Delia Henry Memoirs, Charlestown in Co. Mayo

Local Customs

I would like to remind my readers that I was born in the year 1910, in Killaturley.

At the side of the house were the usual barns, one of which had a good floor and to this barn came a Dancing Master to teach Irish dancing, when I was about eight years old. In our house there was a violin and an accordian, played by my brother and sister very well, and since the class was only across the fields, the younger members attended after school, the night time was for adults. It was Autumn time of year and on my way to the class one evening over the field, where the oats was being cut, I stopped to chat with the family working there, My mother who happened to be there at the time, looked very critically at me and told me to come back home as I had Measles. This lasted for some time and the dancing was over by then.

The social life for the adults then was limited to house dances, parties, weddings, and visitors to the home, also farewell dances for those going to America. The functions rotated, but when there was music in a house, it was often an opportunity to hold one. When a dance was to be held in our house, it was amazing to watch our older members lead up to the introduction of the idea. My parents had to be put in a receptive mood, especially my father. That was accomplished by them in being very diligent and agreeable where work was concerned, making refusal almost impossible. When the night came, we the young ones, were useful to collect chairs from the near houses to seat the would-be dancers. By eight o'clock, the milking done and the cattle fed, it was time to welcome the visitors. Soon the kitchen would be filled, the late arrivals would have to sit on somebody's knees. The seating was important, in most old houses there was a place off the kitchen for a snugbed, about which were nice decorative curtains and a long chair by the outside.

The more mature girls who had steady boyfriends would try to pick a seat by the bed for the purpose of using the curtain as a cover for them when they wanted a cuddle. As the music struck up, the dancing began and continued with zest, diversifying with singing and stepdancing to supplement the set-dances. Towards the end of the revelry, a self appointed match-maker would start "share the women" that is to be a go-between for people who liked each other, but were too shy to make advances. This very often started a romance which blossomed into marriage later. I remember being taken out of bed on a night to dance a reel at our house dance. One had to be over seventeen to be allowed to a dance, the adults did not relish young ones in their way, but we danced with our own age group. My cousin Martin and our friend and neighbour Tom, were wonderful accordion players, much sought after for all occasions. Tom was my dancing partner, when he was not playing.

Then I went to college. By the time I was trained, Tom and Martin had joined the emigrant trail to America. Tom became a Priest, a late vocation and did very good work. He came home on two occasions and when we met we relived some of the escapades of our youth. Martin came home but we did not meet, then Fr Tom passed away to his eternal reward. His young brother Pete stayed at home. In the evenings he came for the white horse which he grazed in the field adjoining our land. Astride the animal as they wandered homeward across the river, he played jigs, reels and lovely Irish melodies on the wooden flute, which echoed over the low hills until it became a wandering sound. He too had to go.

Local Customs - Additional information and Names

Paragraph 1: Maire Sheain - Mary John. The Tailor was named Frain.

Paragraph 2: Local Nurse who qualified - Nurse Mulligan.

Paragraph 3: The dancing Master was named Towey.

Paragraph 4: The dancing class was held in Tailor Frains.

Paragraph 5: I was asked to dance by Pat Frain.

Paragraph 6: Our friend and neighbour was Tom Rush.

Paragraph 7: Tom and Martin was Tom Rush and Martin Lenihan.

Paragraph 8: Fr Tom Rush's younger brother was Peter Rush.

Paragraph 9: Paddy Peter was Paddy McNicholas, from Cuilmore, Swinford

© Delia Henry