|Mona McKeown at the age of eighteen. (Photograph courtesy of Brian McKeown, Belfast).|
The following memoirs provide a fascinating glimpse into the life of Mona McKeown of Glenavy, shortly after the turn of (he century. Mona's father, William McKeown -`a well-doing man'-had a thriving general merchant's shop in Glenavy Main Street. He had commenced an apprenticeship in the village about 1884, of the age of fourteen, with the firm of M. L. & S. Johnston, Ltd., General Merchants. In time, he became owner of the business. Under the influence of the Misses Johnston, he began to attend the Methodist Sunday School, where he met his future wife, Jane Wickliffe. He eventually became a Methodist and was a tireless church worker, being Circuit Steward for twenty years and Sunday School Superintendent for thirty. He died in 1936 and Jane in 1967.
Jane and William had four children: Adeline, Florrie, Harry and Mona (christened Sarah Mosina). Adeline was church organist for fifty years and Captain of Glenavy Girls' Life Brigade for twenty-nine years. She died in 1986, aged eighty-eight. Florrie (Mrs. Leyburn), she of the keen business mind, became Managing Director of the firm on the death of her father. She died in 1975, at the age of seventy-five. Harry, whose mischievous antics arc recorded here with a tone of fond indulgence, worked with the Electricity Board in Bangor, Lisburn, Portadown and Belfast. He died at the age of seventy-four, in 1976. Mona, a teacher of pianoforte for about sixty years, was a member of Glenavy Methodist choir for over fifty years. The shop remained in the family's possession until c.1955.
I have made a number of minor changes to Mona's text but
basically, the words and voice are her own. My thanks to Dr. Brian Turner, for
passing the article to me, and to Brian McKeown (Mona's nephew) and Rev. A. G.
Hanna, for photographs and family history. These have been valuable additions to
My earliest recollection of life on this planet is the occasion of walking with an ancient hat over my eyes against the open grate of my Grandmother's kitchen fire. There I upset a kettle and severely scalded my arm with the steam. This, I understand, happened before I was quite three years old.
The contrasts between the ordinary usages of life nearly sixty years ago and now, are frequently forgotten, and scarcely credible, perhaps. Nevertheless, the pre-push button age produced as many worthy citizens as nowadays.
I don't intend this to read as an essay, but for convenience sake, will write under various headings.
Attendant on all our births was the gruff old Dr. Mussen, coroner for South Antrim. A good and kindly doctor, he nonetheless struck terror info the hearts of most children, with his blackthorn stick and strident voice. He was assisted on such occasions by what was known as a `handy women' or, in Scots parlance:, a `Howdie', an unqualified midwife, but approved by the medical profession in those days. About twenty years later, the Howdie, in the interests of hygiene, was prohibited from practicing, though I cannot recall many fatalities due to the absence of a trained nurse. The Howdie, in our case, was an old lady known as Granny Farr, not more than sixty, I should think, when officiating here. With her, superstitions certainly held sway, as the baby had to be carried up the attic staircase as soon after birth as possible, to ensure he or she would `rise in the world'. She also deemed it lucky if the baby cried at its christening. This ceremony took place in our own home. Not until about forty years later did it become the custom to being the baby to church.
We were rocked in a strong wicker cradle, and wheeled out in a high-wheeled pram, called a bassinette. Feeding bottles were broad glass affairs, with a long unhygienic rubber tube attached, about ten inches long, with a teat at the end.
I was born with two web toes on my left foot, and my Grandmother predicted I would not meet my death by drowning!
|Sunnyside, in Glenavy Main Street,
c.1910. The house is still there though somewhat altered, as the creeper
was removed and the facade pebble-dashed. An additional entrance was
made via the fourth ground floor window from the right and a porch built
(Photograph courtesy of Brian McKeown,Belfast).
Known always as Sunnyside (from Mother reading a book about a house of that name before her marriage), it was a large rectangular building, originally intended for a mill, but left derelict when the owner went bankrupt and committed suicide. Father purchased it for £300 as a young man of twenty-six, drew up plans and designs to convert half of it into a home to which to bring his bride the following year, and agreed to pay his contractor £27 10s 0d, plus materials.
