Womens Work

“Women are treated a bit more equal now”: In my young days when you got married you stayed at home, looked after the children and done the household chores. (James McHenry)
I think the biggest change I would find now is in the way women are treated. You know women are treated a bit more equal now. I can remember when I was a child, like my mother and grandmother did everything for my father. My father never polished his own boots in his life. When he went to shave, my mother would have got him the water and the jug or the mug and everything. Men were always right and the idea of them coming in and making their own meal would just have been unheard of – not even a cup of tea. There was no such thing as divorce and there was no such thing as taking them to court for maintenance or anything else. I think that’s maybe gone a wee bit too far the other way now. (Anna May Wharry)
The thing about men then, they were all hard workers and whenever they came in at night from their work they got, you know, treated well with their dinner and all. They weren’t asked to do anything. They didn’t seem to do as many things as the women. You know the way men now are cooking, putting children to bed and changing the nappies. That was all women’s work. (Kathleen Gallagher)
I think there was a lot of hardship in the older days. There was no such thing as a girl having a car in my day you know. It was very unusual for a girl to drive. I did know one girl that had a car. She didn’t live very far away from me and I think with her it was more a necessity of learning to drive because her father was lame or something was wrong that he couldn’t drive. So she was driving quite a wee bit to help her family. (Ethel Bruce)
“Big families and wee small houses”

It was all big families then and wee small houses, just a room and a kitchen. And there was no asthma. They were healthier anyway. I never was at the doctors until I was fifteen. There was twelve of us in it. I was in the middle, five boys and one girl in the first six and there was five girls and one boy in the last six. (Francis Quinn)
There was a big household of us. Aunt and uncle lived with us and earlier than that my grandfather and grandmother and there was six children and my mother and father. So cooking was really a full-time job for the women of the house. (Frances Duncan)
“No electricity or anything”

We had no electricity or anything, just an oil lamp or maybe a candle and in the morning when she got up my mother would have made the tea on a wee primus stove. And then the water had to be carried. We went down the fields for water. (Kathleen Gallagher)
My mother carried the water from the foot of the field below the road. Spring water all had to come out of it. You had to go with two big steel buckets. There would have been water maybe in the winter time up here at the house for washing clothes and that. (Francis Quinn)
We had no electricity at Garron Point until about ’70 or ’71. We had a tilly lamp. We didn’t have running water. We had a spring well, about half a mile away. I used to go on the bicycle for it. We had big barrels at the side of the house, five barrels and the rain water was soft. It was good for washing you know, plenty of water. Usually Monday was a wash day. (Margaret O’Boyle)
On wash day my mother would have had these great big piles and the only way she had was to put on a bath. The water was heated in that bath for washing and in good weather she would have washed outside. She would have stood and scrubbed at clothes for hours. (Anna May Wharry)
There was no such things as washing machines then. In the backyard we had a mangle. It was a big thing with wooden rollers. It was most useful for bedclothes. You folded them and put them between these two big wooden rollers and you turned a big handle and that turned the rollers round and round and took, not all the water, but most of the water out of whatever clothing it was. For anything that was very dirty, sometimes men’s collars you know, that would get sweaty with the warm weather, they would be put on this washboard and you rub it down you see and it helped to take the dirt out. We had to hang it out on the clothesline, rope or wire in your backyard or your garden, if you had one – just whatever facility you had. If they weren’t properly dried you just tried to dry them at a fire or some kind of a heater in the house. (Ethel Bruce)
My mother used to set the big tin bath to boil the clothes in an old outside outhouse we had. It was a big crane and often the lumps of soot fell down the chimney and into the bath and you had to run and get them out when you were boiling the white clothes on a Monday morning. (Jimmy Davidson)
“Not a lot of fancy stuff”

My mother would have baked a ten stone bag of flour every week – griddle soda, wheaten and fadge, lots of fadge. There wouldn’t have been a lot of fancy stuff. At the weekends she would always have baked what we would call ‘slims’ now, you know that sweet soda bread with currants in it and hard scones, nearly like a biscuit but they were baked on the griddle. (Anna May Wharry)
There’s a house we used to live in and it was thatched. I was always tormenting my mother to let me bake. There was an open fireplace and I used to put the griddle on and bake pancakes and potato bread, slims and soda bread. Slims were lovely with raisins or plain. I used to eat them as soon as I baked them. (Margaret McGowan)
Oh she was a great baker. She baked and she washed and she scrubbed. Ah, she had the place shining. In those days, you see, they got flour in great big bags. She needed that for baking, and then, whenever the bag was empty, she steeped it. You know it was all letters on it, and she had some time getting all those letters out of those, and then she made us wee sheets for the bed. (Agnes McCrory)
Home cooking – “the smell of it would have done you good”

