McCaughey, Michael, 1990, Around Trillick Way :
Ó Trillick Historical Society : used by kind permission of Michael McCaughey

Customs and Way of Life

It can be quite fascinating to sit back and look at what life was like at the turn of the century as compared with to-day. Yet if you take away what mass-production and mass-media have given us and compare skills, trades and local self-sufficiency to-day with what our forefathers were doing a hundred years ago, maybe we don't walk so tall after all. If you look at the use we make of what we have or the way we signpost the road of life, as compared with the markers put down in centuries gone by, we might have a better appreciation of what was handed on to us. A quick look through the townlands summary gives an idea of the wide-ranging skills which were to be found in every locality. No matter what tool or implement you wanted made or what skilled job you wanted done, the expert was close by. The stone mason did an excellent job with local stone and lime mortar, the thatcher could roof a palace with straw or rushes, creels and baskets were entwined to perfection from local sally rods, wooden buckets and barrels were made by the cooper and if it was a cart or harness you wanted, you had a choice of makers within the parish, with Mickey McCusker, a journeyman saddler, prepared to do the job at your own house. Carpenters there were in abundance and Hugh McGurren of Girgadis made everything from a cradle to high-class furniture. Campbells of Rosnareen made spades and clogs and you even had a choice of watchmakers with Johnny McCaughey and John McAloon. Josie McElholm was certainly the most gifted man of his time. Besides being an eminent teacher, even to the extent of preparing mature students for matriculation examinations, he was able to build sheds, make coffins, operate on sick animals or make fiddles. Indeed, he was able to take the lead or deal with any emergency in any activity involving the educational, agricultural or social life of the countryside and was always ready for the challenge to do so.

Besides shoeing the horses and pulling the odd tooth, the blacksmith could make almost any farm implement and his yearly shoeing of the wheels gave the farmer trouble-free carting. In those days when a vet was unheard of or when you would dress up if you had to go to the chemist shop, the local animal doctor was the most valued man in the community. You never questioned his judgement but followed his advice to the letter. The various routine jobs he did are better imagined than described but the day he killed the pigs was really one to remember, because the pig's bladder would mean a new ball for school the next day. People like Dick Edwards, Phil McQuaide, Packie Parry, Pat Boyle, Jimmy Keenan and Paddy Maguire rendered an invaluable service to the community, in applying a skill which they had perfected through their own initiative. Dressmakers and shoemakers were to be found in every locality and even if tailors were not so plentiful, McCanns of Liffer and McGrades of Knocknagor dressed generations of men from this and adjoining parishes in the best of style. Adjoining the homestead, every haggard had its line of well-built, neatly thatched stacks of hay and corn and a day at the mill left you with a cart load of feeding meal and oatmeal home with you. Every household awoke to the crowing of the rooster at daybreak and many a sturdy farmer had the choice of a hen, duck or turkey egg for his breakfast. The stack of turf against the gable wall ensured winter warmth and 'with the ould turf fire and the floor swept clean', there was comfort and contentment in the humble but happy abode.

The pick and spade were replaced by the plough and harrow, only to be submerged under the tractor and mechanical digger. The three-man team in the bog, with the cutter a man of rare skill, has been replaced by a machine which, if Colmcille had dared to prophecy its coming, he would surely have described as making sausages from the black pig. It was an achievement and a sign of being grown up to be able to milk a cow; now you slip on four nozzles, turn on 'Top of the Pops' and the milk flows. The long winter nights spent in the boiling house waiting for the big pot of potatoes to boil for the feeding, are like nightmares from the past and where have all the hurricane and carbide lamps gone? They talk of free range eggs as if they had just come from outer space, forgetting that our grandmothers walked over more of them in the turf mould than we will ever see. There are few of us who didn't bring the basket of eggs to the shop and get enough for them to pay for a basket of groceries. Sunlight and lifebuoy soaps have been pushed aside and as women (men too, for that matter) persisted in the impossible task of improving on the makers making, they developed the aerosol spray which bathes them in fragrance but destroys their world. The pastimes which people used to be up to, like raiding orchards or poaching salmon, hold no attraction nowadays. Even thirty years ago there were some excellent gaff and lamp men around, who got many a fine yield for a night's work. I liked the story of the man who was wading up the river on his poaching mission and, in the light of the moon, could see the bailiff coming towards him. Knowing that the bailiff was walking right into a swamp, the poacher quietly circled around him, took off his gear and, as the bailiff cried out for help, he shouted to him, "I would pull you out but I haven't got a pair of wellingtons." Raiding orchards was indulged in by any young lad worth his salt and a nice home-grown apple was always welcome. Jim McAnespie used tell about the man who was going coortin' and took with him a bag of the finest apples in his orchard, to treat the mother-in-law. Not wishing to show off too much, he left the bag of apples on the carrier of the bicycle at the side of the house and when the mother-in-law started to make the tea, he slipped out and returned triumphantly with his apples. The only trouble was that some of the good boys, who had 'read' the situation, had in the meantime taken out the apples and replaced them with nice fresh potatoes.

There used to be a thicket on every farm where you could gather an abundance of nuts for halloween. Now there are no nuts because the bushes are gone, flattened in the development of land for increased production, the fruits of which will be stored in Common Market food mountains while people in the other half of the world die of starvation. The arrival of decirnalisation meant the death of the old halfpenny but worse still, it meant the demise of the threepenny-bit. We couldn't have luck after that because the threepenny bit under the Infant of Prague statue had kept the wolf from the door for years. The Christmas parcel from America was another relic of the past. Almost every family had a relative in America and that Christmas parcel was the highlight of the season. Like the bright lad that John O'Brien (Father Hartigan) wrote about, who knew that Christmas Day was the "Day before the races in Tangmalangaloo", so the arrival of the parcel from America was the sure sign for many of us that Christmas really was coming. Of course, the postman would wait until the parcel was opened, just so that he would have the story right. Even a letter from America was something for general digestion and the story was told of the postman who sipped his tea as the woman of the house read out her daughter's letter, which said that by the time she'd be writing again, she would be able to tell them when she'd be coming home. As the postman continued his rounds, he was able to tell the neighbours the good news that Maggie's daughter was "coming home in the next letter".

