Life of the workers
Women were the backbone of families, with responsibility for the household and children, including spinning and making clothes and while they also took part in outdoor work such a gathering turf, harvesting and raising sheep, their standing depended on their housewifely skills. The men's task was to father children, work outside at various jobs and provide for parents in their old age.
Lizzie not only observed life for her mother and father on the Drumdaff estate, but took an active part in it, as did the other children of working men and women.
Staff and work
My father, Edward McDermott, had £7 a year, a free house, two acres to till and provide vegetables for us and free turfary where we got plenty of turf; then we had free grass for two cows and their offspring. We had enough vegetables to feed a pig and by adding the surplus milk he was ready to kill in 4 or 5 months, and what lovely bacon. We also had 20 or 30 geese, my mother hatched and reared chickens and when fit for the table the Digbys bought them - they were such a small price, only 8d. and 10d. each
My father was a herdsman on the Digby estate. He had charge of cattle and sheep, the coachman had charge of the horses and trained young colts and fillies, helped by the stable lads. I was the eldest of nine children and at an early age my father took me with him to round up the sheep although he already had two well trained dogs. I helped drive the cows (7 or 8) in for milking - my father never milked, that was done by the maids (they kept two servant girls) and I often carried some of the milk pails along with them in to the dairy, and what a beautifully cleaned and scrubbed floor; floor of red tiles and shelves on either side to hold crocks and milk basins and the churn was a dash churn.
"Mick Noone was an honest hard-working man; he and Pat Curley never shaved their full beards; Pat Curley's was a ginger hue and he trimmed it occasionally but Mick's was a "drab" mousy colour & a huge size. My father didn't wear a beard full, it was side whiskers called "Parnell" fashion. He read a good deal...I often saw neighbours come and get his advice on signing official papers or write letters, some of those people never went to school. He often wrote poetry on current events and I remember the Editor sending him a note saying "Send us something rollicking on the elections?"
Their coachman was Thomas Dermott...the Coachman also had charge of the men and kept their accounts...When driving the ladies he wore livery and had harness and buckles shining. In summer he drove a phaeton and in winter a carriage. Master George drove a high back to back trap and they had a gardener & nine constant workmen in the tilling field with all the horses and ploughs; they cut and saved turf to feed the home & Coach-House etc...their wage was 9 pence a day...Oh, I have a memory of it all.
The maids also had to ring the bell which was high up in a tree with a rope dangling from it, first at 8 a.m. to summon the men to work, then at 12 midday and at 6 p.m. to leave off. The maids had to work hard but seemed happy about it. All turf was used to cook in pot ovens and then carry turf to the bedrooms and clear away the ashes in winter; they had to milk & churn too and then the laundry as well as attend to the fowl. The present day maids don't realise what work is with Hoovers and electric switches etc.
The gardener stored the cooking apples in a house behind the green gate and managed to have them nearly all year round. The workmen were kept all year, on wet days they sawed up timber or made hay ropes to tie on corn and hay, no binder twine to be had then.
Our constant workman on the farm was "Jamesy Kane". He never went to school and couldn't read or write & he came to our house a few nights a week to hear the paper read, which was a weekly paper - we got no daily as we were four miles out & no bicycle. In those days no postmen were around to the houses; the postman left all the letters in Curley's for the towns land. I was sent there daily to see if a letter came and if I had one to post it was left at Curley's with one penny (which was then the postage).
There was no piped water, all water for rough usage came in tanks and barrels from the drip roof and the water to cook and wash butter had to be drawn in tin cans from the "never-go-dry" spring well at the back of Curley's house, "the gatehouse". I often went with the maids to help carry the water, this was done in the evening, when their household tasks were finished and this was their "off-time".
As children we knew the workings of the mill at "Hicks" inside out; the big wheel worked from the mill dam to turn the inside wheel which sent the hopper and spinner to crush the corn into meal; a row of farmers came along with their oats, wheat & barley; along with their own family they employed some others; as well as mill work they had to cut & dry turf at the bog then keep the kiln heated to dry corn before milling.
