Stories from my Grandparents
I was very privilaged as a young girl to spend lots of time with my Grandparents and their friends and to listen to their stories and to gain some of their favourite recipies. Many of these had been passed down from their parents who were born during or just after the Irish famine! The way of life was so different to now that it makes me smile when i think about it but sometimes I cant help wish I was back there in my Grandparents house beside the stove.
Grandad was born in 1901 and my Grandmother (we called her nanny) was about 20 years younger. They lived at the foot of a mountain about a mile in from the main road and perhaps another 3 miles from the local village. This made their home, peaceful, if not a little lonely at times. I lived in the house next door and often jumped out of bed and ran straight back to spend the day with my Grandparents. I loved them!
Some of the items that were part of daily life in my Grandparents house are now only available in the local Folk musuems. My children have no idea what various items could possibly be used for when we go to visit! One of these is the butter churn.
When I was about 6 years old my Grandmother still had a big old butter churn in her kitchen. She kept the cream from the top of the milk all week and then about once a week she would have enough collected to churn up some real natural butter. This process was done with a utensil that looked really similar to a long old fashioned mixer. As a child it seemed to take forever! (I knew it was going to taste really good!) However following on from this was the process of moulding the butter and shaping it. I was not allowed to taste it until it was ready. This was pure unsalted butter.
My Grandmother didn't just make butter - Oh no! She was up every morning before anybody else in the house even thought about stirring. Her routine involved clearing out the stove and lighting the fire, making a hot cup of tea and then saying her prayers. By the time everyone else was ready to get up (around 8am) there were two fresh cakes of brown bread cooling beside the kitchen sink and she was sitting peacefully by the stove once again with a cup of tea in her hand! By about 10.30am most mornings she had the dinner prepared and the spuds (potatoes) were bubbling away nicely on the stove. Another cup of tea now and then she would wash a couple of shirts in the kitchen sink. She always believed that the twin tub just could not do a good job on those dirty shirt collars!
Hard Days and Jolly Nights
I guess that we live in easy times when you consider the life that my Grandparents had in the past. They had fifteen children in a small four bedroom house. There was no indoor toilet and no running water. There was also no telephone, no car, no electricity and no money. Two of the fifteen children died while they were under one year which must have been heartbreaking but was also quite a normal occurance in those days.
The family lived on a small farm with some cattle sheep,ducks and hens. They grew enough potatoes and vegetables to sutain themselves and they also owned a piece of bog which was farmed for turf for the fire every summer. The days started early and finished late with a lot of hard work in between.
The children were all expected to play their part in saving hay, cutting turf, looking after the animals and the home.
However the evenings were filled with dancing and singing. Sometimes a storyteller would call and enthrall the family with stories of far and near perhaps telling stories of the bean-shee or new inventions. My Grandparents both played accordian and would often spend the evenings playing music while the children played tin whistle or the bodhran.
Calling the Midwife!
One very memorable story that I have from my Grandmother is the day she told me about her midwife. We were standing at the front of her house and she pointed across the fields to a little cottage a few miles in the distance. She told me how an aunt of hers called Anna had lived there. They had an agreement that when my Grandmother felt the labour pains starting she would hang a white sheet across her hedge so that Anna would know to come and help her!
One day when my Grandmother was about 7 months pregnant she decided to make use of some good weather and wash the sheets on the beds. As she washed them she had her daughters help her to hang them out on the hedges to dry. She had just finished the last ones when Aunty Anna came running into the house and collapsed in the chair! When she looked out the window of her home, she had seen a whole hedge of white sheets and was convinced that my Grandmother must be dead!!