BACK in 1934 and 1935 three lifelong friends were born in Mullagh, Patrick Clancy, Joe Sexton and Pat Sexton (also known as Paddy Jim Dan).
Many years ago Joe moved to England, Pat setted in Canada, while Patrick has lived all his life in the area where they grew up.
Despite the distances between them, the three have managed to remain in contact and have all been in Mullagh this week, with Joe and Pat meeting up in person for the first time in 54 years.
The trio met with the Clare Champion at their alma mater, Mullagh National School on Tuesday afternoon.
Asked what school was like when they attended in the 1940s, two of the three, Pat and Joe answer in unison. “Tough,” as they recall the daily hardships of school life in their childhood.
However all three remember having a teacher called Mrs O’Connell who they say was a lovely woman, while Patrick recalled taking drastic action to avoid school one day. “I escaped from school here, went off home, stayed inside a ditch near home, waited until the scholars were coming and then went in home as usual. But the teacher had it out with my mother, where was I gone.”
While Pat has been in Canada for many years, Patrick remembered that he had been all set for going to America instead, before an unfortunate accident. “This man was messing around cycling, he got knocked off the bike and it stopped him going to America!
Pat now laughs at the memory of that accident which saw him break his collarbone, delaying the trip to America, and putting him on the path to a life in Canada instead. The broken bone was treated by a future President of Ireland, who would later visit him on the other side of the Atlantic. “Fair dues to Dr Paddy Hillery, he looked after me. I had the pleasure of Dr Paddy visiting me in Toronto. He came in the limousine and knocked at the front door. He had a police escort and he came in and had a cup of tea, which was a pleasure.”
Joe remembers that Patrick almost left the area also, but his mother wasn’t having it. “This man went back to the village of Mullagh, bought a suitcase, the year after we coming home and he was going to come back with us. But his mother stopped him and he had to bring the suitcase back to the village!”
“I’m glad she did stop me! I’m very happy she did, life has been very good to me,” says Patrick.
While he made a life in Canada, Mullagh is where Pat’s heart will always be. ” It’s still our home no matter how long we’re gone.”
“The only thing is we lost our accents!” quips Joe, speaking in a West Clare brogue that hasn’t really dulled at all despite the decades in the UK. “Everyone says the same thing, you’re the same as if you went away yesterday. We’d have mixed with an awful lot of Irish over there,” he adds.
Joe worked in construction in the UK, before a 39 year career with Land Rover. In Canada Pat had a business running vending machines for 28 years, while Patrick worked for Shell and at Moneypoint, while he still does a bit of farming.
All three of them still seem to be in good fettle, despite the advancing years. Did they mind themselves well? “The cure was bacon and cabbage,” Joe laughs. “No, the cure was a good woman!” says Pat.
Patrick credits genetics. “My mother was a healthy woman. I was blessed with good health, I fell off a ladder and bust my back and that’s why I’m so stooped. But other than that I’m fine, thank God. I was cutting silage before I came with my mower and tractor.”
They all remember fairly harmless tomfoolery around Mullagh when they were teenagers. “We used to hang around the village every night and Ollie Conway used to live across the road from where we used to hang around. One night Ollie got a sod of turn and banged it off the door. A woman came out and gave us hell, he was like ha, ha, guys, ye got caught,” says Pat.
Each man went on to marry and have children, while grand children and great grandchildren have followed. What advice would they give a young person now? “There’s so many things they can turn to, it’d be very hard for an old mind to choose a career for a young person,” says Patrick.Joe feels that solid values are most important. “I think it’s important behave themselves, look after themselves and avoid trouble. Watch your company.”
“My advice is to stay away from drugs and go out and work,” says Pat.
While there is a lot of talk about the stress of the modern world, the three have no doubt that life is far easier now than what they grew up with. “They have the car, there’s the tractor,everything is done by machinery,” says Pat. “There used to be no such thing as a supermarket,” Joe recalls.
When the two emigrants left Ireland it wasn’t nearly as modern a country as it is now, and they feel it has overtaken the countries where they live. “Ye’re not behind at all ye’re in front. This country is the leading country now,” says Joe.
“It’s a pleasure to come home and see that ye’re so far ahead.It’s a pleasure to go into the homes and see the way they’re finished,” Pat reflects.
When they left home they had very little experience of the wider world. “We had never seen traffic lights. I’d never been to Ennis. I was never on a train, never inside on a bus. You get out then and you’re looking around at everything,” says Joe.
Patrick is readily available, but having Pat and Joe return at the same time was something arranged quite suddenly. “He (Joe phoned me three weeks ago and said I’m going to be in Mullagh for the last week in May, can you make it? I said Joe I can’t make it. My daughter said to me you’re going whether you like it or not!” says Pat.
Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.