Thursday, January 25, 2001

John Worthly (2)

When John Wortley moved to Lambe’s fruit farm at Bolton Hill, Moone in 1957 there were 55 acres under fruit. This was to increase under his management to 175 acres, and raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries, redcurrants and apples provided the basis for many full-time and part-time jobs during the economic hard times of those years. I remember the lorries which left Emily Square in the early hours of the summer mornings bringing the fruit pickers to Bolton Hill. But for my early morning duties as a Mass server I would not have expected to have shared such early hours with the good women and youngsters who clambered up on the lorries for the short journey to the fruit farm. During the six weeks of the fruit picking season which coincided with the school holidays, upwards of 500 young boys and girls were employed at the Bolton Hill Fruit Farm. “The youngsters were the best pickers” says John, while the older women from Athy, Carlow and Castledermot made up the majority of the full-time staff on the farm.

John recalls some of those wonderful hard-working women from forty years ago. Teresa Roycroft, Nellie Fennell and her sister Mrs. Casey, Mrs. Brennan, Lilly Moore, “Nonie” Kelly, Mrs. McFadden, Josie Burke and Maggie Robinson to mention but a few. They all gathered in the town square in time to catch the 7.30am lorry to Bolton Hill where they started work at 8.00am, finishing at 6.00pm in the evening. The O’Keeffe’s including Mick, John Joe, Eamon and Tony were the drivers employed by Lambes, both on and off the fruit farm. In his early years on the job John failed to understand the difficulties that can arise when county allegiances come to the fore. On one such occasion the Athy women and the women from Carlow came to blows. The occasion was marked by the use of sturdy wooden fruit boxes as weapons by both sides in a futile attempt to batter their opponents into submission. Peace was eventually restored and thereafter only guaranteed so long as the battling women were kept apart. This was achieved by judiciously allocating each group to pick fruit in different and well separated areas of the farm.

In the late 1950’s Lambe Brothers required more and more fruit for their jam- manufacturing process, and sought to extend strawberry growing into the south east of Ireland. John toured County Wexford with a local horticultural adviser on a strawberry-growing mission but got little or no co-operation from the local farmers. Only one Clonroche-based farmer took up the offer and his immediate success in growing strawberries soon encouraged many others to get involved, in time creating the phenomenal success story which is the current Wexford Strawberry industry.

Barleyhill Farm was originally owned by Johnny Moran who sold it to Lambe Brothers in or about 1942 and Johnny then took on the job of farm manager. He was replaced 12 years later by John Wortley. The other Lambe Fruit Farm at Fontstown was purchased around the same time from Mr. Goodwin [Snr.] and was managed by Alo Lawler and later still by his son Dermot.

John Wortley retired on the last day of 1977, moving with his family to the Fontstown Farm where they lived for two years in the mews house. From there he started his landscaping business which was to occupy him for the next twelve years. His first landscaping contract was with the Marine Hotel in Sutton Cross in Dublin where after six weeks work he found himself with a profit of only £6.00. It was for him a valuable if expensive lesson in costing and estimating, but a lesson he would never forget. The Wortley family moved to Oldcourt in 1980 where John built a house in a field purchased from local farmer Jimmy Livingstone. At that time John was involved in producing wood carvings which he is quick to point out are all hand carved and owe nothing to the lathe. He has been working in wood since the mid-1970’s, having earlier executed stone carvings when he worked and lived in the English Cotswolds.

John’s success as a wood carver has seen his work included in art exhibitions throughout the region. His reproductions in different types of wood of the Irish fauna is particularly striking, and is a big favourite with the many persons who over the years have acquired examples of John’s work. Now retired from landscaping and gardening, John, at 84 years of age continues to produce wood carvings, while indulging in his other hobby of breeding and showing prized poultry.

John whose parents were members of the Plymouth Brethern describes himself as a non-conformist. I was particularly interested to hear of his connection with the Plymouth Brethern founded by John Nelson Darby, a one time associate of Athy man Reverend Thomas Kelly of Kellyite fame. John’s un-prepossessing manner belies a wealth of experience on farms as far apart as Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire and Greenstone Point in the west of the Scottish Highlands. The farmer cum artist has spent 47 years in south Kildare, more years than he spent in his native country and by his pleasant and gentlemanly manner has endeared himself to everyone fortunate enough to have met him over the years.

