The 1930s and 1940s were days of great neighbourliness;
they were days of the open door to all households;
days of lift the latch, open the door and step right
in and if a céilí was in progress shouts
of around the house and mind the dresser. They
were unhurried times of affability and kindness and watch
out for your sick neighbour and your neighbours child.
People exchanged greetings and bits of news often several
times a day as they passed on the street or met in a shop.
There were few cars, no television, just an odd wireless
usually the wet battery type, no supermarkets, just the
local shop where the shopkeeper or an assistant chatted
to you from behind the counter as they filled your order.
Telephones were practically non-existent then; mobiles were
a long way off, so communication with friends and neighbours
was mainly by face-to-face discussion.
Visiting peoples homes to exchange views and news
or just to socialize was a major part of the way of life
in those days.
Neighbouring housewives, would, according to the saying
at that time drop in uninvited to each others
homes at anytime during the day with a bit of
local news often referred to as gossip.
Occasionally, the news would be of the utmost gravity; maybe
concerning some person taken off to hospital-in
those days you were on the way out if you were
taken off to hospital. Most times the news was
trivial, the relating of which was always dramatically prefixed
with the remark - did you hear the latest? Again,
the visit might be just to borrow a cupful of sugar or a
pongerful of milk, this, at times was just an excuse for
a chat. Few people suffered from depression due to loneliness
or from lack of contact with their fellow beings.
There was a rambling house in most towns, villages
and townlands where people would gather announced to exchange
views of common interest but particularly to listen to a
radio commentary by Míchéal OHehír
on an important football match, such as an Ulster final
between Cavan and Antrim or Cavan and Armagh. For such occasions,
the affable host had always insured that the radio battery
was fully charged. As youngsters we enjoyed the tension
of these gatherings and the comradery of the listeners,
old and young, and particularly the antics of one man who
would leave the room when scores were close and an opposition
forward, such as Kevin Armstrong of Antrim or Alf Murray
of Armagh had possession of the ball and was rapidly progressing
towards the Cavan goal; our man would hurriedly go outside
muttering that So and So is deadly dangerous
he would discreetly venture back feigning nonchalance if
he heard resounding cheers from within which would have
told him that the opposition had failed to score. Somebody
taking pity on him would whisper to him Gannon made
a great save or OReilly cleared it.
Our man would then relax until the next dangerous onslaught
by the opposition when he would hurriedly leave again.
Wives of colleagues in the same occupations, such as, the
Gardai, would on occasions arrange visits to each others
homes during a weekend; they would bring along their children
who might perform their party pieces during the course of
the evening. Among the highlights of the evening was listening
to a popular radio programme, such as, Around the
Fire or Question Time compared by Joe
Linnane. High tea was then served and the radio programme,
among other things was discussed at length.
Later on, if there were a piano in the house, the jovial
host or one of the guests would play it, and initially accompany
herself singing some popular songs of the day, such as Send
me one dozen roses or Off we go Antonio
and If I were the only girl in the world. All
would join in the choruses, the singer having the right
of noble call - this was the right to nominate
the next singer. Tea and biscuits lightly referred to by
the host as just a cup in your hand was then
served to replenish energies for the trip home.
Visiting a farm-house in those days was always an interesting
experience; the kitchen furnishings were very different
to those of town houses and usually comprised - a large
open dresser displaying delph speckled blue and white, a
wheel bellows to blow the turf fire in a large open fireplace,
a big wooden bin containing cwt. weight bags of flower and
oaten meal, and also a chiming wall clock.
Amazingly, the greetings by individual farmers or their
wives to their guests were unique. The greetings of one
particular farmers wife as she shook your hand on
entering her farmhouse was Well hello now and youre
welcome here and how long is it since I last seen you?
One of the refreshments unique to this house and served
to both adults and children was homemade deep purple sloe
wine (cordial). Also, to the delight of children, the high
tea started with the desert, usually green and red jelly.
Another farmer whose house our parents and we youngsters
visited by invitation once a year in summertime, would personally
welcome you as he shook your hand at each of three gates
along the broad laneway to his house; he personally welcomed
you and shook your hand at each gate, closing it when you
had passed through; he welcomed you again and shook your
hand as you entered his house.
Following a four-course meal prepared by his eldest daughter,
one of his many younger ones would dance a jig or a hornpipe
on the flagstone floor to the lilting rhythm of her mother.
Eventually, at an appropriate time, all men and boys would
retire to a bedroom to the left of the kitchen where they
smoked and chatted; the bed in the room was often occupied
by a male relative suffering from some illness; he would
fully participate in the conversation his opinion was sought
and valued. There was amiability and good old-fashioned
politeness all round. Similarly, the females retired to
a bedroom on the right of the kitchen in which the bed was
occupied by an elderly female relative who had been confined
to bed for many years; she also would participate in their
discussions. Prior to departure, the male and female guests
would bid their farewells to the sick occupants of both
Senior schoolchildren would visit elderly people living
in country areas and bring them old magazines and fire kindling
gathered along the way. Occasionally, they would bring a
small gift such as an ounce of tobacco, the cost of which
was funded by a school collection; the local schoolmaster
arranged these visits on a rota basis. Elderly people living
in towns and villages were well looked after by their neighbours.
Loneliness didnt exist in those days; there was little
depression and very few suicides - none among the young;
the attributes and opinions of old and young were sought
and respected; young and old could walk the street or the
road to visit a friends house at anytime, day or night,
without fear of being attacked.
There was family pride then; people were rich but didnt
know it. Most people are better off now but the increasing
older population is caught in the web of changing times.
The great technological advances in communications and entertainment
have been achieved at a high cost; nobody has time now to
stop and chat; they might even e-mail their friend next
door; the old meeting places like the rambling house and
the house where people just dropped in for a
chat or to borrow a cupful of sugar or a pongerful of milk
is gone; the arranged visits of parents and children to
houses of friends and colleagues have like the full time
housewife all but vanished. All members of families have
mobiles; music is transferred to pubs so noisy you cant
chat; people havent time to visit neighbours or anyone
else; everybody is hurrying to and from - not to and fro;
the art of polite conversation is vanishing; a surliness
is appearing; visits by children bringing fire kindling
and small gifts to the elderly in their country abodes are
gone; all replaced by loneliness and hospital queues; so
lets at least, bring back some of the Pastimes of
Times Past - Pastimes
See us working in the fields
swinging scythes, binding sheaves;
We have worked since early morn
to cut the corn and fill the barn.
Drink the stout and drink the tay;
let us dance the light away;
Round and round and round we go
right foot, light foot, heel and toe.
See us dancing in the fields,
We low dance the jigs and reels
over and back and in and out
up and down and round about.
We dance together; that day is past,
gone the flail, the rake and fork,
gone the joyful circle wide
the cocks of hay and the gay hayride
Our ghosts are still beside the rill
and over the brow of yonder hill -
Watch us in the breaking dawn -
Breezes in the fields of corn
Hear our laughter on a summers day -
Rustlings in the fields of hay
Round and round and round we go
hay foot, straw foot, heel and toe,
Taken from Breffni Blue