The kitchen was, of course, the room most lived in. Here was the usual monster, the black open range. The plumbing system consisted of a boiler beside the fire, which had to be filled with wafer once or twice daily. This had to be carried from a pump on the Lurgan Road, about two minute's walk from the house.
As we grew older, this carrying of water for all purposes was one of our daily duties (the word `chore' being unknown to us in those days) and it may here be recorded that Florrie, in a fit of pique at a young man who had teased her, let him have the contents of her small pail over his person. Unfortunately, she was seen in the distance by her Mum, and was promptly spanked for her unladylike behaviour on her return.
Rain water barrels in the yard provided soft water for laundry, ere. Around the range was a large semi-circular black iron guard, which served the dual purpose of keeping inquisitive fingers from the flames, and airing the clothes.
Downstairs rooms were lighted with oil lamps, and those
upstairs by candles in hand sconces. All the windows were curtained with white
Nottingham lace or Madras muslin, looped back with a fancy band, about two feet
from the floor. Stairs were covered with oil cloth (the precursor of linoleum),
held in place with shiny brass stair-rods, the only carpet in those days being
on the parlour floor. This room had all the traditional furnishing and effects -
a bamboo-framed overmantel with little shelves for ornaments, a `what-not' in
the corner, and, always in my recollection, a piano-the first one a highly
decorative affair of rosewood with a fretwork front showing green silk at the
back, with two brass candle sconces. For all this elaboration, however, it was
an instrument of indifferent tone.
|William and Jane McKeown and family, c.1910. Adeline and Harry are to the left, Florrie is beside her father, and Mona is seated in front. (Photograph courtesy of Brian McKeown, Belfast).||Glenavy Main Street before the erection of the First World War memorial. The school is in the background, behind the man with the horse. William McKeown's shop is to the left, where the men are standing. The shop building still remains, though the fine houses beside it have been demolished. The right side of the street is basically unchanged. (Photograph courtesy of Brian McKeown, Belfast.)|
Oil lamps of a fancier appearance were added to this room as the years went by, among which was one about three feet high, with a crimson silk shade made by Mother. Tea was only served in this room on such occasions as the visit of the minister's family to tea, or friends from a distance. At such parties, each bread plate boasted a linen or damask doily, often edged with hand crocheted lace, and requiring frequent washing. There were linen or damask napkins too. (The paper ones, I think, came originally from Japan and were not in use in our early childhood).
The scullery was equipped with a stone sink, useful for ablutions. Here, at this sink, the weekly hair wash took place. Shampoos being then unknown, a square of flannel was smeared with a slimey greenish substance out of a tin, known as `black soap' and looking like thick golden syrup. This created a fine lather, and had an unpleasant smell, but no objections by the owners of the heads would have been of any avail, and apparently the hair didn't suffer in consequence.
The scullery was also used to prepare food for cooking on the kitchen range. Every-day cutlery consisted of pewter-like spoons of Brittanic metal and knives with black wooden handles, which needed frequent cleaning. Ivory handled knives and electro-plate spoons were used for tea in the parlour, together with the best wedding-present china. Coarse pink mugs were provided for the youngsters' drinks of water or milk and great was the consternation of Mother on one occasion (later to be looked upon with some amusement) when an old and somewhat snobbish lady called to see us and said "Now which of you children can bring me a drink of water the quickest?" The race, in this case, was won by the son of the house-who arrived first in the parlor and presented the old lady with her drink in the PINK MUG!
Butter was placed in dainty lidded bowls, known as `butter coolers', and jam was served in handsome ruby or other coloured glass dishes, with decorative spoons. For a parlour meal, there was, invariably, a white damask tablecloth. A table center was deemed a necessary adjunct. This was an oval or oblong mat, perhaps black satin with ribbon work or pen painting, or linen edged with lace. On this would stand the oil lamp, if winter, or in summer, a vase of flowers.
This was an acre in size, with no part of it out of bounds to us, as far as I can remember, except the annual hay rick in the paddock, one or other of us always succumbing to the temptation of climbing to its dizzy top, regardless of subsequent punishment. The ground sloped up abruptly from the yard door and was always known to us as `the slope'. The grassy bank by its side was dignified by the name of `terrace', as it was shaped in three levels. I can recall the pleasure of carrying my dinner out to the terrace on a good summer day.
