Michael Ferriter

An excerpt from Dingle People; Farmers, Fishermen, Families & Friends.

John Ferriter was my grandfather. He came from the village of Ballinrannig. His family lived mostly by fishing from the naomhóg. He married Máig O’Leary. He secured a small farm in Beenbawn in the late nineteenth century. My father Michael was reared in Beenbawn. As a young man, he went working as a labourer in Churchfarm which belonged to Moriartys in Ventry. It was here he met Margaret Mary Moriarty. After they married they moved to Sráid Eoin. They reared a family of six children; John (The Kerryman), Timmy, Thomas, Michael, Denis and Margaret. I was born on 26 June 1920 in Sráid Eoin. I attended the convent and Christian Brothers school. My classmates included Timmy McCarthy, Joe O’Shea (Holy Ground) and Br Thomas Moriarty (Main Street). As a youngster, our pastimes were simple and varied. Like most lads I loved hunting rabbits. I’d head off towards Crusheen and set snares as far as the racecourse, always accompanied by my terrier. Rabbit hunting fulfilled both leisure and practical purposes. We enjoyed the challenge of the chase but a rabbit was also a culinary delight and a welcome addition to our diet of spuds, cabbage, turnips, salty fish and cured pig. On occasions when I secured a dorn of rabbits they were dispatched to a grateful neighbour for a king’s bounty of one shilling. There was a fine beagle pack in the town. Nearly everyone in Goat Street had a hunting beagle in the back yard and a linnet in a cage. My brother John (The Kerryman) had a beagle which he named ‘Fancy’. My friend Patrick McLoughlin had a linnet and a red pole in a cage in a back garden shed. On one occasion, Pat heard that a patient in the hospital was breeding canaries. We set off for Ashmount. We were only ten years old and hadn’t realised that the bird man was a patient in the isolation ward for TB (tuberculosis) at the very rear of the building. We made our way past the patient’s beds and bought the canary for six pence. Just as we were leaving the ward, Nurse Sullivan spotted us. She gave me a whack of a towel and Pat took flight with the canary in his pocket. Afterwards, we found out that TB was almost a certain killer and Pat and I lived in dread for the following month. Thankfully, our innocent act of folly wasn’t punished. However, the canary refused to sing and it wouldn’t stop sneezing. Pat thought the bird must have contacted TB so we released him in the fairy fort at the sportsfield.
Nearly everyone in Dingle was Gaelic football mad. The sportsfield was thronged each evening with players and spectators. A town league had been established during the early nineteen thirties. I remember watching the final between Sráid Eoin and Grey’s Lane. The sportsfield was a hive of excitement. The Lane team had some fine players including Tom Devane, O’Flahertys, twins Michael and John Graham and Jack ‘Neddy’ O’Connor. Surprisingly the Sráid Eoin lads triumphed. Their team included the O’Connors (Spa Road), O’Sheas (Spa Road) Mossie Moran (Ballybeg) Tom the Gabha O’Sullivan, Johnny ‘Ant’ O’Connor and Tomáseen Meara. There was great cibeal that evening and the Sráid Eoin pipeband paraded the team around the town. The bagpipers included Maurice and Tom O’Sullivan (The Gabhas), Mikey Casey, Dauran Lynch (Ballinasig) and the Farrells. John ‘The Kerryman’ played the big drum. It was the first occasion that I heard the expression “Up Sráid Eoin.... we never died a winter yet and the devil himself wouldn’t kill us in the summer!”
In 1940, I played championship football with Dingle against John Mitchells in the first round. The Mitchells beat us by double scores, four goals and four points to two goals and two points. However, Dingle still qualified as runners up in their league section and triumphed over O’Rahillys in the final when Paddy Bawn scored the winning goal in injury time. Charlie Kerins played with O’Rahillys in that game. He was executed on 1 December 1944 after a trial by military court for alleged involvement in an IRA incident, which resulted in the death of a Garda. He refused to recognise the court or give evidence in his own defence. Afterward, the O’Rahilly’s club was renamed Kerins O’Rahillys in his memory. Unfortunately, I had left Dingle to join the army immediately after the first game. I missed the opportunity to play in the later games and missed out on a championship medal.
