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 Category:  Writing Non-Fiction
  Posted: December 17, 2019      Views: 154
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For more than 50 years I wrote and set aside my writing hoping someday, as I came into a life of repose, I would be able to review, organize and find my inner voice through my writing. This wonderful site provides such a safe haven, instruction, crit - more...

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Chapter 1 of the book Celtic Roots
How my life all began and where
"The Land" by JLR

This is the first chapter. I am putting this out Fan Story to ascertain if I should move forward or not.

Thanks for the use of Ireland Shades of Green by lonniellogan on

I suppose with every child, at some point in growing up, there is a seed planted to cultivate a deep sense of belonging, or not.

So, as I remember, this is how my life was from day to day in those early years. This boy, now a man, has a very distant memory of them arguing. The loud booming voice of da, always threatening, was particularly strained this day. Mam, as so often, pleaded for him to stop. "Stop with the drinking, the worrying away how life had become." Surely, she would say, "the potatoes will come back again, and we have enough sheep in the pen to carry us over 'til spring." Da would yell, "you're nothing but a 'wagon' Irish slang for an, especially annoying woman. So, as I remember, this is how my life was from day to day in those early years.

Springs did come, and springs did go, but da never found respite from the drinking. The harsh weather, with no letup in sight for days on end, with rains that washed away the fertile soil, fed his thirst to bury his sorrow in his many pints.

The land, as I heard from many a folk, was of excellent quality where we lived. Generally, Da kept things under a sound system of cultivation. But one had to have "the luck" to farm successfully, and I would come to discover that Da had none. Many Irish farms had between five and thirty acres -- usually, just enough tillable land to keep a family farm productive. Da farmed land passed down from his da, who had accumulated over time thirty-five acres. Five of those acres were lost to the amount of space the low stone walls that were built over time to mark off the borders to the fields and to clear those same fields for planting, and then there were the bogs.

In Ireland, in the year 1830, farmers saw the introduction of the first land act. The government then thought this would give tenants a small position of security to their properties. The Wyndhams' Act in 1903, which offered inducements to landholders to sell to the tenant farmer their properties, resulted in the government making available loans to tenants to make payments for ninety-nine years, enabling them to afford to purchase their property. The quality and size of the land, most often, became the driving elements for the family's wealth.

So, it was that James O'Roshe clung to the land with the cost being the land became the only thing he could show his love for outwardly. Over the years, I would realize that the land ended up being possibly all he ever would love in his mind and the depths of his soul.

In the most impoverished areas of Ireland, making productive land from rock or bog was very often back-breaking work. During the best of times, the harvest would provide for a farm family a life just above a poverty level of existence. In many cases, the ownership of our land, instead of setting our family free from debt, established the attitude of our Da, who became embittered and forlorn with each coming spring. His physically violent mood swings and lack of outward affection set into motion the strife that I began to realize was going to set the changes, at that time, unknown to me to come about in not too far into my future.

The history is rich in a rural farming setting In Ireland. DARAGH, or GLENROE, a parish, in the barony of COSTLEA, county of LIMERICK, and the province of MUNSTER, 4 miles (S. E.) from Kilfinane. In the parish resided around 800 inhabitants, and commerce was chiefly made up of farms raising sheep and growing potatoes for crops.

This place, generally called Daragh-Glenroe, signifying "the oaks of the red valley," was situated on the road from Limerick to Mitchelstown. The region derived its name from an ancient and extensive forest of oaks, in the dell of Glenroe, extending from the hills of Glenasheen to the river at Towerlegan.

Towards its north-west boundary were some old oaks, the remains of the ancient forest. Near the south-western corner, the road to Ballingarry crossed a small river, near the confluence of two streams, forming a boundary between the dioceses of Cork and Emly, which was between this parish and the adjacent parishes of Ballylander and Ballingarry.

Mam (mai othair), as called by one and all, in quiet passing's, would often utter the words" Ta mo chroi istigh ionat," which meant "my heart is within you." Mam, a mere child herself, when betrothed to da, was robust of will and was the hard-working disciplinarian in the home.

Her family, the Balls were from Antrim and at the ripe young age of sixteen arranged for their oldest daughter Iva, whose prospects of a future were in immigrating or going into the nunnery; or as was the case, getting betrothed. So, it was that mam, along with six sheep and her trunk of "hand me downs" with dowry complete, jumped onto a jaunty cart and moved into rural life to become wife to Da who was thirty years old. Sheep and potatoes were to become mam's treasure chest, which, as for children, we had hoped not to be the case. Mam, my siblings and I would learn very young in life, had a mean streak and more pathetically, a very broken moral compass when she would take to drink.

Just like ewes who can only feed two lambs at a time, mam soon began building her flock, with Mauve and me born mere minutes apart. But with the onset of our first cold, wet winter, Mauve was taken into the arms of Angels, age the too young age of eleven months. This was my first knowledge of what separation meant, setting the feeling deep in my marrow like something has been amiss in my life ever after. Mam, like most ewes, who will produce one or two lambs per year, gave birth; Milly Belle, LaRae Leanne, Stephen James, Ira John, Teressa Mae, John Michael, and Michael James.

