Irish Life & ...

  • Follow Us On

Irish Life & Lore Series

The following extracts are from sound recordings from the ‘Irish Life & Lore Series’ from the Sligo Heritage Collection. The interviews were conducted by Joe McGowan in 2008 with crafts people and artists living in County Sligo, Ireland.

To listen to the full sound recordings go to

Molly Cawley, knitting, her father the carpenter

mollycawleyA Family Business

Ballymote, Co. Sligo.

Molly Cawley was born and reared in Ballymote, Co. Sligo, where her father was a house builder and carpenter. He had a hardware shop and a large workshop, and made windows and donkey carts. She has many stories to relate about the building of houses long ago. Molly fondly recalls the workshop where timber was seasoned for doors and windows which lasted a lifetime. Also related are stories of how people painted their donkey carts long ago, with materials like red lead. Turf barrows, spades and shovels as well as screws, hinges and nails were some of the items sold in the hardware shop. Molly remembers the Ballymote cattle fair, and discusses a typical day at the fair in vivid detail. She fondly recalls her mother who loved to knit, and Molly herself learned to knit and sew in school, and she emphasises the importance at that time of knowing how to mend and patch clothes.

In the second recording, Molly Cawley recalls making dresses and skirts in school. She always had an interest in the crafts, making a variety of garments at vocational school. She discusses sourcing the wool for knitting long ago and the old methods used to make things like socks. Another early memory which Molly shares is of going to the country house dances. Molly has a great love of the country life which she describes in vivid detail.

Pat James Duffy storyteller and writer

PatJamesDuffyA Local Historian/Folklorist

Killavil, Co. Sligo.

Pat James Duffy, a great storyteller and writer, was born in 1930 in Killavil. His ancestors were shoemakers by trade, and Pat James tells many tales about their trade and craftsmanship. He recalls spending many happy Sunday evenings playing a game called ‘throwing the bullet’ which he describes vividly. He discusses the great craftsmanship involved in making scythes and explains the importance of having a good edge. He also shares stories of many old superstitions and cures. He discusses the fair in Ballymote and the start in the early hours of the morning, getting the cattle out on the road and the people singing and driving bargains at the fair.

In the second recording Pat James discusses the luck penny that the buyer got when buying cows at the market long ago. The farmer had to be keen at the markets when buying otherwise he could be fooled by the sellers who were there every day. He explains that the wheelwright was an important man in the area, as he could repair spinning wheels, which were vital pieces of equipment. Also discussed are the disputes regarding the names of the townlands in the area in his father’s time, when the names were changed by mapmakers. Pat James shares many stories of people from the area long ago and ghost stories about some local houses. His great love of folklore and stories is clearly evident in this recording.

Mick Brennan Blacksmith

A Blacksmith’s Life
Grange, Co. Sligo

The late Mick Brennan was born in 1924. He attended Benbulben School and in this conversation he recounts his early school memories. He comes from a long line of blacksmiths stretching back to the time of his great-grandfather. Mick explains that his father Jack also worked as a blacksmith. He lived in the townland of Derry near Grange, County Sligo and was a blacksmith in the army for a few years before coming to Derry. There were many forges operating in the area at one time and Mick recalls some of the people involved. He discusses the making of the iron tyre for the donkey carts and the tricky process this entailed. He recalls the procedure of crafting the iron tyre in the turf fire, and how he could tell by the colour of the metal when it was time to pull it out. Mick also remembers and names various wheelwrights in the Ballyshannon and Sligo areas and he tells us about the scythes which people brought to be turned and sharpened – each scythe had to be fitted to its owner. He also recalls growing up on a small farm, and working on the bog long ago.

In the second recording, the late Mick Brennan discusses the welding of gates and he takes pride in the quality of his gates compared to those of today. The blacksmith was a most important person in the community he explains. The process of shoeing a horse is discussed, as is the danger involved, through destroying a horse due to infection. Crooks, tongs and turf spades were also crafted in the forge. There was great skill involved in the welding and cooling of metal because of its tempering. Towards the end of the recording he recalls the country hall dances and musicians in the area, in days long ago.

Kieron Melody, Sculptor/Stonemason

A Sculptor/Stonemason

Drumfad, Co. Sligo.

