John was born and grew up in Glentaisie, the first of the Nine Glens. On the outskirts of Ballycastle, farming was hard work, strong family ties maintaining the web of community life. The small local school was Clough Dunmurry, but the farm was their livelihood and education was a luxury.
Interviewer: Did you keep animals on the farm?
John: Oh aye my father had animals and all. Whenever it came, even when you left school and all whenever it came to Saturday night again and all whenever you got to 15, 16 and 17 or that and you wanted to get to Ballycastle on a Saturday night and you needed pocket money, you were very lucky if you got what you called half a crown, two and sixpence. You were very lucky if you get that. There was no money threw to you.
Interviewer: What did you do in Ballycastle?
John: Oh well we went to the pictures and then when you got a bit farther forward you were keeping your eye for a girl and so on as you know.
Interviewer: Where was the picture house?
John: The picture house was, do you know whenever you come into the Diamond and turn up Market Street, do you know where the McHenry’s the contractors are there well just, Donaghy musical thing is in it. It is on your left. Whenever you come into the Diamond and go to come up Market Street, the same as if you were heading for the foot of the Chapel Brae on your left there McHenry’s has built all right round that corner and they have to go into the stores and up here on the right it is just on the opposite side.
Interviewer: How long is that closed?
John: Ah now, it’s a good while. I was stopped going to the pictures whenever it was closed. It’s bound to be … in the late ’50s.
Interviewer: That long ago?
John: Oh aye would think so and the narrow gauge that the train run from Ballycastle to Ballymoney. On the railway track there. Aye. Now I think, I’m nearly sure it was ’49 that she shut … that the narrow gauge went off. You would have heard here just before on a Lammas Fair night. Many and many a time you would have heard her hissing and hissing. And you would have heard her missing at the first … Train going up round the corner and reversed her back and then … to see if it would give her a grip again and whiles it did and whiles it didn’t and then they got, they put two engines to her to take her up past, to take her up to the station and the other engine came back down again. That was on a Lammas Fair night … and they drew the cattle, during the war years they took the fat cattle to Ballycastle. To see if your cattle was fat enough and all and they put them on to the station and the took them across the Diamond there where they are building that big new supermarket across there, they came down that road, down what you call Station Row or Station Street, that wee street there that’s where the saw mill was just on the other side of the road from where the car park is and the cattle went on wagons there and they took their cattle down there.
Interviewer: Did they walk them in?
John: Aye they walked them in. They weren’t easy. The cattle had been shut in the house, once they got the length of Ballycastle and all there was many, it took a bit of help to get them going. It was not a bit easy.
Interviewer: What was your school like?
John: Just a wee country school. It was an old school. It’s still up there but there’s slates and all off it. I don’t mind the dates. The dates was up on it above the door. It was right old school. It was a two teacher school. The school teacher taught in the upper end and she … and the master done the other low end. I think maybe when you went out of senior infants you went down into his class.
Interviewer: Did you like it?
John: I wasn’t too fussy on school. There’s no use of me saying, no. Even the work was hard I never, I never liked school. Now you rue it now that you didn’t learn more than what you did learn. Well the school master we had he was a very smart man but I’ll you what he, he was, somebody that was on for learning he was a great help and spend more time with them than he did with the rest of us and … all to learn and there was any amount of ones that come out of that school doctors, school teachers and all. Got there first education there before they went to the High School but as far as I’m concerned it was about missing days and getting behind your mates and all at school and you got then that you weren’t that fussy whether you were learning at all or not. He went to Ballymena and he was home every weekend on the bicycle on a Friday evening and it could be raining or sleeting or snowing he went. He came back down on a Sunday night. Whenever you got home here, whenever you got to be any age there was always some wee job that you could have went and fed calves or maybe had to go with your father with something like meal or something such as that. My father was reared here and his father before him was reared here.
Interviewer: Were they all farmers?
John: Aye they were big, there was ten of a family of my father but they went abroad.
