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Michael McKenna How often have we heard of ‘the good old days’ referring to the years long ago, which had sunshine and laughter? But when an aged person begins relating stories of those days it is the happy times, which are remembered best, yet trouble, strife, problems and hardships are mixed in with these stories and passed over with a smile. Many rough times were endured but they are made light of now and, in some cases, dismissed as small in comparison to some of the modern difficulties. Hard manual labour was accepted as part of life, something unavoidable, and therefore should not be complained about, it seems. Michael McKenna, Figullar, Emyvale, is such a person, who remembers the hard work and toil, but in his memories, it is the fun, the enjoyable episodes, which are emphasised and indeed the funny side of difficulties endured is talked of most. Early days Michael was born in Figullar eighty seven years ago. His father was Francis and his mother was Mary Ann, nee McKenna, from the Rockcorry district of Monaghan. Michael had two brothers, both now deceased – Packie and Eddie RIP., and one sister, Mary Ellen, married to Tommy Bogue from near Dungannon. Michael attended Killyrean NS, where Master and Mrs. O’Hanlon were the teachers. He walked to and from school and had the company of Malachy, John and Barney McKenna. Two other well-known boys at school that time were Pat Quinn and Packie Kerr, and although there was fun, Michael was not that fond of school. Farming He began his working career on the farm at home. He helped with all the usual work involved, like planting a few acres of potatoes, corn and grass-seed, saving the hay, milking a few cows, feeding a couple of calves and looking after a few hens and, prior to Christmas, rearing a handful of turkeys for a few extra bob. For ready money, Michael took a job on a farm in the North and, during the next year or so, moved from one farm to another. He was sorting potatoes and other farm work but soon became disillusioned with the work as the pay was very poor and often the payment was only made monthly, which was a long time to have to wait for the few shillings earned. This was before World War 11, when money was scarce. The war, with its accompanying scarcity, improved the pay and left more money in circulation. Road Works One of the most laborious jobs of his lifetime for Michael was working on the roads. At that time the County Council sought tenders for the construction and/or the maintenance of stretches of roadway. There was keen competition among those who were tendering, which lowered the price available for the work and it was heavy work, especially where roads had to be made. Stones for the roadway had to be brought on site using horse and cart though Packie Kelly, of Cavancope, was of great assistance when he purchased his lorry. Michael drew the stones from Killyrean Quarries, which was owned by the O’Hanlons. The stones were measured by the pile and the price worked out about 6 pence a ton. Some of the rocks were broken by the stonebreaker in the quarry, but much of this work was done, along the side of the road, by sledgehammer. Pat Burns was a great man at stonebreaking. He seemed to have a talent at the job. Where others might have to hit a stone a dozen or more times to get a break, Pat could knock lumps off it with a few taps. The stones, when broken, were scattered on the road and the Council Roller would arrive to roll the surface. Maintenance contracts lasted for one or two years and during that time the contractor had to keep the surface levelled, the hedges trimmed and the channels on both sides opened and edges dressed. This opening of the channels was very important as it allowed the surface water to drain away, which protected the roadway. The same importance does not seem to be given to this job today. When the job was done or the tender period at an end, the local engineer, who at that time was Tom Lawlor, would inspect the work and payment was made. If the work was not totally satisfactory, then a cut in payment was to be accepted by the contractor. Michael spent many years at this work and admits that it was slavish. He then went back to farming duties full-time and carried on the work on a piece of land, which an aunt, Mary Ann, had left him. Hungry Work! Various memories kept flooding back to Michael as he recounted those days and many amusing incidents were recalled. He remembered a day that they went to the bog and had taken some provisions with them. However, as the day wore on, they decided to stick at it and finish the footing that day, so as not to have to return the next day. But as the time progressed they became hungrier and all the food had been scoffed earlier in the day. They suffered the hunger pangs and worked until late in the evening and they had completed the job. Then it was off home on bicycle and they were so weak they could hardly turn the pedals. When they arrived out on the Main road at