Masterson has packed a lot into his 94 years
In 1909 as Ireland struggled for nationhood and independence
John Masterson began a unique existence.
Born in Doughill on the border of Ballycroy and Burrishoole
he has enjoyed a life full of history and endeavour. He
has witnessed at first hand the struggle for freedom, the
scramble for land, the blitz of London, Dublins building
boom and the Celtic Tiger. He has left his mark on some
of Irelands best-known buildings and this week he
talked to Michael Gallagher about his amazing life, his
memories and his one regret.
Life in Mayo in the early part of the 20th Century was tough.
The economic outlook was bleak and the country was in the
grip of a revolution. John Masterson lived in the shadow
of Claggan Mountain, only yards from the lapping waves of
the Atlantic. He loved school and absorbed every shred of
education possible but it made little difference, as there
was no prospect of employment locally.
John was one of a family of five sons and one daughter born
to proud parents Jack and Bridget. They had many times and
memories of days spent saving turf in Achill, boating it
to Mulranny and burning it in their home in Ballycroy are
still vivid. He was very close to his father and on the
last Saturday of every month both of them would go to the
fair in Mulranny to sell sheep or cattle or just meet friends.
On one of these trips Jack bought John a horse and he felt
as if he was the most special boy in the world. Life was
peaceful in Doughill but then the war of independence began
an the dreaded Black and Tans come to the area.
We would hear them coming down the road on their way
to the centre of Ballycroy and we would hide as quickly
as we could. I was only a boy at the time but I can still
remember the fear I felt when they were around.
As Independence was achieved and the civil war tore Ireland
apart the Mastersons and their neighbours joined the struggle
for a better life.
We all banded together and entered the estate of the
local landlord to take over the land. I was there with my
father and we got a fine 14-acre field. We worked hard in
the field for the next three years tending crops, saving
hay and grazing the cattle but when the land was being officially
divided by the powers-that-be we were forgotten, we got
nothing. Even then, at the formation of our state there
was corruption, someone with pull got our field and we were
There was little to keep John in Ireland after that so he
packed his bags, got on the train at Mulranny and headed
to London. There was plenty of work there and it wasnt
long before the young man hand learned the art of plastering.
Life was good and soon John met the love of his life.
Lots of Irish dance halls was springing up around
London and the first time I went to one of them I met a
girl called Bridie Murphy from Derrynameel near Belmullet.
We courted for six years and got married in 1936. In 1939
our first daughter Pauline came along and a few months later
the Luftwaffe started dropping bombs on London.
We spent many nights under the stairs as the bombs
rained down on the city. Pauline would be pushed in the
far corner in her pram and we would crush in after her.
It wasnt long before I was conscripted to go to war
but I had no intention of picking up a gun to shoot anybody
so we packed out bags and headed for Belmullet.
There was alot of work to be found back in Ireland but little
money. John cut turf in Ballyveeney with Sonny Harry McManamon
for the County Council for a shilling a yard and then cut
hay with a scythe for £1 a day in Mulranny and Achill.
It was hard to make ends meet but then in 1943 a new convent
was being built in Belmullet and he got the plastering contract.
He worked there with Jim Connolly and Pat Gaughan and remembers
the big ceilings and the beautiful rooms. His next project
took him to Bangor where he worked on a shop and house for
the Reilly family before his trade took his east.
The building trade in Dublin was beginning to take
off so I went along to see what it was like. There was lots
of work and it wasnt long before we could afford out
own house. Our second daughter Maureen came along soon after
so between work and the family we were kept busy.
John then came into contact with the Doyle family who would
become well known in the hotel business. They became involved
in the construction industry and progressed quickly to the
hotel business. Throughout their successful journey they
were accompanied by the plasterer from Doughill.
1 started working for the Doyles when they were dairy
farmers building a few houses and was still working for
them when they ran all their big hotels. I worked on the
Burlington, The Berkley Court, The Green Isle and lots of
other famous buildings. I continued working for them until
I was 77 years old when I decided to take it a little easier.
Bridie passed away in 1990 and John spent his days cutting
hedges and mowing lawns for his daughters as well as driving
all over the country visiting family and friends. He loves
to drive and can still recall his first car trip in the
My cousin Michael was getting married to Penelope
Keane from Tullaghaun near Geesala and he asked me to be
Best Man. Another cousin John had an old Ford car and he
drove us. We had to go to Ballina to meet the Bishop first
and then back to Bangor again for the marriage. After the
wedding we had a mighty party in Ballycroy and a few nights
later we had another celebration in Phelim Henrys
Pub in Doohoma so my first car trips were very memorable.
John is a happy man. He is enjoying life as he has always
done, surrounded by family and friends. The man from Doughill
has packed alot of living into 94 years and is looking forward
to many more funfilled days in Dublin and Mayo. He is happy
with his lot but has one major regret nagging away at him.
I was born too soon. I should have been born now,
life is better these days and I would love to be young again.
There are so many opportunities for people of today compared
to when I was young but I an having a great life and have
some great memories, he added.
Courtesy of the Western People
By Michael Gallagher