Maryborough 1932 onwards.
1932. History tells us that 1932 was, in the eyes of many, the worst year of the Great Depression which had started with the Wall Street Crash of October 1929 and spread rapidly worldwide. This market collapse was the start of ten miserable years of poverty and high unemployment. The new 'in' word was low. Low profits, low production, low yields, low wages, low consumer spending, low economic growth, low expectations all helping to generate a complete collapse of confidence in the future. The causes contributing to the Great Depression are generally considered to include poorly conducted or managed markets that allowed over-optimistic bank loans resulting in high consumer debts.
In Britain, Ramsay MacDonald the first British Labour prime minister was in power for the second time, and as leader of a coalition government was looked upon as a traitor by some members in his own party.
In Ireland, the 31st Eucharistic Congress opened in Dublin's Pro-Cathedral and thousands of pilgrims from the United States of America, the Netherlands and Lapland arrived in Ocean Liners for the five day event which culminated when almost one million worshippers attended a Pontifical Mass in the Phoenix Park.
In Hollywood, Olympic Gold Medallist swimmer Johnny Weissmuller played the starring role in the new film, Tarzan the Ape Man, and other films were being made with actors such as Bette Davis, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Edward G. Robinson, Bing Crosby, Clarke Gable, John Wayne, Boris Karloff, and Spencer Tracy in the various starring roles.
Also that year, the hit song of the Great Depression, Brother, Can You Spare a Dime, or occasionally referred to as Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime, written the previous year by the famous lyricist and poet E.Y. 'Yip' Harburg in collaboration with the composer Jay Gorney, was being sung and popularised by none other than Bing Crosby. Among people born during 1932 were:
Jacques Chirac in Paris, France.
Ingemar Johansson in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Omar Sharif in Alexandria, Egypt.
Petula Clark in Surrey, England.
Elizabeth Taylor in London, England.
Johnny Cash in Arkansas, USA.
Little Richard in Georgia, USA.
Edward Kennedy in Massachusetts, USA.
Sonny Liston in Arkansas, USA.
Joseph Rogers in Maryborough, Queen's County, Ireland.
Maryborough. The county town of the Queen's County both town and county named after Queen Mary in 1556 and the adjacent King's County named in honour of her consort, Philip II of Spain at the time of the English Plantation of the two Irish Midland Counties, an early example of ethnic cleansing on a grand scale. In 1922, when twenty-six counties of Ireland's thirty-two won independence from Britain, the County's name was changed from Queen's County back to its old Irish name of Laoighise, which in time became Laois, (much easier to spell for one thing) and the town's name of Maryborough was altered officially to Portlaoighise, Gaelic or Old Irish for Fort of Laois. In time this awkwardly spelled name was shortened to Portlaoise, but for years after 1922, many townspeople still referred to the town as Maryborough, but with the local pronunciation of Mar-a- bora. What a mix-up, you might think. But there was no such mix-up with the name of the County. Queen's County was booted out straight away to be replaced by County Laoighise. It was as if the people wanted to get their own back on the Queen for having usurped their land in t'auld long ago. Marabora rolled off the tongue so easily, it had long since lost any association with Queens, and anyway isn't Mary the most loved name in Ireland. Perhaps that's why Marabora lingered on for twenty years after 1922. When I was at school there in the early 1940s, the town was still being called Marabora, and the Market Square on a Fair Day in Marabora was the most famous place in the whole of Ireland.
It was into this mixture of names that Joseph Rogers was born on 1st October 1932 to William and Annie Rogers of Market Square, Maryborough, Co. Laoighise, Irish Free State.
Joseph, or Joe to give me my everyday name, was the 4th child of my parents, William and Annie, and brother to Michael, born 1927; Peter, born 1929 and Billy, born 1930 the family of all six of us living at that time in what my father referred to as Moffat's old house in the Market Square. I myself have no recollection of our time at that address all of my childhood memories are centred around 26 Coote Street where we lived until I was aged 10. My earliest memory is of 1936 and a nurse and her large black bag coming to that house where shortly afterwards the cries of a newborn baby heralded the arrival of my sister, Philomena. She was a summertime baby and the weather must have been good that year because we had many long walks, Billy and I holding on to Philomena's pram as it was proudly pushed by our mother, who would stop every now and then to show off her new baby to neighbours and townsfolk we'd meet along the way, some out walking themselves or going to the shops or passing on bikes or with ponies & traps or others with donkeys & carts. Not many motors then very few and far between you'd hear them before you'd see them, although as we lived next door to the Malt House, invariably a long queue of horses & carts with the odd motor lorry or tractor in between them waiting their turn to enter the Malt House to be unloaded of their sacks of wheat and barley occupied much of the narrow road and darkened the light in our kitchen window. Not that we were in the least annoyed with or inconvenienced by them. People were neighbourly then and always had time for a friendly chat or a smile or a kind word. When not out walking, we played on the road and footpaths, conscious of what little traffic there was at that time but always in awe of the huge horses coming to or going from the Malt House.
