Turtle Bunbury

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Turtle Bunbury

Eva Halpin's great-uncle John Malone was farm manager at Lisnavagh. She married Alfred Ruddall shortly before his death in action at the battle of Spion Kop.
Eva Halpin’s great-uncle John Malone was farm manager at Lisnavagh. She married Alfred Ruddall shortly before his death in action at the battle of Spion Kop.

St Agnes, Cornwall, England
Spion Kop, Northern Natal, South Africa.
North Wall, Dublin, Ireland
Lisnavagh, Rathvilly, Co. Carlow, Ireland
Bunbury, West Australia

There are times when this globe of ours becomes incorrigibly small, when the ghosts of generations past glide across the oceans of time to leave one frankly gob-smacked.

The following tale should appeal to those amongst you who enjoy the peculiar dynamics of family history.

It begins with Lieutenant Alfred Rudall of the Imperial Light Infantry who was killed in action on 24th January 1900, while fighting the Boers at the battle of Spion Kop. The 23-year-old was leading a charge when a pom-pom shell landed on his head.

I discovered Alfred’s fate while researching the Rudall family for my prospective (and…

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Jack Lonergan (1930-2020)

Farewell to Jack Lonergan of Tickincor, Clonmel, County Tipperary, who died on Sunday morning. James Fennell and I enjoyed a lovely day with Jack during the making of the third volume in the ‘Vanishing Ireland’ book series. Here is an abridged version of my account, alongside some of James’s photos.



In my young years I went around on a horse and trap but there’s no living for a horse and trap on the road now. When the motorcar came in and the petrol got plentiful, that was the end for the horse and trap’.

As if on cue, a car whizzes by and Jack’s eyes narrow. ‘I never drove’, he says, watching the car vanish over the horizon. ‘I could never have been a driver. The Raleigh bicycle is my machine. I was six or seven when I got my first one. A man’s bike. You’d get more falls off it but you’d get a greater idea of balance then.’

Jack is the ‘general factotum’ at St. Joseph’s Industrial School outside Clonmel. The job title means one who has many diverse responsibilities and derives from the Latin fac totum, meaning ‘to do or make everything’. The name is a legacy of the Rosminians, the Catholic order who have run the reformatory school ever since it was established in 1884.

Better known as Ferryhouse, St. Joseph’s was the brainchild of the Home Rule politician Count Arthur Moore who represented Clonmel in Westminster from 1874 to 1885. Moore loathed the dreaded workhouses to which offending boys were traditionally sent. He conceived of St. Joseph’s as a place where such children might learn some of the skills necessary to improving their general lot in life. Sadly the Count’s legacy was ultimately to be perverted and St. Joseph’s was one of those institutions exposed in the Ryan Report of 2009 for the systematic abuse of the boys within.

Shania and Jacl L

Above: James Fennell’s photo of Jack inspired the winning entry of Category B in the 2012 Texaco Children’s Art Competition by the then 14-year-old Shania McDonagh of Mount St. Michael Secondary School, Claremorris, Co. Mayo.

Jack Lonergan (pronounced Londrigan) and his friend Jimmy Walsh started at Ferryhouse in the 1970s. ‘I was in and out of here for a long time and then I became a constant,’ he says. ‘We were helping out on the land, picking spuds and saving hay. There were thirty-five cows at one time and they were milked every day. There was two other men then, Willie Norris and Pat Lyons. Pat was constant on the cows.’

Jack was also assigned to look after the school ponies which graze today in a meadow behind the school playground. ‘That one is a bully for his belly,’ he says, watching a hefty piebald called Magnum throw his head into a hayrick.

Jack has worked with animals all his life. His father was a cattle farmer. ‘We always had seven cows for milk and butter,’ he says. ‘We’d give some of them funny names. There might be a light, thin cow and we’d call her ‘the Heavy One’.’

As children, Jack and his sisters made butter which their father sold to the Creamery. Jack often helped his father drive the cattle into Clonmel for the monthly fair. On those days the Tipperary town was awash with farmers from the outlying parishes herding their cattle down the streets with great roars and considerable humour. ‘We’d sell the cattle up in the Mall’, he recalls. ‘Big cattle were up Johnson Street by the chapel, small cattle were up the Main Street, sheep were above at the West Gate and horses were back in the Mall again.’

‘The fair was always busy but there were no great prices going. It was a day out, I suppose, but we were young and we looked forward to anything. If they made the money, they’d celebrate. Some wouldn’t come home afterwards at all if they could avoid it.’

John Lonergan, Jack’s grandfather, came from Ardfinnan, a village between Clonmel and Cahir on the River Suir. A modest farmer, he kept a few pigs and cattle. During the 1920s, Jack’s father Daniel relocated to the townland of Tickincor on the outskirts of Clonmel. The nearby ruins of Tickincor Castle were all that was left of a once formidable three-storey fortress built during the reign of James I.[ii] It’s last inhabitant Sir John Osborne died in 1743.

Jack’s mother Maggie was a Kelly from Rathgormack, Co. Waterford. She grew up beside the ruins of the Augustinian-built Mothel Abbey. In her grandfather’s day, many from Rathgormack left for the “New World”, settling in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, as well as New York and Boston.

Jack and his sisters were all born at Tickinor. As well as cattle, their father kept a horse and a cob. ‘The one horse is no good. You’d have to have the second one to get anything done.’ Jack often rode up on the cob to get around. The family had no car although if there was a funeral far away, his father would hire one for the occasion.


Jack was educated on the opposite side of the River Suir in Newtown Anner. To get to school during the fishing season, he often went down to Derrinlaur where he met the Walsh brothers, Paddy, Johnny and Jimmy. The four of them would lower a long, narrow fisherman’s cot into the river and paddle across from one bank to the other, keeping their eyes (and occasionally their nets) alert for any passing salmon. Amongst those whom the boys met on their daily voyage were some of the dexterous cot fishermen from the Suir whose skills were prized as far away as Newfoundland.

Jack realised that if he was to earn a living after school, it would be up to his own initiative. The Lonergan farm was too small to bring in any real income. He joined forces with Jimmy Walsh and the two became something of a double act. They started off picking stones for Geoffrey Wilkinson who had been gifted the Gurteen Kilsheelan estate by his uncle Count Edmond de la Poer in 1968.[iii] ‘Mrs. Wilkinson would come for us in the morning, about 10 o’clock, when we had our jobs done at our home place.’

The Wilkinson’s then gave them other work – making silage, erecting fencing around a paddock, harvesting corn. ‘The weather was an awful drawback’, Jack recalls. ‘It could put a lot of work and hardship on you’.

During one fearful wet season, he remembers Mr. Wilkinson eyeballing seventy acres of rain-sodden barley with dismay. ‘If I could just get enough barley to do the cattle, it would be okay,’ he pleaded. When the corn was eventually cut, Jack was impressed when Mr. Wilkinson hired an enormous electric fan to successfully dry the crop out. After Mr. Wilkinson’s premature death in 1982, Jimmy Walsh ‘stayed on constant’ at Gurteen while Jack became ‘constant’ at Ferryhouse.

Jack has a strong empathy for the Ferryhouse boys. ‘There were up to two hundred here at one time. Their parents weren’t able to provide for them so they came here and stayed until they were old enough to get a job. A lot of them went into the army afterwards and some headed off to England.’

Jack never married ‘and thank God for that’, says he. With eighty years under his belt, he is perhaps at maximum ease when ambling around the paddock of a mild spring morning with Magnum and the other horses.

‘There was a barber in Clonmel who used to say, “When you’ve gone over forty, your years are getting scarce.” We have no value on our youth. It goes too quick. But youth is great. You can hope when you have no hope.’
With thanks to Nicola Everard.



Jack died peacefully at the Fennor Hill Care Facility in Urlingford on Sunday 26 July 2020. He was laid to rest Killaloan Cemetery after a funeral mass at St Mary’s Church, Gambonsfield, Kilsheelan.



Turtle Bunbury’s books are available from Dubray’s, Eason’s, Amazon,, Book Depository and most reputable bookshops across Ireland.

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The Sandycove Hoax, 1888

Ahead of the day that’s in it, I greatly enjoyed this article from the Wexford People of Saturday 23 June 1888. Thanks to Allen Foster for referring me to the hoax in the first place.


A stupid, silly, and unfeeling hoax was played on Monday last at the expense of General Rice, 2, Bayswater-terrace, Sandycove-road, Bullock [Dublin], and several of the leading merchants both of Kingstown [Dun Laoghaire] and Dublin.

It appears that during Sunday and Monday mornings several funeral proprietors, hirers of floats and furniture vans, wine merchants, grocers, all sorts of provision dealers, builders, plumbers, shoemakers, barbers, chimney sweepers, &c., received instructions, either by letter or post-card, all bearing the Kingstown post-office mark, to call at General Rice’s residence on Monday afternoon at 2 o’clock, and the consequence was that at about that hour might be seen crowding round Bayswater-terrace vans from Brooks Thomas’s with mirrors; from Mansfield’s, Grafton-street, with dressing cases, &c.; from Keating’s, Dame-street, with paints and decorations; from Sibthorpe’s, Dockrell’s, Henshaw’s, Edmondson’s, and Fry’s, while a dray from Boland’s, Grand Canal-street, brought a sack of flour; Cramer, Wood, & Co. sent a large van with a piano ; Sweetman’s sent a dray with two barrels of porter, and Cantrell and Cochrane sent a load of mineral waters.

The 2 o’clock train from Kingstown could not accommodate all that wished to travel on it, and all bound for No. 2, Bayswater-terrace. Young ladies from several of the fashionable shops also came on the scene, prepared to give the finishing touches to toilets for a picnic party that did not come off.

By this time a large crowd had assembled from Dalkey, Glasthule and Kingstown, and some good-humoured banter took place at the expense of the disappointed parties, some of whom took the joke very badly, while others seemed to enjoy it immensely. Two chimney sweeps, who arrived early on the scene, had a rough-and-tumble-fight as to which of them had been sent for, but a constable informed them of the joke, when both laughed heartily.

