.

 

Chapter 3.

HIRIN' OUT WI' THE FARMERS



Someone wrote a book one time entitled "I Couldn't Help Laughing". Well, this applied to the present writer while our shanachie was narrating the adventures and stories which are contained in this chapter. In fact my shorthand notes were so jerky due to these "kinks" of laughter that I had some difficulty in deciphering them. And I only hope our readers will get so much amusement in reading this week's narrative that they too cannot help laughing.

HUGH LEAVES MOURNE

As we left the farmyard adjoining the old Castle at Greencastle still thinking of "old forgotten far-off things and battle long ago". Hugh continued : "A got a good hard trainin' here : as the sayin' is, 'to plough and sow and reap and mow and be a farmer's boy'. And now that A had grown to be a man, A made up me min' to lave Mourne for a while and push me fortune somewhere else. So A set aff for Newry and there A met a farmer named Barry. A put in half a year wi' him but A wasn't stuck on the place an' so A didn't renew the contract when me time was up. A pushed in to Moira and A lived wi' a man called Hamill. Me wages wi' him was 11 for the half-year. A used to drive the horse and cart from Moira to Belfast market wi' vegetables. It was an early start for A had to be in the market at half past six in the mornin'', and the journey was 17 Irish miles. The boss allowed me four shillins' for me day's expenses to feed meself and the horse, and A needn't tell you a lie, it took the biggest part of my allowance to feed the poor ould horse for A wud want meself rather than see the poor baste hungry. That's wan thing about me - A never like to see man or baste hungry. There was no such thing as overcoats in them days, for the workin' class anyway. When the rain came on A just threw an oul' sack over me shoulders.

AROUND DROMORE

"Well, A kept moving around. A went to the hirin' fair at Ballynahinch and hired for six months wi' a farmer called John Patterson, of the Rann, near Downpatrick, and then the next six months wi' another farmer at The Rann called Tommy Orr, A while after that A went to Dromore and wrought in several places there." Here Hugh recalled the names of a number of farmers in the Dromore area where he spent hiring periods. There was Robert English's, of Ballaney - and every time Hugh re-visited the Dromore area the late Mr. Stanley English (Robert's son) had a warm welcome for him ; there were the Mercers'. of The Diamond ; John Davison's, of Bullsbrook ("a rale gentleman"), and Gribben's of The Black Bog. As a chance he engaged with James Henry Burns, the Dromore building contractor of half a century ago, and got 10/- a week for attending a mason. But working with horses was in his blood and soon he returned to the farming and went down Hillboro' way to spend a term with John Carville of Ballygowan.
The older stock around Dromore will all have vivid memories of James Ward, the fiddler and thatcher, who lived with his two sisters. Well, Hugh struck up their acquaintance and visited the house quite often while working around Dromore. One of the big days of the year in Dromore then was the Easter Monday races. "A always got half a day off to see them," said Hugh. Asked if he preferred Dromore district to Mourne for employment, Hugh replied : "Ye had to work ivery bit as hard, but there was better grub and better hours." "Many a time A be thinkin' o' the sister, poor oul' Kate, and wunnerin' how she's doin'" said Hugh. So in return for all the entertainment he gave us we felt it as little as we could do to take Hugh on a trip to Dromore to see his sister. We set out last Saturday and after a pleasant drive, Hugh recalling many familiar landmarks along the way, we arrived at Dromore. In Mr. Trench's pub off the Square Hugh met one old-timer, who although he didn't exactly remember Hugh, he had heard about him and he knew all the farmers he had worked for and we had an very enjoyable interlude and many hearty laughs talking over Hugh's reminiscences. At length we arrived at Mr. Joe Kelly's house outside Banbridge. Joe is Hugh's nephew and there at present Mrs. Kate Kelly is staying with her devoted son. Her husband, the late Mr. Tom Kelly, had a little shop in Rampart Street, Dromore, and she lived with another son at the Quilly Burn, Dromore until recently. Though she is not in the best of health at present she gave us all a great welcome and was most anxious for news of the Mourne country and some of the old-timers she knew there.

