My mother,

Bridget Rochford called Birdie, was born on the 8th of December 1900. She had two sisters and a brother. Their parents died when they were young. Our mother went to live with her aunt Mrs. Sarah Sheedy.


·         The Rochfords descended from Spain.

The Spanish Armada, a fleet of 130 ships with 8.000 sailors and 19.000 infantry onboard, attacked the British in 1588 in the English Channel. A strong wind forced the Spanish to sail around Scotland and Ireland.

Again a storm hit them, many ships and men were lost. Some made it ashore. They could not return to Spain, they would have been shot, so they moved in with family and got married.

The west coast of Ireland is full of Spanish names and people having Spanish features (i.e. jet-black hair etc.).

History tells us, that a certain Captain Rochford walked down the main street of Limerick with Daniel O'Connell in the year 1848. Probably father or uncle of Martin, Mums Dad.

Pakie.gif (889516 Byte)Father,

Patrick Arthur Neilan called Pakie, was born on the 23rd of January 1889. He had two brothers and five sisters, which included twins, in Laughshaughnessy. His father Martin died when Pakie was 10 years old, he was the eldest. Their mother Susan was a powerful woman, owning 300 acres of land, ran a very successful farm, usually hired a lot of workers. She was the boss.

Dad was a member of the I.R.A., however the old I.R.A. was active beginning somewhere about 1918. It was created because the British refused to give Ireland its freedom. Instead they sent over the Black & Tans. A bloody civil war broke out, in which thousands of people got killed. Today's I.R.A. became active around 1967 and has nothing to do with the original I.R.A.

As mother was living only a mile over the road from Dad's house, they often met and got married in 1920. Susan bought them a farm the other side of Gort, called Glenbrack, from Lord Nilan, separated from the neighbour by a domain-wall, 10 foot high and some of the finest land in the country.

The very first Sunday-morning they went to mass. When they returned the house was burned down. Dad loaded up the gun, ordered the neighbour - The Mulloys - out of their house and then burned theirs down. Two days later Dad was fired upon at Ballinger's corner. He pulled his pistol and fired back at the shape in the doorway. The bullet lodged in the doorframe, it was noticeable for many years. Years later I remarked to Dad that he was lucky, he did not kill the man. His answer: it was a pity I missed the bastard.

ur family was a total of 13:


23. 01. 1889

+ 10. 02. 1980


08. 12. 1900

+ 05. 05. 1974


23. 06. 1922

+ 04. 04. 1995


01. 07. 1923



31. 08. 1924



11. 12. 1925



24. 08. 1927



04. 02. 1929



24. 08. 1930

+ 05. 08. 1985


23. 05. 1932



12. 11. 1933



21. 07. 1936



03. 05. 1944


Both of our parents worked very hard, even though Mum ran the household, she also helped in the farm. We did general farming: a little of everything, which eliminated paying out money, except the bare essentials.

·         Wheat
sufficient to last the year to bake brown or white bread. It was taken to Hyne's mill to be ground. It had to be carried up three floors, tipped in. It was turned by a waterwheel. You could pay cash or barter off some corn, for grinding your portion.

·         Oats
a portion was kept for feeding mostly for the horses, the balance was sold. This was usually turned into oatmeal to make porridge.

·         Barley
it was all sold. Mostly to produce whiskey.

·         Trashing Day
the trashing-machine was owned by Junior Mahoney. It usually took a day and required a team of about a dozen people to keep it operating. The corn had to be stored. The stray was preserved to bed-down the cows, pigs, horses etc.

·         Hay
some fields were fenced off in April for hay. It would be cut by two horses drawing a machine with Dad sitting on it, guiding the team. After three to four days it was turned, sometimes twice or three times to dry out. Before it was trimmed, the field was raked, not to waste a sop. Four weeks later the trams was loaded in a horse-cart, taken in the hagger and a big hay-cock with pole in the middle for strength, later it was thatched to protect against rain, snow etc. It was used to feed horses, cows etc. all over the winter, it was a routine.

