|NOTE – there is a certain graphic nature to this report of a tragedy at sea, as reproduced from a contemporary Irish newspaper. Some people may find it distressing. Please be warned.
DREADFUL OCCURRENCE ON BOARD AN IRISH STEAMER.
A dreadful loss of life happened on board the steamer Londonderry, on her voyage from Sligo to Liverpool, last Saturday, (December 2). The stories given by the Irish papers were at first absurdly discrepant, both as to the cause and the extent of the calamity. The following account from the Belfast News Letter, appears most truthful:-
The steamer Londonderry, Captain Johnston, one of the vessels belonging to the North-west of Ireland Steam-packet Company, and at present plying between Sligo and Liverpool, left Sligo at four o’clock on Friday evening for the latter port, with a general cargo, a large number of cattle and sheep, about 190 steerage passengers, emigrants on their way via Liverpool to America, and two or three cabin passengers. As she proceeded on her voyage the weather became exceedingly foul, and after midnight the wind rose to a perfect gale. About one o’clock that night, or rather Saturday morning, it was deemed expedient to put the steerage passengers below and the order was executed, not, we understand, without some resistance on the part of many of them. Most of our readers are probably acquainted with the dimensions of a steerage cabin of an ordinary steamer – a compartment rarely more than eighteen feet long by ten or twelve in width, and in height about seven feet. Into this space, ventilated only by one opening—the companion—150 human beings, as we have been informed, were packed together. We can only guess at the necessity which gave occasion for this apparently inhuman, and, alas fatal order; but it is reasonable to suppose that there was an apprehension lest some of the unfortunate passengers might have been washed overboard had they remained on deck, as the sea was at the time breaking over the vessel. The steerage being thus occupied, it was next, as alleged, feared lest the water should get admission through the companion : and this, the only vent by which air could be admitted to the sufferers below, was closed, and a tarpaulin nailed over it, thus hermetically sealing the aperture, and preventing the possibility of any renewal of the exhausted atmosphere. The steamer went on her way, gallantly braving the winds and waves, unconscious of the awful work which death was meanwhile doing within her. In the darkness and heat and loathsomeness of their airless prison, its wretched inmates shrieked for aid ! and there were none to hear their cries amid the boisterousness of the storm, or if they were heard, none sagacious enough to interpret the dreadful meaning they meant to convey. At length one man, the last, it is said, who had been put down, contrived to effect an opening through the tarpaulin of the companion, and pushing himself out, communicated to the mate that the people in the steerage were dying for want of air. The mate instantly became alarmed, and obtaining a lantern, went down to render assistance. Such, however, was the foul state of the air in the cabin, that the light was immediately extinguished. A second was obtained, and it too was extinguished. At length the tarpaulin was completely removed and a free access of air admitted. When the crew went below, they were appalled by the discovery that the floor was covered with dead bodies to the depth of some feet. Men, women, and children were huddled together, blackened with suffocation, distorted by convulsion, bruised and bleeding from the desperate struggle for existence which preceded the moment when exhausted nature resigned the strife. After some time the living were separated from the dead; and it was then found that the latter amounted to nearly one half of the entire number. Seventy-two dead bodies of men, women, and children, lay piled indiscriminately over each other, four deep, all presenting the ghastly appearance of persons who had died in the agonies of suffocation; very many of them were covered with the blood which had gushed from the mouth and nose, or had flowed from the wounds inflicted by the nail studded brogues, and by the frantic violence of those who struggled for escape. It was evident in the struggle the poor creatures had torn the clothes from off each other’s backs, and even the flesh from each other’s limbs. Nearly all the steerage passengers were poor farmers from the neighbourhood of Sligo and Ballina, with their families; and many of the dead were nearly naked, from poverty.
