Mná na Éireann


“Well, for the women of the house, the coming of electricity in the 1950s brought a little ease and comfort. The first thing to go was the paraffin lamp which had to be filled and trimmed every night – a dirty, smelly job. Running water came next and the washing machine with it. This was a wonderful invention and the twin-tub an even better one. The heavy smoothing iron was replaced by the electric iron and the electric kettle meant that you could have a cup of tea in five minutes. The milk was now going to the creamery so churning day came to an end. This was the beginning of emancipation for the women of Ireland.”

[ Here is a 1957 video of the wonderful twin-tub that helped to set women free. Comms Team ]


Mná na Éireann


“My mother died when I was eight. I made my First Holy Communion that year. I wore a black dress. I thought I was lovely. There were ten in the family. Six of them died young as well as my mother − all from T.B. It was like a plague. The finest, the best, and the youngest died with it and the old people survived. There was no cure for T.B. long ago. People were terrified of it. It was a death sentence. They called it ‘consumption’ and you always said, ‘God Bless the mark’ after the word. The old people were afraid of a summer cold. It was said that, if it got in on the chest, it caused T.B. They believed, too, that a sign of TB was a high complexion or red rosy cheeks. T.B. in the family was one of the things that mediated against a person in the making of a match. Dr. Noel Browne, God bless him, was responsible for ridding Ireland of T.B. When the cure came in, mobile X-ray units went around making sure that the disease was caught and school children were inoculated against it.”

[ Here is an extract from the Waterford News & Star of 20th December 2002 on the hospital at Ardkeen.

Reference to the appalling conditions endured by people in the 1940s and 1950s, when housing, transport and medicine were generally poor, was made by outgoing Health Board Chairman Dr. Jack Gallagher, who said that the hospital building programme was totally reliant on funding from the Irish Hospital Sweepstake. Prior to and during the Second World War most counties, including Waterford, depended on nineteenth century County Home buildings which were converted to county hospitals – places where people often went to die rather than be cured of various diseases such as tuberculosis, which was rampant at the time. In the city, St. Patrick’s on John’s Hill was developed for general hospital purposes with the County and City Infirmary further down the hill and fronting onto Ballytruckle Road.

“He [ Dr. James Deeny ] knew that the nation was suffering from T.B. on a grand scale”. He was the man responsible for identifying Ardkeen House and its fifty acres of land on the Dunmore Road as the ideal location for the Chest Hospital at Ardkeen. The property, which was owned by the De Bromhead family, was on the market with an asking price of £12,500 but was eventually sold for just over £10,000.

With the support of the then Minister for Health, the late Dr. Noel Browne, who was born in Waterford, the capital cost for the hospital was obtained – largely from the Irish Hospital Sweepstake fund. The original hospital, known as the Chest Hospital Wing of Sub-Regional Sanatorium at Ardkeen, comprised six separate units where a total staff complement of 130 cared for 240 patients. – Comms Team.]


Mná na Éireann


“The woman of the house was never idle. We knitted socks and jumpers, we sewed and darned and mended. Most of this was done at night by lamplight or sometimes by candle. Children wore bibs to keep their clothes clean. The girls always wore their bibs to school and there was always a clean bib for Sunday. We made them out of flour bags which, when bleached, were beautifully white. My mother would crochet a little white frill around the neck. She was always knitting. Even when she was nearly ninety she was still knitting socks for the men. We always had flour bag sheets too – four flour bags made a sheet. You would bleach them with washing soda and leave them folded with the wet washing soda in them to take the “Heart’s Delight” out of the middle of them. We made our petticoats out of them too. Sure, but for flour bags we wouldn’t have a stitch to wear.”

“The most difficult and back-breaking job of the week was washday. In some houses it was possible to collect rainwater in a barrel − this was lovely soft water for washing. Water had to be carried from the well or, if you were lucky, from the pump in the yard, two buckets at a time. The water was then boiled in big pots and kettles over the open fire. In damp weather there was always the danger of soot falling into the pot and destroying the water. This meant you had to start all over again. The clothes were washed in a big tub which stood on two chairs facing each other. Sunlight soap was used to make a lather and the wet clothes were scrubbed on a washboard. Whites had to be boiled and rinsed and, in the final rinsing, a squeeze of a Rickets blue bag gave them that extra sparkle. We had to wring them out by hand. This was difficult and heavy work on the arms. Then they were either hung on the line or the whites were laid flat on the grass to be bleached by the sun. It was hard work. All the lifting of pots and tubs would break your back.”

