When I was child in the 1940s and early 1950s there were loosely five classes of people. The upper classes who lived in mansions and had servants, followed by the middle classes who were business people and farmers with larger farms. Not huge farms, but not ten or twenty acres either. The doctors, solicitors, and teachers were part of this class too. The next group was the working class, labourers, shop workers, truck drivers, cooks, seamstresses, and a host of other occupations. These people lived mainly in cottages. Then there were the people who had ‘come down’ in the world and those who had ‘gone up’ in the world.
Every Christmas and Easter, parishioners were expected to contribute to the upkeep of the greater institution of the church. This was in the form of ‘Dues’. At Mass on a Sunday soon after the day the ‘Dues’ were paid the priest read the names of the head of each family and the amount they had contributed.
Patrick Brady, as I will call him, was one of those people who had ‘come up’ in the world. He was not a well-liked man, being a harsh employer. He paid very low wages and his employees had to work long hours. Even we children didn’t like him. The biggest, juiciest sloes grew on the blackthorn hedges in one of his fields. If he discovered we had been in his field he would complain to our teacher.
Twice a year, every year, his name would be top of the list when the priest read out the names of the donors. Patrick Brady - one pound. Then came the names of the upper classes. Samuel Moore - 15 shillings, Michael Rigby - 15 shillings followed by the middle classes, several names - 10 shillings. The next block of names was the vast bulk of the parishioners, mainly families where the husband/father was fully employed. So and So - 5 shillings. After that came the 2 shilling and sixpence (half a crown) contributors. Finally the names of a couple of widows with very little income, Mrs. A – one shilling, Mrs. B – one shilling.
This was the norm year after year. People barely listened. Everybody knew what each family had given or if they had not given anything (horror of horrors).
One Christmas it all changed and it sure caused a stir. The priest read;
William Devine – Three pounds.
Patrick Brady - One pound.
The rest of the list was as usual.
The Devine’s had come ‘down in’ the world, but now with their children finished school they must have been on the way up again. The community considered them a peculiar family, not like most of the other families. For a start they named one of their boys ‘Virgil’. They liked to do their own thing no matter what the local community thought.
Everybody knew Patrick Brady would be ‘ropable’ at being pushed into second place. He thought being top of the list gave him supremacy.
There was great anticipation what would happen with the Easter ‘Dues’.
I think not one family missed Mass on the Sunday of the reading of the Easter contributions.
The priest read;
Patrick Brady – five pound and continued down the list to William Devine – 10 shillings.
People were delighted. Patrick Brady had been made to pay fitting ‘dues’, both those to place him at the top of the list and some of what he owed society. It would be difficult for him to return to his usual donation of one pound.
But the Devine’s weren’t done yet. The following Christmas the game continued;
William Devine – eight pounds.
Patrick Brady – five pounds.
Then at Easter;
Patrick Brady - Ten pounds.
William Devine – 10 shillings.
And that’s where it stayed. ☺