The Londonderry put into Lough Foyle at ten o’clock on Saturday night, but for some reason with which we are not yet acquainted, she did not come up to the quay of Derry until ten o’clock on the following (Sunday) morning. The authorities hastened to the spot, and gave orders for the arrest of the captain and all his crew, and they were accordingly removed to prison under a military escort. An inquest was held on one of the bodies on Monday; and the Jury returned the following verdict— “We find that death was caused by suffocation, in consequence of the gross negligence and total want of the usual and necessary caution on the part of the captain, Alexander Johnston, Richard Hughes, first mate, and Ninian Crawford, second mate; and we therefore find them guilty of manslaughter and we further consider it our duty to express in the strongest terms our abhorrence of the inhuman conduct of the remainder of the seamen on board on the melancholy occasion; and the Jury beg to call the attention of proprietors of steam boats to the urgent necessity of introducing some more effectual mode of ventilation in the steerage, and also of affording better accommodation to the poorer class of passengers.”
I have previously referred to a Black Sheep in the family, in the form of an abusive priest of the worst kind. I am pleased to be able to introduce the antithesis of the abuser, the holiest man in my Family Tree, none other than Father Matthew O’Rourke, my first cousin once removed.
Matthew was born on 7th November 1918 in the Bronx district of New York City. He was the middle child of five O’Rourke siblings born to one of my grandfather Ned Neary’s sisters (Margaret) who had emigrated from the Sligo farmstead to New York in 1905. In the Bronx, Margaret married her brother-in-law, John O’Rourke, a Leitrim native and a fully-qualified and respected Civil Engineer who worked on many important NY infrastructure projects.
Margaret Neary’s first child, a daughter called Mary, died before the age of two when Margaret was six months pregnant with her second child. The new baby would have started to console John & Maggie O’Rourke over their sad loss, as this child was also a daughter, honourably christened as Margaret Mary in September 1916. The new baby developed into a strong, bright and independent young lady. By 1938, Margaret Mary had breezed through college studies and went in search of a career having been awarded a Major in the field of Chemistry. In 1940, Margaret Mary would have witnessed her younger brother Matthew leaving college with his own BA degree and then attending St Joseph’s Seminary to study to enter the priesthood. Matthew’s life choices must have influenced his older sister because in 1949 Margaret Mary gave up her well-paid employment and became a nun in the Order of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. In fact, Margaret Mary lived her own long and holy life as she too devoted herself to God, becoming a Catholic teacher of native Najavo Indians in Arizona before eventually retiring to her convent in Pennsylvania. Margaret Mary died on 7th November 2008 in the convent hospital, aged 92, an event which upset Fr Matthew … for he was still going strong, and it was his birthday and he related the news of Margaret Mary’s death to me with much sadness in his voice.
During his seminary studies, Matthew was sent in 1944 to work in the poorest black communities of the Southern US states. He spent about a year in these communities, and what he saw was to inspire the majority of his adult life. Matt was fully ordained as a Josephite priest on 10th June 1947 after completing his ecumenical studies in Washington DC. He was awarded his first ministry as an associate pastor in a mixed race city center parish of New Orleans, and here he was horrified to experience segregated white and black RC mass services. Worse still, the local white kids received a decent education at small publicly-funded schools, but the black children got no formal education at all.
Fr Matt had a vision of opening the deep South’s first mixed race Catholic High School, and so he attended night classes at the local New Orleans university for 5 years graduating with yet another degree; this time a Masters in Education. During this period, Matt became an active campaigner in the burgeoning civil rights movement of the time, trying to gain equality for black Americans. Traditional white supremacists sneered at the Catholic Church’s involvement, and several senior priests were arrested on trumped-up civil disturbance charges. Looking back, Fr Matt wrote:
“Discrimination because of race was almost total. Segregation was everywhere — in the schools, in public transportation, in the stores, in banks, in restaurants, at lunch counters, in the movie theaters, in the parks and swimming pools. Worst of all, there was de facto segregation in the southern churches.”