She fried in the mornings and that, bacon and egg. She made a wee roast for Sunday, a bit of meat and it was put in a pot and set on (the crook). That was to get the heat from the top and heat from the bottom and whenever she lifted the lid off to see whether I was done the smell of it would have done you good. When we started to run and came in on a Saturday night and that, we begged at her to get it. “It’s tomorrow’s dinner, you can’t get it”. I says, “I want it now. I’ll do without it cheerfully tomorrow” and I got a slice before I’d go to bed. (John Todd)
The old people made one dinner and if you didn’t like it you put up with it. My old man would have said, “Och well, I’ll just keep it ’til the morrow, you might want it the morrow. You were lucky you got an egg and a bit of bacon for your dinner and the spud – there was always the spuds and turnip. Turnip’s a great thing. I knew four or five families down our way and the old men went, especially in the summer time, to fish. It was maybe an hour’s walk to the sea and the fish would have made the dinner the next day. Or they went out with snares or something like that and caught a hare and the hare was maybe for the weekend or a rabbit, or something like that. (Lawrence McHenry)
In our time in a day like in Lent or that, do you know what we got for our dinner – you got nettle soup. I would say sure it would sting the belly off you, but sure it’s boiled. We made ‘sowens’, the same way as porridge – only it was a different kind. You had to stir it for about two hours and that was taken out and put into a great big thing. That was used for maybe a week. Oh it was lovely! (Johnny Adair)
In our garden we had potatoes, rhubarb and fruit trees. We had a couple of cherry trees, blackcurrants, redcurrant and gooseberries. My mother made pounds and pounds of jam you know – a hundred pounds of jam sitting on the shelves. (Frances Duncan)
We always killed a pig every winter and salted it and hung it up and then you’d take that down and maybe had it boiled or that. We always had a fry – bacon and eggs in the morning. This man beside us, Charlie Murphy, he done the killing of the pigs all round the country. Two would go and take the pig out of the house and put what you call a ‘touch’ in this mouth to keep him from fighting or anything and then he was hit with a sledge hammer and knocked out. Then the man that was killing him would put a knife in his throat and let the blood out. Then it was hung up and boiling water was put all over him to take the hairs all off. Some people boiled the feet – we didn’t. The liver and the heart and some other parts we used to like. Pig’s liver was boiled or fried. It was very nice, so it was. You didn’t have it every day. You had maybe a chicken or a duck. (Alex McKendry)
“You had a good rig out”

My mother would have made clothes and she would have knitted socks every winter. You know everybody got socks. So as there’d be no rows, they would have been different colours. There was a grey for socks, you know, and they would put in bit of green or navy blue or a bit of something here and there through them. You wouldn’t see anybody knitting with four needles now. They would have knit jumpers and socks. Where there’s a whole lot of young ones there’s a lot of patching to be done. (Francis Quinn)
You didn’t go and get a new pair of trousers or coat or anything like that – there was no such thing as jeans. If you put the elbows out of it, it had to be patched. I have socks yet that my mother knitted. In fact, I’ve two pairs I’ve never had on yet! Even in her older days, you know, she would have kept knitting until she maybe had a dozen pairs put by. Well you wouldn’t have a dozen pairs by you when you were young because there was too many to be knitted for. (John Duncan)
You didn’t need as many clothes. You had a good rig-out and kept it for whenever you were going out. (Kathleen Gallagher)
My mother had it very hard. Then she was fit to knit and sew and everything so she hadn’t to buy so many clothes you know. In those days we wore big long stocking, big black knit stockings up to our knees and wee boots. It wasn’t shoes or anything fancy. It was wee laced boots. I remember, it would be the summer time, I came home one day and I said to my mammy, “Mammy the other wee girls have got wee ankle socks on and I think it’s time we should have them.” Mammy said, “You’ll just have to wait to I’m fit to afford to get them.” So we had to wait until she was fit to afford to get us the wee socks and wee sandals or something to put on. (Agnes McCrory)
I could crochet before I went to school

