FAMILY TIES #3: JARROW SLAKE & THE GALWAY HOOKER

Fishwives by the river Corrib, returning from Galway’s fish market.

In 2007 I was over in Ireland researching my family tree when I picked up a book ‘Old Irish Country Life’ by Hugh Oram. It was packed with photographs taken at the beginning of the 20th century of people working on the land, some I’ve included here along with text by Oram.

From fishwives to seaweed harvesting, weaving and cutting turf, the wonderful black & white pictures illustrated a harsh life – and these were similar scenes to what my ancestors lived through.

A branch of my family came from Galway so I was drawn to a picture that features fishwives by the river Corrib, returning from Galway’s fish market. I was also interested in the photograph of a couple of fishermen’s wives repairing nets – as faint as a pencil drawing.

Galway fishwives repairing fishing nets.

The Claddagh, meaning ‘stoney foreshaw’ in old Irish, was one of Ireland’s oldest fishing villages on the western shoreline of Galway city. The sea off Galway was rich in cod, herring and mackerel. The boats would all go out in the evening, drifting overnight and bring in hundreds of mackerel by dawn. In the 19th century over two thousand people fished the bay using the traditional boat with its red sails – the Galway Hooker.

Galway fish market which stood across the river Corrib from The Claddagh where fishermen lived.

In 1985 my Grandfather wrote his memories of an Irish family living in Jarrow, North East England.

I suppose when they were built they would be a hamlet outside of Jarrow. There were three communities like this at the time; the Old Church at Jarrow Slake, pronounced ‘Slacks’, where we lived, Quay Corner at the riverside, and East Jarrow over the Don Bridge. The Don was the river that ran past our house.

My mother’s family the Joyce’s, originated in Galway in the west of Ireland. She came from a big family, her brothers, uncles and cousins were all fishermen. I remember her one day telling me about the night they went out fishing in Galway Bay and a big gale blew up. Most of them were lost.

I remember my mother being a very hard working woman. She worked as a stoker in the chemical works over the bridge in East Jarrow. She worked there all through the 1914-18 war, and I remember taking her bait over at dinner time and getting half of it for myself.

Two World Wars happened in my life. The Great War of 1914-18 was on when I started school. We heard the Germans firing their guns on Sunderland. One day we saw a Zeppelin pass over, and I believe it dropped a bomb on Sunderland Docks.

We also went to Quay Corner to watch the Royal Navy ships come in after being in battle. I remember one, HMS Lion, her mast and bridge were all broken up and she had a big hole in her side. Also some tugs towed a great big ‘thing’ up river and moored it at the Slakes. It was like a great big house, and my mother said it was a Royal Naval hospital for sailors wounded in battle. It later became known locally as the Floating Hospital.

The old Jarrow bridge over the river Don at low tide. The slake was over the bridge.

Looking back the things I used to get wrong for seem trivial. Such as playing in the Slakes at low tide and coming in with my feet full of mud or playing on the timbers at high tide. We all did that, we would cut four or five timbers adrift and use them as a raft. But sometimes Mr Beauly the river policeman would catch us and tell our parents.

The slake was also our swimming pool, we all learned to swim there from about the age of six. By the time we were ten or eleven we were swimming in the Don and the Tyne. At high tide the Don was about twelve feet deep and we would dive off the bridge into the river.

When my Grandfather died and was cremated in 1986, his ashes were thrown into the river Don from the old bridge. Sometimes we go back to where we started.

Hugh Oram book published in 2007 by Stenlake Publishing Limited.

Gary Alikivi   May 2021.

FAMILY TIES #2: A FULL MOON & AN IRISH WAKE

In 2007 I was over in Ireland researching my family tree when I picked up a book ‘Old Irish Country Life’ by Hugh Oram. It was packed with photographs taken at the beginning of the 20th century of people working on the land, some I have included here along with the text by Oram.

From fishwives to seaweed harvesting, weaving and cutting turf, the wonderful black & white pictures illustrated a harsh life – and these were similar scenes to what my ancestors lived through.

Seaweed harvesting was an industry along the coastlines of Mayo, Galway, Donegal and Kerry.

Work on farmland and fishing were major occupations in Ireland and after a long day’s work people would organise entertainment – there was no radio, TV or cinema in those days.

Relatives, friends and neighbours would enjoy endless singing and storytelling, the tradition of seanchaí – a teller of traditional stories – was hugely popular in rural households.

Killing the pig was an important ceremony and social occasion with neighbours lending a hand. Tea and the odd whiskey or two were shared afterwards, plus the latest neighbourhood news and gossip.

Superstition played a part – a pig was never killed during a month containing the letter ‘R’ and if it was done on a full moon the meat increased in size.

The Bothan Scoir, a labourers cottage, west Ireland.

Ancient customs and traditions were a big part of Irish life – and death. The wake was a send off by  family and friends in the house of the deceased before the body was handed over to the church. My Grandfather wrote of his experience as an Irish family living in Jarrow, North East England.

You know looking back on my younger days, knowing the bit about my father and the more I knew about my mother, she was a very kind woman, strict but fair, and very religious. She must have been a strong woman to work the way she did and to put up with the life she had with my father.

I often wonder how they came together as they had nothing in common with each other. One was always in the pub, the other in the church. Still, I suppose there must have been some feeling between them as she had five children to him, three sons and two daughters. As they say, there’s nothing as queer as folk.  

