My name is Elizabeth O’Connor – that’s the proper title, so I might as well use it! – otherwise known as Ghillie. I’m married to Willie O’Connor. We live here in Irishtown, New Ross. I’m sixty-three and my husband Willie is seventy. We had seven children, four boys and three girls. Our first two little babies, a girl and a boy, died very young. Our eldest boy is thirty-nine and the youngest in the family is twenty-five. We’re now living on our own, and we’ve nine grandchildren and another on the way. I was a Catholic for the first thirty-two years of my life, and a devout one. For the last thirty-one years I’ve been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and that was the best work I ever did, to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In order to be able to read the Bible, I had to learn to read first. This is my story, and my husband’s. And we’re not finished yet!
This is a conversation between three people. To make it easier to see who’s talking, each person’s words are written in a different way: Ghillie (G), Willie (W) and Sinéad (S).
TAPE ONE SIDE ONE
G: When I started to make the cushions, and the stuff, for to sell, I didn’t realise that you could get so much for them, you know? I often made them for me own use – to give as presents, and that. But I never thought they’d be – popular, you know what I mean? So I used to go downtown. I was going to the market, anyway. I used to go downtown, and I’d get little bits and pIeces of satin. But I’d always try to get it the same colour. And I sold the first few so quickly, I could see then that there was a demand for them. I put fancy lace on them. I made them by hand. And then me daughter said, “Mammy, you know, if you had a sewing machine, you could do them far quicker.” So she put an advertisement in what was known as [Corcoran’s?], then, and she found one, somebody answered, there was a man seen it and he said he had one belonging to his mother, a sewing machine. So I gave him £55 for it – he wanted more, but I got it for £55. Well, that lasted me for a few years. I still have it, like, but I don’t use it as much, now. I used to make six cushions: two hearts, two bolsters, and two square ones. A tablecloth, and a basket for to hold delft in. That would be done with satin and lined on the inside with white cotton – you know, sheet-type thing. And a bedspread –
S: These are all matching?
G: Oh yeah! All matching. And sometimes people would want the curtains to match, as well. But if you got an order for a big set, it would go by how many pieces you had to make. I was at that for a few years. You know, it was okay – it stopped many a gap! (both laugh) Especially when the light bill would be coming up! It came in very handy!
S: And you sold those at the market here in New Ross?
G: Oh, yeah! And then I used to sell a good few on the fifteenth of August in Borris, you know? Co. Carlow. It’s only a few miles up the road, like.
S: And – forgive my ignorance – is there a fair on there?
G: Oh, yeah. A horse fair, and there would be a lot of stalls on the street like, going for it. It’s only supposed to be for one day, on the fifteenth, but usually people go two or three days beforehand, you know? Them was good old times!
S: And you were mostly making them for a Traveller clientele, were you?
G: Well, I’d make them for anyone that wanted them, but Travelling People did like them a lot.
S: Yes. You’re describing Traveller taste, there.
G: That’s right! Ah, yeah. But settled community – especially young girls – they love the hearts and that, as well, you know? And the little things to go over the television, and little baskets. Little paper baskets, we’ll call them. They’d be covered with the same stuff, you see. It’d be a set.
S: Oh, right! When you said basket, I was thinking, how do you make a basket out of satin? But what it was, you were getting a basket and covering it.
G: The little bin, and covering it with satin and lace. And it was nice! It just made up the set, like. Especially if there was anyone getting married, now, they’d get the whole set, to have it. Do up the caravan. Or even for a house, for the bedroom. I sold them to young and old. And I sold a lot of them to people for guesthouses, because I made them very nice, you know? Then I’d do the curtains to match, as well. It’s a pity the material is so expensive in Ireland. Satin, and silk.
S: Satin and silk are going to be expensive anywhere.
G: Yes, but it is cheaper in England. But then by the time you get it into sterling, that brings up the price as well. But I used to go over there, especially when I’d be visiting relatives, and I’d bring back a few rolls. As a matter of fact I still have some of that out there. But I broke me leg a few years ago, and I never was much keen – with having arthritis as well, if you have a break, it makes the arthritis worse. So I don’t do much in the way of sewing anymore. But I always think I’d love to go out and finish what satin I have, like. Can’t bear the thought of it being stuck out there! (laughs) Because I was over in England, there, a few weeks ago, with me sister. She gets lace from Nottingham, you know?
S: Yes, yes, Nottingham. They still make the lace in Nottingham. I was
in Nottingham myself in November.
G: So, she gave me a good bit, you know? … It’s nice to relax, though, isn’t it? I must admit, the wood burner, it is very dusty and that. You’d never really have a clean sitting room, as such, because of the dust and that. But for homeliness…! And for heat, for warmth, it’s nice. I don’t think we could be without it, now, at this stage.
S: But anyway, wood – it’s not nearly as bad as coal. Coal is what I have.
G: Oh, no, I wouldn’t have coal at all! With the asthma, now, I couldn’t have coal fires anyway. We used to have a solid fuel burner there and Willie took it out.
S: It says Waterford on it – is it made here in Waterford?
G: Yeah, it’s local. The one we had before was a Waterford 106 and it was solid fuel – you could burn anything. But this now is only a wood burner. But you can get old logs, and wood from around. People love getting rid of bits and pieces.
S: I’m the same. My neighbours that are, say, doing a bit of DIY, putting in new floors or whatever, I would take wood off them.
G: Of course, yeah. And they’re delighted to get rid of it.
S: And it saves them paying for a skip. So everyone wins.
G: Our boys, they cut down trees and that, and they usually get loads of blocks.
S: Oh, of course! Johnny was saying they were doing the whole gardening thing.
G: … Lately now I’ve turned my hand to this drawing. It’s very, very therapeutic, and I love it. And calligraphy – you know, the writing?
S: You’re doing calligraphy!? I am impressed!
G: [laughs] I love it! I really love it. It’s nice.
S: You’d want tremendous patience.
G: You do! You do. But even that is therapeutic.
S: I think anything where you have to really, really concentrate, and the whole world stops, and you’re just, into it – that is therapeutic, of course. Whether it was knitting or – I do embroidery. I would get into almost a kind of, almost, like a meditation state doing embroidery, where the world is just gone. And – it’s good for you.
G: One girl, Phyllis there, she used to do very good housekeeping, or decorating, she used to sew stuff, make mats – you know, from kits? And she never used to go out much, but she’d always be busy in the house, baking, and cooking. And she was very good. But then, the other one was very good with her hands as well. She was brilliant at cooking, but she was also fantastic at – you know those little books you can get, and it shows you how to make toys?
S: The stuffed, soft toys?
G: But she was so good that she could knit them, and put the babies in the mothers’ arms, and things like that, you know. With embroidery. She was fantastic. But she read it all. That was something I never could have done, now, years ago, because I couldn’t read. I was thirty two years of age when I learned how to read. [laughs]
S: Okay, here’s a question: what decided you to learn at that point, since you’d managed, I presume, perfectly well up to then without it?
G: Well, I thought I was flying it, you know, because I used to do a lot of baking, and sewing, in those days.
S: Yeah. You were getting on with your life.
G: I made many a mistake, now, about picking up bleach for washing up liquid, and pearl barley for rice! But, we got over it! We used them! [laughs]. But I probably never would have learned because, like you say, I thought it was okay the way I was, and I was rearing me family. Because the youngest then was only two months old when I started to learn. And how I started to learn was that I wanted to know what was in the Bible. I really wanted to know what was in the Bible. And two of Jehovah’s Witnesses called on the door. And Willie took a couple of the little magazines. I wasn’t there, the first day. But about a week later they called again, and I was there then, but I wasn’t having any. You know, I was a devout Catholic, and I was going to stay that way. But they were really nice, and like I say, I always liked people. No matter what religion they were, no matter what background they were. Because I learned that from me mother, she was a very, very hospitable person all her life. She’d never just put down enough of food for us. There would be always a bit of something put down extra, because, the way she said it, “You wouldn’t know who’d come over the hill!” [laughs] Honestly, that’s the way she said it. But I got talking to her, anyway. Theresa Constantine was this woman’s name, and her husband David. It’s well over thirty years ago, now. She said, “You know, the Bible is God’s word.” “Oh,” I said, “I’m very well aware of that!” “Have you got a Bible?” – that’s the way she asked me. “No,” I said, “I haven’t.” “Why have you not got a Bible? You’re rearing a family…” “Well,” says I, “I can’t read the Bible, but I will,” I said, “when me children are old enough,” I said, “they’ll learn me how to read a Bible.” “Well,” she said, “you know, if you wanted to read the Bible,” she said, “that’s what we do. We teach people,” she said, “to read God’s word, the Bible. Now, Elizabeth,” she said, “I wouldn’t just come and learn you how to read recipes or dressmaking or anything like that. If you want to learn what’s in the Bible,” she said, ” I will do that.” “How long,” I said, “do you think it would take?” “Well,” she said, “I’m willing to call as long as it takes. Whatever length. It could take a year, maybe. But,” she said, “If you want to pass it, and waste your time, and say, ‘I’m too old’ – You’re never too old! If you want to make the commitment that you want to learn, and Jehovah God,” she said, “will help you.” “Alright, then,” I said. “That’s okay.” But in the meantime I used to get Willie to write out a load of questions. They would come on a Friday evening, when the children were washed and gone to bed, because it didn’t matter then, you see, they didn’t have to get up for school the next day. And it was often three o’clock in the morning and them people going out.
S: There’s dedication!
G: There is dedication for you! And there was no drink involved! Oh, they would have had several bits of cake bread, maybe, that I would be after baking, or mugs of tea or whatever. But no drink involved whatsoever. They got nothing for it. No monetary… And they learned me how to read in six months.
G: I would often have to spell the word out, but I still knew what it meant, and that was the most important thing. Because, she said, “If you want to know what’s in the Bible, Elizabeth, you’ll have to see for yourself.”
S: And did you start with reading the Bible? Or did you start with simpler…?
G: I started learning the actual words from a little book that she had called Learning to Read and Write. But I didn’t have the patience about learning to write! Because I wanted to –
S: Okay, that’s a different thing!
G: I wanted to know what was in the Bible, you see. And especially when they said that God’s name was Jehovah. Because I called Jesus, God. And Jesus, of course, is God’s son, because Mary is Jesus’ mother. You know, and she was approved of God, to have His son. But everything I was learning was so exciting! Like for instance a short time before that a very, very lovely person, an aunt of mine, had committed suicide, and as a Catholic you were taught, people that done away with theirself, they didn’t go to heaven. They were supposed to be in a place called limbo. But honestly! What a relief when there was no such thing a purgatory, there’s no such thing as limbo, there’s no such thing as hellfire, in the Bible. There’s Hades, there’s Shiel, there’s the Pit. Do you know what it is? Do you know what all of that is? It’s mankind’s common grave. The grave! Because in the Catholic Creed it says that Jesus – now, He was perfect! the Son of God! – he descended into hell. The third day He rose again. But Jesus only went into the tomb for three days! He didn’t go into a fiery torment, did He?
S: I have no idea! I’m reserving judgement on that.
