Ballinagar 50 years ago was a much smaller place than it is now. There were no housing estates, no streetlights or footpaths. There was a row of cottages on the Geashill road and a few houses in the village. Close by was a church and a run-down hall which was the old school. The school was a two- roomed school with a prefab at the back. There was a shop and a post office where Coco heat is now and beyond the school on the Cappincur road was the ruins of an old hall. Across from the school was the schoolmaster’s house. Opposite the church was a thatched house. There were a few thatched houses just outside the village. There was no cemetery or football pitch. There were the two sets of pumpsticks, one on the Geashill road and the other on the Killeigh road. There was the remains of an old forge on top of what is now called Crowley’s lane and there was another forge at Ballycommon cross called Gorman’s forge. There was no water or sewage scheme at the time but there were a couple of pumps in the village where people got their water.
There was neither oil nor gas central heating so everyone had to either cut or buy turf. Most families had their own turf banks in the local bog. Everyone in the family would be involved with this. First the bank had to be cleaned then the turf was cut with the slane and drew on a barrow to be spread on the bank. The summer was spent turning and footing turf and drawing it home.
Most people had their own gardens where they sowed potatoes and vegetables. They did their own baking and a lot of families had their own hens for eggs. Some had their own cows and these would graze the grass banks on the roads by day. Milk was delivered to the local shop by the local creamery. It came in a glass bottles. The empty bottles would be returned to the creamery to be refilled. Meat was got in the butchers in Daingean or Tullamore and some people still fattened their own pig. People all worked locally with Bord Na Mona or Salts in Tullamore and some with local farmers. Early every morning you would see a lot of people cycling to work.
There was one telephone in the village and everyone used this when needed. Doctors did call outs to sick and Ballinagar had its own midwife as most women still gave birth at home.
Most farming produce was sold locally. There was a bacon factory and creamery in Tullamore. Beet was brought to Ard station in Geashill to be sent to the beet factory. Wheat and barley would be brought to Williams’s in Tullamore or Odlums in Portarlington. Barley and wheat for own use was brought to Briens in Clonmore who had a water mill for grinding grain
All summer the local children would be out on local farms thinning and weeding beet, mangles and turnips and later pulling turnips and picking potatoes to earn extra income for the families
Once a year a group of then called Tinkers would park their horses and horse drawn caravans alongside the Killeigh road and camp there for a couple of weeks. These went around the village mending buckets, pots and pans etc. and when they were finished would move on to another village.
Ballinagar had its own thatcher called Larry Hackett and most gates and iron works in the area were made by Tyrrells. There were also people who were noted as experts in a particular field and these were got when people had trouble with a cow calving for example. Jimmy Scully provided a taxi service in the area. A few families were known to have cures for ailments like ringworm, whooping cough, warts and yellow jaundice. There is a tomb in Ballinagar church yard where people went to cure warts and there was still a belief in cures at the four wells –Toberleheen.
Religion played a big part in daily life
Religion and the local church festivals played a big part in people’s lives. Mass was every Sunday morning and people flocked to the church. Men sat on one side of the church and women on the other. Women had to leave their heads covered. Only boys were allowed to serve mass. Once a month there was Benediction after mass and this would be celebrated in Latin and the church would be filled with the smell of incense. Festivals like Easter and Christmas drew big crowds to the church. People observed fasting and abstinence. Also missionaries visited the church and there were novenas. There was a small blue hut outside the church where rosary beads and religious statues and books were sold. When the angelus bells rang at 12 noon and 6 pm people stopped what they were doing and said the angelus. After mass a lot of people would stay at the church wall chatting for ages coming up to election time.
GAA was the big thing for entertainment
For entertainment the GAA was the big thing. As the local team had no field they trained in the school master’s field and used to get a loan of a field from local farmers to play matches. There were legendry rivalries with local clubs and people flocked to these matches. Young people gathered in the village in the evenings and played football on the street or in the school yard. They played other games like ‘last in the burrow’ and a game called ‘on the run’ which involved older boys who were the catchers the rest went on the run around the village. When someone was caught they were brought to the school shed to ‘prison’. The older people used to play pitch and toss at the shop and throw horse shoes in the local park. They went to people’s houses to play cards and big card games were held in the local pub and halls locally. They went to dances in the local villages and towns. There was a maypole held in Tommy Dunne’s field which was famous. Tommy and his brother Dick along with other musicians played the music. Some of the goings on at the maypole sometimes did not go down well with the parish priest and sometimes he paid a visit to keep an eye on things!!!
Drama in Ballinagar
Ballinagar had a drama society and they put on plays in the local hall. They also entered these plays in competitions and always did well. Plays were also put on in the hall by neighbouring drama societies and sometimes there were plays by the travelling troops of actors from Dublin.
Ballinagar had its own fair share of ghost stories and these would be told to us by all the older people in the evenings. There was the WHITE LADY who was supposed to haunt the village. Along the Daingan road people said that the devil appeared. The blue style on the Ballycommon road was supposed to be haunted and near the blue style was the hanging tree. There was also an old-style way which went through Ballycrumlin and Toberleheen which we were warned never go near at night. We were told stories of people being led astray at night by the Will-of-the -Wisp, which was supposed to be a ghost light. Some families were supposed to be followed by the Banshee and they heard crying when someone in the family was going to die.
As there was no cemetery in Ballinagar local people who died were either buried in Annagharvey or Raheen. As there was no road way into Annaghavey at that time the coffin had to be either carried in or brought in by tractor and trailer. When someone died a wake was held and all the neighbours brought food and drink to the house. They would stay there until the burial helping and telling stories. The neighbours would also dig the grave. It was important to people not to leave the deceased alone and also to still have a normal life going on around the deceased.
Going to school in Ballinagar
Children walked to school at the time. The principal was Mr Shanahan and around then he was replaced by Mr Sullivan. Miss Connolly was also a teacher there. Families would have to take turns to bring turf to school. Water for the school was got from the pump where Scally’s are now. The toilets were in a shed at the back of the school. There were two concrete shelters each side of the school with a concrete yard. One was the girl’s yard and the other the boy’s yard and boys and girls were not allowed to mix at playtime. A lot of children would have had chores to do at home before they came to school. Boys all wore short trousers. In the autumn the school master would get the sixth class out to pick his potatoes. Corporal punishment was used and slaps with a ruler or a stick on the hands was the usual punishment. At break time boys played football or lost in the burrow. The girls played hopscotch and other games. Class sizes were probably nine or ten. Infants to first class were in one room, second third and fourth class were in a prefab and fifth and sixth were taught by the headmaster. Girls were taught sewing and knitting. When walking to school in the mornings there were certain places along the road where the children would meet and then head off to school together.
Ballinagar 50 years ago was a quiet small village, but it was full of good characters and larger than life characters and self-sufficient.
A great place to grow up.