I have many memories of this place – of a lovely manse set in three acres of land, with a winding avenue to the road, of the flower beds my mother made & the flowers she grew there. She was a great lover of flowers & no matter how small the garden might be she always had flowers in every home she lived in. Her love of them spread to her family and I can remember on one occasion when my brother re-visited this particular manse after we had gone to another circuit, he came home & said “Oh mother, if you saw the place where your lovely flowers were!” Our successors not being flower-minded had allowed the cattle to wander where once there had been a lovely bloom.
We had a maid in those days. She came to Mother when she was 13 years of age & when one member of the congregation heard of her arrival she assured Mother “she would never make anything of that wild creature”. But Maggie proved worthy of the good training she received, and after twelve years with us, when my youngest brother was a few months old, she decided to go to America. Mother knew she would do well there where wages were much better than any she could ever hope to earn in Ireland. She became housekeeper to two teachers & stayed with them until she married an Irish boy she had met in Donegal. After more than 30 years she still corresponds with my sister & never forgets each member of the family at Xmas, sent a cheque to each daughter getting married & when each of my children were born a Dollar Bill arrived for them. She has no family and she and her husband have dreams of returning to a little farm in Co. Donegal some day. Since I wrote this Maggie has passed on and when she was no longer able to write her husband did it for her. Could one ever forget such loyalty?
On one occasion in Donegal when there was a visiting minister staying in the manse, Mother, Father and the Deputation were at a meeting & Maggie was left in charge of us children. There came a knock to the door and Maggie, never liking to open at night without knowing who was there, opened a bedroom window to find out who it was. As she got no reply to her question & the knocking still persisted, she enquired again. Still no reply, whereupon she took the jug of water from the wash stand & emptied it upon the poor unfortunate on the doorstep. Needless to say the knocking ceased. On my mother’s return she enquired if the butcher had sent the meat for the next day’s dinner (in those days best mountain lamb cost 6d per lb). Maggie turned pale & exclaimed, “That’s who it was.” – Simple Johnnie, son of the Butcher. He was what people in those parts called “soft” but had sufficient intelligence to act as message boy for this father. So first thing in the morning Maggie had to hurry to explain her conduct to the Butcher & apologise for her hasty action. This same Butcher could not write so to keep his accounts he kept a sally rod for each customer on which he made a mark for each lb of meat bought. One bought meat in lbs those days & he had no complications of rationing to worry him.
The Manse was a little way outside the village on the road which led from one workhouse to another & many a Tramp found his way to the Manse. Some of them we were afraid of. I can remember a man who, when Mother refused him money because he had drink taken, & had given him a cake of homemade bread instead, hurled it at her, almost breaking the glass in the door. And weren’t we glad to see Father appear in the Avenue? He just looked at the man, who slunk off muttering to himself.
Turf was the fuel we burned in those days & a member of the congregation brought a cartload from the bog every two weeks. We always looked forward to his arrival for when the cart was empty we got a ride to the end of the Avenue.
As there was a good deal of land attached to the Manse we kept a cow & Mother made enough butter for our needs in a little churn which was placed on the table. We loved to be allowed to turn the handle. When summer came the hay had to be cut & dried. This was done by members of the congregation & it was a big day when the stack was built & Mother entertained the workers to Dinner. Their fare at home was simple & Mother discovered after a time that it was useless to provide vegetables for the meal, for these were always pushed to one side of the plate before the diners began to enjoy the meat & potatoes.
We went to school then for the first time & had to walk through the village to the other side. On the way we passed a carpet factory into which we loved to peep when by chance the door was left open. Some of the lovely Donegal carpets were made there. In school I can remember some of the country children at Lunch hour going to a shop to buy a long shaped loaf & toasting it at the hearth fire for their lunch – there was no butter on it. Others not so hungry would buy a ½ d biscuit about 5 or 6 inches in Diameter covered with currants. We loved to have a penny with which to buy tiny biscuits each with a letter of the alphabet or an animal put on in icing of different colours. I can remember a day when we were all thrilled by the arrival in the village of a man with three Dancing Bears which ambled around to the music of a Tambourine. At school we were allowed to stand up on forms to see the bears through the window. I was at the end of the form & in the excitement someone pushed from behind & I fell off spraining my arm.
Every winter there was a tea-meeting otherwise Social in connection with the church & at Xmas an Xmas tree from which every member present received a gift. Every gift was numbered and numbers were distributed to each person & there was much applause when some stalwart fisherman received a toy horse & cart or perhaps a string of beads.
During the winter the farmers & fisher folk found their own amusement in family gatherings in their own homes. To these the minister & his wife were always invited. I remember the thrill I had when I was taken to one of them. At a duly appointed hour a horse & car drew up at the manse door & well wrapped with rugs we started on a five mile drive to the Point. I was always afraid that a stumble on the part of the horse would precipitate the passengers into the Bog through which the road ran but my fears were unfounded nothing worse happening than the loss of a hair ribbon blown by the wind amongst the bog cotton. In due time we reached our destination. Our host & hostess greeted us with the local “You’re welcome down the Point” & when we had removed our outer garments we were ushered into the best parlour where the table was spread for dinner & in relays up to fifty people sat down to a sumptuous feast. My eyes often strayed to a corner of the room where in a glass case stood a doll two feet high, most beautifully dressed, holding in her arms a smaller one. A present from America it was considered much too good to be played with & so the little ones could only stand & gaze instead of having the joy of fondling it. When all had feasted, the table was finally cleared, the final washing was done & the women folk brought out their sprigging & Irish crochet work & a concert was begun. There was no musical instrument, but someone sang, another recited, another gave a reading, Stories were told until the midnight hour drew nigh when a cup of tea was passed round, the minister conducted family worship & we said good night & now with a change of coachman & horse we were driven back five miles and returned safely to the manse. What hearty people they were, how interested in their church & the affairs of the Kingdom! Practically every young man and maiden growing up left for America to seek a Fortune. They drove 10 miles to the Railway Station on the first stage of that long journey to an unknown land, but thy never forgot the folk they left behind nor the wee Church & money was constantly being sent to augment the Circuit Funds or install a new Organ. They married & inter-married – alas too often because of this, one would find a member of the family who was not so mentally fit as the rest. They fished, they planted their small patches of potatoes by hand. Kibbing was the word they used to describe the dropping of the potato into a hole made by a trowel. I have seen soil carried & placed on top of the rocks in order to grow a bit of corn. And for fertiliser they carried the sea wrack in creels on their backs & often it dripped & saturated their clothes, there were no oilskins in those days. And then when it was almost harvest time the little patches of grain would be destroyed by the fury of the gales blowing off the Atlantic. Still they struggled on, never giving in. On one occasion when a church Choir practice was being held in the village some of the folk from the Point came to a place in the road where the sea had washed across it to quite a depth. They just removed their shoes & stockings waded across & came on to the practice.
During our stay in this circuit I remember the entire family of four girls and a boy having whooping cough at the same time. What a handful for poor Mother, but she took everything as it came & no matter what the difficulties of family life she entertained the visiting ministers, the Leaders meeting every three months, played the organ twice on Sunday, trained the choir & occasionally gave an address.
After three years Conference decided we were to move to an adjoining Circuit 17 miles across the mountains & when the packing was finished & the Manse left spick and span for our successors we were driven to our new manse at Dunkineely. It took two vehicles to hold us & the luggage went in a convoy of courts.