In 1920 I started at St Bede’s Senior School, Low Jarrow. I was eleven years old and quite a lot happened to make me grow up quickly. I detested school and did everything I could to make sure I seldom went.

The only time I was ever happy at school was during the winter because each classroom had a big open coal fire and it was lovely and warm. But in the summer I would go to school in the morning and if it was a sunny day I would go to Shields beach in the afternoon.

When my father died my mother insisted on an Irish wake, where the deceased is put on display in the front room so that family and friends can pay their respects. They all sat at a table where there was snuff, cigarettes, clay pipes and ‘baccy.

Later on the men brought in the beer and to my young mind everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves except for my father who was stuck in the corner.

Then the final touch the night before the funeral, the priest came down at 7pm to say prayers as there was no taking the coffin to the church the night before the funeral as there is now.

More Irish family ties and images from ‘Old Irish Country Life’ on the next post.

Hugh Oram book published in 2007 by Stenlake Publishing Limited.

Gary Alikivi  May 2021

FAMILY TIES #1 : THE GALWAY CLADDAGH & JARROW DON

Galway fish market 1905

In 2007 I was over in Ireland researching my family tree when I picked up a book ‘Old Irish Country Life’ by Hugh Oram. It was packed with photographs taken at the beginning of the 20th century of people working on the land, some I have included here along with text by Oram.

From fishwives to seaweed harvesting, weaving and cutting turf, the wonderful black & white pictures illustrated a harsh life – and these were similar scenes to what my ancestors lived through.

The Claddagh, Galway City.

A branch of my family came from Galway so I was drawn to a picture that featured The Claddagh. The houses in the photo remind me of old black and white image’s I’ve seen of homes near St Paul’s Church and along the river Don in Jarrow.

Old pit cottages, Jarrow, 1897.

My grandfather lived in those white walled cottages, and before he died in 1986 wrote down his memories of Jarrow life growing up in an Irish family.

To begin with a word about the type of house I lived in and the surrounding area. I suppose when they were built they would be a hamlet outside of Jarrow. There were three communities like this at the time; the Old Church at Jarrow Slake, pronounced ‘Slacks’, where we lived, Quay Corner at the riverside, and East Jarrow over the Don Bridge. The Don was the river that ran past our house.

The house itself was old it was one of the original pit cottages built when there was a pit in Jarrow. The pit itself was at the top of Queens Road and when I was young we had a fair there every year.

But back to the houses, they were white cottages, the walls would be about 8 feet high with a shallow sloping roof. They were two roomed, but the attic was turned into a bedroom for the children and there was room in it for two beds. To make it more comfortable we pasted layers of newspaper over the rafters.

More Irish family ties and images from ‘Old Irish Country Life’ on the next post.

Hugh Oram book published in 2007 by Stenlake Publishing Limited.

Gary Alikivi   May 2021.

LITTLE IRELAND – documentary on Irish immigration into Jarrow, UK

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Sarah McFadden, (7th from left) my Great Grandmother, at Haggies Rope Works, in Willington Quay, Wallsend. A long way from Derry.

Little Ireland came about after I’d been researching my family tree in late 2007. I knew I had Irish background but not sure of the exact locations where they lived. The Local Studies Library in South Shields was a great source for information. The filing system with the old press cuttings and the brilliant photographs by Amy Flagg and James Cleet of Tyneside in the 1930’s. The area’s where some of my family lived after travelling from Ireland.

The old maps were really interesting. I could see where my Great Grandfather Dawson Downey from Derry lived. Bell Street, East Jarrow, across the road was the chemical works where he worked, next door was The Alkali pub and just up the road was St Bede’s Church. I thought thousands of families would be exactly the same. Never having to go very far. Living a small life.

I never realised the full impact that the Irish had on the North East and in my case, Jarrow. The population had grown so much around the 1890’s that the village became a small town. I started to jot down a few notes when I read an article in The Shields Gazette in 2008 about Irish immigration written by Tom Kelly (Jarrow born playwright). I got in touch and we met up at The Customs House in South Shields. Quickly, a plan was made, a structure for a documentary and interviews with Jarrovians with Irish ancestry fell into place. It wasn’t forced, it was easy to put together. 

We started filming at St Paul’s in East Jarrow. Tripod up, camera ready, Tom reading the opening lines from the script but it didn’t feel right. We stopped and went back to my studio. Had a cup of coffee, talked about it then went out in his car again to Jarrow. I started filming in his car and Tom started talking as he drove. This was more like it. Hand held felt more comfortable, being part of the film. As though an old Irishman had come back and was searching for his town ‘Like driving into the past’.

Over the next few weeks I filmed interviews with people who had Irish relatives. For one interview I arranged to talk to singer Leo Connolly at his home in Jarrow. I turned up, knocked on the door but got no answer. I knocked again and heard someone in the house. I looked through the front window and there they were. Two blokes with acoustic guitars and Leo in the middle singing his heart out. That was Little Ireland right there.

The documentary was successful it was screened for the first time to two sell out audiences at The Customs House on St Patricks Day 2009. The film has been shown at various venues including St Bede’s Church Hall where most of the Irish, and my family, attended when they first came to Jarrow over 100 years ago.

Link to the documentary, to check out other films on You Tube subscribe to the channel.

Gary Alikivi August 2018.