Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)
Pat O'Mahony Memoirs
Carlow Through The Eyes Of A “Blow-In”
By Pat O’MahonySource: Michael Purcell & Transcribed by J.J. Woods 2009
My first recollection of the name Carlow was some time during the mid twenties when my father, an old time family grocer in Cobh, Co. Cork, placed a large bowl of sugar in the centre of his show window. The legend attached to it, written in his beautiful copperplate writing, proclaimed to all and sundry that this was the first sugar to be manufactured in Ireland and sent specially to him from the new factory which had been built in Carlow and had just started producing this commodity which, up to then, had been imported.
As I recall the grains were slightly larger than the sugar produced by Tate & Lyle of London and had a slightly golden tint which I thought was rather attractive. To my childish palate I thought it tasted somewhat like toffee which made it even more pleasant than the imported variety.
From that time onwards my father stocked nothing else except Irish-made sugar and took every opportunity of extolling its virtues. Similarly, when the Irish Sugar Co., many years later, put Golden Spread on the market as an alternative to Tate & Lyles Golden Syrup, he switched to the former and stocked nothing else until it was withdrawn, for some reason, and much to my regret, some years later. From memory it was not as sweet as the latter and was slightly less viscous but it had a very pleasant malty tang which appealed to my taste. Little did I realise, at that time, how much my subsequent career would be bound up with Carlow town and county.
My next contact with the town — my first visit — was in 1939 when I arrived here one evening having cycled from Cobh, 125 miles away, covering the last 17½ miles, from Gowran, in one hour flat. As a member of the Cyclists Touring Club (C.T.C.) I had a handbook which listed the names of approved C.T.C. guest houses. The only one in Carlow was that of Miss Dillon, Tullow Street, where I duly booked in for the night. After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, for the sum of five shillings (25p), I continued my journey to Dublin.
Almost exactly a year later I was back in town once more for the purpose of attending an interview for a teaching post in the local technical school. Naturally, I stayed in Dillon’s again and for good luck met Miss Dillon’s nephew, Paddy O’Brien, who was employed in the Sugar Factory at the time. During the course of our conversation he asked me if I knew anyone in town. I told him that I was a complete stranger here until I suddenly remembered that I had met a young woman in Dublin some time previously who mentioned that she was teaching in Carlow. I couldn’t remember her name but when Paddy went through the names of the few lady teachers in the area none rang a bell until he crossed the River Barrow and started on Graiguecullen N.S. The penny dropped when the name Delia O’Donovan came up. He told me where she was staying so I duly arrived at the door of Miss Kathleen Walsh, the Stonecutters, Coalmarket. Not finding her there I was directed to the home of Con Delaney, the Numbers, who invited me in to wait for Delia and his wife Nell who were out visiting. Con and I got on famously and were bosom pals by the time the ladies returned. The upshot of my meeting with Delia was that she fixed me up in digs with Miss Walsh.
Having some experience of digs, good, poor and lousy, on both sides of the Irish Sea, I was quite prepared to move on again if need be. I needn’t have worried. The digs were clean and comfortable and Miss Walsh was a superb cook. I still claim that she didn’t repeat my dinner menu for a full month after I arrived. I used to compliment here occasionally on her culinary skill which went down in a big way — the compliment as well as the food — but one of my early attempts at flattery misfired. Having partaken of a particularly delicious desert I jokingly suggested to the serving girl that I’d like it on a flat plate in future, adding that “it would be easier to lick than a deep bowl”. The message was duly conveyed verbatim to the landlady with the result that the same delicious desert arrived the following day “on a flat plate”. I had the embarrassment of explaining the subtleties of my statement and, incidentally, of dispelling any notion she might have had on my lack of good manners.
More than once I remarked that, as long as Miss Walsh kept feeding me like the proverbial fighting cock, I’d never get married. In fact, I stayed with her for a hear and a half and left only on the day I went to the altar. The good lady, who had become Mrs. Doran in the meantime, provided our wedding breakfast. Incidentally, the guests largely ignored the luscious goodies she provided and gorged themselves on the white bread which she baked specially for the occasion. This was at the height of the Emergency (World War II) when the only bread available in the country was the so-called black bread, a coarse dark concoction which everyone seemed to hate. By the same token nutritionists claim that this was far healthier then the normal white bread and its modern equivalent is much sought after by dieters today.
The interview for the post of “Teacher of Engineering and Allied Subjects” took place in the old Technical School, Dublin Street, now the County Library, and there were thirteen applicants. This appointment was the thirteenth for which I applied and was held on 13th September. Thirteen certainly was my lucky number. I was appointed and took up duty right away. The incumbent whose place I was taking was a Mr. Bill Cleary who returned to his native Cork. He stayed on for a few days just to ease me into the job and in other ways proved to be a good friend. Incidentally, Bill lived in the house I now occupy.
In those halcyon days (1940) teachers were revered, headmasters were respected, inspectors were feared and Chief Executive Officers were almost deified. My first direct contact with the last named official, Mr. B. “Barney” O’Neill, was when he requested me to call in to his office after my first days work. I arrived that evening and, much to my surprise, his attitude was positively avuncular. We chatted for some time during which he explained the school routine, discipline, etc., and ended by inviting me to the pictures in the Ritz cinema. I need hardly say that I felt extremely flattered. This simple gesture set the pattern of our relationship for the next twenty five years and continued until his retirement in 1956 and right up to the time of his death several years later.
It was customary for the younger members of the staff to drop into the C.E.O.’s office after class for a smoke and a chat, and as often as not, he invited us to come with him for a stroll up the Barrow Track. How times have changed.
The Department’s regulation, at the time, laid down that the C.E.O. was also Principal of the County Headquarters school where he almost invariably had his office. Mr. O’Neill also took a few classes per week, from choice. He had to go on sick leave for a few months about the mid forties and when he returned the post of Vice Principal was created. Mr. A. J. Crotty was the first to fill this post which he did until he was appointed C.E.O. of Wicklow V.E.C. in 1951. I was subsequently appointed to the post which I held until I retired in 1978. In later years when the C.E.O. moved out of the school and discontinued taking classes the title V.P. was a bit misleading, because the post carried the same work load, responsibilities and, most importantly, the same remuneration as the Principal of Headmaster of other county schools of equivalent size. It took years of haggling with the Department to remove the word “Vice” from the title.