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At Least Once a Year

At Least Once a Year

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At Least Once a Year

350 pagine
5 ore
Feb 7, 2019


A memoir on growing up in a farming community in the West of Ireland during the 1950s and 1960s, it describes the state of poverty, unemployment and emigration of the 1950s and follows the developing economy once Ireland joined the E.E.C. in the early 1970s. Despite an economic crash and bailout at the turn of the last decade Ireland has once again reached full employment. It is a social history of Ireland over the past seventy years and deals with the influence of the Catholic Church, sport, the education system including a lifetime teaching, the Irish language and a critical look at the European Union. In addition to looking back over the past seventy years, the author also looks forward and tries to predict the kind of society we will be living in in ten to fifteen years time.

Feb 7, 2019

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At Least Once a Year - Pat O'Looney


Pat O’Looney

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2019 Pat O’Looney

ISBN 9780463162514

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted by any device, without the prior written permission of the copyright holder.



Chapter 2: ANCESTRY

Chapter 3: EARLY DAYS


Chapter 5: THE FARM


Chapter 7: RELIGION




Chapter 11: CHRISTMAS

Chapter 12: FIRST SCHOOL


Chapter 14: COLLEGE



Chapter 17: SUMMER WORK & USA



Chapter 20: AN GHAEILGE


Chapter 22: SPORT





Chapter 27: THE FUTURE

Chapter 28: EPILOGUE


Growing up on a small farm in North Clare during the nineteen fifties would appear to the youth of today as a terrible bore. We did not know the meaning of the word boredom. We had no running water, no flush toilets, no electricity, no television, no mobile phones or landlines and no Internet or social media. But we were happy. Ours was the generation that saw the cobwebs blown away by the powerful glow of a 100-watt electricity bulb, the enamel bucket of spring water replaced by a stainless-steel sink, the Po disappear from under the bed forever, the Tilly lamp become the preserve of the antique shops and the plod of the Clydesdale replaced by the melody of the Ferguson 20 and the Fordson Major. The motor car, for long the preserve of the rich, the clergy and the gentry, became the standard mode of transport of most households by the beginning of the 1970s. Domestic life, agriculture, education and every facet of Irish life changed utterly in the two decades from the mid-fifties to the mid-seventies. Ireland as a nation, under the guidance of Seán Lemass, had begun to open up to Europe and the world, and to take her place among the nations of the earth. By the time we entered the E.E.C. in 1973 Ireland was a different country from what it had been two decades earlier. This was an era when words meant something different from what they mean today: a ‘shower’ was something that always came when we were about to make hay; a ‘partner’ was someone with whom you danced or played cards; if you were ‘gay’ it meant you were in great form; ‘a stripper’ was an old cow that did not have any calf; a ‘hard disk’ was something which caused you severe pain in your back and ‘social media’ was the creamery where you liked and shared stories with your neighbours.

In this memoir I will document my experiences of growing up in such an environment. As a boy of the fifties I have experienced nearly seven decades of change, some of it most fundamental and unimaginable. As we approach the centenary of the birth of our state we live in a world so far removed from that of our founding fathers that they would scarcely recognise the country for whose freedom they fought. We recently celebrated the centenary of the 1916 Rebellion, a celebration which has evoked pride in all our citizens, young and old, and that is something which was badly needed. In our young days the fight for freedom was scarcely talked about except in a hush hush manner. In the civil war which followed the Treaty, many neighbours, and even family members, fought on opposite sides against each other. As a result, there was bitterness on both sides and many of the heroes of that civil war were alive and well as we were growing up. Feelings were still too raw to discuss these matters. Indeed, it was only in recent years that I discovered the small, but significant, part my own mother played in the War of Independence.

My father died when I was five and my mother was left with six young children to rear along with running a small farm. From a very early age we all had to play our part and do the various chores around the house and farm: there were cows to be milked, calves, pigs and fowl to be fed, hay and turf to be saved, vegetables to be grown and harvested.

