Husbandry of old


And Mary swanked it like a queen
in a skirt of navy blue.
Her hat was lately turned
and her blouse was newly dyed;
Ah! you couldn't beat her lovely looks
down by the liffey side.
(Down by the Liffey Side)

In Cavan, particularly in areas along the border counties, great household management was practiced throughout the lean 1940s and 1950s. Family pride and pride in one's own district influenced people with little income, barely able to keep their heads above water, to keep up appearances and look "respectable", particularly on Sunday - the Sabbath day. Men and boys had their Sunday suits; women their Sunday dresses.
There was plenty of work for dressmakers and tailors turning faded garments' inside-out, unthreading the seams, turning the material, and sowing them up again to make them "look like new". A big brother's suit was often cut down and turned for a younger brother; a lady's garment could be "freshened up" by dying it. Drummer dyes were in great demand for this purpose and were for sale in most shops. The little drum of dye was contained in a cardboard box decorated with a picture of a marching drummer boy in red tunic, black pants, and hussars' black Busby hat. The dye colour was written underneath. Boxes of these dyes, sometimes built in a pyramid formation, were displayed in shop windows. In east Cavan, an alternative method to turn garments a deep purple colour was to use a mixture of Corpus powder and Logwood. These ingredients were boiled in a muslin bag to extract the dye, and were obtained fairly cheaply in the local medical hall.

Respectable abodes:
House Exteriors:
The general perception was that respectable people lived in "respectable" houses, so, not alone had persons to look respectable at certain times, but their houses had to constantly look respectable. Therefore, each, year on the arrival of Spring, house exteriors had to be painted; if this chore was neglected a person's image in the community might diminish! Many households could not readily afford proper paint so a cheap formula for freshening up house exteriors would be confidently communicated between men in the same employment. Word of mouth instructions and ingredients for one of these concoctions in east Cavan were- A stone of lime, a pound of yellow ochre, and a half pound of turkey-umber, all well mixed in a couple of gallons of water, and liberally applied with a whitewash brush.
Result, a grand lightly tanned respectable looking house; but beware not to brush against it for fear of powdering your clothes with the same hue.
Cottage dwellers used a more affordable solution; they mixed a "blue bag" (normally used for whitening clothes), with the lime solution; this mixture gave a deep blue result, reasonably acceptable when the sun shone, but hideous in dull weather, Again, one had to be cautious not to brush against it.
Farmers white-washed their outhouses and sometimes their dwellings, which gave them a dazzling white appearance as well as disinfecting them.

House Interiors:
House interiors, particularly kitchens and parlours, had to be brightened up for the "inspection" of neighbours dropping in for a chat. Doors were stained and grained to give them a modern look. Inexpensive formulae for staining and graining were - (1) A quarter pound of Burnt Turkey-Umber mixed with porter or ale (not oil or turpentine) applied over the under paint, and grained while wet with a strong-haired brush or piece of leather, or (2) An application of Raw Sienna over the under paint and grained while wet. The Umber gave a brownish colour while the Raw Sienna gave a more warmer or brighter colour. The Umber of Sienna had to be completely dry before over-coating with varnish, which also made the graining more prominent.

Keeping the home fires burning:
Timber and Turf:
Some town folk would purchase a tree from a local farmer. The tree, usually growing in a ditch on the farm, had to be cut down, sawn up and drawn home. Men in the same occupation usually borrowed a two-handed crosscut from one another for the felling and cutting work; most men had their own wedges and sledge for splitting the timber which was then drawn home by donkey and cart (borrowed), usually, by the eldest school-going boy in a family who also helped with the sawing. The lad also helped with saving and drawing home turf from a piece of bog rented for the season.

Shoves, the rotted part of flax beaten from linen tread on a flax mill, was the cheapest form of fuel, but did not generate much heat. The collection of shoves from a mill, such as, Burn's mill in Shercock, was strictly a male task. Boys and men paid 6 pence at the mill's office for a sack of shoves and received a docket which they gave to a charge-hand, and on his nod, they took their places on hands and knees under the machine where the shoves fell; they scooped the shoves towards their sacks in competition with each other. Sacks were stuffed as tightly as possible. As men and boys emerged from the dark, dustladen environment of the machine room their noses and throats full of dust, and dust covering their eyelids, faces and hair, there was much spitting and coughing and dusting down of clothes.

Bringing home the Bacon:
Families in towns and villages had decent sized gardens and grew their own vegetables including potatoes; but the potatoes didn't last long with some large families, so other arrangements had to be made. Some "farmers' boys" might have 3 drills of potatoes with the farmer, as part of their pay arrangements. A friendly farmer sometimes extended this privilege to a local guard or friend. In return, one of the guard's or friend's children "gave" the farmer a few days dropping (setting) as well as picking the farmer's crop of spuds. In due course, a basketful of the spuds would be collected, once a week, from the farmer's storehouse. At times, this task was not as simple as it might seem. In one case, this responsibility fell to a young lad, who had to bike it four miles to the farmer's place. He discovered a shortcut which meant going through a hedge and crossing two fields. However, an angry bull was the sole occupant of the first field; so a fast sprint across the field, commencing when the bull was a little distant and looking in the opposite direction, was of the utmost importance. Running with the basketful of spuds on the return journey raised more than a little sweat. This weekly task had its own reward as the lad became an unbeatable sprinter in the local sports.

Pin Money:
Farmers and their wives went by horse and cart to town once a week to purchase provisions which included cwt. weight bags of flour and oaten meal for the making of homemade bread. They brought with them eggs and butter to sell to the grocer, the proceeds of which belonged to the farmer's wife and were known as her "pin money". She had full control over the spending of it. All such butter had the generic name of "farmers' butter" and was wrapped in plain unbranded grease proof paper. It was cheaper than creamery butter. Customers had preferences for butter of individual suppliers and could distinguish it by taste and ask for, say, "Johnson's butter". They might consider other farmers' butter to be too salty, not creamy enough, smelly, or perhaps having the reputation of containing the odd hair and only fit for greasing cart wheels. Generally speaking, butter supplied by farmers of the Protestant denomination was in great demand.

Making ends meet:
The family grocer sold goods on credit, which greatly facilitated wage-earners paid weekly or monthly in arrears. Accordingly, accounts were settled at the end of the week or month. If income constraints became severe, a family might get by, on a day-to-day basis, by buying the minimum quantities of necessities. This was aided by the fact that few provisions were prepacked; most were sold loose - tea, sugar, biscuits and flour were sold by weight; one could buy one lb, a half lb, or a quarter lb of most items from ham and rashers to tea and sugar; and though creamery butter came pre-wrapped in one lb units, with the creamery name, usually "Lough Egish" emblazoned on its wrappers, the family grocer with experienced accuracy could cut the one lb unit in two halves for those requiring a half lb.

Families' Mutual Aid:
It was not uncommon for one child (usually a girl) in a large family to live a long distance from home with childless relatives, one of whom would be an aunt or uncle; and as well as helping with chores in the house or on the farm, she brought comfort and joy to the couple. The couple's farm or shop was in due course "left" to the child.