Monday 17 June 2019

Ireland during the Emergency

Some time ago I was able to sit down with a gentleman named Jack who lives near me, and he let me record him and publish the conversation, although he asked that his last name not be used.

Me: So you were born in 1922?

Jack: Yes, that’s right – I was born the year the Irish State was formed, and the way things are going, I might be around after it’s fallen apart.

Me: Do you remember the early years of the country? Did that time affect your family?

Jack: No, we were a mixed family – my father was Scottish, and my mother was from this locality. She had worked in Scotland for a number of years, prior to the First World War, and had married him. But after the war there was wholesale unemployment in England and Scotland – all the factories had closed. So they decided to take their chances here, but there were no jobs here either, because there was a civil war on.
The only thing you could get a job in was you could apply for the police force or the army. My father applied for both and the army called him in. So he was a soldier.

Me: He was Scottish and fighting in the Irish Civil War?

Jack: Yes, but that didn’t last too long. The incoming government was stronger than the rebels. But he was 1922 to 1947 in the Irish Army.

Me: When you were growing up, did you have a garden? Did most people?

Jack: Everyone depended on their gardens. Everyone around here, most of the men spent their days hunting, and if they got a rabbit, they had meat for dinner, and if they didn’t get a rabbit, there was no meat. 

Me: Were there enough rabbits?

Jack: There are usually enough rabbits to go around.
Once in 1922, there were men on the dole looking for work. I often saw three men with a packet of Woodbines – and they would stand in a row and each take a puff of the cigarette. Then a rope factory started in 1932 – this English company, Rigby Jones. Now they were very successful for a time – have since gone out of business, of course. But then things picked up.

Me: How did people get by if the men were out hunting?

Jack: Most people had a garden. The standard of living was very low, but the same was true in Scotland and England.

Me: How much land did most people have?

Jack: About half an acre each.

Me: And what did they grow?

Jack: They grew potatoes and cabbages, and most people kept pigs.

Me: So how did people get things like shoes or clothes?

Jack: Well, you look at school photos, and half the children were in their bare feet. They trotted in bare feet for about three months. But there was no broken glass on the roads then. 
There was no transport. We would take bicycles to Rathangan or so – younger people wouldn’t dream of doing that now. That’s 20 miles.

Me: How long did it take to ride 20 miles?

Jack: You left here at half seven, and got there at half eight.

Me: What proportion of the people had bicycles?

Jack: Nearly everyone went around on a bicycle, everywhere -- you had to. But life went on just as it does now. 

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