Thursday, January 18, 2001

John Worthly (1)

I first came across John Wortley nineteen years ago. More correctly I saw his wood carvings before I met the genial Englishman who has made his home in Ireland for the past 47 years. His story is of one man’s attachment to land, an attachment which has endured ever since he left the employment of a wholesale stationers in 1933. He was living in Surrey, just south of Croydon, at the age of 16 years when he started a poultry business. He recalls buying a 12 horsepower Morris car for £12.10s soon afterwards for his egg round, but energy and hard work was not then sufficient guarantee of commercial success. He soon gave up the uneven struggle but determined to stay working within the agricultural sector. Just before the start of World War II he spent six months without pay on a farm in Shropshire to gain experience of farmwork. His first job was as a stockman and as a driver to a farmer who fell foul of the drunk driving laws of the time. The farm was in Bichester, Oxfordshire, a noted hunting centre on the edge of the Vale of Aylesbury. While he was there World War II broke out but John as a farm manager was not accepted in the regular army and instead he joined the Air Raid Precaution Service. His next farm job was in Leicestershire where John started work each morning milking cows at 4.30am, finishing at 10.00pm, a routine endured for two days at a stretch, with every third day off. In June 1941 John married Joan whom he had met in art college some years previously. John was earning 48 shillings per week and provided with a farm house which the young couple shared with another farm worker and his family.

During the World War English agriculture was subjected to compulsory tillage control and War Agricultural Committees took control of farms which were not worked efficiently. For a time in early 1943 John worked as a farm foreman for the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey, now well known as a major tourist attraction in the Bedfordshire countryside. When the farm manager was sacked by the Duke, John was offered his job, but only part of the house previously occupied by the departing manager. John showing a determined streak, took himself to another position, this time with the Land Settlement Association near Jarrow.

An industrial town on the River Tynne, Jarrow was associated with the unemployment and social unrest of the 1920’s. It was from Jarrow that unemployed men began the long march to London in 1926 to demand jobs from the Conservative Government. John’s job as farm manager and machinery officer with the Land Settlement Association was to work closely with the former miners and ship builders who were allocated land by the Commission.

He spent two years amongst the Jarrow folk before moving in 1947 to Great Raveley in Cambridgeshire when offered a job by the former manager of the Woburn Estate. John was now earning £400 a year with a house provided, two pigs to kill, free fuel, vegetables, firing and a car provided. A period of relative prosperity followed which soon gave way to thoughts of owning and working his own agricultural holding. So it was that in 1949 John bought a 20 acre croft in Scotland with rights on 7,000 acres of commonage. Crofting developed following the Highland Clearances of the late 18th and 19th centuries which compelled Scottish tenants to abandon their homes and to adopt a subsistence lifestyle as crofters on the fringes of the barren Scottish coastline. Each croft consisted of a small holding with grazing rights on common pasture. It was a way of life which led to poverty, emigration and the eventual de-population of the Scottish Highlands.

The Wortley croft was at Greenstone Point, a cold, wet, and windy outcrop of moorland 90 miles north west of Inverness. The nearest village was Aultbea. The local school was 8 miles distance while the local doctor had to make a return journey of 90 miles if he was required to attend the Wortley household. It was to Greenstone Point that John, Jean and their two children, Frances and Andrew made the long arduous journey from Cambridgeshire just four years after the end of World War II. Jean and the children travelled by train, arriving at a station 35 miles distance from their new home while John travelled from Great Raveley just south of Petersborough with all the family furniture in a small truck. The journey was made at a slow speed without an overnight stop with John and the truck driver alternating as drivers. They set out on a Monday early in the morning and finally reached their destination at 12noon the following Wednesday after a journey of over 700 miles.

Greenstone Point was and is an isolated Gaelic-speaking area where severe gales lash the landscape and the persistent rainfall buffeted by the wind seems to fall almost horizontally. Barley and potatoes were grown on the 20 acre holding, with certified shallots for seed purposes providing a particularly good crop in what was a virus-free area. The barley was used for feeding cattle, six of which were kept together with three milking cows. An annual trip was made to Dingwall Market over 100 miles away to sell the cattle and buy in calves. The eight mile daily trip to the one-roomed school in Laide, a crofting village on Grunard Bay, was made courtesy of the local travelling grocer. He collected the Wortley children and the children of their far flung neighbours for school, took the orders for the daily rations and returned children and the pre-ordered groceries that same afternoon. The seemingly idyllic setting of the 20 acre croft brought with it hardships and deprivations unimagined when viewed from the comfort and security of a farmstead in Cambridgeshire and inevitably the isolated farming experiment was brought to an early conclusion. The croft was put up for sale and the Wortley family moved southwards to Buckinghamshire where in 1952 John got a job as a farm labourer and what he describes as a tiny cottage to accommodate his family.

In 1954 John and the family were on the move again, this time to Ireland to take up a job as farm manager on the Tipping Estate at Bellungan Castle near Dundalk. Once the summer residence of the Dublin Castle rulers Bellungan Castle was in the 1950’s home to Evan Tipping, the famous Welsh operatic singer. John stayed for three years before moving southwards to County Kildare.