Interviewer: Did your father then, did he go to the hiring fairs? Did he hire people?
John: He did that’s right.
Interviewer: Did you ever go to the hiring fairs?
John: I did, aye. Oh aye. The men that was out for hiring, young men after they left school and so on, they gathered into the hiring fairs that was in May and November on the, I think the 21st of May was one of the and I suppose the same date in November. It was every six months it was and they agreed with whatever man they were hiring, there would be different farmers hiring them, whatever it would be for the six months. Maybe, in them times it would start off it would be maybe six or seven pounds for six months and they earled them, now what earled meant that the fellow that they had hired they give him we’ll say five shillings that would be called earling and they couldn’t go and earl with somebody, go with somebody else because they had already got that money or they’re going to get into trouble. That’s right. And if somebody else came along and said to them oh look here I could do with a man, I’ll hire you for six months you couldn’t do that. That would get them into trouble.
Interviewer: Yeah. Did the amount, did that depend on their age or their experience?
John: It more on their experience. No it wouldn’t have went with the age and that no, their experience and you got to know some of these boys and you might have thought would be a bit of use to you.
Interviewer: The women, did they get the same amount?
John: It’s according to what they agreed to and that. They weren’t as much, they didn’t need a woman here now and that. There weren’t as many, there was maids hired right enough and that but I don’t know so much about them.
Interviewer: What did they do, did they all just line up?
John: Aye there could be, down there about Ballycastle about The Antrim Arms and out along there and that they gathered up maybe three or four fellows or that there and you would know or maybe some of them would have said are you looking for a man for six months. That’s the way they done it. Oh they went to a lot of places, to the wee village of Moss-side down there too. There was a certain date for that too.
Interviewer: Where’s that?
John: Moss-side. Do you know if you were going to Coleraine, that wee village down there.
Interviewer: You went there as well?
John: Oh aye.
Interviewer: Did these people, did they have families?
John: No they weren’t married then. Oh no they weren’t married maybe during their time there … The wages gradually rise but they weren’t good at a time.
Interviewer: Have the hiring fairs stopped long?
John: Oh I don’t know how long they’ve stopped. Aye there a good while. It came in then the regulations about wages and things and … It would be around the War time … 12 o’clock or 1 o’clock on a Saturday, I think one …
Interviewer: Did they live here?
John: Aye there was some of them men whenever we were small stayed here. Oh there were.
Interviewer: Was there many?
John: Oh there was different ones all stayed here that I can mind and that. The one this six months maybe that would want to stay again or maybe they didn’t want to keep him again and there was another … and he would have stayed and there was some of them maybe they would be here for two or three years working … and then they went then maybe they left and got a bigger job maybe with a contractor or got married or had a wife maybe and started a family. They went somewhere to get more money and the hours … and all like.
Interviewer: Did you mother come from round here?
John: Aye she came from what they called the Hillside Road there. It wasn’t any more than three miles from here, between here and Armoy and she was, my mother was a maternity nurse, midwife and that was even whenever she came here … ones coming through the night looking for her. There was only one District Nurse in Ballycastle and maybe one or two or maybe three or maybe more all came at the same time expecting their baby and she would have called in here, and if she was gone and somebody in desperation for a midwife she would have … and that was away on a bicycle too, she had no car or nothing. If some of the places that she was going to had a car they came. Up to Armoy, oh aye she was away everywhere. Maybe at night whenever we were … somebody would come to the door rattling through the night and then my father would lift the sash of the window, “Who’s there?” My mother would get up, get out of bed to go on a bicycle or maybe they had a car and they were fit to take her with them
Interviewer: Did she grow up on a farm?
John: Aye she did but then she went away. Aye she grew up on a farm up there but she, I don’t know she was away and trained for maternity nurse and she was in France and all before ever she was married. She married and came back into farming here. The house that is over round in that yard that you came in there that was an old thatched house and the house that she left was an old thatched house but she wasn’t so much at home up there she was in different places.
Interviewer: What size was your family, had you any brothers and sisters?