A barber came dressed up to kill, with a large expanse of shirt-front, and huge collars and cuffs; he nimbly tripped-up the steps of No. 2, and gave a gingerly tap to the knocker, after which he kept washing his hands with imaginary soap until the door was opened, and he was informed how matters stood, when he instantly collapsed. The information seemed to have taken the starch out of him completely, and he wended his way home quite limp, a sadder, but probably not much a wiser man.

Hearses and mourning-coaches also arrived, having received letters worded as follows : “General Rice wishes to have a hearse and mourning-coach sent to his residence on Monday at 2 o’clock sharp, to have a coffin removed to the railway station. Please send bill at same time. ” 2, Bayswater-terrace, June. 1888. “To Messrs. Waller & Son.”

The post-cards ordering vans and floats were thus worded : “General Rice wishes Mr. Meehan to send two vans at 2 o’clock on Monday to convey some furniture to Rathmines. 2, Bayswater-terrace, June, 1888.”

Others were:— “General Rice requires barber to shave and cut hair, &c.” Mr. _____ will please wait upon General Rice at 2 o’clock on Monday.”

The provisions ordered were of many kinds, and the wines of every vintage. It was rumoured that several of the Dalkey shopkeepers were also favoured with orders, but on making inquiries of them, they all denied receiving any instruction to forward goods to Bayswater.

General Rice declined to give any information in the matter further than that he had received over a hundred telegrams and post-cards during the morning. He was quite at a loss to understand why he should have been so treated as he had never done any harm or injury to any person, and was at peace with all his neighbours.

The Kingstown Commissioners also received a post-card from the perpetrator of the hoax, asking them to have General Rice’s ashpit cleaned in the afternoon, a request, however, which could not be complied with, as this sort of work is only done in the township early in the morning.

It is generally believed that General Rice can lay his hand upon those who played the nonsensical joke. If so, we hope he will not spare the hard-hearted wretches who perpetrated such a scurvy trick upon, amount others, poor, industrious float owners, and as the Star Chamber clauses of the Coercion Act are now in force in the County Dublin it is open to those who run that act not to be slow in using those clauses for the purpose of finding out and punishing the well-dressed ruffians of the law and order class, who think it no crime to put people to expense and worry for the purpose of gratifying, probably, some private spleen. If the powers that befail to take advantage of these clauses now it will be farther proof—if proof were neceesrry—to convince us that Coercion was passed for one class only of the people of Ireland.

May Morris (1913-2020)

Farewell to May Morris, one of the loveliest women in all Ireland, who passed away on Sunday last in her 107th year.  I believe she was the second oldest woman in the country. James Fennell and I had the pleasure of meeting May and her late brother Paddy who both featured in the third volume of the Vanishing Ireland series. This is an abridged version of the story I wrote about her. 


‘The children today are like how Kings and Queens used to be years ago,’ says May Morris. ‘They are brought to school and picked up after. They wear lovely clothes and they go to lovely schools. I don’t know anything about the teachers now but they used to murder us!’

May attended a mixed school in Castledermot, the agricultural town on the Carlow-Kildare border. It was a roughshod building; plaster fell from the ceiling while they studied. Her teacher was a vicious old woman who never went anywhere without an ash rod. ‘She had a way of hitting you on your knuckle that’d make you nearly faint!’ says May, protectively clutching her hand ninety years later.

‘I was always getting into trouble. Especially trying to read from the big old Bible. If there was a word I couldn’t make out, she’d call me ‘The Great May Byrne’ and hit the knuckles again. The rod was so long that she couldn’t miss us! But that was life. If a teacher hit a child today they’d be summoned. In them days it didn’t matter if they killed ye.’

May was the second of eleven children born to James and Rosanna Byrne, a farming couple from Graney Cross on the road between Castledermot and Baltinglass, County Wicklow. It was and is a quiet place although in October 1922, nine-year-old May heard the shots of a Republican ambush on a Free State convoy at nearby Graney Bridge which left three soldiers dead.

May is still in awe about the generations before her. ‘I look back on our mothers and fathers and I think ‘God they were terrific people’. The patience and understanding they had with us children. We worked hard, but the weather had a lot to do with it. If it was a lovely day, you’d be out weeding, thinning turnips, picking spuds, all them sort of things. If it was miserable, we might be inside helping our mother make the butter which she sold on to Cope’s. Or sometimes she gave us four needles and a bundle of wool and told us to knit our winter socks.’

There were also animals to tend– four or five cows, a couple of pigs and a clatter of hens. To acquire fresh stock, the Byrnes would go to the market in Baltinglass. ‘Those were great days. All the cattle grouped up on the street and all the children running free at the fair.’ Young May once purchased ‘a pair of the finest chickens you ever saw’ for five shillings from the ‘higglers’, travelling itinerants who specialized in poultry.

Castledermot had its own horse fair back in those times. Schools closed on Fair Day and ‘the town would be black with horses from all around and everywhere.’ There was generally no problem selling them either. ‘During the war years, they’d sell them all because they needed horses in England to work down in the mines and things. Everything happened on the street at that time, no matter what town you went to. There were fairs until the time they got the marts. That closed up the trading on the street.’

Life was hard but, like most of her generation, May felt that people were happier than they are now. ‘And then we grew up and everything changed,’ she laughs. ‘Half the country was gone to England and the other half went to Canada and Australia!’

In early 1942, an Englishman appeared in Castledermot and recruited twenty women from the area to work in a munitions factory near Birmingham. ‘And with ten shillings in my purse, I was the richest of those twenty,’ says May. ‘Honest to God, some of them hadn’t a shilling.’ May didn’t enjoy her first voyage across the sea. ‘I was as sick as could be but, when the boat arrived, they gave me a cup of Oxo and a rope ladder and told us the to get way onshore. I was a good-looking lady in my day. A golden haired beauty! But when I arrived in Birmingham, I was a skeleton, scared to death. Nobody knew what the future would be because the war was only at the start.’

She went to work at Guest, Keen & Nettleford’s factory in Smethwick. ‘It was huge,’ says May. ‘Every day we got lost going into it. They started us off making very small screws. Then we were making stuff for airplanes. And then we were making bombs, filling old cans with whatever scrap we could find.’

The reality of war was never far away and whenever the air raid sirens sounded, May and her colleagues hurried underground. ‘You lived on your nerves,’ she says. ‘But there was always some singing and dancing downstairs. People were paid to keep the spirits up.’

May’s personal spirits took a dive when the authorities intercepted a parcel from Ireland. ‘My mother, Lord have mercy on her, sent me two slices of ham wrapped up in The Carlow Nationalist. When I got them, The Nationalist was in ribbons. They had everything cut out of it! I was summonsed and told, “if that happens again, you’ll go to prison.” The worst thing was I didn’t get the ham.’

May stayed on at Nettlefold’s after the war but several of those she worked with emigrated farther afield. ‘Australia was just beginning to waken up and they were taking on anyone who could work in agriculture and building.’ Amongst those who headed down under were four of her brothers. During the 1950s, it was very cheap to get from Birmingham to Australia and May visited her brothers ‘umpteen times’, whenever they ‘were having babies or getting married.’ However, she found the Queensland climate too humid for her to consider settling.

She remained with Nettlefold’s for twelve years before she transferred to a factory where she spent her days making tarts. ‘We wore gloves made from sacks so we could take the trays off the conveyor, turn around, drop down, pick up the next one. The heat would kill you! My brother Anthony was there as well. He was a baker by trade and made lovely plum puddings. He had to start at half five in the morning. He would give the old ladies a little drop of rum on their tart but then the word got out and he had to stop. I remember the day he left for Australia, they all came out to wish him well.’

Meanwhile, May married an English war veteran called Joe Morris who worked in Mitchell & Butler’s in Birmingham (where her brother Paddy would later work). Many of Joe’s former army colleagues had returned from the war crippled.May returned home to see her parents occasionally but ‘all we ever got was a week and that was never enough time to go home and enjoy ourselves.’ However, as her parents grew older, she realised they needed her and she moved back to Ireland in 1980.

‘I loved every bit of my life in Birmingham but it’s all brand new now. All the old buildings are gone. I was back there in 2006 visiting some of my friends, although a lot of them have gone as well.’

Prior to Paddy’s death in 2013, May lived with her brother in a roadside cottage in Castledermot, not far from the place where they were both at school a long time ago. May then moved to the Hillview Nursing Home in Carlow where she swiftly established herself as an icon and was reportedly ‘flying around the place’ until recent times.


With thanks to Hazel Dickinson, James Fennell and Sharon Greene-Douglas.

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Turtle Bunbury books are available from Amazon,, Book Depository and most reputable bookshops across Ireland.

The Girl Who Liked Dinosaurs

Lyme Regis, Dorset, Tuesday 9 March 1847

It is unlikely that Mary Anning registered much during the last weeks of her life. Crippled by the pain of a malignant breast tumour, she had vanished into a make-believe world by downing unspecified quantities of Godfrey’s Cordial, a relatively cheap, heavy-duty and entirely legal cocktail of opium, brandy, treacle and caraway seeds.[1]The syrupy medicine was variously dubbed ‘Mother’s Friend’ or ‘Quietness’, because if you fired a shot of it into a colicky or perpetually crying baby it guaranteed you a few hours’ peace after their innocent little eyes fluttered and closed in a deep drug-induced slumber.

The concoction almost certainly eased the physical agony for the 47-year-old Anning, but the flipside of this laudanum-based brew was that it also killed one’s appetite stone dead, leaving its consumer prone to muscular aches, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Every drink the severely malnourished Anning poured brought her a step closer to the grave.

And yet perhaps the woman who had spent so much of her life gathering and polishing the bones of long-extinct animal species was all the time yearning for the moment when her own spirit would be free of its tormented earthly frame, leaving behind nothing but her skeleton and her skull. ‘The world has used me so unkindly,’ she wrote, before her ability to put pen to paper faded away. ‘I fear it has made me suspicious of every one.’[2]The opium had perhaps made her paranoid, for she enjoyed a number of rewarding friendships over the years, but her exceptional talents had also undoubtedly been abused by men who should have known better.

