George N Geraghty
Before the advent of motor-cars there were a good many horse carriages in and around Roscommon, and the Gavin and McGibney families built splendid coaches and cars, all hand-made and perfectly finished.
Opposite Gavins was the handball alley. It has long ago disappeared and on the site is a shop owned by P. Keagher.
The ball alley was a lively place on Sundays. Teams from Castlerea, Boyle, etc. were frequent visitors. E. Melia, Jimmie Higgins and Ned Geraghty were outstanding players for Roscommon in those far-off days. The game was then played with the hard ball. The ball was homemade; the inner core was a small round cork, and this was covered with woollen thread; the outside cover was made of sheepskin. When finished it was a little larger than a golf ball. Ned Geraghty made most of the balls.
On the other side of the road, now Abbey House, lived the Burke family. Joseph Burke, head of family, was a solicitor, or, as he was called, ‘Torney Burke’. He became very successful at the law courts and brought up his family in grand style and with a very imperial outlook. He kept splendid horses and carriages and had a yacht on the Shannon at Galey Bay. Everything around Abbey House was freshly painted, and a big Union Jack was flown from the flagstaff on the lawn. There was a tennis court in front of the house, and all the legal fraternity was there entertained.
George James was then Sheriff. His residence was called ‘The Villa’. It is still there near the railway bridge. He was a very big man and fulfilled his duty as Sheriff without fear or favour. After he went to his reward, a Mr. Sheils from Kilbegnet was appointed Sheriff and after some years he resigned the office and Charles Dignan became Sheriff. Johnnie James was Court Registrar (brother to George James); he resided in well-furnished apartments in the Court House.
Patrick Cooney, still going strong, was Sheriff’s Clerk all that time. Anything that Pat Cooney did not know about Sheriff’s Law or the conduct of elections was not worth knowing. The same applied to the late John McKeon in the Registrar’s office; he knew the law records inside out.
Harness making in Roscommon was carried on by John Mullen and Pat Donovan in Church St. Pat Monahan in the old Jail in Market Square and Pat Lavin in Castle St. (too). Jack Naughton started later in Church St.
Like all other trades there were always journeymen harness makers coming and going. Collar making was a special branch of the trade.
Thomas Watt was the only plumber at the time. He came to do the lead work on the Court House roof and remained on. The laying of the water supply to the town caused a lot of employment for plumbers. Tom Watt carried out most of the work. His son William is keeping on the work.
There were also weavers and hatters in Roscommon. The last of the weavers was Jimmie Streetch; he lived in a small house on the site next door to Mr. T. Larkin’s residence in Castle St.
We had one barber. Ted Dufferly. He had no barber’s shop. If you wanted a haircut you had to get Ted to come to your home to do the job. He dressed in very fancy clothes and was a very outstanding character.
The Bakery Business
Frank Finlay, Michael Finlay, Bernard Henry, Charles Kelly, Mrs. McNamara and Mrs. Egan, were the principal Bakers. The ovens were turf burning. The walls and the arch or crown of the oven were built of brick and the floor or sole tiled. A large quantity of turf was put into the oven and the fire was started. The flue was placed in the front of the oven so the flames from the fire heated the sides, the arch, or crown before it reached the flue.
When the fire was spent the ashes were raked out and the sole of the oven cleaned. The sponge formed into loaves and was then placed in the oven and the opening at the front sealed up with a sheet iron door. The heat contained in the brickwork baked the bread and grand bread it was. It was called loaf bread to distinguish it from soda cake, which was generally used by the country farmers. Only on market days or fair days would the farmers buy a loaf of white bread. The loaf was then looked on as a treat to bring home to the children.
Charlie Kelly in addition to the loaf bread baked a composition called chester cake, it contained currants, brown sugar, etc. Charlie Kelly’s bakery was on the site of the house occupied by the late Denis O’Brien at the corner of Lanesboro St. Frank Finlay carried on his bakery where T. McGuinness, chemist, is living now. Michael Finlay was where Messrs. Molloys are now in Main St. Mr. Finlay moved over to the opposite side of Main Street and Edward Melia went into possession. The Molloys Bros. purchased the business from the Melias.
J.C. Doorley’s Corner Shop is still going strong under the supervision of the eldest son, John Joe Doorley. Opposite J.C. was John Jones Hardware & General Timber & Seed Merchant, leather, iron, coal, etc. Miss Cunniffe had a bookshop and also sold toys and newspapers where Mr. Dowdall has his boot store now. Joseph O’Neill had a fine Grocery with Bar and Bakery in Castle Street. Mr. T. Hannick is carrying on there now. Then we had the Connors in Castle St., Luke Connor and his son Pat (also Grocery and Bars).
(Series continues in coming weeks)