Mary G Johnson, 66: ‘I’ve stopped dyeing my hair and being coy about my age’

Photograph: Domnick Walsh/Eye Focus

Photograph: Domnick Walsh/Eye Focus

Fri, Aug 22, 2014, 11:30

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Mary G Johnson lives in Tralee, Co Kerry

I’m 66. I’ve stopped being coy about my age now. And I’ve stopped dyeing my hair. The hardest thing about being in my 60s is accepting that you do not have the physical energy you had 20 years ago – and that is very difficult.

It’s hard coming to terms with knowing that there are things you will never do. In the 30-plus years I’ve been living in Kerry I’ve never climbed Mount Brandon, and now I know I never will.

I grew up in Galway city. My father, Tom, ran the men’s department of Anthony Ryans, a shop that is still going strong. He died of a heart attack when he was only 55. A shock like that makes you worry for a long time.

Things happened then in Galway that wouldn’t happen now. Eyre Square was pillaged. It was a little oasis, with railings all around it, and flowers and trees. Then [John F] Kennedy was coming, and it was decided that everyone should be able to see him, so the railings were removed, and several trees. The railings were just thrown up on the fair green. I don’t remember any protests about it. That wouldn’t happen now.

There were four of us, which was considered to be a small enough family for that time. Mothers didn’t work outside the home, but they were the very women who shoved their daughters out to work. They wanted us to have our own money, because life was uncertain, and you had to have something to fall back on. Parents were at least as ambitious for girls as they were for boys.

In Galway at that time a lot of women of my mother’s generation would have taken in students and then done B&B for the summer, particularly during race week. It was a way of working and earning some income, although they were still working in the home, cooking and cleaning. It was called the aguisín, the extra bit of money.

People kept quiet about taking in students and running a B&B. We never talked about it at school. I think that was partly because there was no tax paid on bed and breakfast at the time, even though sometimes there were signs outside the door.

There was a fear of officialdom as well. For instance, you couldn’t be a member of the library unless you were a rate payer. There was always a feeling that other people were in charge. We took it for granted.

At that time rural women in Ireland were marrying into towns in Ireland rather than going to England. I think that’s when a generation of rural women married into urban areas, and women were more aware of a changing world and of creating a better world for women. They didn’t want their daughters being tied to the home and housework.

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