Father was an ardent gardener and flowers, vegetables and fruit flourished. A black slatted wooden gate was the entrance from the street. Of course, our own acre didn't always satisfy-we longed to be out on the street! The front of the house, in our early days, was entirely covered by a green creeper, and the back by ivy. The shop was at the other end of the village street, so we didn't see much of Father, as he was always away early in the mornings, and although home for meals, did not finish until 8 p.m. He kept a rod behind a picture on the landing to quell post-bedtime rowdiness, though I can't remember it being used more often than once. Well I remember the calls for drinks of water (necessary or not) when we heard him come in.
As the general merchant business carried on by Father included an undertaker's agency, if was inevitable that coffins had to be stored on the premises. They were made by a local carpenter in the part of Sunnyside which was also used as a grain store and kept there until needed for someone's last resting place. Being of plain unpainted wood, they struck no terror to the young McKeowns, who played around them and the always adventurous son of the house had no scruples about climbing into them - as did a tom-boy of one of the families who belonged to our church.
As Father's prosperity increased, he remodelled and took in all of the house for living quarters, the creeper having been previously removed, the exterior pebble-dashed and the undertaking part of the business discontinued. As the nearest chemist was in Crumlin, Father's shop was accorded a poisons licence, which meant that laudanum, strychnine, iodine, veterinary medicine, etc, were stocked; also the usual array of patent medicines, a few of which arc still in use today, viz:- Beecham's Pills and Powders (with the slogan `will cure all ills'), Dr. William's Pink Pills for pale people (we liked the alliteration of that), Owbridge's Lung Tonic, Phospherine and Dr. McKenzie's Smelling Salts, which came in a green glass bottle with a spherical stopper, on removal of which one got a strong whiff of something to clear the nasal passages. There were also Mother Seigel's Syrup (a mixture regarded more as a tonic than as a sweetener), Peps for sore throats-how remote from pep pills!-and Tiz for tired aching feet, to name but a few!
As the business prospered and the family grew more affluent,
various improvements were made to the house, to ease life's burdens on wife and
family. It was joy unspeakable when a pump for our supply of well water was sunk
in the garden, approached by a neatly patterned cement walk. Beneath the spout
of the pump there stood a large wooden cistern to catch the overflow from the
filling of buckets, and which made an admirable pond on which to sail homemade
boats. How thrilling it was to have all the water one needed to make mud pies,
The clothing of those days is worthy of mention. In winter, woollen combinations were worn, with a series of little holes at the back of the neck denoting the size---three holes for size three and so on. There were always chemises for the girls. These were made from cotton flour bags, boiled, scoured, and bleached to remove advertising lettering. As the years went by, we were promoted to chemises made from material called `long-cloth', a smooth white fabric These superior garments were trimmed around neck and arms with Swiss embroidery, about a penny a yard.
Stays were contrived rather cleverly by our Grandmother, somewhat in the style of Italian quilting. An elastic suspender connecting up with a bone button sewn on the stocking top ensured neatness in this quarter. Stockings were always black, hand knitted, but for summer, there were cashmere ones, usually black or maybe tan, if one was lucky enough to own tan shoes. Roots were either buttoned or laced, sometimes with a patent toe cap - which was elegance indeed! Boys' boots had little metal studs, around which the laces were criss-crossed.
Petticoats were of flannel or hand crocheted wool far winter. Dresses had always to be covered with a pinny, except on Sundays. These pinnies were quite handsome affairs of white Swiss-embroidered material, for school, and dark blue `showery hail' or similar, for home wear. On Friday evenings, however, the white pinnies were allowed to remain on, as, by that time, they were more than ready for Monday's wash. A woolly cap was known as a `rinker', presumably because such were worn on skating rinks. Summer hats were of white or cream leg-horn straw, trimmed with beautiful satin bows and silk flowers.