My aunts were all great needlewomen and they taught me to crochet. I could crochet before I went to school. I learnt to knit and sew. I was nearly seven … the women would have had quiltings. They would have a quilting stand. It would have been six feet wide and it was on rollers and they rolled the quilt and then they all sewed you know and sat round it and sewed the quilt – hand quilted. There would have been maybe three or four feet of quilt available and then they would have turned it and rolled it round. My grandmother did lovely crochet and all the light she had was a candle. I’ve often heard her tell about working to try to gather up a penny to buy a candle so she could crochet at night. I think patch work would be my favourite. Maybe a year ago I would have said embroidery. I do a lot of cross stitch. I always have to have a piece of cross-stitch, sort of sitting, and I would do a bit always before I go to bed at night. (Anna May Wharry)
She was a great hand with stock

Sure in them days they had to milk the cows, the women. Hand milk them and churn the butter. They grew their own food and cured their own meat and bacon. (John Duncan)
I worked out in the fields dropping potatoes and had to put manure on the ground. The corn was all cut with a scythe and I had to lift it. Of course there was more than me at it, lifting it, tied it, put it in a sheaf. You took four sheaves together and then you pulled out a wee taste of straw and tied it round the heads. If the weather was good you put them in ‘huts’ – wee small stacks. Sometimes you didn’t need to do that if the weather was dry. You took them on a cart and put them into a big stack and thatched them with rushes. Five cows – I milked them all by hand. I loved working outside and I fed them and all and then I kept the milk for butter in crocks – big crocks. You wouldn’t see any of them now. I filled them and kept them in the milk-house and when they thickened put them into the churn for making butter and started to churn up and down – a plunge churn. Then you always had to put a wee taste of warm water sometimes, or cold water to rinse it down and eventually it turned into butter. I’m sure it took over half an hour. When the butter was all gathered, you took that off and washed it well with water and then salted it and made it into butter crimps and then sold a lot of that. People came up from Ballycastle for cans of buttermilk and butter. (Margaret McGowan)
My mother kept a cow and she kept a goat and she petted pigs. Yes, and she was great at it. She would get up in the night time and warm milk and give it to them, you know, in a wee bottle, like a child’s bottle, you know, that’s the way. Then when it grew up a great big fat pig, it followed her around just like a wee lamb and, well, then she had to sell it whenever it got a certain size, you know. I remember her petting the pigs and she kept them in the kitchen, in a wee box in the kitchen. That’s true. Well, she had to do that to keep us living, you know, for daddy couldn’t get work half the time, and then when he was on the dole, he got very little on the dole, you know, in those days, maybe thirty shillings a week. (Agnes McCrory)
My mother milked the cows and made the butter with a plunge churn. Then in later years we had a birley churn, an end over end churn, and then we had a blow churn. It was a wee glass thing. You didn’t need so much milk. You just skimmed your milk and took the cream off and churned it. My mother would have churned every day but then in the summer, when the cows had a whole lot of milk, it was the plunge churn. My mother sold the butter and we kept bees and sold the honey. You know my mother didn’t know her own strength! She used to put her knee to the big pot there and just lift it off the crook. Aye she was that active and strong. It didn’t matter how wicked a heifer was, like a first calving heifer, my mother would have milked it. In later years me and her would have milked the cows together but when we were young she wouldn’t let us milk the cows because we’d only put them from milking. She was a great hand with stock, you know. (Francis Quinn)
What you don’t know does you no harm

There were people that lived across the fields, a brother and a sister and they kept a cow or two and churned. Now she was brave an’ rough, I mind her – Mary you called her. Things weren’t too tidy about it. They had set days for churning and there were a lot of ones from Ballycastle had to go over for buttermilk and things. They kept a lot of cats and kittens running about. Tommy went down with some message to the door. Mary was busy churning and when she stopped churning to speak to Tommy, this young cat jumped up on the lid of the churn. By Jove, it missed its balance and fell into the churn! Mary seen it and she said, “Come out of that!” and she got up and reached into the churn and got a hold of it by the back of the neck and threw it out the door. Tommy said it was no time after that until they were all up with their cans for milk. I think it’s a true saying “What you don’t know does you no harm!” (John Todd)
Money for Christmas