On the other side of the road, directly opposite to our house in Coote Street, was a lay-by in which County Council workmen kept supplies of stone chippings they used for road repairs and filling in pot holes. Occasionally they also parked their steam-roller there, on which Billy and I had hours of fun building airfields on unpronounceable Pacific Islands and piloted in planes that spit-in-the-fire to burn the Japanese Zeros out of the sky. And when we had cleaned up the Pacific we steam-rolled across Europe flattening Luftwaffe Messerschmitts and came head to head with Rommel in the desert. Blinded by a sandstorm we wished ourselves back home and there we were returning from one of our walks which had included the harvesting of crab apples from trees that grew wild at the side of the Mountmellick Road about 2 miles from Portlaoighise to discover that Michael and Peter who had remained at home had busied themselves in our absence by mixing porridge oats, cocoa and milk to manufacture their own contrived concoction of chocolate biscuits.
'What's going on here, holy God, what have you two been doing?' Mother's anguished shout as we entered the house woke Philomena whose startled crying added to the general consternation. 'Could we not go out for a walk without you two helping yourselves to everything and making such a complete mess?'
Michael and Peter not waiting to answer made a dash for the door and disappeared down the road as if the devil himself was after them.
'Now look what you've done, Michael,' shouted Peter, running as fast as he could, 'I told you we'd be in for it, didn't I'
'Oh yeah, it's all my fault,' came the reply, 'you didn't touch a bit!'
In truth their endeavours at biscuit making by boys just past the age of innocence would have been highly commendable but for the fact that in a relatively poor household they had not only exhausted the limited supplies of those items but had also managed to devour most of the sugar and bread we had.
'You'll all have to live on crab apples.' Poor mother was almost hysterical as she discovered the extent of the loss, 'and God help those two when I get my hands on them.' Mother's threats were never anything to worry us because she always forgot them almost as soon as they were made.
'Isn't it a good job we got those apples,' said Billy, 'and that we didn't eat them on the way home.
'I thought you were going to make jam with them,' says I, regretting having said anything as soon the words popped out.
'Jam? Jam?' retorted mother, trying to hide the tears in her eyes, 'And what would we put the jam on?' she asked, 'now that there's no bread left. Wait till your father comes home he'll murder those two.'
Of course he didn't although we all worried what he might do. But he arrived home, as usual, whistling and in a cheerful mood after a busy day with his taxi. 'Boys will be boys,' he said, 'Didn't they show a bit of initiative anyway and as luck has it I've made several good runs and we're in the money for a day or two. Here it is send those two wasters down to Daltons' and get what you need give them a chance to redeem themselves.'
'Oh, very well. But there'll be a few changes from now on I assure you.'
And changes there were. From that day forward to safeguard it from the designs of her two eldest sons who, for one reason or another, never came on these outings she would collect what little food there was in the house, place it in the enamel breadbox, which would then be concealed under the padded seat of the deep-bottomed, high-sided old-fashioned pram to accompany us on our strolls and where it would remain, untouched, until we arrived back home again.
Those walks were a type of adventure to Billy and I because apart from the rare occasion when we would go to the town shops, we would head out the Ballyfin or Mountmellick roads and be in the country within half an hour where we could round-up herds of buffalo on pretend horses and dive and swim the depths of shallow streams. Mother loved those outings too which freed her for a few precious hours from the almost slave-like drudgery of a 1930s/40s working-class home.
'Lovely day, Mrs. Tierney,' she called to a neighbour on one occasion as we set off down The Green Road.
'How is the baby Mrs. Rogers? I was just saying to Tom what a beautiful name Philomena is. Anyone else in the family of that name?'
'No no-one else. It's the name Id already decided on oh, ages ago. I considered calling her Mary after my mother but then I decided on Philomena Mary.'
We stopped frequently for chats with people and others would wave and call out greetings from their pony and traps or bicycles as we passed.
'Hold on to the pram,' mother said, 'be careful near the road. So much traffic. All out harvesting winter fuel from their own bit of bog.'
' What does harvesting mean, Mammy.'
' Well they've cut the turf, dried it, now they're bringing it home. We keep meeting them, horses and carts, asses and carts, all loaded to the top of the creels. And look, here comes an empty one going back for more.'
' They won't be short of a fire anyway.' Billy said and then asked, 'Why don't we have our own bit of bog, Mammy?'
' Because Daddy has no time. He works long hours as it is. Besides we don't have a horse and cart. And I've enough to do looking after you lot'
' Yeah, but we could help, couldn't we Joe.'