[ Here is a video of a film made in 1896 (two years after the Fenor church was built) advertising Sunlight soap. To view it just click the arrow in the centre of the picture. – Comms Team. ]


[ Many hands make Sunlight work. – Comms Team. ]


“We worked inside and outside milking cows, feeding calves and pigs, looking after the fowl, and looking after the children and the housework. Then there was the threshing. We were busy with food all day − tea and currant cake and apple tarts, and then a big dinner for twenty or more hungry men. We milked by hand too and, later, the milking machine came in. The separator which separated the cream from the milk was a great invention. We churned the cream and sold butter and eggs. The few shillings we got kept the family going from one harvest to the next. The money was always kept in a jug in the dresser. That was our bank. We were poor by today’s standards but we didn’t know we were. Everybody was the same.”


Mná na Éireann



“Most of the babies were born at home long ago. The midwife would come with her black bag. When we were children, we thought she brought the baby in her bag. I had three stillbirths – my first three children. Eddie Murphy’s father was the grave digger. He came the night they were born with a little box that he made. They are buried in the path around the graveyard, I don’t know where. They weren’t baptised so they weren’t allowed to be buried in consecrated ground. Neither my husband nor anybody from the family went with them to be buried. It was considered unlucky. I often wonder will I see them. Please God, I will! The Church tells us that they are in Limbo. People say that they will have to carry a light for all eternity and that they will never see the face of God.”

“Babies were always christened the day after they were born, not like today where they are nearly able to walk to the church before they are baptised. The mother didn’t go to the baptism. The neighbours would come in after the christening to wet the baby’s head, and silver was put into the shawl with the baby. Usually, two shillings or half a crown. Then, about two weeks after the birth, we had to be churched − that was a blessing for the mother. After Mass the priest would perform the ceremony at the altar rails at the Sacred Heart side [of the Church]. You held a lighted candle in your hands and the priest read prayers over you. You wouldn’t be allowed to receive Holy Communion until you were churched. You where supposed do be unclean. Wasn’t that just like men! I think Pope John XXIII did away with that, God be good to him. He was a great man.”

[ Here is an extract from the 2007 International Theological Commission on The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised.

“It must be clearly acknowledged that the Church does not have sure knowledge about the salvation of unbaptised infants who die. She knows and celebrates the glory of the Holy Innocents, but the destiny of the generality of infants who die without baptism has not been revealed to us, and the church teaches and judges only with regard to what has been revealed. What we do positively know of God, Christ, and the Church gives us grounds to hope for their salvation…” – Comms Team.]


The Irish National Reader“We all came from big families so we were never lonely. There were flocks of us in every townland. We spent our lives running wild through the fields and being fed in every house. The bread and butter you got in your neighbour’s house was always sweeter than what you got at home. Of course, we had all our own jobs to do – looking after the fowl; going for the cows; collecting kippins for the fire; helping with the housework and looking after the smaller children. Somehow, we never looked on it as work. We did our lessons at the kitchen table at night. My mother asked us our catechism and taught us our prayers but I don’t ever remember anyone helping us with our exercises. I loved school, even though the teachers were cross. We learned reading, grammar, letter-writing and sums, and things we would need ‘if we went to America’.”

“Our master played the fiddle and taught us all the old Irish songs. I loved poetry and reading. The only reading books we had were our school readers, which was a great pity. They were happy times. We all walked to school barefoot in the summertime. Sometimes we went through the fields. Sometimes we got a lift home on a horse cart. The teacher would say as we left the school, ‘No streeling along the road’. Going home was great.”