·         Potatoes
first you ploughed the field, which had grown corn the previous year. After removing all the weeds it was drilled. The dung, which was collected from the cows, horses and pigs being housed over the winter, was spread evenly. The skillets spaced 13 inches apart, then covered with clay. It was a similar process with cabbage, onions, turnips, mangles and beet.

·         Animal:
Horses, Ponies, asses, cows, sheep, pigs, goats, geese, turkeys, hens, ducks: just imagine all reproducing insufficient numbers to keep the family and also have enough left over to sell, in order to buy sugar, tea, candles, or oil for a lamp, note: "no" electricity.

·         Shoes
when worn out were soled and repaired, equipment required a last, a stud, a hemp, some wax and strings and leather, which was the biggest cost. This was men's work. I think all the boys were men at eight years of age.

·         Knitting, sewing, ironing, milking, cooking, hair styling was girl's work. Mother was the chief supervisor!

·         The sewing machine
Mum should have become a designer! What she could not do with a sewing machine was not worth doing. Again all dresses for the girls and trousers for the boys were designed and manufactured by Mum and then the endless altering to fit the person in question. That machine was often still going unto the early hours in the morning. No words or praise would come near doing homage to her - may her soul rest in piece. Anyway she is sitting right up there with the Blessed Virgin.

Mum and Dad worked from daylight to dark, seven days a week. They knew it was Sunday, because they went to mass. It is difficult to comprehend, how all the work was accomplished. Everybody had to go to school and pass their exams: Each was allotted jobs like cleaning out the cow-dung, water the cattle, pick the stones, and weed the crops. It is amazing all the work that was done. It was like an Army, each having been instructed how to perform each specific job. Probably Dad's experience in the I.R.A. ordering people around. When work was done manually, Dad supplied each with a spade or a hayfork. The main stay were horses for ploughing, harrowing, rolling, preparing the ground for the next crop.

The usual day

·         Dad would prepare the horses, hemes, saddle, and bridges and hook them up to the cart. Put a feeding-bag on their heads, mostly oats. 

·         Others milked cows, fed the pigs, cleaned out the stalls, cut wood for burning, counting and inspecting sheep. 

·         Mum prepared the breakfast, which was no easy feat. Start the fire, cook water, boil the eggs etc. The table laid for around a dozen heads. Off the school a mile and a half's walk or run in hail, rain or snow to Kiltartan School or the convent in Gort for the girls. A satchel for books and a sandwich, pocket money for chocolate, ice cream or a bun: you must be joking! School started at 8 o'clock and finished at 4 o'clock, Monday till Friday.

After school a repeat performance: the jobs, which varied depending on the time of the year.

·         Sheep: digging them, picking maggots, peering hoofs, dosing sick ones or killing them to stop disease. When lambs were born: light the lantern, go out and check if they were o.k., sometimes brought them into the kitchen, light up a fire to heat them up in the middle of the night. Some wool was turned into knitting-wool for pullovers etc. and a certain amount sold.

·         Thinking back: when did our parents sleep? Because pigs, cows, horses needed the same attention. Hens-, turkeys-, geese-, duck-nests were prepared. Mum's pocket money was the revenue from selling the turkeys.

·         Sickness: doctors, tablets: never heard of such things, but cod liver oil, poultice, herbs, hot milk. On rear occasions did a doctor enter the house, only to sew up cuts. We often hear stories about calling doctors in the middle of the night for a fever or other insignificant causes, it never happened in Glenbrack.

·         Food: a pig was killed every six month. A hook was hooked under the jowl and knocked out with an axe with a blow to the head. It was placed on a cart and it's throat cut. The blood was collected to make Black Pudding, using the guts. The bladder was used as a football. It broke the big mirror over the fireplace. The tail was used to whip a few of the guilty ones, not to mention seven years of bad luck due to a broken mirror. Back to the pig, it was hung for a couple of days, cut up into eight fletches, salted, placed in a barrel for six weeks. Then hung over the kitchen fireplace to smoke and dry out.

