Meeting with Sean Hartigan to discuss his childhood, adolescence and adulthood, all lived in his beloved village of Castleconnell was both informative and highly entertaining. Sean and his pals used the village and its surrounding areas as their playground. We laughed as he recalled some of the antics they got up to and the harmless fun they enjoyed.
He was born in 1941 in Main St Castleconnell to two local people, Nellie Meskell and John Hartigan and has two younger sisters Ann and Helen. Jimmy Hartigan, his grandfather had travelled to Dublin and trained as a gardener in the Botanical Gardens before coming back to Castleconnell as head gardener to the Hermitage Estate. Here, he settled into the Lodge with his wife and young daughter Margaret, affectionately known all her life as Petsy and they had two other children John and Patricia (Baby).
Sean’s mother Nellie, her parents and her siblings lived in a house opposite the Church in Ballina, near Killaloe. One night in the early 1920s just before Christmas, the Black and Tans came to their house and burned it down, the family were lucky to escape with their lives. “My mother’s father was the manager of the Eel Weirs, so I think that if some of the fellas on the run wanted to go here or there at night time that the boys on the boats would shunt them around the river. Anyway, one night during Christmas week when my mother was two or three years old, the Tans arrived in and they decided to set fire to the house and my grandfather had to run for it, I don’t know exactly what happened. So Granny Meskell was standing there in her nightdress, a blanket around her and the children as they burned down the house. A Mr Rohan came down about 2am with a horse and car, he was living up there in the back of Ballina and he gathered them up and brought them home and they lived with him until about St. Patrick’s Day. Their daughter Nellie Rohan later married Paddy Conway and they lived straight across the river from Castleconnell.” Naturally, that family and the Hartigans remained life-long friends. The family moved over to the Spa where Meskell’s Shop is now and his grandfather ran the Eel Weirs there, which was a very important industry and source of employment in the area.
Nellie went to the Presentation School in Limerick and joined the Halpin School of Dancing where she became a champion dancer, she was also an accomplished piano player. She married John Hartigan in 1940 and they bought the house on Main St., His father worked with the ESB. The front room, now the siting room was a butcher’s stall at one time. When the Army came to Castleconnell, they converted it into a milk bar. Later John converted it into a garage where he repaired cars and motor bikes in his spare time.
“When I was two or three years old we played up and down the footpath, we being me Gerry Kingston and Gerry Mc Cormack. Of course, Kinger and I were lifetime friends, he was like my brother, he was my best man and we did everything together.
“When we were growing up in the village, there were four families living in the Tontines. I remember a Protestant Minister called Mr McLaughlin and his wife and family lived in the first house. Later the De Brosky family moved in there. Beside them were Mr. and Mrs. Larry Meaney who had owned the Angler’s Rest during the war. A family called Gloag, the father worked in Shannon, lived in the third house and the Raleigh family lived in the last one. Alan Raleigh was about the same age as us…very tall guy and a fantastic runner.
At the back of the Tontines houses, there was a fine big orchard and one day we got the brainwave that we’d rawk this orchard! This turned out not to be such a good idea because the owner kind of discovered that we were in there! We all made a run for it but what he did was, he went up to the Guards Barracks and made a complaint. Now, one of the fellas involved was Gerry Kingston, so his father, Guard Kingston called us in and he gave out yards and he showed us the lock up if you don’t mind and of course, we could visualise ourselves being in Jail in Castleconnell Barracks for months!
“Going around the corner of the houses was a single storey house, where Paddy Driscoll lived with his wife Mary and their son, Patsy. Patsy was a couple of years older than us and they bought a house over in Ballinacourty sometime later. Just alongside their house there was a small little concrete garage with a galvanised roof where the headmaster of Ahane National School, Jack Healy kept his Morris Minor. The next house was a two storey house and it was Hogg’s house and manys the time we went up there and we had bread and jam from Mrs. Hogg. Old Tom Hogg and some of the family were living there at this time. Pat Hogg was more or less the same age as we were. It was a beautiful house, and as a matter of interest, Noreen and myself and the kids rented that house from Willie Delaney for two years when we were building our own house. Just past that there was a little passageway around the side of the house and right in at the corner, lived a lady called Moll Jo Carter. Up the passageway from there was another lovely house with a beautiful garden and this was where Davy Quaid, and his sister, Babs lived with their father.