Dingle was impoverished during the thirties. Many people suffered from poverty, malnutrition and tuberculosis ravaged the countryside. My father worked as a general employee with Houlihans at Dykegate Street. The work yard was a hive of activity as it contained an electricity generator, ice maker and general supplies yard for timber and coal. Afterwards, he worked at McKenna’s Mill at the Holy Ground. Maize was imported from Canada and was ground into Yellow Buck. He received a paltry wage as did all labouring men and just managed to keep the family above the poverty threshold. Every house in Sráid Eoin reared a pig which was butchered in the autumn. All leftover food (such as potato peels) were fed to the pig hence the popular saying “There’s no waste with a pig!”. Whereas money was a scarce commodity, in our household we never wanted for food. In fact, we enjoyed a healthy diet of spuds, accompanied by a wide range of vegetables. My father bartered his free evenings with Dion McKenna during the harvest in return for a plot of land for cultivation. He occasionally secured relief work from the County Council. The employees kept the Mall River clear from overgrowth and the Conor Pass dykes had to be freed from debris and boulders after torrential rain on the hillside. The working conditions were quite strenuous and the men were expected to ply their shovels in hail, rain or snow. They received five shillings a day but serving a jail sentence would have been easier.
Casey’s hotel was a landmark. It was situated at the summit of Sráid Eoin. It had a five star rating! Basically, it was a resting home for the destitute, the paupers and men of the road. The fee was nine old pence for the blue room, but only six pence for the green room, because you had to keep your pee until the morning! The wooden floor in the green room had a liberal covering of straw from Dion McKenna’s barn. The establishment was a paradise for ticks, bugs and overfed fleas. The most respected person who lived in Sráid Eoin was Dr Dagg. He was a veterinary surgeon in Dingle. He was originally from Lurgan, Co Armagh, and was a Protestant. His house was situated where the sports hall is in the old monastery. He travelled around the countryside in a pony and trap, looking very elegant in his top hat and long beard. He was very knowledgeable and courteous and he often gave us a joyride in his trap. My two elder brothers, John and Thomas remained in Dingle all their lives. Thomas was employed in the hospital as a general maintenance operator. He was a member of the Dingle racehorse and pony committee, and held the position of starter for donkey’s years. John was a larger than life character and was widely known in Dingle as ‘The Kerryman’. He also worked as a council employee. Each morning he tied his shovel and slasher to the crossbar of his bicycle and headed out the Mail Road, clearing drains and cutting hedges. He spent much of his time and energy spinning yarns and plotting tales for the farmers on their homeward journey from the creamery. In a period of few daily papers and no television he was a source of colourful local news and entertainment, hence the nickname ‘The Kerryman’ as he could rival the paper with his never ending amount of scéalta and lore. Perhaps it was from this ancestral well of knowledge and folklore that modern historian and close relation Diarmaid Ferriter’s enquiring mind issued forth! There was a large boulder situated on the side of the Conor Pass road. One day ‘The Kerryman’ was marking the white lines on the road and daubed ‘The top one mile’upon the stone. He was probably Ireland’s first graffiti artist and Salvador Dali would have been very chuffed with his handy work. He occasionally gave it a touch up and it was an established local landmark for more than 20 years. Eventually, an enlightened roads engineer from Tralee replaced the rock art with a road sign. Dali would have been devastated!
As a young lad, I recall a night of great commotion and turmoil in Dingle during the year 1933. Although I couldn’t fully understand the full circumstances of events, there was a charged atmosphere and I was warned by my parents to remain inside. A public meeting was to be held at the Small Bridge by the United Ireland Party. General O’Duffy’s representative, Commandant Cronin was to be the guest speaker. There had been recent trouble in the locality and a number of locals were awaiting trial for discharging weapons and wounding Martin Fitzgerald at Lady’s Cross. Two large banners extended across the road. One was hung at the entrance of the town at Paírc an Ághasaigh and the other in front of Bridge House containing the words ‘NO FREE SPEECH FOR TRAITORS’. A large group of O’Duffy’s supporters were gathered. Many were wearing blue shirts and a black beret. A guard of honour was formed which included my brother John ‘The Kerryman’. Many years later ‘The Kerryman’ maintained that the blue shirt was useless, as he couldn’t wear it to work, comparing it to waving a red rag to a bull. Bridge House was occupied by Dr Creedon. He was a republican sympathiser and he placed a gramophone directed towards the crowd, which was blaring out loudly. Just prior to the commencement of the meeting, a group of Grey’s Lane and Quayside lads including Devanes, O’Flahertys and Brosnans marched threateningly towards the Mall. Earlier that evening they had entered public houses and demanded that the Republican national boycott on Bass Ale be imposed. They demanded the bottled beer, which was then brewed in Workington and therefore deemed unpatriotic, be immediately smashed. A line of Garda separated the two factions. However, since the first contingent of Garda recruits appointed by the new independent state were viewed as pro-treaty in their political opinions, they were unlikely to show much tolerance towards the republican agitators. There was a general melee. The Garda didn’t spare their batons and the Grey’s Lane group were dispersed and left licking their wounds. Within a couple of years, lads from both sides of the political divide were forced to emigrate. The majority headed to England and ironically stood side by side with the forces of the crown in the major battles of World War 11. Inevitably, some lost their lives young and are resting far from their native town.
