful friend and watchdog SPOT is always there to greet me. If I’m snoozing and the telephone rings, he informs me immediately, and if a visitor opens the gate, Spot announces the arrival well in advance.
A faithful dog is a priceless treasure!
Extract from ‘The Oughterard Newsletter’ July 1997
UPDATE: December 2020
Many Thanks to Maria King Walsh grandniece of John King who sent us the photos of John and his siblings.