Millions of people in the English-speaking world have heard of Mary Anning, even if they do not realise it. In 1908 she was immortalised when the music-hall songwriter Terry Sullivan wrote what was to become probably the most famous of tongue-twisters:

AmmoniteShe sells seashells on the seashore,
The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure,
So if she sells seashells on the seashore,
Then I’m sure she sells seashore shells.[3]

Mary Anning did indeed sell seashells on the seashore. And then some. She was born in May 1799 in Lyme Regis, a small town on the west coast of Dorset, overlooking the English Channel. Her parents, Richard and Molly, were members of the town’s Congregational Dissenter community. High drama came into Mary’s life when she was but a toddler. On 19 August 1800 her nurse had brought her to watch a travelling group of horsemen perform some equestrian feats outside the town. A storm broke out, obliging the spectators to seek shelter under a tree but catastrophe struck when a lightning bolt zapped the tree, instantly killing the nurse and two teenage girls.[4]The baby Mary survived the freak accident and was hurried home to her parents.

Richard Anning, a spirited and independently minded cabinet-maker, was famed locally for having led a protest against the authorities during the ‘bread riots’ of 1800. When the novelist Jane Austen was holidaying in Lyme Regis with her family in 1804, she asked him to estimate the cost of repairs to a ‘broken lid’ on a trunk at the house they were renting. She was shocked when he quoted a fee of five shillings, ‘as that appeared to us beyond the value of all the furniture in the room together.’[5]He didn’t get the job.

An outdoors enthusiast, Richard often went roaming along the cliffs of Lyme Regis and Charmouth after heavy winter storms had battered the coastline, to see what new seashells and fossils might have emerged from the cracks and ledges of the Blue Lias shoreline. That he occasionally did this on Good Friday and other holy days irked his pious neighbours nearly as much as his penchant for bringing Mary and her older brother Joseph with him on these perilous jaunts.

When they returned to their modest homestead in Broad Street, the Annings would lay out their latest trove on a ‘curiosities’ table beside the town’s coach stop. Although remote, Lyme Regis was a popular seaside resort, and the Annings made useful money by selling their shells and fossils to the well-to-do tourists. Their top-sellers were ammonite and belemnite shells, which sold for a few shillings apiece.

In 1810 disaster struck when Richard slipped down a gully and fatally wounded himself, leaving his small family on the cusp of destitution.[6]A few months after his death, there was a momentous development in the Annings’ fortunes when young Joseph dug into a cliff and uncovered the four-foot skull of an ichthyosaur, a sort of fish-lizard. Two centuries later we now know that the coastline around Lyme Regis – the Jurassic Coast, granted status as a World Heritage Site in 2001 – comprises Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous rock formations, made from alternating layers of limestone and shale. It’s stuffed with first-rate fossils, some of which are in excess of 185 million years old, but until the nineteenth century most people barely registered the existence, let alone the importance, of these fossils.

The Annings were different. They knew they were onto something, not least when twelve-year-old Mary found the ichthyosaur’s skeleton the following year. Nobody had ever seen an ichthyosaur skeleton before. When the skull and skeleton were put together, the creature was identified as some form of a crocodile and sold for £23 to Henry Hoste Henley, lord of the nearby manor of Colway.[7]

By the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, it wasn’t just tourists who were coming to browse in the ‘fossil shop’ to see what Molly Anning’s children had unearthed: geologists, naturalists, fossil-hunters and gentlemen scientists were also alighting from the coaches and departing with the Annings’ precious relics. Mary had subsequently found several more ichthyosaur skeletons, one of which she sold to Colonel Thomas Birch (or Bosvile, as he became), a wealthy fossil collector from Ravenfield Park, near Rotherham in South Yorkshire.[8]

Above: Duria Antiquior – A more Ancient Dorset painted by Henry De la Beche in 1830, is the first artistic representation of a scene of prehistoric life based on evidence from fossil remains, today known as ‘palaeoart’.

However, the family enterprise was by no means a stable income-earner, and when Colonel Birch visited the Annings in the summer of 1819 he was aghast at their impoverished state. Shortly afterwards he wrote to his fellow-collector Gideon Mantell that he was ‘going to sell my collection for the benefit of the poor woman and her son and daughter at Lyme who have in truth found almost all the fine things, which have been submitted to scientific investigation: when I went to Charmouth and Lyme last summer I found these people in considerable difficulty – on the act of selling their furniture to pay their rent – in consequence of their not having found one good fossil for near a twelvemonth. I may never again possess what I am about to part with; yet in doing it I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that the money will be well applied’.[9]


As promised, Colonel Birch auctioned a large part of his fossil collection in May 1820 at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, London. Interested buyers were advised that the collection of 102 lots included ‘valuable remains of Reptilia and Crinoidea from the Lias of Lyme and Charmouth, many collected by Miss Mary Anning.’[10] Indeed, as Gideon Mantell was to observe in 1846, ‘it was subsequently understood that all the most valuable fossils had been obtained by [Mary’s] indefatigable labours.’[11] The final lot was the auction’s big hitter: the ichthyosaur skeleton, considered the world’s ‘most complete specimen’, that had been found by Mary. This particular ichthyosaur would fetch up at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, only to be destroyed in a German air raid in May 1941.[12]

The auction raised an impressive £400, all of which the benevolent colonel donated to the Annings. It also considerably raised Mary’s profile in both the geological and biological communities. Her findings quite clearly proved that long, long ago there had been a number – possibly a large number – of very strange-looking creatures living in southern England. This was a mind-altering concept on the eve of the Victorian Age, when most educated people in Britain believed that God had created the world exactly as described in the Old Testament. At the time when Joseph Anning was dusting down that ichthyosaur skull, such words as ‘dinosaur’ and ‘paleontology’ hadn’t yet been coined, and Charles Darwin was still swaddled up in his cot.

Above: Portrait of Mary Anning with her dog Tray and the Golden Cap outcrop by Benjamin Donne.

Mary Anning spent much of the 1820s meandering over the Dorset cliffs with her rock hammer, fossil-hunting with tremendous vigour. As the Bristol Mirrorput it in 1823: ‘This persevering female has for years gone daily in search of fossil remains of importance at every tide, for many miles under the hanging cliffs at Lyme, whose fallen masses are her immediate object, as they alone contain these valuable relics of a former world, which must be snatched at the moment of their fall, at the continual risk of being crushed by the half suspended fragments they leave behind, or be left to be destroyed by the returning tide.‘ [13]

Lady Harriet Silvester, a wealthy London widow, visited the Annings’ shop in 1824, the year Mary discovered the world’s first plesiosaurus skeleton. Lady Silvester recalled in her diary that the ‘extraordinary thing in this young woman is that she has made herself so thoroughly acquainted with the science that the moment she finds any bones she knows to what tribe they belong. She fixes the bones on a frame with cement and then makes drawings and has them engraved … It is certainly a wonderful instance of divine favour – that this poor, ignorant girl should be so blessed, for by reading and application she has arrived to that degree of knowledge as to be in the habit of writing and talking with professors and other clever men on the subject, and they all acknowledge that she understands more of the science than anyone else in this kingdom.’ [14]

For all that, fossil-hunting was still very much a man’s world, and Mary was predictably exploited by many of her male contemporaries. ‘Mary Anning was of rather masculine appearance,’ stated the Chambers’s Journalafter her death. ‘She braved all weather, and was far too generous in allowing even wealthy visitors to accompany her in her explorations without requiring a fee, as some naturalists now very reasonably do.’[15]Instead, often desperate for money, she was obliged to sell her fossils to those same visitors, often collectors from Britain, the US and Europe, who, much to her dismay, would then almost invariably claim the credit for finding them in the first place.

In 1826 Mary moved to a new house with two large front windows, in which her wares could be displayed, beneath a white board painted Anning’s Fossil Depot. An ichthyosaur skeleton was prominently displayed in one window. Among the items on sale were belemnites (which contain fossilised ink sacs) and coprolites (or ‘bezoar stones’), which she had correctly identified as fossilised dinosaur poo. Among her first customers was George William Featherstonhaugh, a beguiling geologist who purchased several fossils for the newly opened New York Lyceum of Natural History in 1827.[16]

By the time of old Colonel Birch’s death, in 1829, Mary had discovered the first British example of the curiously winged pterosaur, known to her contemporaries as the ‘flying dragon’. In 1830 she found her second plesiosaur. Her reputation was further enhanced when the pioneering geologist Henry De la Beche painted a well-received watercolour entitled ‘Duria Antiquior’ (‘An Earlier Dorset’), which was chiefly based on fossils discovered by Mary Anning. He gallantly gave the proceeds from the print sales to the Anning family.

Unfortunately, Mary made a careless investment – or she may have been swindled. The upshot was that she lost a whopping £300 in 1835 and was once again on the cusp of destitution. She was saved when her friend William Buckland, Dean of Westminster and joint founder of the Royal Geological Society, persuaded Lord Melbourne’s government to put her on the civil list and grant her an annual pension of £25.

A sharp reminder of the hazards of fossil-hunting came when she narrowly avoided being crushed in a landslide. Her black-and-white terrier Tray, a trusty companion for many years, was not so lucky. ‘Perhaps you will laugh when I say that the death of my old faithful dog has quite upset me,’ she wrote to a friend. ‘The cliff that fell upon him and killed him in a moment before my eyes, and close to my feet … it was but a moment between me and the same fate.’ [17]

Mary’s expertise found much favour with Louis Agassiz, a Swiss-American fossil-fish expert, who visited Lyme Regis in 1834. He was so grateful for her advice that he later named two fossil-fish species, Acrodus anningiaeand Belenostomus anningiae,in her honour – and a third after her friend Elizabeth Philpot.[18] Another visitor was the anatomist and paleontologist Richard Owen, who called in to the Fossil Depot in 1839. Three years later he was to coin the term ‘dinosaur’, from the Greek for ‘terrible lizard’. Perhaps Mary’s most unexpected customer was King Friedrich August II of Saxony, who popped in to the shop in 1844 and left with an ichthyosaur skeleton for his private collection.

