It was dusk on Saint Martin’s* eve in a small village in County Clare, and there was commotion a plenty. John, the Postmaster, was not sure who made the most noise: The goose abroad in the yard having its neck pulled in readiness for the feast day dinner, or his wife inside in the bed bringing forth her latest child.
The wailing subsided both indoor and out to be replaced by the gentle cry of a newborn son. Daniel Martin was their ninth child, one of whom was stillborn, and the family was completed a few years later with the addition of two more boys.
Dan, with his four sisters and five brothers, were part of a large family circle that stretched across the county. He grew up in a busy household. Besides running the Post office, their father John became:
Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths
Travel Agent for all the Trans Atlantic shipping lines
The Inspector of Gunpowder and Gun Licenses.
An Import/Export Agent
He opened a grocery, so stamps and postal orders were sold at one counter and groceries at the one opposite.
Certainly Dan’s father was the man who anyone wishing to emigrate to America or England went to for his or her Identification Papers.
John later extended his portfolio, as we say today, by buying a farm – he had a large family to feed and rear, and the boys took their turn at bringing home the cows for milking and taking them back to the fields before and after school each day.
Dan’s mother worked in the shop as well as keeping hens, geese, a goat and I think the couple of pigs were under her charge too.
After supper, each school day, it was time for homework. Dan’s father sat at the head of the table and presided over this task. Catechism, spellings, reading, writing and mental arithmetic were all part of this school outside school. He had a Ready Reckoner, which he used in his Post Office work. This he explained and taught the older children how to use.
After the homework the concertina was taken off the dresser and John played jigs, reels and hornpipes. Now and again the floor was cleared and the Siege of Ennis, the Walls of limerick or a hornpipe was danced. On Sundays, fair days or pension days, friends came into the kitchen for a cup of tea. At night a mug of porter was mulled and the old songs were sung to the accompaniment of the concertina. The kitchen was certainly the heart of the home.
At the age of eleven Dan’s world changed. His father died.
Leaving school at the age of fourteen Dan went to serve his time as a Draper’s assistant, first in Ennis, before moving on to the Midlands and eventually landing up in Dublin. In those carefree early Dublin days, his spare time was spent playing golf, dancing the nights away and travelling the land with his friends while wetting his whistle with a pint and a chaser (or three…)!
Shortly after the outbreak of World War 2, he met and married a Dublin lass and they added to the population four boys and two girls. He lived to see all but three of his grandchildren and he insisted that he be called Dan and not granddad. He felt that if he were called by the latter name he would be expected to have all the answers!
Dan & Nana
Ill health interrupted his life for over twenty odd years and he died at Christmas in 1981. RIP.
Stories of his childhood travelled down the years to our young ears round our fireside. We lived the vividly told tales….
Walking to school through the fields in bare feet on an early spring or summer morning with the dew squishing between his toes or carrying turf for the school room fire to battle away the chill of the draughts and howling winter winds.
The annual killing of the pigs. The hams hung on great big hooks over the fire to cure and the making of the puddings. The more faces we made, the more embellished the stories of pudding making became. We almost believed we were back in those days holding the scalded intestine and trying hard not to let it slip or fall in case Granny’s wet and bloody hand landed across our ear! We lived it, I tell you!
There was the art of milking a goat without it kicking over the bucket or adding fresh little nuggets to spoil the flavour! 😉
Days in the bog cutting turf and stacking it to dry. The late afternoon tea brought to the workers by the women folk. Tea brewed in a billy-can, and buttermilk to drink, griddle bread with home made butter and curranty cake. All the fresh air and hard work made for good sauce.
Although only three when Dan died, Elly has her own story about Dan’s magic tin. I will let her add it herself….
Today on this Saint Martin’s eve, the hundredth anniversary of Dan’s birth, my siblings and I, our children and theirs will spend a few minutes in quiet reflection and perhaps raise a glass to the memory of Dan, our father, their grandfather & great grandfather.
*St Martin of Tours Feast Day is November 11 (Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Churches, Anglican Communion)
** Thursday Special will return next week