The late Gertie Prendergast
When one looks back growing up on a country farm in Ballinaraha, Kilsheelan considering the endless potential dangers associated with farming, it surely is a major achievement none of us ever got badly hurt, with machines, traffic in, tanks, animals and even while very young children filling tractor trailer loads of straw and sitting on top of the load as Pop drove the tractor and trailer home along the main road, up the Boreen trying to duck wallops from the branches. Even at approx. 12 years of age belting around the yards in winter driving the Ferguson 135 scraping the yards more often than not brakes not working , well you can imagine. It must have been such a daily worry for Mam and yet she never displayed any feeling except one of calm and always in control.
My earliest vision of Mam and I suppose it being such a consistent one while in the kitchen in the old house, she was always washing clothes in the Belfast sink and the nappies were washed in a large enamel bucket having being steeped and left outside the front door- there was only one door in the house, can you imagine a house with no back door and yet never a need for one. As hard workers go, Mam was up there with the very best. In the early years, with all the washing done by hand, it was probably a full-time position in its own right and we were blessed as Granny- Mam’s mam lived out her life with us.
I well remember the first washing machine being installed- a pretty major task. Alongside the Belfast sink was a large timber draining board easy two feet thick stone wall underneath the draining board and part of the external wall and the kitchen window over the top. Granny used to have two lbs. size jars of milk and leave them here for the sunshine to turn them sour, then she would use them to bake brown bread. Pop’s shaving box hanging on the wall over the sink and a press to the left of the sink which seemed to hold just about everything and more on what was ever required in a household. This cupboard then touched the light blue kitchen dresser which displayed the large old Willow pattern plates. So the location for the washing machine was under the timber counter draining board area top which necessitated the removal of the two-foot stone wall. Who installed the washing machine was Michael Browne (RIP) of Kilsheelan and on one of the days he was there drinking a cuppa- and such an important fact about Mam if anyone ever worked in Ballinaraha Mam’s rule was simple it was compulsory the workman was fed. I remember Michael telling the story he quite suddenly out of the blue one day started getting thirsty and so bad he would drink the water from the rocks along the road side and ongoing to the doc, they found out he had diabetes. Mam always seemed to have a great interest in people and if they confided anything to her, she never opened her mouth, she was some lady to keep a secret. Was it Benjamin Franklin who said three people can keep a secret only provided two of them are dead? And as life would go on, you might say something at home but Mam just nodded, she already knew.
One day Pat O Neill was rotavating the back garden and my job was to call him in for tea when finished, but the job did not last long and I was late checking and saw the tractor off down the fields on his way to the next job. I went into Mam who lectured me and so I galloped off down the fields caught up with Pat and told him Mam said you were to come in for tea before you left. So Pat turned around and back to the kitchen in the old house. Mam later told me poor Pat had left his flask and bag at home and this was 3 o clock when I got him, he just could not thank Mam enough as he had not a morsel to eat or drink all day. Good on you Mam.
Mam bought me a piano accordion which I learned to play first by bringing me to half hour classes and she would stay there under the excellent tutelage of Sister Ita in presentation school Clonmel. Mam also brought me for a while to Joan Browne(RIP) , Michael’s wife in Kilsheelan , gosh could Joan play the box and then she gave a few summers bringing me up to Tommy and Maureen Ryan, Ballynevin- God rest them both. Their daughter Marie about my age was a natural expert on the accordian and guitar, just so talented and Marie had that lovely niceness and gentleness that both Tommy and Maureen and indeed all the Ryan family have. I was so out of my depth and all they ever showed me was patience, kindness and understanding. Tommy and Marie could play by ear, all I could do was play by note and Tommy told us one night when they were younger a group of local musicians would get together weekly and if someone could play a new song just once, Tommy would work at it all the following week until he had it mastered and bring it back to the group and play it- a class musician was Tommy. And then Marie would take out the guitar and sing, my God I should have been paying to be there. Maureen always had a cuppa which Mam so adored and its presentation would easily surpass a certain afternoon cuppa in Cashel at present which sets one back fifty euro. These evenings were so enjoyable nights out for Mam and you know, all the Ryan family had the ability to softly spoil Mam and she loved it. Just one little nugget I would like to add in about Tommy. When Selina, our daughter was a few years old we asked Tommy to make a doll’s house for her one Christmas and what a skilled carpenter Tommy was. The years of enjoyment Selina and her friends derived from that house seemed endless and now with Maisie, Mam’s great granddaughter, every time Maisie comes up from Waterford, the still intact Doll’s house has to be taken down and the sheer enjoyment Maisie and even little Andy moving the little “figureens” and changing furniture around the house, all we can say to Tommy and family thank you for providing two generations of our family with such beautiful memories from your master craftsman’s hands.