Naturally many of our happiest memories are connected with Christmas. The seven o'clock Mass on Christmas morning, the road 'black' with people walking, the lights in the windows, with Gallagher's light on Drumdran hill visible all the way from Trillick to Magheralough. Anyone who had got anything new for Christmas would be wearing it that morning and even if it was only a new hankie, you made as much fuss as possible when taking it out to kneel on. It was one of the few occasions on which everyone would be receiving, extra strongs were everywhere and there was a general feeling of goodwill and wellbeing. The precious turkeys, reared so caringly on mashed nettles and fattened to peak in December, would guarantee a Christmas present for everyone, along with the apple and bar of chocolate, leaving smiling happy faces around the Christmas dinner table for the big feast of the year. Christmas Day and the Christmas dinner provide happy memories for us all, not only because it was one day when you could eat 'till you were full (even if you didn't know you were full until it was too late) but because it was a day when we all pulled our weight to make it one to remember. Even simple things could make it memorable and, while it might only be a fire in the room or the visit of or to a neighbour or a one-hour 'round the fire' programme on the radio that night, we were happy to say "thank you Lord for a lovely day". I remember attending the funeral in Killarney of a very close friend of mine a few years ago and as we chatted afterwards, my friend said the thing he would miss most about his father was his saying grace before the Christmas dinner and how he used to add "go mbeirimid beo ag an am seo aris" - may we all be alive this time next year.

House standards and home comforts have improved unbelievably within living memory. From mud-walled thatched cabins, without window or chimney, we have progressed to the most modern of dwellings with that most serviceable of commodities, 'all mod cons'. The open hearth and the kettle bubbling on the crook are gone and what was in the barrel at the door is now on tap. The cricket that did its nightly patrol around the fireplace at rosary time is no longer to be seen and must have changed species. It was said when bathrooms were first provided, that some people kept the coal in the bath; now with the bath, the shower and the bidet, there are more than enough receptacles for all emergencies. The variety of electrical machines for all household requirements has revolutionised the kitchen routine. Gone are the days when the cake of bread was baked in the oven over the hearth fire, with the ring of hot coals on the lid and yet such terms as fibre and roughage were unheard of in those days. The pot or oven lid was also much in demand at night and the hot lid wrapped in paper would quickly cure your cold feet. The style of dress has also changed completely. It isn't that very long ago since men wore wooden clogs in winter and some like the 'Rock man' wore putties or stripes of cloth wrapped around their trousers, while plus 4s and polished leggings adorned the well dressed man. When a man dressed for Mass on a Sunday, his best suit was black, navy or brown, his shoes were black or brown and that was that. If someone had suggested that he wear grey shoes or a green tie, he would have thrown them into the cart and landed them in, the T. and F. The flowing, ground-sweeping attire of the women must have gone into several layers and they certainly didn't die from sunburn. To see the prices being paid nowadays for what is no more than the makings of a couple of hankies by comparison, it must have cost a small fortune to dress a woman years ago. No doubt women wore the trousers then just as much as they do now but they wouldn't be seen wearing them and black was standard dress from 50 onwards. Going on a day's shopping was unheard of, you could get all you wanted in the local grocery and drapery shops and supermarkets were a space age away.

Men thought nothing of walking long distances and always set off in good time. James McGrade and John Donnelly from the Kinine area set off walking to get the train at Irvinestown for Pettigo fair. They were much too early and decided to walk on as far as Kesh and with no sign of the train coming when they reached Kesh, they walked on to Pettigo. A cattle- dealer from that area, Bob McClintock, walked to Irvinestown, got a lift on a sidecar to Ballintra fair, where he bought two heifers and walked them home through the night. From an early age, boys were introduced to a life of hard work and little to eat. Tommy McBride of Crossan had told of doing milking and feeding before going to school and then being given a slice of Indian bread for his lunch, which he would have eaten before he reached the school. He also told of his brother Gerry going to a neighbouring farmer before 5 a.m. to help him bring cattle to the fair. The farmer had a pot of potatoes boiled and ready for the breakfast and when Gerry remarked that he must have been up early, the farmer replied, "I was held back by having to go out and dig them." As Tommy said, "Man that would put you in quare humour first thing in the morning." Men took a great pride in their work and the ploughing of skilled horsemen like Thomas Maguire, Jimmy Farry, Willie Ward or Jack Hunter was a pleasure to behold. Similarly men like Pat McNulty and Patrick McGrade were experts with the scythe. Pat perfected his skill in Moorfield but he proved he could leave them all behind him in Cavanarnarra and Derrylea as well. We even had a smoke doctor and if you had a blow-down or a chimney which wasn't drawing properly, Hugh Keown of Kinine would attend to the problem with complete success.

The vast majority of people had a simple, healthy lifestyle and even if many of Father Matts 250 or so bachelors had no great regard for hygiene or etiquette, that does not seem to have shortened their lives. Owen McBride of Crossan is a prime example. He was a blacksmith and when he got up in the morning he went with his porringer to the duck pond and filled it with water. He would put a few large spoonfuls of tea and the same of sugar into the tin and put it on the fire to boil. He would liberally grease the pan, put a few large slices of bread on it and put the pan on the fire also. At this stage he would go out to the forge and light up the fire to have it ready for the day's work. On returning to the house, he would add a few slices of bacon and a few eggs to the pan, give the whole thing a few turns and down with the lot. Personal ablutions would not have been of any great consequence and Owen would work the whole day through on that sumptuous breakfast, right to the ripe old age of 97 years. He drew the old age pension for years and remembered when it was introduced by Lloyd George in 1909. Although only a pittance at the start it was greatly welcomed by the pensioners. With many records having been lost and some births never having been registered, proving your age was a problem for many. The pension was payable at seventy years of age and the authorities came up with the novel idea that anyone who was born on or before the night of the Big Wind, which was on 6 January, 1839, was entitled to the pension. Thus the night of the big wind became the birth certificate for many and anyone who could satisfy the pension officer that they remembered that night, was granted the pension. There was little else in the line of benefits for farmers then, the collapse of the Loan Fund took away a possible lending agency and he would be a brave farmer indeed who would approach a bank manager for a farm development loan in the early decades of the century.