John: There was four, just four boys, there was no girls, four boys. My father was, he was a brave bit older than my mother, he was 17 years. He had left here at a time and went to California. And then he came back home and he had a brother in New York that went away before, the oldest, his oldest brother went to New York.
Interviewer: When did he go to Calfornia?
John: He went away, oh I can tell you, he went away on the 8th of August 1807 but I do not know how long he was in it now. That’s one thing I didn’t ask him. He went away, him and another man up the road here went to California and they landed and they had an address, a man that had went to California before and they were going to but they landed in after night and they came in at the other end of the street and they were looking for this number and they were striking matches and this man came out of a gate and shouted “Don’t do that boys, don’t do that.” He says “Do you want to be shot” He says “What are you looking for?” They were looking for a number. He says “I do not know but I’ll tell you what you do come on in here” and they lay down and fell asleep and he wakened them in the morning and said to them now boys says he “It’s daylight and you might get what you’re looking for now” and they got up and went out. And the next morning whenever they rise and they went out and they saw they were on the wrong side of the street and the crossed the street and they walked to where the man he was sitting at his breakfast going to his work, the man from the night before and he and his wife took them in I suppose and he went up to his work and they looked for digs somewhere at that time and he was in some store checking stuff coming in for a while and then he went to a big stable where they kept horses. In the city, every man in town had horses to feed and groom and to clean them and you or me went in looking for horses to go and do some runs through the city and that. They all had names for their horses. And that man had 20 of them, and you had to be there again whenever them horses came back in again whatever time them men had them employed for through the city and whenever they came back in again then if they were too warm or were warmed up you weren’t allowed to give them any corn or too much water and you had to stay until those horses cooled down but the water was piped down in and you had to cut the water off them. So even there for your job you had to rise very early in the morning to have them horses ready in case and maybe you came in there and your team of horses wouldn’t be called that day, your team it would be somebody elses. They were Irish, the men the Kelly brothers. Now I don’t know whether they came from the South of Ireland or where no but they were the Kelly brothers, there was more than one of them. There was Italians and what not, all nationalities of boys that was there working and they had some of the horses they had working on the, so much working on the streets that their feet got sore. And they had some big park somewhere out of the city and they put these horses to in the summer time to the soft ground to ease their feet and other ones took their place until they came alright again and they, this day they said to my father “Do you know where such and a park is?” “No” he says “I don’t”, but they travelled the whole blinking day and he always said to the Italian “Are we near it?” “ Aye, we’re not far away now, we’re not far away now”. He didn’t know, he hadn’t a clue where he was going but my father had noticed something outside … some skyscraper or something and away in the evening he said, I don’t know what you called him, I know that them boys called my father and them Paddy the Irish Man, you know. He said, he shouted at them he says that’s where you are, he says we’re back he says to the very land where we left this morning. Oh a lot of nonsense. He says “I’m heading back” and the boy he headed back and he knew where he was whenever he took and the Italian had to come too and one of the Kelly brothers was very near sacking the Italian because he didn’t know at all. He shouldn’t have went. My father told them he didn’t know where it was but the other boy said that he knew and they were to follow him. Things like that. Well then my father he drunk out of the pipes where the water was piped into the horses and there was some of that water lying in them pipes and they had to run it a while and he took Malaria fever out of it.