G: [laughs] No, well, He didn’t. Because Scriptures can prove it, like. And Jesus Himself resurrected, God resurrected Jesus to heaven forty days later. So if He was gong to be burning away forever in fiery torment, He wouldn’t have been raised up to a heavenly position, would He?
S: Possibly not. I’m not gong to get involved! This is way over my head!
G: [laughs] I know, yeah. Cos we’re only chatting. But I’m just explaining the reason why I learned how to read.
S: And you said you started off with a book called –
G: Yeah. Learning to Read and Write.
S: And you gave up on that fairly quickly and went straight on to the Bible?
G: Oh, no! There was a lot of things in that, that related to the Bible!
S: Oh! I see! It was for beginner readers, but Bible-related.
G: Yes. It was Bible related.
S: Because I was just thinking, the Bible would be a very, very difficult book to begin to learn to read with, because it’s got – especially the Old Testament – an awful lot of names that would be unfamiliar.
G: You have.
S: Even the New Testament. Unless you had a Jerusalem Bible, the language would be fairly old-fashioned, lots of words you wouldn’t use.
G: Well, I had seven at that time, now, because I had a lot of relations that would come in and out, and they would say, “Well, Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own Bible, you know, Ghilie.” Yes, it’s true, they do use the New World translation of the Holy Scriptures. But they also use – they’re willing to use anyone’s Bible. So I had seven of them. Seven different Bibles! And to this day I have loads of Bibles, in case anyone would bring up that subject – you know, that Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own Bible. But the reason why Jehovah’s Witnesses use the New World translation of the Holy Scriptures is because Jehovah’s name is in it every place it should be in it, do you know what I mean?
S: Yes, I know about translation, because I have several languages and I know there are always lots of ways you can change from one language to the next, and they’ll all be true, but they won’t be the same, and it’s a question of, are you going to put this spin on it or that spin on it? For example in the Italian language there’s s no difference between the word for a rat and a mouse. It’s the same word – Sorry for saying that in your house – sorry about that!
G: What do you mean, sorry for saying that in me house?
S: Some people are kind of iffy about hearing the word r-a-t.
S: I don’t know! They just don’t like it.
G: Well I’m not superstitious in any way. It doesn’t bother me a bit.
S: Anyway in Italian when you come across this word, unless it’s clear from context how big it was, it’s up to you to decide was it a rat or a mouse. For example. And I’m sure if you’re translating from Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek and all the rest of them, the same things are going to come up. So of course you’re going to have different translations. It goes without saying.
G: Where it started, well, it was supposed to have started because the word Jehovah was so precious, and it was so sacred, that they didn’t dare pronounce it.
S: Yeah. The Jews won’t say it.
G: The Jews wouldn’t say it, But that didn’t give them the right to rub it out of the Bible – to take it out, to delete it. Anyway, Yahweh is the nearest you can get to Jehovah, God’s personal name, from the Hebrew scriptures. But Jehovah is the nearest thing in English.
S: It’s an anglicised version. It’s like Jesus for Yeshua.
G: That’s right! That’s right, yeah! But that went on, and two year and seven months after Theresa and David called -I asked, like, to be baptised as a Jehovah’s Witness before that, because I went around to the nuns and the priests and all belonging to me, showing them the Bible. And you know – from the Catholic Bible, now, this is – I studied for two year and seven months the Catholic Bible, and I would compare it with all the others, you know? And in the back of the Catholic Bible, from the Book of John, it says that the Word – it says that the Divine Name that stands for Jehovah. And you’d have to look in the back of the Bible, and not many people would know, like, the index. But that’s where it says about Jehovah’s name. Before the end of this old wicked system, everyone will have to know that God’s name is Jehovah. Every living person on the earth. All of this was new to me! And about Almighty God wiping out the tears from everyone’s eyes, and death being no more, neither will there be mourning nor outcry nor pain. And the former things that we know now today – because we suffer, don’t we?
S: Yes. Of course.
G: In this old wicked system, we suffer. But that’s going to be all gone. But the more I was learning, the more I wanted to look in to it. So it gave me a zeal for learning.
S: But it’s really interesting that at the age of thirty two –
G: Thirty two, now! Can you imagine it!
S: And the mother of a family – and small children at that. God knows, you’d enough on your plate. And you had that hunger!
G: For to know. And again, the zeal, to want to learn how to read. You know? It was the best day’s work I ever done. Because all the things I ever knew as a Catholic – and I was a devout Catholic – I still know them! And I could go back to them tomorrow morning, if I wanted to. But I love the truth, the way of life, that’s known – Jesus himself and His apostles were known as The Way, weren’t they?
G: So, it’s The Way. It’s The Way to go, according to God’s word. But you don’t always be popular, though.
S: Ah, well, now, you don’t go with your dreams in order to be popular. That’s not why we do it. You do it because it’s right.
G: But, I mean, when you knock on someone’s door, you’re there as an uninvited guest – an uninvited visitor, we’ll say.
S: Oh! You actually go around with magazines, do you?
G: Oh, yeah! The Watchtower! [both laugh] And there’s so many people coming over, you know, that we get a lot of the literature in different languages.
S: So if someone says, “I’m Lithuanian”, would you have it in Lithuanian?
G: Yeah. You have that there. And it would be the same way with the ones [Witnesses] that can’t speak English, they’d have the English literature. And the Bible, they usually point out the scripture and the person will read it themselves.
S: My heart always goes out – I would have huge respect for anybody who would have strong beliefs anyway, doesn’t matter if I agree with them, doesn’t matter at all. The fact that somebody’s willing to, you know, put themselves out. And then to actually – the courage to knock on people’s doors and say, “Hi! You don’t want to know, but…”
G: Yeah. It does take courage.
S: Of course it does. There’s a Hall in Clondalkin – I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Clondalkin?
G: Yeah, I was up in Clondalkin minding [my grandson] young Bill, when Elizabeth got married, [my son Johnny’s wife] Josie’s sister. But then, I was only there for one night, minding the child, and went home the next day.
S: Well, there is a Witnesses’ Hall there. And there’s a young one attached to it, I don’t know where she’s from, somewhere in Asia by the look of her. And she’s going round on her bicycle all day every day, with her literature.
G: Witnesses are very dedicated to what they do.
S: But I do think, this poor young one! She has no friends – well, she’s part of a community of Witnesses, obviously, but she’s a million miles from home, and – your heart would really go out to her.
G: But she is doing the work that she wants to do.
S: Oh, she is! But it can’t be easy.
G: No, it wouldn’t be easy, because it’s never easy to be in a strange country, like you say, away from your family. But still, she’s among people that truly love her. And the work she’s doing is the work that Jesus Himself did, and the apostles. They went from door to door. And let’s face it, Jesus was perfect, but He wasn’t always popular, was He?
S: Ah, well, now, if you’re perfect, you’re never going to be popular! I know how these things work! [both laugh]
G: Yeah, I suppose. [laughs] But can you imagine all the good things that Jesus done, and yet they spit on Him, they put a crown of thorns on Him, mocked Him in every way. They even told Him He had a demon.
S: Did they?
G: Oh, yeah! Because He spoke about the high things. And He a carpenter’s son. He wasn’t supposed to know those things, according to the religious leaders of that day. Because He ate with tax collectors, and prostitutes. So He couldn’t have been right, according to their way of thinking! (laughs) John F. Kennedy said one time that you can please some of the people some of the time, but you’ll never please all of the people all of the time! (laughs) Another thing he said was, Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. And no matter what little thing that we do in life – if you do it well, to the best of your ability, you’ll not only get happiness for yourself, but it will radiate from you as well.
S: You’re a woman after me own heart!
G: Well, it does! It does.
S: I think that anything you do, you should do it as well as you possibly can.
G: If you see someone down in the mouth, and they haven’t got a smile – you can give them one of yours!
S: It costs you nothing!
G: And it’s contagious. A smile is contagious, isn’t it?
S: Life is so short! Let’s be kind to each other
G: “A stranger is a friend you haven’t yet met.” It is true, though!
S: But I must have met up with you before. Because the minute I seen you there, I thought – I don’t know.
G: Do you know, when [my son] Johnny said you were coming down, and [his wife] Josie, I wondered was it you that I had seen on the [wedding] video.
S: (laughs) Was I making such a fool of myself?
G: No! But you were in there among all the Travelling People, and you were having a royal time! You were really into it, like, dancing,and everything. You were showing them how to do [sings] “Oh, Macarena!” [both laugh]
S: I’d better look at that video again, see how I disgraceful I acted!
G: But I really was thinking was it you who was coming down, because you’ve been friends with Josie and them for years, haven’t you?
S: Oh, yeah! But I have to say Johnny is really – I know you’re his mother – but he is one of my favourite people of all time.
G: He’s a very good-hearted person. He’d do anything for anybody. He’d really put himself out, now, big time, he would.
S: Johnny is a good guy. He’s a genuine good guy.
G: He’s a good husband, and he loves his children.
S: Yes, he is, And he adores his wife.
G: “Babby”, he calls her.
S: “Honey bunny”!
[guests who had been speaking with Willie in the kitchen say goodbye, leave. Ghillie explains recent tragic events in the life of one]
S: If you had a notion of a quarter of the suffering that goes on around you, there’s just so much, and you don’t know. People just walk around – everyone pretends its okay! And nearly everyone is going through the torments of the damned.
G: Everybody have their own story to tell, don’t they?
S: And if you knew it, you would never judge anybody.
G: Well, we shouldn’t judge one another anyway. Because Jesus said –
S: But, you know, you’d be inclined to.
G: Well, that’s human nature, too, isn’t it?
[her husband Willie comes in]
G: She’s recording! (laughs)
S: Recorder’s on, but we can switch it off whenever you like. We started with the cushions, and progressed fairly rapidly to –
G: – how I learned how to read in six months. But now I find that I need help with a bit of spellings. Obviously you’d be able to spell what you can see, but it’s when you take it away…! A lot of people can look up dictionaries very fast –
S: You know that there’s such a thing as a spelling dictionary? That’s a different thing altogether.
G: Is it? And where can you get one of those?
S: Any shop. I have one, and I use it because I need it. English spelling is very, very hard. It’s not logical.
G: It seldom ever comes out the way it sounds.
No. English doesn’t. Irish is better.
G: Well, I’ll be quite happy if I can get the English the way I want it! I must go down to the bookshop here in town. … Well, what do you think of me paintings?
S: I think they’re lovely. My first thought, looking at them, is that they would be very, very nice translated into embroidery.
G: I think that one there is about the first I ever did, it was the first I ever put in a frame. A little house.
S: Several little houses.
G: Away in a valley. Did you see that one?
S: That deserves a frame! It reminds me of those Hummel figures, they were popular in the 50s.
G: What part of Ireland do you live in?
S: You don’t realise that Josie and Johnny were my neighbours until very recently? I’m just in the next estate over.
G: Really! So you won’t be far from the Kingdom Hall, then?
S: That’s exactly right. It’s just on my way to the village.
G: There’s not many Travelling People that are Jehovah’s Witnesses. But there are some, like. You get Witnesses from all walks of life.
