The Full Seanchai: Transcript of Coosheen’s Forgotten Seanchai and Son, including Pat Laffan channelling Croaker’s “The Widow’s Son”By Deirdre Mulrooney In Culture, Documentaries, Photography, Projects, Radio, Writing
Forget Google maps. Today, we are off the grid in West Clare.
On the Doonbeg road 2km North of well known ‘Victorian seaside resort’ Kilkee the road-sign on a bare, ascending left turn announces “L2024”. L2024? You’d never guess that just over the brow of this hill, descending into the mighty Atlantic towards infinity, this modest boreen leads to what not so long ago was a thriving Irish language village of fisher folk, kelp collectors, and an award-winning storyteller with connections to Walt Disney.
COOSHEEN’S FORGOTTEN SEANCHAI & SON
VOICE OF CROAKER & MUSIC BY ROSSA O SNODAIGH – maybe Rossa can sample the 1950 Clare Irish recording and create a tune around it [30 seconds, and continue under – thread through here…]
AONGHUS OG McNALLY AS PADDY O’BRIEN [Paddy O’Brien Memoir]
“I was the tenth of a family of eleven brought up in a little fishing village on the Clare coast known as Coosheen, two and a half miles north-east of Kilkee, on the fringe of the Atlantic. Coosheen village had twenty-two humble homes in the early nineteen-twenties, with a population of two hundred or over, all depending on the sea to earn a livelihood to enable them to raise their families.
My father, like most of his village neighbours, was a fisherman reaping the harvest of the sea…”
*** voice of Padraig (Croaker) O Briain from the 1950 recording by Tadhg O Murchadha, which continues underneath.
AONGHUS CONT’D [Paddy O’Brien Memoir]
“As a lad I loved every pebble, every boulder with green moss, every nook and crevice, round the shore and cliffs just below my home. I loved above all the pure simplicity of the old folk, the traditions, the great humour they possessed, their straightforward ideas, their many great legends, and their ever-endearing attachment to the Gaelic tongue, which they treasured and kept flowing freely amongst all, even among the young ones.
Turn up the 1950 recording here..
AONGHUS CONT’D [Paddy O’Brien Memoir]
“The village of Coosheen derives its name from a narrow inlet [cuaisin] although some argue that it is associated with the Hound’s Leap. The townland, Corbally, is in the Parish of Kilfearagh, , Barony of Moyarta. Its Gaelic name is “Corrbhaile”, referring to the twisting winding road which leads down into it. One could credit that. Every cave, every high rock in and around our coast bears some meaning; many have Gaelic names and some have legends attached to them…”
Deirdre/ Narrator: That’s the uncrowned Bard of Coosheen, Paddy O’Brien who lived from 1920 until he was tragically washed off the cliffs below his home in February 1977. His paternal grandmother, who was pregnant at the time, had also drowned at the same spot where generations of his family precariously gathered “seagrass” to eke out a living on that wild Atlantic seabord. He made his mark though.
INTERSPERSE COOSHEEN FOLK MUSEUM 1.
“O, God help you Maisin Durkin,
No farmer here is working,
Instead of doing tillage
They’re collecting a museum
D/ Narrator: Known to all as “the poet”, over 40 years later, Paddy is remembered fondly by the last indigenous child of the village, who was born in the early 1960s, Val Geary:
VAL GEARY: He could make, as they used to say, a cat laugh. He was just naturally witty. Anyone that thought they were witty and to have a conversation with Paddy O’Brien – they were always way down the scale of being witty compared to Paddy – he was natural.
INTERSPERSE COOSHEEN FOLK MUSEUM 1
“.. and as sure as my name is Geary
They’re all gone mad and airy
To think they have Bunratty
In a village like Coosheen”
VAL GEARY: He could – even the best of comedians in the present day, the likes of Brendan Grace and all them, he was far wittier, and faster, he’d have an answer like that, whereas those people have it written and researched and rehearsed. He had none of that, he just had it. It didn’t matter what subject. If you were trying to be funny he’d make a fool of you without really going to too much trouble. 5.50
“Now ye good folks of this country,
Show yere gaiters to the gentry
Bring your curling tongs and pewters,
We’ll put them on display
VAL GEARY: He wasn’t a tall man, and from birth he had a pretty bad hump on his back. Now but it never, I suppose it may have held him back in some cases, but you know, he could fend for himself. He could do his turf and everything he wanted to do, but he was born with that. You know, so he was well known. Everyone knew Paddy.
