Alec Davis, Part 2.

I was at the school beyond in Cloonaquin for a few years.  A small school set up by the Dromahair landlord, Mr LaTouche for his Protestant tenants. It was all right, I learned more outside of it than in, from newspapers or books that I could get my hands on. There were no more than eight of us there. Arragh, I was always getting in trouble, either fallin asleep or asking too many questions.  I got top marks all the same.

Alec Davis on an ass and cart circa 1934.
This is most likely the transport that took my mother’s generation to Masterson National School.

The memory is a great thing and mine has always been sharp. I just need to see or hear something wanst and I have it for good, a story, song, whatever. From when I was small the neighbours loved me coming in. They would question me up and down about what I knew. Maybe from the last paper I’d seen I would tell them how the army was fairing against the Boers, or about some strange part of the Empire. But divil the hate I knew what I was telling them. That’s where it all started.

I was working the farm here with Daddy for over 20 years, my brothers leaving one by one all the while. Richard and myself got the farm after Daddy died, we owned it for the first time then. Richard would have been a landlord himself if he could, starting with old Frank McLaughlin up there. Oh, he was smart like his father and was always hatching some new plan. Maybe cause I was older or that I’d already helped to build this place up, with the new house, I let Richard get on with it. I’d been a few times up to John in Meath then, and met Margaret.

Before I left, I fixed up the wee toilet for Annie. I gathered the water off the yard in a big drain, dug it down to the bottom of the haggard and built the toilet over it there.  And sure as not, once or twice a year some flood or other would clear all the dirt down into the meadow below, never blocked once that I remember.

I always had a feel for water. I could look at a farm of land or a field and knew which way it should be drained.  Where to catch the water or where the springs were rising. I set up the big tank at the top of the yard, found a good flowing spring not too far away, it rising not two yard from a ditch, runs the year round.

Alec and Margaret Davis’s home Corballis, Donore, Co Meath.
Image Google maps circa 2015

Home Rule troubled us at the time. We depended on England for everything, sure we were the one country. Richard and myself went to a few of the meetings that were opposing it. One of them in the market-house in Manorhamilton was packed to overflowing, we had to stay out in the street. The Orange lodges were active here too but there was nera one in Boggaun. I think my Uncle Thomas was the only one of us in it, we have his sash somewhere in the house, or I believe it’s his.

Everything changed after the Easter rebellion, it was never the same again. We didn’t get boycotted here but John did earlier, beyond in South Leitrim when he took that evicted farm, before he moved on to Meath. I heard some big houses around the country were being burned out then. And when I was at Corballis we heard the big – BOOM! – when the Boyne monument was blown up by the IRA, not more than a mile away from us. With all the changes and turmoil going on you couldn’t help but think the odd time, that they might come for us too.

Then Independence and a Border came. During those times some of our family and friends sold up and left for the North or went across the water. How and ever the sun kept rising, the cows were milked, dinners made to feed hungry bellies and the childer kept on growing.  At Boggaun, after the blaggard ran off with our money, they had their own troubles without looking beyond the gate. We worked with neighbours like we always had, worked the mayheals, and the hired man got a fair day’s pay. Before I knew it, the worst seemed to be past and I suppose looking back at it now, it caused us no real bother.

Alec’s brother Richard circa 1930

The radio’s the new thing now, even Mary Jane listens to it. And at last Annie and herself have made their peace.  The young ones grow up around me like nettles in spring, always wanting a story or a few riddles before bedtime. And sure, I’m more than happy to oblige.



1.  Alec and his sister Mary Jane are buried in Manorhamilton Parish Church Graveyard. Their names do not appear on the family headstone.

2.  Alec Davis features significantly in the Davises contributions to the Masterson National School addition to The Schools Collections. Many of his contributions of stories, riddles, lore and song can be seen  at the link – Alec Davis in The Schools Collection

3.  Frank McNally in the Irish Times discusses the origins of the ballad “The Rocks of Bawn” in the article and refers to Ena and Phyllis’s entry collected from Alec Davis in The School’s Collection.

4.  Thanks to Padraig Fitzpatrick for his recollection of Boggaun neighbours recounting of Mary Jane’s rows with Annie Davis including her comment to the effect – Twas my mistake to let ye in atall! 

