Memories of Curraghs

It was back in the fifties. I have a very firm memory of my arrival for the first time in Curraghs. Driving slowly over very slippery roads - snow had fallen during the night, and was still falling, as we slowly made our way up Field’s hill. My brother was driving my aunt’s car, and my bicycle was in the boot with the door flopping up and down on it. Suddenly, out of nowhere a figure appeared right in front of us. This lady, for sure enough it was a woman, was barefoot. She had a rug of some sorts on her shoulders and her hair was straggly and wet around her head. She startled us with her wildness as she waved her arms and stood right in front of us. Billy stopped and was on the point of asking her if there was something wrong, when she started screaming and roaring at us. We were so taken back by this sudden onslaught that we drove on and in a very short time we arrived outside the school house. Still unsure of ourselves, we got out, and there standing in the doorway, was the most beautiful lady I had ever seen. What a contrast between these two people on that memorable morning! Here was a very dignified lady, with snow white hair and a regal walk. She was terribly correct, and as time went on she proved to be so kind.

Having introduced ourselves, Mrs.Looney R.I.P., for indeed it was she, made us feel very welcome to Curraghs. On further acquaintance she was to tell me that the lady,whom we first encountered, was Annie Fitz R.I.P. who was indeed a very well known character in the locality. Later on, I was to realize that Annie took no notice of hail, sleet or snow. She seemed to be immune to any kind of inclement weather or to any kind of approaches one would make to be friendly with her. But the dear old lady did no harm to anybody. She simply went her own queer way and she has long since gone to Heaven. When I think back to that morning, and the great friendship I had with Mrs.Looney and her daughters for the next four or five years, it is hard to believe or realize that so many things have happened to have changed my life. One does not think about change at all when one is young. Time seems to stand still, and the intervening years have ceased to exist. Having taken my bicycle from the car boot, Billy went home to Highmount, and I was here in what seemed to be a very lonely place.

I had never up to that time seen a two storey national school, so that was indeed very strange. Later I was to learn that Ballygraddy school was also a two storey building.

A little girl, or should I say a big girl, from Mrs.Looney’s classroom was trying to get the fire lighting in the junior room. A very tough job indeed. This ritual was to last until 1972, when finally we went to Kilbrin and amalgamated with Ballygraddy school. Some mornings the fire would start, but, more often than not the heat did not penetrate the shivering little bones before eleven o’clock. Somehow, or another we never complained. It seemed to be the natural thing and, before long, the Spring was here and we forgot those miserable cold wet mornings.

However, in those days our expectations of the comforts everyone takes for granted today did not exist. Starting off in my first job was such a thrill, and, before that Monday was down, I felt an attraction for this place, which was so far from any village or town. I cannot describe it, and it never ceases to intrigue me. I should mention that I was staying with Mrs Looney for the first two years, and cycled to Curraghs every Monday morning and cycled home every Friday evening. This journey was about thirteen or fourteen miles each way. Then, I purchased my first car, a second hand prefect. Notwithstanding the hardships of cycling such a long journey, I settled down happily in Curraghs. Times were bad, post war, so it was wonderful to have a job.

My first pay packet, (will I ever forget the wonderful feeling), was £9 for a fortnight. It was fascinating the way these memories and pictures come before me. Then the pleasure of cycling to Kanturk on Wednesday evening after school to get my cheque cashed at the bank. Mary Looney and I would cycle to Liscarroll to the post-office. These journeys would take up a whole evening. Nowdays, to go to the bank or post-office takes less than five minutes. I seem to be, involuntarily, going from one detail to another. But, since I started writing, the memories are tumbling one after the other. There is no line of importance, just a jumble of everything happy and sweet. And, what an unusual situation. The bad times, as I am sure there were just as many bad times as good times, do not appear to surface at all.

In no time at all, I knew several families around. I suppose, there was at least one child, if not two or three, from almost every house in the area attending the school. Any stranger would surely get to know the locals very quickly indeed.

Shortly, after I arrived, the Spring Stations, or Lenten Stations, were held. Here was something new to me, as the Station Mass was never said in the houses around at home, nor, is it said in houses in Dromcollogher either. One attends one's own station in the church.

