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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Carlow, looking back to 1913

By Mr.John Ellis

Carlow, looking back to 1913

This articel was reproduced by courtesy of The Old Carlow Society and published in the The Nationalist Centenary 1883—1983. Pages 59-61.

Author of this is John Ellis -
Compositor, Linotype Operator and Works Manager — for over 60 years at the The Nationalist

THE year 1913 was a most significant year —it was the end of an era. It was the last year of peace as the world knew peace up to that time. The following year the first World War occurred—a war that was destined to change the whole course of world events. In the half century since we have had another global war, together with numerous minor wars and what is known as "the cold war." These fifty years—1913 to 1963—have seen greater strides in scientific and mechanical progress than any previous half century of recorded history.

In the four years of the first world war a greater advance was made in the perfection of the internal combustion engine than in the previous thirty years—the armies of Europe that had gone to war in 1914 on foot and on horse-back came back in 1918 in motor trucks and lorries, and the advent of the motor car and motor truck completely revolutionised the way of life. It also paved the way for the development of the aeroplane, which has now reached the perfection of the jet, travelling at the speed of sound.

Photo of Selwyn Francis Edge added by M. Brennan.

 This rapid development of the motor car is all the more remarkable when one considers that only a few years previous—in 1902 when Selwyn Francis Edge won the Gordon-Bennett motor race and had the option of choosing the venue for the 1903 event, anti-motoring feeling was so strong in England and the 12 m.p.h. rule so rigidly applied, that he had to come to Ireland to find a course. Even here the route taken by the cars was patrolled by 7,000 R.I.C. men and hundreds of stewards, so great was the awe that those "thundering monsters" inspired. That race was won by a German at an average speed of 49.2 m.p.h., the highest so far recorded. Previously apart from railways, with their steam propelled trains confined to their own iron roads -— the only means of transport was by horse-drawn vehicles and the horse had first call on our highways, which were constructed to suit him. There were no smooth roads or concreted streets. Road-making consisted of strewing loose stones from one side of the road to the other in October or November and leaving them to be ground into the surface by the innumerable cars and carts then using the roads.

Boot Scrapers

The streets of Carlow were treated in this manner year after year, and in the months after Christmas when the stones had been reduced to a powdery substance, on wet days the mud that resulted presented a problem for householders by being carried into the houses on the boots of the inhabitants and visitors.

Image of Dublin St. early in the century.

To reduce this nuisance, outside most public buildings and big houses were placed iron mats and contrivances called boot scrapers. Some of these scrapers may still be seen outside some houses in the town. Then in the dry summer days this fine dust flew in all directions and to cope with it the Urban Council had its street watering cart, which sprayed the streets to keep down the dust.

The horse in those days provided a great market for agricultural produce. The Haymarket was really a hay market for on Mondays and Thursdays—the market days—as many as forty or fifty loads of hay and straw would be on offer, together with loads of mangolds and turnips. The corn merchants of the town also did a big business in the sale of oats. Carlow was then a noted horse-breeding centre, which gave considerable employment. Messrs. Slocock had a large establishment in Burrin Street, where a big business in thoroughbred horses and hunters was carried on, and they also had a stud-farm at Ballinacarrig. The Hearne brothers had stables on the Railway Road, and the field on which the houses there are built was used by them for "schooling" hunters. At Park View, on the Oak Park Road, the late T. I. Roark bred and trained some of the best polo ponies in the world. Polo was then a popular game in Carlow and prior to 1914 had been played for many years, first at Tiny Park, Tinryland and later at the Polo Grounds on the Tullow Road.

Firkin Butter

Together with the market for hay and straw at the Town Hall a considerable butter market was also held in the early years of this century. Farmers' lump butter was sold there in large quantities — the present wrapped creamery butter was then almost unknown. In the winter months a big trade was done in "firkin butter." This was butter packed in small barrels called firkins and holding about half a cwt., mainly for export. The principal butter buyers were Messrs. Haughton, Burrin St. and Messrs. Bell, College St. This butter business provided much work for the coopers of the town, who made the firkins that held the butter and the old dash churns in which it was made, as well as tubs and wooden butter knives.

