Mayo to Meath

On 5th April, 1940, as dusk began to fall, a little village in Co. Mayo began to buzz with the sound of voices. Boleybreen is tucked away in the shadows of Croagh Patrick. For years life has gone on as usual.

All six families working together and helping one another in all situations. Some, through the years, had emigrated to America, some worked in nearby Wesport and some remained on the land. But there was about to be a change which would affect all six families who lived there and the little village would never be the same.

The night of the 5th of April was cold and clear as the people from the surrounding villages made their way to Boleybreen. It would have made no difference if there had been howling gales, as they would have been determined to brave the elements, for this wasn’t just another gathering for a dance. This was something entirely different. The conversation was the same between all of those travelling - the leaving of the villagers. Those lucky enough to have bicycles were accompanied by friends on foot. The nearest arriving from such places as Owenwee, Skelp, Pull and Bracklowen, to name but a few. Those furthest away walking across the mountains from Loughta outside Loughta outside Louisburgh. This indeed would have taken a great effort. They were all going for the same reason; to say farewell to the four families due to leave the next day for their journey and a new life in Co. Meath. They had been allocated farms from the Land Commission.

The music from the accordions could be heard for miles around and the dancing continued all night. The main meeting point had been O’Malleys, but the party had spilled out into all other neighbouring houses also. Music sessions were certainly not unusual for they were a common occurrence. Some years earlier the villagers would walk the few miles to nearby Midgefield where Sarah O’Malley had originally come from and where her father had built a dance hall.

Dawn was approaching and with it the realisation that soon most of the people from the village would be leaving for good. Those who had come to dance had stayed to help pack and help in any way they could. All the livestock were loaded and brought by lorry to Westport Railway Station. They were loaded on to the train and would be unloaded later in Kilcock, Co. Kildare, where they could be walked the remainder of the journey to the Mullagh.

All the dogs in the village had done their jobs in rounding up the animals but just in case the whole occasion went too smoothly they began to fight. Several times buckets of water had to be thrown on them to stop the fighting. The biggest offender was the dog belonging to the “O’Malleys. Because of this he had to travel in the bus with the people and away from the other dogs.

All being packed, it only remained for the families to say their farewells and take one last look around. Richard McGreal and his family and John O’Malley and his family were to settle in the Mullagh. The McManus family and the Duffy family were to settle in Skryne. Austin McGreal who was Annie Duffy’s brother decided to give up his farm and go along with the Duffys where he stayed for the remainder of his life.

For the families leaving, the emotions were mixed. Huge sadness at leaving, but great expectations of what was to come in the future. For the two families left behind it was pure devastation.
The change for them was surely drastic. The O’Donnell family was that of three brothers. The Walsh family were elderly with two sons. So Annie Walsh was the only female left in the village and was then into old age.

It was with heavy hearts they said goodbye to their friends and neighbours.

They never did get the chance to go and visit in Co. Meath. To them it may as well have been America. Although they were not forgotten by their friends who over the years often returned to visit, it was many a year before there was a new house built in the village and young children filled the air with their laughter.

The thoughts of those travelling to Meath on the bus must have been mixed, for most of the 35 or 50 people had not seen where they were moving to. Two weeks earlier each head of family had travelled to inspect the farms the Land Commission had offered. If they accepted the new farms then their farms in Co. Mayo would be divided between those left behind. Although five landholders had travelled to see the farms, one declined and decided to stay in Mayo.

So to a chorus of “God Speed ye” the long journey began. As Croagh Patrick and the rocks disappeared, eventually the flat lands came into view. The first sight of the new houses were that of such spacious dwellings, it was a dream come true. They were so much bigger than the stone houses with their three rooms which they had left behind. Richard McGreal and his family were to live just a stone’s throw from one another at the Mullagh. The other two families were bound for Skryne some distance away. As the O’Malley’s and the Duffy’s were related, it was only a bicycle journey away.

John O’Malley, Snr., his brother Michael, son John (John Jr. wife Sarah would follow some months later as their first born Patrick Joseph was just a few weeks old at the time of moving) and his daughters Annie and Margaret settled in well. His eldest daughter Marie had emigrated to America the previous year. They were indeed made very welcome by the people in the area and they were to find true friendship that lasted through the years.

Next door to the O’Malley’s were a family called Murphy from Co. Kerry. Dan, Biddy and their sons Dan Jnr., Tadhg and Seán had arrived just days earlier. The two dwelling were so close together that a plank of wood was put in place that straddled the boundary fence between them. This fence was crossed by both sides to visit each other. It was crossed also by O’Malley’s dog on occasion when he saw his chance. The move had not broken his spirit at all. He wasn’t content at protecting his own territory, so he would go looking for a fight. Once again the buckets of water had to come out.

A family called O’Connor, were the Murphy’s neighbours and they had just arrived from Kerry, but Mrs. O’Connor was already showing serious signs of homesickness. Next to this family were the O’Donoghues, also from Kerry. Tom and Mary, their sons Jim, Paddy, Mick and their daughter Maura. Another son Tim had already gone to England.

And so the families settled in the Mullagh. As all the households drew water from one pump, it quickly became a meeting place, especially for the men. No matter how busy, there was always time for a chat. Discussions on all subjects, and many a time arrangements for get-togethers were made at the pump. As the O’Malley’s were getting to know their neighbours, so too was Richard McGreal and his family, his sons Austin and Micky, daughters, Tess, Mary, Kathleen, Rose, Delia and Sally, some had already gone to England.