During these mature student days, Fr Matt eventually assumed full authority over the Raymond Parish of New Orleans. At the time of becoming PP, his city center Catholic Church was still holding one Sunday mass for the white congregation, and then a separate service for the black parishioners, mainly because the influential local white politicians demanded that segregation must be upheld in all public places. Fr Matt announced one week after taking control that there would be just one combined mass service under his ministry, in future. The New Orleans white so-called Christians were up in arms. Fr Matt told them to accept the way forward, or to go and find a different religion. The whites reluctantly accepted Fr Matt’s decision, and crowded into all the pews up front, with the blacks having to stand at the back. Fr Matt wasn’t finished. During his first combined mass sermon, he asked the black senior citizens to walk up the aisle, and he instructed the white families to shuffle around and find seats for their elderly fellow-parishioners. The “change” in local society had started.
In 1950, Fr Matt presided over the building of a new Josephite catholic parish high school. He was appointed the first-ever principal of St Augustine’s in 1951, and served in this role for a decade. Fr Matt invited the “excluded” local black children to attend his school, again to the alarm of much wealthier white families. Even the uneducated black kids were disinclined to join academic classes, so Matt recruited top sports coaches and encouraged the reluctant scholars to venture through the school gates and form initially all-black sports teams. A major turning point came when Matt arranged end-of-term challenge matches in football and basketball, whites v blacks. The whites scoffed but were forced to eat their words when the “Negro teams” trounced their new schoolmates at everything, including track and field events.
Soon after, Matt organized sports tournaments with neighboring schools. Most were unwilling to permit games with St Augustine’s mixed race athletes, but St Augustine’s teams invariably won the scaled-down competitions – and so each exclusive whites-only school lined up to attempt to beat the New Orleans champions from St Augustine’s; a mixed bunch of intelligent liberal white boys and promising muscular black athletes. Integration had been commenced forever, unwittingly in the eyes of white bigots. Of course, Fr Matt was soon able to tell his black sports stars that they had to join the academic classes if they wanted to remain on the sports teams.
Matthew’s foresight and determination was soon recognized by his superiors. He eventually rose through the ranks of Josephite society, and became Director of Education during the turbulent 1960’s decade. Fr Matt now had the power and ability to mould the curriculums and entrance policies of every Christian school or college across America. Today, many black Louisiana politicians, business leaders and sports celebrities pay homage to Fr Matt (fondly nicknamed “The Chief”) and their all-round education at St Augustine’s during the 1950’s and in subsequent years. In truth, most African American students in the USA, past and present, should thank my Irish American first cousin for his relentless courage in gaining equal access to educational institutions for all races – something which is now taken for granted.
Fr Matt visited his mother’s Irish hometown of Tubbercurry on several occasions, and composed his own hand-written version of a Family Tree after seeking out and interviewing relatives. About 10 years ago, I was privileged to be personally introduced to Fr Matt by a new-found NYC-based cousin, as Matt served in his last SSJ role as the Rector of St Joseph Manor in Baltimore, a retirement home for ailing priests from the 1990’s onward. He graciously sent me his detailed O’Rourke Family Tree, and I was therefore able to vastly expand my Neary Family Tree. I reciprocated his kindness by retrieving several Irish vital records featuring his father and uncles, and their forefathers, which Matt had never been able to locate. He said that I had made him a “very happy and contented old man” as he prepared to meet his Maker.
Shortly after his sister Margaret Mary died in Nov 2008, Matt took a heavy fall and broke his hip in seven places and fractured his femur. He was now aged 90 and even his nursing staff felt that the much-loved Fr Matthew would never recover from this devastating accident – but he did. Eventually confined to a wheelchair, Matt was able to communicate with me in Ireland via the phone and with his regular letters and blessings. Remarkably, Fr Matt had become fully computer-literate in old age, and he even sent me the odd e-mail as a disabled nonagenarian to advise me of the births of new family tree members across the world.
The renowned published author, civil rights pioneer and former School Principal and President, with the film star good looks, the Very Reverend Father Matthew Joseph O’Rourke, SSJ, passed away peacefully on 9th March 2012 at St Joseph Manor. He was buried on 14th November at the New Cathedral Cemetery in Baltimore.
