By Mary Nolan


In our house in the 1950s there was a big open fireplace in the kitchen. A black crane hung over it with hooks for hanging the kettle, pots and bake pan. In the corner was a contraption known as a fanners for blowing the fire.

The fire had to be lit every day, winter and summer, as it was used for all the cooking and heating. Whoever was up first in the morning would light it. They used old newspapers soaked in paraffin and a bundle of small sticks to get it started.

The big black kettle was kept boiling at all times for making tea. The potatoes and cabbage for the dinner were boiled in the black pots. When the dinner was over, a big pot of potatoes would be put on to boil for the pigs. In those days there were no sliced pans so the bread had to be made every day.

My mother would always make a brown and a white cake. For Sundays, or special occasions, she’d add a few currants or raisins to the white bread. When it was made, it was put into the bake-pan and hung over the open fire to bake. Half-way through it’d be turned over to make sure it was cooked evenly on both sides.

When done, it was left out on the window-sill to cool. It always tasted delicious with homemade butter which was churned once a week.

The fire was also used for drying and airing clothes, especially in the winter. For this purpose a line was strung across the wall above the fireplace.

So where did we get the fuel to keep this fire burning all year round? When we were small we used to go gathering sticks. There was a wood nearby which was ideal for the job. After school we would gather the sticks into bundles, tie them with twine, or an old piece of rope, hoist them up on our backs and carry them home. Sometimes my father would yoke the donkey and cart and bring home a big load of sticks.

We also burned turf in the open fire. We were lucky that there was a bog not too far from where we lived. Every year in June or July my father would cut the turf, and we’d help him to stack it for drying. When it was dry we’d bring it home with the donkey and cart. It would be stored in the turf shed, which was a long, narrow shed in the haggard.

From there it was brought by bucket and piled on the big open fire in the kitchen.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own