Porridge was the breakfast dish for all, followed by fried bread. Midday dinner was always potatoes and vegetables with a little meat. Sometimes, a peculiar slithery pudding, known as Potato Pudding, was served for main course. This must have abounded in carbo-hydrates, as it was made of flour, cooked potatoes, and sugar. It was not a favourite dish with use Another and more easily prepared dish was made from a raw egg beaten up in a soup plate with two or more potatoes mashed up in it (according to the consumer's capacity) and seasoned to taste.
Bread was always made on a large iron griddle on the range, and until a new `close' range was installed years later, there was sometimes the danger of a fall of soot on the farls as they cooked. A variation on these farls was treacle or a handful of currants (no scales required). In the apple season, potato apple bread was much enjoyed, succulent with butter and sugar. A wonderful instrument was used to mash potatoes-before its advent, a pint tin was used! Said instrument was of heavy metal and a handle was pushed down on the boiled potatoes, pressing the mass through a framework of holes, out of which the potatoes rushed like so many maggots. (I may here add that it was the very dickens to wash). Champ was another common dinner dish - boiled potatoes bruised in the saucepan with an object called a 'beetle', with milk, seasoning and chopped stallions, beans, etc added. The said beettle was a murderous-looking weapon. I recall a Co. Down murder case being discussed at home, in which one of the finds displayed in court was a blood-stained beetle!
Sunday was- on the whole -a 'day of rest and gladness' to us, in spite of several restrictions. I think we liked it simply because of the difference between it and other days. We all had breakfast together, at a later hour than usual. There was no porridge on this particular day. Instead, there was a large oval dish of fried bread in the middle of the table, to which one helped oneself with a fork. We all attended Sunday School, under a variety of teachers and superintendents. One of the latter was a benign-looking old gentleman with a white beard whom Florrie, for some time, took to be God himself! We were not allowed to play games, although we girls could play with our dolls. We held make-believe church services, at which Florrie (to this day our business and financial manager) lifted the offering in one of Father's slippers. Once Mother was amazed to hear a most eloquent prayer proceeding for her childish lips but later discovered it was being read from a catechism!
Church services were not particularly enjoyed, as I cannot remember a minister who spoke specially to children. However, we made our own diversions if we could get away with them, such as kneeling at the seat at prayer time, watching an interesting shiny bald head bent reverently in the seat behind, or joining in the hymns in a quivering soprano voice. Sometimes two old ladies (old to us but probably only in their fifties) sitting behind would drop down for our delectation, sweets known as `conversation lozenges'. These were large pink or white confections with amorous messages printed on them.
In the afternoon we might take a walk, but I think running must have been prohibited, as I remember saying to our minister's child who was out with me one Sunday, "come on and run and say we were only walking quickly." In winter we learned to sing hymns around a small harmonium or the piano and were allowed to read story books or magazines we got in Sunday School--a highly diverting brand of literature approved of by church and parents. Frequently, the entire family went to Ballynacoy for tea, walking there and back-a mere six miles.
Here lived a very much loved great-uncle and two not so
loved great-aunts. Invariably, there were boiled eggs for tea, thick slices of
cottage loaf and biscuits or stomach cakes, spicy thick biscuits bought from the
bread van. One feature of these visits we girls heartily disliked--being dressed
in our Sunday flocks. There was a bookcase containing very ponderous and adult
literature. One small Bible was frequently taken out by us, not, I may as well
confess, for any love of the Scriptures but because it opened and shut with an
intriguing little brass hinge. Sometimes, unseen by adult eyes, we filched an
ancient pair of spectacles and paraded outside with them on our noses.
The mall farm at Ballynacoy boasted a hay loft approached by a ladder, and whether known to authority or not, we often climbed it, sometimes finding there an egg laid by a wandering hen. A pool of stagnant water, enhanced by drainage from the byre, farmed a fatal attraction (it bore the euphonious name of 'glaur hole'), until one Sunday the brother fell into it for an unwilling bathe and had to be taken home, minus his clothes, wrapped in a rug, in Uncle's pony and trap. I think we sisters were blamed-and quite unjustly-for this fracas.