At one time there were four coopers' establishments in the town, but in 1913 there were two—Brophy's on the Quay and Lawless's ir John St. As a matter of interest the last of the Carlow coopers—Mr. P. Brophy—retired from business this year, and so an old craft long associated with the town disappeared. Another trade that catered for the horse was the harness-maker, of which there were six establishments in the town fifty years ago— Crampton in Graiguecullen, Lynam in Castle Hill, Jackson in Castle St., Hunt in Dublin St., Brannagan and Doyle in Tullow St. Each of these gave employment to two or three men. Then there were the farriers, who kept the horses shod. These farriers were skilled in the care of horses' hooves, and as late as 1914 the Department of Agriculture held classes in the town for the instruction of farriers. The best known of these farriers were: P. Brennan, Graiguecullen; P. Wall, Centaur St; J. Crowe, Castle Hill; M. Dillon, Dublin Rd., and J. Doyle, Pollerton Rd. Slococks had a farrier of their own in Burrin St., the late J. Kelly.

The coach-building business and the cart-maker also went out with the horse. In the coach-building trade Doyle's, The Shamrock, carried on an extensive business, specialising in rubber-tyred traps, which were the luxury vehicles of the time. There were a couple of cart-makers in the town.

Hack Boats

On the canal horses also played a leading part towing the numerous canal barges plying on the Barrow in those days. In addition to the Grand Canal fleet, there were also independent boats, known as "hack" boats, and many of those were based in Carlow. The best known were those operated by the Moores and Haughneys of Graiguecullen and O'Neills of Ballymanus Terrace. The late John Fennell, turf merchant, and James Ryan, Coal Market, turf and coal merchant, had their own boats for the conveying of coal and turf to Carlow. In fact a big business was done in turf in the town long before Bord na Mona was ever dreamed of.

The trade of the tinsmith has also disappeared from the town, of which Carlow then supported three or four. The best-known were John Ffrench, who operated at the corner of Castle Hill in a house that was demolished to make way for the widening of that thoroughfare. I can remember John, festooned with quart and half-gallon cans, delivering his wares to the hardware merchants. Lar Shaw also worked as a tinsmith in Centaur St. where J. Donohoe later carried on business. I think he was the last, of the tinsmiths. Aluminium ware put an end to this trade.

Photo: View from The Quay showing the spire of St. Anne's Church.

The advent of the motor-car also affected another trade to a certain extent, and that was the baker. Fifty years ago there were thirteen or fourteen bakeries in the town-now there are three, and bread is brought into the town now from centres as far away as Dublin and Waterford. In the old days -the bakers in Carlow were a numerous fraternity, easily distinguishable from other tradesmen by the fact that they all wore fawn-coloured overcoats and hard hats of the same colour. Saturday was their holiday, as they did not work on Saturday nights. Ten of the thirteen bakeries then in. operation have gone out of existence. These were: Rafferty's, Graiguecullen; Kelly's, Governey Square; Donnelly's, Castle St.; Maher's, Dublin St.; McDonnell's, Molloy's, Colgan's, Deegan's, Byrne's and Doyle's, The Shamrock, in Tullow Street. The premises now occupied by Dunny's, Castle St., was formerly Walsh's and by Crotty's in Tullow St. was Boake's. Most of these bakeries had horse vans which delivered bread over a radius of ten or twelve miles from the town. There was also a big number of horse vans operated by grocery establishments, and Corcoran & Co. had quite a fleet of horse-drawn vans. I think they were the first firm to introduce motor lorries for their business about the years 1912 or 1913, quite formidable vehicles with solid rubber tyres on the wheels.

One business that has disappeared, and for which we can hardly blame the motor car is that of the pawnbroker. No longer does any establishment display the three brass balls that proclaimed the fact that the proprietor was willing to loan money on a variety of articles.

I heard a story that about sixty years ago an old man who owned a donkey and cart, on one occasion pawned the cart, A few days later he approached the pawnbroker with a request for a loan of the cart as "he had been promised a day's work for the ass." However, the pawnbroker is gone. I suppose it's a sign of a better economy.

Museum Piece

The coming of the motor-car put a once familiar and peculiar Irish figure off the road, and that was the ‘jarvey’, who was generally by way of being something of a character, who had a fund of anecdotes to while away the tedium of the journey on his outside car. That vehicle is to-day a museum piece. Fifty years ago there must have been at least a dozen jarveys in Carlow working for four or five posting establishments. They attended the arrival of all trains at the railway station—that time eight passenger trains arrived daily at Carlow. On Sundays the jarveys carried parties to football matches, sports and other fixtures all over the county, and the adjoining ones. A drive on one of those cars was a very pleasant form of relaxation. The posting establishments also had larger vehicles known as "brakes" — long four-wheeled cars accommodating eight or ten persons, facing each other on either side, with the driver on a high perch in front. These were drawn by two horses and were much in demand for outings organised by different groups in the town. One of the car-owners had a long side-car carrying six people on either side—something like the ones used by the famous Bianconi in the early 19th century.

