Interview with Helen (Stokes) Marshall (née Hutchinson)
My name is Helen Marshall. I have six kids and a grand daughter. I’m forty two years old, and I’ve lived all my life in Co. Tipperary, between Mlltown Grove and Roscrea. I did a four-training in the Primary Healthcare Programme. I graduated last November, and I’m now a Community Healthcare Worker twelve hours a week. It was a great experience and achievement for me, and I’ve learned so much from it One of the best decisions I’ve made in life, was to go and do that course.
S: Put it this way, I’m from Mars. I’ve never met a Hutchinson, I’ve no idea who these people are. So start off telling me about your own people, the Hutchinsons, and then you can tell me the Marshall [husband’s] family history. But start off with the Hutchinsons, we’ll get that out of the way. Okay, here’s a simple question. What part of the country did you grow up in?
Roscrea, Co. Tipperary.
S: Is that the only place? Did you travel when you were younger?
Oh, yeah! I did. I come into Limerick, Dublin; I actually went to London, but some time or another I came home, to Roscrea.
S: And were you travelling with your family at that time?
Yeah. My family came with me.
S: How long are you in Roscrea now?
All my life.
S: Okay, so Roscrea has been your home –
I went away from it, and back.
S: Okay. So when you say you were travelling, you weren’t actually, like, living in a trailer –
We were! We’d be gone for months, like. Maybe three months. But this was always home.
S: Understood. And, when you were travelling like that, how did your family earn a living? What’s the different types of work that you would do?
Often, years ago, now, daddy would do carpentry work, because he was very, very good at that. He could make anything with his hands. He made wagons, flats, you name it, he was able to do it. But that’s all gone now because he’s diabetic now, he can’t see. But he was gifted with his hands. Even tinsmithing. He could make anything with copper.
S: It’s very sad when people who are gifted with their hands, can’t use them anymore. It’s really sad.
… enter a competition
S: What did he make?
A wagon, horse-drawn wagon. But as I said to you, his life is – he’s bored now, and fed up, because he can’t do it. He can barely see you to get to you now. His glasses are no good to him, surgery is no good. The bottom line is, my father is diabetic, and it affected his eyesight.
S: He’s probably not feeling very energetic, either, with the diabetes.
And he has heart failure as well, so…
S: But to go back to when you were growing up: your father had carpentry, and tinsmithing, and, did he do horses?
Oh, they did have horses! Yeah! Horses was a big part of their life. But as I said to you earlier on, I was mostly reared with me grandfather.
S: Okay, tell me about that. Was there a particular reason why you were mostly reared by your grandfather?
I don’t know, rightly! But all I can remember was, I was very very young, and I don’t remember coming to him, so I’m only telling you what I know. And he literally reared me and [her first cousin] Eddie, just the two, the four, of us, me grandmother and grandfather. We were all living together. We weren’t living miles away from each other. We’d be in the one place, but I was in his house.
S; And when you say his house: were you in his house, or in his trailer?
Oh, no, in both. I was seven years of age when he got the house. Do you get me now? So, up as far as seven… And I remember Mammy was often telling me when she brought me home from hospital here in Roscrea, she took me in to his wagon.
S: Oh, really! From day one, basically.
Day one! That’s what I’m trying to explain to you. And Eddie was day one. Do you get me now?
S: Yeah! And was there a reason for that?
I don’t know, I can’t really answer that. I don’t think there was. I just think that’s the way it was.
S: Had your mother lots of other children at that time?
No. I was the first child. Eddie was the first child of her sister’s. But Ned Stokes was always with them. It wasn’t as if, say, she’d be next door neighbours, but Ned just took over. See, he was a more… welled-up man. He had more – what could I say to you? He was working in the monastery … he always had a brain on him. He knew how to grow his own vegetables – he was never hungry, I’ll put it that way to you. He literally fed half this town. And maybe that’s why he got us, because times was tough.
S: Okay, understood. So, he was well able to cope.
We grew up with him, in his environment, and his life. And his life was completely different –
S: But at the same time, you could see your parents all the time.
I could go home whenever I wanted to! Yeah! 24/7. But I grew up more closer to him.
S: Understood, yeah. Because he was there when you cut your knee, or whatever.
And he grew us in a different way of life, I reckon, than any Traveller.
S: How do you mean?
He believed in his own garden of flowers. He believed in his own vegetable garden out the back. He had his own stables. He had a shed for everything, made by hand, he did himself. He worked in the monastery. He worked in a pub. He went fishing. He completely had a different life than a Traveller! Ned Stokes was able to read and write. He was a very, very well-respected man. He would never allow you to talk out of turn, or backlip anybody. He had a different rule. I always found him different than the rest, more straighter. We’d go to bed every night with a bed story. He’d tell you stories to go asleep. Elvis Presley would be coming on 24/7. We grew up with that!