My mother kept a flock of geese and turkeys for Christmas. There used to be a local turkey market in Cushendall. She claimed the money for Christmas time. There would be wee boots and things to buy for the children for the winter time. She still had forty or fifty hens that ran outside. There were ducks and geese that lived on the grass, they hadn’t to be fed at all. (James McHenry)
My mother grew her own vegetables, turnips, cabbage and potatoes. You kept pigs and we had chickens and turkeys. Sometimes when there was plenty of eggs there was a grocery man came round and he took the eggs with him … so much a dozen. We kept a hen turkey and she would lay eggs. (Kathleen Gallagher)
A Widow’s Plight

My mother didn’t have it easy with six children. She had to hire a man to do the work for there was nobody old enough to do the ploughing and sowing and all this. She used to feed pigs and I remember my eldest brother, he was about seventeen then, going with a horse and cart and the pigs and my mother sitting in the front of the cart all the way to Ballycastle on a winter’s morning to sell them pigs. (Alex McKendry)
My grandmother, they had a small farm over across the glen and my grandmother’s husband died when she was only ten years married and he left her with three wee girls of nine, six and four and she reared them and did all her own work. She was a wonderful woman but she had a hard, hard life. She even clipped her own sheep. (Anna May Wharry)
Bread Carts and Grocery Vans

You had no trouble getting anything. You see the vans came round the country on certain days and delivered. The butchers and the bakers and grocery vans come to your door. (Margaret O’Boyle)
In them times there were bread carts and grocery vans came round. You see they’re done away with now. My mother when she run out of something she had to take the bicycle and go to the town whenever we were at school or get somebody to stay with us or she would send for something that she needed and maybe the grocery cart or bread cart hadn’t got it. She had to go on a bicycle many’s a time to get things whenever she ran out. (John Todd)
Childbirth – you couldn’t phone for the doctor or nurse

Our neighbour’s man went to sea and my mother delivered all them youngsters. You know like the young ones would come up here with a wee note and my mother would send one of my older brothers for to get the nurse. The nurse lived away across the fields in Knockans. She was down there with a house full of children, you know, and that was all she had and I suppose if it started early or late at night, you see, she would have been holding on to as near morning as possible. There were no phones. You couldn’t phone for the doctor or the nurse – somebody had to go. My mother wasn’t qualified. Very often by the time my mother would get down the youngster was born anyway. When Pearl up here was having hers, she went up there and up to Ellen’s. I suppose she would have knowed that these things were going to happen and would have been sort of half waiting on them. That was part of life you know! If they heard tell of them sort of births now they would say they were unhygienic! You never knowed that there was a new baby until it would land. In them times everything was kept very much wrapped up. (Francis Quinn)
There was some woman maybe round Torr that you sent for if you were going to have a youngster. Somebody would go and get her and she would regulate the birth. As soon as the birth was over, she would go home and that was the end of it. Maybe she might come back in a week’s time or something like that to see how everything was going but it was all very simple in those days. The child was probably smaller and the women were just a bundle of bones. Maybe at that stage there was not so many problem child births. (Lawrence McHenry)
I had a wean there …

The women went out many a time and they worked in the harvest field. I heard tell of a woman in Torr and she was pregnant, and her and another girl were thinning turnips. “Have to go for a minute or two”, she says and she left the field and when she came back the other woman says, “Where were you?” and she says, “I had a wean there.” “What did you do with it?” “Och!” she says, “I wrapped it up in my coat and I left it at the back of the ditch. I’ll have a look at it when I come down again.” (Lawrence McHenry)
“She wasn’t properly looked after”

My grandmother’s mother died when she was born. She went out to what they called the spout, a burn that ran by the side of the house, to rinse the clothes, the nappies. I suppose it would be pieces of cloth then when the baby was only a few weeks old. They said she got a chill and she started haemorrhaging and she wasn’t properly looked after and she died. (Anna May Wharry)
Home-made medicine

They used to give bogbine, for instance, to teenage girls, to build up their iron content, you know, so that they wouldn’t go anaemic when they were teenagers, when they started their young life. You see, bogbine was a very hard thing to take, for it was very, very bitter. You would get it in the mountain. There is places it grows in the bog, in the moss, and they would have to take it, and boil it and then bottle it. Aye, just like taking an iron tonic, you know. I never could have it. I had to do without it. I couldn’t take it! (Annie McKillop)