Living here: Still a welcome in the parlour
Paul Markham lives in a rambling house in Kilmurry McMahon, west Clare
Paul Markham dancing in the kitchen in his home in the west Clare village of Kilmurry McMahon. Photograph by Eamon Ward
‘I bought this house, here in the Kilmurry McMahon area of west Clare, about five years ago and it was in bad condition. The roof was deteriorating and the walls needed attention. The original flag stone floor had to be replaced and I put in old artefacts I had and made it look as it would have done a century ago.
“I knew the house personally, as it was a shop in the 1930s and 1940s, and I remember it sold tea, sugar and paraffin oil, and things like that. I was a frequent visitor and would call into the man who lived there, Dan McNamara. He is 92 years old now and was the sacristan in Kilmurry church for over half a century. So I knew this lovely old cottage was for sale and I had an interest in preserving a local house and in minding the past. In my view, too, many of our rural houses were disappearing and modern ones were replacing them. I thought it was important for the area to have a glimpse of the past and one that you could also live in.
“The cottage is done out in the traditional style. There’s a big open fire and the corners are whitewashed, with a big old dresser in the kitchen. The parlour was the room off the kitchen where visitors would be brought in for tea. If you had the Stations in the house, for example, the priest would be brought in there for breakfast after the mass in the morning. Then I restored the little garret upstairs where the children would sleep and they could sneak out to the door and watch what was going on below.
“I have the half door installed as well, of course. They were used to keep out the hens and keep in the children and let in air and light before electricity. That door would be left open until bedtime especially on summer evenings. I remember when Dan lived here the door was open all the time. The old people believed in letting the air in and also they liked to see if someone was passing.
“I have different events happening here now. For example, if people are going away we have an American wake, even though now we call them Australian wakes. We had an emigrant return party last Christmas. There were 45 emigrants home, all from nearby parishes, which is a very small geographic area with a total population of about 1,400, so that gives you some idea of how many have left here.
“A lot of the work in restoring the cottage was from my own designs. I got a local contractor in to do some of the larger jobs but I knew exactly what I wanted. My favourite room is the kitchen where you have the big open fire and the Tilley lamps hanging off the ceiling. We have the candles in the window at Christmas and it is peaceful. There is no television. People call in for a chat and music.
“At Christmas, I have cooked a goose over the fire on the old oven. It would take about an hour on the fire and then you put it onto a stand and put coals under and over it and do it slowly.
“The furniture is made up of old sugán chairs that I had restored. I have a few stools that the children would sit on and old iron beds in the bedrooms. There wasn’t too much furniture in these old houses. In the parlour, it’s a bit different as I have a round table with a tablecloth, and some good tableware.
“The only houses you get like this in Co Clare now are in places like Bunratty Folk Park, and that would be more a tourist attraction. What I am trying to do here is to preserve a more authentic part of the past, which is lived in.
“Hopefully it will survive now for future generations. It is a small, little house, over a century old, but to be honest, people will look at this now before they look at a mansion. It means a lot and is a part of what our ancestors went through and a part of our greater Irish history.”
In conversation with Brian O’Connell