John: Mmmh and the Italians and some of them other boys that was there shouted, oh don’t do that, don’t do that. Cross the street and get a beer, get a beer. He didn’t want to spend the money on drink or get too fond and he, oh he was bad, he lay in hospital I do not know how long and that and they had to changed his shirts as much as three time in one night and one of the times there was a nurse, the nurse was there and that and the doctor came in every morning and that to see him … and she said to the doctor “he didn’t sweat as much last night”. “Did he not?” he says. “No” she says “I never had to change his clothes?” “How did that come?” She says “I’ve got a pitcher under his bed.” “My God” he said “get him out at once, get him out you’re going to kill him right enough.” This was to keep him from sweating whatever pitcher with water and lime or something and she had kept it in under the bed he was sleeping and that and the doctor then, oh I don’t know how long, there was somebody sent faith healers to him and that and they were in and he told them to go and leave him because he was dying. He said “I don’t believe it for goodness sake will you go and leave me alone” he said. He was in that bad of form. And whenever the doctor said to him “well”, he said “we’ve done all for you that we can do”. He says “We can do no more for you”. He says “Where do you really come from?” He told him “oh the Black North.” They called that the Black North out there, the Black North. He said came from Ireland. “Oh the Black North” he said. He says, “The only thing” he says “that might help you he says I do not know but if you had a cruise on the sea” and he said “My God where would I go for a cruise? I would have no money to spend on a cruise.” Well, he had a brother in New York that went out, an older brother and he got in contact with him and they told him … and he was going to stop with him on his way coming it would be half roads from California when he was in New York and he called with him and the brother, he stayed a week there, and the brother wrote a letter home to his mother, my father and mother and to his mother who was out there and a sister and he said “Bob, (Robert but he always got Bob) he’s with me he says but he says I want to tell you he says he’ll never make the journey and don’t be expecting ever to see him again. He’ll never make home. He’s that far gone” he says and he stayed a week and got on the other boat again whatever boat it was but it was coming in at Derry. He headed back for home and I asked him and he says “Whenever I was half road … but” he says “I knew I was feeling a wee bit better” and he came in at Derry and got a train to Coleraine and got the train in Coleraine and came into Ballymoney and got the narrow gauge and he had to walk down here. They didn’t know, they weren’t expecting him ever home. And he left whatever suitcase or whatever trunks he had, he left them up there with the station master at that time and he got home and that and put his hand up into his hair and his hair was coming out and he never knew … He never knew what it was … oh he was as strong as a horse and he lived up until 92.
Interviewer: Does Malaria leave you?
John: No he took nightmares and he scared the life out of us whenever we … run up the stairs to get him wakened. When they took them nightmares you are supposed to waken them right away.
Interviewer: You are?
John: Oh aye. Oh the Malaria left him. They told him it would take seven years to get it out of his system. Aye it left him. Interviewer: Did it?
John: Oh it left him. I heard him saying that the doctor told him it would be seven years before it was out of his system and he came back home again. At that time like everything else they weren’t wanting to buy the artificial manure and they took a lot of … gathering the seaweed and taking it home and mix it through the other farmyard manure, I think to make it go further … and he got burned. Now the first time that he was burned he was coming from the sea, him and somebody else with two loads of wreck and it was that bad and down there at the bottom of Rathlin Road, do you know where that is, well they pulled in there and they went into the doctor, they had no appointment to make then, they went into the doctors and the doctor, Doctor O’Connor to see if he had anything for this pain and he said to him well I’ll have a go he says and that and he went out of the room and away into some other room and he came back into him again and he said where, where does it hit you worst, it was somewhere down in the hip or somewhere here.
John: He says slacken, now open the buttons on your pants and be ready to drop them whenever I come in again and the doctor went out and came in again and he told him to drop his pants and he had a red iron that he had in the fire behind his back and the doctor advanced and turned and turned round and faced him and there he was standing with his backside to him and he gave him the touch on the side on the hip and the shock of that cleared it away for a good while, the trouble was whenever that started to heal. He was burned through. Whenever that started to heal he could hardly hold his trousers on and then the next time it was done it come that much advanced it was electric, the next two times and then after that, that was before he was married, after that he had … he got a stroke 1949.
Interviewer: Did he die?