Shanks, it happened that a family of travellers had set up tent along the roadside and were cooking a big meal of fried bacon. As Michael and the others approached they could smell the ‘fry’ and hear the bacon sizzling on the pan on the open fire. They found it very difficult to pass and it made their hunger worse. Were they not glad when they reached home!! Smugglers Tales Michael has always been a great social person and loved ceiliing . He had a great ear for a story and even yet will have something new to tell at the end of every day. He has the gift of story-telling and is highly entertaining as he describes an event or tells a yarn. In his early days he attended functions in Mullan Hall and in the hut at the Emyvale Road – on the road from Aughnacloy to Caledon. Travelling shows used come there and have nightly performances for the locals. They used to hold competitions on stage and the locals took part. Of course, living close to the border, Michael has many stories regarding activity around the crossing points and many of these involve smuggling. He told the story of the man, who was always smuggling cattle, and one night he was taking a number of cows across into the north at Ballagh Bridge. He left the cattle on the southern side and walked across himself to scout for police presence. At Allen’s Lane the police stopped him and asked where he was heading. He replied that he was on his way for a doctor as his father was sick. The police were concerned and put him into their car and drove him to the doctor’s house. Once inside he had to persuade the doctor to back up his story, so the doctor left him back out at the waiting police car, handed him a bottle of coloured water as medicine and said – “ Give that to your father and I’ll be out first thing in the morning”. The police left the man back at Ballagh Bridge. It was a lucky escape but the story got out and he wasn’t as lucky the next time. Michael’s relating of this story was riveting. In 1958 Michael married Mary Kelly from Drumarrell and together they had thirty-five years of married bliss. Mary died last year and he is still coming to terms with her loss. However, he has great friends and support from Josie McCusker and family in Cavancope, with whom he spends much of the time, but he is still out and about chatting and listening for a new story. We hope he has many more years of health and we send him our thanks and best wishes. By Peadar McMahon and published in the Dungannon Observer All Content is copyright @emyvale.net
All Content Copyright emyvale.net
Michael McKenna How often have we heard of ‘the good old days’ referring to the years long ago, which had sunshine and laughter? But when an aged person begins relating stories of those days it is the happy times, which are remembered best, yet trouble, strife, problems and hardships are mixed in with these stories and passed over with a smile. Many rough times were endured but they are made light of now and, in some cases, dismissed as small in comparison to some of the modern difficulties. Hard manual labour was accepted as part of life, something unavoidable, and therefore should not be complained about, it seems. Michael McKenna, Figullar, Emyvale, is such a person, who remembers the hard work and toil, but in his memories, it is the fun, the enjoyable episodes, which are emphasised and indeed the funny side of difficulties endured is talked of most. Early days Michael was born in Figullar eighty seven years ago. His father was Francis and his mother was Mary Ann, nee McKenna, from the Rockcorry district of Monaghan. Michael had two brothers, both now deceased – Packie and Eddie RIP., and one sister, Mary Ellen, married to Tommy Bogue from near Dungannon. Michael attended Killyrean NS, where Master and Mrs. O’Hanlon were the teachers. He walked to and from school and had the company of Malachy, John and Barney McKenna. Two other well- known boys at school that time were Pat Quinn and Packie Kerr, and although there was fun, Michael was not that fond of school. Farming He began his working career on the farm at home. He helped with all the usual work involved, like planting a few acres of potatoes, corn and grass-seed, saving the hay, milking a few cows, feeding a couple of calves and looking after a few hens and, prior to Christmas, rearing a handful of turkeys for a few extra bob. For ready money, Michael took a job on a farm in the North and, during the next year or so, moved from one farm to another. He was sorting potatoes and other farm work but soon became disillusioned with the work as the pay was very poor and often the payment was only made monthly, which was a long time to have to wait for the few shillings earned. This was before World War 11, when money was scarce. The war, with its accompanying scarcity, improved the pay and left more money in circulation. Road Works One of the most laborious jobs of his lifetime for Michael was working on the roads. At that time the County Council sought tenders for the construction