“And I remember, we were all altar boys for 7 or 8 years and as we knew Davy well because he was the Parish Clerk/Sacristan, so when his father died we said we better say sorry to Davy. This was the first time we ever attended a wake. Sure Davy was delighted to see us and Mr. Quaid was laid out in his own bed in his bedroom and my aunts, Petsy and Baby were there, they were all great friends of the Quaids. There were a lot of people there and the place was absolutely like a palace. Well, we came out to the kitchen then and we got lemonade, and as was the custom at that time there was a woman in the corner playing a concertina and a local man started to sing a song as we left.
“Right at the corner on the way back down, was Mrs. White’s house. In years gone by, this was known as the Temperance Hotel, I’m talking about early 1920s. She had a brother called Bobby who was a fantastic piano accordion player and he had a band which played on several occasions at Hartigan’s Hall down in the Spa. In the early 1900s there were afternoon tea dances above at the top of the Castle and he used to play music there and my Aunt Petsy was at some of those functions when she was a young girl. Mrs. White’s nephew lived with them, Abboty Powderly, an Englishman and we knew him from meeting him around the village. My mother had ensured that I learned to play music by taking me by the hand up to the Presentation Convent for lessons. For this I will always be grateful as music has played such a huge part in my life. She used to play the piano and I had a button accordion at home and I was only eight or nine or so, and we’d play away and she’d be playing all this stuff from years before – we’d hear a knock and I’d go out and Katie White would be standing there having heard the music as she passed from Lees. My mother would invite her in and give her a sherry. She would sit by the fire with her eyes closed listening to the music until it came time to leave and I would walk her home. Magic days!
“There was an orchard next with apples and pears and we used to call in there an odd time to help with thinning out the trees!! Next was the priest’s house where Fr White and Fr Hogan lived. Fr. White was transferred to Clarecastle and he was replaced by Fr. Gaffney, who helped out immensely with the flooring of the New Hall. The old Rod Loft was the next building, now when we were kids there was no one living in that place and if you stood at Kingston’s gate and looked up at the gable end there was a door, which could be opened so that when the rod was made it was cast out across the road to test the overall tension. This is what made the greenheart rod so special. Down at the very end of it then was the turf shed for the priest’s house. Their housekeeper Katie Harrington from Cork was a very kind woman, and every year when the priests got a lorry load of turf which had to be put in the shed, we’d all gather around, she’d give us lemonade and bread and jam and when we were finished then, we’d all get a half crown. That was a very important sum of money at the time.
“When we were kids, a man known as The Deeny Boy (a First WWII veteran) lived in the stables, underneath the Rod Loft. And the local ladies made sure that he was well fed! The Guard’s Barracks was next on the street and the Gardai stationed there were, Sgt Veale, Guards Murphy, Kingston and Flanagan.”
The Shannon Hotel, owned by the Enright family was a most imposing building, in which the gentry of Ireland and England came to stay in from the nineteenth century when they visited Castleconnell, which incidentally was known far and wide as “Little Paris.” There was so much to entertain the visitor here at that time, the River Shannon was famous for its salmon fishing, the Spa for its healing waters, the beautiful scenery and walks and of course Hartigan’s Hall which was the venue for so many prestigious performers all up to the mid-1950s. There is passageway between the Guards Barracks and the Shannon Hotel which housed a pump house and an ancient pump. Sean’s father went in there occasionally to start up this pump which serviced all the rooms of the hotel. Sean recalls the fact that the Shannon Hotel changed hands a few times between the mid-forties and mid-fifties and was eventually divided into two private dwellings at either side and was bought by Mick Hickey. He changed the name to The Shannon Inn. Charlie Anketell and his wife Eilis together with their children Michael and Catherine lived to the left of the building and Jack and Mrs Healy, two teachers lived on the right next to Delaney’s. Another part of the Shannon Inn was rented out to first a family called Black from Northern Ireland and then the Dougans. Mr. Dougan was in the Irish Army and they had a daughter called Eva. The next family who lived there were great musicians and Sean loved to sit by the railings and listen to them playing in the evenings. The Shannon Inn officially opened on St Stephen’s night 1955, the same night as the Parish Hall.
“Ned Delaney had a pub and butcher’s stall, he hurled with Ahane and Limerick as well for a while. He was also a bookie. Paddy Scanlon was a bookies clerk and they would go to dog meetings etc., When I was a young fella, I placed a bet of a shilling on a horse called Royal Tan in the Grand National and the horse won! Well, anyway I was delighted to be going up to collect my winnings and I said to Mr. Delaney ‘I gave you a shilling to put on the winning horse’, and he said ‘Did you?’ But he laughed and handed me over seven shillings and sixpence! That was an astronomical sum of money for a young fella! I thought I was the equivalent of JP McManus! Marcia used to work there too and they were a lovely family.