Though I was only five when my father died, I remember the day well. It was Monday, 9th of April, Census day. My sisters had gone to school and my brother was home for some reason. After breakfast my father completed his last official duty as head of the house by completing the Census of all those who had spent the night there. Little did he know that it would be his last night living there. He then went to the fields to tend to the farm work. Shortly afterwards my brother helped him in to the house. He had suffered a heart attack and we watched as Mama tried to comfort him with a pillow under his head while we waited for the doctor and Canon Cunnane.

As he closed his eyes for the last time Mama said, Dada is tired and is going to sleep…to sleep…

Chapter 2: ANCESTRY

Who am I? I think it is important to establish who I am at the beginning of this memoir. My birth was registered as Patrick Gerard O’Looney. In Irish I use the Ó Luanaigh version though in our youth we used Ó Lúanaí. On my father’s side I can trace my ancestry back twenty four generations thanks to my cousin, Professor Brian O’Looney who used the Ó Luanaigh version. Others used different versions of the name; his cousin Liam, also a scholar, used Ó Luighnigh; in later times Looney was used. In my early days being on the Internet I received an email from a Tomás (sic) Montani Looney in Bahia Blanca in Argentina stating that it was a tradition in my family that our original surname was O’Looney and they lost the O’ on the way to Australia. There are various explanations for the loss of the O’ from many Irish surnames at emigration. One plausible explanation is that it was a deliberate attempt by passengers to move their names further up the list, like some politicians do at election times. So, O’Brien became Brien, O’Connell, Connell, O’Dwyer, Dwyer etc.

My grandfather, John came from Knockpatrick near Ennistymon and married a widow, Delia McInerney of Tullygarvan, Lahinch who had been previously married to O’Donohue at Drumeevin, Kilfenora. His father, also John, married Mary Morgan in 1857 and moved from nearby Shanbally to Knockpatrick at that time. My grandfather was born in 1872 and at around the age of twenty he emigrated to Boston where he worked on the bridge works for about two years. As a young boy he told us stories of the boat trip from Queenstown to Boston and of all the people who died on board the ship. Anybody who died was thrown ‘hand and foot’ out to the sharks. He also regaled us with his escapades in Boston. Unfortunately, you cannot put an old head on young shoulders and we only half listened to those stories, much the pity today. Bad health forced his return to Knockpatrick after a few years though he had good health for the remainder of his life until he died at the age of 93. At the 1901 Census he resided in a neighbour’s house where he was classified as a servant.

He married in 1906 and my father, John, the eldest was born in December 1907. He was followed by four other children, Katherine (Katie, who married Peter Malone of Ailbrack), Bridget (Bridie, who married Dan O’Connor of Shanbally), Patrick (Pappy, who married Mary O’Driscoll of Ennistymon and lived at Kylemore) and Michael (Miko, who married Kitty McMahon of Kylemore and went to live in Clouna). My grandmother died just before Christmas in 1920 and is buried in Clouna cemetery, her husband living on until 1965 and is buried alongside her.

In July, 1942 my father, John married Mary Commane of Ailbrack, daughter of Patrick (Patty) Commane and Katie Connell, who was also a widow having been previously married to Patrick Talty from Carrowduff, Miltown Malbay. I am the youngest of the six children of John and Mary, the other five being John (J.J.), Mary, Katherine (Kathy), Teresa and Bridget. We were all born at home as was the norm at the time.

Around twenty years ago I documented and published a family tree on my father’s side and this certainly needs updating as many other cousins have entered and left this world since then. My mother’s side of the tree needs to be documented and I still remain hopeful that someone will do that one day.

My grandfather was the first O’Looney to reside in Drumeevin and there has been a family presence there for over one hundred years. He took over the management of the farm which he passed on to my father around the time he got married. When my father died the farm passed on to my mother. Once both my parents had died the farm passed on to my brother. Thankfully the ‘seanbhaile’, the old homestead, is still well maintained and it is good to go ‘home’ on a regular basis.