' Yes, we could. We'd love to. And Michael and Peter. We could bring the steam roller, couldnt we Billy?'
'No, we couldn't. It's too heavy. It'd sink into the bog.'
'Maybe next year,' Mammy said. ' We can start now with you helping me in the house I'll give you little jobs to do and we'll see how good you are.'
With little or no labour-saving devices in those days, housework was boring and tedious and took up a lot of time. The house itself was cold and draughty everywhere except close up to the kitchen fire the sole means of heating and where all the cooking was done. This fire which burned turf, coal or logs, was in a black iron grate with an oven on one side and topped by two hobs on which a huge black kettle was constantly on the boil. This room, because it contained the only heating, served as both kitchen and living room its only furniture being a dresser, table and chairs and a hand-operated Singer Sewing Machine on which Mother made or mended most of the family's clothes.
'You, Michael, carry on as you do now cleaning and lighting the fire, and be careful not too burn yourself. Peter, your job is to keep the turf basket filled and sweep the floor. Billy, clean and tidy the yard and Joe I want you to rock the pram if Philomena cries and sing nicely to her.'
The house contained three rooms downstairs the kitchen/living room, a scullery and a large locked room not part of our accommodation in which the landlord stored merchandise, mainly pottery, and of three rooms upstairs only two were included in our rental, the other kept locked for use by the landlord. To us children these locked rooms were haunted and filled our minds intermittently with visions of ghosts, vampires and banshees or whatever spooky creature was being shown at the Electric Cinema or Coliseum matinee that particular Saturday. So therefore upstairs, there were only two bedrooms for all six of us and as the house did not have a bathroom or running hot water, our weekly all-over-wash consisted of having to heat kettles of water to fill a large metal bath placed for the occasion in front of the kitchen fire. As children we could sit or recline in the water and have a proper bath but adults could only stand in the bath and wash themselves best way possible. It wasn't ideal by any means and involved much labour with filling and heating and emptying the kettle over and over again.
As the house was devoid of electricity, at dusk an oil lamp was lit which was sometimes augmented by candles depending on the amount of light required. No electricity also equated to no vacuum cleaner, no television, no toaster, no hair dryer, no electric iron or any of the numerous electric gadgets deemed so necessary nowadays. Our iron then was of weighty cast iron which was placed in the fire to heat and then cautiously lifted out with a damp cloth. The flat base of the iron was then spat on to test the amount of heat; if the spit rolled off quickly it was too hot; if it stayed on it wasn't hot enough and the iron went back in the fire until the correct temperature was reached. The flat base was then covered with a shiny metal guard to protect the garments from stains or scorch marks and ironing could commence. Unfortunately the iron soon cooled and would have to be plunged back in the fire to heat all over again. It was a slow process and took up most of a woman's afternoon and evening and as she usually devoted a full day to washing, usually Monday, she needed as much help as possible from the children. In fact Monday washday usually started on Sunday when the dirtiest of the clothes were sorted and put in soapy water to soak over night. Then with neither washing machine, biological soap powders or spin dryer or even hot water to help her, mother would spend all day Monday boiling and washing and scrubbing the clothes by hand on a ribbed washboard, then several cold rinses before finally passing them through a hand operated mangle. The complete operation verged on slave labour but was an excellent means of getting and keeping the family working together because no-one could manage the whole procedure on their own. Regretably, every washday sore and chapped hands were the norm from rubbing and scouring soiled clothes on the ribbed washboard. A little blue bag (smaller than a cup) known as Dolly Blue was stirred around in the final rinse of the whites to improve whiteness and get rid of any hints of yellow. Shirt collars and cuffs had to be scrubbed and starched and if the weather was bad the washed garments would have to be dried near the fire, and would hang about the house all week getting in everyone's way.
Other items used on washday were, a heavy two-handled agitating stick, known as a posser, used to whirl the clothes around in a zinc tub, a bit better than going to the river and beating them with a stone, but hard, manual labour for all that. And if it rained, there was a children's rhyme:
Rain, rain, go away, this is Mother's washing day.
Rain, rain, go away, come again another day.
Monday was washday, which meant there was a whole week to get clothes clean and ready for Sunday. The rest of the week didn't seem to matter, clean clothes wise. Adults were at work and children, when not at school, were playing out in the streets, at street games, marbles and glass alleys, whip and top, hopscotch, giant steps, O'Grady says ( Simon says, in England) and girls loved skipping, especially with a long skipping rope when two or three could skip together, chanting rhymes. On Sundays, everyone dressed in their Sunday best, for church or chapel, that's when the clean clothes were needed. If you didn't have any, well, there was a rhyme for that too:
Janey Mac, me shirt is black, what shall I do for Sunday?
Go to bed and cover your head, and don't get up till Monday.