The arrival of the Credit Union in 1958, spearheaded by that enlightened and dedicated scholar and thinker, Father Patrick Gallagher, opened a friendly door to the small investor and small borrower alike. Father Gallagher pioneered the development of the Credit Union throughout Ireland, was elected National President in 1960 and opened the World Congress of Credit Unions in New York in 1963. Johnny Corry and John Kelly look after the affairs of the Trillick branch, which has made significant progress in recent years. When Ireland entered the Common Market and substantial grants became available for farm development, banks were now eager to lend money to the farmer, while the Farmers Union and Young Farmers Clubs kept farmers well advised on developments. Thus farming advanced at an extraordinary rate, mechanisation taking much of the slavery out of the work and the gentleman farmer took his place in society. In the early 1960s, Father Seamus Shields, who had established the Swatragh Co-Operative, attended a meeting in Trillick with a view to establishing a Co-op here, but the idea lacked local financial backing. Vincent Tunney established a pig market here in the 1960s, which flourished for some years but fell away when the pig trade generally suffered a decline. Doles, benefits and supplementary allowances all combined to give the vast majority of people a reasonably comfortable standard of living. Of course, as more money went into circulation, there were more and more attractions to keep it circulating and the age-old problem of keeping up with the Jones' continued to frustrate the hard-pressed Mr. Jones. In our school days long ago, one of our favourite composition subjects was writing an autobiography and a typical one was the autobiography of an old shoe, which had started life as the best Sunday wear of a gentleman and, after travelling to all sorts of gatherings, finally ended up at the bottom of a farmyard dunghill. The autobiography of a one pound or five pound note to-day would be a fast- moving story, with many similarities in the final chapter.

Just as the civilian way of life has seen dramatic changes in the past few decades, equally sweeping changes have taken place in the practice of religion and for religious generally. It isn't all that long ago since we used to salute a priest or nun or reverently raise our caps as they passed. It is hardly because people have stopped wearing caps that the custom has ceased and it would be all the better for society if someone could cry halt to the increasing lack of respect for authority generally, so prevalent in our land to-day. The half-moon veils and flowing robes which nuns used to wear, left no more than a face outline exposed. Now, with hair flowing in the wind, they can step it out with the best and the charismatic movement has shown that they have lost none of their joie de vivre. The change from Latin to English in the Mass would have been welcomed by many a server in years gone by, although they do miss out to-day on the bell ringing. The server got more than a dozen bangs on the bell in the Latin Mass, with some throwing in a few extra for good measure, while there was the occasional uncertain lad who, every time the priest raised a hand, would give the bell a rattle in true 'also with you' spirit. The Magheralough of to-day is quite different from what it was fifty or more years ago. It is hard to imagine that there used to be dozens of traps there, stables for the horses, hundreds of bicycles and about half a dozen cars. Many of the older people, when seeing a car coming, would face into the ditch until it had passed, obviously believing that it was powered by the devil. The most welcome thing about church services to-day is that people have no difficulty in following services in all churches and do so with enthusiasm, especially in Ecumenical and Songs of Praise services. Church leaders appear together to give Christmas and Easter messages and set a headline for us all in their total condemnation of all forms of violence.

A custom or practice which would be classed as religious but was often condemned by the churches, was the holding of wakes and the things that were done at them. Many people remember games at wakes being spoken of, especially if the deceased was an old man who had been a jovial character or kept a good ceilidhing house. Card games, tests of strength and 'odd man out' games were often indulged in, at a time when a corpse was often waked for three nights. Then, of course, there was the custom of passing around the snuff and the clay pipes; the saying that a particularly tasty food was "disappearing like snuff at a wake" explained the situation well, as did the man who would be too mean to drink spring water at home but always had a fancy for a 'wee brandy' at a wake. In 1831 a Church Synod called for an end to wake games and tobacco at wakes, while in 1903 the Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois forbade under pain of sin the drinking of alcohol at wakes. The story is told of a man from this parish who spent some time in America and worked as an undertaker's assistant in a Jewish area of New York. He told how the Jews dressed up each corpse with all the jewellery and valuables he or she possessed but, when all the relatives moved out before the closing of the coffin, the wily undertaker quietly took possession of the valuables, for safe keeping, of course.

The entertainment world has probably seen more changes than any other in the past century or indeed in the past fifty years and less. The mummers are about all that is left of the old entertainment customs but the Knocknagor troupe keep tradition alive with their spectacular and highly entertaining show every year. The dances in country houses, like the circuses and travelling shows, are things of the past, while the tailors, the shoemakers, the mill and the forge are faded memories of happy meeting places. When you visited the tailor, the shoemaker, the mill or the forge, you went prepared to 'make your ceilidhe' and no matter how much news and crack you brought in, you had a lot more going home. They were all noted for hospitality and crack and their passing robbed country life of much of its richness and character. The circus and travelling show were things not to be missed and even if they varied but little from year to year, we still laughed our fill. A few of them would make their way to the commons every year and the local talent competition was a sure crowd puller, with such as Francey McNabb and the Wild Colonial Boy bringing the house down. Clarrie Hayden was about the best and most popular and had more natural talent than most of what is seen on our screens to-day. Dances in country houses were popular events, with plenty of local musicians, singers and dancers, clay pipes and poteen and a happy, enjoyable atmosphere. There singers exchanged songs, musicians exchanged tunes and the occasional tramp fiddler was sure to have something new. Jim Kelly (Owen) with "Down on the Moor" or Mary Ellen McElholm with the "Snowy-Breasted Pearl', were but examples of the accomplished singers which graced every fireside. From the time they were built, the parish schools had been popular dancing venues and local musicians of all persuasions did their bit. From the 1920s to the 1940s Agnes McDonnell had a dance hall in Stralongford, where dances were held every week with local music and admission one shilling. At those local dances, paraffin oil was often sprinkled on the floor to keep it slippery, so it was just as well that there was no talk of fire safety precautions then.

