(By Seamus Briscoe)
(First published in our Review 2002 journal)
The passing of time is ruthless, insofar as life is but a short sojourn for human mortality as we know it. People change, generation follows generation. Each era has its only particular identity, but time itself marches on. I have lived in the town of Drogheda for the last thirty-four years and never regretted a second of my urban adoption but it’s on my return to my native Termonfeckin which reminds me of the ever changing face of life itself.
The entry into the village from the Drogheda road in the full plumage of summer is quite beautiful with the differing colours from the leaves of the trees in Newtown Wood, the ‘Chapel Acre’ and the top of Horans Hill merging to great effect. The imposing spires of the village’s churches are also a feature from the sweep round the corner at Betaghstown Lane.
Having being born in Nunneryland, Termonfeckin, my earliest memories of the village and its inhabitants are mixed with sadness and yet a great deal of happiness too. These memories stretch back to the early 1950s and the sadness comes from my recollections of so much emigration. Nearly every family had someone who went to England or America, and in some cases entire families emigrated.
Times were tough and mothers went out to work in the fields bringing their young children with them. But they were happy times too with great camaraderie among these women. Quite often too they would go out in groups to gather firewood and pick blackberries which used to be bought by a man called McAnally who came round in a small pick-up truck with weighing scales which would be used to determine the weight and price for the sellers.
My first interest in rugby, which was to play a serious part in my life at a later stage, came from Colm Patton, the local grocer and publican. He was educated at Blackrock College and by all accounts was an accomplished sportsman who had a great interest in rugby. Colm would attend Ireland’s games at Lansdowne Road with some locals and they would meet up in the grocery section of Pattons that evening to discuss the games played that day. Names like Henderson, Pedlow, Mullen, Kyle, Strathdee and O’Reilly from that era were made known to me during those conversations. I was but a mere child, eavesdropping on these men talking about a remote game which fascinated me. I never missed a game on the wireless from then on when Ireland played. The game has been part of my life ever since.
There were two shops in the village, Pattons incorporated the Post Office, pub and grocery whilst Ken Carrolls on the big Street sold some groceries but primarily ‘sweets’ of all shades and descriptions. Picture nights was Fridays and Sundays in the local hall and there would be a shuttle service to Ken Carrolls shop for the crisps, ice cream and liquorice among all sorts of goodies required to get you through the ‘big picture’ and the Roy Rogers and Gene Autry serials. Mrs. Carroll, Ken’s wife, was a film buff and she used to do a Jonathan Ross type preview for us before the ‘pictures’ came to the hall, having seen the film earlier in those far away places of Drogheda and maybe even Dublin. Kens shop was an assembly area for us. We would meet there and chat and talk, plot and plan innocent fun.
St. Fechin’s were formed and Gaelic football really started to come to the fore in 1956 in the village under legendary Willie O’Brien who commanded huge respect among youngsters. He was a great coach and to this day I still remember his training drills which would not be out of place today, nearly 50 years later. Football had been played in the area with the Ramblers before the St. Fechin’s were formed. I remember, as a child, in 57/58 the building of the dressing rooms in ‘the field’ on the Sheetland Rd, supervised by my uncle John Kavanagh with volunteers from the men in the village. We lived for football during the summer. We played in the primary schools league when headmaster Mr. McGinley would load us into his Volkswagen Beetle to go to Tullyallen, Togher, Dunleer or some ‘far off’ place to play. Then we would go to see our heroes on Sundays – ‘Bing’ Crosby, Patrick Duff, Nicky Duff, Kevin Duff, Mr. Fitzgibbon, a genial Kerryman who was a teacher in the local school for a short time, Joe Corrigan, the Reynolds brothers, the McEvoys, the Gormans, Tom Kiernan, Tommy Simpson, another teacher, later headmaster at Sandpit; Frank Farrell, the O’Brien brothers, Dessie Reilly, Ned Briscoe, Billy Reilly, Mickey Carroll, Eugene Maguire and others who brought St. Fechlin’s into Gaelic football prominence. Ranafast Cups were won with regular ease but we couldn’t win the 2nd Division championship with the great teams we had during those years. St. Fechin’s went senior in 1959, bypassing the junior grade. They went back to the 2nd division in 1961 and in 1962 they eventually won the 2nd division championship.