INTERSPERSE COOSHEEN FOLK MUSEUM 1
We’ll have timber ploughs and barrows
Toy soldiers bows and arrows
And a dish of slack and limpets
Served hot without delay
VAL GEARY: He spent all his life living in the village. So he was part and parcel of Coosheen.
Now the reaping hook and sickle
And the crubeens off the pickle
And the Granda’s clock with knobs on
Just inside the door
VAL GEARY: HE was no Bono but he was a pretty good singer. He just liked to make people laugh and that was his most talent. He always said something witty. To get you laughing or to get you. I mean there was no such thing as depression in the village. You could go to Paddy O’Brien and you come out feeling better no matter what because you knew he was going to be telling you stories or there’d be lies maybe in the stories, but it was better than feeling down. 17.00 Go into Paddy and sit down and maybe for hours be chatting away to him.
Sure no place will be greater
With a good drop of th’ould craythur
Ah, sound enough there Brendan
Just fill em up once more!
VAL GEARY: He just had to be scribbling away, he might be thinking away, he’d often go into the house and he’d be pondering away, but the mind was still working. He’d be 18.02 working on a song, there’d be something always going through his head. Always.
Now put on your frieze coat Jenny
It won’t cost us a penny
We’ll start off good and early
To see the folk museum
VAL GEARY: I don’t think he done it for recognition or for payment. It was just something he enjoyed doing. IT was a natural talent. He could make up a song while he’d be talking to you. About you.
Sure the lads will make us welcome
They see us sure but seldom
Who said it was deserted
This village of Coosheen
VAL GEARY: And you’d know while he’d be at it because he’d be smiling mad to himself. As he was talking to you. I suppose if you had ever, which you couldn’t, but if you had ever met him 39.31 I don’t think you’d have met a 2nd one in the world no matter where you would have traveled. HE was just something else. He was harmless, he was funny, he was a great neighbour. You couldn’t say anything bad, or anything wrong about him. If you did you’d be telling lies.
D/Narrator: Although we never did meet this special man, my brothers and I spent many childhood summers in Paddy O’Brien’s little fairy cottage – the brightly coloured former modest abode that used to lure passing tourists – and in a caravan just outside it, while my parents, Limerick teachers based in Canada, built a traditional Irish cottage on the poet’s beloved Coosheen site.
We want pictures of all descriptions
And a nice fat subscription
Ah, God rest you Emmett and Davitt
If you heard us now you’d scream
For to have a sleain and churn
Mixed up with first Dail Eireann
That you proudly gave your lives for
In that famous college green.
D/Narrator: It was at the short-lived “Coosheen Museum”, immortalised in his verse, in what once was Coosheen’s own schoolhouse, that had closed in 1969 that we were introduced to Paddy O’Brien’s poetry and his love for this thriving village he recognised was in the throes of expiration:
Now I’m one of the few that stayed there,
My bet it’s “Long Delay” there
Before I see the water
Flowing from the taps.
The reporters and the papers,
With all their bloody capers,
Have done their best endeavours,
To brand us on the map.
D/ Narrator: If Paddy O’Brien was indeed lurking about, haunting us, his certainly was a friendly, playful ghost, just as he had been in life – recalled here by his favourite grand-niece, Anne Daly:
Anne Daly: I tell you something – Comedian – he wrote poems, plays, anything. And anything that happened around the area. he was off home, the pad was out, and – it could be funny, it could be very serious, now he wrote some things and I’ll tell you – if they were ever found, we’d be in jail. Because I’ll tell you – he was a holy fright. And a very funny humorous man, you know? But myself and himself had a great old bond, you know? We just liked one another’s company because he was funny, But Paddy was a howl, oh my God. Anybody and – people would say “oh he’s living alone”. He was never alone. There was always people, pulling up there. Have you this Paddy? And Paddy would give them this poem, and that poem, and the next play, and something else, and then – we never see him any more – you know?
