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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Pat Purcell Papers

Memories of "The Travelling Shop" 1950

By Marie Donohoe

Source:  Mr Michael Purcell - Feb 2009


The destruction of the World Trade Centre in September 2001 had greatly saddened Marie Donohoe - as the days and weeks passed and news of those who had lost their lives began to filter through, it seemed inevitable that some victims would be from Co. Leitrim, as there had been such high emigration to New York in the first half of the last century.

Marie wrote in the yearly "Leitrim Guardian" magazine (2004) - "I was greatly saddened to learn that a neighbour of my own in Kildare, who had made Long Island his home, had lost two of his sons. They were in the prime of life. No words can describe the evilness of this horrific deed ... May the Lynch brothers rest in peace ... I thought of the terrible grief that this family had been plunged into, both here at home and in New York. Childhood memories came flooding back of another member of that family, P. J. Lynch, who operated the Travelling Shop. He was one of nature's gentlemen, softly spoken, with a pleasant manner. His! mother was widowed young, and ran the local grocery and bar, while another brother ran the family farm. Two sisters married and moved away.

My earliest memories of P. J. and his shop were in the early 1950s. Young P. J. Lynch would arrive at our house in Cornacranaghy at about 10:30 each Saturday morning ... Like his predecessor Jim Gill, P. J.'s mode of transport was a white/grey horse and cart. Jim Gill had operated the shop during the war years 1939-1945. My mother often spoke of the scarcity of even the most basic provisions. There was rationing then, and each person was allocated a certain quantity of, say 1 oz. of tea per week, etc. My mother who loved horses, always had a pinch of sugar in the palm of her hand, and as the horse approached the brow of the hill, close to our house, he would give a few short neighs as if to announce his arrival ... P. J. sat on the side of the cart with his legs dangling down. He had his goods covered with a large canvas cover, and he wore a waterproof cape on wet days. I remember standing on my tippy toes trying to get a good look into the cart when the cover was! turned back. As a small child, it seemed like a real treasure trove. P. J. had everything from a needle to an anchor ... Half cwt weight, white cotton bags of flour were stacked towards the front. Hearts Delight or Boland's Pinnacle were the brands. In later year a feed stuff called Clarenda came on the cart. It was used to feed poultry, calves and young pigs. Tea, Sugar, Salt, Soda, and Raisins came in brown paper bags, they were weighed back at the shop in quarter or half pounds. P. J. always made up the bill on the side of the tea bag. The brown bags when empty were cut open, flattened, and kept in a safe place. When needed they were held in front of an open fire, spread with Vicks and pinned on the inner garment of a child or adult who had a severe chest cold. That and a mug of buttermilk whey, and they were as right as rain. Likewise the flour bags when empty were washed thoroughly to remove the label and any traces of flour. When dried, some were torn into strips and kept in a jam jar to be used as bandaging, and some were used to make pillow cases and sheets, and line patchwork quilts ...

P. J. often bought our eggs, homemade butter and Boxty from my mother for an elderly person further on his route. Most people living on the land in those years were very self sufficient, as they produced their own milk, butter, eggs, bacon, potatoes, chickens and vegetables. It was just 'vitals' that were bought -- tea, sugar, salt, soda, oaten porridge meal, maize meal or 'yellow buck, toothpaste, Rinso or Lux flakes, carbolic or sunlight washing soap, Jeyes fluid for disinfectant, Palmolive toilet soap, Mack's Smile razor blades, later Gillette, shoe polish and shoe laces. There were beautiful batch loaves and toast cakes, medicinal items such as Aspros, Mrs. Cullen's Powders, Hoarehound and honey cough mixture, Kruskeen Salts, Epson salts, syrup of figs.... A copper tank stood on the back of the cart which contained Paraffin Oil. P. J. would fill out a pint, quart or gallon whatever the customer needed. He did this with a copper jug that had a wide lip on it. Paraffin had many uses then, as electricity had not yet reached all parts of the country. It was mainly used for providing light for wall and Sacred Heart lamps. Paraffin was used to light the fire, and it often eased a creaking door or gate hinge.

When my grandparents were old enough to receive a pension, extras were purchased like a 'baby power" of Powers whiskey, which was kept behind the big willow pattern platter on the dresser. It was used for medicinal purposes for man or beast, but indeed I often caught a man having a 'swig.' Grandfather smoked a pipe and would buy a half quarter of Diggers Plug or Bendigo tobacco and 10 Gold Flakes or John Players Cigs for my father. My treat was three pence worth of boiled sweets that came in a little tin can with a lid. P. J. would give the empty can to me and when I got older, I used to accompany my grandmother to Foley's spring well and carry home my little can of water ... At Christmas time P. J. would have extra items like jelly, custard, dried fruit, peel and cherries and treacle, all ingredients for the Christmas cake and pudding.... I always looked forward to the Christmas box, which was a gift from the shopkeeper to his customers. .. a half pound of tea and a Christmas cake wrapped with a frill around it. I think it was baked by Johnston, Mooney and O'Brien. P. J. would also give me a 3d bar of Cadbury's chocolate. Some years later, he swapped his horse and cart for a blue Volkswagen van, was able to carry more goods and enjoy a little more comfort. He started to bring the newspapers. The Irish Independent and the Irish Press. My grandfather always got the Irish Press as he considered it the DeValera Paper. For many years P. J. operated his Travelling Shop and retired in late 1994 due to illness.

Back in 1986 while on a pilgrimage to Lourdes I had met P. J who was there too. We chatted and reminisced about old times. He never complained of the hardship he must have endured in those early years, as he was out in all kinds of weather. He spoke affectionately and respectfully of all the people he had done business with over the years. What a service this man provided to people in isolated areas, to the old and infirm, and what it meant to those people, to look forward to his chat, good conversation, local news, a bit of gossip, call it what you will. It was a great form of communication, long gone from our country side ... Today as I do my weekly shopping ... I lovingly long for those days of the Travelling Shop, when life seemed so simple and uncomplicated, and we had time to talk to our neighbours. P. J. passed away on January 9, 1995 - I am sure he is travelling the roads of Heaven. I salute him for the wonderful service he provided in our community and I dedicate these lines to him."

Document provided by kind permission of Michael Purcell - Feb 2009.


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