By sdr Posted in Menu mná na heireann, Parish Life, Parish Life In The Past


Mná na Éireann



“The priests gave the young people a very hard time for dancing. They chased us out of house dances and dance halls and during the forty days of Lent there was no dancing allowed at all. We were terrified of them. Everything that was enjoyable was a sin and we never questioned it at all. If a lad saw you home he would be lucky to get a kiss. Then you would have to tell that to the priest in confession. Company keeping was a sin of course and, unless it was the intention to get married, it was strictly forbidden. We had lots of boyfriends but we were very innocent.”


“Mass went on forever. It was all in Latin on the high altar. The priest had his back to the people. Mass was on Sunday morning and, if you were going to Holy Communion, you had to be fasting from midnight the night before – without even a drink of water. After Mass there would be Benediction. By the time you got home you would be fainting with the hunger. I often remember eating blackberries on the way home from Mass, I’d be so hungry. Once a month you had your sodality or confraternity Sunday. Then you had to sit with your own guild under your own banner. The leader of the guild would sign your name as you arrived to make sure that you were present and received Holy Communion.”
“It was a fright to the world that you couldn’t go to the funeral of a Protestant, even if he was your next door neighbour. You’d have to go the bishop to confession if you did. Wasn’t that dreadful? People are very good Christians now and very compassionate. If you reach out to them they will come to you.”


[ Here is a portion of the Litany of the Blessed Virgin. – Comms Team. ]

Holy Mary, pray for us.
Holy Mother of God, pray for us.
Holy Virgin of virgins, pray for us.
Mother of Christ, pray for us.
Mother of divine grace, pray for us.
Mother most pure, pray for us.
Mother most chaste, pray for us.
Mother inviolate, pray for us.
Mother undefiled, pray for us.

“The rosary was said in every house at night and the trimmings went on forever. My mother ‘gave out’ the rosary, father gave out the second decade, and the three eldest gave out the next three decades. Mother said the litany of the Blessed Virgin without a stop and then prayed for everyone alive and dead who had any connection with the family. Next came prayers for sick neighbours, the animals, and for fine weather. When the last ‘Amen’ was said we were free to get up off our knees. The prayers that I remember are the prayers my mother taught me. I remember well she wore a black apron, always, and I’d sit on her knee. I must have been about three or four at the time, I think.”

Jesus meek and Jesus mild,
Look on me a little child

Heart of Jesus, I adore thee.

“After the rosary we would always say”,

I shall die, I do not know where or when or how,
But if I die in mortal sin I am lost forever.
Sweet Jesus have mercy on me.

“The funny thing is, I still say the prayers I said as a child after the rosary every night.”

The Stations

[ NB. These stations should not to be confused with the Stations of the Cross. – Comms Team.]

“Now the stations are held in the church, but long ago they were held in each townland. They would be held in spring and autumn. When it was our turn for the station the whole house had to be painted, inside and out and whitewashed. The yard was whitewashed and all the doors and gates painted. New oilcloth was put on the kitchen table and a white tablecloth put on the table that was the altar for Mass down in the room. The Mass was at ten o’clock in the morning with confession for all in the parlour before Mass. After Mass the dues were collected and then there would be a big breakfast in the parlour for the priest and the head of each house in the townland (all men). The women had their breakfast in the kitchen, once the men were served. Of course, the house had to be spotless. You couldn’t have people talking.”

When We Were Young

Mná na Éireann

“When We Were Young”

“I don’t think we were ever teenagers but, when we were young girls, life was very different than it is now. There was no drink, girls could not go into a pub. The older women would maybe get a glass of port wine at Christmas or a bottle of stout to build them up after having a baby. It was unheard of for a woman to get drunk.”

“We were afraid of everything. We were afraid of what the priests might say. We were afraid of what our parents might say. We were afraid of what our neighbours might tell our parents, and we were afraid of God and how we would be punished.”