“Later on a man called Connie O’Gorman from Kerry worked there as a butcher, he was a very important man in our lives. Ned Delaney had a little place out the back where the sheep were killed with a gun which we would hear going off. This was totally out of bounds to us but after a while we would call in and he’d give us the bladder which he had washed in a big stone sink. This was the big attraction! We’d bring it out then and blow it up and this was a most beautiful football and we’d take it out onto the street. We’d be leathering this ball around the place and after a few days there was a terrible smell off it! This was all because we had discovered that over in England they were playing a new game now and it was called Soccer and you couldn’t catch the ball in your hand! Gerry Mc Cormack used to buy an auld comic soccer book every now and then which told of the skills and fortunes of all the great stars like Stanley Matthews. So we decided we were going to be big soccer stars and these fellas were making £10 a week playing soccer and we were going to be making big money complete with the bladder!!
“Mrs. Mc Cormack ran the Post Office which was next up the street. I remember if you wanted to make a phone call, you went into the Post Office and there was a telephone kiosk inside and you’d pick up the phone and Mrs. Mc Cormack who was inside, would answer the phone and then she’d hook you up! All the Mc Cormacks used to help in the post office and what’s interesting there as well, is when especially at Christmas time when cards were posted, she would actually keep all the Castleconnell cards there. She’d go through the post and sort them and stamp them and have them ready for the postman to deliver!
“The next premises was the very successful Commercial Hotel and it was owned by a Mr. Michael Joe Keane and his wife. He had a hackney car as well, a Ford and that hackney car was driven by Richie Carter, who was Sarah Carter’s father. In the 1950s it was owned by Fitzgeralds who traded there for many years. The one thing I remember about them is that they brought Santa there at Christmas and this was a great novelty!” The place changed hands several times and the name was changed to The Worrall’s Inn.
“Johnny Richardson’s place was next, this was a fine two storey building with an archway downstairs which meant that you could drive your horse and car or your motor car under the archway into the yard at the back. Johnny was originally from Killaloe and Tom Turner worked there with him for many years. This was a thriving business, there was a pub at the back and in the front, there was everything from meal, bran, flour, lump of bacon, snares, paint, turpentine, a hacksaw or a shovel, everything was in stock there! They had a lot of sheds out the back and I remember well, that all the timber and other supplies they were using in the building of the new hall was kept over there in one of those sheds because as young fellas we would be sent over to bring back supplies for the tradesmen who worked on it.
Sgt Veale, his wife and their family lived next before they moved over to Richill.”
Then we come to McCabes. This house was the hub of life in the village, from GAA and Camogie to charitable events such as the Annual Sale of Work in aid of St Vincent’s organised by Peggy Duffy, Josephine McCabe, Mary Tierney, Eleanor Kingston and many others. The whole parish came together to sell anything we could to make enough money for a party to remember!! Sean Mc Cabe happily spent hours on the Wheel of Fortune which was the highlight of the day. The Christmas Party held for the residents on the last Sunday before Christmas, brought many people together to help to make it a memorable day for them all. Drivers to and from St Vincents, sandwich makers, bakers, dessert chefs etc!! Who can forget Gerry Kingston as Santa sitting there for hours sweltering in his thick red suit and white beard….smiling broadly all the time or the musicians including Eleanor Kingston, Teresa Jones, Sean Hogg, Sean Hartigan, Willie Keane and Joe Quinn/
“John McNamara known as Jackie Mac had a little pub next door, it was a single storey building with a galvanised roof. He sold other items as well.
The next house after that is a fine two storey house and there was a family living there called the Cullen Family when we were kids. He was an insurance man. Larry McDonald, Mary and family lived there afterwards.
“Guard Flanagan and his wife, Madge lived next door and she became quite famous in the village. She was a great piano player and she was in all the shows with us. She was a great character and also a very accomplished horsewoman. But later on, when we were fourteen or fifteen, Sean Mc Cabe started the Boys Club. And then, we were doing shows over in the hall and two or three nights a week, we’d have to go up to Flanagan’s house, she’d get on the piano and we rehearsed our songs and our tunes. She was a very vibrant woman and if you weren’t paying attention on the stage, she’d let you know. One particular show, we were performing in Cinderella, Ann Mulqueen was playing the main part and myself and Kinger were the two ugly sisters. We had big long gowns made by Petsy with hoops around the end. I was first out and I could see Sean McCabe in the wings watching us intently because we had a tendency to mess a little! Well we weren’t messing this time, we were standing on a bench waiting to gracefully make an entrance on to the stage when Kinger stood on my hoop and I couldn’t move! I was trying to tell him but Sean was gesturing with both hands and I don’t think he ever believed that it was accidental when I literally landed on the floor of the stage! Speaking about the Boy’s Club, he took us to the sea side so many times and other places as well. Many of the boys would never have seen the sea if it hadn’t been for him.
