Old Joe Collins owned the farm opposite ours in Islandflackey. He was known as ‘Old Joe’ to distinguish him from ‘Young Joey’, his son. For generations in Ireland, most eldest sons were named after their fathers and likewise eldest daughters after their mothers. I was one of the exceptions, having been named after my father’s father.
When we moved from Glenmanus to Islandflackey in about 1952, Old Joe was still working his farm, with his cows, plough horse, orchard and vegetable garden. Small holders could never have afforded to own a tractor.
When I was young, probably no more than six or seven, I can clearly recall one day seeing Old Joe across the road, walking up and down in one of his fields sowing seed using a violin-like instrument with a bow and a hopper, which he had to regularly stop to refill from a sack that he had brought to the field in a wheelbarrow. Not long after that that Old Joe retired from active farming, his animals gone and the farmyard silent.
An example of sewing seed
Like most Irish farming families, the Collins had been almost self-sufficient. They had their cows for their milk and they made their own butter. They had chickens for their meat and eggs, and next to the southern sheltered side of the house, they had a vegetable garden and an orchard. And potatoes were plentiful and present at almost every meal.
But Old Joe had more. He had an area planted in gooseberry bushes and in addition he had three greenhouses in which he grew tomatoes and that were heated by means of a central boiler and pipework. And the gooseberries and tomatoes he supplied to local greengrocers. When he had enough to fill a couple of baskets, he would catch the bus to the town to sell them.
My father’s parents moved over from Norfolk when my brother was born, in 1953. The rented the big house at the end of the lane that passed the Collins farm. Old Joe was the caretaker of the house. I never did know if he owned it or whether he had been looking after it for an absentee landlord.
The ‘Pink House’ which my grandparents rented
If ‘Young Joey’ had been interested, he would have continued to work the farm, but it was never big enough to support him too, and he got a job with the local electricity company. Farming is a hard life and once sons escape to a relatively cushy nine-to-five job, not many want to return.
I never ever saw Joey walk anywhere. He always left the farm in his little car, even to attend Sunday worship at Ballywillan church, which was about 200 metres away. As the minister came out from his room and made his way to the pulpit and as one of the elders went to close the church doors, one could hear Joey’s car screeching to a halt and the bang as he slammed the door and his hurried footsteps as he rushed in. He always just made it on time. Nobody ever entered the church after the doors were shut. That was simply unheard of. And when the service ended, Joey was always the first one out.
Joey eventually married a nurse and she moved in to the farmhouse. I don’t remember her name for they married after I left home. She had a severe back problem. I don’t know the cause, but she became more and more bent over as time passed and she could not straighten up. Her life must have been difficult.
Of course all are now long dead and the properties have been renovated, extended or demolished and replaced by something more modern. I still remember as it was more than sixty years ago.
But I am quite sure that one thing has not changed in the neighbourhood with the passage of time and that is the unwritten rule that one does not enter Ballywillan church once the service has started.