Photo: Presentation Convent and Tullow Street, Carlow.

Another favourite form of "outing" was what was known as "boating parties." One of the private barge owners would be engaged for the day. He would spruce up his boat for the occasion, when as many as forty or fifty persons would be taken for a day on the river—generally taking the form of a picnic with games and sports at such beauty spots as Doninga or Kilmoroney. The pleasure boats of the Rowing Club were also in great demand on Sundays and fine summer evenings and the river would be dotted with these craft up to Knockbeg and beyond.

Lost Art

The river bank was a favourite promenade in those days and as the Canal Company kept the towing path in repair it was a most enjoyable place for a walk. Walking—now I fear becoming a lost art-—was a favourite form of recreation I can well remember the after-devotions walk on Sunday evenings, when the entire congregation, generally a very large one, who had attended devotions in the Cathedral proceeded in a solid mass down Tullow Street, along Dublin Street and up the Athy Road—the elderly portion going as far as Braganza or Straw Hall, while the younger ones continued on to Bestfield. Another form of recreation was known as "doing the town" on Saturday nights. All the young people and many old ones, too, would parade from the Shamrock to the Courthouse and back from about eight o'clock till ten, and Tullow Street and Dublin Street would be crowded—both footpaths and roadway—during these hours. This practice was often viewed with interest by strangers to the town.

A 19th Century procession of Graiguecullen children outside the entrance to the old church.

No Traffic Problems

Of course in those days we had no traffic or parking problems: the streets were always free of traffic after night-fall. When country people came to town in their cars or traps to do business, they always drove direct to yards attached to business premises, where stabling was to be had. There they unyoked their horses or ponies, and put them in a stable, and gave their carriages and whips to the yardman for safe keeping. Then they sallied forth to do their shopping, and their purchases were delivered to the yardman where their horses were stabled, who took charge of them until their owners were ready to start their homeward journey.

The bulk of merchandise for the shops and stores came by rail or canal, and was delivered by the horse-drawn floats, of which there were two at the railway station and one at the Canal Company's stores. Another such float was operated by Messrs. Guinness for the delivery of stout and porter to the publicans. The barrels came by canal to the store on the Quay, and were distributed from there. Corcoran and Co. also had a delivery van for the town. Of course large numbers of coal carriers' carts passed through the town almost daily. The owners of these usually rested their horses in Haymarket, after their journey from Castlecomer or the other mines in the area, and on their return from Tullow, Bagenalstown and other places, they stopped at Coal Market. Consequently the streets were "wide open spaces" compared to now, and ideally suited for a stroll.

Photo of Castle St., Carlow at the turn of the century — not a motor car in sight.

Living Pictures

So there were no traffic problems, nor had we cinemas or other places of entertainment. I remember when Sylvester Brothers took over the old Assembly Rooms-—now the Vocational School — to open Carlow's first cinema, hearing an old man remark: "These men must be mad to think that people would go to see 'living pictures' every night in the week." Now the majority of homes have their own "living pictures"—the telly. How we have progressed!

Although Carlow was the first town lighted with electricity, our street lighting fifty years ago was poor compared to to-day. The street lights were comparatively few. There were only four lights in Dublin Street—from the Cross to the Courthouse-—and six in Tullow Street —from the Cross to the Shamrock. Now there are double that number in both streets to which must be added the brilliant lighting of the shop windows. In 1913, with the exception of Saturday nights, shop windows were not illuminated—in fact they were closely shuttered. Some shops were shuttered at nightfall in winter and at the close of business in summer. The only shop I now see using shutters is Douglas's Jewellery, and they are not put up until after 10 p.m. Consequently the streets of the town fifty years ago were really dimly lighted in the winter months.

The only forms of entertainment in those days were the travelling shows—dramatic and operatic. Some of these were quite good, and their audiences were generally large and highly critical, always willing to air their opinions on the merits and demerits of the singers and dramatic artists. Of course we had our own local groups, who provided entertainment-the Gaelic League concert on St. Patrick's night was always eagerly looked forward to, and the Rugby Club generally put on a concert about Christmas time to augment their funds, and for both concerts there was always to be found an abundance of local talent. The late Julia Kelly—an artist of outstanding merit— also produced a children's concert annually; while Robert Malone, Doctor of Music, organised and conducted concerts of high-class music. The seeds were sown by these concerts which later germinated to flower as the Carlow Choral Society which gave Carlow a selection of Gilbert and Sullivan operas from 1914 to 1922, that attained a standard rarely found in provincial towns.

