In conversation with Stephen and Tony O’Reilly of Crickawn, September 2023.
Sadly, shortly after meeting with Tony and Stephen, Tony passed away unexpectedly on 23rd October, 2023. It is especially meaningful to read about his life in Donard as recorded by Ger Cleary.
We are in Stephen and Tony’s family home at Crickawn in the townland of Kilcoagh. It’s warm out, their door is open and they are having a cup of tea.
Prominent on one wall is a framed photograph of the G.A.A Leinster football
team in 1954 in which is their brother Gerard. They had won the Railway Cup
for Leinster. He played right half back for seven years and they won that title
four years in a row. Did they go to see him play? There was no way of travelling that time to Croke Park, but we got to one game from lifts.
He just chuckled away
I ask Stephen about his childhood growing up the fourth eldest of eight children
with his parents, on the family farm in Crickawn. Their father, Garreth O’Reilly
came from Kilbaylet, he died in 1962 at eighty. Their mother, Kathleen Nolan
came from Hempstown and lived to eighty nine . She died in 1989.
There was always work to be done before school, collecting the eggs and such
like. One time we were late and the Master, Paddy McDonald who was good
natured called out in exasperation to old Mrs Flynn who ran the pub/shop
around the corner, “What will I do with them at all, at all?” and she replied, “I’d
give them oranges Master”, holding up a bag of them. One look at the Master
and we knew that wouldn’t happen. He just chuckled away.
After school homework wasn’t a priority, we wanted to be out helping on the
farm. We had cows to milk twice daily by hand and to feed and tend to the
horse, dry cattle, hens and sometimes pigs. We grew our own vegetables.
an horrendous snow fall
In the Winter of 1946 / 1947, on the night of an horrendous snow fall, there was
a concert in the Old School House, Bridie their eldest was at it and their father
went down to bring her home safely. Their neighbour from up above the lane,
Jack Lennon came with them and he had to stay the night. Next morning, the
windows were all blocked up. Spades were all they had to get out, and the wind
would rise and blow the snow back again. That went on through to March when
a thaw finally came.
Listening to the radio was a family favourite, with the Kennedys of Castle Ross
at lunchtime during the week and then the Sunday Game. The dry battery we
got in Leslie Murphy’s and the wet battery had to be charged by Paddy Neill from Ballinclea. He had a windmill that generated electricity, he used to grind
corn for the local farmers.
an extremely difficult time
When Stephen left school at 14 he worked at the local farms around to earn his
keep. Later at 18 he went to work for the Forestry Department. Stephen tells me that in 1952 at twenty years of age, his whole right leg was severed by the gable end of a building that collapsed in the Glen of Imaal.
That was an extremely difficult time for Stephen. He switches the conversation
to his new hip which he got in March of this year! No problem, three weeks in
Tallaght hospital, three weeks convalescing in Kildare with the physio ready to
do the exercises even if Stephen wasn’t! Then back to the operating doctor in
Tallaght to check out his hip and home to Crickawn on the same day. Does
Stephen still do his exercises?…
The brothers are sorry to see the Turf banks above Kilcoagh, at the “Rock” are
no longer used. A ranger used to regulate the turf banks so that everyone got
their fair share to cut, dry and bring home. Now they burn smokeless coal in the
Tony tells me he worked along with his brother Tom in Wales in the late 50’s
and early 60’s on building sites. It was hard work and they were away for a few
months at a time.
as good a place
Many is a Friday night when Stephen used to play 25 in Moynihans or Toomeys
and there was always a good laugh with Paddy Kavanagh and Chrissie Flood. The
Covid epidemic stopped all that. The brothers agree that Donard at the last is as good a place as any to be.