Miss Mary asked me once to sleep in the maid's room when one of them was on holidays. They had separate stairs at the back and no communication with the front of the house. The first maid's name was Mary Hayden that I remember; she was red haired and it seems she had a boyfriend to whom she gave "tit-bits" when she got the chance. Anyhow, she neglected the growing young turkeys and got the sack, and a "wit" who called each night at the Curley's made a song pretending it came from the boyfriend and I still remember 4 lines from it.
Farewell dear Hayden, farewell for aye
Farewell sweet pancake and cup of 'taye'
With Indian meal my bowels are dried
And bad luck for the day the turkeys died.
The next maid employed was Maggie Tracey and the older one Kate Coneally remained until the ladies left. One got employed by Dr. Sandys Galway and the other married in Roscommon town.
At the time we knew several large estates which gave work to dozens of families. All these are now broken up and taken over by the Land Commission run by the government. And I don't believe they are happier.
Shearing and sheep
Shearing the sheep was a red letter day for the surrounding children. They were kept from school to keep all the ewes and lambs together in the paddock - there were about twelve men with hand shears and some of them could boast they could shear twelve in an hour. In all there were about three hundred ewes and their lambs and the work took place in the middle of May. It was a busy day for the maids who had to prepare dinner and tea for all hands. Several times a day a tray full of bread and jam was carried to us children and the Coachman took a bottle of whiskey to give a glass each to the shearers. There were two large trees at the end of the paddock and between them hung a huge sack to hold the wool and according as a fleece was tied up one of the men mounted a ladder which was place by the tree and dumped it into the sack.
There was a heap of soiled clippings from the fleeces and all hands cleared away. My father took the donkey cart and carried the dirty stuff home to my mother who had several wooden tubs filled with water and after days of repeated changing of water and pounding with a big stick she gave us children the task of washing it with our hands at the mill-dam, she'd give us a bucket full each and we were in for a scolding if all the dirt wasn't washed out. She then spread it on the grass and the sun and rain made it snow white. We then packed it into sacks and between other duties she spun it into thread which made our socks and stockings. She even crocheted petticoats for us wee girls.
I can well remember the busy time my father had at lambing time which was generally around March and April. For weeks he'd get no full night's sleep and if he noticed a few ewes near lamb time he'd drive them into a small field for the night. He also feared stray dogs coming the way. My brother, who was next to me, and I often kept up to midnight to let my father have a few hours sleep, and my mother sent the two of us with a lamp to go around the field and report, and later on in life I realised what a conscientious man he was. He had to walk 4 miles to the market and fair with sheep and cattle and the coachman drive on a side-car to sell or buy.
Mythology and superstition
The Big House had great power which often bound employees up in mythology of the houses and family. Drumdaff had its fair share of such stories.
There were many stories associated with Drumdaff. One was the old clock which was out of working order for many years, but when there was a change coming in the Digby family the clock would suddenly begin to strike. This story went far and wide, and the day of the Digby's auction a man living some distance away bought it, but when he later heard of its unaccountable behaviour he refused to take it, and it was put back in its accustomed place in the kitchen.
Another was the legend that nothing could be stolen from Drumdaff House or surroundings - the culprits would get a fright of some sort. One moonlit night when it was known the family was away and the maids have a sing-song in Curleys, four boys decided they'd steal a bag of apples. They made their way to the orchard and one climbed the tree to shake the branches and knock the apples off, when they heard the click of the orchard gate opening and a tall gentleman in a frock coat and a high silk hat came leisurely down the garden path. The boys were so scared they made for the exit and in the melee one of them sprained his ankle & had to be treated in hospital. No-one could account for the gentleman in black.
Old neighbours chatting by our fireside would tell how they often heard a carriage and a pair driven in the avenue and could see nothing; and again, music and laughter were heard from the drawing room when no-one was there.
Two peasant girls went to the pleasure garden to steal flower roots & while in the act of digging up, three unearthly shrill whistles sounded in the shrubbery and they ran off in terror.
The life of children
Lizzie Smyth had clear memories of her childhood and those of other children on the Drumdaff lands, easily combining work and play.
We used to fish for small trout when we were children and as many as twenty little boys and girls gathered at Drumdaff front gate of Curley's on Sunday to learn Irish dancing from the older children...give me the old fashioned fun we had in Curley's when all we youngsters met and learnt to dance Lancers and Quadrill 8 reels. The Curley boys played the violin and taught my brother and I; it was the "Mecca" for the Digby's maids when the excuse came to draw water ... so many children meeting outside Curley's and the violin & the accordion playing.