The wireless marked a big step forward in entertainment and probably forced the gramophone to take a back seat. The same gramophone was a treasured possession and it was not unusual for someone who had one, to bring it around the neighbouring houses for a night's entertainment. Willie Hanley and Mary Boyle were a famous duo on the entertainment circuit fifty years ago. Willie carried the gramophone in one meal bag and Mary carried the records in another. There was no word of electro-wipe record cleaning cloths then and a bit of dust or dirt never stopped Willie. Neither was a mechanical failure any problem, so long as he had a piece of wire and a pair of pliers, while a half-inch nail served perfectly as a needle. No wonder the radio was seen as a wonderful improvement on its predecessor and it is worth remembering that the first sporting event to be broadcast in this country was from Radio Eireann and was the All- Ireland hurling semi-final of 1926 between Kilkenny and Galway. The commentator was the legendary P. D. Mehigan, a sports journalist, who wrote under the name of Carbery and whose Carbery's Annual was a must for followers of gaelic sports. In those days the commentator was often located on the sideline in the middle of the spectators and the story goes that on a particular occasion after Mehigan had announced that a player was coming up to take a 14-yards free, the next thing heard across the airways was "Jaysus he's missed it". The broadcasting of games was opposed at that time because it was feared it would keep people from going to the games, just as was feared with the televising of games forty years later.

The cinema was a big thing when it arrived and when two were opened in Fintona in the late 1940s, there was an immediate upsurge in cinema goers here. Like everything else, it took some getting used to and it was hard for some people to accept that you couldn't sit back, light your pipe and chat the fellow beside you if you wanted to do so. It was even harder to keep from commenting on what was happening on the screen or keep from shouting to the fellow about to be shot to look behind him. The period of' getting used to' in the seats often provided better entertainment than what was on the screen, such as when a well-known Trillick character, watching his first Laurel and Hardy film, announced to all and sundry that "that man will burst". Fintona was a leader in the entertainment world in those days, with a fine hall and two new cinemas. The hypnotist who- came there in the 1940s and had some smart lads from here on stage with him, lapping into onions as if they were oranges, created quite a stir. Paddy McBride of Crossan nearly joined up with him, believing he had the power himself and, when suitably lubricated, gave quite a performance with 'the power's on'. Television marked the end of the small cinema and many of the travelling shows. Its impact was immediate and the fact that so much could be seen on the screen at home, probably left people harder to please. The strange thing was that T.V. news was looked upon as a non-starter and when the first news was read on T.V. on 5 July, 1954, the reader was not seen, his news items being explained by relevant pictures. They said it would never catch on, yet T.V. news and related programmes went on to playa major role in developments all over the world.

The opening of the Father Matt Memorial Hall in 1949 came at a time when the showband craze was about to blossom. Previous to that a dance could be a formal enough affair, bands just sat there and played, generally with no vocalist and the M.C. might announce the last dance with the same enthusiasm as you'd show if Dromore had beaten Trillick. Dromore's Donal McElholm was among the first to start singing the odd song, as a young lad with everybody's favourite, The Moonlight. On Easter Sunday and St. Stephen's night, and on a dozen or more other nights during the year Una, Jack, Donal, Francey, Frank, Kevin and often Harry entertained us with the best in every sort of music. You name it, they could play it. They were loyal friends in those days and when an emergency arose, they would pullout all the stops to facilitate Trillick. Around 1950 the Clipper Carlton from Strabane had developed a most entertaining show routine while at the same time putting lots of action into their playing and singing. The Melody Aces had been performing as a quartet and then were joined by two of the finest singers and entertainers ever to grace a stage, Gene Turbett and David Coyle. They were regular visitors to the Father Matt hall and a sure crowd puller. The manager, John Devine, and most of the band members were from Newtownstewart, David Coyle being from Castlederg and Gene Turbett a member of the notable musical and footballing Omagh family. Gene, like his brother Thady, was an outstanding goalkeeper and would certainly have been the Tyrone custodian but for the fact that Thady was then the top goalkeeper in the country. The Clipper Carlton and the Melody Aces played in halls all over the country and Tyrone people were very proud of the fact that these two outstanding musical combinations came from the same small area of the county of the O'Neills. The Melody Aces and the Moonlight were largely responsible for clearing the hall debt which, at one stage was such as to cause a worried bank manager to call in the treasurer and secretary and it wasn't for tea and biscuits. The Melody Aces went on to become the finest in the land and were unique in that, at the height of their fame, they all remained pin-wearing pioneers.

The strange thing about bands and dances then was that dance and ceili bands enjoyed equal popularity. You could have a packed hall and more or less the same crowd in four consecutive weeks with the Moonlight, the Jackie Hearst Trio, the Melody Aces and St. Peter's Ceili Band from Dungannon. The very mention of their names brings back memories of the fine music and excellent entertainment they provided. Maybe it was the case of the women going where the men went or the men going where the women went but they all met in the Father Matt Hall. The dance halls were the life of the country then, everybody dressed in their best, the women lined up on one side and the men on the other. The unwritten rule was that you didn't cross the half-way line until the band started to play but there was the odd cute lad who beat the posse by strolling across, as if to say "how is she cuttin" or whatever it was lads like him said then.

There was quite a scattering when the band started and if you drew a blank or missed your target in the first choice, you had to go back and re-assess the situation. Luckily everyone else was doing the same and the fact that some of the women had gone back to their warm seats, probably helped. Still the man had to do the chasing and there was much truth in what the man said, that there were women who could smile at you and say nothing and be saying no, all at the one time. No wonder men had to resort to the brilliantine and the comb in the breast pocket. A great invention was the comb with the clip on it which you could display for all to see and if you had a pen or a pencil to throw in behind it, you were really in business. That enjoyable film on the "Ballroom of Romance" was really true to life and the characters in it were to be found in every corner of the Father Matt hall.

Apart from the bands, there were hosts of individual performers and credit for reviving some of the best loved popular songs of our land in the fifties, must go to the girl from Donegal, Bridie Gallagher. She was followed by our own Eileen Donaghy and both were star attractions throughout Ireland and overseas. They had songs to please all ages, leaving happy fans behind them everywhere they went. The songs then were, of course, very different in tone and content from those in the charts to-day which place so much emphasis on noise, although some of the Radio Luxembourg favourites of the fifties have been revived to become best sellers in the eighties. Many of our native songs refer to emigration or the troubles, or express the beauties of particular localities and attractions therein, such as our own Handsome Cassie Ann. Before the 1900s, a great circus entertainer named Johnny Patterson wrote many songs which became popular in the 1920s, including Goodbye Johnny Dear, The Garden Where The Praties Grow, The Stone Outside Dan Murphy's Door and Bridget Donahue.