As I have said, both of my grandmothers were widowed and remarried. It was often an economic necessity for a widow to remarry. She needed a man around the place to manage the farm work and, more importantly, to retain possession of the place. In those days siblings of the deceased man often tried to claim ownership of the family farm after their brother had passed on and in many cases made life very difficult for the new widow. There are stories of a widow returning to her home after burying her husband to find the house had been taken over by her in-laws. This led in some places to a widow remaining in the house while the burial of her husband took place. I think it was John B Keane who told the story of a widow remaining in the house during her husband’s funeral. Her brother-in-law called her out to see ‘the fine funeral that Michael has’. After the funeral passed she went to return to her kitchen only to find the door locked by another brother-in-law. A recent publication touches on the same subject in relation to a Mary (Minnie) Talty of Glendine. Minnie was a young widow in 1885 and having met Parnell at the turning of the first sod for the West Clare Railway in Miltown Malbay she was encouraged to enter a land repurchasing scheme, a remarkable achievement for a widow who had the added complication of being isolated from her community because she refused to quit the land on the death of her husband. This was expected of young widows at the time, in order to prevent the land going out of the family name in the event that a young widow remarried. Thankfully my mother was not a victim of those shenanigans.

I worked for thirty-five years as a teacher at Mercy College, Woodford and was Deputy Principal for the final three years there. After I left there I worked as manager of the local group water scheme for seven years and am now officially retired.


When my time came I married Margaret Callinan from Carron and we have lived at Loughrea, Co Galway ever since. I met her at a dance in Lahinch during the summer when she was home on holidays from London. Over a two-week period love blossomed and I found myself going over to London for a week before going back to school. While there, Margaret decided she was going to return to Ireland at Christmas. We got engaged after she came home and were married the following October.

In those days weddings were much simpler than they are today. We were married at Carron church at noon and the reception followed in the Queen’s Hotel, Ennis. There was one bridesmaid and a best man. There were no limousines, videographers or make-up artists. The wedding dresses and suits were hired out. The meal was turkey and ham as was the norm in the day. The music started as soon as the meal was over and the dancing finished around nine o’clock. The custom in those days was that the bride and groom took off just before the music finished. We changed from our wedding clothes into our ‘going away’ clothes and everybody was invited to form a circle around the bride and groom in the centre of the floor as they did their last dance. Then the guests formed an arch to allow the newly married couple to pass under and make their way to the car, which the best man had waiting at the door. As was the custom some of the guests had sneaked out and tied cans to the back bumper of the car so as to attract attention as we drove away. In those days of rear wheel drive cars, the men would lift the rear end of the car off the ground so that it would be impossible to get away until they tired of holding up the car. I never liked that custom as you never knew what might happen as a result of people having been drinking. I witnessed a close call some years later when the groom was driving one of the newer front wheel drive cars. The men at the back did not realise that and proceeded to raise the back of the car. The driver took off and left three or four men on their backsides on the ground. Once front wheel drive became universal, that custom died out, as did the custom of the bride and groom departing with such fanfare.

Nowadays the typical wedding has multiple bridesmaids and groomsmen; several hundred guests; beauticians and hairdressers calling to the house; photographers and videographers; florists, choirs, bands and DJs as well as various novelty items like photo booths etc. Most weddings have an ‘afters’ on the following day and some last for most of a week. I wonder if we were properly married at all! Whatever about the lack of trimmings, we recently celebrated forty one years married, something of which we are very proud. We have three daughters, Michelle, Karen and Eimear, and one son, Shane, all of whom live and work in Ireland.

Traditionally couples get engaged to announce their intention to marry at a future date. This is solemnised by the man buying a ring, usually with a diamond, for his fiancée which she wears on her ‘ring finger’, the fourth finger of her left hand. This is later complemented with (usually a gold) wedding ring on the same finger. In my mother’s time there were no engagement rings but when my time came I wore not only a wedding ring but also an engagement ring. The tradition of the ‘ring finger’ goes back to a time when people believed that this finger had a vein that ran straight to the heart. Then the sciences of Anatomy and Biology came along to debunk that myth. The tradition of having a wedding cake goes back to ancient Rome when a cake of wheat or barley was broken over the bride’s head to symbolise good fortune and the newly married couple then ate some crumbs from the cake. The expression ‘tying the knot’ comes from the actual tradition of tying the couple’s wrists together during their wedding ceremony as a symbol of their bond and commitment to each other. This custom is creeping back again in some humanist weddings which have become quite common.