“The next door after that was of course O’Shea’s house, a fine two storey house and they had a shop in the front room as well. They used to sell bread and milk and things like that, Jimmy O’Shea and his sister Baby were the proprietors there…He was the only man in the village who used to sell the large bottles of lemonade for 6d, so he sold a lot of them once the Hall was opened! When the dance would be over, he’d have the shop open and there’d be a crowd of people in there drinking lemonade and buying biscuits and we’d be chatting up women!
“At the top of the village stood Scanlan’s Pub, now Guerins and this was the official bus stop. Maureen Scanlan ran the pub, she was married to Bill Shanahan and Paddy Scanlan lived there as well. It was the first pub to have a black and white TV. One of the things that used to take place on a Sunday after 8.30am mass and after we had the breakfast, we’d all go out on the street hurling. There’d be nine or ten of us out on the street, so one of us would be above in Scanlons and they’d puck the ball down the street from one to the other. But what would happen then, Paddy would arrive out and say ‘give me that hurley,’ we would have a sponge ball that we’d be hurling with and ‘a half a crown to break the window’ and someone would get a flying ball – he’d pull on the ball and drive it down to Cluain Well!
“Just across Coolbawn Lane we come to Ryan’s Shop. This was an institution in the village, run by two sisters, Kitty and Madge while Annie looked after the house. I wrote a poem about it the day they closed down. This shop was in two halves. You went in the first one and there was room for about six people and it wasn’t unusual if there was a crowd in the shop that you’d stand outside and wait your turn to go in. There was an inside place as well which was a big attraction to us because the ice cream fridge was there. They had a fantastic shop and they were extremely charitable people. The Charity work that they did in this village will never be known.
“The next house after that was a very famous house, where the Mackey family lived. I remember Tyler Mackey well and Mrs. Mackey too and their children Mick, John and their sisters Esther, Sadie and Breda. John lived there with his wife Helen and their family and he was a great hurler too as well as the famous Mick. And, part of that house next door was the dispensary.”
Sean recalls the beautiful house owned by ‘Mrs Burke of Shanacloon’ as she was known and her housekeeper Mary O’Halloran. Here, was the most fantastic orchard and worth the risk of getting caught rawking! The only problem was, they had to get over a twenty foot wall but this did not deter them. Neither did the fact that Mary kept a close eye on it! After scaling the wall on one occasion, they ended up entangled in wire from the raspberry canes and after getting caught by her, managed to make a hasty retreat. Unfortunately they had to abandon Noel Murphy stuck up in the plum tree! He had evaded her attention and eventually managed to escape without being arrested (by his father more than likely!) He got down off the tree no bother, and now they had all these pears, apples, strawberries and raspberries which they had to try and eat because they certainly couldn’t bring them home!
“Come down from Shanacloon on the left hand side the first house in that row of six houses was Mr Jimmy Close who was a captain in the Irish Army with his wife and two children, one was Peggy Close, a great camogie player, and they had a son called Jim and he was a fantastic hurler, played for Ahane and Limerick as well. This became the headquarters for St Joseph’s Boys Club founded by Sean McCabe in the 1950s.
“Next house after that was Bo Connors and his wife, Bridie. Bo was a carpenter, there’s a name for it now but a big league Grade A carpenter. His workshop was directly across the road where Chapel Close is now and every now and then, we’d call into that to see what he was doing.
“The next house then was where Martin Joyce and his family lived next door to Mr Gleeson and his wife, and then Mrs. O’Brien. Mrs. Eddie Carroll lived next, these houses are where the ACM is now. Mrs Billy Carroll and her family lived in the end house with her family, Maureen, Noreen, Michael, Martha and Sean Óg.
