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..