W: You know Josie a long time, now.
S: I got to know her family – I first talked to her mother at the checkout in the local supermarket because she had a baby and I had a baby, and there was only a week between them. And that was her Elizabeth, and my Oisín.
W: Elizabeth is married now. You have a daughter the same age as ….?
S: I have a son the same age. You know the usual thing, mothers saying “Isn’t he lovely?” and “Does she sleep for you?” and all that sort of thing.
W: How many have you? Just the one?
S: I’ve two, a son and a daughter.
W: Ah, lovely. Lovely.
S: I’m nearly certain my daughter was at Josie’s wedding. So if you saw me on the video, you saw her, as well.
W: Johnny would often be talking about you.
S: Oh, there was a time there, before [Johnny’s son] Bill came along, they were nearly every weekend at my house, we would watch a video and have a bottle of wine, whatever. And sing a song. It was lovely! It was great. And then of course the children came along, they couldn’t go out anymore and that was that.
W: Terrible tragedy up the road there.
S: I heard. [the night before, in a nearby town, a relation of Willie’s and Ghillie’s had tried to save her daughter from a house fire, both perished]
W: So Johnny is going up [to support the survivors], the other son is out there.
S: I believe the father is in a state of shock.
W: He must be devastated, and she was their only little girl. I think they had a couple of sons.
S: Well, it’s definitely his only wife, whatever about his only girl.
W: But his little girl, too, like, when you think about it…
S: First communion coming up…
W: One is bad, and the other is worse. But that poor mother – she did get out of the house. But she went back in. She could never live with herself, either…
S: That’s exactly what I said. If you thought, I didn’t go back into that house to save my daughter because I was afraid for me own life, you’d never…!
END SIDE ONE
W: I always tried to do a family tree myself, but I’d want paper from here to…! Over the year he’d come around, and I’d fill him in another bit of history, you know, the family tree, and eventually he gave me a copy and he’s to do out another one for me, and I looked for to see, I knew you were coming, and I just can’t find it. It’s double the size of that. Her people, her side –
S: Is she [Ghillie] Connors?
W: Connors, yeah.
S: You’re both Connorses.
W: We’re related, but it’s not through the Connors. Or if we are, you’d go back…
S: Who are you related through?
W: Through the mothers. Cassidy, and Cash. There’s a good bit in it. I know a lot of it off by heart, like, anyway – that’s how it was taken down. But eventually he connected our great-grandparents, you know, fairly close in relationship. I don’t know where I could start with it other than… Connorses in particular. When I was a little lad there was an old chap, Old Gerry Connors was his name. He’s gone, he must be dead about fifty year now, you know, and he probably was in his eighties when he died – it could be fifty five or maybe nearer to sixty year ago. But he maintained that the Connorses came from a place called Killmick (?) in Wexford, on the Rosslare Road. There were a few brothers of them.
S: Oh! Is this the famous five brothers?
W: The five brothers. Where did you hear about the five brothers?
S: Johnny mentioned them. He said, “My dad can trace us back to the five brothers.” And I know nothing about the five brothers, so tell me about the five brothers.
W: I mightn’t be accurate with the distance you’d put between them, but the way I’d look at it, to go back within history: in my time, we’ll say, I’d put thirty year between meself and me father.
S: Yes. A generation is thirty year.
W: And between my father’s father, there’s another thirty year. And his father again was Old Jim. Now, to make it clear: my father’s name was Mick, his father’s name was Mick, my great-grandfather’s name was Jim, and his father again was Gerry. So you’re talking about –
S: Four generations. Four times thirty –
W: Roughly about a hundred and twenty year you’re going back. You still have to allow for – they could be maybe twenty or thirty years old when he had his son Jim. So you could put it back a hundred and fifty years. But he married a settled girl –
S: We’re talking, now, about the original Gerry? We’re going back the way?
W: Yes. He was one of the brothers, one of the five brothers.
S: But, these were Travelling People?
W: Oh, they were Travelling People! Yeah. They did live in Kilmick, which is County Wexford, between Wexford and Rosslare. It’s on that main road. If you’re going to the boat, you have to go through Kilmick. But they split up partly in the County Wexford, you know, these Connorses. Of course, in a generation or two, they were no relation – that’s the way they’d look at it. That’s the way they’d look at it even today, when they split out a bit, gone for a few year, they don’t class theirself as related, you know. I don’t know if you know about it, but most Travelling People don’t class second cousins as close related.
S: It depends on the families! If you’re Connorses, no. If you’re McDonaghs, yes. (laughs)
W: Is it, yeah?
S: Yes! Big difference. I speak to both sides, I’m very universal in my….
W: But I don’t think you’d find much difference in the situations. I was talking to a chap from Galway, he was a Ward, and he come here to visit me, he come with that English chap I was telling you about – what was that chap’s name again? Was it Joe? And I asked him was there a problem in the West of Ireland, in Galway, in that area, with close relatives marrying. And he said it is a very big problem.
S: It’s certainly a very widespread practice.
W: And it is a big problem here, in this part of the country, and probably in Dublin, Wicklow, the whole south of Ireland.
S: It depends on the family, how they feel about it. Connorses don’t like to do it. (laughs) McDonaghs do.
W: Well, Connorses do [do it], really. They’d be a bit hidden about it, but they know about it. I’ve lots of relations, close relatives of mine, and they’re marrying up very close.
S: Yes, but that’s the way it is [whispers]: “He married his first cousin!” But McDonaghs and them, for preference, marry first cousins. So it’s two completely different ways of looking at it.
W: But I was never satisfied with that. It was never something I approved of. Anyway, that’s as far as I can go back.
S: Okay, this is the original Gerry Connors, one of the five brothers. And he married…?
W: He married a girl by the name of Power. She wasn’t from the Travelling stock at all.
S: She wasn’t a Travelling Power. She was a country Power.
W: There was a little farm, at that time. I don’t know if you’d be familiar with a hundred and fifty year ago, in Ireland?
S: Not personally, no! (laughs)
W: But you’d know a bit about the history of Ireland, a hundred and fifty year ago?
S: Oh, yes.
W: I’m not too sure – when was the Famine?
S: It was about a hundred and fifty years ago.
W: So this was the time when there’d be a bit of movement. With Travelling People, they could move – probably that’s what put a lot of them to the road, as well. But they could move to places. They were all, generally, tradesmen. And they could move to places where work would be, and maybe a big house where they would get feed. They were well liked, in a sense. They were honest people. Respected, in a sense, because they had a trade. They’d make utensils. There were musicians amongst them, which was always well thought of.
G: They were always welcome.
W: In big houses, in the gentry houses, it was practised, if you were a good musicianer, if there was a wedding going on, or something like that, you were very well appreciated. And they weren’t looked at like the labouring man. If you like, they were a little step above him. But my great great grandfather, that was Gerry, he married this Power, I think it was Kate Power, and they had two sons. I can’t recount for the daughters.
S: Girls get lost, because they change their names when they marry.
W: But they had two sons. Jim was one of them, which was my great grandfather, and the other was Johnny. He went by the name as Red Johnny, reddish complexion. And to this day there’s a Red Johnny in the country, you’ll always find a Red Johnny, maybe a few Red Johnny’s, you know? I’ll see if I can find it, who Johnny married, but Jim married Cash. And he had two sons and three or four daughters. again. He had Mick and Gerry, one of them was called Bothered Gerry.
S: Say that again? Bothered? As in ‘Am I bothered’? Right.
W: No! Boord.
S: Oh! Bodhar! As in Irish word for deaf? As in bodhrán?
W: Boord. But with poor pronunciation, he was always called Bothered Gerry.
S: But it meant deaf?
W: Yes, it meant deaf. And he was stone deaf. Yeah. Because I was rightified on that. I thought ‘bothered’ was someone with a problem.
S: Yeah, exactly. “Am I bothered? Am I bothered?”
W: But in the Irish, it was bodhar. Then there was Mick, which was my grandfather. But there was a few girls. They got married to Purcells, O’Briens, and Cashes again. They crossed back in.
S: As a matter of interest, who are your relatives in Belfast?
W: In Belfast? They’re Berries.
S: Oh! Okay. I ask because I met Purcells up there, and they are among the nicest people I ever met.
W: Them are related to me. Their father and my father probably would be cousins.
S: So nice! Anyway, I digress. Go ahead, carry on! We got as far as your great grandfather?
W: Now we’ll go back down to me grandfather.
S: Gerry, this is Gerry.
S: Gerry was the first one, then Jim, then we got two Micks.
W: Me grandfather, then, he had – five sons, wasn’t it? He had Gerry, Luke, Mick, Jim and Johnny, and two daughters. And that’s as far as I can go back at me father’s side. But I do know that Old Gerry, the Gerry that came from Kilmick, his father’s name again was Gerry.
S: So, that’s going back…!
G: Sure, my grandfather – my great grandfather – he was from Kilmick as well.
W: That’s right! Because he was one of them. He come from the same offspring. His father’s name was Gerry again, It was his father again, that would be three generations back – he’s gone a long time, he’s gone fifty odd year –
G: Oh, yeah!
W: And his father’s name, it could’ve been Paddy.
G: His eldest son was Gerry.
W: Yes, but he was called after his grandfather. That was Old Gerry The [X?] – his father again. There’s nicknames on all these people.
S: Of course.
W: There’s so many Gerrys!
S: And there are five million John Connorses!
W: Yeah. There have to be nicknames on them. But then to come to me mother’s side: down through history, ’twas Cash married Connors, Connors married Cash, down from me great grandfather, he married a Cash, and from there down it was generally Cash/Connors, the whole way, to my day. And then it got a bit closer – Connors married Connors! (laughs)
S: Well, it’s not necessarily closer, because when there’s so many people there, the fact that people have the same name, it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily very very close, I don’t think.
W: No. Because we’re Connorses, but not –
S: Yeah, I mean you may be… Well, of course we’re all related. You and I are related, if you could trace it back.
G: Adam and Eve! (laughs)
S: Well, no, you don’t have to go back that far. I think the furthest related you are from anybody on the planet is something like 18th cousin. That would be to Japanese, and Ghanaians. We’re all related. There’s no way round that. So, to say you’re not related isn’t true. But, you’re not particularly related.
W: But then when you talk about New Ross here, in particular, is another little bit of history, about New Ross. There were a couple of families in New Ross, we’ll say, to go back a hundred year, or maybe a little less, but at least a hundred year ago, there was Dorans and Cassidys here in New Ross. But they’ve got amalgamated – is that the word? – into the Connorses and into the Cashes and Briens, O’Briens, and Flynns, and Dorans.
S: Where do the Walls come into this?
W: The Walls come in at my side, there. Again, me father’s mother was a Wall.
W: I’ll tell you a little bit about me grandfather, Old Mick, and Bother Gerry. Me grandfather’s nickname was Black Mick, or Black Micky, and his brother was Bother Gerry. But they got married to two sisters, fleshly sisters, they were Walls. They come from Athy, Kildare.
S: Because the Walls are still around, and they are married in to these families. Josie has a sister and a brother married to Walls.