Later, the last and greatest of the troubadours, Percy French, produced some of the most touching and most humourous songs ever written, along with plays and monologues. He could describe any situation in a few well- chosen words, be they caustic as when describing the West Clare Railway in "Are Ye Right There Michael", humorous as in "Phil The Fluter's Ball ', or deeply sympathetic as in "Gortnamona". He had his finger on the pulse of Irish life and lines from An Irish Mother "that our sins may be forgiven and not wan go ashtray, I doubt I'd stay in Heaven if them childer was away", or in a totally different vein in The Emigrant's Letter, "If Katie is coorted by Patsy or Mick, put a word in for me with a lump of a stick", were truly expressive of everyday thinking. Omagh born Jimmy Kennedy, who died in April, 1984, will also be remembered long for sweet and simple songs to grace any occasion. Though not in the same style as Percy French, there was a similarity in such Kennedy favourites as South of the Border and My Prayer. He also had top sellers in Red Sails In The Sunset, The Isle of Capri and Harbour Lights, while most of us have had occasion to familiarise ourselves with The Teddy Bear's Picnic, which sold more than three million copies. Patterson, French and Kennedy between them span more than a hundred years of writing songs which have stood the test of time remarkably well and those who now sneer at these songs may well find themselves searching for the words of them in fifty years time. Sean Ó Riada, Ceoltoirí Cualann, the Clancys with Tommy Makem and the Gallowglass Ceili Band all combined to give Irish and folk music, a new lease of life in the fifties and sixties, at a time when the annual Fleadh Cheoil was a musical gathering of gigantic proportions. In the sixties, a young Strabane man with Kinine connections, Paul Brady, hit the headlines, first with the Johnstons and later as a solo artist, setting a pattern as a musician, singer and songwriter which has been successfully followed by a variety of entertainers up to the present day. The various radio sponsored programmes played their part, especially the Mitchelstown programme devoted entirely to Irish music and the Walton's programme, which told you "If you feel like singing, do sing an Irish song," while you could, dream your cares away and wish upon a star with the Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes programme. The growing popularity of television brought all these programmes to an end, as sponsors went for the wider exposure of the T. V. screen. That popularity was to give us an additional landmark and the opening of the B.B.C. television transmitter station at Brougher in October, 1978, gave vastly improved reception to much of Tyrone and Fermanagh.

Every locality had its ceilidhing houses and it would be impossible to list them all. A house without children or where a bachelor lived alone was ideal but, of course, if a man had a few daughters on the market he would let it be known that visitors were welcome, though it was invariably the unwelcome ones who turned up. Similarly every locality had its characters and storytellers, many of them associated with the dances in country houses. A typical example was Jack Kelly (Owen), a fine singer as was his brother, Jim, but also a great storyteller, who had broadcast from both Radio Eireann and the B.B.C. A man who didn't broadcast and indeed who was likely to say 'wheest, man', was Frank Brennan, one of the most original and most entertaining characters you could meet. Frank called to a neighbour one day and as they looked at a horse grazing in the field where there was little or no grass, the neighbour remarked that he would have to put winkers on the horse to keep him from breaking out. Like a shot, Frank replied, "It isn't winkers he needs, it's glasses." Kevin McCann is hard to beat as a storyteller and he told about a man who fell asleep at Mass in Magheralough when the priest was giving the sermon. The priest was speaking about hell, emphasising that that was where people would go if they didn't change their bad habits. As the priest reached a crescendo with "anyone in this chapel who is going to hell, STAND UP", yer man jumped up from his sleep, looked around and said to the priest, "I don't know what's wrong Father but there is nobody standing but you and me." Kevin also told of John McAloon from Keenogue, who was known to tell a good story himself. John was walking home one dark night and saw what he thought was a man's head coming through the ditch at him. John let fly and made contact between the eyes but when he went over to examine his victim, he found a big bullock lying in the ditch, out for the count. On another night when there was snow on the ground, John was coming home with his dog when he was hit by a car, which didn't stop. It all happened so quickly that John couldn't get the car number but the wee dog wasn't sleeping and was able to scratch out the car number in the snow. That dog would have been useful to Jimmy (McIlbreed) Maguire who bought a gun and went shooting rabbits. Some of his kind friends got a number of dead rabbits and lined them along a ditch near Jimmy's house, where they were quickly spotted by the now trigger-happy Jimmy. Cautious man that he was, Jimmy crept closer and closer to each target until he almost had the gun to each rabbit's head before he let bang, being just a wee bit surprised that the others didn't run off. He wasn't so lucky the time he tried to shoot the rat running around the dresser in his kitchen; the rat got away but the dresser and all on it came a cropper.

Travellers and pack men did a regular tour of this area years ago, John McDonagh from Irvinestown, Frank Collins from Enniskillen, 'Big' McManus and Biddy Gormley (Trottin' Biddy) from Fintona were regular callers. Tom Gilligan came to,this area from Leitrim and finally took up residence in Trillick. He tramped the roads daily with his "some soap and spoons, some hair oil', but there was a bit of a trick in him as well and the area in which he sold a number of copies of the previous year's Old Moore's Almanac, did not make him welcome for years afterwards. Maybe, of course, his intentions were honourable and he was trying to do them a good turn, like the man who was frustrated by bad weather in trying to save his hay. He finally consulted 'Old Moore' and saw that the first three days of the following week were to be good, so he cut down all his hay and sure enough, got it all saved in the three days. As it continued to rain through the succeeding weeks and the man chuckled at his brainwave, he again took up the Almanac to see what further fortune was to be derived from it, only to discover then that it was the previous year's Almanac which he had consulted for his hay-saving.