At 40 years of age John Wortley moved to Barleyhill in Moone to manage a 500 acre farm owned by Lambe Brothers, jam manufacturers of Dublin. Here he was to spend the second half of his career and unlike the many and varied moves made in his earlier years, Barleyhill and later Oldcourt would provide a more stable background for the one time crofter and his family…..[TO BE CONTINUED]…..

Thursday, January 11, 2001

Jim Brosnan

Go deo deo aris ni rachad go caiseal.
Ag diol na ag reic mo shlainte
Na ar mhargadh na saoire im shui cois balla
Im’scaoinse ar leataoibh sraide
Bodairi na tire ag tiocht ar a gcapall
Da fhiafrai an bhfuilim hiralta
O! teanam chun siuil, ta an cursa fada
Seo ar siul an Spailpin Fanach.

Learnt by rote many years ago in the local Christian Brothers School, the words of An Spailpin Fanach were brought to mind again as I attended, last week, the funeral of Jim Brosnan. Jim was a native of Listowel, Co. Kerry, a town immortalised in print by Fr. Anthony Gaughan whose book on the history of that town is a classic of local history. Of course Listowel remains famous for its annual races which fit neatly in the Irish Sporting Calender in the week following the All Ireland Football Final in September. For the readers of Irish fiction and those familiar with Irish Theatre, Listowel will be well known as the home of the literary triumvirate John B. Keane, Bryan McMahon and Seamus Wilmot. The latter two are now dead while the evergreen John B. is now retired but still writing.

It was from the same community which gave us Keane, McMahon and Wilmot that Jim Brosnan came and it was from there that he travelled to South Kildare as a young man of 22 years of age in 1952. He travelled with a number of Kerry men to work on the bog at Ballydermot and when his colleagues returned to the south west coast county Jim stayed behind in the short grass county where he was to make his home for the following 49 years. Jim, who remained a batchelor worked for a number of local farmers after he had finished with Bord Na Mona and they were all represented at Jim’s graveside last week.

Ned Whelan of Mountbrook, Hugh Colgan of Kildangan and Tim Fitzpatrick of Richardstown, Kildangan were some of Jim’s employer’s during the 1950’s and early 1960’s before he went to work for the Brennan family of Bray, Athy. Jim was to remain with the Brennan’s for almost 30 years. In more recent times Jim, a son of the soil from the Kingdom was a constant presence in and around the Streets of the Anglo Norman town which in its history and associations was a world apart from his native place. He returned to Listowel each year, his annual visit timed to coincide with the Listowel Races. Years of absence from his native County gave Jim a Kildare accent, or so his sister believed not realising that to the Kildare man’s ear, Jim had retained to the last, the rich mellifluous accent which was as recognisable as the McGillicuddy Reeks from which it was sourced.

Jim got a good send off from the townspeople last week and Fr. Caffrey’s sermon at the funeral mass that Sunday when he spoke of life as an unfolding mystery was a reassuring and timely reminder of the singular importance and value of every person in our community.

The winter months produce a flood of letters not all of which I can deal with as quickly as I should. One such letter, I recently received was from the Heritage Service of the Department of Arts which is responsible for the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH). The N.I.A.H. is carrying out a systematic survey of the Architectural Heritage of Ireland and currently they are engaged in County Surveys to record a selection of artefacts, buildings and structures of post 1700 vintage. They are about to commence their survey of County Kildare and would be interested in hearing from anyone with suggestions as to buildings etc. in this area suitable for inclusion in their survey as representative of the better elements of the built heritage of the County. Any suggestions or comments sent to me will be passed on to the survey team.

Of the many letters I received recently, most of them relating to family history research, one was of particular interest. It was from a Dublin based Journalist with an interest in local history who has unearthed a link between an Irish woman and Adolf Hitler. The connection stems from the marriage of Bridget Dowling to Hitler’s brother Alois in 1910 when Bridget was 18 years of age. Last July a local person passed on to me a copy of an article which appeared in the Irish Independent on the 15th July 2000 written by Myles McWeeney under the headline “The amazing story of the Irish Hitlers”. McWeeney who incidentally is not the journalist who wrote to me recently, claimed that Hitler’s sister in law, Bridget Dowling was the daughter of William Dowling “originally from Athy”. I believe that William Dowling may have been a son of Martin and Elizabeth Dowling of Crookstown, Ballytore and was born some time in the 1850’s or the 1860’s. Is there anybody who can throw a light on the Dowling’s of Crookstown, their son William or indeed their grand-daughter Bridget whose place in history is assured as a result of her marriage to an unknown German man in 1910.