Kieron Melody is a sculptor and stonemason who came to Sligo in 1982 to study art in the Regional Technical College. A lecturer there introduced him to stone carving and the techniques involved. On graduation, he specialised in stone carving, mainly in limestone and he worked with a sculptor named James McKenna. Kieron discusses some projects he has
worked on in the area, namely standing stones and he remarks on how timeless they are.
He says that selecting stones for his work is quite difficult and that his work is very abstract.
He talks about introducing school students to stone carving techniques and in 1997 he was
asked to teach stone carving to prisoners in Castlerea. He describes the enthusiasm of the
prisoners who were interested in the work and how he enjoyed working with them and giving
of his time and assistance.

Lizzie Gallagher, the weaver’s craft

The Weaver’s Craft

Moneygold, Co. Sligo.

Born a hundred years before this recording was compiled, Lizzie Gallagher is a native of Moneygold. She was the third eldest of five children and she has no memories of her father who died when she was very young. Lizzie recalls her grandfather quite well however and she says there were no schools in the area when he was a child. She learned from her mother the art of spinning wool and knitting. She notes how her mother was a very dedicated and hard worker who supported the entire family. Lizzie has great memories of her mother but recalls her great loneliness when Lizzie’s father died. Lizzie started spinning at the age of eighteen. She recalls her childhood, going to school barefoot and the churning of the butter at home. She says one always gave a tinker something when they came around at that time.

In the second recording, Lizzie Gallagher remembers the tinkers who would call to her home in former days and she recalls her school days, saying that children stayed in school until they were around fourteen because there was no secondarynschool education. The fear of the stick made you learn long ago, she maintains. She describes the teachers as being very cruel. Also recalled are the dances long ago in Grange Hall and she also has memories of the Civil War, and Brideogs. She celebrated her 100th birthday recently surrounded by many friends.

Brian Rogers A Thatcher

A Thatcher

Dromore West, Co. Sligo

Brian Rogers was born in Ballymote, Co Sligo and at the age of nine the family moved to Dromore West. He studied Sociology in Trinity College which he really enjoyed. He trained to thatch using reeds and he discusses the different types of reeds used in thatching. Brian talks about scollop thatching and the oaten straw used, the techniques involved, the tools employed including the leather knife, the bittle and the bat. Brian also explains the differences between farmers’ thatching and professional thatching.

In this second recording, Brian Rogers traces the history of Irish thatching and discusses thatching as it was done in the 1700s and 1800s. He explains that the quality degraded over time. He talks about the architectural heritage of thatching and discusses the disappearance of thatched houses. Also discussed is the faster disintegration of today’s roofs, which he believes is the result of acid rain and the lifestyles of people today. Brian explains that bluestone is great for preserving straw roofs, and he discusses the advantages and disadvantages of its use.

Martina Gillan Jewellery Designer

Jewellery Designer

Castle Street, Sligo.

Martina Gillan is an integral part of the arts and crafts in Sligo town where she runs her craft shop ‘The Cat & The Moon’. She comes from a farming background and she decided to undertake a course in jewellery making, being influenced by Newgrange. Martina exports many of her designs which are very popular in America. Much of her work is original and she explains that she wants to give meaning to each piece rather than having it just look pretty. Her business has grown though word of mouth, and her shop provides exhibition space for artists and other craftspeople. Martina is a fearless businesswoman who is very passionate about her work and who thoroughly enjoys her working environment.

Rosaleen Holland A Weaver and Liomra

A Weaver and Liomra

Drumcliff, Co. Sligo

Rosaleen Holland is from Drumcliff, Co Sligo. Her craft involves the making of liomra – the Irish word for fleece, made from raw sheep’s wool. The first liomra she saw was made by her mother. She remembers her father was very skilled and could make anything from coffins, to tables, to mending shoes. Craftwork is in the family. Rosaleen remembers her mother making fleeces, and she describes the whole process, from sourcing the wool to buying and making the dyes. Rosaleen took up the craft and now makes mats and wall-hangings which she sends to America, Australia and England. She is a member of the ICA which promotes old Irish past times and skills. She talks extensively and enthusiastically about the work undertaken by the members of the ICA. Rosaleen Holland talks about her passion for the ICA and the camaraderie between the women. She recalls her application to join the Garda Siochána in 1960. She was the only woman who applied and describes the interview process. She has very fond memories of Achill Island and going to dances which she enjoyed greatly. Also recalled were the exciting parcels from America, which contained old and new clothes. She has a great love for people and for life which shines though in this recording. She loves being alive, she declares.