A visit to Richard was a matter of walking two fields from O’Malley’s and here too a gap led into Richard’s garden. It was a path that was used very frequently. For each of the O’Malley children, visits to Richard were often, and always much enjoyed. This man with gentle features always gave his time willingly.

His story-telling abilities were fascinating and filled many a long winter’s evening. Some months after the O’Malley’s arrived, Sarah O’Malley, John Jnr’s wife, travelled from Mayo with their son and were accompanied by her mother Sarah Walsh. Sarah Walsh stayed a few months before returning to Mayo. Over the years she visited frequently until she finally came to live with the family. Seeing the house for the first time Sarah’s description was of a mansion!

In 1941, having tried for a year, in vain, to settle in, the O’Connor’s decided to return to Kerry. Their house and farm was offered to another family in Kerry. While working on their farm in Kerry one day John Hanifin and his son Paddy saw a man approach them. He was from the Land Commission. He had come to offer them a transfer to Co. Meath. They had already been offered a farm and had declined. This time, however, they decided to give it a go. This was a big decision for John and his wife, Elizabeth, as their three daughters were already married and settled in Kerry. The Hanifins journey to the Mullagh was similar to those who had travelled before them. Their animals also came by train to Hazelhatch, Lucan, and were walked to the Mullagh, a walk of 20 miles for man and beast. While walking past the Robinsons, at Pheopotstown, Paddy asked his companion “how much further”?

The reply was “look to your right on the hill, that’s the chimney of your new house”. Some days after arriving, Hanifins family dog went missing. One week later the dog returned The family later learned the dog had gone to Hazelhatch in an attempt to make his way back to Kerry!

Paddy recalls a time he walked one of the cows out to Kilcloon to a farm where there was a bull. Paddy got the impression that the bull wasn’t too welcoming. As the bull’s step quickened Paddy had to jump the hedge while the bull stamped his feet on the other side. Paddy was glad to be able to walk home that day.

Across the road from Hanifins lived a man called Kit Flynn. Kit’s cottage doubled as the dotor’s dispensary on two days a week. Some said Kit was as good a doctor as himself. He certainly had the cure for a burn. Many a child was brought to Kit for the cure by prayer and moistening the burned area. On the days the doctor was to visit, Kit’s kitchen became the waiting room. He was often heard to wonder aloud if some of the patients were sick at all or just “out for the day”. Sometimes while they were waiting or maybe on the way home some would visit the O’Malleys house in the Mullagh.

As the pump was still the meeting place for the men, the women would often visit each other at night, sometimes perhaps to knit together. Mary and Bridie Hanifin, Mary Murphy, Teresa O’Donoghue and Sarah O’Malley valued one another’s friendship hugely. As they helped each other, sharing was taken for granted, but never forgotten. For years later their kindness to others was often mentioned. Paddy O’Donoghue was often seen obliging people with a lift on his horse and trap. Sometimes taking new born babies to be christened. As time went on the neighbours continued to work together saving the hay and travelling to the bog in Timahoe, some 20 miles away, on bicycles together in groups to foot the turf.

Sean Murphy wasn’t just a helpful neighbour but also a great source of amusement. His healthy interest in those around him and his frankness in description was much enjoyed by those who knew him. He had a great ability to call a spade a spade and often made use of it. He could be seen in later years on his motor bike. This “machine”, as he called it, took a bit of getting used to for the clutch had a mind of its own. If pressed the slightest big too much it would take off and Sean, on more than one occasion during the learning period, was seen sitting on the road and the new motor bike in the ditch.

As the years rolled on they brought with them the compulsory tillage and the ration books. Each farmer had to grow a certain amount of wheat. There were large penalties for non-compliance of this order. The war was making life difficult. In1946 the weather was so bad that college students had been asked to help the farmers with the harvest. These volunteers would arrive by van in the morning and work wand eat with the family. They are remembered with great jollity, as some of them had never done anything like this before.

1953 saw the arrival of three more families to the area, Patrick Coyne, Tom Coyne and his wife Marie, their sons Patrick, Michael, Thomas and daughter Mary. Rory was born in the Mullagh in 1954. Also Pat and Julia Duffy, Pat’s brother Martin and their daughters Julia and Mary. Next door to them were Tom and Annie Duffy, daughters Delia and Philomena and son Tommy. They were part of a convoy from Cornamona in Co. Galway. Their friends Pat Fitzhenry and his family settled just a mile away in Mulhussey. The arrival of these families was cause for great celebration and they were all welcomed in turn. Jenkinstown Bridge was to become a well known site for many a dance during the summer months. During the winter, dances were held in different houses, and when in Hanifin’s, Paddy, sitting on the stairs playing his accordion, was a familiar sight.

Different times of the year saw different travellers and as the doors were always open these people were always welcome.Some would stay only for a drop of tea and a slice of homemade bread and to rest for a while.

Some would stay overnight and camp in the corner of a garden or take shelter in an empty shed. As the families grew so too did the need for fresh bread sometimes with caraway seed was enough to entice any passer by.

A huge cause for excitement was visitors in the form of relatives returning home, or holiday makers as they were affectionately called. Preparing for these relatives caused a great stir not just to the family being visited but also to those around. It was wonderful for people to return from England. But the greatest excitement of all was preparing for a visit from someone in America. This left memories never to be forgotten.

Courtesy of the Mayo News
January 2004