Then there were Sundays at home when our Grandmother Wickliffe would be staying with us and we had to sit like mice while Mother read aloud a twenty minute sermon from the Christian Herald, usually by Talmage Or Spurgeon. This was real penance for us. (In very recent years, I met a Mr. Spurgeon from America on a bus tour in Scotland and when I told him of my childhood knowledge of the great preacher, he told me he was a grandson of the preacher's cousin). Other special Sunday features included a second course at dinner and butter and jam allowed on bread. Normally, on weekdays, we were only permitted one or the other!
Father erected a swing for us between two sturdy sycamore trees in the garden, the girls sitting decorously on the seat, the boy standing on the same and getting as high in the elements as possible. Walking on home-made stilts was only permitted for boys but trundling hoops could be indulged in by both sexes. Hallowe'en night was always celebrated in the traditional way. There were apple dumplings for supper. Large American apples with beautiful red cheeks were suspended from the kitchen clothes line and we tried our skill at taking bites from these. Then, when really dark, we all went to the garden where Father gave us a firework display. No torchlight tattoo ever gave more pleasure than those Fountains of Golden Rain, Catherine Wheels and Jumping Jennies.
The Twelfth of July was another gala day. Though Father was never a member of the Orange Order, the day was always a shop holiday and the first excitement began when we heard the fife and drum. Then we would watch the procession as it passed the house, follow it down to the railway station, accompanied by both parents, and wave the brethren off. Back home, weather permitting, we were sent into the garden with pint tins or quart cans, to gather ripe black currants for jam-with no restrictions placed on refreshing ourselves with red and white currants at intervals! We generally had an annual day at the seaside, usually Whitehead, or an afternoon visit to the Botanic Gardens in Belfast. I can recall our having to do something beforehand to merit this trip-perhaps pulling up, by hand, the stalks of the wild parsley growing in the grass which was to be cut for hay.
Summer holidays were sometimes spent at the home of our Grandmother Wickliffe at Tullynewbane. She had been widowed when very young and was kind and generous in her own way, although of a reserved nature, devoid of any apparent sentiment. Here, there wasn't much to occupy our time except reading, as there were no animals, not even a cat. We roamed around her several fields, and sat on a huge stone boulder outside the door, reading from a gaudy and frivolous picture book (left, I imagine, by an American relative when on a visit). I can well remember one of the cartoons which even then appealed greatly to my sense of humour-a cure for toothache -fill the mouth with cold water and sit on the hob until it boils, complete with a picture of the sufferer carrying out the instruction!
On the same street (as it was called) but with an iron gate between, lived a family whom my Grandmother generally visited in the evening, for an hour's chat. This I hated, almost feared in fact, as one of the old women (or so they seemed to me) was of unsound mind, having lost her wits on seeing her husband, a Captain of a windjammer, drown before her eyes. In consequence of this tragedy and her mental slate, her actions were often unpredictable and her language frequently blasphemous and shocking. Her family, with whom she lived, were a rollicking good-natured lot but greatly given (especially the mother) to lies and exaggeration. It was difficult to determine whether some of the statements were due to imagination or pure devilry. I remember once being accused by the old woman I feared of throwing a bucket of water around her - whereupon I took to my heels! It would seem that this gesture was a favourite weapon of reprisal or attack in those days!
The visits to the McKeown grandparents' home at Aghalee took place not more than once or twine a year and then only for a few hours. Horse and trap was the means of transport. Going uphill, everyone was expected to sit as near as possible to the horse's rump, to ease the burden. The McKeown cottage was small but had interesting features, such as a large volume of gruesome Grimm's Fairytales and a stream flowing a few yards from the door, into which one could drop stones and the like. When there, we generally went for a walk along the banks of the Lagan canal and great was the joy if there happened to be a lighter sailing along and stopping for a lock to open and close, with the horse leisurely towing along the path.
The annual Sunday School soiree was held in a granary belonging to a lady superintendent. Going to this was quite an adventure, as the building was entered by an outside stair, at the dissipated hour of seven o'clock in the evening, always in the company of one or both parents. After tea, games, singing solos (if you had the nerve) and prize giving, there was a Christmas tree, from which each child received a gift. The Sunday School examination which preceded this function took place on a Saturday morning and tea and buns were also dispensed then. The former was served in coarse pink mugs - in one of which I remember a child finding a slug!