“If we had a boyfriend we kept quiet about it. I used to love dancing. It was mostly house dances with local musicians. There was always somebody who could play a fiddle or a melodeon. In the summertime there was always the ‘Middlepiece’ (platform dancing in the open air). Tommy Matt (Whelan) called out the steps – I suppose you would call him the MC now. There was a Middlepiece at Clancy’s cross. That was the best one. All the young people from the Westown side of the parish and from Ballyscanlon and Carrickbarahan and Kilfarrissey would be at it. We danced waltzes and sets, lancers and polkas, and quicksets. There would be thirty or forty people at the Middlepiece. I never remember a wet summer. Sometimes there was no one to play so we would be jigging ourselves. Mrs. Whelan (Tommy’s mother) was great for jigging. We used to dance in her kitchen, too. She had a great big kitchen. We often had to sneak out the window to the dances.”

[ Here is a video of the wicked and sinful pastime of house-dancing (narrated by a well-known personality). Just turn on the sound and click the arrow in the centre of the picture. – Comms Team. ]


Mná na hÉireann

Fenor 2010 – Growing and Changing

Mná na hÉireann

old-person-01-smallThis is the name of an article by Mrs. Rita Byrne in the book Fenor 2010 – Growing and Changing. Eight women shared their experiences with Rita who recorded the conversations on an old-fashioned “steam tape cassette” and transcribed them for the book. Isn’t it what we all say we should do when we meet with the older generation and get them talking? But we don’t do it and the memories are lost for ever.


The experiences related by these women are both funny and tragic and may cause you to weep on both accounts. We have taken the liberty of including some extra material (mostly in dark blue type) which, we hope, will provide added interest. You can access the stories from the menu on the left.

[ Here, now, is Rita Byrne’s short introduction to the article: ]

“Mná na hÉireann”

by Rita Byrne

As remembered by the late Mary Long, Nora Crowley, Josie Drohan, Baby (Anna) Hynes, Mary B. and Peig Power, Kathleen Keniry and Josie Gough in taped conversations made in the 1980s. To their memory I dedicate this article. We will never see the likes of them again.

[ Rita ended the article with the following: ]

“It was my privilege during the 1980s and 90s to talk with the senior citizens of the community and to call them my friends. Sadly, they are all now gone to their reward in heaven. While the men told me their marvellous stories of football matches and farming and the spirit world, the ladies talked about their day-to-day lives and the hardships and happy and sad times of their youth.

They were ordinary people with extraordinary faith. By today’s standard their lives were hard and their work load horrendous, but what they had they shared willingly and they thought about others before they thought about themselves. In a society where families of eight, nine, and ten were the norm, there was little time for themselves, yet they were concerned for elderly neighbours, the sick, and the travelling people.

Nádúr, good nature, or being a good neighbour was always on their lips. The strength of women and their strong religious faith helped them to survive. Their belief in the after-life helped them in their understanding of the circle of life. Their relationship with God sustained them. This relationship was a very personal one. God was with them in everything they did and the name of God was never far from their lips.

Parish Life In The Past

Parish Life in the Past


The Way It Was

This photo of a woman spinning was taken around the time our two churches were built – about 1890. How on earth did she get by without a mobile phone or a tablet?
Young people are often amazed when they hear how different parish life was when their parents and grandparents were young. So much has changed in the practice of religion. Of course, many religious practices were not religious at all but were merely superstitions, and many of them were driven off by the Archangel Solas – the electric light. Even grannies and granddads forget how it was until they are reminded.

Sore head
For instance, do you remember that characteristic “bonk!” sound that was heard from time to time during Mass when the head of a fainting child banged into the bench in front? Of course you do, but you haven’t heard it for a long time, have you? Not since the rule about fasting from midnight was relaxed.


Now is your chance to remind us all of the way it was. Why not put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and write out a wee something. Post it or hand it in to the parish office or e-mail it to the communications team. You will find contact details on the Contact Us page. It doesn’t have to be a 10,000-word opus. Little things are also important and if you think your story is interesting or humorous, we will too. So send it in to us and we will let everyone enjoy it.


To encourage you we have published a few stories which were, mostly, reproduced from books on Fenor, including the latest book, ‘Fenor 2010 – Growing and Changing’. They are available from the menu on the left of this page. Stories from Dunhill and some new stories are on the way.
We hereby exhort you grannies and granddads to compel your offspring to read these stories. It will do them good and let them see what a tough life you had and how easy it is for them now, and how ungrateful they are, and how they should appreciate you more, and … you know the routine!