One of the joys of living and working in the rural West of Ireland countryside is that you become well-acquainted with all species of domesticated and wild creatures which you rarely get to see in the towns and cities – and I’m not talking about the human varieties, such as Hughie & Maurice!
Gazing out of my office window on my half-acre plot, depending on the time of year, I view in close-up all manner of things from the animal and bird kingdoms. There’s hares and rabbits peeping out from the edge of the woods opposite, and often a beautiful fox stealthily creeping across the meadow in search of his long-eared prey. Thankfully, we never see the “kill” as foxes drag their quarry to undergrowth for the final execution.
In the next field, there are two donkeys which roll on their backs in play when the sun shines. Maybe they are discouraging pesky insects from crawling inside their thick coats. Donkeys must always have company to thrive – so never rear a donkey in isolation.
Cattle and sheep are rotated on the meadow. The sheep are the loudest, especially just after lambing when the ewes call out for their twins or triplets. Each ewe has a distinctive voice, and the lambs instantly recognize the call of their mother and frolic back to her side, leaping and high-kicking their young limbs, when they’ve wandered too far away. Some ewes sound scarily masculine with deep booming voices. Many is the day that I’ve turned toward the meadow believing that one of my male farming neighbours is calling for my attention. The cattle get louder in winter when brought indoors to their sheds. If one old girl calls out for her daily silage feed, then she sets off a chain reaction of incessant “loo-ing” until the herdsman dishes out the grass. Cows in Connaught “loo” not “moo” – it’s a subtle difference.
It’s always a treat to see the hedgehog or badger ambling along at dusk by the river. At the other end of the spectrum, everyone rushes to chase off the non-native [American] mink, if spotted. These fine looking animals were introduced into Ireland and farmed for their fur. Unfortunately, many have escaped their compounds and now they breed freely in the countryside. The problem is that these creatures are “killing machines” pure and simple. They will attack and destroy any other small animal on their patch, whether it be cats, dogs, hens or other wildlife. Minks kill to dominate territory, whereas a fox will only kill for food.
Bird-life is abundant in our garden. We put out feeders and seed to encourage our feathered friends, all year round. There are the noisy black crows who feed at dawn, and squabble among themselves. If we fatten the crows up here, then the local grain and vegetable growers stand a better chance of maintaining a healthy crop, we believe. Next in at breakfast time are the gentle wood pigeons. I call them Love Birds. They always go around in twos, one male and one female, and reputedly keep the same partner for life. Aw!
The little fellas arrive soon after. The big wild pigeons happily share their meal with the sparrows and finches and tits and thrushes. Now and again the robin shows his face and chest. Always a loner, not like the loved-up pigeons. The timid wrens from the riverbank sometimes swoop in as well if the weather determines that worm and insect-hunting is leaving them a bit famished. We have been particularly pleased this year to see that the once-rare goldfinch is thriving around our garden. In fact, just of late, this pretty yellow-feathered species might be outnumbering all the rest. It is hard to count numbers accurately when you reach 30+ for one breed and all the recently hatched goldfinch chicks won’t keep still, busily cracking open the Niger Seeds.
Of course, my favourite birds refuses to partake in the freebie meals on offer. These are the fiercely independent and abundant swallows – after returning in the spring or early summer from their winter vacation, thousands of miles away in sunny Africa. With their own in-built SatNavs, somehow year after year the same pairs return at gradual intervals to our relatively tiny garden, or more precisely the roof eaves and outbuildings. Before long, a dozen or so spruced up mud nests appear, and mating begins during dazzling aeronautical displays. Then you notice that the ladies retire to the nests for a while, and leave the man of the house to get the groceries. In no time at all, chirping is heard above the window tops or in the barn roof, and soon after three or four tiny faces peep out from their dried mud homes.
