Bygone days on Lord Waterford's estate in Portlaw

Curraghmore has always been in my blood.
My earliest memory is waking up in a little cottage on the estate, called "Farm Lodge" which looked out on the Comeragh Mountains.

I was born towards the end of the powerful aristocratic era where there was a wide gulf between the gentry, who owned this magnificent estate, and the working class.

When my mum and dad came to live with my great-grandmother in the early 1940s, Curraghmore had still the feel of a bygone era. The first thing my mother was taught was how to curtsy, this included bowing to the baby 'Waterford,' who was pushed by our cottage in a large pram by his governess every afternoon.

My grandmother told us stories of yesteryear. When she was young, in the days before the invention of the motorcar, His Lordship and Her Ladyship's mode of transport was a coach and four horses. People in those days spoke about a time when a headless coach would replace those beautiful horses.

As my grandmother lived at a gate lodge, it was her duty to open and shut the gate and let the coach through, day and night. She told the story of a night long ago, around the turn of the 20th century, when the 'Family' were due back late at night.

Jack, my grandfather, had been sick and granny was exhausted. She knew she was still expected to open the gate, while dressed in her uniform - a black dress, white apron and white cap.

The coachman, on the rear of the coach, would sound his horn at Lizzy's Coe's Gate, at the top of the hill, and she should jump into action so that the horses could gallop through without breaking their stride.

On the night in question, granny had a bright idea; because of her tiredness, she stuck a sweeping brush near the open gate and placed her dress and apron on it with her cap on top.

In her troubled sleep, she thought she heard the coach go by. The next day the coach driver knocked on granny's door and rebuked her. "Mrs. Kelly," he said, 'that was a dastardly thing you did last night. If His Lordship woke he would have created hell; if you do that again, I will report you."

Looking back, I always thought that was a case of "a penny looking down on a halfpenny."
In the 1940s, Lady Waterford lived in the 'Big House,' with her sister Miss Lindsay. She had tragically lost her husband; her two sons, Lord Tyrone and Lord Patrick, were about to start their education in England.

Mr. Silcock was the bookkeeper in the office in the courtyard. After some time, Her Ladyship and John Silcock started walking out together. Then one weekend the couple took a trip to England. When they returned Her Ladyship informed us that John would be called 'Colonel' from now on.

Her Ladyship bought John his title, so to his death he was known as Lieutenant-Colonel John E. D. Silcock. Soon after, Her Ladyship and her titled fiance were married, and lived a long and happy life together.

More than 150 people worked on the estate, as labour was cheap and everyone had a great respect for gentry. Every worker doffed his cap and ladies jumped of their bikes to curtsy when "The Family" passed.

In the farmyard, workers started at 8 a.m. to the sound of the bell; the bell tolled at 1 o'clock for their meagre lunch, and at 6 o'clock to end the day's work.

The first land stewart I recall was Mr. Bell; he was followed by Mr. Fennel. Mossy Hickey and Bill Rowe were herdsmen while Mick Brett and Jimmy Keyes were the sheperds who looked after hundreds of sheep.

Ellen Ashmore was the dairymaid, who dispensed the milk and made lovely butter. I used to go to the dairy each day for a pint of milk. Ellen always measured out an exact pint and then added a 'tilley,' which looked like a further half-pint.

Horses played a big part in the running of the farm; I remember two big Clydesdales, called 'Danny' and 'Charley' who were well treated and respected for the work they did.

When the ploughmen worked on the edges of the estate, they mounted their horses and rode them into the farmyard like cowboys, for lunch break of a mug of tea and a cut of bread. The round journey often took forty minutes; time passed very slowly in those days.

The forge was just behind our house. The blacksmiths were Gussy Howley and Bill Purcell. I can still see the large bellows, which kept the coals white-hot. I can hear the rhythmic beat of the hammer on the anvil, see the sparks flying ferociously towards the ceiling; I can smell the red hot shoes being cooled in a bucket of water, the stench of horses hooves, and the bang of the nails being driven home. I can hear Gussy swear when the horse lost his balance on three legs. Those images were stored in my mind when I was about eight-years-old.

The estate was always kept in pristine condition, and workers in droves, armed with shovels, kept the verges neat. Bluebells adorned the woodland area near the 'Big House', and I can still smell the crushed wild garic as I walked through the woods. The area in the vicinity of the house was called the Pleasure Ground, and that is exactly what it was.

The grass was shaved like a cricket pitch, and flowers of every variety adorned the walkways. As a kid I played around the Shell House, which is still an attraction for visitors.

There was a large lake at the front of the house, which faced the Comeraghs, as the back of the house was at the top of the courtyard. All the houses in this area were lived in then and each had a character of its own.

Through an arch on the right of the courtyard were stables and an engine room, where a generator provided electricity. Mikey Cullinane worked there and I used to bring our wet batteries to be re-charged to keep our primitive radio going.

The estate was adorned by Rhododendrons of various shades, and in late spring my mind was filled with the images and perfumes, which I carried with me all my life.

These were the war years. The Irish army was allowed on the estate to carry out manoeuvres. Some of the soldiers came into our kitchen and stuck their hand up the chimney for soot to blacken their faces. They were dressed in coarse green uniforms and wore hob-nailed boots. We were given sweets by some soldiers to lessen our terror. They camped in a grove at the back of our house.

Some nights our curtains were hurriedly drawn and the lamp quenched when we heard the drone of a rogue German plane overhead.

My father joined the Local Defence Force and spent the weekends on the hillside near Clonegam, cutting branches from trees and aiming them at the sky. The Germans were supposed to think that these sticks were anti-aircraft guns - 'Dad's Army' at its best!

On the same hill, two men from Clonea came with nets and ferrets to catch rabbits. At the end of the day, these men walked to Carrick pushing their bikes laden with dozens of rabbits which sold for sixpence per pair.

Years later, my long lost cousin visited our house with her new husband. He was recognised by the 'old lady' as one of the soldiers. His name was Joe Kennedy, who years before gave us sweets and allowed us to play with his gun.

The market garden was run by Mr. Pelow, head gardener, with a team of workers to support him. Every type of vegetable and every variety of flower that would adorn Her Ladyship's table were grown there. Each day the gardener would deliver fruit, vegetables and flowers to the courtyard. In autumn, some people from the estate would drop in and buy a bag of apples for sixpence.

The road from the garden led to King John's Bridge; nearby stood a large coniferous tree, which was later listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the tallest tree in Britain and Ireland.

As a boy, I strolled down the River Walk. Down there was a Japanese Garden where there was an almost stagnant pool with strange plants, of oriental origin, floating on the surface, surrounded by Monkey Puzzle trees and spanned by a rope bridge.

I was told that in days of old the horses' hooves were covered in sacking so that their hoofprints would not damage the virgin moss. Further on, near the Enchanted Island Hill, there was a semi-circular metal seating hideout, built into the hillside, where, it was said, the courting gentry sat and watched the Clodagh River meander by.

As I said, Curraghmore has always been in my blood. My family lived on the estate for about 200 years. In my youth I roamed from Clonegam to the Racecourse, and from Tower Hill to Salaheen.
Many memories stand out, like one August night I stood outside our little cottage and listened to the music of Mick Delahunty wafting through the still air from the riding-school in the courtyard. Hundreds of boys and girls cycled in from the country to dance the night away. My uncle John met his wife, Anna, at one of those dances, so the riding-school was a 'Ballroom of Romance.'

Those days have now gone; the estate, like a stately old lady, still retains her dignity. She remembers times past, war and peace, famine and plenty, the joy of new life and the sorrows of death.

Courtesy of Waterford News & Star