Back on 5th of June I took part in a meme set by Nick. As per the rules I was to set a a number of questions for those I tagged. Being a believer that you should never ask anyone to do what you are not prepared to try yourself… I am answering those questions week by week and today I answer the penultimate one.
Q. Who would you like to meet from past history?
A. Bridget Kenny nee Kelly.
I chose Bridget Kenny from my own personal history. She was born in Co Clare on the north banks of the mouth of the River Shannon, the year was 1840. She was a child of the Great Hunger; the Irish Potato Famine between 1845 and 1852.
Bridget married at the tender age of twenty two, had nine children, was widowed for thirty years and finally left this earthly world in 1921, at the age of 81. She was my paternal Great Grandmother.
From the photograph above it is obvious that she was not a young woman at that time it was taken. The hands as well as the face tell that story. The shawl and layers of clothes let me know it was winter. Her daughter, my grandmother also a long time widow (33 years) wore black for all those years. I imagine that Bridget did the same. Skirts trailed the ground and were most lightly made from wool. Transport was on foot or by pony and trap. There would have been no pavements or tarmacadam roads in rural Co Clare. Button boots and wool stockings were needed for warmth, and perhaps bare feet in summertime.
Can you imagine the pile of laundry?
Every drop of water was carried from the well and boiled on the fire for all the cooking and washing needs. The clothes were washed by hand and spread to dry along the hedges.
I would love to meet the young Bridget, full of hopes and dreams. I wonder were they different to mine at the age of twenty two. Communication with family and friends was probably by letter. Handwritten at the table in the kitchen, with the wick well trimmed in the large oil lamp as the flame flickered and danced casting shadows across the notepaper and envelopes as she dipped her pen in the ink well.
That same kitchen, where family gathered for mealtimes, homework, the rosary, a sing-song or for mulled Porter at the fire, while the flagged floor was cleared and the fiddler tuned up to provide the music for the set dancing of jigs and reels.
Of the nine children, three were boys and six were girls. I noticed that the names of the second and fourth child were the same: Anne. The first Anne was born in 1865 and the second Anne followed four years later. So many of the families back then had names repeated in the family list. Infant or childhood mortality rates were very high.The Youngest of her children James was a weekly visitor to our house until his death in 1970.
Did Bridget, have the same rich auburn hair that her daughter, my grandmother and grand Uncle James had – just like mine. James still sported a thick head of auburn hair – no grey, when he died at the age of 84.
Looking again at the photo, I marvel at the headdress. I am sure it was starched white linen. Can you imagine going about the chores of today with something like that on your head or indeed the time it took to put in the pleats.
The houses were low with small windows as there was a tax to be paid according to the number and size of the windows.
No doubt the potatoes and vegetables were all grown in the garden, not far from the turf stacked along a wall at the side of the house. Chickens running about the yard were reared for eggs and the pot! How often did she help with milking the cows and did she make her own butter? I can almost taste the griddle bread with its hint of turf smoke. Were there apple cakes for afters? Oh the questions I have tumbling in my head!
Did they keep sheep? If so did she card and spin the wool before knitting jumpers for the family? Electricity did not arrive until 1929 so the days would have been governed by natural daylight with the Rooster being the alarm clock. Despite the hardship of the cold and the rain, no running water, electricity or central heating/air conditioning I am sure their lives were simple but happy.
Not having cars, mobile phones and computers or the modern day stresses that come with them, I am sure they had time to smell the roses… Do you?