‘I didn’t believe in working all week, drinking all weekend’

Farming heritage: Paddy O’Connell at home in Co Cork. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Farming heritage: Paddy O’Connell at home in Co Cork. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision


In conversation with Rosita Boland: Paddy O’Connell, 91, lives in Rathanker, near Passage West, Co Cork. He was a farmer until about 20 years ago

I was born about 12 miles from here, in Carrignavar. My father was a farmer; he had 140 acres. It was a big farm for that time. There were nine of us children. My grandmother and aunt lived with us too. I was the fourth-eldest of the children. There are five of us left now.

I remember my first day at school. I was about six. The teacher made us draw between lines with a lead pencil in a jotter all day. It was a terrible day altogether. I already knew how to count to 100 and write all the figures, and to spell my name, and read a bit. My sister Margaret, who became a nun later, had taught me.

When the aunt who lived with us came to take me home I was crying, and I said I’d go to school no more. The next day Margaret spoke to them, and they put me in a higher class.

I loved the farm. I milked one or two cows every day before I went to school. We rode the ponies. We had horses. We grew wheat, oats, turnips, mangolds, cabbage and carrots.

I left school at 14. That was what you did. I stayed home and went farming, and so did two of my brothers. The eldest boy got a farm from my uncle, who never married. Two of my sisters became nuns, two got jobs and one stayed at home to mind the house.

I got interested in greyhounds when I was young, about 15. I had greyhounds for years, usually two or three at a time. My favourite one was Rathanker Rose. I did often win things. I made some money out of them greyhounds.

I was into coursing then as well. I was a member of the Barrymore coursing club for years, and we went coursing every Sunday in the winter. I’ve no dogs now. I wouldn’t mind getting another one, but I couldn’t manage it myself.

Kitty was a neighbour at Carrignavar. We got married in 1952, and we bought this farm here, at Rathanker. There were 110 acres, and an old house in the yard. I did it up before we got married, and we lived in it for six years, and then we built the house we moved into, that I’m still living in.

We had eight children. I can’t imagine what it would be like not to have children. It would be pure misery. Big families were all the go at the time. There were plenty that were bigger than ours; 10 or 12.

I never drank, and Kitty didn’t either. When I got my Confirmation I took the pledge until I was 21, and when 21 was up I joined the Pioneers. I was secretary of the Pioneers for years in Carrignavar.

I didn’t believe in working hard all week and then drinking all weekend. I saw other men doing it, and drinking too much. When you live in a village you know everything about people. You’d see it of a Sunday evening, the people who wouldn’t be able to walk home. And your health is your wealth.

My Catholic faith is important. It was hard to hear about all that that happened in the church. All through the years there were nuns and priests in both our families. It was hard. I did the best I could do. I kept my own faith, and I did my best with the youngsters when they were young. I go to Mass every Sunday if I can at all.

I got my driving licence again a fortnight ago, but it’s only for a year this time. I go to Passage and up to Douglas. I have two daughters in Douglas. I go to Mass. It makes me feel independent, so it does. I drive the local roads, but I wouldn’t have speed enough for the big roads now.

I look at Nationwide on the television. I do some reading, mostly the papers; the Examiner . It was better when it was the Cork Examiner ; there was more about Cork in it.

It is hard, of course, to see all your friends dying when you get to this age, but it gets a bit easier over time, I’d say.

Kitty died of cancer in 2005. She was three years sick. She had a great nature, and she was great altogether. It’s a different world and a life altogether since she left. It’s sad anyway, so it is. That’s all I can say.

What I appreciate most in people is honesty. And at this stage of my life I’ve learned that if you didn’t mind your job you wouldn’t have much in life. You have to work hard.

I would still like to go farming if I was a young man now, even though it has changed so much. You don’t miss milking cows by hand. I stopped about 20 years ago, and my son Gerard took over.

He lives here with me, and so do two of my grandsons, Jack and Gerard. I will stay here and live here with my family as long as I can.

- In conversation with Rosita Boland

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