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Recalling stories from the good old days

Jimmy Lynch and Louis Corbett listen to stories. Photograph by Mike Mulcaire

Edel Greene and Margaret McNamara, cuairteoirí with Cuimhneamh an Chláir, visited a group of East Clare residents in Raheen last week, where each individual recalled past memories of predicting the weather, ghost stories and socialising.
With seven and eight-day weather forecasts available to us at the click of a mouse these days, it will seem alien to many that the older members of the community had to look to the sky to find out what tomorrow’s weather would be like.
Edel and Margaret, in their recording session with East Clare residents Flan O’Brien, Jimmy Lynch, Patrick Joe Nihill, Eleanor Murphy and Louis Corbett, discussed what kind of signs they looked out for to know if bad weather was in store.
Some recalled that if they saw two rainbows in the sky, or a ring around the moon or saw “the moon lying on its back,” then it wasn’t a good sign. Others recalled the goats coming down the mountain and into their houses when rain was on the way.
It was agreed by most that the weather was more predictable at that time. One participant stated that the moon phases, like the first quarter or a new moon, usually heralded changes in the weather but that this was no longer the case.
With the recent flooding, most residents recalled similar instances in the 1950s when they remembered fields flooding and seeing haystacks floating down the river. All of the participants believed that there was much more snow during winters in the ’50s than in recent times.
The Cuimhneamh an Chláir volunteers believe that by having discussions and capturing the old ways of reading the weather, it will inform the generations to come that they didn’t always have the television weatherman to rely on for a forecast.
There was a real emphasis on socialising within the rural communities of East Clare when the participants were growing up and many recalled the Meitheal, where four or five families gathered together to communally undertake chores such as digging out the potatoes or thrashing the corn. Following the Meitheal, dances would be held in the houses at night and the concertina or melodeon was brought out.
The group recalled the emergence of the dancehalls in the late ’20s and early ’30s, one of the first being known as ‘The Gift’ in Ardnacrusha, which developed around the time of the Shannon Scheme construction. There were two or three halls in Scariff, one being the Astral Ballroom and one in Tuamgraney, another in Killanena and in Newport.
The residents all remembered that to get to the dancehalls, their only mode of transport was their bike and often two or three people would pile on one bike.
One participant discussed how shirts in those days had detachable collars, which would have to be well starched. They all remembered collars known as flappers and remembered a man called Flappers Meehan in Tulla. It was thought that his nickname may have come from the collar. They noted that his name lives on in Tulla, where the restaurant Flappers continues to operate at the site of his house.
Crossroads dancing was a big part of young life in East Clare, as it was in many other parts of the county and the group recalled a platform of cement or stone being laid specifically for that purpose at many places, including Ballyquin Cross, Macs Corner and in Belvoir.
Apart from music and dancing, another pastime the group were fond of was storytelling. Most remembered being terrified at night after listening to ghost stories told around the fire, when neighbours would come in on ‘cuairt’. One participant claimed to have heard the banshee as he sat up in the mountains with a cow that was in calf. Stories of the Puca were common.
“When I was young lad, there’d be a crowd in our house. They’d be telling you ghost stories and you’d be afraid to go out. The Puca, you’d hear those stories. And if someone died, then they’d say they’d hear the banshee,” Jimmy Lynch remembered.
These invaluable memories have now been collected by Edel and Margaret and will be put together with the many discussions and interviews conducted by Cuimhneamh an Chláir since it began the project in January.
“What we do with the recordings is we download them to our hard drive in our office and keep a master copy there and also on disc. We produce another copy on disc for the public. We also write up an abstract form, which details topics discussed throughout the recording so that the public can view these prior to hearing the recording to find information of interest. The archive will serve as a repository for all the old stories and folklore associated with the county and is freely available to researchers and the general public alike,” Edel explained.
The aim of the endeavour is to ensure that such memories are kept precious for upcoming generations to appreciate and enjoy. They also hope to rejuvenate some of the older ways, events and phrases by passing on these memories.
For more information about Cuimhneamh an Chláir, contact Tomás MacConmara on 087 9160373, visit www.clarememories.ie or email clarememories@eircom.net.

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