Interview with Jimmy Davidson

Jimmy was born and grew up in a small village outside Ballycastle. After leaving school he worked with his father as a pig-killer, travelling around farms carrying out this service. He also worked for the Roads Service, maintaining routes in the north Antrim area. Living now in Ballycastle, Jimmy is 91 years old and still has a sparkle in his eyes.
Interviewer: Do you have brothers and sisters?
Jimmy: All dead. There was nine of us.
Interviewer: Were you the oldest or the youngest?
Jimmy: Oh no, there was a girl younger than me she’s dead. I was next to her. Four boys and five girls. They were hard times.
Interviewer: How many bedrooms?
Jimmy: Two.
Interviewer: Was there a loft, was there room upstairs, another room ….
Jimmy: No, no just the two bedrooms upstairs. There was stairs came from the kitchen right up.
Interviewer: And that’s where you had the big open fire.
Jimmy: That’s right.
Interviewer: Did you have a bathroom?
Jimmy: Not at all. They built all those old cottages, they built nothing up not even a wash-hand basin in the house. That’s why I cleared out of it. I was in it 68 years. I got this house in here.
Interviewer: Do you miss it?
Jimmy: Well no, well at the start I did you see. I was used going round the fields there, I went into the fields and then I got settled down here, a lot of houses and all and neighbours and all and this and that but I made myself useful because, before I broke my legs and all, garden, garden, garden, garden all the time day and night, not night. A lot of the neighbours who knew me and they would have shouted and I went out. Quite content in here.
Interviewer: What do you call that road you lived on then?
Jimmy: Drumnakeel. Oh yes the other, old road went down in to the river. It’s worth stopping in the car if you’re going up there and look down to see the old road that was there.
Interviewer: Right just as you come out of Ballyvoy and you look from the Bridge.
Jimmy: And drive on up there, half way up the new road. You go on straight on up the new road there and if you stop your car and just look down in to see where the old road was down in. To the right, towards the river. Oh it cracked and it broke up and they put more stuff into it, it was always going to the river, floods, floods, floods.
Interviewer: Did you look after that when it was the old road?
Jimmy: Exactly. That was my road.
Interviewer: Right. Hard work.
Jimmy: You just got used to it.
Interviewer: So tell me who lived in all those wee cottages, Johnnie’s cottages.
Jimmy: Well there was an old man Jamie Dunbar and his wife.There was another wee man John –somebody- he was a carpenter and there was another old man in the end house Archie McCormick. Then there is a wee, wee house further down and a wee man they called him John Catlin.
Interviewer: So did they, were those houses originally for people working in the mills?
Jimmy: Well not exactly, no, no.
Interviewer: Was it a wee village on its own?
Jimmy: Just, aye a whean of houses there belonged to Johnnie and you could have got a job wherever you wanted. They didn’t care, they would have paid the rent.
Interviewer: Was that called Drumnakeel?
Jimmy: That is correct.
Interviewer: So you lived, I mean you came from a wee village almost.
Jimmy: Aye. You go in there to your right and we went in there if you were coming down and them two cottages is sitting that way, going down into the hollow to John Duncan’s.
Interviewer: Yeah. Who lived next door to you then?
Jimmy: Well the people for years and years McCluskey. Then they died and away and another family come to live in it, part of a family, three girls and two boys and they’re all dead and away.
Interviewer: They found a burial, some burials there from thousands and thousands of years ago.
Jimmy: Well I’ll explain this to you. Hugh Duncan’s quarry when he was working away and he come up close to this hedge.
Interviewer: Yes.
Jimmy: And he come on this tunnel, now this is true. It is there for you to see it and it was built about this height up from the ground, all wee stones, about this size, built, sides was built and the roof was on and a lot of people come to see that you know and that was as true in olden times the fairies tunnel. You’ve heard tell of fairies. You could go in as far there, in there and if you had a candle, the candle went out. We were in a brave bit and then you come out.
Interviewer: Really and was it big enough for you to just crawl.
Jimmy: Oh you crawled aye. It was just only about this height.
Interviewer: Yeah.
Jimmy: About this height look and low arch and all, wee stones and that was the fairies. There were such a thing as, really as fairies. Oh yes. Now there’s a, I’m sure you must heard of it in your time, round the farm places and round other old places and there was a big, big thorn bush, oh Jesus as wide as that, it was a skeoagh bush and that belonged to the fairies. Now there’s not a man in Ireland would have cut one of them down because you would have had wild bad luck over the head of it or something. Nobody ever cut them.
