EARLY DAYS AROUND KILKEEL
HUGH MARKS, of Kilkeel, is one of the most interesting personalities it has ever been my pleasure to interview.
To start with I would like to say something of the impressions which I formed of this grand old man during the varied discussions I had with him. I formed the opinion, and strongly, that his is a singularly unselfish character. It would seem to me that during the ups and downs of his long, busy and crowded life he never seemed to think of himself or of his own comforts, or his own convenience when there was a question of serving others, I feel that he never looked for praise, never bothered about thanks for what he did in the interests of his employers, or for what he did in helping lame dogs over stiles. I would say of Hugh Marks that his word was always his bond. I may, however be giving readers the impression that Hugh, possessing the virtues I have enumerated is rather a formidable character of the old school of thought, severe and straight-laced. Well, let me assure you that he is nothing of the kind.
He is a chatty little man, effervescent with sparkling wit and humour, with a ruddy complexion as fresh as a ploughboy of 21, with scarcely a wrinkle in his face; and he has two of the brightest, merriest, dark twinkling eyes I ever saw. They are certainly not the eyes of an old man and Hugh does not talk or act much like an old man either. His out-look on life is bright and fresh and his keen sense of humour helps to lighten and brighten the autumn of his years. I met Hugh in Kilkeel on his 81st birthday, He says, "I am 81 the day". "Well," I replied, "that calls for a celebration". So we both went round to "The Bridge Bar" and in the bar parlour of that celebrated hostelry I drank the bould Hugh's health and wished him many happy returns and so did the genial and obliging manager of the licensed premises, Mr. Jim Cunningham, an old and valued friend of mine. Jim doesn't drink but he was so enthusiastically interested in the interview and so helpful with the vital parts of Hugh's story that he forgot about his thirsty customers in the bar down below, and I could hear loud, impatient and repeated knocking on the counter, for sea-going men have naturally a thirst, but Mr. Cunningham said, "Och, let them wait a minute, they're taking no harm", so engrossed was he in our friend's wealth of interesting facts and stories of the distant past. And it just goes to prove that there is indeed genuine kindliness in "Kindly Mourne" for when the bartender apologised for keeping the customers waiting and explained the reason, up came a series of creamy stouts for which this hostelry is noted, all for Hugh to mark the auspicious occasion and help to stimulate him in recalling his reminiscences. But wise man as he is, our friend has to refuse much of the proffered hospitality saying"Thanks boys, but no more now. A know when A've had enough." Well, to get on, here is the story as he narrated it to me:-
"A was born in the townland of Carginagh in the middle o' Mourne on the 4th May, 1879. A was wan of a family of 14, 6 girls and 8 boys. A was christened in the ould chapel at Ballymartin by the Parish Priest, Fr. James Keatings. Fr. Keatings was a native of Ferns Co. Wexford and he was Parish Priest of Lower Mourne for 40 years, from 1856 to 1896. The ould people called him Priest Katins. Me father was John Marks from the Longstone district and me mother was Catherine Reilly who hailed from the Valley Road, Moneydarraghbeg, near Ballymartin. Me father died when A was very young, A just min' him and no more. Me mother had to work hard and sore to rear such a big family, workin' out by day for long hours, 6 o'clock in the mornin' to 7 o'clock at night for 6d to 9d a day wi' the local farmers and "flowerin'" (doin' hand embroidery) on handkerchiefs be candle-light at night. Sometimes two inches of embroidery on four corners for 6d or 8d a dozen. She is about 50 years dead, Lord rest her. "What woman would ye get to do that now?"
"Oh none at all" I agreed. "No, I think not", replied Hugh. "A don't know what the world's goin' to come to at all. Look at the cut of some of them nowadays, weemin trying to look like men wi' tight trousers on them and their hair cut up this way and that way, and ivery way and some o' the men ye see nowadays are wearin' things ye wouldn't have been seen dead in in my young days." "A have a brother and a sister livin' yet. Me sister lives at Quilly Burn, near Dromore - Kate Kelly. A rode a bicycle there to see her not long ago. She is 90 years of age. Me brother, Tommy is about 86. He lives in Drumaness. He was up seein' me a while back. Our family left Carginagh when A was 7 years ould and went to live at The Millbay. A went a while to Lisnacree School. It was a mixed school for all denominations. The teacher was a Mrs. Orr. She was wan of the Fishers of Ballymartin. Oh a fine woman she was and a good teacher too, but A didn't learn much. She caught me chewin' tobacco wan day and gave me a canin' that ended me career at school for A never went back. Me education was badly neglected but they weren't so particular in them days. The Star of the Sea' School wasn't built then. Dr. Marner, the Parish Priest built it afterwards, A mind him well goin' round in his wee pony and trap an' sometimes on horseback. A min' Father Hamill who was P.P. after him and Father McAllister who came after that then Canon Laverty and Father MacGowan who died three years ago. And now we have Canon Cahill, 'who is all their daddys - a great man, God bliss him. He has done a lot of work since he come and has a lot more to do yet, but trust him, he'll do it before he finishes.
A min' a curate called Father Eardley. He was a great friend of the Kilmoreys and used to ride and hunt wi' them often. In the Lower end parish, A min' Father Murphy who came after Fr. Keatings. A heard tell of Fr. O'Loan and Fr. Smyth but they were long after my time in the parish and A don't know much about them. A hear them sayin' that the Father Murphy who is the Parish Priest in the Lower end now is a nephew of oul' Father Murphy, who built Ballymartin Chapel, Moneydarra School as' a lot of other buildin's as well. Well, judgin' by what this priest has done since he came to the Lower end, he is a chip of the oul' block. The Murphys were grand men. They come from Erinagh, near Downpatrick. "A was 9 years ould when A left school and A hired for work in McMurrays of Greencastle to herd cows and sheep. The wages were ten shillin's for the half year. A also worked in Newells of Benagh and in McElroys at Greencastle but the toughest place of the lot was me start. A was only 9 years ould, ye see, and it was in the winter time A started. A was put to herd sheep and cattle on the Islands off the Millbay from 5 o'clock in the mornin' to 9 o'clock at night wi' only a piece in me pocket. Many and many a coul' winters day A burned dry wrack and sticks to dry me feet and keep myself warm. A was on the Islands from the tide went out in the early mornin' until it came in at night wi' little in me or on me, and ye know it was very hard on a wee fella.
"Newells' was a good house to work in; there was a roughness of everything and plenty of good home-baked wheaten bread and sweet milk and good fresh butter-milk. There was no such thing as flu in them days for there was plenty of good strong rum at 4d a glass that wad kill any germs. Tobaccy was only 3d. an ounce and stout 2d a bottle, and ye got cheese and biscuits free wi' it at Tom Briens' pub in the Millbay.
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