W: That’s right, Well, you’ll get Walls mixed in with the Connorses and the Cashes down through after that, but they were the first, now, of the Walls to come from Athy. Me grandmother was Annie Wall, and her sister was Mary. She was married to Bother Gerry.
S: Okay. This is two brothers married to two sisters.
W: It was a double match, if you like. Nothing wrong – no relation whatsoever. And the Walls, they originated around Kildare.
S: I never came across the name here, but in Dublin you get Walls marrying in with all of these names.
W: They were the same Walls. They went from Kildare to Dublin, which, you know about Dublin: there’s so many Connorses in Dublin today, there’s so many Wards, Joyces, Maughans, McDonaghs, Dorans – you’ve got them all in Dublin, you know?
S: But not side by side! (laughs)
S: Northside, southside. And never the twain shall meet.
W: Then: the Dorans, as I said, and the Cassidys were the biggest names in New Ross at one time, but now there’s hardly any of them.
S: How did the Gogginses come into it?
W: The Gogginses originated –
G: I remember Old Paddy Goggins!
W: Paddy Goggins, yeah. They originated in Wexford town. As far as history goes, or I know – I still stand to be rightified on it – but they weren’t Travelling People.
S: At the beginning.
W: At the beginning.
S: It must have been a Goggins man married some Traveller.
W: Yes. This is right. He married a Berry. I don’t know who she was, but his father, Paddy Goggins’ father was… But they originated from Wexford anyhow. But like many Travellers lately originated in Wexford, there’s other old stock as well that took to the road from Wexford.
G: The Goggins family, they were nearly all girls. They’d one boy, and he’s married to me aunt.
S: So it’s that recent, that the name came in?
W: Oh, that’s all, yeah.
G: Oh, it wouldn’t be that recent, you know!
W: You’re talking about fifty year ago.
S: Really. That would be the first – that was when this country man married the Berry woman and brought in the Goggins name?
G: No, it’s over fifty year ago since me aunt married Jimmy Goggins.
S: Okay. And he is a Traveller.
W: His mother was a Traveller. He was half and half.
S: But I suppose he was reared to think of himself as Traveller? He married a Traveller woman.
W: No, he was reared in Wexford town.
G: But they used to go out travelling in the summer.
W: But he never –
S: Who did he think of himself as? Which…?
G: Traveller, I would say.
W: I don’t know!
S: Getting married is a pretty big decision. It’s kind of crunch time, as to who you are.
G: Then again, all his sisters married Travelling People as well, you know?
S: That would suggest that they felt –
G: One of his sisters got married to my daddy’s –
W: Two of them got married to Travellers, and one was married to a man from the County Kilkenny.
G: I thought he was a Traveller.
W: No! He’s was a Horan from Graignamamagh. His generations are there yet.
G: Old [Thady?] got married to Johnny. And Monny got married to my daddy’s Uncle John. Ann Cash got married to [?]
W: But that’s what happens with half Travellers, if you like. They will go to the road.
S: Well, some do, some don’t. But I was just wondering about the name, because it’s so local, and it’s an unusual name.
W: Well, they had a big family of boys, these Gogginses. Jimmy Goggins and the wife. Big family, it was. Good family. They live down the hill there, actually. They all have their own trailers.
G: They’re my cousins.
W: And well-to-do. A good old family.
S: Is this the same people that’s on that documentary? Remember that black and white film? That’s some of the Gogginses, in that. That shows a treble wedding. You never saw that?
W: Is that long ago?
S: Maybe – five years?
W: Oh, yeah! We have that.
S: Because the Gogginses, or some of the Gogginses, are in that, and I remember one of them was called… Gerry?
W: That’s right, yeah.
S: And it finishes with a treble wedding, two of the brothers and another fellow.
W: That’s right, yeah. I have that one there. I forget the chap that done that. He worked here as well, at one stage.
S: Alan MacWeeney is his name. I don’t know him, but I know the name.
W: Yes – there was some bits of arguments going on there as well. But that’s the way they originated. Now Doranses – you hardly hear tell of Doranses. There’s just one or two little families of Dorans here in the town, now.
S: Is that because they’re all over in England, by any chance?
W: Not really.
G: There is some in England.
S: I think there are Doranses over in England.
W: There are, but there’s a good bit of a divide there. There was another section of the Dorans – they’d be the one people, but there were a few generations of them reared in Wicklow, that left New Ross and they went to Wicklow to live. That was the musicianers. Felix Doran, the piper, I’m sure you’ve heard of him.
S: Of course.
W: Felix Doran, and his brother Johnny. I knew Felix personally. and I knew a lot of his offspring. And these other ones, then, there’d be still music in them, like Chris Doran, that singer that won the –
S: Do you know, that never even crossed my mind! Of course he was related! The guy that won the – no, it wasn’t Eurostar?
G: He won Eurostar, yeah.
S: And represented us in Eurovision. Very well, I might add.
W: A great guy, yeah.
S: Didn’t win- as a matter of fact he got no votes – but I thought he was great.
W: Very well, he done very well.
G: And he’s a lovely, lovely person.
S: He seems to be, yes.
W: And his mother. They’re lovely, yes. He’ve a couple of people belonging to him in England as well, which are Dorans, but he’d be a distant relation to the Dublin Dorans, or the Wicklow Dorans, as they call them, you know.
G: Yet at the same time, there’s Dorans – there’s a drop of the Dorans in every one, you know, down the line, like.
W: I come to the conclusion: you see, me mother would be related to the Dorans. She was a Cassidy, and the Cassidy and Doran from older generations here in the town, they mixed up. The Dorans and Cashes and Cassidys.
G: Old Miley Doran and his family in Carlow. Most of that family is girls, isn’t it?
W: That’s right. That’s how the name died out.
S: Which name, remind me?
W: Dorans. It practically died out. Do you know – I often thought about it – did you know anything about cereals?
S: Cereals?! (laughs) As in serial killers, or in breakfast cereals?
W: Breakfast cereals. Years ago you’d get grain to give horses, called oats. And there was what they call black oats. Did you ever hear of them?
S: I’ve never kept a horse.
W: Well, black oats was a cereal, they made the oat flakes and things out of it as well. But for some reason, it died out. It kept getting smaller and smaller. And you know what they have to do with cereals: they graft them, to make a new form of grain.
S: Okay, right, yeah. Genetics.
W: Genetics, yes. But they done it years – it’s not just something – it’s not what genetics is now, in a big way, but years ago –
S: Yeah. Crossbreeding.
W: Crossbreeding! Potatoes the same.
S: Horses the same, dogs the same.
W: Yeah, yeah. But them oats died out. They wouldn’t grow any more. It’s nature’s way of doing things. So apparently – the Dorans name is just alive, the Cassidys is practically gone, isn’t it? Now, these people are belonging to us all! They belong to me and they belong to her. But they’re nearly gone. There’s a lot of Dorans in that graveyard, in the local graveyard here. A lot of graves.
S: Yeah, Johnny showed me as we were coming up here.
W: And a lot of Cassidys. Unfortunately a lot of unmarked graves as well, in from olden times. They didn’t mark the graves, you know, too much, years gone by. So in the Connorses, Cashes, most Travelling People, you’ve got Dorans in some part of the makeup.
G: Yes. Because Connors and Dorans, Dorans and Flynns, Dorans and Cassidys, you know? We all got married in, like. We’re relations. Like, Molly Doran in Carlow would be me mammy’s first cousin, and she’d another cousin like, that would be Connors.
W: And his wife was her daddy’s –
G: Daddy’s cousin.
W: Double first cousins, actually.
G: And the Cassidys on the other side. My grandmother was a Cassidy.
W: The one family of Cassidys, there was four brothers, and unfortunately none of them ever got married, they left no offspring behind them.
S: That’s very unusual.
W: They were a very poor family, and they worked in local farmers’ places around, out the country a bit from the town here. I knew them all personally.
G: Good old fellows, yes!
W: And they were great old characters, and very comical. Good sportsmen. Good singers.
G: And made up all songs…!
W: And great entertainers, in their own …
S: And not one of them ever married!
W: No. They were half Flynns and half Cassidys. Their mother was a Flynn. Their father died, this was an uncle to my mother, Pat Cassidy, and their mother got married again. She got married to a Moorehouse. There’s another name I left out of the equation!
S: Moorehouse is more a Wicklow name, am I right?
W: No, it’s Enniscorthy, actually. The ones in Wicklow are Enniscorthy.
G: Mary Moorehouse, she was a Flynn. She would be an aunt of my mother’s.
W: But to get it right as a family tree… we are connected, meself and Ghillie, or Elizabeth, we are connected. We went back to the one, if you like, great grandparents. My grandmother, Betty Doran, and her – no, that would be my great grandmother! – and her great great grandmother, were two sisters.
S: I can draw a picture of this. I can show you how to draw a picture of this.
W: She’s a later generation nor I am, if you like.
S: Yes, I understand that. Yes, yes.
W: It’s generally the one generations that marry.
S: But here’s the way it works, because at first I was thinking – my God, it looks as if people are from different generations altogether. But if you have your first child, at, say sixteen or seventeen, and you go on having children until you’re forty, there’s a big age difference between your youngest and your oldest. So it’s quite possible for your youngest child to marry somebody else’s eldest child, and they’d be the exact same age.
S: And it will look as if they’re different generations but they’re not. They’re the same age.
W: But one thing that I come across in my history – I found it amazing, but it meant nothing to Travelling People – a little story, I’ll tell you about it –
S: This is great! I’m so glad I’m taping! Go on! This is wonderful!
W: But her grandfather was alive, and her sister, she was alive, her daughter again was alive, and her daughter again was alive, and she had a baby.
S: Are we talking six generations?!
W: Six generations! Did you ever come across that?
S: No. That’s very – they must all have married very very young.
W: There’s never – it got no mention in history!
S: Six generations! Would God spare us to hold our great great grandchildren! My God!
W: My great grandfather is gone a hundred and fifty year ago! A hundred and thirty anyway, he’s gone.
G: My grandfather got married when he was eighteen, and me father got married when he was only eighteen, and me sister married when she was only sixteen, and her daughter had a little girl when she was only about fifteen or sixteen years of age, and then her daughter again –
W: Had a baby! (laughs) I thought it was … something!
S: That’s very impressive. I’ll be lucky if I see a grandchild, the way my kids are going on. You’re very lucky people, you have plenty, and very nice, grandchildren too I might add. But to already have a great grandchild? And then a great great grandchild?
W: It never got one mention. When it happened I said, this is a wonderful thing.
S: It is a wonderful thing. Yes, it is.
W: But I have a brother, and it’s unbelievable how many grandchildren and great grandchildren he have. They’ve ten sons and four daughters and they all have massive families. They’re married, and their offspring is married again.
S: This would be the Flynns again! (laughs)
W: Some of the Flynns married in to me brother’s as well.
G: Whereas [Johnny’s wife Josie’s parents] Biddy and Miley [Flynn], now, have a lot of girls, Johnny and [X?] have a load of boys.
S: So the name is carrying on. But, I know that Biddy and Miley have already been to the wedding of a grandchild, which is a wonderful thing. To be at your own grandchild’s wedding is fantastic!