I suppose there is always something “snuggy” about your own mam, well Mam had it in abundance. If Mam was out milking which she often was, we all seemed to want to join her. But it must have been such a pressure cooker environment on weekday mornings the early days with runs to Kilsheelan school as Pop would have to be up at dawn, have the cows milked, use a water manual cooler which was a gadget you put into the churn of milk attach the water hose. Inside the churn, the propellor would spin around while on outside of the churn the water flowed down to cool the milk. The milk had to be of such a low temp or the creamery in Ballypatrick I would imagine reject it and while in the pit milking, you’d have to be fast on your feet to swop the pipe before the next churn would spill over. Place lids on the cooled churns of milk, then load these onto the car trailer which first had to be hitched up and collect the local children and have all of us at school on time; then head onto Ballypatrick Creamery. Mam as always provided the necessary backup to keep the show on the road and would drop us to school then onto the creamery with a full trailer load of churns, or finish washing down the machine and yard and Pop would complete the journey. But of course once the churns were emptied, placed into the car trailer, back home they all had to be hand washed. The invention of the Grundy churn must have brought some relief to farmers. I can still see the special shaped strong hand brush used for washing the churns. Often, I well recall Mam with her apron on and she giving them some scrubbing and then every so often the churns had to be scalded and this was done with a kettle of boiling water such a dangerous process to avoid getting scalded, it definitely seemed an arduous task but never once do I recall her complaining. In spring Mam always did the calves and as anyone in the know training a calf to drinking from a bucket such a frustrating task. Nowadays calves drink from teats in buckets- simple inventions often work best.
Odd the things you remember. And this only came into my mind lately and I said I must ask Mam about it. Reckon I was 6 or 7 years old It must have been a Saturday and Pop seated on his usual chair at the kitchen table facing the window. He must have been having dinner and granny at the cooker, I don’t remember anyone else there so assume they were in town. The outside door on the house was yellow always open, yet I never remember the house cold and there was a porch and the first dog I remember in Ballinaraha was Shep a big wooly almost over grown type lassie and any wet day Shep would throw himself down in the porch once Pop came in after the dog giving himself a right good shake. Then there was Blackie cat who’d appear maybe once a week, Pop’s cat and the cat would come into the kitchen stick its front legs on Pop’s lap seemed to be digging its claws into him purring and Pop throwing bits of meat to the cat, Mam giving out a bender and Pop not paying a blind bit of notice. Inside the kitchen on the left was the Wellstood cooker, gosh Mam loved that solid fuel cooker and I always felt when it was upgraded to an oil cooker some years back, she missed it but there was work involved in keeping the solid fuel cooker going. Anyway this day Granny was at the cooker, Pop at the table and I started to go weird, I heard granny shout “ The Child, the Child”, Pop turned around and seemed to kick the timber chair he was sitting on back out of the way, grabbed me out to the yard and slapped me hard on the back repeatedly and eventually dislodged a bull’s eye sweet stuck in my throat. I remember being dazed stayed outside for ages, it must have been close.
I never remember Mam and Pop going for a holiday and indeed Mam’s favourite cuppa was the one she made at home. I often felt when Pop loved to travel around the country on the special Retirement breaks, she’d have been happier at times to remain at home. While she’d often drop into you, for her to accept a meal in your home she liked to be invited and if you said be here at one, well the hot dinner needed to be on the table at one.
Christmas night was Mam’s night her most favourite night of the year, her holiday. We would all go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at 12 midnight and when she went down the hall to take off her coat when home, the natural savage instinct took over in us digging with forks into the hot ham, nothing tasted quite like it and then she back in the kitchen giving out and hunting us off to bed. Once dinner was over on Christmas day, we’d do the tidy Mam went for a well-deserved lie down get up in the evening put on her Sunday best and off to Michael and Joan in Powerstown and again she was best friends with Joan (RIP). But this was her reward for a year’s work. There’d be a group of friends and relatives all gathering in the Powerstown house and a feast for a king awaited everyone. How Mam loved this, they’d play a game of cards after the feast and then the food just kept on coming with Joan bringing out goodie after goodie- easily Mam’s favourite night of the year and probably lasted for over half a century.
Once the month of December descended on the Prendergast homestead in Ballinaraha, Kilsheelan, Mam and Pop would start to write letters to friends, relatives and Mam sent scores of Christmas cards to every corner of the land and further afield. Mam so loved the cards and letters back which were so meaningful and important to her; goodness only knows where they both found the time to do this and the most special letter you will ever receive in your life time is the handwritten one. When it came to family birthdays, anniversaries or whatever, Mam was always first in with a special card which never failed to contain money.
The advent of the grandchildren opened up a whole new life for Mam with weekly visits to Mitchelstown areas and of course Kilsheelan, but I think as Selina was the first grandchild, she always remained Mam’s favourite, there was no one like Selina.
