Val, Ita, Ta and Donie Mullane celebrating 30 years in business at the Knockdown Arms on Saturday night last

Val, Ita, Ta and Donie Mullane celebrating 30 years in business at the Knockdown Arms on Saturday night last

Donie & Anne McGrath pictured at the Knockdown Arms birthday celebrations on Saturday night waiting for a bit of this fabulous made especially for the occasion by ‘Cakes by Lisa’

Donie & Anne McGrath pictured at the Knockdown Arms birthday celebrations on Saturday night waiting for a bit of this fabulous cake made especially for the occasion by ‘Cakes by Lisa’

Athea Ladies Church Gate Collection 

Athea Ladies Football Club would like to sincerely thank everyone who contributed so generously to our church collection at the weekend.  It was very much appreciated.

Car Boot Sale 

A Car boot sale and indoor market in aid of West Limerick Community Radio will be held in Newcastle West Community Centre on this Sunday 24th January. The gates will open at 7.30am and stalls are available. Contact the Station for all the details.

The Way We Were

Gay Byrne has a show on  RTE1 called “The Meaning of Life” where he chats to well known people about  their interpretation of life and their beliefs, especially their thoughts about God. Some of the episodes are fascinating ranging from the agnostic views of Stephen Fry to the total acceptance  of God in her life by Ann Marie McHugh, the MD of the Ploughing Championship. Both make very good cases for their particular beliefs, one based on reason, use of research and intellect and the other on the gift of faith, a total belief that, not only does God exist but that He is with us in everyday life.

This started me thinking about  my own upbringing and the way things used to be in times that are so different to what they are today. Religion was around us all the time, from getting up in the morning to the time we went to bed at night. The day usually started with our morning prayers which we knew off by heart. Then it was off to school where we started with more prayers. The classroom was full of holy pictures and statues and we were constantly reminded that God was watching us and would punish us if we did not behave. There were further prayers throughout the day including the Angelus at 12 noon. We had religious instruction (it really was just Catholicism) which included learning from the red and the green catechism. To those of you who haven’t been exposed to these books; you don’t know how lucky you are. They contained a series of questions and answers and woe betide you if you got one of them wrong. All I remember is being in constant fear; fear that I might not know the correct answer and get slapped, fear that I might be caught doing wrong  and incur the wrath of God and, the biggest one of all, fear that I might die in mortal sin and be burned in hell forever.

Odd that there was more emphasis put on punishment by God than his great love for us. School finished with another prayer and off home with us running like march hares. The Angelus bell rang out at 6pm and everyone stopped what they were doing, the men took off their caps and said the Angelus. This was also a signal, long ago, for the days work in the bog to end.  Sometime after the supper, which like all meals began and ended with a prayer thanking God for the food on the table, we were called to say the Rosary. I have to admit that we hated being called to the Rosary. Because my father didn’t come home at the same time every day there was no set time for the Rosary so  I might be just about to go playing football or going to the pictures when the call would come. We wanted to get it over with as fast as possible so when my mother, who always “gave out” the Rosary, started with ”Hail Mary, full of grace” we butted in with the Holy Mary and finished almost as soon as she did. This did not always work as she might stop completely and begin the whole thing all over again until we behaved ourselves.

We took up kneeling positions against the kitchen chairs with our eyes on the floor, or at least they were supposed to be. Sometimes, during the course of a decade, a “clog” (small black beetle) would emerge from the turf by the fire and make his way across the floor.  We used to have bets on how far he would go or in what direction and of course a fit of the giggles soon followed. A couple of whacks on the backside with a sally rod put manners on us and we paid attention to our prayers again. The Rosary was followed by the Hail Holy Queen but this was not the end. The trimmings came next. A long litany of saints were entreated to come to our aid. We thought it would never end. Night prayers were the last thing we did before going to bed.

Apart from school there was constant mention of God all day through. He was thanked for everything, good and bad. “Fine day, thank God” or “fine soft day (pouring rain)” are prime examples. Somebody entering a house would say “God bless all here” and on departure they were wished “God speed”.

The old Irish salutations were religious. “Dia dhuit (God be with you)” was answered by “Dia is Muire dhuit (God and Mary be with you)”. There was always a holy water font inside the front door and we blessed ourselves every time we came in or went out. Mass was never missed on Sunday.  We went to Confession and Holy Communion once a month without fail. Until I discovered girls in my early teens I had the same list of sins which I repeated every time I went to confession. I had no idea of the significance of it all and did it out of a sense of duty and habit.  In reality we had no great sins to tell anyway but that did not stop us feeling guilty and fearing retribution. Our fathers and mothers had strong faith and lived their lives accordingly. It sustained them throughout the hard times they endured and the thought of a better life to come after this world made life bearable for them. I envy them their faith, a gift I don’t have and am all the poorer for.

Life back then was certainly different and dominated by religious beliefs that are not as strong today as they were. Are we better off? In some ways we are but we have also lost a lot. I don’t have any answers, just my own story and how my life was formed in the old days. It might as well have been on another planet as far as today’s children are concerned.

Domhnall de Barra