One thing which we seem to have embellished with the years is the folklore of the locality, the sayings and superstitions, the customs, cures and ghost stories which have been carefully handed on from generation to generation. Sayings are often common to most localities but some words or phrases belong only to specific areas. What we call a shough could be a drain or shore elsewhere, although shough is a direct use of the Irish word for drain, i.e., seoch. Also the bru of the shough is using the Irish word for bank, while praties or priddies is directly from the Irish prátaí. What we call a cuttie or a lassie could be a cailin or gartla elsewhere, while a boy can be a cub or a garsun, or at times something worse. If the cub is after the cuttie and he is told there is no use in sending a cub on a man 's errand, he had better get the message. Much more sensible was the man who thought the local doctor was after his girl-friend and who, when he was going away for a week, gave the girl a bag of apples in the belief that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. (I hope he didn't meet Jim McAnespie en route). Truths like 'make hay while the sun shines', 'don't let the grass grow under your feet', 'the early bird catches the early worm' and 'a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush' were all tried by Father Matt on the bachelors of this parish. They in turn seem to have found consolation in 'it is better to be alone than in bad company', 'there's no fireside like your own fireside' and 'you can take the horse to water but you can't make him drink'. Of course the woman who believed that 'when the apple is ripe it will fall' or who persisted with 'don't squeeze me 'till I'm yours' could be left pondering the awful truth in 'you'll never miss the water 'till the well runs dry' or 'it's a lonesome washing that hasn't a man's shirt in it'. Sayings or proverbs are simply humourous or cynical ways of expressing or describing particular situations and are distinctly Irish, most of those in common use being direct translations of old Irish sayings or seanfhocail. It is a 'way of telling them' and it is hard to beat the two neighbours who meet in the town on a Saturday night. When they meet, one says to the other "That's the way Paddy", and Paddy calmly replies "That's the way Jimmy." Then Jimmy asks "Are you in town the night, Paddy" and Paddy gives away the secret of a lifetime with "I am Jimmy, are you."

Superstitions are a different thing entirely and nothing to be laughed at. If you don't know the awful difference between one and two magpies, your education has been sadly neglected. I was told of a woman who had been offered a teaching post many years ago when jobs were hard to come by. As she drove for interview with her new P.P., she saw one magpie but search as she might, she couldn't see the second one. Unbelievably, she turned down the job. The black cat and the number seven can claim legions of devotees, while many people would see it as elementary knowledge that you should not go into a house through one door and come out through a different one. In the days before bathrooms, when families washed their feet in a basin of water in the kitchen, it was important to empty the water into a drain outside and not fling it out carelessly because the wee folk would be annoyed; They liked to stay around the dirty water and in fact if you left the basin of water in the kitchen overnight, the whole crowd of them would be in around the basin and you wouldn't get a wink's sleep all night. If you went to a house to get a live coal to start a fire, you should always put a turf on the fire at the spot from which you had taken the coal and surely you would know that when the time came to light the clay pipe, the man of the house was the one to light up first and take a 'few pulls' before passing it around. Years ago men considered it unlucky to shave on a Sunday so the 'cut-throat' did its weekly circuit of the course on a Saturday night. You should neither shave nor get your hair cut on Good Friday and cutting your nails on a Friday was to be avoided also. When the spring well was cleaned out, the owner had to take the first bucket of water from it and if you put out ashes or spent money on New Year's Day, you would be doing it every day of the year. A calf born on Whit Sunday should be sold or got rid of as soon as possible and if you spill salt, you will have to gather it up with your nose when you die, unless beforehand you have the presence of mind to throw a pinch of the spilled salt over your left shoulder, which gets you out of trouble. It was considered unlucky to leave a house where churning was being done without giving a hand with the churning; if you knit on a Sunday you will have to rip it all out with your teeth when you die and it probably still holds true that you should not tell anyone about your dream before you have taken your breakfast. Dreams can, of course, be put to good use. Mary Ellen McElholm had a romance with an Irish teacher here named James Walsh, who had to flee to Limerick during the 'troubles' and lost his life in a fire soon afterwards. He always appeared to Mary Ellen in a dream to warn her of pending misfortune and as often as not she was able to avert the danger or lessen the impact by having people prepared. Talking of dreams, it is well worth any husband's while to remember that if, or rather when, your wife is talking in her sleep, have a basin of hot water beside you, put your hands into it, and 10 and behold she will tell you all the secrets of her mind. What you do then is optional and, if you are single, it is best hold onto the hot water bottle.

Every locality has a number of people who have cures for almost every complaint or ailment in human or animal. A great cure for toothache is whiskey and boiling water (in proper proportion) while running cold water on a sprain is an instant cure. A simple cure for warts is dipping them in the blacksmith's trough but if you want to go the long way around, put holy water on the warts for nine consecutive nights or you could rub a snail across them, then put the snail in a thorn ditch and as the snail disappears so will the warts. Who is there who hasn't been troubled with hiccup but did you know that a spoonful of sugar helps the hiccup go down or alternatively you could take a drink of water out of the wrong side of a cup and bless yourself three times. If a cow has grass tetany, instead of going to the expense of calling the vet, you just get a basin of water, put a two shilling piece into it (Irish or English, doesn't matter), boil the water, strain into a bottle and give it to the cow to drink. However, it is advisable to have the two shillings handy in case you have to phone Hugh Corry in a hurry. Into a different category falls the people who were 'bad luck' or 'prayed prayers'. A story common to every locality is the one of the family being evicted who left a curse on the house by setting a mock fire of stones. Some actually lit a fire surrounded by stones and then threw the burnt stones into various fields on the land, with a curse which would remain on the place until all the stones were gathered together again. It - was well known that a woman could get her own back on a man who had jilted her by milking the 'tethers'. She would get the tethers and a bucket and as she pulled on the tethers crying 'come all to me', the bucket would fill up with milk while the man's cows would go dry. You could be a step ahead of your bad luck if you had the likes of Lizzie Thompson, Lizzie McGrade, Kate Conlin, Mary Ellen McElholm or Maggie McLaughlin for they could see it all in your tea leaves and have you on your guard. They missed very little and drove the message home with telling effect.

The things people used to say to children could be quite alarming and indeed counter productive, for what child could lie easy after being told that the bogey man would get you if you didn't go to sleep at once. In the days when everything was put into a neat brown paper bag, it used to be great fun for children to blow up the bag and burst it with a bang, the bigger the child the greater the fun. As I was trying to perfect this skill at an early age, a woman in our house who obviously wasn't impressed, ordered me to stop and said "If you keep doing that, you will blow a pig's head on yourself." After a quiet glance into the pig-craw, I realised that the woman had given me very timely advice and resolved never to do it again. A few days later, as we finished our lunch in the schoolyard, my bosom friend Sean McSorley put his lunch bag to his mouth and began to blow. I was lock-jawed with fright as I took one last look at his puffed face. As the seanachí would say, the rest is history and the Irish dancing movement in Trillick should be eternally grateful that Sean did survive.