The custom of brides wearing white goes back to 1840 and the marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert. Though other Royals such as Mary, Queen of Scots had worn white, Victoria is still credited with starting the trend. The terms ‘stag’ and ‘hen’ have been used for the male and female respectively of many species. The stag party custom goes back as far as the fifth century B.C. when Spartan soldiers held a feast and made toasts to the groom on the night before his wedding. Those soldiers would be somewhat amused if they were to attend a modern Irish stag party lasting a full weekend and perhaps in another country. Having always felt very ‘Spartan’ my stag party was held in true Spartan tradition the night before my wedding. It is a practice I would not recommend nowadays for obvious reasons. Hen parties also have become big business with months of preparation being put in by the bridesmaids. The custom of having a honeymoon – in Irish Mí na Meala – also goes back a long way. In ancient times the newlyweds drank mead, a drink made from honey, for a month after they were married. In some traditions the bride and groom went into hiding for 30 days after their wedding. Modern honeymoons are meticulously planned and may even go on for the month.

In our day the practice was to give practical wedding presents. Small electrical appliances like toasters, irons and boards were very popular, along with bed linen, table linen, china and cutlery. Often a newly-married couple were recipients of multiple irons, toasters and ‘companion sets’ for the fireplace. Indeed, forty years on, we still use a carving knife which was meant as a wedding present but we found out on time that the couple had already received one.

Nowadays people are more sensible and the practice is mostly to give money so the couple can decide how to make best use of it.

Chapter 3: EARLY DAYS

When my father died my mother was left with six young children - I the youngest - on a small place. How she coped with her situation I will never understand. We were not well off, but yet we never wanted for anything. Mama worked very hard during those years, milking the cows, managing the house, thinning mangolds and all the other farm work that had to be done. There was no machinery, just pure slave labour. She was a mother and father; a farmer; a nurse; a counsellor; a cook and baker; a seamstress, a hairdresser and all the other things one has to be as a parent. It is to her credit that she raised her family and gave them the very best she could afford. She sacrificed herself for the sake of her children. She was a woman who had no equal. It is another tragedy of her life that she had just reached the point in life when she could enjoy herself and did not have to worry about her children - I the youngest had got a permanent job - and suddenly Mama left us.

Our neighbours were very helpful to us in those early years after my father died. They came in meitheals to help with all the seasonal chores, cutting the turf, saving the hay and sowing the potatoes. We returned the help to them once we were old enough to do so.

My uncle Paddy, mother’s brother, was particularly good to us during those early years. It was he who guided her in what to do and when to do it at the various seasons of the year – sowing the potatoes, cutting the turf and saving the hay, for example. He would cycle from Ailbrack about fifteen miles away, do a day’s work and then cycle back home in the evening. This was in addition to doing his own day’s work which included milking cows morning and evening. The only means of communication that time was by letter so things had to be arranged very well in order to work out. Weather was the only thing that could interfere with the schedule though I am sure that he often got wet as he cycled home after doing a day’s work for us. As soon he felt my brother was able to do things on his own he left him be but I am sure he kept a watchful eye on what was going on for some time.

Though Mama and Dada are both long gone to their reward, their spirit still lives on. I can see Dada with his ear to the radio as if trying to get the very last bit of news before the battery finally gives up. And every day Mama walks from the cow house with her two buckets of milk and strains them through the muslin cloth into the creamery can. If memories like those, though over a half a century old, live on for real in my mind every waking moment then surely the dead live on as long as their memory lives on.

The following quote from Helene Lerner reminded me of my mother: My mother was far from perfect, she didn’t go to the best school, dress in fine clothes, or have a lot of money. But when I look back she had riches that money cannot buy; a big heart that knew only one thing, the love for her children.

My father was only forty eight years of age when he died. His death was a terrible shock to our family and to the neighbourhood in general. He was a hard-working man and a good provider for his wife and children. My memories of him are scant: dressing in his ‘Sunday Best’ going to mass and other formal occasions; coming back from town with ‘bulls’ eyes for us; listening to the radio every evening for the weather forecast and the news. I also remember him playing tricks with us as we said the Rosary, but ever in view of my mother.

