Interview with Pat McCambridge

Pat grew up in the outskirts of Cushendall, on a farm. He remembers many a story about his young days.
Pat: I used to know this man, I can’t mind his name but you’ll get his name anyway, he made two films in Cushendun and he wrote Guide Books and things like that. The man whose name I couldn’t remember a minute ago is Richard Hayward, Dr. Richard Hayward and he is a very interesting man. He wrote Guide Books and he made two films there in Cushendun. I saw part of the film but I can’t remember, one of them I think was called the Devil’s Rock and I can’t remember the other one.
Interviewer: Were there locals involved in it?
Pat: No I wouldn’t think so, no. Oh there was locals in it you know walk-ons and things. I remember one of them, I think this is true, I had this impression anyway that it ended with Charlie Levey, Charlie Levey was a postman that lived in Cushendun there, it ended with him walking with his dog along the beach or along the commons, walking into the sunset, they would say now a days it was but I had that impression maybe that’s all wrong, it’s a long time ago, I don’t remember but I don’t even know whether the two films were about Cushendun or the Glens, like whether there was any scenic interest in them or whether they were just cast there, I don’t know, I don’t really know and I never saw them. They wouldn’t have been, they might have been you know showing the scenery and that kind of thing. One of them might have been and it might have been a plot. I’m not sure just, don’t know.

It was 80 years ago now, well I was about 10 year old and you were farming of course no matter, if you were able to walk there was something for you to do and I remember my brother Bobby ploughing with a chill plough when he was ten years old and I was ploughing, I’m sure, when I was 14 many a time and there was always a job for you. No tractors, we might have seen an odd picture of a big threshing mill in England or somewhere, a big steam driven thing but there was no tractors and no thrashing mills. On the farm we had, of course, a fixed threshing machine not everyone but most of the bigger ones had a fixed thrashing machine in his barn which was drawn by two horses, a shaft outside and the horses walked down in a circle and drove the thrashing machine which was inside the wall of course. They were outside the wall of the building and that’s how the threshing was done and, well, the more primitive method of course was by the flail. Quite a few of them were still using the flail when I was young. I handled a flail too in my time. You cut the corn, you stooked it, which meant that you put six sheaves up against six other sheaves leaning against each other at the top and then you probably hutted it which was kind of a round stack. You just sloped up the sheaves and split one at the top to make a kind of thatch and the next thing there had to be carted and then built into proper stacks where they remained. They were thatched of course and remained there for the winter until they were needed to be taken in and threshed.
In my later years of course, maybe a couple of years before the war about 1938, 1939, tractors were getting common and these threshing mills, there was one or two of them about then. That had quite a pleasant social side to it this threshing mill. The other way you brought in your own corn, you threshed it on your own, or in the barn, and you were talking to no one but the threshing mill. You had to gather a bit of help from the neighbours and of course you went to them and it was quite a sociable thing at the time and there was always a bit of fun round the threshing mill and a lot of damn hard work as well and well that continued on up until the end of the war. And in later years there was very little cultivation, very little oats grew. There are very little oats being grown now, it’s nearly a rarity and its mostly barely and stuff and it’s harvested with a combine harvester and a lot of the old systems are gone that we were familiar with and of course all the sociable side of has gone now. You go into a field on your owny-oh nearly and do your work. So there’s not so much time wasted scandalising or talking.
The same thing with flax, flax was a very sociable. Flax had to be pulled pretty well the one day if you had a field of flax. You couldn’t go out and work at it for the next two weeks because it had to be all pulled in the one day and dubbed, put into a lint dub or dam. That meant that it had to be co-operative. Your neighbours came and pulled yours and you went to pull your neighbours. Again that was a very sociable outing because there was always maybe twenty men in a field and maybe two or more girls and maybe the farmer would have a couple of daughters and he would have a good gathering of men always. The boy with no daughters always had trouble getting enough men to pull his lint. So and very often there would be certain houses would have a, I suppose our form of harvest ball, there would be a lint pulling dance. No dances much for corn, there was always these lint pulling dances, quite a few of them you see, and you would always have a few girls about helping to make the tea and the dinner and that and then a few more would gather up for the dance and people met each other and it was very sociable and there was a lot of hard work with it too of course. It’s a funny thing I think the harder you worked the more you enjoy yourself afterwards.
