When tea was first brought to Ireland it wasn't sold in the shops. What they did was, a firm took charge of it an' brought it in from India or China or somewhere like that, an' if you wanted to sell tea you'd get a pony an' trap from 'em an' they'd send you down to Kerry or maybe Cork. If you were a Galway man they'd send you to Kerry an' they might send you to Carlow if you were a Clare man. An' the way they worked it then was they'd go around the country an' they'd leave pounds o' tea - I don't think there was any half-pounds. They'd leave pounds o' tea but they wouldn't take any money. They'd come back then in a month an' take the money for the first pound an' leave another one. 'Twas almost a shilling a pound as far as I remember. An' you know the story yourself. That way you were always stuck in it. An' getting bigger the more people got to like it.
There were three local men here who spent a good while at it in Kerry an' made a bit o' money out of it, too. 'Twas a good job if you got a good area. 'Twas a big business at the time. I presume you had to be respectable to get it, an' more or less able to read an' write. It had to be well set-up, sure, 'cos they supplied the pony an' trap.
An' the reason why you wouldn't be allowed work in your own county? 'Twas the very same as it was for the police. If you were from Clare you'd be sent to some other county. I s'pose they'd be afraid you'd know too many people if you were too near home.
Now, how big an area they covered I don't know exactly, but Kerry was one o' the ones I heard about. An' Limerick, too. The wages mustn't be great, but sure 'twas a job, wasn't it.
How long ago was it? Well, I came to Roo in 1926 an' one o' the men I'm telling you about had just retired, given up the job. He got married an' spent the rest of his life farming. I imagine from about 1926 on tea was being sold over the counter. I'd say he was at his busiest before the '20s, maybe during the war years.
An' what they used to do was, they'd stay in farm-houses. An' the people'd be glad to keep 'em 'cos they'd give 'em a pound o' tea for the night's lodgings, you see. Remember, they'd be covering a big area, now, maybe half o' county Kerry or Cork, once a month, an' the people'd know 'em well. They'd only be delighted to see 'em coming.
But 'twas a young man's job. They'd get a few days off for Christmas holidays, that's all. Maybe that's the reason why two o' the ones I knew never married an' another one up outside Loughrea, he was in his late '40s by the time he did.
But I was always surprised that so few people knew anything about that job, because 'twas a good one in its day. Even John B didn't know about the tea-men. But his wife did, all right. She heard about 'em.