“Just around the corner is the entrance to a most wonderful establishment Coolbawn House once owned by a family called Vansittarts. They were millers and they had a most beautiful cut stone mill down the Dock Road in Limerick.” Coolbawn was used to billet soldiers in the 20s and again in the 40s, but it was bought by Mrs. Hodgins in the late 40s and she converted it into the Coolbawn Hotel. It was widely believed that she was a very good opera singer, but she was also a classical pianist. “She had a very glamourous daughter, her name was Azda.” Sean smiles ruefully as he says he didn’t realise what glamour was at that age! She went to London and became an impressario. “She was a lovely woman and converted this place into a very exclusive hotel. For instance there was a Japanese room and everything in it was Japanese, even the food served there. She was very insistent about having local people working there. Meg Tucker worked there as a breakfast cook, Baby worked there in the cocktail bar and they were coming out from town there to dine. When she decided to hold dances, she converted one of the stables in the yard into a Ballroom with a glass ceiling. The dark winter’s nights posed a problem getting across the courtyard, so she put up a Chinese dragon, a most beautiful coloured thing all lit up. This got blown down a few times in severe weather. She organised the most fantastic balls and events there, at one stage she brought the Ray Mc Veigh band and this now was like bringing James Last to Castleconnell. But there was a rule that time and that rule still persists, that if a foreign band plays in Ireland, they can only play half the gig and an Irish band has to play the other half. So, she’d go off and she’d get Maurice Mulcahy or Mick Delahunty to play the other half. They were all top bands. Myself and some of the lads would go up the lane and sit by the gate to listen to the music and my mother would have to come up at half eleven or 12 o’clock to bring me home.
“Freddy Travers worked there as did Petsy making curtains, doing upholstery and all the rest of it. Two things about Mrs. Hodgkins that I will never forget, we were going to school in the Gaelic Hall, in 5th & 6th class and if she was having a big do, she’d come down to Mr. Houlihan and she’d ask that after school the lads would bring up the tables and when school was finished we’d all walk up the lane and we’d land these in, and when we’d go to school the following morning, there’d be no tables so we’d have to go up to get them. When you went up with the tables you got lemonade and when you brought them down you got lemonade! Another thing she did, and I’d say a lot of people remember this, when it came to around Christmas, she got in touch with the ICA so she’d get someone to come up with an ass and car and she’d have a big sign up outside the Gaelic Hall “All the Children of the Parish” and Santy would come down the lane above on this thing and it would be loaded with presents which were brought in to the Gaelic Hall and every child in there got three tickets and so you got something out of each box.
“She also brought various artists from around the world and these were people who suffered from a nervous disposition or stage fright or exhaustion. So, for instance, she brought a Magician from Hollywood and he stayed there for three or four months. People who were sitting down there having the dinner, this fella would come over and he’d be doing tricks… picking a banana out of your ear… and then he’d stand up in the middle of the floor and he’d do all these illusions. He did a very special show down at the ferry for New Year’s Eve one time. It was in the dark and there were lots of people there, concert pianists like herself who were in need of rest. Then she left quite suddenly and Coolbawn Hotel was bought by a Mr. Jacklin.
“He ran it for a few years as a hotel and when he came in, he couldn’t believe that there was no running water in Castleconnell, so himself and my father and a few others set up a committee with a view to getting the water supply into Castleconnell, which they did. I have a form at home and it’s an application for water for a house and the deal was that you applied for the water and you’d have to pay 5 shillings– I think a very small percentage of people paid it because everyone thought it was too dear.
“We’re going down towards Lees shop now. That is known as the corner road. You went straight over as far as Lee’s Shop – it wasn’t a shop at all until I was seven or eight. It was a tackle shop for the Hotel. They opened up a shop there in the early fifties. There was a lawn and railings around the shop and one day, a few years after opening a gang of men arrived and dug a huge hole in the ground and the reason for it was they were putting in a 500 gallon petrol tank! I saw it going down and they had boards in the back of the truck and they skinned it down but unfortunately they had to straighten it and this went on for two or three days. It was myself and my father who hooked up the electrics to the pump and that switch is still below in Lees shop. That was the first petrol pump in Castleconnell.
“Next to Lee’s was a premises which belonged to Joe Duffy and his wife Poll. Joe specialized in making plaster of paris mouldings for houses in the area. When they died in the mid-50s, my parents bought it and it is now the Post Office.
“Now, next house after that is Murphy’s house, Guard Murphy, Mrs Murphy and their family, Cyril, Audrey, Claire, Evelyn, Moira and Noel. And they were our neighbours there all our life.
“Our house is next and living next door to us then were Mrs. Coughlan and her husband Con. I didn’t know Con, I must have been very small when he died. Mrs. Coughlan was an ex-nurse and whenever anyone along the line got sick, you’d have to call Mrs. Coughlan. She was the woman to call.
