Leaving home.

The next series of blogs will focus on my mother and her siblings as they outgrew their Boggaun home, Larkfield, in County Leitrim and moved away. Growing up in Ireland in the 1930s and 1940s offered little by way of opportunity and like the previous two generations of Davises born here, many would emigrate.  This piece is by way of an introduction.

Author with Granny Davis circa 1954.

The regular visits of my brothers, sister and myself to our grandparent’s farm at Boggaun were formative.  We were captivated by the place, and for a few years the confines of the farm were a limitless space to play in and to explore, where grandparents and uncles lavished us with attention. As we got older and began to help around the house and farm, moving further afield, we were to discover that north County Leitrim was remarkably different from our home, the busy market town of Ballymena.   

On tip toes at the kitchen window, you could look down and count the few cars on the main Manorhamilton to Carrick-on-Shannon road, perhaps watching out for Granny returning off the bus from her weekly shopping trip. A bike ride to McNulty’s shop in Killargue encountered few cars, or people. Sometimes it seemed as if we had the place to ourselves. Indeed we saw very few other children, neither in neighbouring houses nor in the family circle.

Other than Manorhamilton, the towns were small and drab, and full of pubs, we were told. On Sundays the congregation at Manorhamilton Parish Church was very small, even with a scattering of summer visitors like ourselves; the brave voices from the pews easily countering the small choir.

The farmhouse had no running water and no inside toilet.  There was a “long drop” toilet down in the haggard, which the men never seemed to use, and which was flushed by seasonal floodwater in an underground drain. Everything was more basic, simpler than we were used to.

Reco, Ena, Jack and Cecil Davis circa 1945

When my mother and her siblings grew up during the 1930s and 1940s there were many other young families in Boggaun and neighbouring townlands: the McManus’, Fitzpatricks, McGoortys, McTigues, Gaffneys and others. The children of these families were their friends. They knew their farms and farmhouses and walked together to National School.  With no education beyond primary level many of the family stayed there as long as they could, and only Phyllis and Jack went on to secondary school, “The Tech”, when it opened in Manorhamilton in 1935.

It was a tough time to be setting out on life.  With few rural jobs and no transport to employment in the larger towns of Carrick on Shannon or Sligo, many from these townlands left home and emigrated. And during these years the Davis family had their own financial problems, living on the edge of bankruptcy when the farm was regularly put up for sale by a bank seeking repayment.

During these years Leitrim was emptying; abandoned hill farms, where dauby gley soils yielded little for the years of backbreaking work; lonely farmhouses occupied mostly by the elderly and single men; a damp drumlin land seeping emigrants.

Ivor, author’s brother learning to use a hammer at Larkfield.

By the time we were playing around Larkfield, only Granny, Granda and Uncle Cecil remained. The others, Reco, Wallace, Alf, Phyllis, Jack and Ena, my mother, had gone, or were leaving to new lives.

They may have felt pushed by their parents, or lured by distant opportunity, or both, but despite their love for family and home they had little choice.

I don’t know how much of this we sensed at the time, but as the car bumped down the lane on our return to Ballymena we were often heavy and tearful, looking out the back windows waving at the solitary figures of Granny and Uncle Cecil at the gable of the farmhouse, their arms raised in farewell, until we could no longer see them through the thickening roadside trees and hedges.


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