[Coosheen in its Youth]
No more the rhythm of the oars will echo on our shore
The steady tramp of fisher folk is gone for ever more
In currachs frail we watched um sail ‘neath towering cliffs so green,
This was all part of our village of Coosheen
Anne Daly: He’d be sitting outside, in his chair and anyone that would come along, sit on the wall, the stone wall, and he’d be telling his stories to all those there’d be yanks and there’d be English people and they’d come and they’d see the small little house you see it was the small house that had the attraction. Because they’d see this little fella sitting there 24.04 on his chair, look at, and he was cute, because he knew that those people – that’s what I used to say to him – you’re cute, you’re very cute Why? Sitting outside the door on the chair and you waving to everyone. And then it was the house, the small little house, that got anyone’s attention. When you’d see the size of that little house there. And this fella sitting outside, so… He’d have visitors every day of the week, yeah.
On a harvest morn when golden corn stood out to meet the eye
The kilns grand on our lovely strand sent smoke unto the sky
The burning weed, the seagulls feed, the garsoons in feet bare,
On that mossy stone, which was all their own, in the village of Coosheen
Anne Daly: It was, and I think, to look at him, I’d see it myself when I would come up and I would look at him – and he sitting outside the door right, and people pulling up, in their motor cars – how are you? Come in. Sit down, on the wall yeah yeah….
Wouldn’t anyone stop at the side of the road, any American, that would love to see Ireland as Ireland would be, isn’t that what you’d see.
One by one the boats return, as they round the Point we watch
The women waiting on the shore to take the silvery catch,
With pans on head, they walked erect, with hearts so light and free,
Along the hilly road, they bore their load, to dispose of in Kilkee
Anne Daly: he’d be saying wait until I tell you now, this car pulled up and I’d say “right”. And these people came up and they came back the next day, but they brought me a drop of whiskey. Oh they did of course I said, feeling sorry for you with the small house outside the door and you sitting outside on your chair.
[From The Coosheen Folk Museum 2]
Some day now soon I’ll be called up
To go round the country in style
A tractor, a trailer, a license –
I’ll cover many a mile.
Anne Daly: He used to sit outside there right there at that side. Not at the other side. There. And he’d leave all that little part then, and he’d be there. At this corner here. And anyone that came then it’d be here, sit up here. There you go, yeah. And people were coming.
[Coosheen Folk Museum 2 cont’d]
Now step on the edge of my trailer,
Be sure you come in on the day,
We’ll start far back at the lighthouse
Take Querrin to Sweet Doonbeg Bay
Anne Daly: He’d be telling them his stories. And he’d share the poems, and he’d given them some if they wanted them. They’d pass on the word to somebody else, and the next thing, there’d be another carload, and that. But Paddy was never on his own here. Paddy had more people visiting than the town would have for the summer. They were coming, and going, and they came back then the next year or the year after, and they still came to see him. Because he was that type, he loved company, and he loved telling stories, and then a few jokes and he was witty and funny, and they just loved him, and that’s it.
[Coosheen Folk Museum 2 cont’d]
A hen’s coob, a camp bed or dresser,
On them things we’re all gone keen,
We’ll load um all on to the wagon,
To take to our famous museum
Anne Daly: there was always someone calling to see what new piece he had written. Did he write anything new? Which he did, because he was always putting something down. But he was never – I would never say he was lonesome, never, because there was more people visiting him than 30.59 the president above in the park, you know? [laughs] Because that’s the way he was you know.
[Coosheen Folk Museum 2 cont’d]
Now Georgie I’m told’s got a frying pan –
The handle is made of whale bone,
He won’t need it no more he has ulcers,
So we’ve decided to take it on loan.
Anne Daly:He wrote an account of everything that had happened in the village from the way life was, the way they operated it, what was done, how they made their money, what things had to be done, he wanted to leave something for it not to be forgotten. Because he used to always say, with the emigration, there was nobody left in the village All the young ones – gone. And, for a beautiful village, there was only all the old people left then. The rest all – they had to go because there was no work for them here, so…
From Coosheen in its Youth
Then came the boat that ne’er returned, to take our youth away
To a far off land from our lovely strand, to the shores of America.
Now, no echo round, save the white waves sound, but the grass is ever green
Where each thatched cot, was a beauty spot in the village Coosheen.