It was a very pleasant time indeed. Curraghs is situated between Freemount parish, Ballybahallow and Kilberehert to the North, Liscarroll to the East, Kilbrin to the South—West. As the pupils attending the school came from the tail-ends of the aforementioned parishes, so, Mrs. Looney and I were invited, not only to attend our own station, but, to all. So it was easy to get to know everybody. After the Mass, there was feasting, singing and dancing. It was great and enjoyable. I do not know if this kind of partying goes on in houses anymore. I made friends in Curraghs with parents and the children, who are now adults, and I taught some of their children in Kilbrin.

At that time, rural electrification was just being switched on around this part of the country. On the Monday morning when I first arrived in Curraghs, I discovered that there was electric light in each classroom, two rooms to be exact and an electric kettle. What a surprise; it was unbelievable that we had an electric kettle. Up to that time, we were quite content and happy as we were, with our ranges and paraffin oil lamps or candles. So, it wasn't until I came home from Curraghs on that first Friday evening and saw the whole house lit up, that I became aware, for the first time, how much we country people had been missing. Cities and towns, of course, all had electricity. But, now, to have it in the country, that was something indeed.

The compensations for the remoteness of Curraghs at that time (it is not considered remote now, as cars have resolved that problem) and the long distance from home were, of course, the friendliness, kindness and neighbourliness of the people. Everyone knew the next person, visited each other, stopped and talked to each other, no matter where. You see, the lifestyle was so different from today's way of living. Nowadays, people even drive down the street to the Church. I mean, those who live up the street. If one wants the Cork Examiner, or, the Limerick Leader, one just sits in the car, always parked outside the front door and drives across the square to the shop about one hundred yards away. But, back in the fifties, one either walked or cycled, and, so, you were always meeting people, At that time, too, we lived a lot more leisurely life. No one was ever in a hurry. Times have changed with the modern was of living, and the easy pace of years past has disappeared.

There are buses to transport most of the children to school now. And those who do not travel by bus, come in their parents cars. So, the long journey home from school, shortened by the fun and chatter and, perhaps, an odd tussle is a thing of a by-gone era.

Many an evening I walked down the road with the O'Callaghans, the Fields, Padogs (O'Connors) or John Casey. School was forgotten I was not their teacher, but, just a companion. We talked, laughed and I heard many an innocent childish secret. Pat Field told me that his father always kept a few bottles of stout in the parlour at the back of the china ware. Theresa Callaghan told me her Auntie Blackburn was coming visiting on the following Saturday. I got a detailed account of her mother's preparations for that visit. Places and corners were cleaned that would not usually be touched and, of course, the bastible currant cake was baked. Likewise, at Padogs', Ann was always there to greet one. And what joy was that big blazing fire on the open hearth. The kettle was always on the boil, and, of course, the home baked bread was second to none. I could mention every house in Curraghs, but, it would take volumes. Each and everyone was the same. The welcome was always there. I can see Mrs. Madigan tending her flowers in front of her little thatched house, Agg Cronin, always good for a laugh and a joke and Mrs. Jerry Murphy, always busy tending to her beautiful flower garden. The scent from that garden is still with me. One never forgets these glorious times. As I said before, it seems to have been happiness all the time.

Lest I neglect to mention the other side of the parish, I will now thank Mrs. Ed. O'Brien for all the help she gave me in those far distant days. She always came up trumps the day of the Inspectors. At eleven o`clock and again at one o'clock. Mrs. O'Brien sent up a tray laden with the most beautiful food. I have never since tasted the likes of her tea cake. Not alone did I appreciate that very much but the inspectors did also. Mrs. D. Buckley in Kilbrin, also, was very good to us on the day of an inspector, but, I am only writing about Curraghs, so, I had better keep to the point.

After about two years I bought my first car. It made life much more easy, but, ever so costly. I did not mind. I was young and enjoying myself. But, then catastrophe struck. There was a petrol strike. I got "digs" at O'Connors', Johnsbridge and, so, I did not have to worry too much about the strike. I stayed there until I got married and we are great friends since.