As all of his contemporaries are now gone, I recently spoke to one of our most senior neighbours who remembered him as a lovely man and most welcoming when you visited the house. He also remembered where he was when he heard of his death. Ar dheis Dé go raibh sé le mo mháthair.

The Neighbours

Like ourselves, all our neighbours were farmers and we all helped each other out in Meitheals, as necessary. A meitheal is a gathering of people, usually neighbours, who come together to pool their resources to help each other. All the big farm jobs of the summer were completed by meitheals – cutting the turf, killing the pig, bringing in the hay and digging the potatoes.

Most of these were regular callers to our house, either to help us with the farm work in the summer time or as visitors during the long winter nights. In fact there was scarcely a night but we would have some visitors. Sometimes there would be a game of cards or a sing song and we knew all the words of Seán South of Garryowen, Noreen Bawn, The Homes of Donegal, The Boys from the County Armagh, The Toonagh Shibeen and The Pub With No Beer, so often were they sung in our kitchen.

Brian Kearney always came on Saturday nights to get the correct time from the radio, ‘for the morning’ as he used to say. He had a lovely square-faced alarm clock which would fold up into its green cover. He promised me that he would leave it to me when he died. And he was true to his word. When I called to deliver a message to his wife, Katie, some time after he died, she gave me the clock.

Brian always promised you this, she said as she handed me the green clock. It doesn’t work anymore but you might be able to get it fixed.

A few weeks later, when I was doing the Scholarship exam in the CBS in Ennistymon, I brought it in to Shannon the jeweller. He had it up and running in a couple of days and I got many years use from it.

Our Home

Like the rest of our neighbours, our house was a simple structure built probably before the turn of the previous century. We believe it was originally thatched. My grandfather was a tradesman, mainly a stonemason and it was he who raised the roof and slated it. It had a bedroom at either end and a large kitchen in the centre, as was the case in most country houses of the day. Each room had a fireplace, the one in the kitchen the largest. This was an open hearth fireplace with hobs at either side. Over the fireplace there was a mantelpiece, a shelf the full length of the fireplace opening. In the centre of the shelf was the eight-day clock that my father bought from The Jewellery Company in Ennis for £4-10s-0d. It was guaranteed for ten years (we still have the receipt), but it may as well have been for seventy as it is still working. It had to be wound in two places every week; it struck every hour and half hour, once for the half hour and the appropriate number of strikes for the hour. I do not know how we ever went to sleep with its loud striking and tick-tock. It had a little door at the back and inside you could see the pendulum swinging back and forth. The key was also stored in there lest it become lost. When a person died in the house it was customary to stop the clock at the time of death and this was achieved by removing the swinging pendulum.

In addition to being the cooking centre of the house the fireplace also served as the social centre around which family and visitors gathered to exchange news, sing songs and play games. It was also in a semi-circle in front of, and facing away from, the fire that we said the nightly Rosary. Everybody who called was invited to ‘pull down to the fire’, the most friendly of an Irish greeting. The fire served as a source of heat and light; it dried the clothes when the weather was too bad to hang them on the outdoor clothes line; and its coals helped to cook and bake the bread in the big round oven. There was a crane over the fire on which you could hang pots. It was hinged to the wall at one end so that you could rotate it out from the fire for safety in handling the pots. These could be raised or lowered over the fire as required by means of an adjustable pot hanger.

We had a limited number of cooking pots: the large pot for boiling potatoes for the pigs and hens and also for boiling the water on the day of the pig killing; a medium sized pot for cooking for the meitheal; a small one, called a skillet, for cooking the bacon and cabbage for the family on a daily basis; a frying pan, an oven and a griddle, all three of which were placed on a brand, a circular iron frame with three legs. Bread was baked in the closed round oven or on a griddle beside the fire. It was difficult to mind the griddle cake or potato cakes from the falling soot which seemed to be never ending especially in the winter. We took turns sitting on the hobs beside the fire but we often had to cover our heads with a handkerchief or piece of newspaper to protect our hair from the same sticky soot. If that should dry into your hair you would have a most terrible time trying to comb it in the morning.

We seemed to be continually feeding the fire with

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