Carrowcrin, with its bordering townlands and parishes was, we may take it, typical of most Irish districts, especially those west of the Shannon, in the period, 1870 – 1890; and they attracted the attention of descriptive writers from time to time, some sympathetic, some very much of another kind. Like its near neighbours, it was then a backward place, in its remoteness from towns or villages, Dublin a thousand miles away, Limerick and Galway more or less ‘foreign parts’. To have visited Dublin even once was to have acquired a coveted distinction for, be it remembered, there were no motors or bicycles, the nearest railway station, Ballinasloe or Woodlawn, the only means of transport, the sidecar or horse-back, which failing, then Shank’s mare.
To walk to Loughrea and back was thought nothing of. I often enough did it on Saturday for Confession without, as far as I remember, refreshment of any kind. When I got as far as the Metal Bridge, Dalystown, I always considered I had got halfway to town. And, by the way, there used to be a family named Fahy living there, next to the RIC barracks, whose house was the local dispensary.
The Country in 1885
Speaking generally, the country in 1885 seemed very much as it had been during the previous half century – stagnation and no progress. It was in reality a dismal, gloomy and disastrous period…. Enlivened by little, darkened by recurring famines, evictions, emigration in coffin ships and the cruel repressive measures that followed the two abortive rebellions of ’43 and ’67, it was a black page in alien misgovernment. But the spirit of the people was not broken, though indeed it might well have been. On the contrary, with new-born hope and reinforced and businesslike energy, they threw themselves into the new movement inaugurated by Michael Davitt a few years previously in the neighbouring County Mayo under the title of The Land League.
During the agitation that followed the spread of the Land League, south Galway was described in the official language of the day as ‘a disturbed area’ – Loughrea and Woodford, with their adjacent districts claiming most attention. Indeed they figure largely in the historical records of that stormy period. Ballinakill, lying almost midway between the two towns, played its part in the movement.
The Economic Situation
It was a troubled time, economically straitened and full of anxiety for those charged by divine Providence with the upbringing of families, their present maintenance and their prospects in life. The seasons were bad, prices for farm products low and the rents were exorbitant. The remittance from America, the one and the only hope for many, to weather the storm. But to us boys who gave no thought of the morrow or its vexing problems, it was ‘gay old times’ to be enjoyed after the limited manner of the time and the place.
Country children were easily entertained and amused. Country boys are very resourceful, improvising and indulging in their favourite pastime, hurling. Home-made balls and hurleys, though ever so crude and clumsily constructed, served the purpose and were as much enjoyed as their costly equivalents in the hands of the athletes contending for county or provincial honours in Croke Park, Dublin.
Our facilities for fishing were rather limited – with the simplest of fishing tackle, a long rod cut from the hedge, line and hook, we set out for a summer Sunday afternoon’s enjoyment. Duniry river as we called it being the only one within reasonable walking distance and the fish in it small, though I have seen salmon in shoals coming up for spawning in the season. It was interesting to watch them pass under the bridge. Though our outfit was of the barest, we were not infrequently more successful than our next neighbour on the same bank with his two-guinea rod.
In the warm weather with the summer’s sun unclouded and clear, we had recourse to another method of carrying on operations. It might not be, indeed it was not, sportsmanlike, because it meant taking an unfair advantage of the fish, namely, their drowsy and sluggish state, owing to the heat. Bur in those days and at our age I regret to say we had little scruple in taking the short cut across – the line of least resistance made a successful appeal to us…. Mounted on a stout lengthy rod, cow-hair plaited into the form of a noose is colourless, almost invisible, when let down into the water, and the unsuspecting trout or pike leisurely enjoying the genial warmth doesn’t notice the stealthy approach of deadly noose until it is slipped round its girth when, snap, with a vigorous jerk, the poor thing is landed panting on the bank. It is sport of a kind, but not for the fish.
Those days of that long far past were really the ‘gay old times’, to be recalled with a sigh, when we were happy in the enjoyment of our homely contrived and anyhow constructed means of amusement. Did we ever think of the future at all? Of course we did. What boy ever didn’t day-dream of a golden future of great achievement when opportunity offered and opportunities unnumbered came and are, well, gone with the wind.
The seasons’ difference meant little or nothing to us, as we were to adapt ourselves to the changing of circumstances and ‘twas a toss-up with us which part of the year was the more desirable – winter or summer. I think as a rule we voted for the winter. If in the summer we had longer days, warm sunshine, with the advantage of being so much in the open, that we didn’t fancy a bit, for there was always that something, work! Yes, and hard work too, in the hayfield, the turnip field or worst of all the detested – the abhorred – the bog, several miles distant, by the dreariest of roads in the most dismal surroundings. ‘Wastelands’, I think it was called; a most appropriate name.
The winter had many compensations to offset the inconveniences caused by the coldness of the weather and the shorter daylight. Circling round the cosy kitchen fire, idyllic in its setting, affording ample scope for amusement, song and story, mirth and laughter. Now and again, there would be the unhinged upturned door, with jig or hornpipe gracefully danced on it to a lively accompaniment. Irish music, above all others, is proverbially sweet and soul-stirring, dance music especially. Father Tom Burke in a lecture delivered in the United States on Irish Music, told his audience that Priest as he was, Monk and all as he was, he never listened to the strains of ‘The Irish Washerwoman’ but he felt his feet going from under him. Thus did our days and weeks and seasons pass pleasantly into years and by and large we were happy.