He's 91 but Billy's still going strong

Billy Byrne from Aughrim is a man with tremendous power in both hands and arms.

Any day the retired business man, who set up Byrne's Stores in Aughrim, would think nothing of lifting two of the old 561bs weights he used in his shop on the old style weighing scales.

Nothing to that, you may say sure it's only the eqluivalent of lifting four stone in each hand.

But Bill Byrne, who lives on Aughrim's Main Street in a bungalow called Woodland, is 91 years of age and is still hale and hearty.

He attributes the power in his hands to his participation in tug-o-war with the famous Macreddin team a half century ago and to lifting sacks of corn 16 and 20 stone, as part of his business.

'In order to be chosen for the Macreddin tug-o-war team you had to be able to haul a drum filled with sand off the ground with a rope slung over the branch of a tree and then hold it in mid-air for several minutes' he recalls.That was part of the training to be on the tug-o-war team'

'I made the team and Macreddin were one of the most feared tug-o-war teams around these parts' he said I remember us going to Arklow and beating five other tug-o-war teams, one after the other, on the one day'.

He farmed up to 1923 and went into the garage business after that.

In the early days Billy Byrne was given the gift of a motor car by his brother and with this he started up a hackney business and that led him to moving into the undertaking business.

Back in the 1930s William Byrne started Byrne stores. He opened a granary to purchase the barley from the local farmers for delivery to Guinnesses and Power's distillery. 'Then I would have to lift the 16 stone sacks of barley on to the lorries to be delivered to Guinnesses and the other breweries and that too probably gave me the great strength that I still have in my arms and hands.' He also had to haul 20 stone bags of wheat up to the granary loft.

Billy Byrne is a man of many parts. He has a very keen intellect and has written several books of poems.

Back in his farming days, before the threshing mills, the corn was threshed with a small drum driven by six horses, whose hooves were always at risk of injury on the spindles.

Billy Byrne put his keen brain to work again and he made alterations to the drum so that it could be driven by a little half-ton truck. We were much in demand all over the area threshing the harvest' he recalls.

He also invented a baby rocker driven by an electric motor which was featured on the Late Late Show and which he still has at home in working order. He erected a Lourdes Grotto beside Byrne's stores which he says 'is the only place in Ireland where the ten commandments are carved in stone'.

Among his prized possessions of poems, ornamental rosary beads which he makes, he has a certificate which shows that in 1937 he was a proud passenger in a De Havilland Fox aeroplane.

Courtesy of Mark Kennedy and The
Wicklow People September 2002