There was usually somebody, in those days there was always somebody could play an old melodeon. I have no music, I wouldn’t know whether music was good or bad but they played a melodeon or a fiddle, maybe a couple of fiddles and that. You would always have plenty of musicians and these dances would be in an old barn. There would be no fancy maple floors or anything. In my young days, traditional dancing is the big thing now of course. People nearly forget there was ever any other but when I was young there would have been reels of course, four hand reels and things and there would be lancers and… I don’t know, I’m not a dancing man… lancers and foxtrots and two steps and devil and all you know and you might have four or five in the district over the season you know. They were very sociable things. So the other places that was also sociable. I’m thinking of the social side of farming because I never liked any other side of it and the turf cutting.
The crop would be, you normally tried to get the crop in at least finished about the 14th May or maybe a wee bit later. The only thing that would be sown later than that would be turnips maybe. So you had the crop all in and then you headed off to the mountain to cut turf and that was really a holiday because we didn’t work hard. I don’t know, but around our quarters we didn’t work too hard in the mountain. We went up in a horse and cart. It took us about two hours to get there driving a horse and cart in those days and you were only there about half an hour when you had to get… you got very hungry for some reason and you would have to get the dinner made and sometimes we made the dinner immediately we arrived and then after two or three hours you made the tea and then it was time to go home but the interesting thing about the turf you see, you went… maybe we had to go, in my very young days we cut down Carey mountain between Ballycastle and Cushendun you see so our neighbours there would be people we had never seen before maybe from Ballycastle or somewhere you know. So you had a whole new set of neighbours that you got to know and you only knew them in the mountain and again that was sociable too because you were talking to people you wouldn’t otherwise have got to know.
That’s all gone now too of course. They are starting to cut with these machines and even they’ve nearly stopped cutting with anything now and that was another social side. So the farmers now of course have TV and if they didn’t have TV I don’t know what they would do because they have very little other social life. They know more about the TV personalities than they do about their neighbours which is a good thing for it’s killed the scandal. You never hear any good bits of scandal now because they’re not interested in the neighbours, they are interested in the TV personalities.
So, anyway, the flax flaying of course that was the only sociable part of it was the pulling of it.
Then you had to get it carted into a dam and throw it in and then you had to take it and leave it for a while, which was until it rotted and the smell of it was, you could smell it for I’m sure half a mile away, worse than, you could feel along the road there where people are putting out silage and that but this was a far, far more stronger, more penetrating. And you had to go in, and maybe, if there wasn’t good drainage in the dam you were into greasy black water up to your waist and you had to lift out these dripping sheaves and put them on the edge of the dam. Another man had to come and throw them into a cart and go out and disperse them, I suppose about twelve feet apart, I can’t remember in rows along the field then maybe some of the women were involved in this would come out and lift a beat we called it, not a sheaf, a beat of flax and spread it on the ground very, very thinly and it dried there like in one day. You were always scared of the wind coming. If the wind came it would have lifted it and blew it away. So then we tied it up again and put into stooks much the same as the corn, put it in wind rows which are long double stooks kind of style and then they were stacked and then later on it was carted to the mill.
The mills were usually, they were small affairs and very simple and primitive, they were just a big spoke wheel with no room in it just five or maybe six big spokes which were called handles and they…
Interviewer: Where was the nearest mill?
There was one down there at Cushendun and there was a thing with just a piece of iron, a big plate of iron standing on its edge and you pushed the flax, you caught the stick of flax about the middle and you pushed it along the top of this iron blade and the farther you pushed it the closer it got to this handle. The handles would be coming round that fast you wouldn’t see them you see. If you hadn’t experience you could loose a hand very easy because they were travelling so fast you just didn’t see them, you saw them blurred and you pushed it up and it got tighter and tighter and it knocked all the woody stuff out of it and left you with the fibre, that’s called scutching and they used to talk about something is as common as a one handed scutcher.
If the flax was a bit damp the scutchers would eat the head off you if you came with it damp because if it was damp the handles spinning round so quickly were inclined to grip it, pull it and you pull your hand over the metal blade and your hand you wouldn’t even see it, you would just miss it and you would be one short. So then they held handle very carefully at this stage now, the scutcher turned that round, moved it out of his fingers and put it in again five or six times until every wee bit of the wooden stem was scutched out of it and he put it then in a wee pile on the floor maybe, I don’t know how many of those sticks, and then it was tied up in a certain way in.
