Sam Woods of Ballinalack was on his way home from Newry one time in his horse and cart when he came upon an old woman lying as dead in the middle of the road. It was Mary Kelly.
Some locals helped him to unhook a nearby barn door and she was carried into the home of the Savages and laid out in front of the kitchen stove. They managed to revive her and so prove she had not died. She was fed a little warm milk. Soon she was able to sit up at the table and eat a meal. After having warmed herself at the stove a while she refused all offers of a bed for the night and insisted she must ‘push on’.
Before she left she pressed a penny into the palm of the child of the house. With nods and frowns behind backs the child was warned to accept with grace. This was her way of retrieving her dignity and self-worth.
I was often as a youth called a tinker by adults and teachers alike, a term then denoting mischievous behaviour. But tinkers were travelling people who made a living by mending pots and pans.
Nailey Rice was really a tinker by trade. He still carried solder and a soldering iron. He was a very lean, old man who at one time had had a wife and a house but had lost one and left the other. People kept damaged buckets and pots against Nailey’s return.
He had a very loud voice and once distressed a feeble-minded old man of the house he was working at. The girl of the house cautioned him to lower his voice as ‘it annoys my father’s head’.
Nailey gave a lep into the middle of the road and bate the tin with the soldering iron!
‘What wud he do if there was thunder?’ he bellowed.
Gypsy woman called for alms to our doors in the Estates of the Sixties.
‘Missus, can ye spare a few coppers, for the love of God?’
They got a very mixed reception generally. I remember them as clean and well-spoken usually, if over-obsequious. They were always treated kindly at our home. But my mother was reared ‘in the country’!
This was back when their encampment was on the Fathom Road near Drumalane. A friend of mine who was their neighbour still speaks very highly of them. They just got ‘a bad press’.