Nancy in a field near Drumbar in the late 1930s.

Mrs Rae’s recollections: Memories from the 1930s

Country life is idyllic in many ways and for anyone who has migrated to new climes, they often relish in the memories of having had a pleasant childhood. This two-part column is based on the memories of Annie Margaret Rae nee Wilson (1924-2019) who was from Drumbar, Knockbride.

Her son Charles Rae recently got in touch to say that he had a collection of jottings recorded in a notebook by his mother. Charles recalled that his mother ‘was always talking about Cavan' and how he ‘grew up hearing all the stories that you see (in the notes), and more'.

He visited Cavan with her a few times during his childhood, and again as an adult, in 2001, 2003 and 2004.

For most of her adult life, she lived in Scotland, where she was known to everyone as Nancy: a derivative of the name Annie. Charles further explained that ‘Annie Margaret was Mum's Sunday name’ however, he continued, ‘she was always called Nancy up till she started going to daycare.’ For the purpose of continuity, we will refer to Mrs Rae as Nancy throughout the column.

When I asked Charles for a little background on his mother’s early life in Cavan he told me: 'Her parents were Joseph Wilson and Martha (née Flanagan). She had two brothers, William and Josie (he died of diabetes as a child) and one sister, Hannah, who was known as Haddy. The Wilson family resided on the family farm at Drumbar, Knockbride.

Derrydamph NS

On her way home from school one day, Nancy spoke of the time that the Parrs, Betty Wilson, and herself, went on a detour up to Billy Wilson's house and started peering in the window. Next thing, Billy appeared in the yard like lightning and began shouting that he would tell their mothers and he'd make sure to say they had done wild things too. The girls tried to run but the yard was very mucky.

Regarding Billy's yard she wrote: ‘I mind the ground was all manure with slushy stuff, and we got stuck in it.’

Talking of school, Nancy added: ‘I loved going to school,’ especially ‘on a wet morning, taking off your shoes; it was lovely walking on the wet grass… and many times you'd run and hurt your big toe.’

Nancy attended Derrydamph NS where she was taught by Mrs Lundy. She was very close to her aunt Hannah Jane, who being bedridden, lived with the family at Drumbar. When she got home from school, she’d sit on the aunt’s bed, to be told by her, ‘Nancy take off your shoes!’ Both her aunt, and her much-loved father died while she was in her teenage years. Her father Joseph was a respected ‘water diviner’ and Nancy often accompanied him when he went divining around the countryside.

Charles proudly recalls the moment he discovered that his mother had taken part in the 1937/38 Folklore Commission project ‘to note down local folklore’ and told me, that ‘there are two records of her transcriptions'.

He then added: ‘I always wished I had discovered this before her passing. She would have been delighted to find out that she featured on the internet.’

The folklore pieces he mentions, concern firstly, the story of fairy forts, which Nancy obtained from her mother, and the second account is about graves at the bottom of William Wilson’s field, which were believed to contain the remains of two friars who swam in terror across the lake when Cromwell’s soldiers ‘besieged’ Skeagh Castle, but sadly they were caught and killed.

And speaking of such matters, Charles said she spoke of the ‘ghostie house’ in Knockbride, built from stones taken from a nearby tomb connected to the passage tomb that the discovery of the Corleck head that Tom Barron researched. Nancy told her son, that ‘strange events were noted at the house… lights went on when noone was there and other such phenomena'.

Orange Hall

Near the family home at Drumbar, Knockbride, Nancy recalled that there was their neighbour Billy Wilson lived with his sister Ella Wilson and that he went about with his friend George Wilson who was very tall, while Billy was of small stature. George was the master of the local Orange Hall, at Lisdonan, and the locals referred to him as ‘long George'.

Both ‘long George’ and ‘little Billy’ were regular visitors to Drumbar where Nancy's mother prepared them a fresh pot of tea and something for them to eat . ‘Long George’ always gave the impression that he never expected anything to eat during his visits and would say with a look of shock to Martha Wilson, ‘sure there's no cause for that at all.’

According to Eugene Markey, ‘the Covenanters Meeting house in Lisdonan townland, which was built in 1837-1838 by William Gibson, became vacant, sometime between 1890 and 1900, then became the meeting place for Cornaveigh L.O.L 1280 who met there from approximately 1928 until the lodge ceased to work in 1970.’

This lodge ‘was locally referred to as Lisdonan Orange Lodge… and was unusual in that it was one of the very few places in Co Cavan that had an active ladies lodge.’

War's end

When the second world war concluded in 1945, Nancy went to Belfast where she stayed with her sister Haddy who worked in a shop on the Shankill Road. One particular morning she was suddenly awakened by the loud booms of the ‘Orange men beating drums up the road'. Haddy worked for Mr Linton, 4 Shankill Road, and would open the shop for him in the morning. Word came through that the war was won, and there were celebrations on the streets of Belfast.

Nancy, who was 21 years' old, wrote, ‘we went out that night … great times.’

On returning to Drumbar she visited Bailieborough where she found less enthusiasm for the war’s end as her jottings recall: ‘I remember being in Bailieborough; they didn't want Britain to win, so glum faces,’ she noted.

Nancy travelled to Belfast on at least two or three occasions to attend dances, which she said, were great times when she got to catch up with her friends, ‘Lauretta, Ida, and Evelyn Hall.’ Lauretta later married Nancy’s brother, William.

When the Belfast Telegraph had setup the Spitfire fund, Nancy was one of those who contributed. Charles remembered reading about somebody from Cavan who had donated to the fund, only to receive a visit from the Gardaí who reminded them of Ireland’s policy of neutrality.


Lording it up in Farnham’s Library