It is the biggest delight of all to watch the baby swallows grow, day by day, until the very hour that mother has to be cruel to be kind. This is the time when she watches from afar but refuses to feed her chicks ever again. The youngsters must now fend for themselves – and this means attempting that strange exercise of flying at which their parents are so adept. Some chicks need more encouragement than others. Dad often soars and swoops doing his loop-the-loops right outside the nesting zone. The kids get the message. They must make a leap of faith and test out their wings. I was privileged last year to witness the very moment when one young swallow made his maiden flight. He leapt from the nest rim, and fell towards the ground flapping for all his worth. Miraculously, he never hit the deck because in an instant of wonderment, the tiny bird hovered a few inches off my concrete path. And then, the knack of flying was discovered. He started to rise, slowly; just enough to clear the roof of my car – until dad swooped by and said “Follow me.” The offspring did as he was told, and commenced his first horizontal journey, soon followed by a climb, a sharp turn, a dive and a well-deserved short breather on a branch of the willow tree by the river.
His two siblings soon joined him, making almost identical take-offs as they jumped like virgin parachutists from their former home in the eaves.
Apart from my grandfather Ned being (in)famous for funding Ireland’s longest ever pub crawl, I have only managed to pick up one or two other snippets of information about his life in south Sligo prior to his lifelong relocation to the windy moors of east Lancashire.
I am proud to say that one particular field in all of Sligo is still referred to as Ned’s Field. It’s a grand field, leading uphill to an ancient ring fort. It was sold to good neighbours called O’Hara in the 1930’s in order to finance the family’s “emigration” to the Promised Land of booming Lancs (just before WW2 broke out). I like to walk up Ned’s Field. It’s a pity that Ned’s cottage is no more – but Uncle John Neary’s place, right next-door still remains, and was occupied by John until very recently.
Prior to the departure of my Neary ancestors, a few memories remain, recalled by folk old enough to remember. For instance, old “uncle” John James Neary (2nd or 3rd cousin) born in 1924 laughs when he tells me how Ned saved on the regular cottage heating fuel of turf sods cut from the local bog (and dried and turned for weeks on end). Uncle John can recall going into Ned’s cottage and witnessing him burning a fallen tree trunk which was so lengthy that one end was on the fire whilst the slimmer end was poking out of the cottage door and into the “street” (as John describes a single track lane used by just two inter-related farming families). This tree trunk would burn away for a week or so, and would be shunted up to the fire by a few inches when necessary. Talk about domestic health & safety! These cottages had thatched roofs made of dried straw or rushes. Very flammable substances. A spark could have set the whole place alight – but it never seemed to happen. The Neary family would sleep through the night with their own form of central heating. The fires in south Sligo never went out, 24/7.
John also told me that “Kit” (Kate) Stenson, aka grandma [1852-1944], was always in her bed in the “top room” when he was brave enough to venture into Ned’s shack. The “top room” was the only separate bedroom in a traditional Irish cottage. The other 10 or 12 or 14 younger occupants (plus sow) lived in the same cramped space, maybe separated by thin cloth sheets hung from the rafters at bedtime. John told me that Kit was very kind to the young kids. She would put down her clay pipe and reach under her bedclothes and produce the equivalent of sweets or toffees for the modern child. John loved his childhood treats.
My dad’s best school friend pal in the 1930’s was Eddie or Ned Moran. This man is still living, but sadly he is now inflicted with total blindness. His memories are vivid. He tells me of rushing home from school with my dad (both bare-footed) with the intention of riding Ned Neary’s donkeys bareback, up on Ned’s Field. Worryingly he says that “Ned’s asses” were so thin that they would “split you in two”.
Ned Moran was also there when my Neary clan pulled out of the “street” and never returned. Apparently my dad shouted from the cart that he would see Eddie next summer. The two school friends never saw each other again. Unbeknownst to them, a simmering Neary feud about a trespassing sow or a wandering cock determined that Ned Neary’s family would never again set foot on their home sod [until I instigated a truce 70 years later]. Details to follow.
Eddie Moran said that he was brave as he waved my father off to England. He kept smiling and laughing, as instructed. His mother (Annie Gilmartin) had told him to be strong. Then Eddie brought a tear to my eye as he explained that he cried all the way home across the field, after Ned Neary’s ox-cart had departed for the railway station. His best mate, John Thomas Neary, never saw or contacted Eddie Moran again – but Eddie remembers him with fondness, and chuckles away at his memories of Ned’s Field, eighty years ago..
