ROSCOMMON AS IT WAS
George N Geraghty
Before his death in 1953, George N. Geraghty wrote extensively about his memories of life in Roscommon Town (and environs) in the early years of the 20th century…the Roscommon People is pleased to serialise these fascinating memories
GAA, rugby, cricket, racing, blacksmiths, cockfighting…and the Parnell Split
The games played in Roscommon at that time were in plenty. Hurling, Gaelic football (21-a-side), rugby, cricket and skating. The hurling and Gaelic football was very crude. What a change today and how proud Roscommon should be to have a team of All-Ireland champions. Needless to say the rugby team was confined to the so-called gentry of the town. Teams from Castlebar and Athlone were frequent visitors. The playing ground was in Harrison’s field on the site of the church of the Sacred Heart. Cricket was played on the field now St. Coman’s Park. Tom Collins kept the pitch in order and the English Military team from Athlone played several matches here. I remember skating over the Lough here for six weeks without a break. At night, tar barrels were lighted around on the verge of the ice and a very gay crowd assembled to take part in this very healthy sport. We had some very good skaters: Bob Crosbie, E.P. Murray, Charlie O’Keefe, Pat Doran, Johnie Raftery, I.I. McDermott, now Monsignor McDermott, Vicar General St. John’s, Newfoundland. Pat Doran was a big man and the slogan ‘Pat Doran was in on it’ meant to the boys that the ice was strong enough. I remember the first cycle race. It was held on the field which is now St. Coman’s Park. The Dunlop tyre had not arrived, so we had solid tyre and cushion tyres, and different makes of bikes including the high cycle (now known as the ‘old penny farthing’). The big wheel was about four feet six inches high and it took some doing to mount it.
Race meetings in Lenabane
What a races day meant to the town I can hardly describe – the one day in the year that was looked forward to by every man, woman and child, and the crowd that came for the races.
For weeks before, there were great preparations. The men having new suits made, the women and children, new dresses. The tailors and shoemakers working night and day, and the shopkeepers getting in extra stock of goods.
All the houses newly painted and white-washed, the hackney cars and carriages painted. The arrival of the racehorses by train the day before. All the good judges, picking out winners as the horses passed through the streets.
Before midday the town would be thronged, a long procession of hackney cars plying to and from the railway station to the course at Lenabane, all covered with dust. Then, a continual stream of people walking from the market square across the Lough fields to the course.
On the course was a gathering beyond description. All sorts of tents and marquees, providing eating and drinking of every sort – hot crubeens (pigs’ feet), loaf bread, ginger cake, toast cakes, sugar stick, hard drinks and soft drinks, roulette tables, shooting galleries, three-card tricks, fiddlers, pipers, bookies and welshers and pickpockets. Most of the crowd paid very little attention to the horse racing, they were out for the day, picnicking. In the evening, the town trade was at its peak, plenty of money spent – Tofts Hobby Horses did a roaring trade.
The blacksmith trade in those days was very progressive, as horses were in great demand for all farm work, and transport of every kind. John Caulfield, Pat Croghan and his brother Thomas, Pat Tighe and Pat Kelly were outstanding tradesmen. Not alone could they make and fit perfect shoes, they were also veterinarians, and many a valuable horse they cured. Veterinary surgeons were few in those days.
The Cooke family did a brisk trade making nails; three brothers, George, Eddie and Willie, made boot-nails, slating nails and holdfasts, etc. They worked in a small forge at the back of their dwelling on the Pound Road, now Convent Road, and another nailer, Johnnie Carr, carried on his trade in Castle Street.
Cockfighting was prevalent at the time. George Cooke was called, ‘The Heeler’; he was an expert at fitting on the steel spurs on the fighting cocks.
The elections in those days were hectic affairs. The Parnell split brought about a very bad feeling among the people, and what was it all for? To elect and send Irishmen to the British House of Parliament – as if they could achieve much to benefit Ireland. No doubt some very brilliant Irishmen attended as members of the British Parliament.
But before they took their seats, they first had to swear an oath of allegiance to the German-bred Queen Victoria, the same woman that would, if she could, have exterminated every man, woman and child in Ireland. Yet still, she could always count on having sixty to seventy thousand Irishmen in the English forces – and when the same Irishmen were out fighting the small band of farmers in South Africa, she made the noble concession of allowing the Irishmen in her army to wear the Shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day. It took the brave men of 1916 to put an end to all that, and may God rest them.
Well, let us forget the past elections and be proud of the way elections are carried out today, when every voter is free to cast his vote for any candidate he thinks will best serve his country.
(Series continues in coming weeks)