Stories about ghosts and fairies may not be told as often as in years gone by but there is a school of thought which believes that the wee folk are still alive and kicking. You might have thought that Kitty The Hare belonged to Our Boys or Dublin Opinion of years ago but not a bit of it. A man in Crossan had a good milking cow that suddenly went dry and, as he went to the byre every morning, he met a hare coming out but, try as he might, he could not catch the hare. Tommy McElholm, an authority on such matters, said the hare could only be caught by a black greyhound with one white hair. Sure enough such a greyhound was got (I think in Liffer) and after a few attempts, had the hare cornered in a dwelling-house in Knocknagor, after getting one bite at it. When the neighbours got into the house, they found a fairy woman in the corner bleeding from a dog bite.

Patrick Gallagher of Coolback was going to work at 6 a.m. and, in the grey dawn, saw the shape of a woman milking the neighbour's cows in a field. He could hear her saying "come all to me" and when she went away with her two buckets of milk, he went over to where she had stood and repeated the same magic words. You'd hardly believe it but in a flash his wellingtons were filled with milk. McBrides of Crossan built their house on a fairy fort and the fairies tormented them for months afterwards. Then one day that a fairy woman dropped in for a chat, McBride's told her they were sick of this carry on and that as soon as the weather improved (McBrides wisely wouldn't rush themselves in bad weather) they would build a wee house for the fairies. Which they did...and the wee walls are still there. Tommy McElholm often saw the fairies at night, running around as hares and if you didn't know what they were, the dogs would soon let you know, because the cold sweat would be running off them. A man in Killyblunick was ploughing near a fairy fort and suddenly noticed that the ground was white with gold sovereigns. He stooped down to pick one up but then the whole lot disappeared and he could hear the wee divils in the ditch behind him laughing their heads off. They were known to be up to all sorts of tricks such as taking out the horses at night and riding them around the place. Robert McCarron took the horses from them one night and the next day as he was ploughing, they broke the plough and harness into bits. John Shannon's heart was broke with them coming to borrow tea, sugar, butter and everything in the house. One day they came looking for milk and when John said he had none, they pointed to an old cow in the byre, which had been dry for years. He went with his bucket to the byre, began to milk (I'm not just sure whether he said 'come all to me' or not) and had the bucket filled in seconds. They were very fond of music and every night they were having a party, they came for Denis Doorish, who was the best fiddler around and who had tunes which were out of this world.

The banshee has been heard from Kinine to Liffer and from Knocknagor to Effernan. On a more hopeful note, there are crocks of gold in a dozen or more places, if only someone had time to dig for them. There is one in Effernan and men did dig for it, after a gipsy woman with great power had pinpointed the spot, for a small monetary consideration, but they somehow missed it. There is a big crock of gold buried in Lisdoo. A man named Gallagher had a clear dream about it for seven nights running and even saw a flower growing out of the stones to show him where it was. After much digging he came on the inevitable big flat stone. Just then a fairy woman went to the man's house, pointed to the baby in the cradle and said, if he didn't stop digging, they would never see the baby again. Tom Cudie did a bit of digging also but up came the fairies and took away his wife. Some time later they came back to Tom and proceeded to bargain with him for her return but when Tom said they could hold onto her if they liked, they killed her in Crane's Glen. A clump of blackthorn bushes grew up at the spot and if you dig at one of them, the cups and plates jump off the dresser in the houses around.

Ghosts are another thing you might be inclined to forget about. There is a ghost at Grannan school, so far not identified, other than that he walks on one leg without a stick; he is a big man and will pass you by without a word, or so they say. There is a big long woman on Corr's brae, not to be confused with the woman who sat for years on a rock at the Fingerpost until a kind neighbour, recognising who she was, had a Mass said for her and she disappeared. At Feglish there is a ghost in the form of a coach and four and the driver should be wearing white trousers. There was a man on the Coa road with the eyes blazing out of his head and there was a woman who used to walk along the ditch at Screeby. Maybe the two made contact and have found shelter somewhere else. A man from Knocknagor worked for many years for a woman in Tummery without getting paid. After the woman died, she used to appear to the man at night and walk the road alongside him without talking. The man went to Father Matt and discovered that the woman had given the priest £100 before she died, to be handed over to the man but the priest had forgotten about it. When Pat McCaughey was a young lad working in Scotland, he came home one Christmas after being away for a year. At Tom Kelly's bridge he met an old neighbour but as he went to shake hands, the neighbour said not to touch him because he was then several months dead. He had a problem in that he owed ten shillings to Fred Everton and it had to be paid before he could get past Saint Peter. Pat duly agreed to pay the money and the man was seen no more. Bird of Keenogue, who had the name of being a harsh landlord, roamed the Keenogue road for years after he died but Mrs. Breen says he couldn't help it because he had been doing that for most of his life, to keep the local boys away from his daughter. The devil was believed to be in a bottle in Carren lake, having previously been in a haunted house nearby where the plates used to jump on the dresser every night. Father Traynor, the Sagart Mor, is believed to have put the devil into the bottle and thrown it into the lake, which has now almost disappeared because of major drainage works.

Maybe Charlie McQuaide put the whole thing in context. Charlie's house was supposed to be haunted and he had a neighbour who ceilidhed every night, keeping Charlie out of bed. Charlie got a rabbit and put it in a box in the turf shed. When the neighbour called that night, Charlie referred casually to the ghost but yer man would have no belief in such things. Then Charlie went out to get turf for the fire, put the rabbit in a bag knowing that it would soon eat its way out of it and pushed the bag through the upstairs bedroom window. Minutes later the helter-skelter started through the room, Charlie quietly remarked "he's before his time the night" and away with the neighbour, never to return.

Changes in life styles naturally filtered through to weddings, honeymoons and company keeping. The man who years ago when going on a date would be checking such things as his bicycle clips, pump and cap, would now be looking for his tapes and his brüt. No doubt the lingo used on such occasions has changed considerably also. Packie Farry used to tell of 'happening to hear' a couple in conversation one night around the top of the mill road. The man was stating his case in great detail and telling the woman of the number of cows he had milking, calves ready for the fair, crops growing out over the ditches, all giving an impressive picture of industry and prosperity. It wouldn't work to-day and maybe didn't then either. Whether or not Father Matt had any success with his matchmaking, there is no doubt that successful matches were made and at least three people in the parish were acknowledged as being great at the job. The matchmaker and the prospective groom travelled to the bride's house and hammered out a deal with the girl's father. She, of course, had no need to get involved one way or the other until the deal was made. The hiring fair was also a recognised matchmaking occasion but if the cattle trade was good, the matchmaking business suffered. On the other hand, as one man put it, you could bring two calves and two women to the fair and be lucky to get rid of any of them.