5.  Alec, like a few others local story tellers, appears a number of times as a source to the stories and recollections in local school contributions to The Schools Collection. Alec is likely to have been the source of much of the very extensive contribution of his sister in-law Nan Gillmor living at Bohey House which is sourced to her. Nan Gillmor was a principal at Carrigeencor National School. Generally, these story tellers recorded in the Schools Collection, represent the final era of the oral tradition in Ireland. The School Collection can be searched and browsed at

6.  The article by Miriam Moffit, The Protestant experience of revolution in County Leitrim 1911-1928, is a fascinating paper on the Protestant experience of the period 1911 to 1928.

7.  The Boyne Obelisk, not far from the Davis home at Corballis was blown up by the IRA on 23rd May 1923.

8.  The “Maytheal” I’ve used is an imagined Anglicised term used by Alec for the more proper “meitheal”. The word meitheal describes the old Irish tradition, current in Leitrim until the 1970’s, where people in rural communities gathered together on a neighbour’s farm to help save the hay, some other crop, or urgent or significant farm task. Each person would help their neighbour who would in turn reciprocate. They acted as a team and everybody benefited in some way. This built up strong friendships, social cohesion and respect among those involved in the meitheal. Modified from

9.  For a commentary on agricultural broadcasts on early Irish public radio see

10.  Thanks to Padraig Fitzpartick and Dominic Rooney for their comments and encouragement.

Alec Davis (1869 – 1941)

It is 1934, Alec now 65, has returned to Boggaun after the death of his wife Margaret six years previous.  He has spent the ten years of his married life at Corballis, Donore in Co Meath farming beside his brother John. Mary Jane, his older sister is 70 years old. At Boggaun his brother Richard, aged 52, and Annie have eight children (Herbie, Reco, Ena, Cecil, Phyliss, Wallace, Alf and Jack, ages ranging from 19 to 2 years) The collapse of the cattle business some ten years ago still impacts on the family. Richard continues to pay off the debts as the bank attempts to sell the farm. This is part Alec’s imagined story, in two parts.

Alec Davis at Boggaun circa 1934

When I got back here it was almost settled between them – Mary Jane and Annie – they would sit side by side in the trap going off to church of a Sunday morning, like they were the best of friends. I’d been back a good few times and I knew what was going on between them. I tried to talk to Mary Jane, but it did no good. If ye ask me, the both of them, too serious, nera laugh or soft smile between them.

One of the McGoeys on the Rock was working here one summer. He told me that Mary Jane in the heat of a row would hurl her worst at Annie – Twas my mistake to let ye in atall!  I had to put my head down and clear off manys a time, he said to me.

But if Mary Jane could be a bit rough, she was a rock here over the years. She helped rear many of our younger ones including Richard, had some of them reading before they went to school. As Mammy got older, she took over the running of the house. When Mammy died and then Daddy all of a sudden, well, it was hers. Until almost ten years later Annie arrives.  

Sisters Maria and Margaret married to John and Alec Davis, repectively, circa 1925

I had a new start in Meath, one I never thought I would have. Not long after I married Margaret, we discovered that she had some sort of sickness. We were extending the house then and farming all the while, and with John’s help we were going along fairly well. Margaret was a fighter, but no one could tell us what was the matter, and she struggled on for a few more years. The poor cratur went very quick in the end. Her sister living beside us was a great comfort to her. We had a few good years together at Corballis and travelled to places I only read about, Dublin and down as far as Arklow in Wicklow.

But when I look back on it, I didn’t quite find my place there. Maybe I was too old when I got married, as many joked to me. Oh, Margaret and I were happy, we were comfortable enough. But I missed Boggaun, the welcoming neighbours and hills around me. I didn’t travel so much about the unfamiliar townlands in Meath. I never said anything to Margaret, but her sister Maria knew. She said to me one time that I was too set in my ways when I came to Corballis. We buried poor Margaret with her mother beyond in Duleek. Meath seems another life to me now.

Arragh what are we at all? Different lives in different places and we all end in the graveyard. And if not in the same graveyard, we’re facing the same way. God only knows the reason for it all. I’m sure I don’t.

John and Maria Davis, left, with others unknown. Behind is Alec and Margaret’s house. Photograph circa 1930.

