Mary Jane Davis 1864 – 1937

Mary Jane Davis was my grandfather Richard’s sister, my grand aunt. She lived all her life at Boggaun, Co Leitrim. This imagined monologue is in four parts. It is 1934 and she is 70 years old. No photographs of her survive.

Part 1

I’m seventy years now, little value to no one. The young ones run wild; there’s too many to remember the names. Nera one listens to me; they pretend to ignore me, think my tongue’s too sharp, but they hear me. I’ve lived here longer that any of them, know it better. Seen it grow from a rough cottage to a fine slated house, the best around, doubled our land too. But now, we’re in a bog-hole of debt, God help us, where will it end. My father always said we got through the Great Hunger without missing a dinner, so I suppose we should manage now; maybe the worst is behind us.

The Davis farm at Boggaun mapped circa 1850s. Source OSI.

I was born here, no, not in this house in the old house, where the byre is now. A rough place when they arrived in the 1840s, I heard them say. Couldn’t pay the landlord. Old Patrick McKay, his family gone and wife long dead, lived out his time in that wee house in the haggard; I used to take a dinner to him was he was near the end.

This place was got by my grandfather, John, for Daddy and his brother Thomas, but Thomas left for Canada a few years before I was born.

It was a grand place though, our old house. I used to sleep beside the big open hearth sometimes; I can still remember the smell and sounds of the kitchen. My mother, Lizzy, kept it tidy and clean, kept us well fed. All of us running around causin mischief. I was happy then. No great rush on me to work, they said. But I did my jobs and went to school over in Cloonaquin; the world seemed so big then. As I got older, I discovered everything changes, nothing stays the same, ye can’t go back.

When I was a young woman my father started building the new house; Patrick was dead then and we tumbled his house for the stone. Everyday there were men about the place, building, cartin stone and the like. Daddy was making improvements to the farm, while buyin and sellin, cattle and horses. He always had some new plan; when the new house was finished he wanted to turn the old house into a byre and stable, with a hay loft over it.

Original thatched cottage where Mary Jane was born in 1864, converted to a byre and stable with a hay loft above.

The workmen quarried stone in the White Field, where the big hole is now; we used to play and hide in there, and in the river beyond at the Alt; I caught an odd fish there too. Daddy built a fine house; all the men worked hard and ate all we could put before them. A fine two-story house built about 40 years after the Great Hunger, the talk of Boggaun and around.

Of the eight of us only Richard was born in the new house, the rest half-grown or gone by the time he knew our names. He was 28, and still the baby to me, when Daddy and Mammy died within six months of each other, and Alex and him took over the farm. Still, when the census man came around the following year, in 1911, I was put down as head of the household.

Notes will appear at the end of the Part 4.

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