Interviewer: No matter where they grew?
Jimmy: There was lots of them in Carey, up where I was.
Interviewer: Did you ever hear of anyone who did cut one?
Jimmy: No I never did, no but then the whole thing about it is this. When the war started those mad men, the Yankees they came over. Bored through everything and ripped them out.
Interviewer: Who did it?
Jimmy: The Yankees, the American soldiers. Oh aye the War. I know there’s a lot stories about the fairies but you don’t really hear them as much now. Not, they’re never mentioned now at that time, now I can tell you this in the old road there that we used to sit there and when you’re going up that new road now from these wee houses that you saw there on the left and you drive on up there.
Interviewer: Yes.
Jimmy: And there’s a great big skeoagh bush at the side of that hill there.
Interviewer: On the left or the right?
Jimmy: The right. On the right. And there’s a big mound of a place, sort of like a round place and there’s steps on it and that was the fairies hill and they lived there and they would come out in the summer time and they had a great bit of dancing, wee, wee, people, fairies and they had music and danced away on a summer evening.
Interviewer: What kind of music?
Jimmy: Well in the summer time. They would have been on the run all the time, the fairies. They were wee, wee people about this size.
Interviewer: Have you ever seen them?
Jimmy: On no I’ve never seen them but you would hear the old, old people talk about them. They would come out and they would sing and shout and laugh, the fairies, aye. The point is I’m saying to you the old, old people was listening and at night they wouldn’t come out. They came out on a summer night. Come out and dance away and sing away but you wouldn’t go up in there to do any harm to them because you would not have any luck. Nobody would go near the fairy hill.
Interviewer: No.
Jimmy: They would be out at night singing. That’s right wee, wee people about this size. But then, I don’t know whether you ever, did you ever hear of anything they called the banshee?
Interviewer: Yeah.
Jimmy: Oh you did.
Interviewer: Well I don’t really know, tell me about it.
Jimmy: Well I’ll tell you all I know about it. He was a wee, wee man about this size.
Interviewer: With three feet?
Jimmy: And he would always roam along the edge of rivers, rivers and things and this is true and if somebody was in your house that wee….. and would cry and cry and cry and cry and then they would turn them away and then in a day or two that man and woman died but you would always get them along rivers and they were wild for the sound of the river.
Interviewer: What type of a cry was it?
Jimmy: An odd kind of a cry.
Interviewer: Yeah.
Jimmy: Like a banshee cry there.
Interviewer: Nobody ever saw them?
Jimmy: Not very many, no, no, no. Just wee people singing and crying and singing and crying and if somebody died the first thing you would hear oh we heard the banshees crying.
Interviewer: What’s your earliest memory?
Jimmy: Well I tell you something for nothing. My earliest memory was when I left school and I could name it as well as I’m talking to you now.
Interviewer: Do you not remember when, your first day at school or even before you went to school?
Jimmy: Oh aye I do, aye because there was two, there was three of us. I mean there was just three of us at that stage in the house went there and times were hard. Now it would be a brother you see in the house and the mother made all the wee trousers for them and jackets.
Interviewer: Yes.
Jimmy: And that fellow’s wee pants come to there look.
Interviewer: Yeah.
Jimmy: Was too short and too tight, the mothers would wash them to the next boy coming up. That’s how they clothed them. Oh aye times were hard. You went to school there, not our family.
Interviewer: What school did you go to?
Jimmy: A wee school down at Ballyvoy. There was two schools there and we just had a wee piece of bread there rolled up in a bit of paper and stuck in your school bag. So there was no free dinners, no this, ah to hell…. they would scunder you when I look at the young generation. Ah I don’t want this and I don’t want that.
Interviewer: So when did you start the pig killing, when did you start training?
Jimmy: Well the thing about it is now. There was another brother there, he was the oldest fellow in the family and he died with bad health. Then that man there, my father took me out. And that ould boy he wanted to keep the name going with the butchering that’s why he took me out. At the start I didn’t care much about it.
Interviewer: What age were you the first day you went?
Jimmy: I would be about 17 or maybe more years of age.
Interviewer: First time.
Jimmy: H took me out to hold and to scrape and do all the things.