It was the girls that Mam put to work for the duties of the household. Washing, sweeping, cooking, sewing rounded out their daily chores.

All the while, mam made it her divine mission, as she upheld the most critical role in Irish society, bringing us children up in the Catholic faith. So, it was of no surprise that all of us were held in awe of the Madonna and, at very young ages, were well versed in the practice of reciting the Rosary (a prayer to the Virgin).

To a large extent, mam had little choice in this responsibility. In return, mam received from the Church a level of respect, even authority, which she could not otherwise have expected, given her role of the household. Mam was also the designated disciplinarian and used the wooden spoon as much for cooking. But more so, even for a method of enforcement of the rules when broken.

In the 1950s, home births were typical in the area. The assistance of the local midwife, who oversaw either someone coming into the world or someone going out, became a familiar person in our early years. The giving of a silver coin appeared upon each birth. I came to learn that myths can be compelling and set the stage for hope, but the reality was far more a telling truth.

As a young lad, life was relatively simple in a rural farm setting. Everybody seemed to have the same, and it was familiar that grass always grew in the middle of the roads. I believe what happened on our farm and in our house, reflected what happened in the neighboring farms. Everyone had chores to do on the farm. We played simple games, and we got primary education at National school. From this start in life, one either stayed at home on the farm, joined the religious life, or got the boat to England or, as was the case for me, America.

As children, we ate whatever food adults had but in smaller quantities. Potatoes, bread, and porridge were daily staples and a standard feature on Fridays, and during Lent, we had fish. Eggs, when we had them, were for selling, so they were a rare treat, but the cracked ones were set aside to be fried with large slices of bacon for the odd dinner. Some favorite foods that mam would prepare were 'Cally' -- new potatoes smothered in butter and scallions or 'Goody' -- bread that was buttered and mashed in a mug of a hot tea or a mug of milk with sugar. Jelly and custard was a favorite dessert, but these were only on extraordinary occasions when the Priest would come by and Christmas. Tea chests from the local shops were used as playpens to keep youngsters from harm. The tea chest would later be a "hospital bed" for a delicate lamb or used to house the day-old chicks beside the fire when they arrived.

Working the land came before holidays and play. There was no time off for a farm or us boys, as da always had work to do. And if not on our property, he would farm us to the neighbors to cut and stack peat. It was always inevitable that we boys had to help with turf-cutting, saving hay, spreading slits, and picking potatoes together with ritualistic jobs around the home and farm. There were no relief programs in those days, and da made it abundantly clear that one would either work or would not eat.

Transportation also was a problem in the rural area where we grew. There were but a handful of cars in the whole parish we ever saw. On rare occasions, Da would let me ride our Irish Draught horse, "Joey." Joey was a small Draught horse, but gentle, intelligent, and had a willing nature. He was an excellent companion, and when I did get the occasion to ride him, we sailed over hill and dell. Not one of my siblings ever went to the seaside; some of my siblings never even saw the sea until they were able to get there under their own volition.

We learned very young that one could almost survive without money. Most foods were produced on the farm. The sale of eggs and the shearing of sheep wool was what allowed mam to go to the shops for the few groceries that were needed. As a frugal shopper, she even had a little change leftover from time to time. There were times of the year; I learned very early in life when extra money was needed for rent and rates, buying some seed potatoes and a few bags of fertilizer, and this was usually provided for by selling the lambs. Selling the harvest to the export agents in the area was da's job. Selling a few rabbits at Christmas was mam's job, and this too gave her some extra money for a few luxuries at that time of year.

An odd letter came from America from time to time as mam's da sent over funds, but such things were usually kept quiet and not talked about -- even though all of us children knew. Da would go into a funk for weeks about what he called taking relief. Overall, however, our rural Parish was resourceful, as was our household. We all learned to 'make do' and to support any family that came upon hard times.

We found time to play. Often, all of us children paddled or swam in the lough, and it was there at the lough, at the age of 4, where I began living with a harrowing experience of my Da tossing me into the deep water and walking away. To this day, I don't think he cared whether I would have sunk or swum, but swam I did, and I have been a swimmer ever after.

On a day to day living of life, we always found ways to amuse ourselves. We were most inventive too. Nothing went to waste that could be used to create games and being entertained. Empty cans and jars with a few pieces of wood made a "shop," which gave days of enjoyment. Corks and bottle tops were the currency used in our imaginative "shops." We boys found quick use of twigs and branches to create catapults, whistles, spinning sticks, and swords. A piece of rope could readily make a simple swing, and a hillside could become a slide. The cast-off wheel or used tire was used to create whatever the mind could invent.

From the very early days when chores were done, we were less supervised and spent much of the day playing outside, often not returning home until teatime or to move the sheep to a new field. Berry picking and apple picking was another late summer activity for making jam and preserves. It was from picking berries that I soon came to the most unfortunate discovery that I was incredibly allergic to strawberries. To my dismay, I quickly would break out in massive hives and found it extremely difficult to breathe; if I even ate as much as a handful of strawberries. This misfortune has stayed with me all my life.

