Kevin McAllister’s Hiring


I lived outside in the barn in the first house I was hired to, said Kevin McAllister.  If you didn’t finish your six months you could be done out of your money.  There was no law to back you up.  It was rough enough.  They took three 2.5d stamps off me, for the letters I wrote home in that time.  And 7d for plasters for the boil on the back of my neck. 

Was there any difference working for Protestant compared to Catholic employers?

You were treated as well, if not better, by the Protestants.  With them there was no work on a Sunday.  With your own the real work only started on a Sunday!  ‘Seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, and the rest of the time’s your own!’  What kind of work?

Cleaning drains, carting out muck, harrowing (2-3 horses), you were often in sheughs to the eyebrows [I think that’s what he said!]

My next job I was paid

Buying Cattle


‘The winter of ’47 was very harsh’, Kevin McAllister told me.  ‘There was often snow lying nearly to the roofs.  Parties of men were sent out to dig the roads clear.  One gang might suddenly dig its way through to another, coming from the opposite direction. 

How did the country people survive?

Everybody had a few hens for eggs and a cow for milk.  There was your small plot for vegetables and potatoes.  You would only get a couple of bob per hundredweight if you sold them.  The potatoes were riddled and the smaller ones went for seed.  Inspectors could be awkward.  ‘They wouldn’t take two stone to the hundredweight.’ [I don’t know what Kevin meant by this]. 

Cattle for sale at the fair were walked down from Fathom.  They’d find every gap in the hedge!  If the fair was at Camlough you’d have to run them there.  At the cattle fair they were sold by bidding:  at market, by auction [I remember watching this, fascinated as a boy, in the ‘pig market’ where the Sports Centre now stands]. 

It was mainly store cattle then.  You only reared a calf until it was a year old.  There’s more ‘finishing’ now with the availability of hay and silage.  At the fair, some aul farmer would ask,

‘What do you want for skittery?’  The answer was,
‘Them that’ll slight my beasts will buy my beasts.’

Leod Quarry


This working quarry near Hilltown is interesting for a variety of reasons.  It contains a unique seam of rock that is currently very valuable in many aspects of the building industry.  Its rock is blocky, hard, sharp and slightly flinty in texture.  The homogenous blocks are contrasted with, for example, the fissilated [wafer-like] shales more common to the region.  Its grain size is smaller than the average.  It is under the ownership and excellent management of P Fitzpatrick Quarries who are fully aware of the valuable resource and practice good environmental control.

Read moreLeod Quarry

Digging Boats

It was rough on those coal boats.  They worked with tubs.  There was a derrick on two masts.  A man drove it with a winch.  There were four tubs in the hatch all the time.  And one in the air all the time.  Two men per tub were constantly shovelling.  When the hook appeared the tub was taken, full or not.  At times it was overfilled and a man would often be struck by a falling coal.  He was slung in the back of a cart and taken to Daisy Hill.  My dad left home at 2 am to walk to Newry.  Or 12 to start at one.  The tides dictated the times of the boats’ docking.  At times the work was done by oil-light.  You had to buy your own shovel.  You had to give 1.5d per tub for the wear and tear of your gear.  You had seven hours to empty the boat to have her ready for the next tide. 

How much might you earn?  Well, from one boat, with one hatch, a Thin Lizzie, about 6/6.  You’d check the newspaper for the tides.  There was work for carters as well.  [Men with horse and cart in which to ferry the coal].  They might go as far as Cross or Newtown with a load of coal.  Much went to the gasworks.  It was a common sight to see women with shawls around them wait at corners to gather coals that might fall off there.  It was not unknown for the carter to drop some deliberately.  And occasionally these generous souls would be seen and reported by Fisher’s men.  Charges would follow.  Kevin remembered one magistrate’s comment:

‘What would you expect?  Wasn’t his father a thief too?’

If you got yourself ‘blacklisted’, you were done for altogether. Then there were grain boats, and when they were emptied they’d have to be swept out to make them ready for the next cargo.  Young lads would ask for the sweepings for their pigeons.  He’d have to avoid the harbour constable who frowned on this practice.   

The sailors who worked the boats had a hard life too.  They were forever racing tides and working through their holidays.  They’d even work Christmas Day, for it wasn’t then observed in Scotland, for example, that preferred Hogmanay.  Paddy O’Keefe worked on the Rowan.  Away from home and paid on a Thursday, they’d wire the money home to the womenfolk who’d get it on a Saturday, desperate for it.  Bosses liked to humiliate their workers, teasing and humiliating staff before handing it over. 

Finally, from Kevin, a few miscellaneous comments.  The people then still have a few odd words in the Irish language.  His father remembered the building of Cloghogue Chapel in the twenties.  It was  Neery, a lawyer that built it.  He went broke building the Parochial House attached. 

A Kerryman, married to his cousin, couldn’t believe the