The next house after that was Kingston’s house. Guard Kingston lived in that house with his wife and family, Gerry, Patricia, Peggy, Peter, Eleanor and Ann. Situated next door was Murnane’s Public House (now Maher’s) run by Mrs Coffey and Miss Coffey.
“As we pass the church we come straight to Bradshaws. Mr. Bradshaw was a very nice man, he used to go around in his pony and car and I think they had cattle some place. He also drove a Morris minor. Years later, we got to know Mrs. Bradshaw, she’d be there with Mary serving in the pub. They had very honourable notions about how the pub was run, you wouldn’t get shots in there! They had their own customers and were very kind to a lot of people. Willie, their son was married to Mary Hogan who was a most well respected librarian, she ran the library up beside Scanlan’s Pub.
“There was a field beside Bradshaws which they owned, (where the Credit Union is now) this was the most important field in the whole place. This was where the travelling shows and the circus pulled in. Now thinking back, it’s unbelievable to think what the circuses did. They’d stop off in Newport with all their caravans which were drawn by horses, and they’d arrive in Castleconnell. Next they would get out the tent, every circus had a strong man, the lads put up the pole and his job was to hold the pole steady while they were putting up the tent. When that was done, all the seats were put in place and they’d have a matinee in the evening at 5.00pm and a show at 8.00pm. They had the most fabulous costumes and attire and they had a caravan which they pulled in to the side of the stage and that’s where they changed their clothes. When the circus arrived, we’d all be over there. They had loads of horses some pulling wagons and show horses as well. When they took the horses for a drink everyone would hop up on the back of a horse and ride, jogging along and then the boys would start galloping around Lee’s corner and down to Broderick’s Slip which is opposite the entrance to Scanlon Park! Now, this was a tricky game because there were no reins and you had to hold on for dear life to their manes because the very minute the horse walked into the river, he’d put down his head and you were liable to end up in the river! But of course, we would not be let near the special horses they had for doing the shows. They’d gather up all their traps, go to bed and move on the following day to Killaloe or somewhere.
The other thing was the Travelling Shows, they would be there for two or three weeks and they had their own marquee with a stage and seating. They were absolutely fantastic. They’d have a concert for about a half an hour and then they’d perform a play. And I was delighted to see that just if you come out the door of the Credit Union, there’s a piece of the old wall left and I can assure you that manys the time, we sat up on that wall watching them. All these shows were unbelievable! Because these people were in the village for a few weeks we would get to know some of them and the children would sometimes attend school here. I can still remember a guy who could play twenty two instruments, saxophone, piano, drums and even played a tune on a hand saw! We were enthralled by all these performers!”
Mc Ryan’s field, across from Cloon Well (now Tonville) was where the GAA used to bring the carnival, this was another great annual event. The swing boats, bumpers, wheel of fortune, etc., and the music blaring from the loudspeakers brought great life and fun to the village and the surrounding areas. “We used to hurl and play football in there as well. One evening one of the lads took a swipe of a hurley at a wasps nest and we weren’t long scattering home! Pat Hogg was allergic to stings and was lucky to escape with his life!
“Cluain Well was the river for drinking water because there was no running water, so everyone went down to Cluain Well for a bucket of this beautiful water. It came from White’s field, where there was a quarry, there’s a very good spring now at the back of the Post Office. Another source of entertainment was trying to catch eels there…the only problem was we were all afraid to take the hook out of the eel’s mouth!
Now back to the Corner Road and up to Martin Mc Ryan’s house and forge. He was the local blacksmith, he shod horses, ponies and donkeys and also made a wide range of farm implements. Our attraction to the forge was to get a go at working the huge bellows!
Bo Connor’s shed was across the way and after that was Carters. Richie Carter lived there with his wife, and their two daughters.
After that, Lena’s shop, which was a very important place for all of us. A honeycomb was 2d. But for a penny you’d get 2 fine pieces of Cleeves toffee and you’d get 6 sweets for a penny. She was a very kind lady. There was always a lovely smell of sweets there and this is where we got our sweets to go to the pictures at Hartigan’s Hall.
After that then, was Jack Burke’s house and he lived there with his wife and his brother Jim, they were all great fishermen. His children were George and Lena. The next house after that was where the Mackey brothers Anthony and Michael lived.