Interviewer: Do you see the very first time that you did it, you know killed a pig what did you think, what went through your head?
Jimmy: Well you see now, I’m telling you the truth. I was a good whean of years there because to bleed a pig is a very important job, to bleed one.
Interviewer: Yeah.
Jimmy: And I used to hold them and scrape them, clean up and he done the bleeding for a long, long number of years and I remember well going to this farmhouse it was up the top of Carey now and went to this house and the pig was there and I was standing there and he says there’s your knife. The pigs head is down and you have your hand on the nose of the pig here.
Interviewer: Yes.
Jimmy: And it’s in between your legs and you’re down on your knees and you just come down like that two cuts or three cuts according to what thickness was there and then you turn your knife like that. Here’s the secret. Juglar, there’s two jugulars there. Whenever you went in you cut this big jugular you see and then you turned your knife slowly and came out and you cut the wee jugular.
Interviewer: Did you have to be quite strong to do it?
Jimmy: No not really. It all depended if you had a good tool. I always liked a good sharp knife for bleeding. I always liked just to have two cuts.
Interviewer: But actually doing it, did the blood squirt?
Jimmy: No, no, only the feel of the blood on your arms was just the only thing.
Interviewer: Was it warm?
Jimmy: Oh aye it was warm, the blood of the pig. Whenever you cut them two jugulars, but I can assure you it was the greatest cure there in the whole world for warts. You heard tell of warts?
Interviewer: Yes.
Jimmy: Pig’s blood.
Interviewer: Really.
Jimmy: Round the farmhouses and all and fellows working and all wanted this pigs blood and they would come and I would say give me your hand and they would turn their head away and I would stick their hand into the neck of the pig that was lying there and it bleeding, up to there in blood to cure them.
Interviewer: Were there any internal organs that you kept?
Jimmy: Not really, no. No you didn’t want them when you were working with them.
Interviewer: None.
JJimmy: ust get them out as quick and the last thing you took out was the liver.
Interviewer: The liver and was it not kept?
Jimmy: Oh the farmers kept it and cooked it. Liver is good. Then the old women used to eat it. They would put it on and par boil it you know nice and slow, leave it nice and hard and slice that down and sure as God that was great and then other ones would, it was better nicely washed and not par boiled and fried fresh and dip it in a taste of flour or oaten-meal and do it on the pan and it was real fantastic.
Interviewer: What about the heart?
Jimmy: The heart was good too, cut fine, nice and thin and fried.
Interviewer: The heart, the liver anything else used? What about the stomach?
Jimmy: Well, no there was nothing else kept only in those time and I know this is true…the workmen’s wives if there was a few pigs a killing they would come and ask for the stomachs. You know this is true and here take whatever you want and they would take two or three of them stomachs and they would come home there and make a wee hole there about that length of a cut in the stomach and take it to a river or a burn or a bucket of water and wash it properly, wash it properly, wash it properly and then after that they would make a good long cut this length, you see the inside of the stomach was all coated there, you know it was like…. you know that sort of, right in the inside of the stomach. That had to be all scraped off and they had the patience to do it and when they had that done and washed it, washed it terrible particular, the young women wouldn’t do it now and when that was done they turned round and they boiled as many potatoes and stuffed that with wholemeal and onions as tight, as tight as that, big, big thing like that there and they put it all in a pot there and boiled it until it was nicely cooked and lifted it out and let it cool and slice that and put that on the pan and serve it alongside steak.
Interviewer: And that was really tasty?
Jimmy: Oh put that on the pan there and it nicely fried. You would have went to any length for it.
Interviewer: And what about, did they do something about pigs feet?
Jimmy: Well aye the feet is boiled there you know, the two front ones and the two hind ones and them was boiled there, nicely boiled, nicely boiled and sure as God they were great. Pig’s foot, you heard tell of?
Interviewer: Yeah I’ve heard of it. I don’t know what …
Jimmy: And boys the flesh that was on the foot of that pig from the, there’s the feet right up there, that’s about the length of it, really fantastic.
Interviewer: Was there enough meat on it?
Jimmy: Oh aye.
Interviewer: Was there?
Jimmy: Aye you could pick it off.
Interviewer: Right. Like ribs or something and did it taste nicer than any other part of the pig?
