It's Us They're Talking About: Margaret Mary Comiskey

Margaret Farren

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"Those that had it worst were the big families, and maybe a parent not well. They'd be coming to school with maybe not half enough clothes on them and the two turf. If you had no turf you'd be going along the stacks looking for a long one to break in two. [Yes, we know!] And a big open fireplace with no more heat coming out of it! Likely the teacher was up with her backside to it. The place was freezing!

"If you weren't trembling with the cold you were trembling with the fear! There were plenty of big sticks and they weren't afraid to use them. I got my backside scelped more than enough as well. There was no such thing as stepping out of line in those days. I remember in recent years coming from an funeral and looking up at window of the school and seeing all the wanes gathered round the teacher and them all looking out the window. You wouldn't dare do that in my day."

But for all she may have feared, Margaret Mary seems to have entered into the spirit of the folklore project with more than the average enthusiasm. As an adult, her appreciation of local history and culture and her willingness to get involved in community events are among her most remarkable traits. (In fact, earmarked for inclusion in future editions of this magazine is her brief history of the market house, which is currently undergoing extensive rebuilding. We are indebted to her for bringing together much information about the building that had hitherto been scattered about.) This energy for and committrnent to local projects is impressive enough in its own right, but takes on an added quality when one imagines that it is rooted in a little girl's frustration at being an only child. Another factor which surely contributed to Margaret Mary's sociable nature is that hers was anything but a lonely house.

"My mother had an agency for the shirts and women used to make the shirts in their own home and bring them in and she would examine them and then they were baled and sent to Derry, to the factories. One night she had about five hundred dozen or so to do up for the morning and the train went at 7:30 am. John Mackey's grandfather used to cart them up to the station. The railway was running then. And she said to old Suzie Gill in Altahalla, who worked with Fr Maguire, the Parish Priest then, 'Will you put that one there to bed because I haven't time. I'll be up all night with these." And that wasn't an unusual occurrence in the house.

"And then in the bar up at home there was Willie Diver from Mindoran and a crowd of old fellas like that would sit in the kitchen and I would hear them talking about all sorts of things -ghost stories and all sorts. It was enjoyable at the start off but after a while it got to be a bit of a chore, you thought it was never going to end." Whatever the reasons, Margaret Mary was more diligent than most in collecting her material for the folklore commission, and a good deal more surreptitious by the sounds of things, an aspect she remembers with glee.

"We just used to go round the oul' ones and it was a great excuse to go ceilidhing. There were two of three oul' people up in Ballinabo. Dr Waters. He wasn't really a doctor. He used to have old cures and they called him Dr Waters. He had a lot of old stories and was great at telling them. Paddy Fiodoir was another one -a granduncle of Anthony Fiodoir. And Margaret Jonas' grandfather. They used to ceilidh up in Ballinabo and if you took a chair into a quiet corner where they wouldn't see you, you'd hear a whole lot of things!

"They paid no heed to us, thought we were doing our own thing, but we'd be taking down some of the things they said. If they saw you taking down things they wouldn't want to talk in front of you. If they didn't they passed no remarks on you, by way of talking over your head.

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