John: No he didn’t and he had a bicycle, walked down wheeling a bicycle and he didn’t know what he was doing and he came here and we weren’t about, my mother was about and there was a man came he didn’t seem to know and he went up with him and it would be about two mile and he wheeled the bicycle in the door into the house and the mother here …wherever she was out about in the yard and she came round and the man came up and said Bob is not feeling too well and when she came in she seen he was starting to loss the power and she helped him up the stairs and got the doctor and that and the doctor came and he said his heart is good and his blood pressure he says is fairly regular he says the only danger is he says he must have been as strong as a horse when he managed this length he says the power is away … whenever the doctor come down the right side, right leg and right arm and his speech and he said to him oh … at that time you could have got a car somewhere, somebody got a car he says there is big danger of another one hitting him inside 24 – 48 hours but it didn’t and he mended up again and he lived until he was 72 then, 10 years after.
Interviewer: When did he pass away?
John: He passed away on the 8th of March 1967.
Interviewer: What about the snowfall, do you remember the snowfall after the War 1947?
John: Oh I do, aye.
Interviewer: Was it bad around here?
John: Oh God it was bad. Oh it was bad. Oh my goodness. There was three came after that. I do not know, there was a wee slight fall of snow came in the month of January in 1947. It was no thick and cleared off but in around the ditches it stayed. The old, the old people that had been handed down over the generations said that whenever that was lying there, there was more coming and that was dead right. There was lovely weather in the month of January after, I don’t know what date in January that fall was, but oh, it hardly covered the fields, like a wee coating, and there was very nice weather at the end of January and I went til plough, there was a ploughing match with the horses on the 22nd January 1947 just up out of the town. And there was a wee bit of wind coming out of the east but very little and whenever the sun rise and that and it was among the big trees up there more or less up the Bushmill line there … it was like a summer day, the sun came out. There was a bit of frost at night and that but I don’t know what date it was in February for I went into the Dalriada Hospital to go through an operation for a hernia in February and it was bravely on in the month but I know I wasn’t sleeping and I think I had gone in on Sunday and I went through it on Monday and it was very near the end of the month now and the nurse came round and she was shutting the windows and … I hadn’t been sleeping I wasn’t that long after the operation and she says it has been a wild night she says and the snow is blowing powerful and she was closing down the window. The next morning we knew all about. Well I didn’t know too much about it because I was in bed but … the water. Whatever was wrong there it froze all over, the frost was severe and they had to get the plumber from Ballycastle the O’Connors and they had to come plumb some water up to the bathrooms, the bathrooms and the toilet and the drinking water had to be carried from a wee well out of Ballycastle there.
Interviewer: Frozen pipes?
John: Frozen pipes. Although I was back home again on the 7th March again there was another fall and there was another one after that and on St Patrick’s Day whenever the neighbours up here were going to chapel they were walking on top of, there was a wee burn down the road there and there was a wee bridge down that took you into Ballycastle and the burn was … it was frozen up … you had to walk into the field and go up the field the snow had blowed over off the fields and into the road, had to walk up the field on the 17th of March, oh aye oh it was bad. They took a lot of men out of the brew and cut the roads with spades and shovels and things and the next morning it was filled again, just took another fresh blowing of snow blew in from … the shelter of the back of the, oh aye. And then there was another one in 1963. It did not last as long but that was bad too. It started sleeting out of the east, sort of sleety wet stuff and there was an auction up the Coleraine line there that we went til. It was an old dirty sleety day, soft stuff. Whenever we were leaving in the evening it was getting very thick but it turned to a real blanket of snow the auctioneer on that day came from Ballymoney they couldn’t get home and the whole roads was all blocked. There was people in, in people’s houses everywhere they could get in that night. They weren’t fit to get, the roads were blocked, cars and what not. That was in 1963. That’s the last snow that was worth talking about. But ’47 last my goodness six weeks … Oh it was very severe, very severe.
Interviewer: Was there any really good summers?
John: Well ’59 was a good summer and another one too, I know that ’59 was a good summer. There was a great spell of weather in ’59. Oh there are others for by that but there was more bad ones that there were good ones. 1950 was a very bad summer and ’54 was another bad one and then 1985 it was a dang bad one. Well I think the only that was different between this year and it was that we had June, at the beginning of June was brave and good. I don’t remember what May was but I think it was better but then the rain came on and it kept at it too.