When you research your family history, you secretly hope that you will uncover a tale or two which makes your ancestry unique, and possibly famous. You know, the type of story you can impress your friends with over dinner or whilst sharing a pint. By interviewing old folks who remembered my Irish grandfather’s existence in Sligo, before his permanent relocation to England, I was able to verify one such story. More than one person recalled the same tale – so this saga was “famous” considering that the events happened over 80 years ago!
At the time, my grandad Ned Neary was approaching 30 years of age, married with a clutch of young kids, with my dad being the eldest born in 1925. It was the day of the Old Fair Day in Tubbercurry renowned for fast and furious livestock sales, all conducted on the narrow streets and pavements of the town. Ned knew that the Old Fair would attract some cash-laden jobbers down from the North. These were cattle-dealers contracted to buy up the best stock in the Republic and cart them back to wealthy farmers in Ulster where beef prices were sky-high. As a result, Ned spent the eve of the Fair Day sprucing up his two finest calves. Their coats were washed and brushed until they were gleaming.
Early next morning, as planned, Ned’s best friend Tailor Currane from Gurtermone, ambled down the lane to the tiny Neary farmstead to assist with the transportation of the two prized calves. This involved attaching a leash to each young animal and then walking them all the way into town, ensuring that they remained in pristine condition. The plan went like clockwork, and Ned secured a prime bartering position at the bottom end of The (triangular) Square in Tubbercurry, just as the jobbers rolled into town. No-one quite knows what happened next, but clearly more than one jobber took an instant interest in Ned’s calves, and the outcome was a bidding war which resulted in Ned reputedly receiving a handshake of honourable spit – and the highest sum ever paid at the time for a pair of wee calves. Something in the region of £20 or more; a fortune circa 1930.
Well now, Tailor Currane was not stupid, although he was not a good tailor, and consequentially virtually penniless. He knew that his wages for the day would be paid in the form of a slap-up breakfast and a few drinks from the proceeds of the sale. He also knew that Ned was a fierce drinker, as witnessed when Ned’s notorious home-brewed Mad Man’s Soup was often devoured before it had cooled from the Still. So right enough, Ned and Tailor Currane went for a celebration drink right there in the town square. Flush with pound notes they had large measures – and to Hell with breakfast.
By late morning, Neary and Currane decided to embark on a pub crawl, to get farther away from the noisy farmers and jobbers who were now all arguing about the ridiculous price standard set by Ned’s early sale. All had to settle for less, except Neary and Currane who drank their way to the edge of town by mid-afternoon.
Their bahaviour was becoming more raucous, and not welcomed in the more respectable Tubber hotels, so Ned bought a drink for a farming friend from Curry on the agreement that he would ferry Ned & Tailor to their local hostelry at Kilcoyne’s in the back of the farmer’s ox cart. When passing Rhue, Ned decided that it was too early to be heading homeward, so he told his taxi driver to take the passengers all the way into Curry village. “We’ll have one or two in Cawley’s bar,” shouted Ned, to Currane’s delight.
Well, one or two became three or four more, and our intoxicated duo rambled from public house to coaching inn to hotel. When no longer tolerated in Curry, Ned and his buddy staggered down the main road south towards Charlestown. They’d worked up a big thirst by the time they reached the first bar in Bellaghy – so they had a drink. Onward they trekked. Ned was in Mayo by midnight, in the bright lights of Charlestown. He was now farther away from his wife and family than he had been at breakfast time, but he was in no fit state to go home. Anyway, Ned had hardly made a dent in the proceeds from his cattle sale – so he negotiated the purchase of a few after-hours drinks at Top Dollar provided that he and his comatose friend were granted lodgings for the night. The innkeeper obliged and showed Neary & Currane into a chic barn in the back-yard which had a welcoming hay-loft above. The intrepid duo drank themselves to sleep in the penthouse suite.