George and Violet Hunter Butter Making

Butter Making and Milk Products

Carraroe, Co. Sligo.

George and Violet Hunter are dairy farmers. George lived in a thatched house when he was younger and describes his childhood with his parents who were also dairy famers; he grew up in a family of twelve. They had ten or twelve cows and George began milking them when he was around seven years old. He recalls supplying local businesses with milk as they delivered it door to door. It was difficult in those days due to the absence of fridges. You could get everything in a grocery shop at that time, except milk, he says. He discusses the process of churning butter long ago with the cream and the milk. Violet makes butter at Heritage Days, keeping up the old traditions and showing people how it was done. She also grew up on a farm and there were nine in her family. She recalls her mother churning as she watched her, which is how she learned. There is a great love for Violet’s butter in the area. George describes the changes in the methods of milking from the early days right through to today, from milking by hand, to using the milking machine.

Ted Kelly Straw Craft

The Straw Craft

Ballintogher, Co. Sligo.

The late Ted Kelly is from Ballintogher where he grew up on a small farm with his two brothers and sisters. He worked with his father on the farm and his father also did straw work and thatching. Ted discusses life on the farm, ploughing the fields with the horses and the sowing of oats and rye every year. He discusses the pigs on the farm, their breeding and foodstuffs. He recalls going to the fair selling his pigs and the slaughtering techniques of the time. Referring to straw work, Ted explains that it was all scollop thatching that he did long ago and he describes the work in detail. Every farm had plenty of straw and Ted made hen nests, hats, chairs, mats and baskets out of straw.

Michael Quirke A Sculptor

A Sculptor

Teesan, Sligo

Michael Quirke was born in Sligo town. His father was a butcher and was known as one of the best cattle dealers in Sligo. Michael talks about his father’s work for Pat Healy and his involvement in the Civil War. He recalls Sligo town of years ago and he remembers not having any interest in the family business, but he started work in his father’s shop in 1958. He explains that he was quite good at the mechanical side, cutting meat and slaughtering. He remembers starting to carve plasticine figures at school, which he loved doing and he maintains that he didn’t need toys in his childhood because he could make any toy he wanted out of plasticine. Michael goes on to talk about the belief in fairies or the shee long ago and the stories which surrounded them. He shares many stories of ancient Ireland and he recalls being inspired by reading Greek mythology.

In this second recording, Michael Quirke remembers the first figures he ever carved using scrap wood and a butchers knife. All his work is ornamental and he explains that he dislikes people dictating to him how to do his work. He recalls a time when he was famously asked to be a Druid at a wedding and he describes the event vividly. When Michael’s father died, butchery was changing due to regulations in force, so Michael closed the business and began making carvings on a full-time basis. He describes the mythological crouched tiger figure he has made and what it means to him and he obviously takes great pride in his work.

Cillian Rogers an Artist

An Artist

Dromore West, Co. Sligo.

Cillian Rogers is from Dromore West. He was born in Ballymote in 1954. He remembers his father’s shop where everything was sold and he remembers his grandfather having the first generator and car in the area. Cillian discusses in great detail the Famine and the workhouses locally. One workhouse in particular, where this recording took place is described in detail. He discusses its history and the stories surrounding it and also recalls the stories about people dying in the workhouse and being given pauper’s funerals. He recalls a time when everyone was self-sufficient. He was always doing a bit of drawing and designing at school where it wasn’t really appreciated. He recalls going to the National College of Art and Design in Dublin in 1972 and describes seeing a whole new world opening up there. He talks about some of the work he has done, including a statue of two men talking, in an age where everyone had time for each other and a black pig piece he has created. Cillian discusses Irish folklore, which fascinates him and has inspired his pieces. He has also taught sculpture and really enjoys teaching.