·         Breakfast: bacon and eggs Midday: meat and cabbage (boiled pork)

·         Evening: stew this was standard food five days a week.

·         Friday: fish (no meat), mostly herring. It was a sin that had to be confessed to a priest. No fried eggs either. Sarah O'Loughlin told us. You might as well eat the devil as drink his blood. A preference to using fat to fry an egg.

·         Sunday was feast day: geese, chickens, ducks, pigeons.

The forest Coole was half a mile away, it belonged to the British Gentry Lord Goff and Lady Gregory, we had no hesitation to poaching. Dad had a double barrel shotgun, licensed to be used within the farm boundaries. Only very few of our neighbours had a gun. We roamed around the forest and lakes and shot rabbits, hares, pigeon, pheasant and duck. Nice food and of course the skins were sold, pocket-money!

·         Dad was a sharp shooter and trained all the boys to shoot. After mass on Sunday, with a few boxes of cartridges, he taught us the exact second to shoot snide, allowing the bird to fly into the line of sight. Wild duck and wild geese often graced the Sunday-table for lunch.

·         I am sure, some members of the family remember the episode of killing thirteen geese with one shot from Dad's gun. A brother knocked off 15, a mixture of ducks and curfews - a total of fifteen birds with one shot, maybe it should be in the Guinness book of records. In all those years a certain guard in Gort set out to catch us in Coole, but Dad's training was second to none. After the guard retired, we had a pint of porter at Spellman's and he mentioned we were legions and also respected the Neilans, maybe it was Dad's name in the I.R.A.

·         Rabbits never overtook Ireland like Australia. I maintain it was Micky and his hound Carlo. Up to twenty on Sunday met their waterloo at his cunning methods - pocket money he called it.

Irish are best trained and best suited to succeed at any trade to name a few: hairdressing, cutting, curling with a tong, platting. This was a Saturday-night, repairing and modifying cloth, ironing. An iron-insert was heated with red coal, no jumping the cue either. The tongue I seen Dad repair a bicycle pump by beating it into shape on a stone. I used the same tactic to repair a hydraulic relief valve on an aircraft in the Congo. The tongue also made the support on a sling - remember ye guys!!

·         Bicycles: the main means of transport. Everybody could fix punctures, brakes, chains, and gears. Going to dances, hurling matches, sports. Mick Moran, Paddy Nolan and myself cycled to Burr and back - 124 Miles, leaving at six o'clock and back at midnight to see Cork beating Galway by four goals and two points in early 40's. Christy Ring scoring most for Cork. Lisdunvarna and back 50 miles. Got into Fahey's drapery-shop in time for work next morning, Mary can tell the rest of the story. Any old tube, that could not be repaired again, would be modified to a catapult, throwing something away was the last straw. Another highly used tool was the anvil, heating a piece of steel and beat it into shape. No problem in Glenbrack.

·         Carpentry: Dad owned a complete set of hand-tools and be manufacturing wooden chairs. Straw or hay was used to make sugans rope and intertwined to make the seat out of the chair. In the early 50's Dad, Jack and Tom built the new house of which Jack (R.I.P.) and family lived. When the old house was burned, they replaced the roof with slates; probably Dad thought it would be burned again. Anyhow the slates were installed in the new house.

·         Entertainment: the centre of the kitchen was cleared. Mother took down the Melodian (Concertina) several neighbours would show up. Irish Celtic set dancing, Preparation for the future. There were always decks of playing cards in the house, the main gambling game being: "The 25" and "Beggar your neighbour". Very good to train the memory. The younger ones sitting in front of the open fireplace.

·         Duffi's circus came to Gort once a year. The matinee late afternoon and the night-show! Mum and Dad always managed to have money for us all to go there. Cinema cost two Pence in an old shed belonging to Rave Cain. It is still there - opposite McNeills in Crow Street. There was no radio or television.