Another favourite entertainment was a magic lantern show in
either the Sunday School or church. It generally depicted a story with a moral
encouraging temperance and it always seemed to us that the women wore red
blouses, perhaps as an antidote to their sordid cheerless lives with drunken
husbands. At such shows, we lustily sang `Rescue the perishing' and similar
songs from a scroll thrown on the screen. If a picture slide was inadvertently
put in upside down, it only added to the hilarity of the evening!
As each child progressed to usefulness, several small tasks were allotted to it which were never done grudgingly, as far as I can remember. Knife blades had to be polished once weekly with emery cloth or bath-brick moistened with water or a cut potato. As the years passed, a knife cleaner was acquired. This was a circular wooden affair which took two knives at a time and by turning a handle, the blades came out shining. Boots had to be cleaned daily with blacking, which was an oblong of black paste moistened with water. Great was our pleasure when we were promoted to real polish in a tin, named Glossit, which gave a much better shine than the blacking of a penny a piece. Carpets were cleaned with a push-along sweeper and at spring cleaning, were taken out to the garden hedge where they were beaten with large sticks by (mostly) willing hands, before wicker beaters became available. After being deemed sufficiently free from duet, they were taken by two corners and trailed over the grass, pattern side down. If one child was small enough to sit on them and have a ride, it was a great treat indeed.
After same years, a washing machine was installed in the scullery, to ease the burden of Mondays, but let no one imagine it resembled in any way the present day jet affairs. It was a round sturdy tub on three legs with a metal wheel for turning by hand (the whites got twenty minutes). Joy of joys, there was a fixed wringer on it and when the wringing was over, out came the plug and the suds issued through the hole into buckets - which were taken away to be emptied over certain plants in the garden. There was a mangle in the yard, for wringing out large items like blankets and quilts.
One wonders are there nowadays as many old -for want of a better word! -folk in a village or town, whom children will remember all their lives. To name just a few who circulated in our childhood, there was, firstly, Lucy Lowe. With a name like that, how could she have been other than quaint? She might easily have stepped out of an old print with her poke bonnet, sprigged cotton garments down to her ankles and such a precise mode of speech. A less picturesque character was Colly-ma-Jane, as she was known to us. Her real name was Ann Jane McAuley and the seeming spoonerism was quite unconscious. Her chief distinction were her boots with turned-up toes. One of the first elements of charity bred into the young McKeowns was one of us having to carry her a bowl of hot dinner on Sundays. The earlier-mentioned Howdie had a sister who lived with her, utterly unlike her in every way; very short and barrel-like, with a venomous tongue. Her name was Matilda Shane, though she was known locally as Tilde. If any of us became too rowdy of speech or at play, we were ordered to be quiet, as 'you could be heard at Tilde Shane's'.
Close beside us lived an old couple named Clendinning, `Tididlin' to us. I remember (he old man once talking to me over the hedge, asking me to cross his hand with something, in return for which he would tell me when I was going to die. When I had done so (apparently without fear as to whether the daft was early or late), he said "you'll just die when the breath goes out of you." Then there was James Young, a Cockney. According to the notice displayed in his window, he was a watch-maker and jeweller. He was nicknamed 'Brigham Young' after an historical character. He liked to make jokes behind a straight face and would tell a child, sent in on an errand, to stand on a piece of paper, to make him or her taller. Regular tramps also came around in those days. We were not allowed to give them money but always had to ask them if they would like some bread. One who had been given some of the latter by Mother asked if it was buttered. The answer being in the negative, he handed it back and said, "Here, Ma'm. I never eat bread without butter."
We all got our early education in the local school, known in those days as the National School, which was under Episcopal church management. We graduated to the Master's class after a succession of various female teachers. It is on record that on being forcibly removed from my sister's company on my first day, I gave the Master's shins a thorough kicking. The Master was easy-going and music-loving, much more suited to the entertainment world than teaching. In my years in his class, nothing pleased him better that to sit on his desk, reading to us such books as Montezumu's Daughter, Les Miserable's and others. I can only conclude that it was laziness or that be liked the sound of his own voice, for such books were certainly not in the curricula for our age group. All books and equipment had to he paid for in those days and once Mother said to me, on being asked for a few peace for pencils or such like" just tell Miss W. your Mother isn't made of money" - which the obedient child promptly did next day!
