Thursday, 17 February 2011

Raphoe FRC - Work

I remember in June I’d done the Leaving Cert. I went in next September to stand in front of a class and when I saw the kids I burst out laughing. I remember this wee fella, he was a beautiful looking child. I thought I’d tell them a good story, about Adam and Eve and a tree in the Garden of Eden. I didn’t know you had to be careful about the words you used. Anyway this wee fella drew a car with people in it, and the devil behind. That was God driving Adam and Eve out of the garden! – Dolores O’ Kelly

It would nearly have been accepted by the teachers in the schools that the country children would have been off school in September gathering potatoes – 10 working days. You would’ve went out at seven in the morning till it got dark at night. In my day you would have got trousers and the wellies tucked in. We gathered the potatoes into a big basket, a handle on each side. Two carried it and there was a pit in the middle of the field and you tipped it into that. It was ok if you were carrying with someone at same height. You gathered up from one end and you met at the middle with two coming from the other end. The spinners put the spuds out and if they had no bag on they were spread everywhere. It was backbreaking work, the next morning you would’ve hardly been able to get out of bed, but then you got used to it. The farmer’s wife brought out the food. Sometimes if the mornings were frosty your hands were freezing and you’d have to warm them on the exhaust of the tractor. The potatoes used to go into bags and were sealed at the house by a potato inspector, and then would go on to the boat in Derry. If you were out any longer of the school I remember the sergeant coming up on the bike from Raphoe way up over the hill to tell my father we had to go back to school. Later on they used to have potato squads, sometimes consisting of twenty gatherers and the squad man was paid so much an acre and then he paid the gatherers. - Tilly Hyndman, Elizabeth Russell and Sharon Clarke

I used to get £7 a day for gathering the pirties (slang word for potatoes). Then I started in the Donegal Creameries cheese factory in Letterkenny in Ballyraine. The cheddar cheese was made for the Japanese. A woman got £46 a week, and a man got £48. That was just an accepted thing then, that was called the man’s wage. We made big squares of cheese and we wrapped it up in brown paper and it was sealed then in an oven. – Tilly Hyndman

I made tweed in Convoy, sometimes Donegal tweed. I went there when I was 14 we went on bicycles about five miles. There was the spinning section, the dye room and the weaving, and the mending, and the warping. Warping was preparing the thread for the weaving. When I went in there at the beginning I had to clean the machines. There were four of us and the older women would’ve ate ya if it wasn’t clean enough. I changed then to work on four machines weaving. The ladies toilets had six cubicles and there was one big one, and we used to smoke in there, sometimes one fag (slang for cigarette) between us. I got paid £1 10s a week. We gathered potatoes then on a Saturday, we were much better off. During the dinnertime the men would be all eating and we would just take a bite and sat on the trailers to put in our rollers in our hair for the Saturday night. We walked then to the dances. – Elizabeth Russell

I started work in England. I was a bus conductor in London when I was 17 ½. My route was from Uxbridge to Shepherd’s Bush. They were electric trolley buses and they ran on two wires overhead. Sometimes the big booms above the bus would come off and it was big offence at the time if the driver let that happen. Then the Route Master (Red double Decker) came along and they were lovely buses. First of all I had to forge my birth certificate to get started, you had to be 18. I always remember my father saying that was a good pensionable job. I stayed on the buses for about three years. It wasn’t an easy job, especially for someone going over there so young. You soon got to the know the territory and the fares. The inspector could just jump on and check the passengers ticket and if someone had the wrong ticket you were marked for it. It wasn’t well paid, it would’ve been about £9 a week. One day a man came on and he paid me a bag of halfpennies, he should’ve had 44 he only had 43. He offered to give me more money but I was giving him the change back in halfpennies! He didn’t want them back! Anyway I refused to take the halfpennies. I knew they weren’t legal tender once they were above a certain amount. I was perfectly within my rights but it was a wild handling. One day I met Eric Morcambe and Dickie Henderson, they just jumped on the bus and stood on the platform, which was illegal, but it was pouring rain at the time and they had no change, they asked if it was ok and I said it was as long as the inspector did not come on. I never seen two boys as light footed coming off a bus. They just leapt off and up the stairs of the studios. They were very funny, they had a real comic demeanor, it was infectious. – Hugh Doherty

When I left Galway I was at home for a while and I got a job in the training centre in Letterkenny. The first day I went to work I knew nobody. I walked in the door and they all stared at me. There was two girls who knew me from St. Johnston and they showed me around. I remember the manager was very sharp. If he saw you moving he’d ask you where you were going! I got to work in the morning with a boy who worked in the creamery. He took me to my work. I had to finish when the transport stopped. – Michael Devenney

I suppose my first work was gathering potatoes, I got married just after school. When the children got a bit bigger I worked in Adria in Strabane. I worked the twilight shift from quarter to six until eleven. I had five children and I watched them during the day and then I worked in the evening. I enjoyed the work you had a great laugh. One job was sewing the gusset into the tights. Usually when you were working a supervisor would’ve came round every half hour and examined the tights. One time they made a batch with three legs by mistake. Another job was auto-turning in the sock department. You put the socks onto a hoover (type of machine) and it turned them outside in for the toe seamers. If you were slow you were holding other people back. You knew in the first hour whether you were going to make you’re targets and if you thought you weren’t you’d have to work through your tea break. – Sharon Clarke and Tilly Hyndman


Dolores O’ Kelly

Tilly Hyndman

Sharon Clarke

Elizabeth Russell

Michael Devenney

Hugh Doherty

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