·         Hurling: was the main sport and each owned a hurling-stick - boys and girls. The field in front of the old house - we played seven a side. It was fiercely contested. Nearly all of us have some scares to remind us. Jack, Micky and myself played in the same team for Kiltartan.

·         Ghosts: the Ban-Shee followed Micko Dooley. He was running for his life. He just escaped into his house, banged the door closed before her face. With her big hair comb she hit the gable-end of the house and made a crack a foot wide from top to bottom. Micko often showed us the corner where he plastered it up.

·         Jack of the Lantern: this guy was really bad news! Once you seen the light you were compelled to follow it. You lost your orientation; you walked and walked until daylight, when you were released from the spell. That happened to our uncle Mattie in the big field.

·         The Rabbit: just as Martin Nolan was passing the graveyard in Kiltartan, a big black rabbit started running around him. He tried to hit him with his Schilalee (walking stick) - without success. Covered in sweat and exhausted he went into the graveyard, lied down on flagstone and kept soundly till daybreak. There was no doubt about it, but that Black Rabbit was the devil himself.

·         Horses Head: Dad was returning from a visit to Padraic Fahey Teliria on his bike. Just as he was passing the double gate leading into St. Coleman's well, a white head of a horse appeared on the roadside. He said: "Jesus, Mary and Joseph" and the head disappeared. I don't have to tell you, but every time we passed the gate, we were thinking of it. After darkness the Fear God was in us. Looking back on account of those stories, everybody in Ireland was afraid in the dark.

·         Religion: the Rosary was recited in the kitchen every evening. For school the catechism had to be learned by heart. The Bible was taught extra. A priest visited the school once a month; he would question each pupil an God forbid if you could not answer!

·         Church:  most of us went to early Mass,  so we would not waste the day. Father Cassidy usually said 11:00 o'clock and that took an hour. The Angela's Bell struck at 12:00 o'clock. Most the congregation took off their caps, blessed themselves and in less then 30 seconds said the Angela's - With a nod or a wink they would split up and disappear into their favourite pub - through the back door!

·         Confession: every four weeks on Saturday-night. The two curates were in demand, because Father Cassidy was a bit deaf and very precise. In trying to by-pass the queue and hoping Father Cassidy would not listen too carefully. This was a grave error!

·         My sin: I kissed Maggie so + so, he was shouting! How old are you? You will be damned in hell! The whole church could hear him. Needless to say! I exited with a red face and all eyes upon me. But it had also a good side to it, as I was more in demand with the girls!

Looking back on our youth and growing up, we were a happy family. Grudges or hatred was always temporary. When necessary, we stuck up for each other and being such a large family, nobody wanted to hassle with one of us, otherwise the whole clan would be on top of them.

A certain amount of rivalling was present among us, which was always encouraged by our parents. Dad would say: be careful -you don't finish up in bully acre (the graveyard for homeless and paupers). He was keen to have a priest or a nun in the family. Mum wanted someone to be a doctor. They failed on both accounts.

Father Cassidy would preach: it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to go to heaven. Some of you will have to sneak in - I suppose!

We were always in demand for working and at an early age, we started out in various directions.

I was a counter jumper at Batty Fahey's, Mary across the road in the millinery shop, Mick and Tom in building business etc., etc.. Much to the disgust of Pakie: Micky and myself joined up the Royal Air Force and put on King George's uniform.

But this is another story!

Dad's Toasts:

I have a good reason for drinking
one has just entered my head
if you don't drink when you're alive
how the hell can you drink when you are dead?

One summer's evening seven or eight cars were outside the house. A rumour spread: he was dead. In a short space of time about 100 cars were waiting to escort his remains to the church.

He went out to the lawn to prove he wasn't.

Himself and Patrick O'Connor went to Gort to celebrate and have a laugh. He obviously overdid it. Next day he had to go to hospital.

Brian and myself coincidentally arrived in Gort, only to be told by Jack Spellman what had happened.


We went directly to the hospital. Dad was sitting up in bed. When he saw us, he blessed himself and said:
"Jesus, now I know I am dead!
  (Well luckily he wasn't)