We never had a dog, either in childhood or adolescence. It
might have been better if we had, for I went in fear of other people's dogs for
years. However, we had a series of cats down the years, with names either
topical or purely nonsensical. Beeshe was the first, followed by Kitchener,
Carson, Nelly, Nelson, Kybosh, Tot (short for the gentleman famous for his tomb
in Egypt), Darkie, Curley, Sandy and twins known as Booze-high-tail and the
Deaconess. There was also Donard-from Newcastle, naturally. Hens, bantams,
pigeons and finally white rabbits, came and went. Father used to tease Mother
about her soft-heartedness, for example, when throwing something at an erring
cat, she would inevitably aim to miss the beast. Our stables housed several
horses and a grey mare for the carting and delivery of goods from Father's
business. This latter horse was used in the trap, after her predecessor, Prince,
a skittish brown beauty, had tumbled Mum and Dad out of the trap, onto the
Let me not be thought conceited when I say that I don't remember a time when I couldn't sing a tune or when there wasn't music of one sort or other being made in the house. Though neither of our parents was blessed with a singing voice, they were both exceedingly fond of music and I dimly remember a phonograph, the precursor of the gramophone, being in the house. its records were black cylinders about eight inches long and four in diameter and the sound issued through a large horn. From this invention, we early became acquainted with `Loch Lomond', 'Bonnie Dundee', `The Lost Chord' and numerous others. Father had a violin and in pre-marriage days, had taken lessons from a country fiddler. In his spare moments, he fiddled away at hymns and tunes. Mother tried to draw some music from a concertina, which was unearthed half a century later by a prowling grandson-who named it a puller! If we wanted an impromptu concert, there was always the comb inside a bit of paper, which made wonderful music, when one mastered the correct blowing technique. The versatile brother easily mastered a mouth organ (out of which I could only get about two notes) and a flute. Piano lessons for all started early, the first ones for the two older girls being given by an enthusiastic minister's wife, who was amused rather than displeased when the older girl, being told to count as she played, said calmly "Count yourself, you're doing nothing."
As well as the store-mentioned magazines from Sunday School, we had delightful annuals given to us at Christmas by a cousin of Father's: Little Folks, Chatterbox and others similar. These were read and re-read and loved. As we grew older, the usual young folks' books of that period were received as prizes or presents - Little Women, the Katy-dids and the Pixie series, this latter by a writer with the cumbersome name of Mrs. George de Home Vaizey, never abbreviated. There was also another series with beautiful covers, known as the Pansy series, which I found very dull.
I remember at about the age of eleven being lent a paper-backed book, then a rarity, by a school chum. It bore the intriguing title of The Lost lady of Lorne Castle and had, I believe, a real spooky atmosphere. However, the son of the house nabbed it first and read it. Just as I was about to read it, Mother ordered me to hand it back- which I, ever a dutiful child, was forced to do. Apparently it wasn't thought suitable for one of my tender years, so I had to content myself with the like of Danesbury House, by Mrs. Henry Wood - how they liked the prefix `Mrs' then! This was a morbid tale depicting the horrors of strong drink but somewhat redeemed (to my mind!) by lurid descriptions of delirium tremens which befell one of the characters. I thoroughly enjoyed the imagery of snakes and vipers crawling across the floors and up the walls- could the Lost Lady of Larne Castle have been any worse, I wonder? Mother got a monthly magazine called The Ladies' World and although it was an adult publication, we relished it, as it was a veritable Who's Who of British and European royalty and society, with lots of lovely photographs, including those of the current stage stars.
There was also Home Chat, a weekly magazine, with a couple of pages in the center for 'The Chicks' (meaning children). How we revelled in `Jungle Jinks' and a serial about a little negro boy called Epaminondas, whom Mother always called `Epaminondabs'. There was a weekly series of letters from a mythical Mrs. Twiggelty in Ireland's Saturday Night, a weekly newspaper. Mother read these aloud to Grandmother and us. Needless to say, they were greatly preferred to the earlier mentioned sermons by Talmage or Spurgeon, which Mother read aloud to us on Sundays.
