By Sally Moss
County Donegal has many charming places of beauty and many quaint little villages – but none so endearing to me as the village of Ballindrait. There are several surrounding town lands that make up the village. One of them is called Birdstown.
Nestling under Croaghan Hill’s purple hue of heather, stands an enchanting little white-washed, thatched cottage with steps leading down to the front door. In summer the scent of roses, wallflowers and hollyhocks are delightful.
My great grandfather Robert Tinney married Ann Sheerin in 1860 and began their married life there. They had seven children, three boys and four girls. William, one of the boys was my grandfather. This is where my humble beginnings began.
My earliest memory is going with my mother to visit my grandaunts, Annie and Jane. They wore long black skirts, crocheted shawls and laced-up boots with red flannel lining. Jane spent her time sprigging altar cloths for the old Murlog Chapel. I still have one of the last altar cloths she made for the church.
The first thing you noticed when entering the cottage was a large old-fashioned, attractive dresser which displayed a wide collection of cups and plates in a variety of colours. I have a great love for china and I think that’s where it stemmed from.
There was a huge hearth with a crook above the fire which swung to and fro. On either side of the hearth were two large hobs with black pots positioned on them. I remember one time asking what was in the pots; Annie explained one had porridge and the other was full of potatoes for the fowl.
All the inside walls were uneven and rough stone jutted in and out everywhere. In the beginning the floor was clay, later they put down slabs but the red clay still showed through.
An old oil lamp with a glass globe hung on the wall; one side of the glass was always black which puzzled me. I asked my mother why this was and she explained it was because the wick was uneven and needed to be trimmed.
On the ceiling above the lamp there was a lid of a sweet tin. Its purpose was to prevent the ceiling getting black from the smoke the lamp generated.
My mother recalled that when she was around there as a little girl there was no lamp of any kind, just candles carried from room to room.
There was what was known as the ‘tea-pan,’ not tea-pot. The ‘tea-pan’ didn’t have a lid. I remember the tea always smelt so strong and I’m sure the smoke from the turf, or peats as they were called, had a hand in blending in some flavour!
A ladder led up to the loft which was used as sleeping quarters.
Annie and Jane were self-sufficient; they had a cow, a jennet and lots of hens and ducks. There was a well in the back garden where they drew water. The well is still there today.
Numerous pots of jam were made from the various fruit trees and bushes growing in the garden – gooseberry, blackcurrant and plum to name but a few.
Later in life they opened a small shop in the front room of the cottage where they sold the essentials. I remember the red bags of Devine’s Tea, sugar, Milford bread, Crow-Bar tobacco and Maguire’s matches.
The children from the village and the school went in for a penny liquorice pipe or a penny’s worth of pears or apples.
After Annie and Jane died we found a book containing customer’s names. On reading through these names it was interesting to discover most of the names are non-existent in the village today.
Donna, my niece, and the great, great, granddaughter of Robert and Ann, lives in the cottage now. She has done a lot of work renovating it and keeping it as close to the original as possible. The old chimney breast has been exposed in the two large rooms making them very comfortable to live in.
The house is surrounded by fields of green and some of the fruit trees still exist. The river Deele flows quietly at the bottom of the garden.
I’m glad to say the old house stands as proud today as it did one hundred and fifty five years ago when my great-grandparents lived there. The house has many memories and if it could talk I’m sure we would hear some stories.
I have gone down various roads looking for information about the cottage but as there were no deeds it was impossible to find out exactly when it was built. Years ago, new deeds were drawn up.
My wish for it today is that it survives for endless years to come and for all those who lived there, an eternity of peace.