Termonfeckin was an idyllic place to grow up all those years ago. Simple games and fun dominated our lives. Duffs on the Strand Rd. was the prime meeting place for the ‘lads’, Landy’s field was Wembley. Cowboys and Indians with home-made guns was the main fun outside of kicking ball. The major treat was being brought to the pictures in the Abbey in Drogheda on a Sunday night with chips and coffee in the Genoa Café afterwards, courtesy of the older Duff brothers Kevin and Tommy. We had the beach to go to in the summer months, fields to hunt in, woods to explore nature and play hide and seek, and surrounding farms to work on during school holidays.
Teens, courtship and marriage brought me to Drogheda. It wasn’t until 1980, apart from family visits, that my interest in Termonfeckin was rejuvenated. This was to be a significant period for the village. The Tidy Towns committee had really embellished the natural beauty of the village which resulted in high commendations and awards at national level. The Church of the Immaculate Conception celebrated its centenary and St. Fechlin’s, with whom I had become involved, won every senior honour in Gaelic football in the county of Louth. It was a wonderful decade for the village. All of these seemed to inter-relate as if it were decreed that such significant awards and achievements should be bestowed on the village. My interest was again diverted in 1988 when I became elected to the executive of ITGWU, later to become SIPTU, for 8 years which took up considerable time.
Termonfeckin in the meantime began to change its landscape. Gradually more houses were being built, not always with the natural beauty of the village preserved. In those young days, earlier described, we used to assemble on the bridge, very little traffic in those days, again to listen to stories from the bigger and older lads, perhaps when they would come back from England or seafaring. I always deemed it an educational experience. Under the bridge, to the east, farmers would back their tractors and trailers down to the river and fill tanks with water for their stock. We would watch hundreds of townsfolk during the summer coming and going to the beach, often whole families on their bikes on beautiful summer days. We used to have summers those days. When we celebrated the St. Fechlin’s successes we left the nearby pub at closing time and went under the bridge to sing and celebrate. Regrettably this area is now overgrown and is no longer accessible as a facility.
Whilst the passage of time might change the landscape of Termonfeckin (and what a pity it were to be that those trees and spires were to be obliterated from the landscape entering the village) it has many features which have emerged and blossomed down through the years with the growth in population. The history of the village will now be preserved with the formation of the historical society. The emergence of the tennis club bridging a 50 year gap when tennis used to be played in the village. The fine art exhibitions held in the splendidly appointed Credit Union premises are a credit to the local ladies who promote this. To the preservation of the sports field on the Sheetland Road by the soccer club Termonfeckin Celtic F.C. and the magnificent development undertaken by St. Fechlin’s at Beaulieu. The fantastic success enjoyed by Macra and Scor groups down through the years which has fostered and nourished drama and entertainment down through the years. Des Keogh used to sing a song called ‘Terrible Termonfeckin’ which used to make me cringe. When I used to mention that I came from Termonfeckin in faraway places, some people used to think that I was swearing! I once had words with a famous playwright and journalist for facetiously referring to it in an article he wrote.
My latest return was a sad one, to gather my family for my Aunt Delia’s wake and funeral service. I was absolutely enthralled with the Termonfeckin church choir at the funeral mass. Their arrangements and harmony were just beautiful and the soloists superb, as good as one would hear anywhere. When the mass had finished I met two of the choir members who happened to be my friends from all those years ago, Jim Duff, my boyhood best buddy and Brendan McAuley, my neighbour and friend. We used to play and sing together. They looked well and sang well and brought back memories that time couldn’t erase. Perhaps the saddest of all that I have experienced was visiting my uncle and other exiles who were forced to emigrate all those years ago because there was nothing for them here. Yet they retained tremendous affinity for their birthplace. Radio Eireann conveyed the everyday news and the Drogheda Independent kept them informed of all the local happenings. When I visited my uncle Peter Duff in Bath some years before he passed on, I was amazed when he produced all the DI cuttings of my trade union and rugby activity. He kept all these and more. Three of my mother’s brothers are interred in England having lived most of their lives there. Thank God those days are over and people now travel for experience and to broaden their horizons.
However there was the good side too of the overseas uncles, aunts and cousins. Great commotion would precede their coming home on holidays, houses redecorated and the prospect of being brought to Dublin, Dundalk, Carlingford or some such place in their hired car.
There were great sing songs in granny Duffs when the carry outs would be brought to the house after the pub closed. Pat King used to sing the songs that would later make the Dubliners famous. But he also sang Irish classics as well, such as ‘Skibbereen’. He was, and still is, a great balladeer and lovely singer. There would be loads of ceili’s or ‘hooleys’ as they were called. But sadness would come all too quickly when the time came to return to their place of domicile.
Yes, things change. And some people say times change. But time doesn’t change, it marches on relentlessly. Nothing stays the same forever.