In 1839 the Magazine of Natural Historypublished an article applauding what was claimed to be the first discovery of a hooked tooth of the prehistoric shark hybodus. In what would be the only writing she ever had published, Mary admonished the editor; stuff and nonsense, she’d found plenty of fossilised sharks over the years, some with straight teeth, others hooked.[19]

The surrounding landscape was to dramatically change shortly after Mary’s fortieth birthday that same year. On Christmas Eve, a massive chasm opened up, cracking off a forty-five acre field of wheat and turnips from the fossiliferous coastline, to form present-day Goat Island.

Although Mary continued to hunt fossils in her forties, she was by now beleaguered by the cancer that led her to indulge in that ‘quietening’ cocktail of opium and alcohol. Unaware of her illness, her neighbours in Lyme Regis assumed that she had simply developed a chronic drinking addiction.

Mary succumbed on 9 March 1847 and was buried at St Michael’s Church in Lyme Regis, the Anglican church to which she had pledged allegiance at the age of thirty. The Rev. Fred Parry-Hodges, who conducted the funeral, subsequently received word from the Geological Society of London that they wished to install a stained-glass window in the church. Unveiled in 1850, it would commemorate Mary’s ‘usefulness in furthering the science of geology’ and her ‘benevolence of heart and integrity of life.’[20]

That the notoriously chauvinist Geological Society was prepared to extol this woman’s remarkable achievements was due to the fact that the enlightened Henry De la Beche, Mary’s former patron, had since become its president. When the society met in London the February after her death, he delivered a eulogy in which he noted that Mary’s ‘talents and good conduct’ had won her many friends.[21]‘Though not placed among the easier classes of society, [she] had to earn her daily bread by her labour yet contributed by her talents and untiring researches in no small degree to our knowledge.’

The Gentleman’s Magazine likewise hailed her as ‘the celebrated geologist, a delightful discoverer of the fossils of the blue lias.’[22]Charles Dickens concurred: ‘The carpenter’s daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it.’[23]

After Mary’s brother Joseph died, in 1849, most of the Anning fossil collection was bought by the Earl of Enniskillen for his collection at Florence Court, his house in County Fermanagh, Ireland. These would later find their way to the British Museum.

Mary herself was largely forgotten by the time Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Speciesin 1859, twelve years after her death. That amnesia has been redressed since 2002, when the Paleontological Association devised the annual Mary Anning Award in her honour. In 2010 the Royal Society declared her one of the ten British women who have done most to influence the history of science.

In the autumn of 2015 a tiny metal coin was found on the beach at Lyme Regis. On one side it is stamped Mary Anning MDCCCX(1810), and on the other Lyme Regis age XI.   Her story also forms the basis of the 2020 film ‘Ammonite’, starring Kate Winslett and Saoirse Ronan.



335003-1847-ƒAW-160803This story is extracted from Turtle Bunbury’s book ‘1847-A Chronicle of Genius, Generosity & Savagery’, published by Gill in 2016. The acclaimed book is available via Amazon.

[1]  Thomas W. Goodhue, in Fossil Hunter: The Life and Times of Mary Anning, 1799–1847(Bethesda, Md: Academica Press, 2004), p. 110, refers to her consumption of Godfrey’s Cordial. Further details on the medicine can be found in Anthony S. Wohl, Endangered Lives: Public Health in Victorian Britain(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983), p. 34–5, and T. E. C., Jr, ‘What were Godfrey’s Cordial and Dalby’s Carminative?’ Pediatrics,issue 6, vol. 45 (June 1970).

[2]  Quoted by Charles Dickens in ‘Mary Anning, the fossil finder’, All the Year Round(1865).

[3]  Shelley Emling, The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

[4]  Northampton Mercury,Saturday 30 August 1800, p. 3, column 5.

[5]  Emma Austen-Leigh and Richard A. Austen-Leigh,Jane Austen and Lyme Regis(London: Spottiswoode, Ballantyne and Co., 1941), p. 31–2.

[6]  W. and R. Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts,vol. 8 (1858), p. 383.

[7]  Mr Henley, Sheriff of Norfolk in 1814, was also the owner of Sandringham Hall, Norfolk, which was purchased by Queen Victoria in 1862. Rosina Maria Zornlin, Recreations in Geology(London: John W. Parker, 1852), p. 197.

[8]  The story of Thomas James Birch (later Bosvile) is told by H. S. Torrens in ‘Collections and collectors of note: Colonel Birch’, GCG: Newsletter of the Geological Curators’ Group,vol. 2, no. 7 (December 1979).

[9]  H. S. Torrens, ‘Collections and collectors of note: Colonel Birch’, GCG: Newsletter of the Geological Curators’ Group,vol. 2, no. 7 (December 1979), p. 409. The author of the article intriguingly argues that this letter ‘strongly suggests what is supported by other evidence, that a major part of the early Anning fossil collection and dealing business in Lyme was conducted by Mary [Molly] Anning (c. 1764–1842), the wife of Richard, who died of consumption in 1810, after his death rather than the daughter Mary Anning (1799–1847), who has been given almost all the credit for Anning fossil discoveries by her many uncritical biographers.’

[10]         G. A. Mantell, London Geological Journal, vol. 1 (1846), p. 13–14. See also H. S. Torrens, ‘Collections and collectors of note: Colonel Birch’, GCG: Newsletter of the Geological Curators’ Group,vol. 2, no. 7 (December 1979), p. 405. The British Museum, which bought several of the colonel’s fossils, possesses a copy of the sale catalogue that belonged to ‘the fossil shop at Lyme’, signed Joseph Anning.

[11]         G. A. Mantell, London Geological Journal, vol. 1 (1846), p. 13–14.

[12]         H. S. Torrens, ‘Collections and collectors of note: Colonel Birch’, GCG: Newsletter of the Geological Curators’ Group,vol. 2, no. 7 (December 1979), p. 407.

[13]         Bristol Mirror,Saturday 11 January 1823, p. 4.

[14]         E. Welch, ‘Lady Sylvester’s tour through Devonshire in 1824’, Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries, vol. 31 (1968–70), p. 23.

[15]         W. and R. Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts,vol. 8 (1858), p. 383.

[16]         Shelley Emling, The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

[17]         Thomas W. Goodhue, Fossil Hunter: The Life and Times of Mary Anning, 1799–1847(Bethesda, Md: Academica Press, 2004), p. 84. Curiously Tray was the name given to the dog in ‘The Story of Cruel Frederick’ in the English version of Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struwwelpeter, published in 1848.

[18]         Shelley Emling, The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

[19]         Shelley Emling, The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

[20]         The full inscription reads: ‘This window is sacred to the memory of Mary Anning of this parish, who died 9 March AD 1847 and is erected by the vicar and some members of the Geological Society of London in commemoration of her usefulness in furthering the science of geology, as also of her benevolence of heart and integrity of life.’ The windowdepicts the six corporate acts of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting prisoners and the sick, and burying the dead.

[21]         Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, vol. 4(1848), p. xxv.

[22]         Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Review, vol. 27 (May 1847), p. 562.

[23]         Charles Dickens, ‘Mary Anning, the fossil finder’, All the Year Round(1865).

John Joe Conway (1935-2019)

john joe

The late John Joe Conway, the cattle and horse breeder from near Kilfenora, County Clare, was one of the kindest and most entertaining people we have met during the Vanishing Ireland project. We were introduced to him in 2011 by his great friend, the singer Katie Theasby, and featured him in the third ‘Vanishing Ireland’ book. The following year, he was admitted to the Shorthorn Hall of Fame for the excellence of the Knockanedan herd. He also appeared in Katrina Costello’s charming 2017 documentary, ‘The Silver Branch’. This is a slightly extended version of my story from the book. I hope you enjoy John Joe’s utterly fabulous gift of the gab. 


The short avenue leading down to his cottage is treacherously icy but that doesn’t stop John Joe Conway from skating across the frozen puddles like a fearless toddler. ‘By God and you’re welcome, lads. Come in out of the cold and make yourselves comfortable.’

John Joe’s home lies amid the hills of West Clare in a place called Knockanedan which, rather cryptically, translates as The Hill on the Brow of Another Hill. The other hill is Knockalunkard, the hill of the long fort, where John Joe’s late mother grew up. Located along the old Lisdoonvarna to Ennis road, memories of ages past still linger over these remote green hills. Pitched between two ancient ringforts are the grass-covered rumps of an abandoned village. ‘I knew an old man who could remember the women from the hill village,’ says John Joe. ‘There is still contact with those times but so much of what was around here has gone over to forestry since. The Forestry Department didn’t give a tinker’s damn for the past. They would have planted trees on this kitchen floor if they could.’

John Joe’s forbears came from the townland of Ballycannoe, just north east of Lidsoonvarna, which was once called Conwaystown ‘and there was no one there except Conways.’ They were ‘cleared out of it in the troubled times and moved up to Galway.’ They returned to Clare in the 19th century and Michael Conway, John Joe’s grandfather, arrived in Knockanedan from Miltown Malbay. He was essentially adopted by his uncle Paddy Conway and his wife Bridget, who had no children of their own.

It had been Michael’s intention to join the civil service in Dublin. However, as he prepared to depart for the city, Paddy pleaded with him to stay and offered him the farm. The young man reluctantly bade farewell to his administrative dreams and stayed.

Michael married Bridget Donoghue from Maurice’s Mills who bore him three sons and three daughters. However, she died giving birth to their youngest girl in 1901. Michael then reared the six children himself, in the same house where John Joe lives now. Two of the six later emigrated to England – John to work on the railways in Manchester and Mary to work in catering in Luton – but the other four remained in County Clare, including Michael’s eldest son Patrick who was John Joe’s father.

John Joe’s kitchen is a large, open-plan room with a concrete floor and a strobe light overhead. Bags of turf encased in yellow plastic gather behind a settee between the staircase and the Stanley range. Along one wall runs a 1950s dresser, laden with chipped teacups and tick-tock clocks. ‘I’m a clockaholic’ he confides. Another wall is adorned with portraits of Padre Pio, Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II.

‘I went up to the Galway racecourse at Ballybrit to see the Pope and it was the greatest day in my life. 17th September 1979. We were in the last coral going into the racecourse. Everyone had binoculars so we could see the pope the very far end and we were satisfied. But then it was announced that he would go through the corals in his Popemobile and he came up right beside us. It was fantastic, much more than I expected, and I nearly dropped!’