W: Well, they keep on going, they’ll go to great grandchildren’s weddings!
S: Well, if they do, then they’re going to hold their great great grandchildren! Hopefully.
W: I don’t think they’ll make it as far as the one I told you. I don’t know. Its amazing.
S: But just to feel in such a direct and personal way, the fact that you are part of an enormous chain of life – we’re just links in this chain, that’s all we are. It keeps on after we’re gone.
W: When you go back a few year, then, with Travelling People – this is something you probably know anyways – but little girls, boys as well, but especially little girls, they’re generally married off fairly young. You know, they had their own motive for this –
S: Yes! And we needn’t go into the detail.
W: No. And of course it’s only very lately you see any mishaps in a marriage. Years ago there was very little, or none, mishaps. You can count them – you wouldn’t want your hand to count them. Very little. In my time I can remember very little of mishaps with families, or break-up marriages. Very little.
S: My impression is that this part of the world, this part of Ireland, is really very special, just around here, the southeast of Ireland. And the families that live here are completely different from – and none of the names that you’ve mentioned would include names that would be big in other parts of the country. You did not mention McDonagh, you did not mention Ward –
W: Oh, no.
S: No, these are different families. But here, the impression that I get -correct me if I’m wrong – is that until fairly recently match marriages were common, now they’re not done at all anymore, and it was a very quick changeover, from all matches to no matches.
W: They’re encouraged, but not forced on anyone. But they are encouraged. Because, I’ll tell you about it. Any bit of a do that goes on – you know what I mean by a bit of a do? you know, a get-together –
S: Or a wedding.
W: Or a wedding. They’ll have their offspring done up to the nines, to show them –
S (laughs): They do themselves up! They don’t need to be done up. They do themselves up, they sure do. Oh, boy! Strutting their stuff.
W: And there’s nothing wrong with it, nothing whatsoever. But they generally, probably – I don’t know if you know the word “hisst”?
S: No, I don’t.
W: How to put this? I have to be careful when I say this. Hisst is to – if you hiss, it’s … encourage.
S: Okay. And who’s doing the hissing?
W: Well, generally, maybe the father and mother, or some of the brothers or sisters, you know.
S: Okay So, it’s kind of a gentle nudge towards…?
W: A gentle nudge, yes. Huss is another word.
S: Hiss and huss would be the same word?
W: But it’s probably a bit of Cant word as well.
S: Cant? Cant? You’re saying Cant? You’re not saying Gammon?
W: Well, that could be a part of that then.
S: No, I’m just shocked to hear you use the word Cant.
S: Because in this part of the world, people always say Gammon, that’s why.
W: Well, what’s the difference?
S: It’s nothing got to do with me! But I’m just shocked because people in this part of the world insist! –
W: That it’s Gammon?
S: That the proper word is Gammon.
W: But they don’t know the meaning of the word Gammon.
S: That doesn’t matter! [all laugh] The point is that it’s the word that’s used here. And I’ve never heard anybody here use the word Cant. Never! And I’ve heard people say, ‘No! That’s a makey-uppey word!’ You know?’
W: Well, it’s put down as a language, which I totally disagree with!
S: Do you? Alright!
W: A language, really, you can speak it fluently. But Cant, or Gammon, you take one –
G: You can’t do a whole sentence.
W: No, you can’t do a whole sentence. We’ll say, like – [gives a few examples]
S: But you don’t need to use whole sentences. What you need to do is communicate what you need to communicate. And I have found that people can communicate exactly what they need to communicate in Gammon.
G: Oh, yeah.
S: Without – you know, it doesn’t need to be sentences. You just throw the words out, and whoever’s listening has to put it together.
W: Well, that’s right, you leave words out. There was lots of words in ancient times with vowels left out. In Hebrew.
S: Hebrew’s a different kettle of fish altogether!
W: But you have to know the vowels to put in. You’d agree with that?
S: That’s true, yes. I know that much about Hebrew. I know you don’t write the vowels.
W: There’s none of us educated, none of went to school like –
S: You’re doing fairly well for a guy who didn’t go to school! (laughs) In all fairness.
W: You don’t write the vowels. So if I get a hint of –
G: A nod is as good as a wink! (laughs)
S: Yes! and that’s how Gammon works.
W: Like, if you were after coming in, maybe she’d say to me, a [woman] [came] in [now], you know?
S: Yes, but you wouldn’t even bother with that much. Just, [woman now] would be enough.
G: Yes, yes.
S: And you’d throw that in, you’d say something like “Get the [woman now] tea from the press” (laughs) – you’d have to listen carefully.
W: You’re cutting it short, I suppose it’s a little bit like what you’d do with morse code, or shorthand. Like my brother – I’ve a brother deaf and dumb, and he learned me a little bit how to read. I never went to school, he learned me anything I know about reading.
S: What age were you, by the way? She was thirty two! (laughs)
W: Lately. But when I was a little lad – my brother was older than me. I mean there’s so much, like –
S: Did he go to a special school?
W: Oh, he went to Dublin, he went to [the special school for hearing impaired children at] Cabra, yes. But if you’re spelling daddy, it’s, like, [signs] d-a-d-d-y, okay? But in short [signs] that was it.
S: Oh! Okay, That was a shorter way of doing it.
W: Yes. Mother [signs]. That was sister [signs] and if you do that [signs] you’re talking about a little one. Your sister.
S: I don’t know anything about sign language, so, was that his own, or was that the way they were all taught, or was that a kind of slangy way of talking?
W: No, no no! That was what they were teached.
S: Okay. So they could either spell it out longways, or this shorthand way.
W: Yes. And to finish it it off – you look at the television sometimes there. [signs] That’s the end – it’s rounded up. And it makes sense, don’t it? You can appreciate that.
S: I love looking at the sign language, because some of it is very clear.
W: Fascinating, yeah.
S: Like, they do that [signs] and I forget whether it’s “love” or “mother”, or –
W: That’s right, yeah! Fascinating. Anyway, that’s a little bit of the history of the Connorses, Flynns, Moorehouses, Dorans and Cassidys –
S: Purcell! How does that come in?
W: ?? Oh! PURcell.
S: PurCELL they say, in Belfast. There’s a lot of them up there.
W: Of course, there’s a lot of the Purcells, but one of the Purcells married – me father’s aunt Mary married a Purcell, and as far as I know, this is the generation, now, is in Belfast. There was one married to O’Brien, it was Mary was married to O’Brien, and Kate was married to a Purcell. That’s right! There was Kate and Mary. And there was Ali, she was married to a Cash! Me father, then, was a Mick Connors married to a Cash again. Me grandfather, Old Jack Cash, he’d be related to Johnny Cash, the piper. And he married a Cassidy. But his father, Old Mick Cash, married a Connors.
S: (laughing) How can you remember all this stuff? This just kills me!
W: You know, down in Kilmore Quay, south coast of Wexford, there’s a little graveyard down there, a little ancient village called Grange. And my great grandfather, Old Mick Cash. he moved there and reared his family, and the walls of the old house are still there.
S: Now! You said he lived in that village!
S: How did he make a living in that village? Was he travelling from it in the summertimes?
W: I guess so. But he was a tinsmith. A tinsmith would survive, in them times, he’d survive anywhere. A genuine trade.
G: People had to have utensils!
W: A – what’s the word? – a bona fide trade.
S: Yeah, but to make your living off a trade like that you would have to have a catchment area, you know, you would have to have a certain number of people that needed your services.
W: Well, a younger person than me probably wouldn’t understand it, but in them times, if you wanted the equivalent of a … kitchen table, or a saucepan – you’d got to get it from a Traveller. You couldn’t go to a hardware and buy it.
S; Because there were no hardwares. Or if the hardwares had them, they’d bought them off Travellers.
W: Now! You understand. They didn’t chuck out an old bucket if it started leaking.
S: Quite right too! God be with the days of recycling! Fix it before you throw it out!
W: You see? A few of them was great tradesmen just the same, they weren’t just limited to the tinsmithing. And there were great horsemen among them. The Cashes of Kildare, you’ve heard of them? They’re great horsemen.
S: They’re different Cashes again, are they?
W: No, they’re not. They originated in Kilmore, them Cashes. I was told lately – I put all the Cashes to be the one, of the one blood, but an older person than me told me, and she was a half Cash herself, and she told me about other Cashes and she told me, Them are no relation to us. But I’m not too sure if she got that right.
S: It’s very hard to know! If people have simply forgotten, or if it’s two completely different families, or what.
W: And I’ll tell you what was another mistake: if there is a family doing something wrong, they weren’t really accepted.
S: Yes, “You’re no brother of mine” type of thing. And then the children, or the children’s children, would believe that they really had no connection.
W: No connection. Because, as I mentioned, I knew of an incident that happened – it was a comical thing. I heard this in England. There was a Travelling man, Cash, and he was travelling of course, and his name was Ned Cash. And his horses wandered on the road. It was an offence that time. There was no traffic on the road, they grazed their horses on the road, but if a Guard come along, they were summonsed. So he was summonsed, brought up to court, and he was found a pound or ten shillings in them times, you know. And it said on the paper, “Ned Cash, the horse dealer, found for wandering horses.” A year after maybe, a long, good while after, Ned Cash of Clane, this is the blood stock, he was brought up – apparently it was a very serious offence that he was brought up for.
END SIDE TWO
TAPE TWO SIDE ONE
W: This Cash man, he was brought up over wandering horses on the road, and he was found a pound or ten shillings.
S: And what part of the country was that? Kildare?
W: It would be in the Gorey [County Wexford] area. I heard this story in England. I’m sure it was fairy accurate. But the Cash man in Kildare got it put on the paper. “I want to make this clear,” he said, “’tis such a Cash,” he said, “the tinker, and it’s not me, the horse dealer in Kildare” You see? He was a big shot. So a year or two after anyway, or a good time after it, this wealthy guy was brought up for some other crime.
S: The guy who put his name in the paper, saying…? Ha, ha! Pride cometh before a fall! Yes! And he got caught for something even worse!
W: Even worse! And the other fellow couldn’t make it quick enough to the printing office, you know, “I want to make this very clear,” he said, [both laugh] “Twas such a Cash in Kildare was brought up for this heinous crime, and not this Cash, the tinker!” [all laugh]
S: … You mentioned the Purcells. These are minor names, that would, kind of, come in. And then there’s other names – I’m just trying to think, now – what about Donoghue? Do they ever come in?
W: Yes. They come, now, from part of Tipperary, the Donoghues. I knew a lot of them, there was one of them married to a cousin to me father again. He’s a good while dead, I think his wife is dead as well. He was a Donoghue married to a Wall. He was a Paddy Donoghue. And how I come to know him, I used to build these round caravans.
S: Did you!? You made them, did you? Of course! You’re terrible handy!
W: There’s one in Wexford, in a museum, and I made it new for them, which is a contradiction. To see something new in a museum.
S: Yes. Which museum, by the way?
Wexford. In Johnstown Castle.
S: Okay. I haven’t been there. So if I ever get in there, it was you that made the caravan.
