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.
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.
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.
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.