Amongst other photographs is a 1940s shot of the Conway family standing beside the haybarn at Knockanedan in their Sunday best. John Joe, his parents and his four brothers. The boys all wear shorts; no young man wore long pants until he reached his sixteenth birthday.

‘It wasn’t easy to rear a family in those times,’ says John Joe. ‘But they did it, however they did it.’ His father was evidently a towering figure. ‘And terrible strong too,’ he says, with a respectful nod of the head. ‘He was a tug of war man’. Patrick’s wife Mary Ward was a cattle farmer’s daughter from nearby Knockalunkard.

As a youngster, John Joe often helped his father with the cattle. The prices were sometimes so low that they had to take the stock to two or three fairs before they found a buyer. While they awaited a sale, they lived on credit with the local shop like everybody else. ‘They were so terribly honest in them times that they all did pay because if they didn’t, the shopkeeper wouldn’t be able to keep going.’

The Conway sons were all educated in Inchovea, a handsome nineteenth century building which was demolished in the 1950s because it was deemed too damp.[xi] ‘A bucket of mortar would have sorted the leak out,’ says John Joe indignantly. ‘The tradesman who knocked it nearly failed because it was such a fine structure. It didn’t want to be knocked. He made more money selling the lead flashing than it cost him to buy the place and knock it down.’

By the time he left school in the mid-1950s, John Joe knew the family farm was headed his way. Two of his brothers had emigrated to Luton, one to work with Vauxhall, the other to become a plasterer, and there they both remained until they died a few years ago. Another brother Patrick joined the Christian Brothers and settled in Clara, County Offaly.

The fourth brother Martin played flute with the Irish Army No. 1 Band for nearly thirty years and now lives nearby. During the 1960s, Martin was based at Batterstown, County Meath, and the biggest journeys of John Joe’s life were his annual 500km round trip to visit him. This coincided with the much-relished “Clareman’s Do” in Harry’s of Kinnegad, a gathering of all the farming men of County Clare who had moved east and settled in Meath and Westmeath. ‘We used to let our hair hang down – full length’, he laughs, eyes crinkling as he reels off the names of the lads he met for the ‘dancing and sing-song and that carry on.’

Like his grandfather before him, John Joe was not particularly excited by the prospect of taking on the farm. ‘I felt it would be nothing but hardship,’ he says.[xiii] ‘But I got used to it.’ When his mother’s brother passed away in 1962, he acquired a second farm on Knockalunkard Hill. ‘So I doubled up, but it was still small, about 60 acres in total, and not the best land in the world.’

He bred pedigree Shorthorns and he has a quiver full of scary tales about cows and bulls that have run amok. The pick is probably the one about his neighbour, ‘a strong man who was never afraid of anything’ and who fetched up the wrong side of a bull. This is how John Joe tells the story:

‘One day the wife looks out and she sees the bull is going down on him, trying to crush him to bits. So she runs over to the paddock with an apron and throws her apron at the bull. The bull turned and went down on the apron and was satisfied to be belting away at that instead. She got her husband up and began dragging him out but, as they were leaving, she looked back and she said ‘Michael, could you ever hasten, he’s coming again …’ and he was thundering up the paddock after them, breathing up the back of their necks, for to give them the doubts. They got out the gate, she pulled it shut and the bull banged his head on it after. Michael had six cracked ribs and was scratched and bruised all over his face. Michael’s two brother-in-laws would not believe the bull was so bad. They brought a heifer along and stuck her in the field with the bull. He took no notice of her so they went in after her with their forks. The first lad didn’t even get to draw the fork. The bull hit him so hard. Took the two legs up from under him and lifted him. The other lad stuck his fork in the bulls’ guts then and that worked. That’s what he had to do or the bull would have killed the two of them. The bull started trying to wrench himself until he got rid of the fork and that gave them enough time to get out. They had to put the bull down after that.’

Another run in with a bull which ‘did fairly scare me’ was as follows. The bull was on the farm and on his own. John Joe was crossing the field and ‘I didn’t like the way he was watching me so I hopped out over a wall. Next thing I see him making for the gate and I could see he was in bad humour. He stayed at that gate until he tore it down. He went in under it and got it over his back. I was standing beside a rick of hay so I grabbed a fork. There were three lines of wire between me and him but the rate at which he was thundering towards me I thought he would come through them anyway. He wouldn’t stop. But he did stop and he went around to a small gate and he couldn’t come any further. And I scrammed. But he did fairly frighten me.’

‘You would have to be alert to the bulls,’ he warns. But cows can also be extremely dangerous, particularly Limousin cows. ‘When they are calving, they have some temper. For three days after the calf is born, they are terrible.’ He recalls a friend being chased up the field by one such cow. ‘Only for that he was an athlete, she’d have had him. She chased him a hundred yards or more. I was watching him twisting and turning and zig-zagging but I couldn’t do anything. I think it took more out of me than him.’

John Joe is more at ease in the company of horses. ‘They used to say there was a four leaf shamrock wherever a mare foaled. I love horses. Their intelligence is something else. They know your step. They know your voice. They know if you are grumpy and they keep out of your way! The very moment you handle the reins, they know to a T what you’re made of. And when you ride them, they know when you’re in charge and they know when they can dump you. And dump you they will!’

‘I had a breeding mare, a draft horse. I bred foals from her and I brought them to the fairs in Ennistymon and Ennis. I often hopped up on her, with no bridle or anything, for a gallop through the fields. She was a nice mare with plenty of speed. But until she wanted to stop, you couldn’t come off. We were out once and her leg went down a closed drain. She scrambled and scrambled so much that I thought she was damaged. I never rode her again after that. I realised this country was too dangerous for her.’

John Joe also had a couple of workhorses. ‘The trick with the workhorse is to keep him working. When they aren’t working, they start acting up, plunging and rearing and shying at this, that and every other thing they meet on the road. But when they are working they are lovely and they really can work.’

John Joe sold his last ‘little mare’ in 2005. He was anxious for her health because she had developed water scabs on her back and he did not know how to cure her. ‘She was never trained but she was a beauty to lead. After she was gone I put down eight or nine terrible nights. The line was broken. Every morning I would bring her feed … but when she was gone, I was put off my stride.’

He found some consolation in music. ‘Oh the Lord yes, I am stone crazy mad for traditional music. I played a tin whistle back in the past and I used to sing, with porter. Aye, when the medicine was on, I’d sing. ‘Putting on the Style’, Lonnie Donegan. That was one of my songs.’ In fact, John Joe frequently hosted céilidhs in his kitchen, drawing crowds of anything up to forty people. ‘A couple of lads would play and they’d dance a few sets and waltzes and maybe sing a few songs. Everybody would be to and fro and there was the occasional romance out of it. It wasn’t men on the one wall and women on the other.’

That said, John Joe never married. ‘It was a pity for all the bachelors in this area that all the women left for England and America. Or they married the bigger farmers. I suppose they were afraid of the drudgery of marrying a smaller farmer.’ The population duly tumbled and many local businesses were no longer viable. In the last decade, the creamery, the shop and the school have all closed. ‘This area has been turned upside down,’ says John Joe. ‘But there was nothing we could do. Like a lot of the country areas, it came so gradual at first that no one took any notice.’

John Joe Conway, born 2 May 1935, died 9 July 2019, buried in the Island cemetery at Knockaneadan.

The Flight that Changed the World

Harry Sullivan twitched his ears. What on earth was that? As he listened, the throaty growl intensified. Was it coming from the sky? The seven-year-old leapt from his bed and ran out onto the streets of Clifden, Co Galway. ‘I was just in time to see this greyish-coloured machine swooping over the main street’, he recalls. ‘Its huge wings nearly touched the top of the church. I watched as it roared away towards the bog, its wings swaying up and down’.

It was 8:20am on Sunday 15 June 1919 and Harry had just witnessed one of the most magnificent events in aviation history. On that morning, 100 years ago today, Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown completed the first ever non-stop trans-Atlantic flight between America and Europe.

The seed for Alcock and Brown’s extraordinary adventure began in the winter of 1918 when Lord Northcliffe, the Dublin-born founder and proprietor of the Daily Mail, renewed his offer of a prize, worth £10,000 (approximately STG£400,000), for the first team to fly non-stop across the Atlantic.[i]

Screenshot 2018-03-04 12.38.53In early 1919, Percy Muller, superintendent of the Vickers works at Broadlands, Surrey, asked one of his test pilots what he thought of the contest. Jack Alcock replied: ‘I am on it any old time!’ Alcock had been obsessed with flying since he began making model planes during his childhood at Old Trafford, Manchester.[ii] By 1912, he was working as a mechanic at Broadlands where he learned how to fly.[iii] He served with the air-force during the war, targeting U-boats in the Dardanelles, but was shot down, captured and imprisoned in a Turkish POW camp.

With his eye now fixed upon the Atlantic Prize, Alcock sought a plane strong enough to win. He settled upon a Vickers Vimy IV, to be modified at Broadlands and fitted with two Rolls Royce engines. Now he needed someone capable of navigating the featureless 2,000-mile ocean without straying off course.

The meeting of Alcock and Brown took place completely by chance. Born in Glasgow in 1886, ‘Ted’ Brown was the son of an American engineer. Like Alcock, his passion for aviation stemmed from childhood, when he made and flew box kites. He served in the army at the Somme, before joining the Royal Flying Corps as an observer. In 1915, his plane was downed and, his right leg shattered, he was incarcerated in a POW camp in Germany. After the war, he started work with the Aircraft Production Department who, one day, sent him to discuss radiators with Peter Muller at Vickers. Alcock happened to be in the room with Muller when Brown arrived. Muller introduced the two men. They shook hands. And something peculiarly British happened.

Alcock told Brown about the Daily Mail contest. Brown told Alcock how he would navigate the Atlantic if he were to enter such a prize. Impressed, Alcock asked Brown if he would care to join him on the journey. Brown said he would be delighted to. And so the team was born.

