Michael Parkinson, 88: ‘I’ve never had a passport’

Photograph: David Sleator

Photograph: David Sleator

Mon, May 19, 2014, 13:01

In conversation with Rosita Boland: Michael Parkinson lives in Terryglass, Co Tipperary

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I was born in this house. There were no maternity homes at that time. I was the eldest of three, but my brother died. I live here with my sister, Mary, in the same house we grew up in. We’ve lived here all our lives.

My father was a farmer. We had a few cows, a few sheep and some pigs. We had horses. We butchered two pigs a year. You’d have a meitheal to do it. We had a good garden, so we were self-supporting for most of our food. You had to be. Money was fierce tight.

We always helped out other people. You’d help on the bog. Or if a person died you helped their family out. There was no social welfare in those days, so you’d see to it if someone had died that their family had fuel for a fire for the winter, and potatoes for feeding themselves and food for their animals. No work was hard that time.

We had paraffin lamps, and my mother, Nora, cooked on the fire. We had a Connemara pony and a trap. And bicycles. When my father, William, went to school, there was only one teacher in one room, and more than 90 pupils of all ages. It was right tough for the teacher. When I went to the school there were about 52 pupils, and there were two rooms. I was well able to learn. I was gifted that way, but I left at 14. You were wanted at home to work. I worked on the farm with my father. Looking after the animals; feeding, mucking out. All the work was done with horses; we had no tractors.

We went to Terryglass for groceries and the basics. For everything else we went to Portumna once a fortnight. You’d be across on the boat very handy. We had a rowboat. There were no outboard engines. I rowed there and back. I’d go for the hardware stuff; parts for the plough, sacks of flour, things like that. We sold the sheep at the market, and we sold eggs and butter to the shops.

We went fishing, too, on the boat. My father taught me. He was a keen fisherman all his life. We caught pike and perch. We were handy with our hands. We did all the repair work around the farm, and my father and I used to do the harness making. He used to make the hurling balls, too, because it’s great hurling country, and I took it up too.

The first thing I ever remember is the chapel tower in Terryglass being finished. It’s just down the end of our road. It was built later than the church itself. It has a bell.

We used always eat our dinner at noon, because the chapel below has a clock that strikes the hour, and nobody in those days had watches, because you couldn’t afford one. So when you were out working the horses in the fields, no matter where you were, you’d be bound to hear the 12 strokes, and you’d come in for your dinner. We still eat our dinner every day at noon.

I never did any cooking. I never had to. My mother did it first, and then Mary took over the running of the house. I look after the farm. We are the very best of friends. It just worked out that way.

I suppose we stayed on here out of necessity. Money was so scarce in those days it wouldn’t take you anywhere. Most people left, though. They emigrated to England. There was no work here. There were a lot more people living full time in Terryglass then. Now there isn’t even enough people to have a decent row in the place.

I’ve never had a passport or been out of Ireland. I’ve never been on a plane: I hate the sight of them. But I drive. It’d be impossible living here now without a car. It’s so far from everywhere.

We got a car in around 1950, a black Austin Devon. I was the family chauffeur. Nobody else ever learned. We used to go to Galway regularly, and Salthill. Knock. Dublin the odd time. Excursions on Sundays for the hurling matches. There are just the two of us left in the family now, myself and Mary. Sure isn’t that enough?

I don’t drink. I have a distaste of pubs. I’d be reasonably religious, but I wouldn’t overdo it. I go to Mass on Sunday. There’s bound to be an afterlife, but we don’t know what happens there, and isn’t it a good job we don’t?

A farmer never retires. You can’t retire. What would you do? We keep a few cattle. We have hens, and a vegetable garden and a small glasshouse, for tomatoes. We grow vegetables for the house: spuds, cabbage, parsnips, lettuce.

Have I any regrets? Not a bit. I’m satisfied the way I am. I can’t say that there is anything I wish I’d done or anyplace I’d seen or anything I regret in my life.

- In conversation with Rosita Boland

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