S: Did you know his brothers and sisters?
I knew Winnie, very very well, because she used to come over and back to him all the time.
S: Where was she living?
She lived in Nenagh.
S: Right. So, not a million miles away.
No. After her husband died, she moved to Nenagh, and she got a little house there in Nenagh. I knew Winnie very well. I knew Paddy. Paddy lived in Mountmellick. But other than that, I didn’t know any of the rest of them.
S: I was just wondering, like, was he like his brothers and sisters, or was he completely – was he just the odd one out?
He was completely a man of his own, and we all said that. Having said that, Winnie was a nice old lady as well, like, and Winnie would come over to see him, and she’d always bring over some treats to him, and things like that. But – I don’t know, as I said, he was a gift, a gift from God, he was a fairytale, and I believe that in my heart he was, because there was no one ever like him. He loveded kids, he loveded everybody! And he had a rule: whatever he said, went. If you were grounded, you were grounded, and that was the bottom line.
S: And you respected him in the end! (laughs)
Yes! And if he said that was for a week, that was damn bloody well for that week, and nothing would change it. Nothing. As I said to you: he was the life I knew! And maybe that’s why today I have me own kids still going to school, because of Ned Stokes. He gave me hope. I left school when he died. I was fifteen when he died. And I walked away from school, but I got that length out of it. And I do believe in my heart, if he was alive, I’d have finished, and so would Eddie.
S: Yes. Things would have been different.
My life has went downhill since he died, because that bond was torn apart.
S: What about your gran?
Granny was always there with him.
S: But she seems to be a much, kind of – not such a big personality as…
No! Because everything was left to Ned Stokes. Granny wasn’t well, and never was from day one. Granny could cook today for you, but tomorrow she might not be able to do that, and he’d do it. Also, he had the gift of cooking. There’s no man in this country – I reckon there’s never been a woman that was able to cook like Ned Stokes. He could make any kind of meal, he used to make his own batter – everything! He was a beautiful cook. And we’d have a right laugh at that because he was great in the kitchen. That’s how he was different!
S: And when he was rearing these newborn babies: did he change the nappies and all? Did he do everything?
She did it.
S: Yeah! Thought so! (laughs) There’s a line men won’t pass…!
She did that part. Like, she was wonderful! She was a wonderful old lady. But she got sick, and then when he died she couldn’t walk, she lost – her walk was going eventually, but she lost her walk and she was taken back into hospital, and her lung dropped, and – She literally died six months after Eddie. So within, we’ll say, four and a half year, it was gone.
And nothing was left. So if you talk about my father and mother: I do love my father and mother, but I don’t have very much memories about daddy and mammy.
S: Understood. Of course you remember who you grew up with. Of course. So his [= mother’s father Ned Stokes’] sister and his brother, one of each, were living not too far away, so that was the Stokeses. Did you have much to do, then, with the Hutchinson [father’s] side?
They were all there. I’ll explain to you. We used to live in a place called Milltown.
S: Which is where?
It’s over the monastery here.
S: Okay. So it’s near Roscrea.
Oh, yeah. And there was twelve chalets in it. I’ll never forget it. And that means there was twelve families living there.
S: Group housing scheme, was it? All Travellers?
Yeah. They were only little chalets. Everyone had their own house. In that twelve chalets, right? My mother and father lived in one, my grandparents on my father’s side lived in one, my grandfather Ned Stokes lived in one, then daddy’s brothers lived in it – do you get me now?
S: Yes, so you grew up – it was all family.
All, the whole, family. But! I was never close. And if I had a problem I’d never even go in to my own family with it. It would be to my grandfather I’d go. He was my family. And if you asked me today, I’d tell you my family is dead, in Naas. Because no one could ever replace Ned Stokes. I mean that. And that goes for Eddie. I know I have brothers, and I have sisters, but to me I have one real brother, that’s gone. And I know he wasn’t me brother –
S: He was your cousin. But he was reared with you!
S: The two of you were reared together! So of course, in that sense, he’s your brother.
Yeah. They’re all gone, so, there’s nothing left. So all I’m talking about, really, is just Ned Stokes, isn’t it?
S: I understand. And then the rest of your brothers and sisters – your parents minded them?