Jimmy: No not exactly but it was really good, very, very tasty. The old women would just boil these four feet particularly with nothing only water and a taste of salt. Until they were properly cooked and took them off and boys they were as soft and tender. They were a great bit of feeding there. They were nice, pigs’ feet.
Interviewer: What else? Was anything, I’m sure, was anything done with the head?
Jimmy: Oh God aye. Oh the head was, the head was cured, the ears was cut off it and that muscles of the nose was cut off it and then it was split right up there and if you’d seen what bacon was on the side of that was put into that big crock or bath or whatever it was with plenty of salt and water and it lay there for two or three days and that was put on and that made some big pot of soup.
Interviewer: Really?
Jimmy: With vegetables.
Interviewer: But you didn’t eat the head? You just used it like for flavour.
Jimmy: No, no, what I’m telling you the nose was cut off, well then here on the front of the pig, the size of that there that’s where the brain was. It was in a wee, you could go through that and split it open and take out the brain which was like jelly.
Interviewer: What did you do with it?
Jimmy: Throw it away.
Interviewer: So how do you cure, you soak it in salt?
Jimmy: You put it into a crock or whatever it was with salt and water and that left it that it took out any bloody stuff that was in the head of the pig and then when you wanted it you took it and rinsed it in cold water and that made a good pot of soup. 42 years I killed pigs.
Interviewer: 42 years. Were you never sick eating pigs or bacon?
Jimmy: Well no as a matter of fact you see you never eat much in them times of the pig because the only think that I liked was the liver and when it was hung up there you never bothered you just got your tools gathered up and away to the next man. No. You could but you never thought on it.
Interviewer: You were doing a job.
Jimmy: Just doing a job, just getting a cup of tea and maybe a boiled egg at a farmhouse and away you went to the next farmhouse.
Interviewer: How long did it take you to do one pig?
Jimmy: I suppose if I told you, you wouldn’t believe me, 20 minutes.
Interviewer: Really that quick.
Jimmy: From I bled it until I had it washed out in that time.
Interviewer: Did people or did your father, did some people stun it first?
Jimmy: No we never went in for that but I went in for that then at the last I had one of them timber hatchets there.
Interviewer: Yeah. Did you have hit it on a certain part?
Jimmy: Just there between the eyes. Oh no it just dropped down there. If you were hit there. My history.
Interviewer: And you always needed three men to do it?
Jimmy: Oh aye you need a bit of help. You need a fellow to hold that front legs when you were bleeding it and you need a fellow to hold the hind legs.
Interviewer: Your garden is lovely. When do your flowers start to come out?
Jimmy: Well about June. And then they are flourishing and flourishing and coming out and coming out. You can get, them there (nasturtiums) is the primers there and then you can get the dwarf. They only come to about this size and they all have big head, all different colours. You see there’s five or six different shades there. Well that’s what I usually pass my time here. Doing gardening and then when it comes up to the length of July and August.
Interviewer: And what about turf?
Jimmy: We always cut a good big bank of turf, three days there.
Interviewer: Where did you get that from?
Jimmy: A place down by Glenmakeernan mountain. You go up the Glenmakeernan Road. That’s right and you turn in there.
Interviewer: To the left?
Jimmy: You turn in there to the right and then you go up there where them cottages is and you go on up that road and at the end of that there’s a moss and the turf banks are all up in there.
Interviewer: And how did you get the turf from there down to your house?
Jimmy: We carted them down. With a horse. And then when them was all taken home they were built into a big stack, all winter.
Interviewer: Sitting outside.
Jimmy: Lord I loved that, I loved that, I loved that…. now here’s one I can tell you. You heard it in your day. Oh there’s nothing like the sea air for the youngsters, there’s nothing like the sea for this and the mountain air was ten times stronger and better for you than the sea air was. True, pure air.
Interviewer: Healthier.
Jimmy: Oh aye. The smell of the moss you know. It was the greatest thing in the whole world there when you would be up in the mountain there when you heard telling of footing the turf and castle, you heard tell of footing.
Interviewer: Footing and castle-ing.
Jimmy: Just getting them up there and standing them in wee places to dry and on a sunny, sunny day…. well that skylark, that skylark, you heard tell of a skylark, a bird? And they lived in the mountain, a lovely wee brown bird.
Interviewer: Right.