W: You’ll see, there’s a plaque on it anyway. Tis worth going to see about the Famine Times, you know, as well. ‘Tis brilliant.
S: I’ve heard of it, but I’ve no car, so I can’t get in there. But I’ve heard it’s fantastic. There’s a lot of interesting places in this country! I haven’t been to all of them yet.
W: But this Donoghue, he was a brilliant caravan maker as well. So we had a lot in common. He built one, and I’m almost sure it went to the States, United States of America. Beautiful! Mahogany, you know. Mine would be generally all pine, you know. Very traditional, very useful. The mahogany one is a bit heavier.
S: I would imagine it is, yeah.
W: But you see you don’t – the trade in it was like boat building. You made them practical, not for the looks. There’s a bit of history in Travelling People, I suppose. It’s a sad thing to see that there is no Travellers [travelling], anymore.
S: That didn’t just happen!
W: It was a forceful thing, very forced. You go to any other part of the world today, and you can travel. I was in Australia. And you were even encouraged for to pull in! And the slogan on the sign was, “Pull in, survive and revive.”
S: You were in Australia?!
W: In Australia, yes.
S: And – Why? What were you doing in Australia? Checking it out?
W: Of course, yeah! I was two months over there. I went travelling. Outback. And up in the mountains, the dividing ranges.
S: And were you in a trailer, or were you walking…?
W: Oh, no, a camper! You wouldn’t see much of it, walking! (laughs)
S: It would be very difficult!
W: But, yeah, I was there a couple of months, travelling. But you could pull in any place. There were provisions for you no matter where you were. You can go to the UK, and it’s a very highly populated country, but you can travel in it, you’re allowed to park, even on the side of the road, If you get any reasonable, safe place, you can pull in and park. And in this country here, I do honestly believe it’s like a Communist situation in this country. It’s sort of run with a dictatorship. You’re forcefully told what to do. People had no option, you know. They brought out every sort of a law to take anything the Traveller ever cherished from him. You know, down through history they loved animals, and every right they ever had was taken from them. Even if they have land, they can lawfully go in and take animals out of the land, and take them hundreds of miles away, and impound them, and put all sorts of penalties on them. And yet you can go and commit murder and get away with it, in this country! You know, they have it so backwards! There’s nothing wrong, even in the governments themselves, they can do what they like, they can do any sort of corruption and it’s overlooked, it’s swept under the carpet. It costs millions to dig into it, and then it’s left.
S: One billion is the latest figure on that tribunal on politicians.
W: And it’s left. They do nothing about it. It’s not right. They do nothing about it when they do find out. It’s really sick. Like, there’s so much corruption! I never knew, years ago, what white collar crime was.
S: (laughs) You know it now!
W: I know it now.
S: It’s respectable crime, done by respectable people.
W: It’s respectable crime, and it’s like you can have a licence to commit it.
S: Because the people committing white collar crime are the people who basically make the laws. They do get away with it.
W: And it goes for all sorts of ones that can be above the law, from the police force even to doctors and the medical profession. But I’ve known crimes to be committed where the big difference in it – I wouldn’t know much about this situation, but I’ve looked into why these things happen. A crime committed in the UK where you could get maybe five or seven year in gaol for it, and you’re not even brought up in court for it here. I’ve seen that happen. Very same crime. I knew accidents to happen here, where someone would be driving, and someone would get killed in a car and they’re not even brought up to court. I’ve seen that happen here. Someone literally got killed, and court wasn’t even mentioned. I see the same thing with relations of Elizabeth’s in England. This little girl was driving, young woman, and there was a child killed in a crash, and she was brought to court. But she got seven year in gaol for it!
S: Well, that seems reasonable to me. If you kill someone, you should go to prison!
W: Yeah! That’s what I’m saying, like! I’m not condoning this! But they look at it – we’re after seeing several bad crimes committed, here.
S: Remember I live in Clondalkin. I see bad crime every day.
W: But even when these ones are brought up, the policemen’s hands are tied, because –
S: They don’t make the decisions, though. They just bring them up.
W: Bring them up to court. And they’re let loose, or bound to the peace for a year or so.
S: Just last week I was looking at one of these free morning papers, and there was a piece about a sixteen-year old who was caught breaking and entering. Sixteen year old heroin addict, in Clondalkin, who had forty-seven! previous convictions. And I thought, he’s only sixteen! He’s a heroin addict! He has forty-seven previous convictions! My God! At some point you have to put him in gaol, and stop him, you know?
W: But that’s another point. In England, there was a couple of kids – which was a horrible thing to happen. They bring this little boy on the railway – you remember that?
S: I remember that.
W: They got gaol. They were let out. Eventually they were let out, which was right, and they were shipped to a different part, because their lives would be in danger. They were only childer theirself! But in this country they wouldn’t have got an hour in gaol: they were too young. They just can’t do nothing to juniors, or teenagers.
S: Well, there is some kind of facilities for teenagers, though whether they learn anything, I don’t know. But I was really horrified. A sixteen year old with forty-seven previous convictions!
W: What is he going to be when he’s twenty years old?
S: It is terrifying
W: But we’re living in a sick world, really and truly. There’s old people living in the country and they’re afraid to lie down at night time.
S: That really is beyond sick, isn’t it? That anybody would attack a helpless old person.
W: And you know, if they do take the law in their own hands – that’s what I mean, there is no real law and order here. There’s a little bit, but it’s not substantial.
S: So what’s your take on the Padraig Nally case . then?
W: Well, in a sense, he did commit murder. Because I can explain why I think he committed murder. He could have give him a beating, he could have shot him, and left him off alive. But he went back and reloaded the gun and he killed him when he was no threat to him. He took his life when he was no threat to him.
S: I agree with you, yeah.
W: I’d put down that as murder. I would agree with him the first time, what he done. And it would have been a great caution for any other one that would ever come to rob that old man again. He got an awful time, that old man.
S: Oh, he did!
W: You know, you have to be fair about it. He got a terrible time.
G: Yeah, but if he had to give him a good beating, and leave him his life!
W: He should have stopped when he shot him!
S: Did you see the documentary on him? Where he was interviewed?
S: It was very scary, because it was clear that the man was not thinking straight. His eyes were kind of red.
W: He didn’t sleep, did he?
S: He didn’t sleep! He hadn’t slept for months! He used to spend full days sitting in that hut with his gun, waiting for “them” to come. He was not well! Partly because he wasn’t sleeping, and partly because he felt so threatened. And if I had been his lawyer I would have said, ‘Look, this guy was not capable of making a rational decision at the time.’ I would have pleaded, whatever, instability, because he clearly wasn’t stable at all.
W: You see, that old guy, even today, he’s finished with. He can’t go back to living in that house. You know that.
S: Are you sure? I think he is!
W: Well if he is he has someone with him.
S: Well, “the community” rallied around him, anyway.
W: But you could reason why he done that. Because you’ve another incident that happened somewhere in the Dublin area, there was Travelling People went in and they robbed this old guy. And they went back –
S: Around the Dublin area?
W: Yes, a few year ago. Maybe in the Wicklow…? Or Dublin. In that area.
S: Okay, but, Greater Dublin. Because it’s usually rural places.
W: Yes. He hadn’t a whole lot to take, I wouldn’t say he had a whole lot of money or anything, but they took his old television, any old bits of, you know.
S: They’d take whatever he had.
W: Yeah. Yeah. They couldn’t be worth a whole lot, like, but they went to take it off him. So eventually be got a bit sore about it. So the son and the son in law of Travelling People who went to rob and – I’m not sure whether the old guy done it, that was getting robbed, or whether it was some of his neighbours. But they shot the son in law dead.
S: They shot the robber?
W: They shot the robber, yeah. Like, you could see why they done that, you know, really and truly. And in another incident, there was this old couple – apparently it was in a housing estate, and they were getting robbed regular. And one of the neighbours said – these poor people couldn’t sleep at night. “Youse go to bed,” he says, “I’ll stay awake all night, I’ll look after you. ” The old couple went to bed, and an intruder broke in anyhow. Of course, he [the neighbour] was sitting on the stairs with a gun. You might remember that!
S: I don’t remember it at all! Was it in Dublin?
W: In Dublin! So he [the intruder] made a run for it, but he knew the game was up. And your man shot him. He was got dead the next morning out on the grass.
G: Was he a Traveller, or a settled…?
W: He wasn’t! No, no. He wasn’t a Traveller. He wasn’t a Traveller at all!
S: Thank God! (laughs)
W: But I would say he was a hero, the guy that done it, and you wouldn’t blame – He was only right! And these people that hassle old people, they should be made – when the law won’t do it.
G: Well, I don’t go in for the taking of life in any sense. But they should be put away where they can’t do harm again.
W: But the point I’m making is, when there is no law for them –
S: When the law doesn’t work effectively, it brings the law into disrepute. It always amazed me, though, as to how Travellers were involved in this kind of stuff, because Travellers more than country people would tend to have a huge respect for older people. And it’s just, God! This doesn’t make sense!
W: I can see your point.
S: It’s doubly shocking, when it’s Travellers, because Travellers more so than country people have real, genuine respect for age.
W: Well, in any walk of life, or in any community, or in any part of the world, you will get a percentage of people – I don’t care what their background, you will get that percentage. There’s a little town here, I don’t know, maybe seven or eight thousand people. There’s a percentage of people here would do anything.
S: Oh, yeah!
W: You go to Dublin – if you get three per cent here, in New Ross, that will do anything, up to murder or anything –
S: Three per cent in a thousand people is only thirty people. If you’ve three per cent in ten thousand people, you’re up to three hundred… (laughs)
W: I don’t know if you’d agree with that.
S: It’s maths. I agree completely. I couldn’t agree more.
W: It’s the same with Travelling People. Local [non-Traveller] people –
S: It’s human beings generally. But still, it’s a double shock, with Travellers.
W: What baffles me in this country is we’re higher [in oil dependency? greenhouse gas emissions per person?] than any other part of the world, than any other European – did you know that?
S: It’s been in the papers a lot recently, because it’s Green Week. We’re not doing too well at all, it’s true.
W: Do you know where they get this figure from? We are producing probably one tenth of a percent of what the UK is, you know, in a sense, but it’s per person that – is that a fair statistic, I wonder? It’s something to think about! (laughs)
S: It is something to think about, because there is only one planet, in fairness.
W: I’m not saying it’s right, but –
S: And another thing that made me think an awful lot, over the last week, because of Green Week: they were saying that the greater Dublin area is now spread out as nearly as big as Los Angeles, with a quarter of the population. and that Irish people drive on average about 50% more than French people, travel more by car, because of the way it’s all spread out now, and the number of people who’d be living here, even as far as New Ross, and commuting up to Dublin. So that’s what we’re doing, that’s the cause of the pollution, you know?
W: But if you went to Dublin this minute – how would you like to ride a bike in Dublin?
S: Not in Dublin! No, no, no! I respect my life too much.
W: But go to any other part of the world – go to Hong Kong, and you’ve got a bicycle road!