Anne Daly: I’ll say you could imagine I suppose the 1920s 30s 40s, even the 50s, emigration and poverty was something else around – not alone in the village here but all around the country there was no work, and people was devastated to see all their family going and sometimes they never came back home, once they went. They looked after, and sent some money home to their fathers but some of them never came home again.
[Coosheen in its Youth cont’d]
No more with satchels on their backs, the huddled group now wait,
For the minibus they run and push away from the old school gate,
Now we miss it all, their merry call, near a century now it’s been,
Where the Gaelic tongue so often won many honours for Coosheen. 17 mins
***END OF PART ONE***
COOSHEEN’S FORGOTTEN SEANCHAI AND SON
No more with satchels on their backs, the huddled group now wait,
For the minibus they run and push away from the old school gate,
Now we miss it all, their merry call, near a century now it’s been,
Where the Gaelic tongue so often won many honours for Coosheen.
D/Narrator: The Gaelic Tongue? Today you’d never guess it, as there is no Iar-Ghaeltacht sign on Coosheen village, now mostly holiday homes – in fact there is no sign of any sort to mark Coosheen village – but this was one of the last Irish speaking villages in County Clare.
Weave underneath 1950 Clare Irish recording “An dTuiginn tu? An dTuiginn tu?…” etc.
Anne Daly I would say the most of the people going back would be native speakers. Because that’s the only thing they would have conversed in, is the Irish.
D/Narrator: My own father, Paud Mulrooney, who was born in 1941, remembered being brought through Coosheen village as a child for the first time by his father, Garda Paddy Mulrooney – one of those who opened up the first Garda Station in nearby Doonbeg. Dad’s memory was of a bustling place where everyone was speaking Irish – a far cry from what it is today.
- Hear bed of 1950 Clare Irish recording
It was only recently that we discovered that Paddy O’Brien didn’t lick his storytelling talent off the floor. Much to our surprise, his father before him, Padraig (Croaker) O Briain, was a renowned Oireachtas winning Seanchai:
Anne Daly He inherited it, but in a different style completely different. He was more – he wasn’t into the Irish, not like Croaker. I’d say he had a few words of it, but he wasn’t interested. Croaker was , and so was all, but then the village at that time going back they were all Gaeltacht speakers anyway. Before the English language came in. But once the English language did come in, that’s what Paddy preferred. It was more modern, and witty and funny, but serious at times
1950 recording bed please
D/Narrator: “Croaker” ‘s stories had been collected by many, including acclaimed story collector for the Irish Folklore Commission, who had a direct line to Walt Disney, no less, Kerry man Tadhg O Murchadha,
WEAVE UNDERNEATH 1950 RECORDING & “An dTuiginn tu? An dTuiginn tu?”
D/ Narrator: What a thrill to discover this 1950 recording, perfectly preserved in UCD’s Department of Folklore. But – what are they saying?! As my own Inter Cert Irish is far from up to the daunting task, I was extremely lucky to find Irish scholar Ailbe Van der Heide who deciphered the Clare Irish from a bygone era for us. Lo – like the hero with a thousand faces, a wealth of idiosyncratic and enchanting fairytales, that are found across the globe! And here, in its first ever verbatim English translation, is Croaker’s quirky version of “The Widow’s Son” re-enacted by the great Pat Laffan, channelling our doddery 77 year old Seanchai, who was born in 1873:
PL: The Widow Ó Réidhthe’s Son? Well now, if I had known you’d come again so soon….
D/ Narrator: and probably had few teeth left in his head:
PL/ Seanchai Recording from the beginning:
I’d be- everything bit by bit, an dtuigeann tú?
But my head, it just isn’t…
Well. Well, I shouldn’t say ‘well’…
But if I could tell a story like that now…
HARP GLISSANDO/ “FAIRYTALE”
A poor widow lived over in the west long ago.
And she only had one child, Seán was the name of that son.
They only had a small plot of land and two or three cows, an dtuigeann tú?
And they were living life honestly, as you say, and finally life turned against them.
Yes and… One evening, Seán and his mother were sitting by the fire.
“Muise an Diabhal, mother,” he said “I suppose that I will go to the fair tomorrow with one of the- one- one of the cows, an dtuigeann tú?”
“By my soul, mhuise don’t go,” said his Mother, she said.
“By my soul I will,” he said.
Well, she had to give in.