Jimmy: And they would have their nest in among, in below the footings, four or five nice wee brown eggs, eggs, yes and on a lovely, lovely, lovely warm day there they would rise from these footings and they would get high up, high up, high up to sing, the skylark. You heard tell of the skylark?
Interviewer: I’ve heard of it but I’ve never seen one.
Jimmy: Them birds were singing there and they would dive down a bit and then up again and that would go on nearly all day if it was sunny weather and if it was showery weather they’d only just come up about this here.
Interviewer: How many would have went off to do the turf?
Jimmy: Oh it took three. A man to cut up, a man to take them from him and put them in the barrow and a man to wheel them out.
Interviewer: Right. Was it always men?
Jimmy: Oh there was women at it too. They would fill the barrows.
Interviewer: Did you have a good time together?
Jimmy: Oh you could do whatever you wanted. The three of us were together. I was cutting and you would lift two of these turf and you would throw them on to your barrow and then the other fellow he went out and emptied them out in rows. You could talk and laugh as much as you wanted.
Interviewer: So it was quite good.
Jimmy: Ouch aye and the whole thing about it is this that the smell of the moss that you were cutting at, you could smell that it was georgous and you wouldn’t be one day in the mountain, this is true, until you would be as brown as a berry. And even there weren’t much sun the atmosphere or the climate.
Interviewer: What time of the year, was this June?
Jimmy: Oh they would be cut there in the middle of May.
Interviewer: Right.
Jimmy: Oh yes and then there was a time for getting them out, taking them out of the bank and building them in stacks where you could get at them in the winter time or any other time.
Interviewer: How do you build turf stack to stop the rain getting in?
Jimmy: Well they are built the same, I’ll explain this to you … there’s the big end of the turf here, square you see, well that’s cut here, it’s cut square right down and here’s the root there’s a turf here, when you were building that stack the root of the turf was up and the big head of the turf was down you see and it was built like that look see. There was the root up there, right along and here was the big end of the turf here and that got a slope and it throwed the water but if you built them the other way it was different.
Interviewer: It would soak it up.
Jimmy: Aye the roots wouldn’t let in the water but when they’re dry … It was built very tight and very neat a turf stack that was going to sit over like for a few months.  Interviewer: Yeah.
Jimmy: They were built very, very neat and very tight. They just weren’t throwed up like that.
Interviewer: Then you start at the top and work your way down or start at the side, you know if you were taking some in for the fire?
Jimmy: Well if you started you broke up a stack and you took out two or three … the end was built too now. That was the end of the stack and you took that end way and put it into your horse or cart or whatever you had there and took it home but then if you were carting that stack home you went on, went on and carted it.
Interviewer: How long did it take to dry out?
Jimmy: Ah well it all depends on the summer. If you had a good summer there for the peats, if they were out now the black peats, if they were out there for about three days and got no rain they were as easy again dried you see because a black turf has a skin just like your hand there and if it got hardened up the water would run off it.
Interviewer: Right, like waterproof.
Jimmy: Exactly.
Interviewer: So what was your favourite thing of all the work that you did?
Jimmy: Well you’ll not believe this now, you’ll think maybe I’m … but my favourite time of the year and my favourite job was when I came in at night from the job and got washed and cleaned up for about half seven to go away to meet a bit of stuff.
Interviewer: What stuff?
Jimmy: A girl.
Interviewer: Whereabouts?
Jimmy: Wherever you like. Round the town or some place. Generally it would be the town we would head. Ballycastle.
Interviewer: Ballycastle. Every night.
Jimmy: Oh no, no but as many nights I would get off, maybe two nights in the week. A Tuesday night and a Friday night.
Interviewer: Tuesday and Friday and you went in to meet a girl.
Jimmy: That’s right.
Interviewer: And where did you go? Girls didn’t really go into pubs then did they?
Jimmy: Oh God no, no.
Interviewer: Why?
Jimmy: It wasn’t the same then.
Interviewer: Why?
Jimmy: It was the way they were reared and the way they were built they just wouldn’t have went in.
Interviewer: What about dances?
Jimmy: Oh aye there were.
Interviewer: Did you dance?
Jimmy: Oh we did aye. We went to the dances sometimes. A nice summer evening, the girls were in all day working especially on a Saturday night at a dance the girls would rather be out in the sea air along the shore yonder than at a bloody dance. I’m telling you the truth. They preferred that and so would I.