My sister and I took a ramble down memory lane yesterday in Bunratty Folk Park, Co. Clare. The ghosts of our parents and grandparents accompanied us. Along with the contents of twenty tourist buses.
As the tourists spilled merrily out along the meandering paths and cottages, we suspected both The Quiet Man and homesick forebears informed a more romantic view of their Ireland.
Smoke rises from the chimney, as the thatcher tends to his labours. The woman of the house is at home and has soda bread baking in the baker on the hearth.My father often spoke of the baker. It’s the little black pot to the front of the hearth in this picture. You may even make out the embers on top of the lid and surrounding the pot. The woman of the house informed us that it takes about an hour and a half to bake the soda bread in this way,
Our grandmothers both had very large families and farmwork to attend to. So, when we followed the woman out of the house on into the dairy it was another vaguely familiar scene from out childhood. One of our grandmother’s had a dairy too, and both grandmothers made their own butter.
They also made the clothes for their families. The Singer sewing machine was a standard piece of furniture from my father’s childhood.
As indeed, were pictures, and occasionally statues, of the Sacred Heart.
The amount of religious iconography as displayed in all of the Irish Catholic homes in Bunratty is just astonishing. But my sister and I agree that it was very typical right up until the 1980s in very many Irish homes.
And, while bedrooms might look like cosy features in this little houses, they were frequently damp, always overcrowded. Our mother often recalled sleeping head to tail with her four sisters in one bed.
Mind you, all five sisters were great talkers too, so I can’t see how they ever managed to get much sleep.
There is a carefully reconstructed village in the Folk Park. Complete with drapery and hardware shops…
…a doctor’s house…
..the home of the Hughes’ brothers who founded the HB ice-cream company…
…and the ubiquitous black Nelly which everyone aspired to owning in the 1930s Ireland.
And more somber times seated at school desks similar to this one. In our day, a little white ceramic inkwell sat inside the brass holder, while our nibs rested in the wooden groove across the top of the desk.
And the fact that we can recall that, made my sister and I feel very old indeed.
Oh, it is wonderful to rove around Memory Lane. The tourists we met had a delighted curiosity about it all, but we were close enough to it to know that they were tough times for very many people and the Ireland of today is a kinder place.
Though some would disagree…
“Ah, haven’t we lost a lot in this little country of ours. We had nothing long ago but at least we were happy. We’ve none of that now, and no sense of community any more.”
The man was in his fifties and seemed was evidently unsettled by his perambulations through the past. Sister and glanced at each other and shook our heads. Maybe men had an easier time back then, though it’s difficult to be sure from our perspective.
The Folk Park had given us a chance to piece together a little but more of our grandmother’s daily lives. We both agreed that it was a constant struggle for women in Ireland of yore. It’s easy to forget that amid the peaceful pastoral scenes of Bunratty Folk Park.
We so, we tumbled out of the Folk Park, thrilled with our journey, grateful to our forebears, and relieved to be living in 21st century Ireland.