“May God guide you a mhic ó,” she said.
Well, he went- he went to sleep- they went to sleep that night ní nach iontach, and it was a bright, moonlit night. And they went upstairs to look out the window, to see if it was day, an dtuigeann tú?
Oh, very close. The moon.
And the stars.
Yes, and em what do we call the stars gathered together?
The little witch?
They were there, and it wasn’t- wasn’t- it wasn’t long before Seán was asleep, his ear was only on the pillow and he was asleep, an dtuigeann tú mé, fast asleep.
He was snoring, snoring away in his sleep until he woke and looked out the window. Dhera, and it was bright as day.
He jumped out of bed and dressed himself and everything was put all over the place on the floor. There was no tea made at the time.
Or any bread, a bit of stampy or something like, an dtuigeann tú?
Maybe there’d be (…) And he had milk, milk from the cows and-
And he got up and got himself ready and he ate a bit of stampy and a mug or a couple of mugs of (liúnacht) and he went out and got a stick from the barn and out he went and drove one of the cows out before him.
On he went…on his own… heading for… for- for- for… Oh, what do we call it… Heading for Kilrush.
But on and on he went until he came to a place they call Lios na Fallainge.
Lios na Fallainge.
And when he came out in front of the Lios. He didn’t know if it was early or late, he hadn’t realised an dtuigeann tú? He thought it was day!
And when he came right outside the Lios a little man who was not too big and not too small came out to greet Seán, The Widow’s Son Ó Réidhthe by first name and last name!
“Let me tell you,” said Seán he said, “you have an advantage over me.”
“How’s that?” said the little man, he said.
“You know me, but I don’t know you at all!” said Seán, he said.
“Dhera, I’m not in any hurry!” said the little man, he said.
“Look,” he said, “You must be going to sell that cow at the fair,” he said.
“By my soul I am,” said Seán he said.
“Look,” said the little man, he said. “If you’d take good advice now,” he said, “I’ll give you the best treasure that any man ever had,” he said, “for that cow,” he said. “Just give her to me,” he said, “and I’ll give you the greatest treasure that any man had.”
“What kind of treasure is it?” said Seán, he said.
He told him. “I’ll give you a scoop,” he said. “And you won’t ever be without a meal,” he said. “All you have to do with the scoop,” he said, “is take it, and shake it and a scoop of flour, of flour will fall from it! And eh keep shaking and flour will fall, flour will fall from it!”
“And… keep at it, and it’ll fall, the flour, the flour will fall out of it,” he said. “And are you happy?” he said.
“I’d say that I am,” said Seán, he said.
“It’s a deal!” he said.
All was well. A close relation to his mother lived between Lios na Fallainge and Cnoc Réidhthe. And she was- she was very well to do. And Seán called her by the name of Beití Ní Bhriain.
D/Narrator: Will they have enough to eat, and live happily ever after? for the rest of this 28 minute wonder-tale, full of magic, deceptive relatives, flour, fantasies of plenty, and retribution just pop over to our bonus features on the podcast.