S: Have you been to Holland? you’ve got the road, the bicycle road, and the footpath. THere’s no such thing as a road that doesn’t also have a bicycle road. Everyone’s on bicycles!
W: And wouldn’t you think that people today, that’s health conscious, they’d love to ride bicycles!
S: Of course they would!
G: Could they not use the bus?
S: It depends on where you’re going. I use the bus. I don’t have a car.
W: But, the world really is – they’re up about the pollution, and the ozone layer, and you know, according to he Scriptures, they can never do anything about it. Man can’t.
S: But man caused it! (laughs)
W: He did, yeah, But it’s like letting off one of them nuclear bombs – once it’s out, you can’t take it back. You can cut down, but it’s not going to make any difference. He didn’t, maybe, intentionally, but he gave it no consideration, for to destroy the earth, you know. And even thousands of years ago, it was put in the Bible, that God would bring to ruin those ruining the earth.
S: I wish he would just narrow it down to them, because I’m innocent. I’m doing nothing to ruin the earth. I recycle everything, I don’t have a car, I swear I’m innocent. Please leave my little patch alone! It’s not going to work that way.
G: Well, the earth will never be destroyed anyway, because Almighty God won’t allow it. He have a purpose for the earth.
S: Well. the earth being destroyed is one thing. The earth being made difficult to live on is another.
W: But He made it for the good od mankind, But not for the ones that’s destroying it. I know you could reason – every time I sit in a car, every time I light that fire, you’re contributing. But that’s not the big factor, here. You take – in China today – I’m not sure if it’s every seven days, there’s a coal powered power plant opening up in China. Fuelled by coal, which is a very bad pollutant, isn’t it? You take the rest of the world, I mean, it is a time bomb, isn’t it, this nuclear thing? It’s meant to be the cleanest so far –
S: Ah, ha ha!
W: It is a time bomb. It only takes one of these guys from the Eastern part of the world to cause an accident there. Its not nice to think about it. There’s people will do that, if they can get a plane, crash into one of them, cause devastation.
S: You’re cheering me right up! But it’s true, They’re genuine worries.
W: They’re genuine worries, yeah. It’s only very lately they’ve given any consideration to cleaning up.
S: They’re not willing to cut back at all. Even here in the last week or so the government as saying let’s encourage people to use these particular cars that are less – and the sellers said, No no, people won’t buy them, they don’t like them. Well the obvious thing is to – the same as the plastic bag tax – stop producing the ones that are bad and only produce the ones that are good, then people will have no choice. Let’s stop letting people make terrible bad choices.
W: When you stop to think about it, every aeroplane that takes off from Shannon airport: hundreds of tonnes of fuel! How many cars?
S: And we all fly!
W: Think about it! Even the ships out on the water. The dirt that they cause is unbelievable… I was often out there at Swords – I think there’s a plane every three minutes, and hundreds of tonnes of fuel going into the sky, into the atmosphere.
G: You see, that wasn’t the case long ago, because there was very few planes, like there was very few cars. There was the horse.
S: The horse is a great animal. It eats grass –
G: And he gave you benefit for the roses! (Laughs)
S: Absolutely! Very diplomatically put. Recycled the same grass. I often wonder – I don’t know whether it’s because of this natural Irish pessimism, but I often wonder how long the bubble is is going to last, and at what point it’s just going to stop and we’ll all have to go back to living on, just, you know – horses and fires and…
W: You haven’t very long to wait.
S: I suspect that this thing of being able to transport the way people are doing, you know, weekends in New York and all this kind of stuff – you know, no one needs that.
G: You can live without it, can’t you?
END TAPE TWO SIDE ONE
TAPE TWO SIDE TWO
S: … Another name that didn’t come up was Cawley. Are you related to the Cawleys at all?
W: Not at all. But, when you say at – her brother is married to a Cawley!
S: But otherwise, it didn’t come up.
W: No. It’s more or less in the future, if you like: you can’t register it back a bit. And another name, a few years ago, was Driscolls, the Connors mixing up with Driscolls as well.
S: Depends on where, though. Driscolls are fairly confined to Cork.
W: That’s right, yeah. But in Cork, now, there’s a good few Connorses as all. Now. me son, he got married to a Dunne.
S: Yes, Lulu. I was at the wedding. But I don’t know if she’s related to the Dunnes in Cork.
W: Oh, she is! They’re brothers.
S: That’s right! So they are!
W: And the old Pecker Dunne would be a relation of hers – a cousin. I knew the Pecker’s father and mother, I knew his uncle Michael.
S: He is one amazing looking guy and he now lives in… someplace in County Clare.
W: That’s right. He’s getting on. Great old character, like. He’d another brother, and the way I remember him is, I’d be about the same age as his younger brother. I never could think of his name. Never! Because I’m talking about fifty years ago, here in Wexford. They stayed out in Ballynaboola.
S: Where’s Ballynaboola?
W: Just out on the Wexford Road, from the town. But the last place I see Pecker was down on the quay there, in New Ross.
S: Was he busking?
W: He was. Well, not when I see him, but he used to go to some local pubs around and play his music. He wasn’t busking on the streets, as such, but in some pubs, he’d get a bit of a contract, for a couple of nights a week.
S: And would you class the Dunnes as being, kind of, the same kind of Travellers as Connorses? Or would they be different in some way?
W: I travelled with them in England, with the Dunnes. And in England, after I being married, myself and Elizabeth, we travelled a lot with Old Michael Dunne and his family. There’s some of his family married in with the Carthys.
S: There’s another name! Very big name in Tipperary.
W: Then Frankie Dunne, that’s Lulu’s dad, he was married to a Boswell, Susie Boswell.
Gypsies, yeah. Lovely family. We used to travel with them as well.
S: That’s right! Lulu’s mother is a Boswell! I keep forgetting. I bump into her in the shops all the time, because she lives near me.
W: They were probably married a little while before myself and Elizabeth. We were married in ’62. We were married in Rotherham, outside Sheffield. We met in London. And the amazing thing about it: she was originally from Rosbercon, over the bridge [from here], Elizabeth, and we never met in this country! And I knew her father! Isn’t that amazing?
S: How could you not have met? You were in the same… village! New Ross is a village!
W: But I didn’t live here at the time. We were more or less down in Wexford. But we met in London, weren’t it? About… 1958 I think, or ’57.
S: You put off getting married for a while, then. Were you gently pushed together?
W: Oh, no no no! It was our own decision. And we were married in Rotherham in ’62. Ah, sure… It was a different country that time.
S: It was a different world! It’s half a century ago. Half a century! Of course it was different.
W: People won’t talk about it today, but this was a poverty-stricken part of the world! The farmers had nothing! They’d plough a bit of land with a couple of old middling horses, a mule and a jennet, or whatever. There was very little … I honestly believe, when the country became a Free State – I wouldn’t know pretend to know anything about politics, or very little – but when the country became a Free State, I’m sure that England put sanctions against Ireland.
S: They did in the Economic War, definitely. That’s why it was called the Economic War. You’re not making this up!
W: I never heard that word.
S: The Economic War happened when De Valera said he was going to stop paying them compensation for the fact that we got our own land back, and he was gong to stop letting the English use the Treaty Ports. And in retaliation, the English said they wouldn’t take any of our exports. Given that the Irish economy, for hundreds of years, had been based purely on what the English needed, like Cuba only produced sugar to sell to Spain, and then when you couldn’t sell it, what do you do? That was what happened to the Irish economy.
W: It was a springboard then for emigration to the United States of America, to Germany, and to the UK. There was a lot of young boys and girls went to England that fared off very badly. You know, they left good homes and they were completely destroyed, some of them. I was in Manchester – this is years ago, and I was working – fairly slave labour if you like. But you had a reasonable standard –
S: Working at what?
W: I worked in steel factories, I worked on the buildings…
S: Okay, so you went over at the usual Irish navvy thing. And were you there with your family?
W: No, no! I was only seventeen years old when I went over.
S: You went over on your own!
S: Had you anybody over there belonging to you?
W: Not at all!
S: You were completely on your own, at seventeen!!
W: I went over – I stood on the station in Cardiff and I looked – I didn’t eve know what reasonable digs was. I didn’t know how I could look for work here. But I had a few bob on me, I was always fairly prepared. I wasn’t going to –
S: But how prepared can you be, at seventeen?
W: I looked that direction, I didn’t like the look of it. I looked the other direction, so I walked back this way.
S: Were you able to read the signs?
W: I was, but I wasn’t great at it. I went to a place called Campden in Cardiff, and I met this lady from Wexford, that knew me. And she said, ‘Lookit,’ she said, ‘there’s a couple of guys getting bed and breakfast in such and such a street.’ I went down there. The old lady came out, Mrs Blaa was her name. But I couldn’t understand, you know the way –
S: The Welsh talk?
W: I thought she said fifteen pound, but she said it was fifty shillings anyway, for full board and lodgings that time. I paid her straightaway. I had a couple of old suitcases, brought them up. I had a suit of clothes, and other, working-type gear. I was guessing at what I might need, and what I wouldn’t. The guys come in at dinner time that evening, sat around the table, there was maybe seven or eight working guys, they were all nice guys. That time there were no rough ones, I never came across them, if there were. ‘Where youse are working,’ says I, ‘do you think there’d be any vacancies?”, and they all had suggestions.
S: What year was this?
S: I’m impressed. You realise it’s – fifty three years ago! Go on!
W: Next day I went to this building site, but on the way back there was guys working on the road – Corporation. I approached this old Welsh guy and asked him, ‘I’m looking for some type of work,’ says I, ‘and I have board and lodgings.’ He gave me some sort of a note to go into an office, and start the next day, working, putting in roads, concrete roads. Using a jackhammer. I was only a young fellow, but I was well able for it. Worked there for a while, and got on very well with it. And then a better job come up, working very high up, seventy to a hundred feet on some buildings. But we packed in that. We were looking for tuppence, or a penny and a ha’penny, extra an hour. We were getting three and ninepence ha’penny an hour. And you know –
S: I remember the old money! But that’s not much.
W: We were looking for three and tenpence, or something like that. And they wouldn’t give it to us. They said they could get steeplejacks for the money. So the old guy who was with us said, ‘Let them get their steeplejacks!’ So we refused to go on high buildings, and we worked on the ground. And they offered it to us after that, but we wouldn’t take it! (laughs)
S: Yes, brother! Yes!
W: I went from there down to the valleys, and I was in the valleys, I think, for about eighteen months.
S: Doing what?
W: There were factories built, new factories, but we were putting in all the concrete platforms for machinery. It was a steelworks, RTBs, Richard Thomas and Baldwins. I hardly seen the daylight. I seen it five times in that eighteen months. I worked all night, and I slept all day.
S: But it builds character!
W: The summer came around, anyhow, and I packed up the job, and I went to Manchester, then I went to Birmingham for a bit, didn’t like Birmingham, I went back to Manchester, and I went from Manchester to London. Spent a good while around London. I was up around Leeds, I was in several cities like Northampton, Nottingham, up to Darlington, up near Scotland, back down to Southampton – you know, I see an awful lot, working in different – I wasn’t in Scotland.
S: But England and Wales both.