We have another famous institution in the Village after that and this was Adams’ Garage. This was run by Bill Adams who was an Englishman. He was a very nice man, and as far as I understand, he came over here as a Chauffer and later he set up the Garage and this became a meeting place for everyone in the evenings. Bill and his wife and their two daughters Emmie and Maureen lived in the lovely stone house at the top of the village. When Emmie married Joe Doyle they had three lovely daughters there, Breeda, Maureen and Ann.
Go around the corner then and you had this other stone building known as the Gaelic Hall and all kinds of activities went on in there. It was here that Martin Mc Cabe taught classes in Irish and Irish Dancing, he later moved to Clones. Davy Quaid taught Irish Classes there every Wednesday night. We were learning Irish and we were learning how to dance as well. It was the only hall in the village at that time so all kinds of things were run there. The school over in Chapel Hill got too crowded so they moved 5th and 6th year boys over to the Gaelic Hall. We went to school there for the last 2 years in Primary. Mr. Houlihan was teaching us and also Mr. Sullivan. He was a great banjo player and we learnt loads of songs.
“And right next to this we had a place called the Red Shed. The Red Shed was a galvanised building and it used to be a garage and there were no windows or doors in it. But, on rainy days when we’d be at school we’d be playing ball inside there. But of course, sooner or later the ball would stick under a rafter or under the ceiling. And there was one man who would go up and get that in a flash and that man’s name was Freddy Travers. He used to run at the wall to get up along it!
“The construction of the Parish Hall began around 1952, it took about three years to complete and was entirely built by voluntary labour. All the local builders, labourers and tradesman had an active part in its completion. All of the youngsters helped in the evening bringing in the supplies. There were no JCB’s, no cement blocks, and fellas came down there night after night, picks and shovels, dug big wide trenches, big as a grave. They had wide timber cases and put them in and steel bars across them and there was a flag put down and they were mixing concrete there by hand, with sand and gravel. There was no running water in Castleconnell at the time. All the village schoolchildren in the Gaelic Hall, would go down to Cluain Well and we would fill up the barrel. There was a special kind of trailer left down there and at night time, Joe Doyle would drive down, hook up his truck onto the trailer and pull the barrel up the street.” It was also the young school lads who helped Fr Gaffney lay the maple floor boards, they would open all the packs and bring him in long and short boards as he required them. “The ladies, because they couldn’t shovel cement (well a lot of them would if they had to) had a silver circle and I think it was 6d a line or a shilling a line and they’d call to all the houses and that would bring in a few bob and kept the thing going. It was absolutely unbelievable what all those people did.”
The Parish Hall was opened for business on 26th December 1955. One of the first bands to play there was The Clipper Carlton. From that night on, dancers and patrons were entertained by such fantastic bands, as Noel Tuohy, Donal Ring, Gallowglass, The Greenside Ceili Band as well as Maurice Mulcahy, Mick Delahunty, The Dixies, The Big 8 and many more. The parish also had an array of fine musicians, singers and bands through the years. There were so many local men, boys and women who gave so much of their time willingly to make sure this was going to be a testament to true community spirit and generosity. When it opened it was the biggest Parish Hall in Munster!
When we talk about The Spa it is very clear that this part of Castleconnell has a very special place in Sean’s heart. He loved spending time down with his maternal grandparents in their shop and farm. They had two beautiful horses out the back as well as a wild one which would bite your knee if you jumped up on his back! Tom Power from Clooncommons worked there looking after the horses and afterwards delivered milk around the village. Michael worked on the farm and while Dan did some building he also looked after the farm along with the help of John Byrnes, who Sean remembers as a “very particular man about his work.” Sean loved collecting the eggs for his granny although at the same time he was terrified of dropping them! They had cows and calves and he often helped to bring in the hay to feed them in the winter time. This same hay was saved in the surrounding fields during summer and the fun he had sitting on top of a stack on the hay trolley trying to see was he higher that Jimmy and Harry Byrnes who were also helping out! When all the hay was brought home, there could be twenty trams in the yard to be forked into the barn. Bunty Murphy was a welcome sight with tea and sandwiches and later in the afternoon when she arrived with stout for the men and lemonade for the boys! The hayseeds were stuck to them when they went in for their supper and Granny Meskell fed them all. His uncle Joe would arrive from Clare and would plough and harrow the high field where Castleconnell National School is now and set oats or wheat and they would be harvested later, the family did their own threshing and stored the grain to feed their own animals for the winter.
There was an ESB Eel Fishery on the Mall and was managed by George Lee, Paddy’s father. There was an eel weir across the river and eel fishing ran from October to January. The eels were put in crates alive at Hegarth’s Slip, near the Spa and shipped to Billingsgate, London on the 3.30pm train to Dublin for sale the next day.