and/or the maintenance of stretches of roadway. There was keen competition among those who were tendering, which lowered the price available for the work and it was heavy work, especially where roads had to be made. Stones for the roadway had to be brought on site using horse and cart though Packie Kelly, of Cavancope, was of great assistance when he purchased his lorry. Michael drew the stones from Killyrean Quarries, which was owned by the O’Hanlons. The stones were measured by the pile and the price worked out about 6 pence a ton. Some of the rocks were broken by the stonebreaker in the quarry, but much of this work was done, along the side of the road, by sledgehammer. Pat Burns was a great man at stonebreaking. He seemed to have a talent at the job. Where others might have to hit a stone a dozen or more times to get a break, Pat could knock lumps off it with a few taps. The stones, when broken, were scattered on the road and the Council Roller would arrive to roll the surface. Maintenance contracts lasted for one or two years and during that time the contractor had to keep the surface levelled, the hedges trimmed and the channels on both sides opened and edges dressed. This opening of the channels was very important as it allowed the surface water to drain away, which protected the roadway. The same importance does not seem to be given to this job today. When the job was done or the tender period at an end, the local engineer, who at that time was Tom Lawlor, would inspect the work and payment was made. If the work was not totally satisfactory, then a cut in payment was to be accepted by the contractor. Michael spent many years at this work and admits that it was slavish. He then went back to farming duties full-time and carried on the work on a piece of land, which an aunt, Mary Ann, had left him. Hungry Work! Various memories kept flooding back to Michael as he recounted those days and many amusing incidents were recalled. He remembered a day that they went to the bog and had taken some provisions with them. However, as the day wore on, they decided to stick at it and finish the footing that day, so as not to have to return the next day. But as the time progressed they became hungrier and all the food had been scoffed earlier in the day. They suffered the hunger pangs and worked until late in the evening and they had completed the job. Then it was off home on bicycle and they were so weak they could hardly turn the pedals. When they arrived out on the Main road at Shanks, it happened that a family of travellers had set up tent along the roadside and were cooking a big meal of fried bacon. As Michael and the others approached they could smell the ‘fry’ and hear the bacon sizzling on the pan on the open fire. They found it very difficult to pass and it made their hunger worse. Were they not glad when they reached home!! Smugglers Tales Michael has always been a great social person and loved ceiliing . He had a great ear for a story and even yet will have something new to tell at the end of every day. He has the gift of story-telling and is highly entertaining as he describes an event or tells a yarn. In his early days he attended functions in Mullan Hall and in the hut at the Emyvale Road – on the road from Aughnacloy to Caledon. Travelling shows used come there and have nightly performances for the locals. They used to hold competitions on stage and the locals took part. Of course, living close to the border, Michael has many stories regarding activity around the crossing points and many of these involve smuggling. He told the story of the man, who was always smuggling cattle, and one night he was taking a number of cows across into the north at Ballagh Bridge. He left the cattle on the southern side and walked across himself to scout for police presence. At Allen’s Lane the police stopped him and asked where he was heading. He replied that he was on his way for a doctor as his father was sick. The police were concerned and put him into their car and drove him to the doctor’s house. Once inside he had to persuade the doctor to back up his story, so the doctor left him back out at the waiting police car, handed him a bottle of coloured water as medicine and said – “ Give that to your father and I’ll be out first thing in the morning”. The police left the man back at Ballagh Bridge. It was a lucky escape but the story got out and he wasn’t as lucky the next time. Michael’s relating of this story was riveting. In 1958 Michael married Mary Kelly from Drumarrell and together they had thirty-five years of married bliss. Mary died last year and he is still coming to terms with her loss. However, he has great friends and support from Josie McCusker and family in Cavancope, with whom he spends much of the time, but he is still out and about chatting and listening for a new story. We hope he has many more years of health and we send him our thanks and best wishes. By Peadar McMahon and published in the Dungannon Observer All Content is copyright @emyvale.net