story of Benny and Maggie Tierney
What better subject could I have for this years contribution
than resurrecting memories of a close-knit family - brother
and sister - who served their local community so well -
so very well, indeed - in Corrawillan town-land in the shadow,
so to speak, of the Big Tree.
Benny Tierney and his sister, Maggie, were the scions, offspring
or descendants - call it what you will - of the oldest family
in Lower Lavey. This fact is clearly brought to notice when
the town-land of Lavey is indicated on the oldest ordinance
survey maps as Lavey Tierney. My late friend
and eminent historian, Rev. Dr. Terry Cunningham, expressed
the opinion to me on many occasions that this family (Tierneys)
were, from the 12th Century onwards, erineachs,
i.e. lay managers of the local church lands which were,
in turn, subject to the overall supervision of the Abbot
of Fore Abbey. This would, indeed, assure readers that the
Tierneys are not blow-ins to Lavey.
Now, with this snippet of local history, let me get back
to Benny and Maggie. Their forebears had been in this corner
of Corrawillan where they managed to survive on a small
farm of about 15 acres. Both were unmarried; Mary Anne,
the only other member of their family, married Paddy Tierney
(Paddy Matt), Grellagh.
Benny - the same age as my father - was born in 1876; Maggie
was a year or two younger. My father - using the local jargon
- used to say that he, Benny Tierney, Ned Duke (Killyconnan)
and Pat the Child were in or about an
age, meaning that the four of them were around the
same age. All I know of Pat the child is that
he was from Carriga and was, possibly, of the surname Conaty.
In the early years of the last century Benny showed initiative
far beyond that of his local peers and set up a roadside
shop in a small room in the familys old-world thatched
dwelling house. To get to the shop, one had to pass through
the kitchen, and in this way, Maggie was deprived of any
semblance of privacy as she attended to her domestic chores.
This was an era of essentials only, not only in that part
of Lavey served by Tierneys Shop, but, one may say,
throughout the country in general. The present day type
of up-market shoppers, who would like to patronise such
retail outlets as Marks and Spencer and Superquinn, etc.
would have no business - no business at all, indeed - in
expecting to find that special or usual item in Benny and
Maggies Corrawillan Emporium. But those honest, simple-living,
hard-working and even contented people in the surrounding
town-lands of Lavey, Killyconnan, Leiter, Feaugh, and as
far away as Lateever and Cuttragh, had no farther to travel
than about 50 yards east of the Big Tree to
get their messages. The usual shopping list
was predictable: tea, sugar, salt, jam, bread (the occasional
cottage loaf from Cassels bakery, Cavan), paraffin
oil (for the single or double wick lamp), tobacco, (plug
- Clarkes Perfect and Walnut only) and cigarettes,
(Players Navy Cut at one shilling for 20 plus a packet of
matches for which Master Kearney was the chief customer),
and Wild Woodbines, sold in paper packets of five for those
who had two old pennies to splurge.
Bennys department extended to the heavier materials.
He tackled his horse and cart on Tuesday mornings and travelled
to Cavan by the mountainy road (va Cuttragh)
where he loaded up with two hundred weight bags of Indian
meal and other goods at Tommy Donaghoes, 62 Main Street.
Benny displayed his business acumen by returning with his
heavy load by the broad (Dublin) road, and thus
avoiding his horses heavy pull up the steep gradient
of Blake Brae. Despite the fact that he was but of average
build, these heavy bags were unloaded by himself unto a
bench in a store beside the shop.
Benny knew from experience what goods were required by his
customers - mostly all farmers. There was always the bag
or two of bran in the store for retail by the stone weight
for such use, usually, as a stimulant for a cow after calving
or, indeed, any sick animal.
And how thrifty Benny was! He had to be, of course, to survive
in those years. His practice in measuring paraffin oil in
gallons or half-gallons demonstrates this in no uncertain
way when he had always a flat-shaped mud turf placed length-wise
under the tap of the oil drum. In this way the drops from
the tap after the lever was closed (shut) were collected
on the sod or turf. After a period - say, a few weeks -
this turf was removed and broken up carefully for use in
lighting the kitchen fire and replaced by another sod. Ah,
how he would be amazed, surprised, flabbergasted - call
it what you will - were he now to see the life-style of
the grandchildren/great grandchildren of his customers of
So much for Benny: we must not forget Maggie, a tidy, neat,
slim little lady, who, as far as I can recall, was always
dressed in black with occasionally, a bright coloured cross-over
apron. Herself and Benny partook of their meals as they
sat on either side of the crane on the open-hearth
A most unusual feature of Maggies kitchen was a little
box-like article on the wall - about 12x12 -
with two little doors to the front. Now, believe it or not,
this apparatus was a technological wonder to the locals.
And why you will, naturally, ask? I will explain!: it forecasted
the weather by very simple means, i.e. by baromatric pressure.
If the pressure was high, a little lady appeared from one
of the doors and dry weather was forecasted, but with a
change of pressure the lady retreated to her hideout and
a wee man - will we call him her partner? - appeared and
predicted doom - bad weather, rain, floods and an abundance
of mucky gaps. And what dependence the people had on this
application or gadget, which, in their wildest imagination,
they could not understand how it worked. My father - not
a bad judge himself of how the elements were going to behave
- sent me over so often to Tierneys Shop
to hear what was the likelihood of good weather when he
was about to embark on such farm work as cutting hay, making
the hay-reek, reaping corn, threshing, all of which required
Yes, indeed, Benny and Maggies wee man and wee woman
served a useful purpose in the community so long - so very
long - before their present day well - groomed, well-spoken
and demonstrative successors tell us on our screens not
only what the following days weather will be like
at home, but possibly in Siberia and Alaska as well. This
gadget, which cost but little, was in all probability, given
to Benny by one of his suppliers in appreciation of his
custom - possibly by Tommy Donoghue who, in turn, got it
from one of his suppliers.
Tierneys Shop - especially on a Friday night was a
centre for the dissemination or spreading of news and gossip.
Andy Smith, Pullamore, would arrive late on Friday evenings
in his lorry with supplies and have with him the eagerly
awaited copies of the Celt; the word Anglo
was never used then and, in all probability, is still not
used. Friday evening/night was, also, the occasion when
women brought buckets and baskets of eggs to Benny in payment
for the tick received during the previous week.
And how dextrous, or handy, Benny was when taking out handfuls
of eggs from the baskets and dropping them so quickly into
the squares in the specially provided egg-boxes; he never
seemed to break any.
What a decent honourable pair they were! What patience they
had in waiting for the balance to be paid: they never pressed
any customer for payment and understood so very well when
money was scarce with some families.
Yes, Benny and Maggie Tierney set an example of Christianity
which would be hard to follow. Their remains now rest in
Lower Lavey cemetery; may the light of Heaven shine on their
Alas! Tierneys Shop is no more as are so many - so
very many - similar-type shops throughout Ireland, which
served their local communities so well for generations.
They have been ousted unceremoniously by the impersonal
and greedy conglomerates, which tend to monopolise retail
outlets in the State.
Taken from Breffni Blue