Joe Heaney: Early Life (2)

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  • Teideal (Title): Joe Heaney: Early Life (2).
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 850406.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): none.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): none.
  • Uimhir Child (Child Number): none.
  • Cnuasach (Collection): Joe Heaney Collection, University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Teanga na Croímhíre (Core-Item Language): English.
  • Catagóir (Category): Joe’s background.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): Jill Linzee.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): between 1982 and 1984.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): University of Washington, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): inverview.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

In this long segment (nearly forty minutes), Joe shares details of his early memories, the mischief he got up to as a boy, economic conditions during his childhood and the ways in which his parents tried to make ends meet. He talks about going to National (primary) School and subsequently to ‘college’ — by which he means secondary school — in Dublin, and his early departure from there. His departure for ‘England’ — in fact, he went to Scotland where he had relations — and return at the outbreak of World War 2. The work he did in Ireland before returning to ‘England’ (again, Scotland) when peace returned. Topics and anecdotes include:

  • The time Joe stole the schoolmaster’s bicycle.
  • The time he ‘buried’ his sister1.
  • How his uncle coached Joe to win a foot-race by cheating.
  • How his uncle used to stage donkey-races between Joe and his sister.
  • What Joe remembers about the day he was born; early childhood.
  • Joe’s father away working a lot; importance of his grandmother’s pension money.
  • Doing jobs for neighbours; close-knit community looking out for one another.
  • Thatching.
  • Stories and singing in tigh Éinniú; mother’s family known for storytelling, including her uncle Pat Mór Mhichíl Shéamais (Big Pat Mulkerrin), who died young; Joe’s grandmother used to run a síbín (a retail outlet for poitín) in the house, and ‘that was a draw,’ but she stopped that when her daughter Bairbre married Pádraig Éinniú and brought him into the house.
  • First day Joe went to school.
  • Games played at home.
  • Joe’s schoolteacher, Mister Connolly and his wife; taught through medium of English; Joe’s favourite subjects English grammar and arithmetic; corporal punishment; children brought sod of turf every day to contribute to school heating; some children went miching (playing truant); girls and boys in school together; industrial schools ‘where the bad boys go’.
  • What people would do after leaving school.
  • Importance of remittances from abroad to people living at home.
  • Necessity of being well-connected in order to get work locally; institution of dole in the 1930s.
  • Size of Joe’s family.
  • How people supported themselves at home; fishing — but prices were low; Joe’s father in Scotland for months at a time, came home for good when Joe was about 12, died young; mother had hands full carding wool and knitting, or working for local grocer to pack dried carraigín for sale in return for credit at the shop.
  • Before- and after school jobs; lobster pots; going with the donkey for turf; ‘molding’ potatoes.
  • Attendance at mass and confession.
  • College’ in Dublin; ‘I dropped out, let’s put it that way’.
  • Went to ‘England’ until war broke out, worked in construction.
  • Scallop-fishing at home during the war2.
  • Cutting turf on the Bog of Allen to keep the trains running.


1. One of the stories Joe relates here, about the time he ‘buried’ his sister Kitty, became family folklore. Joe’s niece Máire Uí Mhaoilchiaráin described the occasion to Joe’s biographer, Liam Mac Con Iomaire (p. 63):

Bhí ar a mháthair dul ar shiochraid lá, agus choinnigh sí Seosamh sa mbaile ón scoil le aire a thabhairt don bheirt ab óige, Cite agus Síle. Nuair a bhí an mháthair imithe bhí Cite ag fiafraí: ‘Céard é sochraid?’ Ní hé amháin gur mhínigh Seosamh di é, ach thaispeáin sé dí é! Ní dhearna sé ach láí a fháil agus poll a thochailt taobh amuigh den teach agus Cite a chur ina seasamh thíos sa bpoll. Nuair a tháinig an mháthair abhaile ní raibh aníos as an bpoll ach cloigeann Chite!

[His mother had to go to a funeral one day, and she kept Joe home from school to look after the youngest two, Kitty and Sheila. When the mother was gone, Kitty was asking, ‘What’s a funeral?’ Not only did Joe explain it to her, he showed her! He got a spade and dug a hole outside the house, and got Kitty to stand in the hole; and when the mother came home the only thing visible outside the hole was Kitty’s head!]

2. A description, in Irish, of scallop-dredging methods and the associated dangers can be found in Hartmann, Hans, Tomás de Bhaldraithe and Ruairí Ó hUiginn (eds.), Airneán: Ein Sammlung von Texten aus Carna, Co. na Gaillimhe, Max Niemeyer Verlag Tübingen (1996), vol 1, lines 7888-7954.