Well I knew it was a bad situation here at Boggaun and when my affairs were tidied up at Corballis, I came back, left what I could to John and Maria, they were very good to us.

Poor Richard and Boggaun, ruined by the blaggard, took all we had worked for, our own kind too, God blast him. Put us back fifty year. Arragh, in spite of it all, I was glad to be back and helpin out, among the small army of childer around me. And I was soon back in my old ways.  The friends and neighbours hadn’t changed too much, I got a great welcome home.

Continues in Part 2

Mary Jane Davis, Part 4.

It all changed the year Richard got married. A year of turmoil it was. Sein Fein won the election, many of our men didn’t vote, a few difficult days with neighbours. I had to fight for my place here too, after more than ten years of runnin the house. And Alec was gone, married and livin in Meath. No one to back me up.

A drawing based a poor quality wedding photograph of Richard Davis and Annie Gillmor circa 1930.

Richard and Annie were married in Dromahair Church a month before the armistice was signed and the Great War ended. It was only startin here.  

She arrived her gosling wings barely gone, thinking it’s hers to run. Reading her books and poems, ways like the gentry, lucky to get Richard at all, she was. Oh, we’ve had it out manys a time, at it hammer and tongs sometimes. I had my ways, knowin the place like I do, she had hers. No Alec to come between us. Richard coming down on her side. Eventually she got her way, when the first childer were born; I suppose it was only right too. Arragh, I can be far too head strong for my own good.

Now they ignore me.  Alec smiles at me, asks am I alright? What does he think?

It was some shock ten year ago when Richard lost it all, everything, I mean all we had. It seemed to be goin so well. Settin himself up on his own terms, makin great profit from the cattle shippin.  Behind his back some said he was too soft, didn’t have himself covered well enough. But that blaggard, the crook, the, may God forgive me, the names I’ve called him, he ruined us.

Days of turmoil and tears, slowly seepin in what had happened. The loss of the money, yes, but the debts, God help us, we were finished, the Bank wantin everything. The Rector called, prayed like it was a death, didn’t make it any better.

Three of us and the childer, when it happened. We had a man as well, Robert, Robert Maxwell, but we had to let him go. The days passed and we learned to live with less, the childer knew nothing. A felt sorry for Annie now, a baby arriving almost every year. And fair play, she fell to it, what else could she do. Worked harder, made all our clothes, nothin too low for her now. Look at us, in our big slated house, puttin a brave face on it; sold what we could, worked ourselves harder, bought little. We ate so much salted herring in them first years, I’m sick of the sight of it.

And the bank keeps chasin us for more, putting the place up for sale every year, we could be on the road, God help us. But Richard dug in, his faith behind him. He would pay it all back, he said, the farmers, shippers, John in Meath, all of them, get going again, he said. God help us.  

I always kept the garden, you know, the big one up beyond the White Field. Loved my time up there, grew fine rows of cabbages, carrots and beans in the peaty loam, damp in the driest of years, I could be lost there. I often sung to myself. In bad times pleadin, and prayin to God. I still have a seat up there, although I don’t keep the garden. In the warm summer sun, I’ll go up there sit for a while, get away it from all here and thank God for the life I’ve had.


Mary Jane’s brother Alec will feature in the next blog.


1.  I never knew my Grandaunt Mary Jane Davis. This imagined monologue is based on the circumstances and events surrounding her life and a few mentions my mother made of her. It does not reflect the complexity, vitality and colour of her life and I make apologies to her memory for any gross errors in her portrayal.

2.  The first note on the Valuation Office records in 1862 shows John Davis with 47 acres at Boggaun. Patrick McKay is noted as living here as a tenant in the haggard but not by 1880 valuation, it is presumed he had died.  The valuation of 1880 shows a significant increase indicating the new house was built by then. Griffiths Valuation circa 1850 shows John Davis at the same property.

The Valuation Office has a manuscript archive containing rateable valuation information of all property in the state from mid 1850s until the early 1990s; and commercial property only from that time. This archive shows the changes after the revision of properties and is recognised as a census substitute for the period from the 1850s to 1901 (the earliest complete census record for Ireland). The archive may be used to trace the occupiers of a particular property over a period of years. These records are not available online.

