Stephen John Tierney
By Mary Kyne & Bridget Morley
Stephen John was born December, 1935 in Derrymoyle. His parents were Peter Tierney, a native of Derrymoyle and Barbara Walsh from Camus. He attended the local convent school. “A big Mayo nun took me by the hand to the Boys’ school in Tonwee, gave me two kisses and sent me in to further my education with Mrs Flanagan and Master Gerard Lee,” he chuckled. He hadn’t a word of English until he was ten years old as Gaeilge was the spoken word at home and in school. When the old Irish lettering and the “seimhiú” was dropped and replaced with “h” in 1955 he found it difficult to continue reading Irish and from then on his use of the language declined.
What were the two best tunes?
Stephen John is a learned man, having read “every sort of book that ever existed.” He enjoyed school and was reluctant to leave, but teachers were not paid to teach children under six years of age or over 14, “so out the door you went once you’re fourteen.” He was the only child in 8 th class during the last four months of his education. He effectively became a servant to the teacher. “I have no business teaching you anything as you know as much as myself,” the teacher said, “so all I did was to go down and post letters, get the paper, pay bills and get his shopping.” He remembers the inspector coming into the classroom one day and the master was playing the fiddle. The inspector asked Stephen John what were the two best tunes. “Friars Britches and Off to California,” I replied, “but you would want to have a good dancer to dance to them with you.”
The eldest of 10 children Stephen John has run a fifty-acre cattle farm for most of his life. He married into his wife Nora Molloy’s place. The old road to new village used to run down where his new bungalow is today, crossed over the Glann road and down into the Glann woods where New Village school once stood.
The child’s coffin was made of lead
Stephen John showed us traces of this old road. There is a child’s well preserved open stone grave in the wood; built by Jones of Inishshambo. There are traces of fossils on the stones. Jones lived in Gortdrishagh for a time but died in a skiing accident in Austria. The child’s coffin was made of lead and in hard times it was stolen and brought to Oughterard with the intention of selling the lead. No one would have anything to do with it and the thief threw it into the river where it remained for some time.
Only fit for a horse and Cart
The main road to Glann was the “High Road” or, as it is known today, the Tonwee road; the low road was “middling up to Mikie Mc Gauley’s at Drumnakill; after that is was full of potholes, only fit for horse and cart.” In the 1800s large boats took goods from Galway to the villages along the Corrib. Goods were landed for Oughterard at Derrymoyle and in 1854 Bóthar na Míne was built — it leads from Derrymoyle up to the “High Road”. In the mid 1800s there were up to 70 families living in Glann in New Village. During the famine they all emigrated, as there is no trace of their burials. All of the names were listed on the school roll books. The old school once stood at the left of the gate leading into Glann woods. It was built with blue cliff limestone. There is no trace of this building or of other old buildings, as the stone was used in building the road to Glann. There is no trace of “Teach na Mallacht” — a soup kitchen, the old dance hall, the caretaker’s cottage, or of the old homesteads of New Village — all used in road building.
Irish Church Missions
Alexander Dallas, founder of the Irish Church Mission, set up several soup schools in the area between 1845-1847 because this area was “one vast waste and the suffering of the people beyond description”, as one writer wrote. When Dallas died some of the neighbours went to the wake — Stephen John’s grandfather, the Ferricks, and others. The neighbours “went against” those who went, as Catholics were forbidden to attend Protestant funerals. Dallas was buried in England.
The old graveyard in New Village holds up to 200 graves but there are no stones to mark their existence. A priest did not attend the burials at the time. “When you are dead you are dead,” Tom Kelly used to say. Tom lived where the Mayfly Cottage is today; it was the laundry house for Currarevagh House. Tom was a bachelor. He had a “cleithín” a slipped disc. He died in 1961 and is buried in Oughterard. Tom remembered when Hughie Clancy from Ballygally died it took four days for his body to stiffen. His corpse was wrapped in a canvas bag, tied with a sugán (straw rope), carried over the mountain and buried in New Village.
A coachman to Mr. Oliver
Bríd Ní Fhátharta, who lived alone was the last woman of New Village. Dick Holleran’s of Ballygally was also a soup house. The Hollerans came from Clare. Their descendents were roofers who came to roof Currareveagh House. The former owner of Currareveagh was Mr Oliver. Stephen John’s uncle, Matt Tierney, was a coachman to Mr Oliver. He drove horses to the station in Oughterard to collect provisions for Mr Oliver. When Mr Oliver died on Christmas day 1914, “That was the end of my uncle’s time.” The redundant coachman sailed to America and was soon drafted into the American army; sent back to Europe to fight in the First World War. Three weeks later he was wounded in battle and that entitled him to a pension for life. He said, “The war was the best thing that ever happened to him.”
Spirit of Glann
Stephen John believes that a troubled soul-a ghost walks on the Glann road below his house. He has seen the ghostly figure on several occasions. His first encounter with the “Spirit of Glann” or the “Lady on the Road” as he calls her was in 1961 when TV first came to Ireland. He was visiting Paddy Mons and at 11:40 at night as he was walking home he heard what he describes as “a walk came out behind me – a walk of high heels. I thought it was someone going on a date; she was 5ft 10 inches in height, long sad face, very white with sunken eyes, jet black hair pulled straight back and tied in a bun. She frightened me. I think she is a lost soul who didn’t get into heaven for some reason,” he said.
In 1910-12 an old man used to live in the harness shed attached to Mr Oliver’s property. Men used to card play there. One night while they were playing a spirit came and sat between them. The world is full of spirits Stephen John maintains. They will not appear to you unless you do something about their cause.
Stephen John is a great storyteller but he has the special gift for divining water. He uses two
to three sally or hazel rods; he walks over an area searching for water; the rods shake and bend when he detects under ground water. He has tremendous power in his left hand but cannot explain where his gift of divining water comes from. Years ago he worked with Lynches from Limerick who used to bore wells in the area.
Stephen John took us through the majestic Glann wood. He wheezed as we went up a hill. “Stephen John, ‘Goldflake’ is killing you, they are the cause of that cough you have,” I said. As quick as lightening he replied, “I once knew a man who rolled his own cigarettes. He too had a cough and I remarked on it. He answered, “There’s many a man in the graveyard that would be happy to have that cough.”
Fad saol duit and enjoy your ‘Goldflake’ Stephen John.