Feeding big strapping boys was a never ending job. Dinner consisted of a large three legged cast iron pot full of spuds, which hung on a crane over the turf fire to boil, a slab of bacon - either boiled or cut into hefty slices and fried, and cabbage or turnips. A lump of butter on the potatoes and a mug of buttermilk finished off the menu. The men and boys came home in the evening demanding tea. Pratie cakes cooked on the griddle went down a treat with a mug of strong tea for the man of the house and more buttermilk for the boys. After tea it was my job to make a big pot of stirabout for supper, making sure that there was enough for breakfast. This was the daily routine and apart from going to Mass on Sunday in the pony and trap there was very little to look forward to.
Oh! There would be the occasional wedding or funeral to break the monotony. That was my life until one day as my Father was coming home from the Fair, he was approached by a neighbour, Pakie Beirne whose wife had died in childbirth a couple of years back. He asked my father if he would consider letting me marry him. He had a nice little farm and a neat whitewashed thatched house. He also had three young orphaned daughters and his old father living with him. He was 42 and I was 22. My father considered it was a great match and I was not given any say in the matter. I had some misgivings with his age and his children but I thought it would be a chance to have my own home and rule the roost in my own kitchen.
The wedding took place and I moved in with my husband. I still had to cook, bake, churn, do loads of washing, much more work than I had to do when living with my parents, as well as caring for three young children and an old man and there was no one to help. I was also expected to help with outdoor jobs, like milking the cows, feeding calves and pigs. Then when I got my weary body into bed I was expected to be loving and amorous to my husband.
A year later I had a child of my own. I loved him dearly but my workload increased. Two years later, I had another child but my father-in-law had passed away so it sort of evened things out.
Life carried on like this for a few years and then a catastrophe happened. Pakie was killed in a freak accident. I had no idea how I would manage the farm as well as all my other work. My brothers came to help for a while after the funeral but I couldn't expect them to help in the long term. Several people suggested I needed to find another husband as soon as possible. I would be a good catch with my farm and homestead, although five children would be a drawback, especially as three of them were girls. I felt one husband was enough in any woman's lifetime and did not relish being hitched to another man.
Pakie had been a frugal man. He never discussed our financial situation with me and doled out a fixed amount of money which he considered sufficient for our needs. I knew he kept his surplus cash in a locked chest under our bed.
When his funeral was over and I had time to grieve, I remembered the chest. I found the key in an old mug on the mantelpiece and when I opened the chest I was dumbfounded. There was lots of money, not just coins but paper money – more that I could have imagined.
Being the youngest of my family, I had been allowed to attend school so I could read and write and count. I closed the bedroom door and with trembling hands took the money from the chest and laid it out on the bed and counted it. I couldn't believe how much there was. I counted it again just to be sure and then I put it back and locked the chest. Now I had to decide what I could do with the money. I certainly wasn't going to share it with another husband and if I hired someone to work the farm the money would soon be gone in wages, so that option was out. I could afford to take the children and myself to America where my brothers were, and perhaps we would have a better life. But what could I do to support my children? Two of my brothers in America had a hotel and boarding house. Perhaps they would employ me to work in the boarding house. No! I didn't think that would be work.
My mind took flights of fancy. 'Why couldn't I set up a pub here? I could use the little room we called a parlour. I'd need to find out how to go about it. Do I need a permit? I'd need a barrel of stout, bottles of whiskey, a few stools and glasses. I could make sandwiches if a man was hungry enough to want one – at a cost, of course. Miss Hannah Dunning owns the pub in town, maybe if I ask she will advise me'. That's the way my thoughts ran. I pondered the idea for a few days and then hitched the pony to the trap, got my mother to look after the children, and headed off to town wondering how I could approach Miss Dunning without going into the pub. Apart from serving drinks, a woman's place was not in a pub.
I was in luck. As I walked up to the pub, she was out the front tending the geraniums she grew in a window box. I asked her if I could have a quiet word with her and she was intrigued. She called Jimmy, her helper, to watch the bar and brought me into her kitchen. I explained what I was thinking of doing and asked for her help. When there was a lull in the bar, she brought me in and showed me what was needed and how things worked. She was more than happy to be my adviser and encouraged me to get started as soon as possible.
With the promise of a few drinks 'on the house' my brothers set up the bar in the parlour and I was open for business. Curiosity brought in my first customers. They were happy to be able to 'quench their thirst', smoke their pipes and have a yarn without having to go into town. Before long I had regulars and my business was improving. I was doing very nicely, thank you. I leased the farm for a yearly amount, keeping a small field for the pony.
Thady Naughten was a constant visitor to my bar and seldom drank more than half a pint. He always made himself available when I needed help and I valued his presence around the place. He often suggested we become wedded. He once said I wouldn't find a better husband in the whole of Co. Roscommon than him. I agreed that was true but told him I wasn't looking for a husband.
After a while I started serving tea, little sandwiches and buttered current bread in the kitchen for women. The women were reluctant to come in at first but eventually it became a welcome break in their mundane lives. They enjoyed having a nice pot of tea and discussing the happenings in our community.
The years passed and the three girls grew into young women and left home. My boys, Owen and Connor were also entering manhood. Owen took over running the farm, being the eldest son it would eventually be his. Connor helped me in the bar. Thady was still around whenever he had some spare time and was still asking me to be his wife.
I began to think of my future. The girls came home when they could but not as often as I liked. Owen was taking out a young woman and hinted to me that he wanted to get married. Connor could run the bar on his own so I was feeling redundant. When it came time for Owen to marry, we decided he would build a bungalow in the far corner of the front field and I would sign the farm over to him.
I got to thinking that the next time Thady suggested marriage, I would accept him, with conditions. He had a farm and I was not prepared to be a farmer’s wife again. The day came when he again asked and the look on his face when I agreed was unforgettable. It wasn't love or happiness, it was shock. It took him some time to process my acceptance and the terms I wanted. I wondered for a while if I had been imagining his ardour.
His sister's son, James, had been helping Thady on the farm with an understanding that it would pass to him in due course. Now that process was put in place, with James taking over the farm and building a little cottage for Thady and me. Thady was now the farm helper and adviser without the responsibilities. We were wed in our local chapel and moved into our cosy cottage. It was bliss living with that wonderful man.
When I moved out of the house that had been my home for so many years, Connor put his plans into action. Out came my scrubbed pine table, the chairs, the kitchen dresser with its row of large and varied jugs, plates and the mugs hanging from hooks. He moved the bar into the kitchen together with small tables and chairs. On shelves behind the bar he had all kinds of strange spirits – Bourbon from America, Gin from England, and Vodka from a place called Russia. I wondered who in their right mind would buy those sorts of drinks, but he assured me it was the way of the future.
Then he got Fergal Flanagan to play his fiddle in the bar and a young lad to play the bodhran. Maeve Mahon, who had a sweet voice and sometimes sang at weddings, was encouraged to come and sing.
Much to my amazement Beirne's pub became widely known for its ceilidhs. Visitors came from as far away as America, enthusing about this wonderful 'traditional' pub with its thatched roof and whitewashed mud walls. Some even considered having similar pubs in the US of A. Outside; motor cars replaced the ponies and traps.
As I said at the start life is queer, there is no predicting the future.
Thady passed away almost two years ago and not a day goes by that I don't miss him. I am hoping in the hereafter that Pakie meets up with his first wife and that I will be with my beloved Thady.