Hear what kind of site-specific Clare Irish vocabulary is used in the telling of this universal tale – number 563 in Folklorists Aarne-Thompson-Uther’s classification system – found everywhere from the Philippines to Scandinavia, from countries that like Clare Irish no longer exist, like Siam and Georgia, and all across Europe, by this Clare fisherman who was born in 1873 – just one generation after the famine. Author and scholar Angela Bourke shares her thoughts on Croaker’s idiosyncratic version of this tale:
UNDERSCORE THIS WITH FAIRYTALE-TYPE MUSIC BY ROSSA? & GLISSANDO
Angela Bourke: The two things that really struck me are his visual imagination and his timing and a lot of these stories, things happen in 3’s, as indeed they do here. This is a story about the widow and her only son and they are very poor, so he goes to sell one cow, and he ends up making a bargain with this little man who is not very big and not very small, who emerges out of this place, Lios na Fallainge, which would be an identifiable, or people would feel it should be identifiable. We haven’t been able to find it in the landscape, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Or that people didn’t know where it was. But this man emerges out of this place which is by definition in modern times not inhabited. But he comes out of there, he makes a bargain, he hands over this sieve. Then the 2nd time he hands over a magic table cloth and a wand, and the 3rd time it’s this wonderful array of magical objects – string that will tie somebody up, and a stick that’ll beat them and a harp that’ll play music. That idea of a harp that plays music, that can do magic, that you find in a very early medieval story where the Daghdha can put people to sleep and make people cry, and then make people laugh and fall around the place, by playing different tunes on a harp. But the 3 time tension of this – very often when you get stories published, the person publishing will say ‘he did as he did before’, but the storyteller will always – unless he has somebody really with cloth ears listening and he wants to get the hell out of there, the storyteller will give you the whole 3 things because of the suspense that he builds. 26.35 but then he comes back to his mother’s house, this is the first time, and this is the translation “on he went until he came to his mother’s little house, and he knocked on the door. The poor woman was wretched. So Tadhg O Murchadha interjects, he says “he went home to his mother”, and the storyteller says “yes”. But then we realise he doesn’t need any help, he isn’t having any problem remembering this. He went home and knocked on the door. She didn’t hear the first knock. But the 2nd knock she heard. Who’s there? She said. “Me”, said Sean. “Open up Mother, and let me in”. Ah sure, the poor woman got up reluctantly. So that sort of thing that he actually has him standing outside the door and his mother doesn’t hear the first knock, just like the image at the end where she is sieving so much of this flour, that comes from nowhere, through the magic sieve, that she ends up covered in flour, and the whole house is full of flour. He’s in the story. It’s a kind of a mindfulness technique, in a way in that he is completely in the story as he is telling it. And he is seeing it in front of his eyes.
So I think he was a really good storyteller in his day. But then that art – there’s no call for it any more, nobody is interested. And so – you asked why we haven’t heard of him. We haven’t heard of too many of the storytellers. The ones we have heard of – it is mostly the people who study folklore who have heard of them – they were people who collectors collected a lot from, and published a book from.
if Croaker won a prize at the Oireachtas he would have certainly come to the attention of the Folklore Commission.
D/ Narrator: From Famine times where flour was a precious commodity, to the high modern technology of the Irish Folklore Commission recording van, with its own generator pulling up outside Croaker’s thatched cottage in 1950 – wizz kids Kevin Danaher, and Tadhg O Murchadha piling out! What a spectacle that must have been!
Angela Bourke Well Tadhg O Murchadha was a full time collector for the Irish Folklore Commission which was founded in 1935. He was one of the first people hired and he worked there then until the late 1950s, He was based in Waterville, County Kerry….
So Tadhg’s day job really was going around with an ediphone machine, recording storytellers, and then taking these recordings home. They were wax cylinders, which for most of the time they were using ediphones, had to be scraped off to be re-used so these sound recordings don’t exist any more. But Tadhg would have fared further afield. So clearly he went up to County Clare in 1943, and met Croaker the storyteller, the Seanchai in Coosheen he recorded him on the ediphone and then he transcribed that. So that manuscript that’s in the Folklore Archive from 1943, that’s Tadhg writing out what he has heard on the recording from Croaker. But then you come to 1950, and it’s a completely different ball game. Caoimhin O Danaher – Kevin Danaher – who was the sound engineer for this, as well as a photographer, he was a tremendously sophisticated, European focused, modern man. So this is not the ediphone, this is an acetate disc that you inscribe with your recording and then that can be kept. So that’s a permanent recording.
Interperse a bed of the 1950 Clare Irish recording of Croaker
the whole point about County Clare Irish was that it was disappearing. It was disappearing out of County Clare much faster than 6.54 it was disappearing than out of, say, West Kerry or Connemara, or West Donegal. The English language was making more inroads, maybe because County Clare had more towns, because really there are a lot of small towns in County Clare and wherever there were towns English was the language of the shops, English was the language of dealing with anything official. So when they wanted an example of Clare Irish then they would have come back to Croaker because Tadhg O Murchadha would have said well I met a storyteller in Coosheen, in County Clare, in 1943 who told me this story of The Widow’s Son and he had great Irish.
