I was in the army reserves up until 1944. June '44 I got my discharge. We were disbanded that time, an' they gave so much for every year service you done. It amounted to seventy five pound. That's what I got.
I was in the Curragh for a while, an' they were two-storey buildings. An' there'd be twelve in each room. There was miles o' wire around that place an' so many men'd have to do patrolling that on bicycles all night.
An' I was in Athlone the night the woollen mills was burned. That was the only night I was frightened right.'Twas the second time they got burned. An' talk of a blaze! We were just inside in bed an' the siren started. I was right inside the gate, under the bridge where the railway passes over. That's where my hut was, an oul' nissen hut. They're the kind o' huts we were in'. An' the siren started about twelve o'clock. Well, by God, when we went out 'twas up in a blaze. 'Twas right across the river from us.
We don't know was it an accident or not, but don't you know wool. 'Twas all oil, sure. They brought out some o' the stuff in lorries, all right, but the rest went up in a blaze.
My spot was standing on the bridge - 'twas a timber bridge that time - an' the gas-pipes was going under the bridge. An' what they were afraid of was if it went up as far as the gas the whole town'd be gone. So what they done was, the bank is there just as you go into the woollen mills, they planted a bomb there, an' they had bombs planted in other places, to blow up the houses, if the fire spread. That'd save the rest o' the town.
Lord, there was girders there six inches by twelve, an' I seen 'em bending the same as you'd bend a kippin. An', you see, the firefighters couldn't fight only from the one side, out o' the river. Oh, it took 'em the best part of a day an' a half to quench it.
But that time in Athlone, all the recruits were coming in an' 'twas deadly. They were coming in there from the Aran Islands an' some of 'em hadn't a word of English. You'd go in to; the bathroom in the morning shaving an' you wouldn't know what they'd be at.. Not at all. A fine lot o' men, though.
An' I met plenty Dubliners, too. I'll tell you about 'em. We were cutting the turf out in Clonowen, in Brendan Shine's country. I danced inside in his house several times, an' drank a cask o' porter there! An' we used to cut the turf for 'em an' save the hay with 'em. We were camped out in the bog by the side o' Shine's place. About seventy of us was in it, about twenty slean of us. An' I was in the quartermaster's stores, an' I used to go up with a wheelbarrow with about twenty gallons o' milk every morning at eleven o'clock, up to the bog to 'em. An' in the evening then, about seven o'clock, there was a big, big pot an' I'd throw in I s'pose two stone of oaten-meal in it, an' they'd come in at ten or eleven o'clock an' they'd be eating that. Oh, they were well fed. There was plenty grub.
Did they get meat? I buried more meat above in Clonowen that'd keep me eating for six months. You see, if I had one ounce o' tea left over today I'd be cut back tomorrow. If one egg broke someone had to do without that egg. If there was ten men you'd get ten eggs an' ten rashers. An' my bed was down on two chests o' tea an' a chest o' sugar, an' that's what used to save me. I used give a couple o' the lads from around here an' Ennistymon that were there with me an extra bit o' tea when they'd be coming home.
But there was five officers staying at that side o' the road. Well, I'd get their rations every day - we'll say, for the five of 'em I might get four pounds o' steak or four pounds o' mutton. Well, they mightn't want that, so I had to take that an' do away with it. If it was caught with me the following day, I'd get nothing the following day again. So what I used do was bury it, above in the bog. 'Twas fierce waste, o' course, but you had to do it. I couldn't give it away because I could be reported. An' I couldn't eat it. Who was going to cook it for me? We had no cooks there in the bog only the army cooks.
But .... I was saying about the Dublin lads. There was a commandant there from Leinster. A nice man. We used be discussing about farming. He was a mighty farming man. But he sent to Dublin for the Construction Corps. They were a young crowd o' lads, sixteen an' seventeen years. They coaxed 'em in into the army, somehow or another. He brought down forty of 'em for to foot the turf. Sure, they never seen turf in their life. He held 'em for a week. An' he called a corporal this day - 'twas the middle o' the day - an' he lined 'em up an' he marched 'em back to Dublin again. They had to walk back to Dublin, from Athlone, the poor devils. That was a day an' a half's journey.
But they were no good to him. Sure, what did they know about a sod o' turf. They didn't know a bit about it.
Eddie has been collecting folklore in Co. Clare and further afield for nearly 40 years. Here, Eddie shares some of the stories he has collected on his travels. Print copies of each story appear in his long-running "Folklore Corner" in the Clare County Express.