Aged 33, Ted Brown was a thoughtful, unassuming individual, somewhat scarred by his memories of the Somme but due to marry a beautiful Irish girl called Marguerite Kennedy. An optimist, he regarded aviation as an ideal tool for promoting peace and prosperity across the world. Six years his junior, Jack Alcock was the more daring of the two, an acrobatic specialist who simply saw the flight as a tremendous adventure.[iv] Together the two former POWs plotted every last detail of the journey, right down to their electrically heated Burberry’s flying suits.

Their late entry ensured they were rank outsiders for the Atlantic Prize when they finally joined their seventeen rival teams at the take-off spot in St John’s, Newfoundland.[v] In the days leading up to the race, most of their competitors were obliged to withdraw with technical faults.[vi] At length, only four planes participated.[vii]

Above: John Alcock and Arthur Brown made the first successful transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Ireland in 1919.

On the afternoon of Saturday June 14th 1919, Jack Alcock pulled the Vimy bi-plane into the sky above St John and roared into the dense, clinging fogs of Newfoundland’s coast.[viii] They would not see land again until Ireland.

Alcock and Brown’s circumstances required immense courage and endurance. The Vimy was a primitive beast. The wind whined ‘a ghostly melody among the struts and bracing wires’. It had an open cockpit, meaning that every time they passed through a band of rain, hail, sleet or snow – which they did frequently – it ‘chewed bits out of our faces’, to quote Brown.[ix] They were not long in the air when their radio broke. The exhaust snapped soon afterwards and the resultant sound, which Alcock likened to a machine gun battery, left the two men with hearing problems for the rest of their lives.

During the night, they had no option but to ‘cleave our way through an interminable mass of black marble’, with the luminous glow of the instrument panel providing just enough light for Brown to read the chart spread upon his knees. He skilfully steered them into a westerly wind that blew them towards Ireland. But that was accompanied by an intense blast of sleet which jammed the lateral control for half an hour.[x] It was extremely hard, physical work. Anything could have gone wrong at any moment. Not a pleasant thought when you are carrying a colossal 865 gallons of fuel, spread between seven tanks and a service tank.[xi]

At last, daylight broke and there was land ahoy in the shape of the islands of Eeshal and Turbot off the Galway coast. Brown recognised the tall radio masts of Marconi’s station at Clifden and recalled how, just days earlier, they had joked about hanging their hats on the aerial as they passed.[xii] Flying over Clifden, they fired two red flares but most of the town’s population were in church at the time. Alcock had hoped to fly all the way to Brooklands but with the mist-shrouded mountains of Connemara rising before him, he wisely decided to land. He aimed for a pristine, treeless field by the Marconi station. To both men’s surprise, they landed violently with ‘an unpleasant squelch’. The field was in fact the spongy blanket bog of Derrygimla.[xiii] As the startled Marconi crew reached the peat-drenched airplane, Alcock stood up from his seat, removed his goggles and said: ‘We are Alcock and Brown. Yesterday we were in America’.

It was 9:40am on Sunday morning. They had completed the 1,880-mile coast-to-coast flight in 15hr 57min at an average speed of 118.5mph. It was the longest distance ever flown by man. ‘What do you think of that for fancy navigating?’ asked Brown. ‘Very good’, replied Alcock. And they shook hands again.[xiv]

Alcock-Brown-crash-land in Clifden

Ireland erupted on discovering what the two men had achieved.[xv] The older generation were particularly stunned. The voyage to America had always taken weeks. Yet this flying machine had done it in sixteen hours. On the road to Galway, Alcock and Brown were obliged to shake several thousand hands along the way. The train journey to Dublin involved standing ovations at every station. They were smothered in flowers by the children of Athenry and celebrated by a marching band in Mullingar. When they arrived in Dublin, a group of Trinity students ‘kidnapped’ Alcock and brought him to their Commons for a jar. Meanwhile Brown was dragged off to the Royal Irish Automobile Club on Dawson Street to regale its members with every last detail. The next day, huge crowds gathered in Dun Laoghaire to watch them sail for Holyhead. In England, knighthoods, portraits and a £10,000 check awaited.[xvi] Presenting the check at an elaborate luncheon in London, Winston Churchill hailed Alcock and Brown’s success as ‘a triumph of man over nature’.

It was certainly one of the most significant and dramatic flights in aviation history.[xvii] Nobody repeated the feat for eight years. It also marked the peak of both men’s career. Sir John Alcock was killed less than six months later – and only nine months after he and Brown first met – when his plane crashed in France.[xviii] Sir Arthur Brown married his Irish sweetheart and survived until 1948.[xix] But their triumph was an event of tremendous positivity for a world which, in 1919, was still riddled with self-doubt after the horrors of the Great War and the Spanish Flu. Moreover, America was suddenly less than a day away.[xx]

In 1959, a 14ft-high limestone monument of the ‘tail-fin’ was erected on Ballinaboy Hill, the quiet, primeval boulder-strewn Connemara bogland, over which the Vimy had flown on its way to the nearby Marconi station. It’s inscription reads: ‘Ta a ngaisce greannta as chlar na speire. Their heroism adorns the expanses of the sky’. In July 2005, the late Steve Fossett and Mark Rebholz completed their 18 ½ hour re-enactment of the flight and landed at Ballyconneely’s golf club.

Brendan Lynch’s book, ‘Yesterday We Were in America’ is a thoroughly researched and often exciting account of the pioneering flight, crammed with useful anecdotal tangents and informative titbits.




[i] Northcliffe had been pushing for aviation progress since at least 1906. After the Reims Airshow of 1909, he launched a series of prizes for pilots who could, for instance fly in one day from ‘within 5 miles of the London office of the Daily Mail ‘to a given spot within 5 miles of the Manchester office’. The original Atlantic Prize of £10,000 was offered, on 1st April 1913, to the first person who could cross the Atlantic within 72 continuous hours. Many viewed it as an April Fool’s joke; Punch magazine quickly a similar prize for the first flight to Mars. The offer was put on hold with the outbreak of war. When he died, Lord Northcliffe willed three months salary to each of his 6,000 employees.

[ii] By 1908, he was helping build a real Farman-type bi-plane.

[iii] Brooklands placed Alcock at the hub of British aviation, with such legends as Louis Bleriot and Lord Brabazon of Tara regularly calling by. Alcock was actually taught how to fly by Maurice Ducrocq, the eminent French aviator who ran a flying school at Brooklands.

[iv] Aside from some minor debates over the limited cockpit space for their respective instruments, the navigator and pilot got on famously.

[v] Other scheduled competitors included Tommy Sopwith, Paris Singer and the wartime pilot Leth Jensen who boasted that he would get all the way to Paris.

[vi] In those early days of flimsy airplanes, unpredictable instruments and snappable wings, a pilot’s life was a perilous one. No bomber, seaplane, biplane or triplane was safe. Among those killed flying was Charles Rolls (1877-1910), co-founder of Rolls Royce company whose engines would power Alcock and Brown into trans-Atlantic success. Countless aviators perished in their attempts to fly the Atlantic from Paris to New York, including Irishmen James Medcalf and Terence Tully. In 1927, Charles Lindberg succeeded in the Spirit of St Louis, the first solo crossing of the Atlantic.

[vii] The first to depart was the Sopwith team who promptly went missing, its crew presumed dead. When they were found safely bobbing in the ocean some days later, the press went into overdrive and the Atlantic Race became front page news across the Western World.

[viii] When the news reached Lord Northcliffe’s Daily Mail office on Fleet Street, the editor quaked. The Saturday take-off was the worst news possible; the Mail did not then have a Sunday edition! Sure enough, they were scooped by the Express

[ix] Lynch describes the cockpit as like a 1920s domestic hallway, with brass switches and ivory levers mounted on a varnished wooden fascia.

[x] There were also endless dispiriting levels of cloud to negotiate. When they completed 850 miles, they celebrated with a cup of coffee from a thermos.

[xi] Fuel consumption was estimated as 70 litres an hour and they aimed to travel at 90mph.

[xii] It was not lost on either men that Marconi had installed another Telegraph Station back at St John’s, Newfoundland. Set amid the empty boglands and mountains, the high-power, long-wave Marconi Station was later burned by nationalists in 1922. Ireland and Newfoundland were united again in 1928 when Captain James Fitzmaurice (who Lynch called ‘Ireland’s most neglected aviation hero’, suggesting his next book?) co-piloted the first successful east-west crossing from Dublin’s Baldonnel Airport to Greenly Island, Newfoundland, and again in 1932 when Amelia Earhart landed in Culmore, Co Derry, becoming the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo.

[xiii] The Vimy’s nose and half its propellers were buried in peat, and the tailplane elevated 16 ft high.

[xiv] Inevitably, elements of the journey were subsequently exaggerated, by the press and other writers. Lynch comprehensively dismisses the legend that the handicapped Brown walked on the iced-up wings to clear the ice and snow which had blocked the engine’s air intakes, a legend of Bigglesian proportions. He was, however, constantly chipping ice off the fuel gauge with a knife.

[xv] A quick reception in Clifden’s Railway Hotel and then they were driven on to Galway where they slept in the Great Southern and were gifted Claddagh rings by local jeweller William Dillon. When they awoke, they were global celebrities. It was, said Brown ‘a wonderland of seeming unreality’.

[xvi] A quarter of a million people gathered in London to welcome the two former prisoners-of-war. They were soon kneeling before George V and knighted. In the months that followed, Jack Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown were touted far and wide for their achievements. They sat for portraits by Sir John Lavery and Ambrose McEvoy. Mahogany models of the Vimy went on sale, with propellers that revolved when the model was wheeled and a stash of matches in the tail end.

[xvii] It was certainly the greatest leap for mankind since the Wright Brothers staggered into the air in their powered airplane sixteen years earlier. Lynch hails the journey as ‘the logical outcome of man’s obsession with transport, which dated from the invention of the wheel in Mesopotamia around 4000BC’.