Miss Mary knew my mother was good at her needle and often gave us left-up clothes to cut up and dress us children. There was a pretty patterned (apparently an old ball dress) one time and my mother made a frock for me out of it and a bow on my hair and then sent me to see Miss Mary to show it. Miss Mary took me in to the drawing room and gave me bread and jam and then played the piano for me. I was bewildered at the beautiful carpets, upholstered furniture and the beautiful music - all heavenly!! What a dear kind lady to be bothered amusing a little girl that I was then, No wonder all my life I cherished the memory of my dear Miss Mary.
St Patrick's Day was a red-letter day with the tenant's children. They all came to the half-door for "Patrick's Crosses", they were made of white paper cut in rounds about 3 inches across & green, gold and white ribbons placed across the centre. Miss Mary pinned one on each child's shoulder & gave them a slice of bread and jam. It was a common sight to see a couple of dozen children coming away all enjoying their bread and jam.
Noones...Cory...Tracys, Brennans, Gilloolys, Nelson, these were all tenants, they went to Ballagh school...while our side of the estate went to Derrane school.
All this is a long story from the time we ran "barefooted" through Drumdaff fields, but we had good, industrious parents who hammered truth and honesty into our young lives.
Lizzie's life after Drumdaff
After the Digbys left I had no interest in the new man, James O'Hara who came with just a man servant. My education was poor because I had to remain at home to help my mother at the age of 13 and at 17 I was apprenticed to a Bakery and Confectionary in Kingstown (Dublin). After about 2 years there my employer told me a lady named Mary Digby had just called to see me and was told I could see no-one until I had finished work, which was about 7 hours. She left her address, 13 Waltham Terrace, Blackrock. Oh! What a thrill!! I was going to meet my beloved Miss Mary after hearing nothing of her for 7 or 8 years. Where did she get my address and where had she been?
Threepence in the tram took me to "Waltham" Terrace, a line of small, ivy covered houses, No. 13 was opened by an old servant with a black dress white apron and cap. She ushered me in to a tiny sitting room and there was Miss Mary, not a bit looking older, her voice which I always thought sounded like music sounded the same. I asked how she found me and she said Ann Curley sent her my address. Ann corresponded with her all those years and when Miss Caroline died she said she felt very lonely and went to Master Everard in Australia for a while, "his wife came back with me, she will be here presently" and just then Mrs Everard came in to the room. She was tall and handsome and a charming manner. She shook hands with me and said "Mary told her so much about me". She talked so friendly and mentioned the nice voyage she and Mary had. At one port of call a native woman sold their hand-made lace some of which she showed me. At another port of call the native boys made money by diving into the water and coming up with coins thrown by the passengers. She told me she had a pet snake and when it died she had it's skin preserved and took it out to show. It was the length of the room. She told me she had two sons and if I remember right said herself was English. "Katrin" as they called the maid took in a tea tray and we three had tea together. I had only a few hours to stay as I had to be back by 10 p.m. I hadn't the presence of mind to ask when they left for England. Mary said she'd go as far as England with Mrs Everard and I thought I'd hear from her again but that was the last time I saw or heard until some years after my mother wrote to me and said my father and Pat Curley got a seat on O'Hara's side car to meet Miss Mary's coffin at the station and accompany the hearse to Aclare graveyard.
A few years after this I was told Master Everard came to Roscommon and looked up anyone who remembered him, there were only three, my father, Pat Curley and Mick Noone, he invited those three to dinner at Greally's Hotel and mentioned the changes in Ireland.
Ann Curley was the grandest character of her age and her love and loyalty to the Digby family could not be understood today. She said "Drumdaff was never the same since the gentry left".
After the settling up of the Land Commission my father got 32 acres and was a successful farmer.
I married a farmer in Westmeath and had two daughters, one a nurse for 20 years in a Dublin Hospital and the other passed into the Civil Service and later married a railway official who purchased a grocery store and gave us the upper rooms when we retired last year.
Postcards are from the Digby collection.