In Ireland, attendance at full-time education was compulsory for all children between six and sixteen years of age or until students have completed three years of post-primary education. Children in Ireland were not obliged to attend school until the age of six; however, in our Parish, most children began school in the September following their fourth birthday.

And this precise time, at four years and six months, unknown to me at the time, I found my ability to escape. The primary school was church-run. Our parish school was managed by the Catholic parish priest, Father O'Shea, whom I will be forever in debt for seeing in me something that was he thought was unique. School for me was exhilarating, freeing, and often became my sanctuary. It was in school I learned to read, write and speak English, while at home Irish Gaelic was the only allowed tongue. I was a sponge when it came to math, science, and I particularly loved reading about the world and how it came to be.

My only set back was I was born predominately left-handed. This was a significant downside, being left-handed or "citeog," as we said in Ireland. It is known that the left hand is mentioned in the Bible only 25 times, all negatively. The word sinister comes from the Latin word "sinestra," which originally meant "left" but took on meanings of "evil" or "unlucky,," and you were usually regarded as the bastard offspring of Satan. Latin was also the language of Irish priests who happened to find themselves in charge of the Irish school system; they took it upon themselves to beat the left-handed shite out of anyone that happened to be born with this curse. I found many a time with my left hand tied behind my back. Being forced to write over and over the two times tables with your right hand, if that didn't make you right-handed, I was treated like it was my fault Jesus died on the cross. Life for a lefty in Ireland schools was tough going in these early years.

On the other hand, the 'Catholic ethos' was a much more dreadful impact on the education of my sisters. To a girl, they suffered discrimination, bullying, and open snobbery from teachers, especially priests and nuns. As a result, the primary was a beginning and ending for my sisters, even if they managed to get some secondary education. Everybody walked to school with family and walked home again together in small groups, and gathering chestnuts was looked forward to each year around the priest's house and in the Turlough. A turlough, or turlach, is a type of disappearing lake found mostly in blue limestone areas of Ireland.

Being barefoot in the summer was common. In the winter, wellingtons and leather nail boots were worn. There were short trousers with braces for us boys and pinafores for the girls. Clothes were worn for more extended periods than just a day at a time, as washing was not done frequently. Hand-me-downs and patches were quite standard fare with garments being let in and let out; we all had our everyday clothes, and then there were our Sunday best. Mam knew a local tailor, and he made suits for us boys, often from an old topcoat that might be acquired from some neighbor. Saturday night in our house was bath night so that we children could be presented as God worthy of going to church on Sunday. The boys took their turn washing in a kettle-filled tub that would be placed in front of the fire. Short hair was traditional for us boys. The haircut was given at home by da, who was handy with the shearing tools giving every one of the males a trim once every month.

The health of us children was always a worry for mam. In the 1950s, there were epidemics of Polio and Tuberculosis, which were especially feared. Everyone knew someone who suffered from one of these diseases in the Parish. I was five years old, as we were playing outside when one spring day, I heard the shriek of mam and ran to a window. Standing on a large barrel, I could barely peer into the room, seeing mam holding Stephen James, who had been especially sick limp in her arms. Mam saw me and said, "go into town to McGregor's Pub and fetch your da." Stephen James was my second lesson in the feeling of separation.

Grandma, who we called mamo, my da's mam, was a shaman; a woman we feared almost as much as we feared the "a lucht siaill" - 'the walking people' who were an itinerant ethnic group that we thought took children in the night. Mamo possessed and practiced the role of a medicine woman who was a blend of healer/ wisdom keeper/counselor. We became accustomed to her herbs, balms, concoctions for such things as colds, fevers and chilblains and she encouraged that if one of us got the measles and mumps, then all in the house would surely get them; this was quite easily done, as most often we slept with our siblings, the boys slept three to a bed.

Commonly found in the home in the place where medicinal items were kept, one would read the labels of Castor Oil, Syrup of Squills, Cod Liver Oil, Epsom salts, Vaseline Petroleum Jelly, Milk of Magnesia, Gripe Water, Aspro's, Andrews Liver Salt and Syrup of Figs. A bottle of Dettol would also be there for cuts and scrapes. Bandages, if required, would come from an old white shirt, an old sheet, or recycled from a flour bag. The flour bags were also kept making bedsheets. Biestings, the first milk that came from a sheep, was famous for building up the children's immune systems.

The period is the 1950s. Childhood was enjoyed by countless children in all of Ireland, just as it was lived day-to-day. You might say this was a frugal or austere upbringing in some ways. But then, it was the same for everyone that I knew at the time.

end Chapter 1

Book of the Month contest entry

The book continues with Seana'thair. We will provide a link to it when you review this below.

Author Notes
I started an autobiography class in October. This is the beginning of what I hope will be a good read for those who choose to read this and a small voice in my head encourages me to leave this behind for my progeny.

DARAGH, or GLENROE, a parish - Topographical Dictionary of ....
Pays one point and 2 member cents. Artwork by lonniellogan at

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