[xviii] After the flight, Sir John Alcock returned to testing Vickes aeroplanes at Brooklands and began plotting a new motor business in the Burlington Arcade in London. On 15 Dec 1919, now aged 27, he attended the presentation by Vickers of the transatlantic Vimy to London’s Science Museum. The plane had been washed clean of Irish peat and its nose repaired. (Some of the Connemara locals appear to have nabbed some parts of the plane, such as its canvas and propellers, for their curio collection). Three days later, he entered the cockpit of a single-engine Vickers Viking Mark I amphibian bi-plane and set off for the first post-war aero-nautical exhibition in Paris. The plane vanished into the low clouds of the English Channel. 25 miles north of Rouen, a farmer watched the Viking attempt an emergency landing when it suddenly collapsed in the blustery sky, ‘gave a great sway and fell to the earth’. Alcock’s head smashed into the windscreen, fracturing his skull. He never regained consciousness. His funeral took place in Manchester cathedral on Christmas Day and he was buried in the city’s Southern Cemetery beneath three coach-loads of wreaths. A Celtic Cross was later erected over his grave, an aeroplane propeller carved in its base.

[xix] On 29 July 1919, Sir Arthur Whitten Brown, resplendent in blue RAF uniform, married curly dark haired Marguerite Kathleen Kennedy in London. They would be feted on their honeymoon, an extended trip through America with Kathleen now known as ‘Lady Whitten Brown’. Brown subsequently became general manager of the Metropolitan Vickers plant in Swansea. Shocked by Alcock’s death, he became rather withdrawn in later years. During the Second World War, he helped train RAF pilots in navigation and engineering. His idealistic hopes that aviation would promote world peace were shattered and he knew many who perished in the blitz. His only son was shot down while flying over northern Holland. He recoiled from the use of planes at Dresden and Hiroshima. On 4 October 1948, he overdosed on barbitone at his home in Swansea and died. He was 62 years old.

[xx] As Brown said, this was the first generation of mankind ‘to see flying dreams and theories translated into fact’. He foresaw a future where aviation could create the possibility of a peaceful, prosperous would, where flight would knit the world together, not become the latest weapon.

In 1939, the first direct flight of a commercial flying boat from Foynes, Co Limerick, to New York, was flown by Charles Blair, husband of the actress Maureen O’Hara.

The Hurler & the Diviner: Joe McCabe (1919-2019) & Micky Lalor (1931-2017)

Farewell to the inimitable Joe McCabe who became an icon of the Laois junior hurling team in the 1930s and passed away earlier this year, three months short of his centenary. It’s now almost thirteen years since photographer James Fennell and I met with Joe and his great friend Micky Lalor at the McCabe home outside Abbeyleix. This is their story from the second volume of the ‘Vanishing Ireland’ series, subtitled ‘Further Chronicles of a Disappearing World.’


Micky Lalor is anxious to set the record straight. His daughter is married to Joe McCabe’s son. And Joe’s father was Micky’s schoolteacher in Clonad. And yes, okay, Joe’s father did have a wee romance with Micky’s mother. But that was a long time ago, before anyone was married. Above all, he and Joe are neighbours – and always have been.

It is clear that Joe and Micky regard the ongoing link between their two families as a happy coincidence. They are great pals. Joe swears Micky is ‘one of the best water diviners in Ireland – bar none‘. And Micky says Joe’s record as a hurler speaks for itself. The two were taking afternoon tea and cream buns when we called in to the McCabe house in Ballyroan outside Abbeyleix on a wet spring afternoon.

The two men sit in opposing armchairs chuckling at the old times, at stories they’ve heard a hundred times before yet which still carry an essential lightness of being. There is the story of the kindly fool who accidentally donated the entrance fee for a vital hurling match to the parish priest. Or the scoundrel who had the monopoly on bicycle tyres and wireless batteries during the war. Or the hurler who kept all his money in a matchbox but accidentally lost the box while making haycocks ‘so he had to unravel all his cocks with a pitchfork and start over again‘. Then there was Jack Lyons, a massive lad who had to get a bypass. ‘Doctor, a bypass is no good to me – I need a roundabout.’ Sometimes it is hard to grasp why stories are funny. It’s like trying to make sense of long gone currencies. And, as such, it is inevitable that older men look down in brief dismay that such wonderful memories can possibly lose their sheen over time.

But much of storytelling is about the way it is told and, eighty-seven years on, Joe McCabe’s endearing tales are as hypnotic as they ever were. Joe is the first of his McCabe line for four generations to not become a teacher. ‘I have sisters who were teachers. I have a daughter teaching – and a grandchild teaching too! But I was too thick for teaching!’

Instead, he evolved a passion for hurling. As a child, his native county still echoed with the roars of those who had carried Laois to victory in the 1915 All-Ireland Hurling Championship. The weather had been so wet that day the two teams played the second half in overcoats. One of his many colourful tales involves a midnight raid on a prosperous farm to pinch a lump of ash to make some new hurls. Luckily, even at the age of twelve, Joe could clearly run.

In the GAA’s Jubilee Year of 1934, the fifteen-year-old Joe McCabe, clad in short trousers, played for the Laois Minors in a match that saw them become Leinster Champions. Next up was Tipperary in the All-Ireland final at Croke Park. What an astonishing prospect for any fifteen-year-old.


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Joe McCabe was born on 31 March 1919 and died on 2 January 2019, three months short of his centenary. 

‘None of us knew Dublin,’ he says of the team’s arrival in the city. ‘We had nothing only our boots, tied together and thrown across our backs. And we carried our hurls in our hand. We had no cases, no pyjamas or anything at all. We walked along the quays and then up to Barry’s Hotel. We went to the pictures that night. The Plaza! I remember it was four old pence. We came out of it after and there was a chipper. We never had chips before but by jaysuz we got a tray of them and tucked in. I only had half a crown when I came to Dublin to play in an All-Ireland final. That’s all I had and there were lads who hadn’t even that! We ate the chips and went back to the hotel and we went to bed. We got up the next morning and went to mass and went on to Croke Park.’


Laois lost by a point after a second half that lasted forty-five minutes and Tipperary brought on nine substitutes. With teacher blood thick in his veins, Joe swears he took the train home straight after the match so that he could finish off his homework for the Christian Brothers in Portlaoise by the Monday morning. ‘We had a great big clock on the wall. I remember it was twenty-five to nine when I got home for dinner. My mother said, ‘You didn’t win today?’ – the hurling was on the radio or something – I said, ‘No.’ My father gave me a note for the Brothers in the morning.’

Joe is the only player to have been on the Laois minor team for five years in a row – 1933 to 1937. He continued to hurl until 1960 and says he got a welt from a hurl every time he went out. ‘We didn’t mind welts. We were working hard. That time we’d walk twenty mile and we’d work and walk home. We got so hardened. People were much tougher. There was nothing to eat only bread and butter and the bacon that hung above you. We’d eat anything, carrots or turnips or cabbage.’

After he left school, Joe’s father paid a welder to employ his son as an apprentice. Joe went without pay for the next three months – ‘to see was I any good!’ He got a salary of five shillings a week afterwards and ‘got up to fifteen shillings by the time I finished!’ His career path was set. ‘I welded all my life – the whole life I’m welding.’ He claims to have invented a crank shaft that cannot be broken – not even by a steam engine – but vows that he will take his secret recipe to the grave. In the end, he had a business of his own outside Abbeyleix, lately sold to make way for a residential estate.

Micky is a quieter man, one of six children born into a farming family from Portlaoise. At seventy-six, he has survived a bypass, a hernia and the complete loss of sight in his right eye. His gift for water-divining was revealed in his boyhood when his teacher – Joe’s father – asked everyone to give it a try. Micky was the solitary success, although his anxious father insisted someone was ‘codding‘ him. After school, he tried it again while checking on the cattle one evening and sure enough the magic sticks crackled over a source of water. ‘I don’t know is it a gift or not. It just works and that’s all. I’ve seen hundreds of people who say they can do it but I’ve only met two or three who actually can.’ He has four daughters and two sons but says none of them can divine. ‘It just doesn’t work that way.’ When Micky married, he gave up farming and bought a machine for well-drilling. ‘Every new house built around the country has to get water – and Mick is the man to find it,’ asserts Joe.


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Micky Lalor passed away on 10 March 2017.


With thanks to Sheila McCabe.

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Sam Codd (1926-2019) – The Bone Setter

Another wonderful man gone onwards to ‘the great beyant’. Charming, ingenious Sam Codd of Aughrim, County Wicklow, passed away on 22 January 2019 in his 94th year. We met Sam at his home about this time eight years ago for a merry afternoon, after which I wrote the following account of his life and times for the third volume of the ‘Vanishing Ireland’ series. The photos are by my colleague and old pal, James Fennell.


Should you ask Sam Codd what a bone-setter does, he is quite likely to suggest that you throw your leg up on a stool so he can break it and then show you how to set it again. ‘If a leg is broke,’ he explains, ‘I put a splint on it, tie a bandage around and put you in plaster of Paris. The bone will fix then.’

He learned the skill from his father. ‘He used to set bones and I’d be tinkering around with him.’ At length he began bone-setting himself and ‘then one lad would tell another’ so that before long, ‘they started to come here from all over the country.’[i]

‘In cattle you have to leave the bone in plaster for about six weeks. In sheep it’s a little less, about a month. But it’s hard to set a horses’ leg unless they are under five years old. A horse has no marrow in his bone. The day a horse is foaled, its leg is as long as it ever will be. It never grows anymore but it thickens up. If you look at a horse the day it’s foaled, there’s a certain place to measure, from the point of the shoulder to the fetlock. Turn that up and that’s the height he will be when he’s done growing. It’s curious of them isn’t it?’

Horses have been a massive part of Sam’s life since he acquired a stallion pony at the age of twelve.[ii] His home, Granite Lodge Stud, is well known in equestrian circles as “The Home of Sammy’s Pride”. Sam purchased this sturdy stallion as a foal and stood him at the stud for many years. ‘He has foals and fillies all over the place! One went to England and won Horse of the Year three years running.’ [iii]

Sam was also famed for the manner in which he trained his horses upon the hilly meadows rolling around his home. He was often to be seen exercising them in his blue trap, pulling at his braces, tipping his cap at passers by. He also farmed the land with his horses. ‘Now it’s all tractors and pressing buttons but in that time everything was done with horses, working and walking alongside them all day, ploughing, harrowing, raking hay and everything.’ Sam continued to work his horses after he ‘got a tractor, same as everyone else’. But eventually he conceded defeat and gifted his last two mares to his daughters.[iv]


He has a handful of well-thumbed photograph albums in which his beloved equines graze, jump and occasionally dance. ‘Anything I asked that lad to do, he’d do,’ he says of one trusty steed. ‘If I told him to lie down, he lay down. If I told him to roll, he’d roll. I told him to stand on his hind legs and he done that too.’ He taught another horse how to sit down in a chair.

