‘No matter where they all head off to, they can always come home’
Gerry Boland’s family has lived in the same Co Waterford laneway for four generations. He hopes they always will
Gerry Boland in Faithlegg, Co Waterford. Photograph: Patrick Browne
Gerry Boland, a recently retired paramedic, is sitting on a bright green bench on the side of the road under an ash tree festooned with multi-coloured knitted decorations.
“The children along The Kennel Lane love this stuff,” says Boland. “My wife, Kay, is in the local knitting group. I go to the Men’s Shed since my retirement. I retired early for health reasons. Kay is working still. She works in an administration role at the hospital so she’s busy. You’d get a lot out of the Men’s Shed. It passes the time. I like it.” He leans forward to reveal a sign on his bench. “This, I really like, though.”
“The Thinking Chair,” reads the sign. One of his daughters had it made, after his neighbour, Mary, told him about the new “time out” spot at the nearby creche her nephew, Cathal, attends.
“He was watching Mary’s new kitten climbing the curtains,” explains Boland. “He told Mary she should bring the kitten to the creche for some time on the ‘Thinking Chair’. It inspired me.”
Now, as Gerry sits on his Thinking Chair, he is looking across the lane at the location where his family have lived for four generations. The Kennel Lane is a tiny cul de sac in Faithlegg, Co Waterford. When his daughter, Catherine, moves into the house she’s about to start building next door to the family home she grew up in, her sons Freddie and Gerry will be the fifth generation to live on the lane. That they’re there at all is down to a bit of a miracle, according to Boland.
“My mother was 42 having me. She’d lost three babies before and only for a group of ESB workers and a milking goat I mightn’t be here. I was an only child and my father before me was lucky to survive too.”
The ESB crew were in the area carrying out work under the Rural Electrification Scheme. At the time, Gerry’s parents were living in a two-room house with no electricity. The only running water, as Gerry wryly recalls, was what came down the back inside wall whenever it rained.
“It would make a channel through the middle of the house and flow straight out the front door. You’d have to step over it to get from one side of the house to the other.”
The ESB workers did more than install electricity. While Gerry’s father was out working, the crew would drop in to his mother who had been confined to bed with a difficult pregnancy.
“They’d keep the fire burning, take down the big kettle that hung over the flames, and make her tea. They gave her lunch every day, kept her going until I was born.”
After being gravely ill as an infant, when he couldn’t hold any milk down, the sourcing of a milking goat provided Gerry with a digestible food and he grew into a strapping 6’4” man.
Sadly, Gerry’s father didn’t live to see his son grow to full height. He passed away when Gerry was 14. Gerry recalls him as a determined, sometimes stubborn man. That stubbornness, says Gerry, saw him survive a number of brutal beatings on the lane as a young teenager.
“His brother, my uncle, was a freedom fighter. The Black and Tans used to come down the lane to catch my father. The top of the lane was gated at the time. They’d tie him to the pillar and beat the living daylights out of him trying to get him to say where his big brother was hiding. He wouldn’t talk. Even though they nearly killed him. He was lucky to survive.”
That same stubborn streak was to play a pivotal role when, in the months before his death, Boland senior made a last stand that was to have repercussions for generations to come.
“He was in very poor health, had cancer, TB, half a lung, glaucoma. The council offered us one of the new houses they’d built in Cheekpoint. My father used to keep a cow and a couple of sheep. We had nothing only a bicycle. He couldn’t have made it up from Cheekpoint to feed them. He refused to move. The council eventually gave in and built the house here. It was 1967. It was life changing.
“It was an absolute luxury to have running water. And a toilet. And a bath. No more tin baths in front of the fire on a Saturday night. It was like we were in heaven.”
Some years later, Gerry married Kay, whom he had met on his first day of school. They started going out as teenagers when both got involved in the Civil Defence group which had been formed in the wake of a local drowning.
“I was there,” says Gerry. “The poor man could have been saved if any of us had even basic first aid. The Civil Defence group went on to win all around it. We all took it very seriously. It inspired me to become a paramedic.”
Gerry and Kay moved into the house after Gerry’s mother passed away. It became cramped as their four daughters – Catherine, Nicola, Danielle and Aisling – arrived. They built an extension, and nine years ago raised the roof by four feet to give lots of extra space upstairs. After bringing up four daughters who were active and sporty and easily filled that space, Kay and Gerry now have the house to themselves.
“The funny thing is we made all the extra room and now every one of them’s after leaving. Hopefully one day they will all come back though. It would be my wish that they would build and live in the area. Because it’s such a lovely place. But whether they do or not, they each have a room upstairs here, and woe betide anyone who goes into it.
“In one way it is still their own place. Kay always says, from that point of view, the building work was an exercise worth doing, because no matter where they head off to, they can always come home.”