You gave it a sheen before you went to the market and then you took it up to the market and there was the reward of course you got the money. Took it up to the market and these dealers came from the mills, and very arrogant they were, they would pull out a stick of lint and look at it and throw it very contemptuously on the ground and you had to pick it up, gather it up and put it in again and I saw that happening myself and that was it, you got your money and that was the end of it. It was good cash, a lot of them depended on it. You got more cash out of lint that you would have most things you know. It was the kind of thing that they made a bit of money on to buy another bit of land or something. I remember when I was very young maybe four, I remember distinctly, and I can’t remember last week, when you put the flax into the dam you filled the dam with water and the flax would be inclined to float so you threw stones in.
You had a big pile of stones for the purpose and you threw stones in on top of the flax to keep it down and you would be jumping in on it and try to get it pressed on to the water and get the water through it and I saw others jumping in and I jumped in, I was about four year old into this big pool and I remember to this day my sister dragging me out and just leaving me out in the field to dry with the clothes I had on me, still on me, just dried the way you would dry a rag and that’s my first memory of the flax. Well then, after the first war was well over flax became a thing of the past and the whole dams all filled up and then the new war came in 1939. There was very big subsidies for growing flax and there was more flax grown then than ever probably and then during the war years they brought it a flax pulling machine which didn’t get much of a chance, it was obsolete before it was used properly. I had it one year. It done more harm to the flax you know it pulled it all right but it wasn’t very satisfactory.
Then they also done away with the dam. They were redding up these big steam chambers over there at Armoy, they were a German invention or something but again then the whole flax industry changed and there was no market for flax at all.
Incidentally, the home grown flax here, the Northern Ireland flax was much coarser than the continental flax and it was very little people had this idea it was used in the linen industry but there was very little of it I’m told used in the local linen industry. It was imported Dutch and Belgium flax was used for the fine linens. The same with the wool of course. Our coarse blackfaced wool wasn’t used much for making cloth it was used for carpets and other coarser things and the wool was, wool some of these other finer woollen sheep was used in clothing thread. So I can’t tell you much more about the flax.
Interviewer: What about electricity?
Electricity, we only got electricity, I suppose, after the War probably but Cushendall, Cushendall had, there was an old mill in Cushendall here and this man Anthony O’Connor took over the old mill and converted it into station. He electricfied the village. The council had to pay of course for the lighting but I suppose we were the first village in Ireland with street lighting. I remember it before the street lighting but I don’t know much about it. I remember being in it and there was one light I think at the Tower there at the corner. Probably a paraffin lamp or something and that was all the light there was and we never missed it. I could have walked in those days through fields to my neighbours, a quarter of a mile through fields and over streams and all and no worry at all about the dark.
Interviewer: You didn’t mind the dark?
Not at all. Your eyes got used to the dark. You just got skilled in the dark you know. I couldn’t do the same thing now but in those days you just didn’t have the light and you weren’t used to the light. We got, the first big revolution, we’d the paraffin lamps on the wall and maybe a hanging one in the room or the sitting room or somewhere but just hanging lamps. Then these tilly lamps came out and they were the greatest godsend. When you got a tilly lamp the first thing you had to do was clean the house and paint it because it showed up all the dirt. The kind of dim paraffin lamps didn’t show up behind the doors the same way but these tilly lamps were different. So there was great sale on the tilly lamps. They had a short life too for it wasn’t very long then until the electricity. It’s funny things there, there’s a big movement in everything you know after the War.
Now there’s another thing, the haymaking. Somebody invented a cage or thing for making hay ricks. You filled this cage into the shape of a hay rick and you filled it even the idea was… you pushed the hay up and into it and then you turned it over you see so the sharp end was up and you’d already made rick. That thing hadn’t a life of two years I think because immediately after it the balers came out and it became obsolete. I don’t think there was many of them made. It became obsolete in twelve months nearly and then the balers came out and that caused a whole revolution in the haymaking. Just baled it and piled it into lumps with tractors and all. Now they make great big bales rolled up and lift them on the back of a tractor and you never put a hand on the hay. The farmer never handles hay. There has been a very big change in farming since the war.
Interviewer: Can you remember transport?
Transport, well of course, it has changed a big lot but not as much as the farming and the farm machinery would have changed. When I was young there was no buses. Like, well, you wouldn’t … they were all charabancs, where the roof folded down and then these big charabancs would, quite a few of them would come down round the Coast Road here. People went out, well they all have cars now, they didn’t have cars then and they had to go on a charabanc and they went on excursions, I suppose the only time they got travelling.