3.  Mary Jane’s father was James Davis born at Glenboy (1833-1909). Her mother was Elizabeth Jane nee Mealy or O’Malley (? – 1910) from the nearby townland of Tawnymanus.

4.  Mary Jane’s siblings all born at Boggaun were: John (1861-1931), Thomas (1865-1920) James (1867-1894), Robert (1868-1915), Alexander-Alec (1869-1941), William (1872-1950), Richard (1882-1961).

5.  My Grandparents Richard and Annie were married on the 23 Oct 1918 in Drumlease Parish Church, Dromahair.

6.  Alec Davis married Margaret Taylor (nee Cartwright, a sister of his brother John’s wife Maria) in 1918 in St Kienan’s Church of Ireland, Duleek, Co Meath. Margaret died 30th December 1928 and Alec returned to Boggaun sometime after that.

7.  The blog on the boyfriends of Mary Jane is completely fictious.

8.  Neighbours at Boggaun recalled the fiery rows between Annie and Mary Jane and these accounts were recounted by Patrick Fitzpartick to his son Padraig. Thanks to Padraig for this story.

9.  I recall there was a large vegetable garden in the location described which had not be worked for several years and finding remnants there including a broken chair. The photograph of the chair above is staged.

10.  These blogs on the life of Mary Jane relate to other previous blogs particularly Richard Davis, Swindled.

11.  At a later time it is planned to provide a link to related documents where they appear unique, for example, the RIC record of the boycotting of John Davis at Garradice, and various army and RIC records.

Mary Jane Davis, Part 3.

There was a small army of us here growing up here. They were good times. But I suppose the place eventually got too small for us all. Thomas was the first to leave, he went to Canada in 1886, made a good life there for himself, I believe. John left soon after, I was sorry to see him go. Robert joined the Royal Artillery in Derry, came out alive, but poor James wasn’t so lucky. A few years after he signed up he was dead, at 26, we never did hear the right reason for it. William joined up too, in South Africa, came home to get married and we never saw him after that. It was just Alec, me and Richard then, the big house empty.

Richard Davis at Larkfield, Boggaun circa 1930.

Before Daddy died, he was buying Frank’s ground. It was the first time we could buy land, the laws had changed. Old Frank McLaughlin wanted to sell, no one left but him. We gave him his time up there, even gave him a stipend to look after the place. A grand man he was, came down often to ceile. It’s poor enough grazing but it mairned our ground, too good an opportunity to pass it up. It was just as the Land Leaguers were getting their way; they couldn’t say we took it away from him.

John, the oldest, was never content with our daubby soils. Him and John McCordock left for spoilt farms in Garradice, the year before Queen Victoria died it was. They were boycotted by the Land League. John moved on with his wife and childer to better lands in County Meath, in the Pale, a better place for the likes of us, maybe. He made a go of it, built up a fine place in no time. Made us feel the poor relation when they would come a visitin here; always well dressed, stories of progress and new houses. I went up to see them once, it was all true, a different country it was, soft rolling green hills as far as you could see, near the famous Boyne river. They took me to see where King Billy crossed on his white horse.

John and Maria Davis with their family at Boyne View Lodge, Corballis, Donore, Co Meath circa 1916.
Back row: Richard, Robert , Alfred
Front row: Maria, Thomas, George, Elizabeth (missing John James in USA)

Alec should have made more of it, no great ambition in him. Liked to ceile too much, he’d stay away some nights. I always thought he was a home bird and he proved me right in the end. John arranged a wife for him. His sister-in-law, Margaret, a widow woman; they were married in Duleek in 1918, a few months before Richard, it was. John, God be good to him, helped set him up in Corballis, beside his own place.  But then back he comes when she dies about 10 years later. Don’t understand it. He was nera one for the straight road, too much devilment in him.

When we got the ass and cart for to take the childer to school, he wanted to be the first up on it, like a child himself. And then Tommy Davis arrived from Meath with the camera, well, sure he couldn’t leave it till he got his picture taken up on it.

Always looked out for me though, after Richard got married and she took over. And wrote to me regular from the County Meath. Maybe he took a pity on us when we got into this trouble, and came back. I think maybe he just prefers it here.

Final Part 4 to follow.