Out of the Blue - A Little Book of Inspiration
Life in the Old Days
There were 10 of us, an average sized family for the time. We had 10 acres, access to commonage and a bog. The sea was at the end of our bothairin; its harvest free. All we needed was on our doorstep and we were rich. Hardly a day passed that my mother didn’t repeat this saying to us. She had grown up on a small mountainy farm where life was extremely tough. Her mother was not very resourceful and the family lived precariously.
My mother married my father when she was just 18 years old; he was 38. She moved into his house with his mother and aunt. There was no great welcome for her there until my brother was born; with the birth of an heir the attitude of the two older women changed. My mother kept quiet and learned from looking at them. They had all the household virtues her own mother lacked
Life was dictated by the seasons and the farm. We all had our jobs to do. It was a small piece of land and yet we were self sufficient. We had pigs, cows, a horse a donkey, goats, hens, ducks and geese. Two apple trees grew at the side of the house. At the other gable end was the reek of turf. We had a small vegetable garden where we grew cabbage, turnips, carrots, parsnips, onions lettuce, scallions and potatoes. My mother baked every day except Sunday. She knitted all our jumpers and socks. She made our clothes including my father’s suit. She made blankets, quilts, pillows and cushions. Nothing was ever thrown away.
There was a large kitchen with a dresser, and an open fire where all the cooking was done. Pots and pans were suspended from a crane which swung over and back over the fire. Bread was made in a pot left on the hot coals. Pigs were killed every November, salted and hung from the rafters providing us with all the pork ham and bacon we needed for the coming year. We bought 4 bonhams every year which were fattened and sold at the pig market. This and the money we earned from selling eggs was the only money coming into the house. Tea, sugar and flour were the only things we needed money for. Everything else we could provide for ourselves. We also salted ling, herrings and mackerel, fish was eaten every Friday and most days during Lent.
One of my jobs was to collect the gossans from the shore in the springtime. This seaweed was used exclusively on the potato ridges. After working on this my hands were a lovely golden colour.
We all loved to dance and on Sundays afternoons in the winter the house would fill with people. A violinist an accordion player and sometimes a flute player would get feet tapping and in no time we’d all be sweating from the set dancing. A quieter old time waltz or foxtrot would follow allowing us to get our breath back. After a couple of hours the treacle cake would be brought out, the tea made and we’d relax for a while. As we got older we’d go to house dances in neighbours’ houses at night.
Some houses were well known as visiting houses and my parents loved to visit them. These were houses known for story telling, recitations or singing.
When there was a death in the family, or other disaster befell a family the neighbours would gather bringing food and drink to console and support the sorrowing family. The community was very close and when someone was in need they did not have to ask for help. Word would go out and help was always at hand.
It’s hard to believe now that we could survive so very well on so little but we did and it was a very good life.