Schooldays and Lodgers

By Patricia McElhone

Schooldays for village children could begin at three and a half years if the numbers attending the school had fallen dangerously low. The School was beside St. Columba's Church and is now used as the Village Hall. A child being wheeled to school in a go-car was not uncommon. Glass bottles (usually Irel Coffee bottles) of cold milk would be carried for lunch with slices of bread and butter wrapped in newspaper. A turf fire heated each of the two classrooms and also warmed the milk bottles. Toilet facilities were primitive. Punishment was meted out with the Master's ruler or with a well-placed clip. Singing was always part of school life. The schoolmistress in the 1920s and 30s trained a choir that regularly carried off prizes at the local feiseanna. A Church choir too was very much part of life as it still is today and interestingly the musical tradition has survived in the same families to the present time. Teachers also coached the children in elocution and today these children in their 60s and 70s can recite the poems they learned so long ago.

Card playing in the village was very popular during the winter months and every Friday two lucky scholars were sent to collect a donkey and cart. They then went round the houses and collected chairs with the owners' names written in chalk under the seats. With the chairs stacked in the cart the day would be well on, until finally having unloaded at the School and returned the donkey and cart, the day was spent. The cards were on Sunday nights and the whole reverse process would have to be repeated on Monday, but one thing is for sure - the scholars were not complaining.

School leavers were much younger than today. Most children remained at National School until aged 14 or 15, when they started whatever work was available. Boys went to sea, boarding ships sailing out of Sligo and joining fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins. The lads who joined the ships could have spent their boyhoods dreaming of and waiting their turn to sail out past the tip of Raughley. They would have heard stories of storms, sinkings and rescues and so with the fire of youth and adventure they set out to experience life at sea - homesickness, sea-sickness, wettings and freezings, all of which was stoically endured and sparsely rewarded.

Practically every family at Rosses Point had somebody at sea serving in the Merchant Navy. The pay was six pounds a week - four pounds of which was wired home. Wires in green envelopes were part of life in Rosses Point and whilst the pay packet was needed and welcomed, the war years brought wires of a different kind, conveying the dreaded news of mines, sinkings and loss of life. Two years ago a plaque was erected at the village cemetery gate to commemorate those who have been lost to the sea and an annual service will continue to remind us of all those brave men and the courage and the suffering of their families, doing the only work they knew.

Drownings are sadly part of life in any seafaring village and Rosses Point suffered many such tragedies, even to the present day. Many families mourned for men whose bodies were never recovered. Such suffering lies beneath the surface of so many family lives, and should not be forgotten. Today only three village men go to sea. Others have become Harbour Masters or have retired from prestigious service with the shipping and ferry lines, while some have piloted ships into Sligo Harbour. The Yacht and Sailing Clubs provide a different kind of sea experience for the new generation. Sea Scouts give village children a chance to put out to sea thus fostering the age-old spirit of adventure together with the skills necessary for their own safety in the handling of their boats.

In other times most village families had their own boats which were kept down at the front shore (like parked cars today) and used for fishing and gaining access to larger ships coming in to Sligo. Such boats were a necessity and far removed from the pleasure craft of today.

Girls leaving school served their time in shops in Sligo, often starting with pay of five shillings (25p) a week. The hotels, one restaurant with a few rooms to let and general help in some of the larger houses provided another source of employment. Girls often saved up at whatever work they got and with the help of the sea-going members of the family, immigrated to England to train as nurses. Like the men, they usually acquitted themselves with credit.

Another source of income for the village was the summer letting of practically every house on the road. Before the lodgers were due to arrive, the house cleaning was like an epidemic - it was everywhere. Outside, across the sturdy depths of veronica and fuchsia hedges, the mattresses were laid and turned, thumped and shaken. Some were feather, others hair and all covered in black and white ticking. Pillows and bolsters got the same treatment. Sheets and towels (usually white) were spread to bleach on the grass. Floors were scrubbed. Dressers scoured. The smell of Ronuk floor polish was thick in the air. Net curtains were starched until they could stand by themselves. And then came the exodus to the back houses. Whole families made the best of what space was available and often it was scant indeed. Older family members were often apprehensive lest they would take ill and die during the summer period, with the best beds, linens, delph and utensils left for the use of the lodgers. Houses were taken by the month and some families would come to the same houses year after year. Lodgers usually came from the Midland Counties. September usually brought the farmers and their wives who with the harvests completed would come to set themselves up for the winter, savouring the health-giving properties of September seas with their high iodine content. These visitors would bring their own food and the woman of the house would cook it. With these latecomers the lodger season finished and village life would settle down for the winter.