John Corbett with a selection of memories of life in the Irish countryside

“Tosach maith, leath na h-oibre”, is an Irish proverb, meaning that a good start is as good as having half the work completed. Perhaps it’s a fairly sound approach in life. We thought so anyway.

The plus from our point of view was that we were on holidays and unlike other breaks from school, there weren’t too many chores to be done on the farm.

That left more time for fun and games and we were determined to start the year on a high note. We were still savouring our presents and of course Christmas wasn’t over yet.

New Year’s Day was special for our family and for all villagers. A goose, or turkey, were the usual choices for the main meal, although beef, lamb or duck, were quite popular too. Fruit desserts, combined with cream and custard, topped off the meal.
Two Masses were celebrated in the local churches and attendances were generally large. In mid-century people cycled or used ‘Shank’s Mare’ to get to church. Wealthier families used horse-drawn traps or side-cars. A tiny minority had motor cars and the local sergeant was the only one that had a motor-bike then.

Prior to that, Fr. O’Loughlin, the former Gurteen curate, had one. He was an adventurous cleric involved in many exciting events in the parish, including the setting up of Sunday afternoon dances on an islet in Loughnahinch Lake, although as you would expect, they took place in summer rather than at Christmas or the New Year.

After returning from church preparations for dinner would begin. The ladies did the lion’s share of the housework at the time and the men looked after the foddering of animals. Children brought in drinking water and turf.

When the meal was over we were free to enjoy ourselves as we wished. We played games such as hurling or football or we might explore our toys or visit our friends and share theirs.

Home-made swings were plentiful and occasionally racing or jumping over home-made hurdles, kept us occupied. The hurdles were made by putting sticks into the ground and linking them with a piece of string. Heights could be adjusted by sliding the ends of the string up or down on the sticks.

Whenever timber planks were around they were commandeered and made into ‘see-saws’. Dismantled bikes were in great demand. Their wheels could be used for tipping races, which were high on our list of activities back then.

Wheel-tipping could take place on any level surface and public roads were the number one choice because traffic was light and there was little prospect of injuring ourselves or endangering others.
Adults disapproved of taking wheels from bikes that were functioning because of the risk of damaging them. Their disapproval didn’t deter us from removing the wheels whenever the opportunity presented itself. It didn’t take long to put them back on when the tipping races were over.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own