Margaret Kelleher, UCD Professor of Anglo-Irish Literature & Drama, Author of The Maamtrasna Murders, published by UCD Press:
In general we’ve a lot more to learn about the transition from Irish to English, and that’s why the O’Brien family is such a rich example of that. There’s a real tendency in Irish Studies to see that transition as inevitable. But of course any big cultural change isn’t inevitable to those who are experiencing it, and when we look at the information about Coosheen in 1911 we see that according to the census taken that year, there were some 154 inhabitants, 90% of those were bilingual, were self-declared as Irish and English. Indeed many of them filled out their forms in Irish to say they were bilingual speakers. Only 10 people in the area were English only and one an Irish only speaker. So that gives us a really good sense of transitional bilingualism in that period, in other words a period when both languages co-existed. And we see that clearly in the O’Brien family, where we can also see the change taking place. In 1911 Patrick O’Brien, a fisherman was 38 years old, and he and his wife Anne were both bilingual speakers. In 1911 they had 6 children, Paddy wasn’t yet born. The 4 older children were bilingual and their daughter Ellen who was then only 3 was being raised English only. So it’s a fascinating glimpse really into how the transition, and indeed the rupture, took place in that family. On the other hand languages survive in different ways, even when they are not readily apparent. And I think we can hear in Paddy O’Brien’s own rich storytelling traces of Irish, most especially in the flexibility of his voice, the inventiveness of his voice, the power of his vocabulary, the flexibility of syntax. Brian Friel tells us in Translations, through the voice of Hugh, so wonderfully played by Ray McNally who, coincidentally had a house in Coosheen, in 1980 when the play was first produced, and Hugh says that Irish was a rich language full of mythologies of fantasy and hope and self-deception, a syntax opulent with tomorrows.
D: Do you ever remember hearing anyone talking Irish
Anne: I remember my great-grandmother, yeah. She never lost the Gaeltacht. I remember saying to myself “what is that lady saying?” Of course I was only starting going to school. But she’d forget about herself, right, and she’d often – she might be at the fireplace, in the open hearth, as we’d call it, and she might be fixing the bread and things mightn’t be going her way because that time with the open hearth you might be getting coals and turf and putting it here and there, and then she’d be giving out to the pot in Irish, or, you know, or giving out to herself in Irish if things didn’t go …. But my grandmother had a bit of Irish as well. A small bit. But once the English language came in, the Irish you know I think went into 2nd place.
D/ Narrator: Anne’s great-grandmother, Ma Croaker was also renowned for her storytelling, and their house was a busy, open house where the Coosheen community would gather.
Anne they were the first ones to buy a gramophone, and put on the music. 8.41 So that people could dance, you know?
D/ Narrator: Croaker’s stories were collected by many – not just Tadhg O Murchadha. He was also in high demand as an Irish teacher:
Anne Daly 9.25 – 10.34 : the Christian Brothers would come from June to September, they came up here, and they’d be out in front of the thatched cottage there, and he was teaching them the Irish. And then they’d go away, and then another one would come because my 9.41 grandmother said – “God knows”, she said, “you couldn’t go home, that place is crowded”. She was working at the Victoria as a Housekeeper, doing the bedrooms, and she said. I said well, “That was great, I said to her. “No”, she said, “God knows”, she said to me “You couldn’t go up home” she said to me “They’re all them old Christian Brothers are above” she said, “and the Lord bless us and save us” she said, you wouldn’t get room to move. 10.05 Then there might be a break of a day or two and she’d be happy enough. And then, they were back again. But – he was teaching Irish. All the time, and he was offered a teaching post above in the Gaeltacht, in Galway. To go up when they were building the house for him. So that he’d teach the Irish. But he was too comfortable – he was used to here and he wouldn’t go, so – that’s 10.32 the Croaker.
D/ Narrator: But nothing could save the Irish language – a language then synonymous with poverty and Coosheen’s grim but unspoken origin. English was the language of prosperity, progress, America, England – and even Kilkee – where the work was:
Margaret Kelleher: There’s so much we don’t know about why people moved from one language to the other. In many ways we can only speculate, but one of the more important forces must have been economic ones. The old proverb “Irish doesn’t sell the cow”. And clearly, economic reasons, the possibility of doing well in another country would have been a motivation to move from speaking Irish to speaking English. My own sense is that one of the great what might-have-beens in Irish culture is bilingualism. One of the great might-have-beens of Irish cultural history is a situation where people would have felt able to speak both languages. I think one of the saddest things looking back is that language was experienced as an either or… and that at a key point in our history it seemed to many people that to survive was to speak English.