Hartigan’s Hall was a venue which had a very important place in the social history of Castleconnell. Spa House was bought by John Hartigan around 1890 and he opened up the Hall for use by the ordinary people of the parish to be entertained. It had previously been a very prestigious venue for the gentry who came to Castleconnell to avail of the Spa waters among many other forms of leisure activities. There was a fine stage there and all kinds of plays, shows and even some travelling shows used to come there. “Vic Loving came there at least once a year and she’d pull up and run a different show there every night, constant singing and dancing, all very talented people. There were plays of every description from comedies to murder dramas. Comedians, magicians, jugglers or variety concerts all performed in Hartigan’s Hall from the 1920s to the 40s. There were great dances held there too in the 50s and Sean as a young man played there with John and Mick Tuohy, Seamus Aherne, Willie Bourke, John, Dick and Joe Edmonds, Timmy Byrnes, Willie Keane, Dan Meskell, Jim Coonerty, Mick Birch, Mrs. Flanagan, Ben Callaghan, Sean Hynes and Sean Ryan Malachy. Fanny Coffey (nee Hogg) was the singer and what a wonderful artist she was! She would step out to the front of the stage to deliver her many songs, all without a microphone! She sang pitch perfect and had wonderful music in her voice. Today, her daughter Sheila is equally talented and also a great vocalist”.
The make up was done by Baby Hartigan and the lighting which consisted of four or five square biscuit tins at stage front with a 40 watt bulb in each, was looked after by Willie Bradshaw. Unfortunately, the opening of the New Hall caused the demise of Hartigan’s Hall as a dance venue. “Then Dick Naughton who was working for the Limerick Leader teamed up with Sadie Mackey’s husband and they brought films to a wide audience! And every Sunday, there’d be a matinee there from 3pm to 5pm. I heard it said, I don’t know how true it is that they actually succeeded in showing A Quiet Man in Castleconnell before they had it in town! He had only the one machine, so you’d put on the first reel and Hop Along Cassidy is tearing down the road and next thing…. Brrrrr… turn on the light… Gerry Mc Cormack was right good at this job and he’d put on the new reel and off t’would go again! We saw some brilliant films there!”
The other establishment in the Spa which was owned by Elsie and Lizzie Hartigan was a Public House with a shop in the front. They also had a couple of cows and supplied milk to some customers around the village. They had their own customers too and it was a popular place to frequent.
“The people I remember around the Spa area from that time are the Edmonds family. They were all well-educated and great musicians. Dr. Fitzmaurice had three sons, Eddie a very talented singer who often took part in shows in Hartigan’s Hall.” Jimmy, according to Sean “was a musical genius” and Billy studied medicine and later went to work for NASA in Cape Canaveral. He was one of four scientists who designed the roof tile which could withstand the heat for the nose cone of the rockets. His photo was on the front of Time Magazine. Sean remembers some of the other people who lived there too such as Pat Ryan and his wife known as Mary Pat, the Mulqueen family, Joe Kershaw, Colonel and Mrs Thackeray, Mr. and Mrs. Houlihan, both Principals in Castleconnell National Schools and their family.
This is only a synopsis of all the knowledge that Sean has about Castleconnell, its social history and the lovely people he remembers living here. He points out that the street from the pump to the corner road was called Old St, it is now Castle St. From Guerin’s to the Railway was called Railway Road and from George Lee’s shop to Cluain Well was known as The Avenue. Due to limits on space, to the many people we may have had to leave out in this story, we apologise and we will return to the surrounding areas of the village at another time!
Sean is a very talented singer, a prolific song writer and poet and a most accomplished musician who has spent almost all of his life involved in bands, the church choir, charity events too numerous to mention and made a CD of his own songs in 2011 which is highly entertaining!
He is married to Noreen and they have four wonderful daughters, Elaine, Caroline, Roisin and Pauline. They have seven precious grandchildren, Becky, Cormac, Orla, Ciara, Brian, Kate and Daragh.
We at An Caislean wish Sean, Noreen and all the family the very best for the future and maybe we’ll get a few more stories for next year’s edition!
Sean Hartigan in conversation with Steve Reidy and Anne Berkery.
Photo of Sean (Cover of his CD)
Ad Underneath (Photo of Sean and Accordian)
Recorded in 2011
Thirteen Recordings including: Lovely Castleconnell
Bush Hole Blues
Ryans at the Top of the Street
Contact Sean at (087) 6800026