There just to be a procession down here in Cushendun, a religious procession on Corpus Christi and they came from all over County Antrim and County Down and we used to go down when we were youngsters. When we were wee youngsters we used to go down our lane to the main road to see these, it was a big sight for us to see these charabancs, we used go down to see, there would be maybe ten of them in a row at the time. There was far more, you’d never see as many buses even now out on an excursion. Those were the days of excursions. If you went anywhere you had to go in a bus an excursion and we went down there. Sometimes they would throw you pennies and we weren’t one bit disgruntled about it, we’d pick them up and they would throw you pennies. They would be more… they wouldn’t be much, that religious procession, now these would be ones that would come round just to tour, probably wealthier people, maybe American some of them and they would, I think they would be, they used to talk about 30-seaters probably the big ones would be 30 seaters. The canvas hood folded down you know and you saw them.
The same as the motor cars used to be and an odd one, now I mind McFetridges had a lorry, just a lorry with a flat floor and they would put seats in, they bolted seats into that lorry and they would take people maybe to hurling matches. It was quite legal. There was no law against then but there would be now and they would put these seats into the back of a flat lorry and I remember going to hurling matches in that but the people, I was, well when I was very young quite a few of them would have traps and side cars you know but like they were beginning to get cars. Like when I was maybe, maybe sixteen or eighteen there would be a great many motor cars and people were riding bicycles for maybe a hundred years earlier they would have been driving a horse and car, a trap or something.
There weren’t so many, a good few traps, there weren’t so many jaunting cars that’s what we called side cars, there weren’t so many of them around and I can’t remember, I can’t remember you would have seen or I’d seen pictures of them in other places you know at Church on Sunday this big procession of horses and cars. We never had that. There might have been one or two maybe would have come in a trap and grazed the horse along the road when they were waiting but there wasn’t many. On a fair day you would see more traps and side cars and things, not so much the Church funny enough. At that time a lot of people were riding bicycles and a few motor bikes too. My neighbour Randal McDonnell got a motor bike it was a combination, a motor bike and side car. The petrol tank held five and a half gallons. It was a new Hudson. I don’t think you could have ridden it without the side car, it was top heavy. There was a few motor bikes coming around at that time.
There was not very much interesting you could say under the heading of transport. There was slide cars on the hill farms which are the simplest thing. They would have used them for taking turf off banks and used them in very steep places but they weren’t common on the leveller ground. At home, the cart they had here was usually painted blue and red. There was just the two colours and there was what these experts called the Scottish cart, bit wheels, big spoked wheels and you could take off the, what we called the wings, the last board around the top to make them lower if you were loading some heavy things into them.
Interviewer: Did you have a Cushendall pony?
We had, when I was young we had a Cushendall pony and it was 25, I don’t know if this is a good record for it or a bad record for it, it ran away and broke a shaft on the cart when it was 25 years of age. It ran away when something annoyed it but there was great spirit in him like that. Another horse would have been half dead, fully dead at that age and they were hollowed backed, wee hollowed back thing but it was a Cushendall pony. There weren’t many of them. I heard more about Cushendall ponies but I never saw that many of them. Certainly I never saw too many of them. I heard people talking about Cushendall ponies. She was 25 when she, she maybe didn’t live much longer I think. She ran away and broke a shaft and it was a common catastrophe to cope a cart. Well there were two wheels and they were very rocky you know and you were on a very, very rough lane or maybe a very steep field or something. It was quite easy to tip them over. They were a very dangerous thing too the horse, knocked the feet from under the horse and the horse and cart and all went down you know and then the troubles you had to sit on the horse’s head and not let it up until you got the cart loose from it. A common hazard was coping a cart. It was nearly as bad as crashing a car or tractor nowadays, you coped the cart and broke your leg or something or was injured and that was about the only accident that could happen.
You had a big load of hay and top heavy and it would be swinging. It was quite easy, just a wee bit over the top and she would tip over and the horse could kick you and many a time did you know. Some horse would, if you went into the stable they would kick back at you. You had to be very, very careful. Well some of them but you had to be careful with some of them. There was quite a lot of farmers had got injured from a kick with a horse. My neighbour Randal McDonnell he kept a big Clydesdale stallion, it was the biggest horse we would have had around. He was the only one in the district. He travelled to Ballycastle to meet mares there you know every week and that kind of thing. The only stallion I’ve seen round the Glens.

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