When morning came, it was time to attempt to eat something – for the first time in 36 hours. Currane was sent to contact Room Service. The innkeeper’s wife brought out a few boiled eggs and slices of warm soda bread. Soon, the boys were ready to hit the road. Now – Charlestown had many, many hostelries back in those days. Word had spread that Ned was in the locality, and each pub landlord made the Sligo lads more than welcome. “Try this new drink”; “Check out this whiskey from the north”; “Put a bit of soda with it”; “Down in one!”
A second day of celebration passed in no time at all. It was late into the evening before a fracas with some passing tinkers caused a few breakages of glassware and pub furniture. Another sympathetic (and opportunistic) landlady offered bruised Ned and battered Currane a lie-down on her bar-room benches. Another drink-filled day had passed.
The next day, Neary & Currane replenished their bloodstreams with plenty alcohol in Charlestown, but the drinking pace was slowing down. Ned was getting worried about the reception he would get at home from his dear but fearsome wife, Ellen. The local innkeepers read these signals the wrong way and ushered him and Currane out of their doors much faster than the day before. They thought that Ned was running out of money and would soon be seeking credit. This was far from the truth. He still had a pocketful of pound notes. Or maybe it was the smell of Currane’s body odour that made yesterday’s friends turn up their noses.
The poor tailor had a temporary solution to Ned’s woes. “Let’s walk south down to Ballyglass. We’ll get a good welcome at Billy Gallagher’s place. I made him a suit for his wedding.”
“Yes. I remember,” agrees Ned. “A bad suit.”
They got a great welcome at Billy’s bar, with Billy grateful for any midweek passing trade. Similar receptions were experienced at Tommy Murphy’s and Dicky Flynn’s (et al), and in another day or two the Sligo lads had bypassed Knock Shrine, and all its guilt-ridden reminders that Mass had been missed, and they were on the road to Ballyhaunis. In this town, Ned had to admit that funds were getting low. The poor tailor Currane could not contribute a penny, so he reluctantly agreed that a pub crawl homeward was on the cards.
The route home passed back through Charlestown, on the townsfolk’s very own market day. The pub’s were jumping. It would have been ignorant not to thank each innkeeper for their earlier hospitality. And so it passed that Ned Neary spent every last shilling on whiskey and beer … and then trooped home in his worn-out old boots.
Many in the area can still recall or have heard about this world-record pub crawl. Differing reports talk of Ned being away for “over a week”. By my calculations based on the buying power of £20 at 1930’s shop prices, it is more likely that Ned had enough cash to endure a fortnight’s drink-fest for two. It’s a funny story, and on another level, a rather sad story. Just imagine how it felt for Ned’s wife (my grandmother) as she tried to feed herself and her babies – and maintain the farm – with the man of the house away on an unannounced rambling holiday. Somehow, Ned & Ellen remained together for the rest of their long lives, and made more babies. That’s how it was back then. No divorce or separation.
The infamous saga of Ned Neary’s pub crawl is recounted to me every time I bump into Hughie O’Gara, a man who was a neighbour of Tailor Currane. This usually occurs in the Roaring Cock, with Hughie shouting his recollections across the bar in his booming Dalek-like voice for all to hear. As such, the story can never be forgotten locally. Hughie chuckles with laughter, his shoulders bouncing up and down, thinking that he is embarrassing me.
On the contrary, I have turned the tables and I demand that when Hughie next sells two calves for a decent price, then me and he will re-enact the Neary Ramble, although I insist on crashing out at decent 3-star hotels. It’s about time a Gurtermone man paid back his dues to the generous Neary clan, after Currane’s mighty free-loading escapade. I have also told Hughie that I have applied to Mayo Council to get a commemorative Blue Plaque erected in Charlestown, by the horse trough used by Ned for his ablutions, to remember Ned’s distinguished contribution to the Licensed Trade.
As a consequence of all this, Hughie’s weekly chuckle-some greeting to me, in that Dalek voice of his, is always the same:
“Are we going to Char-les-town today?”