Sam was born in October 1926 and reared in Ballysallagh, near Hacketstown, County Carlow, on a farm which his brother now runs. ‘My people were there six or seven generations’, he says.[v] His father William Charles Codd married Susan Hawkins, a farmer’s daughter from Killybeg on the western slopes of Keadeen Mountain.[vi] Susan’s grandfather was a rugged Protestant mountain farmer called Sam Hawkins who married twice. He had twelve children by his first marriage and thirteen by the second. ‘It wasn’t just Catholics who had big families,’ concludes Sam. ‘At one time I had forty eight first cousins and forty of them were living around the Glen.’

Sam was the youngest of William and Susan’s children. ‘You could say I was reared on goat’s milk’, says he, referring to a puckaun (goat) he owned from an early age. ‘I always had goats.’

He left his school in Hacketstown shortly before his fourteenth birthday to help an elderly neighbour with the harvest and threshing. ‘And I was never short of a days work after that,’ says he.

He always made sure he earned his keep. ‘If you didn’t mind your job, you’d get a kick in the arse on a Saturday night and someone else would be in on Monday morning. You can’t sack anyone like that now – you have to give them redundancy!’[vii]

Days were long and there wasn’t much to do in the evenings. ‘You might sit by the fire and that’d be it. Next thing you’d get up in the morning and go back to work. We didn’t go to the pub at all really. There might be an odd card game or something in a farmer’s house. And there used to be dances after the threshing. They were great auld crack. I remember one lad, a fecker for doing tricks, who wasn’t asked to the dance. So he got a ladder up to the house and threw a grain sack over the chimney and smoked out the people inside. He said, “they asked me to the threshing, but they didn’t ask me to the dance”.’

In 1945, a bachelor cousin of his father passed away and Sam, aged only twenty, ‘fell into this place’, the forty acre farmstead on the road to Aughrim where he now lives.[viii] The house was thatched at the time but when combine harvesters took over from manual threshers, ‘all the straw was broken up so we done away with the good thatching’ and went for asbestos instead. In the summer of 2010, 85-year-old Sam replaced the asbestos with proper slate.


‘You had to be very fit to farm,’ says he. ‘That’s why I’m so fit still. I was never sick in my life. We used to be up at six o’clock every morning and to bed at ten or eleven at night. That was the custom. We had to work for a living. But we were all happy and healthy that time. It was a great old life. People had very little money but they were happy.’[ix]’ One particularly stocky job involved carrying grain barrels. ‘We’d be lifting the barrels and there’d be maybe twenty-three stone in a barrel. It’d take two people to lift it but there was a certain way of doing it.’

For a long time, Sam farmed cattle, thirty, maybe thirty five at a time. He milked them all twice daily, pumping the milk into tall aluminium cans which he then wheeled out to the roadside in a barrow. ‘The lorry came then and took the milk off to Inch Creamery.’ As technology evolved, so the creamery was able to pump Sam’s milk directly into a bulk tank and that was the end of the can.

‘We were paid on the milk according to the quality, the butter fat and all that,’ he recalls. ‘I was very lucky as I had the highest butterfat going into the creamery. That was because of the sort of cows I had. I started with Shorthorns – they gave good creamy milk – and I had an odd Jersey among them. Then I started on the Friesians and I built up a great herd from around here.’[x]

When the cattle were not in the fields, he kept them in a cow house beside his home. ‘Nowadays, cattle are all in on concrete floors and you might have three of four of them to a cubicle’, he says disapprovingly. ‘That’s why they’re slipping around and getting hurt.’

‘You can train a horse but there’s no great way of putting manners on pigs’, says Sam of his time as a pig farmer. ‘You just have to put up with them and give them the odd skelp with a stick.’ At his peak, he had ten farrowing sows and a couple of breeding boars that ‘went all over the country.’ Sam ran a tight ship and if a sow did not perform according to plan, she was liable to be ‘hanging up by the leg in Duffy’s bacon factory’ before the next full moon.[xi]

‘You’d always have a fat pig that time,’ he says. ‘You killed it and took two stone of salt to cure the bacon. You’d rub them on the table every night for a few nights, and when you’d be done rubbing and getting it cured, you’d hang them up on the ceiling. You had nothing to do then only cut off a rasher and throw it into the pan. And you’d have gravy enough to fry an egg. That time, you wouldn’t kill a pig until it was about twenty stone weight. Now they wouldn’t eat it because they’d think it’s too fat. They’d cut the fat off it! We lived off the fat!’[xii]

In 1947, Sam married Jenny Coe, a kinswoman of the bachelors who owned his farm. She passed away in 1987, leaving him with a son, three daughters and, at last count, fourteen grandchildren and half a dozen great-grandchildren.[xiii] ‘The auld years do slip by,’ says he.

As well as his bone-setting and horse-training prowess, Sam is well-known in the locality as the Morris Minor man. ‘The first car I had was a Morris Minor and I never had anything else,’ he says. ‘I used to travel around a lot, as a bone-setter, and I do be in a lot of the old farmer places and all that crack. I had two Morris’s here one time, one for taking the girls out on Sunday and one for everyday.’

With thanks to Philip Judge, Tara Quirke, Vanessa Codd, Susan Soden and Pamela Soden.

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The Vanishing Ireland series and other books are available via all good bookshops nationwide, and Amazon



[i] It wasn’t just livestock with broken legs that Sam mended. He also attended to wounded humans, ‘with slipped discs and knocked out fingers and all that. ‘

[ii] ‘When I was a young lad, I always had horses. ‘ had my first stallion when I was about twelve year old. A stallion pony. I had several stallions along the way. And I kept mares here and bred with them and all that crack.’

[iii] ‘I used to keep horses and stallions here and everything. I’ve nothing now. I’m down and out and on the road’, he laughs. Sammy’s Pride, an Irish Draught stallion, was 16 3. ‘He’s over twenty years of age now but still to the good. He’s in Roscommon. I bought him as a foal. Lads used to come here from all over the country with their registered mares and they’d leave them here for a few days to get them in foal. He had a lot of foals and fillies.’ One of these was bred by Bridget Nolan, near Tullow, in a place called Rath, and won the Horse of the Year Show in England three years in succession.

[iv] ‘The last two mares I had here I gave to my daughters – one to a daughter living outside Bunclody and the last mare I had, Aughrim Mist, I gave to another daughter who is married up in Carrigallen, County Leitrim. She bred several foals from Sammy.’ Purple Joey was another beauty he bred but he was hit by the colic and eventually put down.

[v] They are distant cousins of George Codd in Paulville, as well as the Codds who live near Rathdrum, County Wicklow.

[vi] Susan Hawkins was born in 1890. Her father, Sam Hawkins, was born in 1850 and married twice. He had 12 children with one wife and 13 with another wife Mary Anne. See 1911 census: They are distant relations of the late George Hawkins (qv).

[vii] ‘When I was thirteen I spent the summer holidays working for an auld local farmer and when school started again I didn’t go back. The hay had to come in and then the harvest came in. and then we used to go around for a bit of threshing for the neighbours. I left a month before I was 14 and I was never short of a days work after that. That was it. You minded your job then because if you didn’t, you’d get a kick in the arse on a Saturday night and someone else would be in Monday morning. You can’t sack them now – you have to give them redundancy! It’s hard to get lads to work with farmers now.

[viii] ‘I fell into this place from cousins of my father here. I came here in 1945. There was three auld men here. They were all in their 70s. Two never married and worked around the country and retired back here. The other was an invalid in a wheelchair. They were Coles [or Coe’s?]. Their father married a woman who didn’t like the name Codd and changed it to Coe. They eventually died over the years and I came into this place then.’

[ix] ‘Most people have money now – some of them have too much.’

[x] ‘I was in the cows here for a while. I had thirty, thirty five cows and I’d wheel the milk in milk cans out to the road in a wheelbarrow before the lorry came and took them to Inch Creamery. Then there were bull [bulk?] tanks and the lorry collected it the same as the lads with the petrol, and he took the whole tank and that was the end of the milk can. We were paid on the milk according to the quality, the butter fat and all that. They were very particular about it. I was very luck as I had the highest butterfat going into the creamery. That was all because of the sort of cows I had. A lot of the lads went into different breeds of cow. I used to go to the auctions and buy a lot of springing heifers from Rothwells of Tinahely and so on. She’d calve in the spring then.’

[xi] ‘You’d sit up with sow the night they’d be farrowing. I bought one sow who was expecting and she had only the one pig. But I was lucky as three other sows farrowed that night and I took a few pigs off each of them and so she raised ten pigs. The next time she had only three piglets and I said that’s enough and next time she’s was hanging up by the leg in Duffy’s factory. She was never going to have any number’.

[xii] ‘When we had the milk cans we’d get back the skimmed milk to give to the pigs but when the bull tanks came in, that done away with that. They changed the system so I had to get meal lorry come around every Saturday from the co-op at Rath near Tullow. But at the end of it you’d have nothing only a heap of dung and it was costing you. So I got rid of the pigs then because the meal was so dear, feeding them.

[xiii] I married a lady [in Kilpipe church] who was reared in a cottage over the road. Her father was a brother of the Coe lads who lived here. Jenny Coe was her name. We had four chaps, three girls and Vanessa’s husband. The girls are now scattered all over the country. One in Leixlip, one outside Bunclody, one in Carrigallen and married to a lad by name of Mervyn Richardson. I have fourteen grandchildren and half a dozen great-grandchildren. About that anyhow?’ I make my breakfast every day but I get my dinner from my daughter-in-law. She lives about a mile down the road and gives me a bit to eat and all that crack. My son drives a lorry for people down Avoca way.’

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