I remember the day Danny Vaughan came in to the classroom and announced with great importance "That's a grand machine you have outside, Miss O'Gorman". He was referring to my bicycle, of course. And shortly after purchasing my car, second hand, of course, a very old man, Maurice Culhane, called to the school one day. He spoke to Mrs. Looney and said it was a shame to have car out in the open. A shed should be provided for my "car". We did not even have flush toilets, then in the school, not to mind a shed for the car. Maurice used to drive a pony and trap, as did most people at that time.

I can still see three or four common cars pulled up outside the school wall on a wet evening and all the children would climb on to these, five or six, maybe, on to each cart. A few old coats would be spread over their heads, and off they would all go home. They were like the pioneering caravans of the Wild West. But, these days are no more.

When Mrs. Looney retired, Pat O'Sullivan from Kanturk came as Principal. He used to arrive on a motor-cycle. When Pat went to Kanturk, Mrs. Nash came, and when she got a job as principal in Lisgriffin, I became Principal.

I must say that I learned so much from all these people. Their example, dedication and sincerity helped me through my years of teaching. I know I could not have made it on my own. And, of course, the person from whom I learned the most, was Fr. Murnane. As far as I remember, he spent seventeen years in Kilbrin. Maybe I am wrong. I know he was still in Kilbrin when the two schools amalgamated. Every week, without fail, Fr. Murnane would come to the school and take the Junior Classes for half an hour one day and the Senior Classes for half an hour the other day. I know Fr. Murnane did not realize the help and information he was giving me, while I sat down listening, as he spoke to the children. His teaching was invaluable and is still a great guideline. Thank you sincerely, Father.

Over the years many strangers would come to the school. There was this very old lady from Connemara, who came begging, year after year, in May or June. Undoubtedly, it was her husband who stayed with the horse and car, but, she always came in. She was a native Irish speaker and did not have one word of English. I never understood one word she said, but, neither did she know what I was talking about. I know she appreciated the shilling or two I gave her, for, she kept coming every year for a long time.

Then we would have the dentist. Mrs Morrissey from Charleville would arrive with her assistant Esther Kelly, whom I knew well. Talk of hygiene or lack of it, more likely! Again, Mrs. O'Brien supplied us with a bucket of hot water and Mrs. Morrissey extracted teeth in the classroom. That was all there was and a pan, into which the extracted teeth were put. The children were out in the hallway, waiting for their turn to go in. No parent waiting to take the terrified child home afterwards. No one to console a screaming child. I am sure these children, who are now adults, have no loving memories of that school dentist. Strangely enough, thank God, I never heard of any infections afterwards. Things were indeed primitive in those days. But everyone came through and I firmly believe we are all the stronger for those experiences.

A daily visitor to the school, also, was Dinny Connell, the postman from Liscarroll. Dinny loved the Irish language too and he, also, loved children. So much so, that he met a little girl on her way to school one day. She must have been rather despondent and sad and had been lagging behind the others, her sister, brothers and friends. Having got out of her what was wrong, Dinny wasn't long solving the problem. And all was rosey in the garden. But, lo and behold, later on that day, I realized that my young friend could not possibly have written such a beautiful composition. Dinny’s phrases and language were glaring through the page. I ignored it, but, had a good laugh afterwards. All these little episodes are surfacing as I write. But I must really finish, or, I could go on until midnight.

In 1972 we amalgamated with Ballygraddy and we all came to the new school in Kilbrin. Padraig O'Riain was our new Principal, the new curriculum was just being started, and, a totally modern and forward way of teaching had begun.

We were sorry to leave Curraghs, but, it was time to go. The building itself needed repairs. Shortly before we left, on arrival one morning at the school, I could not open the front door. We got in the side door, to discover, that a badger had burrowed right through and had a heap of earth, coal and debris of all sorts against the front door. There was consternation. We did not know what to do. Eventually, it was cleared away and school resumed as usual.

They were good days. And there are no regrets. So the chapter closes on Curraghs school.


Eibhlín Ryan

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