by mohara on April 16, 2010

Leinster Leader 18th February 2010

Folklore days & canal ways …memoirs of bog & water


The Irish economy in the early months of 2010 is in the depths of depression after years of boom. It’s not the first time that this boom and bust cycle has manifested in our island economy. The 1950s were a tough time by all accounts but the 1960s saw much better prospects. Young men and women got good jobs and had money to spend. It was the ambition of every young man to have a car. Garages & motor dealers emerged in every town to fulfil the demand. The likes of Dermot Kelly’s in Kilcock and McCormack’s in Naas were among the household name in the Kildare motor industry of the time. Another flagship in the motor business was P.J. Woods’ Volkswagen dealership in Clane. The pristine new showroom flanked by a wall with an extra large VW motif mural was one of the landmarks of Clane. And it had its impact on willing customers too. It seemed in the 1960s that everybody around Clane drove a VW Beetle. It’s a trend well portrayed by Donadea historian John Freeman in his latest book ‘Folklore Days & Canal Ways.’  He recalls that his first lesson in driving was in a Beetle purchased from Paddy Woods’ for €380. Petrol was five shillings per gallon while road tax was €20.50 for one year.

It’s not the only form of transport documented by John in his freewheeling compilation of history, lore and traditions with a few poems and prayers thrown in. He brings to light a project known as the ‘Celbridge & Donadea light railway’. He writes that this tramway was to run alongside the main road from Celbridge to Clane and then turn west along the Kilcock road, branching off for Donadea and terminating at Ballagh cross on the fringe of the Bog of Allen. The project got as far as proper plans drawn up by H.J.Fuller, Brunswick Chambers, Dublin and printed by Browne and Nolan, printers.
This ambitious plan never got further than the drawing board and the people of north-west Kildare were left with the horse-and-dray as their main mode of travel. Those who lived near the banks of the Grand and Royal canals had a big advantage and John Freeman devotes a third of his book to following the channels of the canals through Kildare and recording their associated history and folklore. How many, for example, know that inland Kildare had its very own ‘Island’ surrounded by water? The ‘Island’ was formed by the triangular junction of the old and new Barrow lines of the canal with the main channel at Lowtown just west of Robertstown. A number of families lived on the island, using a footbridge for access to the ‘mainland’ at Ballyteague.
 The author turns off the main canal lines into some of the abandoned backwaters of Kildare’s canal system. He visits the Blackwood feeder on his odyssey and records that turf was brought to the canal bank from ‘local bogs at Closh, Blackwood, Ballinafagh, Downings, Garravogue and perhaps as far as Timahoe, Mucklon and Derry bogs’ for loading on barges which sailed for Dublin with their sought-after cargoes for the firesides of the capital city. Turf features large in this book as befits an author based in the turbary rich environs of Staplestown and Donadea. Among the interesting pictures in the book are those of crowds who turned out in 1934 at the Skew bridge on the Allenwood to Rathangan road to greet Taoiseach Eamonn de Valera who came to cut the first sod of turf on a great government scheme to exploit the bogs and which was lead on to the ESB and Bord na Mona. John Freeman, who interviewed local people for his book, records that the pupils of Robertstown national school performed Irish dancing for the occasion. Essie Murphy, aged nine, danced on a prepared platform while Willie Byrne of Allenwood played the fiddle. The occasion of the first cutting of the bog was taken so seriously that one local woman parcelled up one of the first cut sods and posted it to her son in America thus fulfilling the emigrants’ dream of the ‘old sod’. Also preserved in Kildare was the silver slán which de Valera used to cut the first sod.
These are just a small sample of the many threads of Kildare life explored by John Freeman in his book ‘Folklore Days and Canal Ways’ and published by the author. Series no: 165.

In his regular feature  ‘Nothing New Under the Sun’  in the Leinster Leader Liam Kenny observes a small sample of the many threads of Kildare life explored by John Freeman in his book ‘Folklore Days and Canal Ways’. Our thanks to Liam. 

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