D/ Narrator: It came as a shock to Coosheen descendant Anne Daly to learn, recently, that her ancestral village was originally created for evicted, homeless people forced to live in caves in the cliffs near a village called Lake Street, or “scalpeens”, as Angela Bourke refers to them in her Famine Folio “”Voices Underfoot”:
Anne Daly And going back through the centuries there was a lot of evictions for the people. A lot of them were put out of their homes. The families – old people, young people, children, – that’s where they were living. They were living over across the way, in the cliffs. And the caves with their few little pieces of whatever they had.
A local clergyman saw the predicament of these people, living on the rocks, on the cliffs, and the Atlantic facing them. So, he went to the landlord that lives in Farrihy and asked for a small bit of land,
Kett’s was the landlord. …. The family was Irish. He gave the left hand side, where the houses are, down to the sea. That’s how Coosheen came about. He just gave a strip of land and probably cobbled together some bit of maybe huts or wooden things or something. To get them in out of the elements for the weather. That was it. 9.07 That’s something I didn’t know until I was told it.
D/ Narrator: According to local lore, these cliff-dwellers had been evicted from a village called Pulleen at the other side of Farrihy Bay. While Coosheen only first appears in the census returns of 1861 with 27 houses and a population of 175, that’s not to say it didn’t exist beforehand with less than 20 houses – the minimum number then to be officially considered a “town”. Official records are sketchy, and facts are few. As Eavan Boland puts it “the science of cartography is limited”. All we know is, long before the advent of today’s holiday homes, came the drastic population decline of the American Wakes. Coosheen was abandoned. Like everybody else, Paddy O’Brien wanted to emigrate too:
Anne Daly He wanted to go to America. But at that time you would have to pass a medical, and he failed the medical. So – that was it.
D/ Narrator: This didn’t stop him sending his lament for John F Kennedy, to his widow:
[Last Verse of “John Fitzgerald Kennedy”]
To his loving wife and family
We extend our heartfelt grief,
And to the American people
Who have lost their gallant chief.
Likewise to his parents
His sisters and brothers too –
May God grant you eternal rest
Jack Kennedy, loyal and true.
D/ Narrator: Jackie Kennedy graciously responded with a thank-you note – but alas no green card was forthcoming for Paddy O’Brien, the uncrowned Bard of Coosheen.
Anne Daly It was a burden really. He was really crippled over with the lump that was on his back. You know? But that time they were very strict for America. They would not let you in. The medical was very important. So there was no way. So he was left behind, actually. He had no other option but to stay behind, with his mother. 29.44. The rest of them, they went to England, and they went to America,
[Coosheen Folk Museum 2]
With buckets, wire brushes and shovels,
We work all hours of the night,
With ladders stuck up to the gables,
Scraping moss of the derelict sites.
Bed of Clare Irish from the 1950 recording of Croaker & plaintive music by Rossa….
VAL GEARY A week before the accident happened, he stopped people going down to the cliff to pick slack. The sea was rough. So he advised them not to go. And they went away. But a week later the sea was even rougher, and he went down himself. But never came back. Now whether it was an accident, or intentional, no-one will ever know. But he was recovered 3 weeks later, on the Clougher. So that was the end of Paddy.
VAL GEARY Paddy was missed terribly out of the village.
ANNE DALY: anyone that did know him, it was very good to have met him on the way because he was a happy bloke, and he made a lot of people happy as well with his jokes, his music, his fun, his writing, and his wit. Yeah, yeah.
[Coosheen Folk Museum 2]
Sit out on the edge of my trailer,
Around by Coosheen I will go,
I’ll prove this whole thing ain’t a failure –
Every house is as white as the snow.
Hear Clare Irish from the 1950 recording of Croaker & music by Rossa….
Produced & Narrated by Deirdre Mulrooney
Sound Supervision by Neil Kavanagh
Featuring Aonghus Og McNally, Pat Laffan, Val Geary, Anne Daly, Angela Bourke, and Margaret Kelleher.
Original score ‘Caoineadh Chuaisin’, and accompaniment by Rossa O Snodaigh
Thanks to National Folklore Collection of Ireland, UCD
Funded by Broadcasting Authority of Ireland Sound & Vision Fund.