Jacqueline Kilcullen, 71: ‘There was no question of having sex before marriage’

Photograph: David Sleator

Photograph: David Sleator


In conversation with Rosita Boland

Jacqueline Kilcullen lives in Ballina, Co Mayo

I grew up on a big farm near Ballindine, in Co Mayo. My father had a strawberry farm, which was quite unusual in those days. Not many people were growing strawberries in the 1940s and 1950s. He supplied Williams & Woods, the jam makers.

In those days you could count on one hand the number of items you could buy in the local shop. The block of ice cream that was divided into 12 portions. The box of loose biscuits. The tea and sugar that was weighed out into paper bags. The piece of bacon that was sliced.

We had a car, a baby Ford, and then an Anglia. It was three miles to school, and we were driven to school most of the time. We walked in the summertime. I don’t think there were any other children at the school who were driven. I didn’t really realise it at the time, but the classes didn’t mix. There was the upper crust, the middle class and the lower class. I’d have put us as middle class. We had help in the house.

A big percentage of my primary-school class would not have gone on to secondary school. I think that now education has definitely levelled the classes. There is ample movement for anyone with ambition now to better themselves, no matter what class they come from.

I went to the rural domestic-economy school in Claremorris for a year. After that I went to Cork Airport as a trainee with Great Southern. When I was 23 I got a job at the Downhill Hotel in Ballina. That’s where I met my husband, Michael. He had come in for a meal.

Michael was 15 years older than me. He was managing the Ballina Mineral Water Company, which his family owned. He was a real gentleman. I married him in Lourdes when I was 24.

There was no question of having sex before marriage, and anyone with any air of respectability wouldn’t. That was the way it was then. I never worked after I got married. You didn’t in those days. You were pregnant straight away after you got married anyway, if things were normal. I had six sons in 10 years. I breastfed all of them, which was very unusual in those days. I wouldn’t have liked to have stayed on at work; it was great satisfaction being at home with the children.

In 1996 I went back to college in Galway to do a degree in economics and sociology. I did it for personal development. I did my dissertation in 1999 on the overdevelopment of building at Inniscrone: we had a place there, and I could see what was coming.

Michael died in 2009. He was 81. Life changed in that, while I was always quite independent, it is very hard to do certain things as a single woman. I like to travel, and you’re paying double for everything when you’re travelling alone. Things like weddings are difficult on your own.

I’m in my 70s now, but compared to my mother’s time, I suppose those of us in our 70s are really only acting like 60-year-olds.

I do see women who have been widowed and who don’t know what to do with themselves now they have nobody to care for. Those kind of women seem to mind their grandchildren full time. I also think there is a certain amount of them being taken for granted by their adult children and in-laws. I think it’s very unfair of someone of 65-plus to be expected to mind children full time. I don’t accept the argument that it’s the only way couples can afford to go out to work so they can pay the mortgage. We always lived within our means in our day, and we didn’t depend on our in-laws.

I don’t suffer fools gladly. I don’t like to have to associate with people who are always depressed and who will bring you down. I would prefer to mix with people for whom the glass is always half full, not half empty.

The older I get the luckier I feel that I don’t have a family that has been touched by tragedy. My children are all married. My 12 grandchildren are my great pleasure.

I think it’s very important to keep doing things, like playing golf. I have friends who stopped playing golf or tennis a few years ago, and they’ll never do it again now. I know I have free travel, but I make myself drive to Dublin when I travel there. I think if you give things up at this stage of life, it’s impossible to go back to them. You have to keep challenging yourself all time as you get older.

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