Yeah. He took them on on a [XX?] basis as well, now. And he would mind them. He trained my sister Tina – he learned her how to walk. He often minded Noel, he often minded [her brother] Eddie – he loveded each and every one of them. But then again, Ned Stokes loveded every child. A child was the key to his heart. And if he’d only one sweet, and he couldn’t share it, he wouldn’t give it at all. He had a shed for his dogs, a shed for his horse, a shed for his bike, a shed for his timber, and then he used to store all his vegetables up in another shed, he had, you know, like a ladder going up into a loft? All his hay and his nuts and everything would be in this. But when he used to stack his turf he’d stack it up along. And some of the kids used to rob it! And he used to say to them, “Bring it back! What’s not worth asking is not with taking!” Right? “If you want it again, you ask it!” And the kind he was: if he left something there, and if he was gone for six months, he’d expect that to be there when he came back. Because it was his bond, it was his place, he was entitled to leave it there. And I believe that still to this day, myself. And my own children, who has never met Ned Stokes because he’s dead twenty five year, and my eldest is only seventeen – and they could write a book about him, they knew that much about him. There’s men in this town have spoken about him. Recently my son was at a party and this man walked in and he asked who was he and he said who he was, and he turned around and he said to him, “If you have anything got to do with Ned Stokes, you don’t have a problem, because he was something special.” Twenty five year later, his name still lives on! And there’s hundreds in this town talks about him today, because – they remember! Good people don’t be forgotten that easy!
S: It’s nice to know, though, isn’t it?
But unfortunately he was buried in Naas. I had no say over it.
S: You said – if I remember rightly – the family graves was in Limerick, before, were they?
Yes, but he was buried in Naas.
S: Why were the family graves in Limerick…?
Because my grandfather is from Limerick!
S: Which side? Stokes, or Hutchinson?
Stokes, was from Limerick. But he moved away from Limerick when his son John died. His son died of pneumonia, eight years of age, and he left Limerick and came to Roscrea. Came to Nenagh, then Roscrea. And he remaineded his life here, then. Picked the pieces up. But his mother and father, his two sons and a good few of his family, is buried in Limerick graveyard. But, having said that to you: Ned Stokes died in 1979, and he was taken to Naas graveyard. For the life of me I can’t rightly figure why.
S: Is there no graveyard nearer?
There was, yeah, but there was a lot of Stokeses – say, his brother John was buried there, in Naas, so there was a connection there. So of course when he got buried in Naas, then, [cousin/foster brother] Eddie wanted to be buried with him, so he was buried right beside him, side by side, himself and Eddie.
S: Let me guess: that’s where you want to be buried too.
S: Right. So, the Stokes side of your family was from Limerick before. Is that how they came to meet up with Hutchinson? Because Hutchinson is –
Yes. Daddy’s family, right? Mostly Roscrea and Birr.
S: Okay. That’s the Hutchinson side.
Birr, Roscrea. And there’s not a difference in the mileage. Well, they’d be around Birr a lot, and they lived in Crinkle for years and years.
S: Where’s Crinkle?
It’s near Birr. And then they were here in Roscrea, like. Mammy was married here in Roscrea. And then she lived between Roscrea and Birr. She used to go Birr, Roscrea, Birr, and then she finished up in Roscrea.
S: Okay, so that’s that side of the family… When you went travelling as a kid, when you’d go off for several months, would there be a good few of you going off together? Would it be, like, your parents and your grandparents?
Myself and me grandfather and grandmother and Eddie would go down to Kildare, to Eddie’s parents. That was our travelling.
S: They lived in Kildare?
Mmmm. The Curragh. Down at the grand stand! Lily [Eddie’s mother, a sister to Kelly’s mother] lived there – well Lily didn’t – they lived there all their life, until Ned Stokes died. When Ned Stokes died they left the Curragh, because they couldn’t bear the memories. Lily hoped that Eddie would come home to her. Bad idea! It didn’t happen. So she moved into the Tipperary (?) Road in Kildare, and she was there until Christmas.
S: And what happened at Christmas?
She got a house, and she took it, because her husband died. A little house, you know, one of these little granny houses I call them, one room.
S: Easy to keep clean and warm, I would have thought.
But the creature thought that [her son] Eddie would come back when her father [Ned Stokes] died. He never came back. He got wilder and he got worser, and he ended up then, gone, lost. I got married myself, I was only just going on eighteen when I got married.
S: How did you meet your husband?
We were staying here in the car park in the town. My grandfather was well dead, and I was back with my mother and father. I was working in St Cronan’s.
S: What’s St Cronan’s?
It’s a workshop, there was a restaurant. Met him one day down here in the car park. I don’t know what – that was grand. He came visiting. See, Johnny Ryan is a son of Winnie Ryan, would be my grandfather’s sister Winnie, right? And Johnny Ryan was married to Ann.
S: Your grandfather’s…? So that must be your …?
No! Ned Stokeses’ sister Winnie.
S: Okay! So she’s Winnie Stokes, later Winnie Ryan.
She’d a son called Johnny who was married to Ann, Ann McCarthy, a sister of John McCarthy who’s married to my husband’s sister –
S: I will draw this! (laughs)
S: Oh! I drew this already.
So that’s how I met him, and got married to hm.
S: Okay. You met him because his sister was already connected through marriage.
[TECHNICAL PROBLEM. STOPPED RECORDING. END OF INTERVIEW]