Just as we had our annual day at the city or seaside, so our city friends had an annual day in the country, with us. There was a trio we called `The Black Ladies', not because they were negresses but because their clothes-from jet-and-bugle-trimmed bonnets to boots-wore always black. Two of the trio were aunts of Father's, while the third was a cousin by marriage. We enjoyed the company of the latter more than that of the two great-aunts, as she brought herself down to our childish level. Another couple of adult cousins, a husband and wife known as Ellie and Alec, encouraged us in our capers in the garden, Alec once wheeling us round in an improvised barrow until overcome by heat or exhaustion -whereupon he had to be revived with soda water!
We had few close relatives of our own age group but from early days, there was Ida, who came fairly frequently, accompanied by her dainty dark-haired mother. When Ida and our oldest sister retired to the back bedroom in daytime and locked themselves in, we assumed they were telling each other adolescent secrets. The resourceful brother, however, in an effort to find out what exactly was happening, climbed on the yard roof, which afforded a good view of the said bedroom. History does not record if that put an end to their secret sessions. Ida was not accustomed to country ways or what to do with hard-boiled Easter eggs, and during her first egg hunt, promptly squashed her egg underfoot when it showed cracks. Her McKeown Country cousins, on the other hand, carefully peeled and ate theirs!
There were also cousins on Mother's side who came for summer or autumn visits, one of whom, Lily, almost shared a birthday with me, as we had been born within twenty-four hours of each other and were the same age. When we found this out, we regarded ourselves thereafter as twin cousins. Bob and Etta, also of this family, sometimes came together. On one occasion, Etta, Adeline and Florrie, making their way back from Ballynacoy, took every turn they came to for several miles, as it was a fine summer evening. Their non-appearance caused considerable consternation at home and Father was dispatched on his bicycle to look for them. However, they arrived home before be did!
Public transport was by train to city or town. There were carriages for ladies only, smokers, and first, second and third class passengers. Church-goers travelled by horse and trap or Shank's mare. Funerals were always attended by horses and traps galore. One of our pastimes was to stand at a window and peep underneath the drawn blind, to count the number of traps in the cortege.
Repartee and catch-phrases were in a class of their own in those days - and so different from the "O.K." and "your head's cut" of today! The question "what will I do'?" was frequently answered by "slip to the Crewe", "what time is it?" by "it's time the coach left Derry" and "where is so-and-so?" by "in his skin. When be (or she) jumps out, jump you in". In school, the answer, among pupils, to "give me an apple" was "go to chapel". At home, the reply "your Granny's needle" always indicated scornful disbelief. Where the present day Mum would fell a child to scram, we were told to "shift your apple cart" or "jack up your stall". There were also rhymes and jingles, some used in games and some not. The origin and meaning of some of these were entirely obscure as in "Give me a pin to stick in my shin to carry my lady to London" and "The potatoes are boiling and that's a fine joke, the herrings are coming in Donaghy's boat". With such expressions, it never mattered that the rhyming was wrong! Skipping was done to the rhyme "Apple jelly, jam tart, tell me the name of your sweetheart. Is it A, is it B, is it C?", and so on down the alphabet, until one stumbled, when the relevant letter would foretell the initial of one's future husband. What matter if it were a different initial each time?
In our childhood, the village was completely unlit at night, the only illumination being that from the windows of houses. Eventually, Father formed a committee, which inaugurated street lighting by means of paraffin oil standard lamps, about three or four at intervals. A lamp lighter was appointed to light them. Horse-drawn traps had two lanterns, each containing a thick wax carriage candle. Cyclists then used carbide lamps on the front of their bicycles. At harvest thanksgiving services at our church and also at St. Aidan's Parish Church, a semi-circle of bicycles with lighted lamps could be seen in the evening. The owners of these, local youths, would try and attract the attention of girls coming out of the church, with amorous comments and kissing noises. Who knows how many romances started from here, should a girl be daring enough to slip off with a carbide lamp!
Further than that. I need not go. After the First World War, values and habits underwent a change -some for better, some perhaps for worse. Only history will decide.
Sarah Mosina McKeown