I was now twenty years of age and there was little hope of employment in Dingle. The onset of the war signalled bad news for millions of people but it also offered opportunities for others. Is olc an ghaoth nách seídeann mhaith. The Irish army were recruiting young men during the emergency to safeguard Irish neutrality. I was successful and underwent a medical examination. We trained, marched and drilled around the ruddy barracks until our boots were worn out and our fingers sore from polishing our buttons. In truth, we were as bored as a grasshopper in a matchbox. However, we had the bare necessities of life including a camp bed, a low nutritional diet of gruel (watery porridge) and a weekly income of thirteen shillings and two pence per week. One of my friends, named Sydney, headed to England during his leave of absence. He joined the RAF and saw action in France and Italy. He secured a week’s pass to visit his parents but was challenged on the train to Cork. He had evaded the might of the Nazis regime but was undone by the diligence of the Irish military police. He was charged with desertion and sentenced to six months in the glasshouse (military prison in Cork). When the war was over it was like pulling the plug from the sink and releasing the water. Many of the youth between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five were kicking their heels with empty pockets around the streets of Dingle. Almost immediately, droves of Irish people descended onto the English shore seeking employment. There were jobs aplenty, especially in reconstruction after the aerial bomb damage in the cities. I caught the train from Tralee and paid three pounds and ten shillings for a single train-boat-train journey to Paddington Station in London. I was joined by Tim Rohan, Pat Kelliher, Debbie Donoghue and Theresa Flahive. We waited in a cafe until Martin Rohan came home from work and he brought us to the Wimpey Construction Hostel. We got fixed up with a job at the rate of two shillings and four pence an hour. We worked a forty-eight hour week and received a bonus of one pound. Meanwhile, Peggy Sheehy (Cooleen) had also emigrated. She trained as a nurse. I had met her in Dingle years previously. The lads and girls used to sit and chat at the wall near the Mall River. Occasionally, everyone had to scamper from The Mall when Father O’Shea came by, because he deemed it immoral to be chatting to the girls. When I headed to London in 1946, I hadn’t a trade. I secured employment at a building site and quickly learned about life on the first rung of the social ladder. I married Peggy Sheehy and we raised a family of two boys, Michael and David. Our home was situated near to the River Thames and Battersby Park. It was a lovely part of the city especially during the summer time, and a great place to rear our family. I often brought the boys to see the local football team. In later years, I could hear the Chelsea crowds chanting from our back garden and we always knew when Chelsea scored from the almighty roar. I worked all over London in the building game for over fifteen years. Then Maurice Sheehy, my brother in law whom I used to meet each weekend, brought an advertisement for a postman to my attention. I applied and was successful. Initially I suffered a big drop in wages, however my pay increased with service and the working conditions were much easier. Each morning I cycled down the King’s Rd. It was beautiful in the early morning and I loved to watch the army horses heading towards the palace. Eventually, Maurice Sheehy and his wife Penny returned to Ireland and settled in Ventry. We decided to return too, to the home sod in 1981 and settled down in Ard na Caithne (Smerwick). It was a huge change from the bright lights and chaos of London. There isn’t a more beautiful spot in the world than Smerwick, Béal Bán or Dún an Óir on a summer’s day. We loved the walks around The Three Sisters, watching the gannets plummeting into the sea’s blue belly, the fragrance of the wild flowers and the constant changes of mood in the harbour during the winter storms. The Lord has granted us a long and happy life, two wonderful boys and grandchildren for which we are truly grateful.