W: Oh, yes. I loved Wales at that time. Got on very well with the British people, with all the British people, to be honest. Went to London eventually, took to the road, the situation come up doing tarmac and stuff like that.
S: So you were back to working as a Traveller. But it’s interesting – you went completely on your own, at seventeen! When you think about it now – seventeen is a baby!
W: I shudder to think! I wonder did you ever heard tell of a place in Cardiff called Tiger Bay?
S: I have, because Shirley Bassey is from Tiger Bay.
W: That’s correct. Down on the docks. I lived down there for a long time.
S: A rough place, was it?
W: And do you know, I’ve heard that. But I never, ever was confronted in any form or way. I didn’t see anything wrong. And I’ll tell you, a very honest thing was done for me down there. There was a cousin of mine come over, a younger guy nor me, and I got him work. Worked together. He’d no money. I had a few pound saved up, I used to carry it with me. Because you could be called up for the army that time, you were forced into the army. Did you know that? In the ’50s.
S: I didn’t know that. This would be the British army, off defending the empire in various places.
W: Well me mother had a lot of people that died in the last world war, and in the first world war, her father was in the first world war, 1914, and she had cousins died, both in that war, and…
S: Her father – your grandfather?
W: Yes, old Jack Cash.
S: That would be the British army.
W: Oh yes, it was all British, it was before independence. But I’d say it would have killed her prematurely, if I had to go into the army. I wasn’t bothered about it, it would have been excitement for me, but!
S: Yes, when you’re very young, you’re stupid that way, and you think armies are exciting.
W: But anyway I was summonsed, but I got away, changed me name, run back to Ireland for a few days, go back [to Britain] to a different part of the country, get a new set of documents – you didn’t need a birth certificate to register in the country at the time.
S: What did you need at the time?
W: You needed nothing, only go in and say, “I’m so and so”. Will Brown, Willie Brown, whatever I like. I’d always use me first name.
S: So that was the end of you being in Wales, anyway.
W: In Wales, yeah. I was nearly being had even after that. They were very clever!I don’t know how they managed it. But they came looking for this Will Brown on a building site once.
S: That was your name at the time?
W: There was a truck waiting for me to go for a load of cement, and we were in this big canteen, longer than the house here, it was like a big shed, that you’d go in and have your tea in. ‘Is Bill Brown here?” says this very official-looking guy. I put two and two together straightaway, and I pointed down to the other end of the shed, to another door going out. It was a big site, you know? He went looking for Bill Brown. I was having my cup of tea, but I left it. I went out and got in the truck, and I said to the driver, “I want to get cigarettes, Gerry”. “You don’t smoke!” he said to me. “I’m getting them for a friend of mine,” says I. He pulled out his newspaper, started reading. I don’t know how long he was waiting there – but I was gone! (laughs) I went back and picked up me few things where I was living.
S: But it must have been terrible lonely. My son is nearly twenty four, and he’s a baby. When you think of a seventeen year old… !
W: I was a baby! I shudder to think of what my son would do…
S: You do shudder, don’t you? You were completely on your own, in a strange country…
W: Determination is a powerful tool. If you’re determined to do something… A guy came over from Wexford, he was one of the Connors of Wexford. He was much older than me, a married man with kids, but still a young man, he could be thirty. I was after being back, I could have been about eighteen or nineteen. ‘You’re going over to England, Willie?’ says he. ‘I’m going to Manchester,’ says I, ‘I just came back for a couple of weeks to see me parents.’ “I’ve a brother in Manchester,” he says, “he’s living in Oldham, do you know it?” “I know it well,” says I. He said, “Would you mind if I went over with you?” “No problem!” says I, “You can do a bit of work over there, even if it’s only a few weeks, it’ll pay your expenses.’ He come over, got work straightaway in the British Steel on the Oldham Road, and worked away. But he was in a different part of the factory than I was.
S: But you worked in the same factory?
W: Same factory. He come up at break time to me and he was crying. This was a tough guy! I just realised then, was I wrong. “Willie,” he said, “what are we doing here? We’d be better home,” he said. He was lonely! But this was a tough guy!
S: He’d left children at home!
W: Well, maybe that was a lot of it, too. “But,” says I, “stick it out for a week or two,” says I, “get back your expenses.” And he had no money. So I pleaded with him – he stayed for a few days. ‘I’ll get a sub, and whatever I get, you can have it. It’ll pay your fare home, at least.” And I got him to stay for the couple of days. He caught me by the hand at the station. “Please, Willie,” he said, “come home.” He was even lonely to go home on his own! This was a seasoned man, with a reputation of being a tough guy.
S: Soft centre.
W: I was still in the same room where we were, I went back up into that room, and I often wondered – I never felt any loneliness.
S: You’re obviously a very self-sufficient person.
W: Went up, went to bed, got up the following morning and I went to work the same as usual. And I was wondering how the big softy he was…
S: Ah, well. Kids will do that to you!
W: He said to me, “Come home with me, Willie, please!” But I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t give it to anyone to say that I turned around, when I’m doing something, to give in.
S: And what age were you when you finally met up with this lovely lady here?
W: I don’t know what age she was, but I was about twenty! (all laugh)
S: Still a secret!
W: I think she had the wrong papers with her!
G: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!
W: It was about in ’58, or ’59.
G: Yeah – ’58. No! ’60! We were married in ’62! Two years.
No! It would’ve been more – I left Manchester and did some travelling when I went to London.
G: You were two years travelling before I met you, then.
S: After all the time you spent working on the buildings, and in the steel mill and al the rest of it, then you went down to London, and then you took up the Travelling way of life? You were self-employed?
W: Well, I took up the Travelling way of life from Manchester, if you like. I got a big old truck and a caravan. That time you could travel in freedom. In the UK you can still travel. But it was much quieter.
S: It’s much harder too! And were you reared to that? Had you travelled as a young person?
W: In this country I never travelled – I was always brought up as a Traveller, I remember going through Galway years ago, travelled a bit of the south of Ireland –
S: But you had a base?
W: Well, that was in later years as well, I’d say it could have been – I was in England when they bought the old house, down in Ballykillan.
S: The reason I ask is because it’s a different way of earning a living, and I just wonder how people adjust from one to the other. Because living a Traveller way of life, you have to be more on your toes. It’s not the same as going in, clocking in, clocking out. There’s a lot more challenges to the Traveller way of life, and I think it would be very difficult to do unless you’d been reared to it. You have to know how to see the opportunity, jump on the opportunity – it’s harder.
W: I suppose – when I left this country, I was only seventeen. Up until then, I’d worked with farmers, local farmers, doing a bit of work. There was side things. Like, scrap was an option as well, copper or brass. And then – after the wartime, old feathers, like, feather ticks, beds, horsehair, things like that.
G: Scrap in general.
S: It’s now called recycling.
W: Yes! But that was widely done. Horsehair was a brilliant thing. They used to use it – it was before artificial fibres, like. What they put in paintbrushes, collars for the horses, mattresses – but recycling was was a big thing here, just the same, you know.
S: It just wasn’t called recycling at the time.
W: Me parents and me brothers, they were horsemen. I wasn’t a horse man, but me brothers and me father was. Decent horsemen. And old donkeys and things like that. One of me brothers was a brilliant tinsmith. None of the rest of us followed that up. I could do it, but I never followed it up, you know?
S: ’50s and ’60s, that was already on the way out.
W: But later on, then, I could do an awful lot with copperwork. What I used to do for local people in the County Wexford, here, is to build poitín [“moonshine”] stills.
S: (laughs) Do they make poitín in Wexford!? I thought it was only the West, Connemara.
W: (laughs) ‘Twas all over Ireland! In Dublin!!
G: Are you from Connemara, yeah?
S: No, but I lived in Connemara. And, by God, poitín would be a big thing. But there was NO other way of making a living there.
W: When I gave it up, there was lads coming here to me till a few year ago. And he even pulled the chequebook out, and wanted a still made. “No,” I said, “I wouldn’t make it anymore.” Because I knew it was wrong.
S: Wrong, and illegal!
W: Illegal! That’s the problem with it. He says, “If it’s the money…?” “No,” says I. And he put out his chequebook on the yoke, he says, “You make it for me, and you can mark it there, what it is.”
S: A blank cheque!
W: Says I, “Not for – anything!” Because it was illegal. I wouldn’t get into trouble over it –
S: You might! It’s very difficult to produce a still and say that you didn’t know what it was gong to be used for. (laughs)
W: I could make distilled water out of it! There’s no law in the world that says you can’t make distilled water!
G: Or purify sea water!
S: Do you know those things were made first for making perfume? It was the Arabs who invented them, for making perfume. That’s a little tourguide thing coming out, but that is true. It took the Irish…! (all laugh)
G: For medicinal purposes only! [all laugh]
S: For medicinal purposes only – take no pleasure!
W: Well, I heard an old chap, he was a friend of mine, he used to make poitín, and he often asked me, “Can you help me out,” he says, “at making it?” He used to always make it! He got gaol over of it several times, but he still made it. I was only a [young] chap at the time! So eventually anyhow I thought of it – “I could make you a better thing than that, you know.” And I made a beautiful still.
G: We saw it on the papers years later.
S [laughs] When the Guards were smashing it!
W: I made one for his son. And the son never could – he wouldn’t be any way discrete about having a still.
S: Not the right person to have one, so.
W: Yeah. He didn’t make any secret that he was making poitín. The police got his still, took all his utensils. And you know, I see the still on the paper, and I after making it! Do you remember that?
S: Well, that’s the first I’ve heard of poitín in the County Wexford. That’s an eye-opener for me. And what did they make the poitín out of?
W: Well, I was often with him. Whiskey, or poitín, is made from – there’s several things you can put into it. But if you only put sugar and yeast, and maybe a bit of syrup. And when that’s fermented, you put it into the still. And it’s the vapour off of the wash that comes up through the worm, there’s a coil gong down in a barrel of cold water. And they put it back for second go, maybe a third. And you’re left with very pure, high content.
G: But do it have some kick!
S: For medicinal purposes, it works!
W: But you mentioned Connemara – we were in Connemara, went down with the kids a few year ago, didn’t we, with an old caravan, motoring.
S: A few year ago is how many? When the kids were kids? Johnny is thirty two tomorrow! So it’s more than a few year ago since he was a lad.
He was eleven, twelve year old when we were down there.
END TAPE TWO SIDE TWO
TAPE THREE SIDE ONE
S: … Do you know of any other Travellers who are Witnesses?
W: I knew one family from the North of Ireland. The wife was a Witness, the husband wasn’t. They used to come to meetings here. But there’s a couple – Willie Young and the wife, they’re Witnesses.
S: Are they Travellers? Youngs?
W: They are, yeah.
S I never came across that name!
W: I was in England and I knew another family, from the West of Ireland, Youngs!
S: Really! That name has not come up ever before, I don’t think.
W: It’s a very rare one, but I think they probably took to the road, or he did, and he got married, probably, to a – that often happens.
You’re tired now, aren’t you?
G: Will I show you where your bed is?
S: Yes, I’m afraid so. I’m running out of steam…!
END OF RECORDING