Programme Dances

Public dance halls were then unknown and dances were only held occasionally. There were what was known as house dances, when some decent woman with a large kitchen put it at the disposal of the young people of the locality to have a night's amusement to the music of the melodeon, an instrument that then had many accomplished players. Once or twice in the year a "ball" was held in the Town Hall for which a "string band" would be engaged—that was how dance bands were then styled. Those functions were confined to those to whom invitations were issued by the organisers, and were generally "programme dances." That meant that each lady was provided with a list of dances printed on a neat card to which a small pencil was attached with a silken cord. The gentlemen wrote their names on these cards opposite the dance which he wished to have with the lady. Consequently it was every lady's ambition to have a full programme. As those balls generally lasted from 10 p.m. to 5 or 6 a.m., sit-down suppers were provided and a most colourful event was when the M.C. announced "Grand march for supper," and the dancers left the ballroom in pairs for the supper room to the lively music of the band. The dances in those days were only mastered by a good deal of practice, and for that purpose there were two dancing classes in the town. These dances were performed with great decorum, as can be seen in some programmes of old-time dances on the T.V.

Working Hours

The hours of business in those days were very long—public houses opened at 7 a.m. and remained open till 11 p.m.; drapery establishments, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on week-days, and 10 p.m. on Saturdays. Chemists opened at 8 a.m. till 11 p.m. each day, including Sundays. Weekly half-holidays were only introduced in 1912. Annual holidays were not thought of, and the bank holidays were not generally observed. The Nationalist then carried an advertisement in the week before a bank holiday announcing that "the drapery, hardware and jewellery establishments in the town would be closed on the following Monday" (the bank holiday).

The hours worked in the building trade, foundries, saw mills and other establishments were from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in summer, with breaks for breakfast and dinner; and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in winter with no break for breakfast. With the exception of a few big industries regular employment for unskilled workers was hard to be found. A source of employment for those workers was in agriculture; in the Spring planting potatoes, etc., and in the harvest gathering the grain crops. In those days a big portion of the latter crops was gathered and bound by hand, and it was a common sight to see crowds of workers being brought home at night in farmers' carts from the corn fields. They had been hired that morning at about 6 a.m. at the Market Cross or the Shamrock Square, where they would await the arrival of the farmers to engage them for the day's work. Their wage was generally 2/6, with their dinner, for the day, which was a long one.

Photo The Post Car, 1913.

Commodity prices in those days were small. In Carlow market in January 1912, lump butter sold at 1/1 to 1/2. lb.; eggs, 1/4 to 1/6 doz.; chickens, 3/6 to 4/6 pair; potatoes, 12/- to 13/- barrel of 24 stone; in May butter was 11d. per lb., and eggs, 8d. to 9d. a dozen. Coal was sold at the Wolfhill mines for 1 a ton for large coal and 17/6 a ton for small coal. In the same year a Carlow draper advertised ladies' hats for 1/11 to 12/6; blouses, 11d. to 7/6; men's ready-to-wear suits, 12/6 to 35/-; boys' suits, 1/11 to 20/-; men's shirts, 1/- to 5/11; ladies' shoes, 1/9 to 10/6; ladies' boots, 2/9 to 12/6; children's and girls' boots, 11d. to 5/6.

In 1913 a Dublin firm offered men's 3 guinea suits for 50/-, and 42/- suits for 30/-. Another advertiser offered to buyers of 1 Ib. of tea, 3 Ibs. of sugar at 1d. per Ib. 2 Ibs. strawberry jam cost 8d. and 2 Ibs. mixed fruit jam, 5d. Liqueur whiskey was offered at 5/- per bottle and 5 years old whiskey at 3/6. Wages, of course, were correspondingly small: the average for labourers was 12/6 to 15/-a week. Altogether life for casual workers in those days was a struggle, as the social benefits which we have to-day were not thought of then. The National Health Insurance Act was only introduced in 1912, and Unemployment Benefit Scheme did not come until after World War I.

Death On The Roads

As I started on the motor-car note I will end on a similar note with the following letter taken from The Nationaist of August, 1913: "A motor-car occupied by a lady and a gentleman went over a pig my property last Sunday. The pig was driven on to the road by a dog. The car did not stop, and I don't know the number of it. I am a poor woman and the pig was worth 2-10s. Would the owner of the car please compensate me?"

So we had "death on the road" in those far-off days when the motor-car was a novelty. As I have pointed out, the coming of the motor-car was responsible for a very big change in the way of life of the people. Besides making many old crafts and craftsmen redundant, it revolutionised our road traffic even to the point of making impossible "doing the town" on Saturday night.

Reproduced by courtesy of The Old Carlow Society.

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