THE BAD "MATE" HOUSE

"All tell ye a good one about engagement A had at Sheeptown," said Hugh. "It was a short apprenticeship A can tell ye. Och, a pig wouldn't ate the mate that was put up in yon house. A hired wi' a man (don't mention his name for some of his family may be livin' there yet and A wudn't like to give offence to them), Well, the first mornin' in this place A was called at the 'screagh of day' and when A looked round the place A thought it was a rough lookin' joint. The oul' woman called me in for me breakfast after A had cleaned out the byers and stables. What do ye think she planted down forninst me on the table? Och, a bit of dry "quogh" and a bowl of watery tay that ye cud fish flukes in 40 fathom of. An' then she comes wi' a wee rusty herrin' on an oul' dirty plate. There was no butter or 'creesh' of any kind. Well, A took wan look at it and do ye know what A said? "No", I replied, "something droll I am sure", for by this time I knew that Hugh is a bit of a wit and very good at repartee, but I didn't imagine he aspired towards poetry and was surprised when he said : "Well, A made a poem about it - or at least a varse. A burst out wi' :- 'Poor wee fry, here ye lie, Yer eyes are open but ye cannot cry, Yer back is bare, your belly's tore, But A see no butter to mend your sore'." Well, if I felt moved to tears sometimes at the pathos in Hugh's life, I was forced to laughter now. "I hold you that shook her", I said. "Well, it did in a way", retorted Hugh. "Out she goes and in she comes wi' a junk of white scalded butter in her big dirty, bare, black fist, an' wi' that she slapped it down on the plate, on the top of the wee salt herrin'. "Maybe that'll do ye now", she retorted. "Well, sowl, it done me all right, for bad as it was before it was ten times worse now. As the oul' sayin' is a' clean fast's better than a dirty breakfast any day.' So A jumped to me feet an' reached for me cap and A cleared out lek the shot of a gun, an' A out the road as quick as me legs cud carry me. An' the oul' dame let a yell out of her after me lek a bayin' shee (banshee). Boys, she was the hardest lookin' yock A ever laid eyes on an' A've seen some hard lookin' cases in me time, A can tell ye. She was fit to scare a heckler. She was the oul' fella's mother, or hes aunt or somethin'. Och A was long enough in yon grip. It was the
coorsest iver A came across.

HUGH'S COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE
How he Popped the Question

"Well, A made me way after that to Shinn, and there A met the girl A married. She was Maggie O'Connell, of Shinn, Well, A was walkin' out wi' her for a wheen of weeks when wan even' A said : 'Maggie, how wud ye lek to be buried wi' our people'. Man, she knowed well enough what A meant. An' she says : "It wud do rightly, Hughie". So we were married in Newry, an' dear knows we hadn't much to start wi'. A mind A had only a -ounce of tobaccy the mornin' we were married. We lived wi' her people for a while after we were married, an' later on we got a house in Shinn. She was wan of the best craythirs iver God made an' a good manager. We had a family of two girls and one boy. She's dead 20 years now, God rest her.
"Well, A took a notion A wud head for Mourne again, an' when A came back there A went to work in Shannon's of Maghery. A had right times there an Mr. Shannon was a good boss. A got 1 a week. All the Shannon's were fine people and so is the name of them to this day. When A left there A went to work for Mr. Gordon - Mr. Alex. Gordon, J.P., of this town - an' a better employer A never had - a rale gentleman ivery inch of him, and so is his son Mr. Archie, who is livin' in the home place yit. A wrought wi' him for ten years an' a
half. A had charge of his farm, as foreman. He kept great horses, an' A'm still livin' in his house in The Hollow. Its proper names is Gordon Row. A've lived there for 40 years". Hugh was held in just as high esteem by the Gordon family, and when Mr. Archir Gordon, son of Mr. Alex. Gordon and present owner of "Beulah", heard that Hugh was being featured in these columns he invited him over to have his photo taken on his horse. So over we went to Mr. Gordon's residence where a hearty welcome awaited us. Hugh was duly mounted on Mr. Gordon's horse and had his "likeness" taken, to the delight of everyone. Then Mr. Gordon invited us in and showed us the grand array of trophies which he won years ago with his greyhounds and horses. As I admired the cups and the photographs of notable horses and dogs, Mr. Gordon and Hugh chatted animatedly, re-living the highlights of bygone days.

TEACHING THE SOUTHERNERS TO GROW FLAX

"Well then," continued Hugh, "during the 1914-19 War A was asked by Captain James McKee, of Kilkeel, to go to Dunmore wi' a Mr. Shipsey to learn them down there how to grow flax, for they knew nothin' about it, an' of course A knew all about that. They used to grow a powerfull lot of flax in Mourne, especially durin' the first War, an' there was little about the flax industry A didn't know. A soon learned them in Dunmore East all about flax, but there was wan thing A insisted on an' that was that A was to get Lady Day off - the 15th of August. A said it wasn't lucky or soncey to work on that day. Of course A was only gaggin' for 'the better the day the better the deed', but A got the day off all the time and fairly enjoyed meself too. "Och, A may tell you A niver was often idle an' was very seldom on the dole. There's nothin' to bate working' hard wi'in rayson. A wudn't see a man stuck if he wanted anythin' done that A cud do even yet."
"Were you ever across the water?" I enquired. "Och, A took a notion wan time o' goin' across to Scotland, but it was a short stay. A wrought for a while in a steel works in a place called New Stevenson, but left an' came home again. The fare to Belfast was only 4/6. A walked from Belfast to Dromore. On the road A went over into a hay field an' slept till next mornin'. When A arrived in Dromore all A had was tuppence. The only other time A was out of Ireland was when durin' the last War. A was workin' at cleanin' up on the blitz sites on Henry Ford's motor works. The nearest town was called The Nag's Head. A worked there for six months.

 

 

Page 24   -----   Page 26