The reading of the bans gave the neighbours clear warning of a wedding and was no help to the couple who might be trying to slip away quietly. It was not unusual for some of the man's friends to cycle to Magheralough for the wedding, just to be close to him in his hour of need. I was told of one such occasion when the groom invited the 'crowd' to the bride's home for a drink after the wedding. As one of the crowd put it "we gathered a few women and a few bottles of poteen on the way", and the party went on for the whole day. In the evening the groom realised that, wedding or no wedding, there were cows at home to be milked and calves to be fed, so he said to the blushing bride, "I'll go on home and do the things and you can come over the morrow or the next day when you're ready." No big honeymoons then, although it wasn't long before a week or even ten days in Bundoran was the accepted introduction to married bliss. It read well in the paper and the neighbours could be with them in spirit as they roamed around Rogey. When he 'showed' her on the first Sunday at Mass after the honeymoon, he had no way out of it but sit beside her on the women's side. However, once that ordeal was over, he could revert to the safety of the men's side thereafter. Still the scene kept changing and now and then you would read in the Herald that the honeymoon was being spent in the West of Ireland. The next thing was that they started spending the honeymoon in Killarney or touring Ireland, while the neighbours at home put the whole thing in what you might call perspective. They might not have bothered getting alarmed because Irish people don't tour Ireland any more and no doubt you will find people who can make their way around the Bahamas and would get lost on Brougher.

With that light-hearted look at some aspects of our past, I will bring to a close this trek through four thousand years of the history of what we should be proud to call, our native place. Many of you will think of things which have been overlooked or inadequately covered but if I had gone on for another few hundred pages, that conclusion would still be valid. The objective has been to give a general picture of the locality, not a definitive history. Hopefully it will give you a sense of pride, a sense of belonging and that you can joyfully show the book to your friends saying "sin an áit arbh'as mé." Perhaps some of you who have never had to move from the security of your native place, will shrug your shoulders and say 'so what' but I would simply ask you to remember those who may have said goodbye to you. In 1949 I accompanied my uncle, Tom Clarke, as he dug from the ruins of his childhood home a small sod which he placed in a box to bring back to Central Islip, New York. Whether it be a sod in a box or just a lump in the throat, you can be sure that all our exiles cling to a memory of home. It is principally for them that this book has been written, by one who said goodbye to Trillick thirty odd years ago.

Hopefully you will discover something new or interesting from the book and come to realise the amount of interesting history attaching to any small area of the parish. On one of the many fine sunny days of last summer, I walked with Brian McElholm across Knocknagor hill and we were amazed at the amount of history that lay immediately around us. We could both appreciate the story Willie Donnelly had told of a man who had lived close to where we were standing. The man's mother died at 100 years of age and Willie had called to pay his respects. The man outlined the great qualities of his mother, the great cook and housekeeper she was, how she could work in the fields better than any man and, best of all, was never a day sick in her life. The mother was a native of Donegal and Willie asked the sixty years old man "What will you do now?" The answer was slow but decisive, "I think I'll head for Donegal and look for a woman like my mother". The area around us was so rich in history, from fun and music to outstanding achievement. Beside us had stood the tailor McGrades, to where people from all over the country came to have clothes made, to play music, to sing and dance. Below us on one side was the home of the McElholm family, famed in song and story, from which six teachers and athletes had gone out to spread their talents all over the country. Below us on the other side was the home of the Sheerin family, who achieved worldwide fame as inventors and ceramic painters. From a house in front of us James Bums went to New York to become a famous engineer and father figure of the Tyrone Association in that city. The homes of all of these were within a radius of a few hundred yards of where we were standing and a similar picture of effort and achievement can be painted for any given area of the parish.

On that same sunny day, Brougher shone brightly in the distance, keeping an eye on the wee folk around Kilnock's giants graves and on the hill of the imaginary men in Crocknafarbrague. A few days previously, one of the oldest residents of that, the last gaelic speaking area of the parish, had been laid to rest. It was totally in keeping with the history of the place that Father Marren, in his panegyric, should compare Cait (Cash) McCarney to that famous woman of the Great Blasket Island in Kerry, Peig Sayers.

There was so much in common between the lives of the two people and the fine traditions they represented. Both worked hard, served their people well and still found lots of time to relate their stories of the history of the countryside to eager listeners. It is quite a coincidence also that, just as Peig Sayers was generally referred to by that maiden name rather than by her married name of Mrs. Peats Guiheen, so Cash was often referred to as Cash Coyle. As she related her stories of days gone by, Cash could see all around her the onward march of time. In the Spa House quarry below her home, where she often watched men dig with pick and spade to fill a cart load of gravel, she could now see the latest in machinery being used to dig into the mountain and load up lorries with stones and gravel in a dozen different grades. Across the mountain, in a spot where she often loaded turf into the creels on the donkey's back, another machine processed peat moss for the use of town folk in their gardens and rockeries. From her own door she could look across at the highest peak of Brougher, just as she had done for years, except that it was now capped with a television transmitter, relaying the news of the world via Brougher to every home for miles around. No doubt it all seemed so incomprehensible, not only to her but to the men in the helicopter flying overhead, a stark reminder of how far we have yet to go.

Those pictures of courage, industry, devoted parenthood and happy family life, drawn from two extremities of the parish, are re-echoed in every family and are truly representative of life around Trillick way. While we enjoy and appreciate the present, we should be mindful of the past and the sacrifices made by our forefathers, with their feet firmly on the ground of their native heath and their visions focussed on a life to come. It is said that as long as we know where we came from, we will always know where we are going. I hope this book helps you to find your bearings around Trillick way and enhances your pride ins an áit ar rugadh sibh.

Ross )
[check here for further contact details]
You are Visitor Number Counter since 24th January 2002
This Page was Last Updated on 24th January 2002