Looking back at life in Killurin and Killeigh

PROFILE:

JOHN HOWELL

I was born and reared where I am now, in Killurin. I never left, as there was never a need. My father was James Howell a Wexford man from Enniscorthy, and he met and married my mother Mary Cruise from here. My mother was 25 years younger than my father and yet he lived three years longer than her.

He came from a tillage farm in Wexford so we were always self-sufficient, growing our own vegetables and rearing animals. There were seven of us, three boys and four girls, and I was the eldest. My siblings all moved away to different parts of the country, Westmeath, Cork, Roscommon, Dublin and Daingean.

When we were very young my mother and father would bring us to school on the pony and trap. Our nearest school was Killurin school, where Paddy and Breda Fay live now. School was a lot different that time - you would bring bottles of tea and leave them beside the open fire to keep them warm. We would bring a few slices of homemade bread and jam for lunch.

I remember some great days in school and some lovely teachers. There were two classrooms and two teachers in Killurin school - a partition divided the classrooms so if one teacher was out sick the other would teach all the children.

When I was going to school, there were around 70 children attending. Just after my time, the numbers dwindled a bit and Killeigh school was then built, which my younger siblings attended, while Killurin school had to close.

At 14, I had to leave school to take care of the farm. My father was 54 when I was born, so by the time I reached 14 he was nearly 70. After leaving school, we had to teach ourselves all of the changes, like money changing from shilling to pounds and then to euros, changes to weights from lbs and stone to grams and kg, but over the years I taught myself and it never held me back.

I remember our first tractor my father bought, a grey Ferguson, a diesel 20 when I was about eight years old. In 1963, he bought a new 35 x reg CIR41. I know to this day where it is, and it’s still going. After four years we bought a 135 Massey, a better one, which made life a bit easier. I often brought the tractor to a dance. There were no cars back then, we didn’t get a car until about 1968. You would probably plough four acres a day with the grey Ferguson, and you’d be cold after it as it didn’t have a cab, but now they can do 20 acres or more in a day.

We got the electricity in 1952, and the phone in 1980. When I built this house, in 1971, I didn’t even get a mortgage, I had a few pounds saved up and did it bit by bit. I had a few cattle and borrowed a few pounds. The house cost £4,050. From 1980 on, the cost of building houses went up and up. There were good times and hard times back then, but everyone was in the same boat. Nobody had fancy machinery or cars. The harvest was very important, and if you had a good one you were set up for the year.

The local threshing was like Christmas, with 30 men or so, and plenty of drink and food. The threshing moved from farm to farm. When we would be on the way home from school, my father would be working around at the threshing and we would go around Deerings and Kidneys and others, and we were always sure to get lemonade or something even stronger at times.

When I was 16 or so, we used to go to Gurteen hall, I remember the singer Ray Lynam coming to Gurteen hall to play music on a push bike, with his guitar under his arm.

Also kicking football in Joe Condron's field. I joined Macra Na Feirme around 1965. Willie Rourke, Billy Mitchel and the two Michael Dunnes were all involved, and Gurteen hall was still open at the time. It was used for plays and dances. One night Tom Kelly said now that Killeigh hall was up and running there was no future for Gurteen hall, so we gathered up all the chairs and tables and dropped them off at Killeigh and that was the end of Gurteen hall.

Gurteen bridge was always a great meeting point. We would go down to the bridge four or five nights a week for a chat and a bit of banter. I often remember 30 or 40 lads down at the bridge.

In 1968, I met Patty at a dance in Killeigh and then met up again at a carnival in Killeigh. I used to cycle to her house in Rathville, near Edenderry, before heading to town to the pictures or a dance. Before I would leave home, the Rosary would be said with my parents and then when I got to Patty's they often would be in the middle of the Rosary too, so there were many nights I got two Rosaries in before we headed to town.

At the time Patty had a Honda 50 - she had a better way of travelling than me! We married in 1972 and were blessed with one boy Shane and the girls Mary, Treasa, Patrice and Catriona. They are all reared and gone now but they all live near us. We have 19 grandchildren.

We did a bit of travelling in the last few years, we went to Australia and met up with a great friend John Mahon from Killurin and his wife Louise who live in Sydney. I always liked meeting people from the local area when we travelled so we could compare stories.

In 2018, we visited cousins in Chicago, Marie-Ann and Margaret and Con Deering. We got a great reception, and plan to return again post-Covid. Marie-Ann and Margaret came to stay with us in 2019. We enjoyed showing them around Killurin, Gurteen and Killeigh and they caught up with their relatives.

My main business over the years was growing potatoes and vegetables. It was hard work but rewarding as all of the kids helped out and we spent many evenings singing and laughing in the field. We sold the produce to Peter Phelan's shops in Tullamore. He was a gentleman and I dealt with him for over 40 years. We travelled to Claire and Limerick selling turnips, and many a morning we left home before 6am. I also admired over the years how many families from Killeigh set up businesses in Tullamore and are still going strong to this day.

It’s a great community around here really and we have great connections. It’s fantastic to see everyone coming together to get the community centre going again. I remember helping to raise money for the new school in Killeigh also.

I remember a time when there was no GAA pitch or soccer pitches in Killeigh or Killurin and now, with the help of the community, there are two GAA pitches and a soccer pitch. Lots of great local people have died in the last few years and they all played their part in creating fond memories of our great parish of Killeigh. It’s a special place, full of great memories. Everyone can agree on that, and I’m very proud to be part of it.

*If you would like to learn more about the development of the proposed Killeigh Community Centre and how you may be able to assist please visit the website: www.killeighcommunitycentre.com

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