While one would usually never refer to other family names when compiling an article such as this, it would do a great injustice to Mam’s life by omitting same as people formed such an integral part of her life and guaranteed many names will be unintentionally left out. There always seemed in my mind growing up not just a deep friendship but some kind of a shared bond as how life should be lived with the Prendergast’s, O Donnells, Gibbs, O’Reillys, Kehoes, Larkins Seskin where the young boys crossed fields at night Johnny Whelan and Pop played cards Mam visited Bab, the Lonergans, Callinans; then she loved meeting Hannah Finn, Mai Kehoe, Ballinaraha area the same Esther, Kitty, Diana, and more; across in Glen the Thompsons of course Mary and Nicholas, then Mary, Michael Ballynevin, Tullamaine, Kathy Hennebry, Mai Logan, Biddy Roche and so many other relatives and friends built over the course of time. Mam’s visit to the creamery could not happen unless she dropped into Lily even if she did not want anything. Mam, despite never actually having an official day off in the year always found the time to remain in contact with old friends and would have both Jimmy and Gertie Gibbs and Nora and Jimmy Fitzgerald down to visit, she never forgot Gertie growing up beside her in Ballinaraha.
When the petrol shortage hit in the 1970’s and most garages would not give you petrol, Mama Gibbs would give Mam two pounds worth of petrol in Ballypatrick, once the nozzle was in the car it was a hand pump that had to be pushed and pulled. That petrol kept Mam going and I can remember Mrs. Gibbs saying “I only do this for you Gertie” Mam seemed to be best friends with all of her friends.
One day a fair few years ago now I suppose, I dropped into Bernie Gibbs and Bernie told me the previous Saturday a good few of the Gibbs family happened to be chatting in the yard and Pop came along and joined in the banter. One of the Gibbs said “Gosh, Jimmy isn’t it great to say the Prendergast and Gibbs families have been friends for decades”. “Incorrect” said Pop instantly “The Prendergast and Gibbs families have been close friends for generations”. Gold.
And of course the jewel in the crown the Bolands next door. Mam always said she could not have inherited better neighbours. Mam and Joan were not simply lifelong friends. No there was something so much deeper in their relationship a type of bond which transcended all events. Up to Covid unlikely a day had passed without Mam having her morning cuppa with Joan in her new house, having first attended the morning Mass of course dropped into the shop more for a chat than a purchase. Indeed I’d say this bond was into its sixth decade and never a single bad word uttered between either of them. And yet like lifelong friends joined at the hip, despite all they said to each other they both had so much more to tell each other still. I’d go further I never recall a bad word between Michael-God rest Michael- and Pop. They’d cross the style as if there was no perimeter fence. Michael would just open the back door in the new house, I reckon also more for a chat perhaps seldom something for the farm. Ah he had one unique sense of humour such a hearty laugh.
Some years past, I suppose could be over twenty, they slip by, Mam told me Michael had come in that morning and as was his way just leaned up against the door jamb, Pop reading the morning paper at the table herself as usual at the cooker. “Congratulations Jimmy” first words out. Mam turned with a proud smile “What has the lad done now” she said. And it was the article I think we titled it “The road to Kilsheelan” and the Parish Council had kindly published it in its annual Christmas bulletin. The idea for the story, we had a Mass said in the house for uncle Ed who had passed the previous year and it is such a rewarding feeling to have a house Mass said. And chatting after were Jim Sullivan, God rest him and Michael in Powerstown about people who lived on the road to Ballinaraha. I reckoned there was a story so the following week I went up to Mick as we affectionately called him and he said no, Pop was the man for this. So I went down to him and he had no interest. Not to leave the idea vanish, I put two pages together and asked him to have a look and he was back in no time correcting my mistakes and he wrote a page himself and kept producing more pages and together we had the finished piece but it was always Pop’s; he supplied the information, I just used the computer. Michael that morning described it as a masterpiece and Pop later told me a great friend in the parish had rung him to also congratulate him saying “He had read the article three times and each time it got better”. But herein lies one of Mam’s most endearing qualities; her inner pride in what we all did; she would always keep paper headings of what we did and yet was never ever boastful. Mam reminds me of the lovely few lines in the Gospel; Our Lady saw all these things and stored them in her heart. And the most amazing thing about Mam’s ability to know people Pop was stuck in politics, went to the matches involved with Avonmore, Ballypatrick. Mam never was, the quiet homemaker behind the scenes but loved the weekly card game in Kilcash and an odd Bingo game, joined the local draws and if she could win a few bob, thrilled with herself. So what is this most rare quality she had, not alone among her peers and the names already mentioned maybe understandable, but Mam transferred whatever captive personality trait she had to the next generation growing up and continued to earn as much respect and admiration from this group as if she knew them all her life.
Tipperary is known for its association with the sandwich especially the ham, but unless you have tasted Mam’s sandwich you have been denied one of life’s pleasures. Andy, Selina’s longtime partner, whose sister Katie sent her condolences and Katie added “At the last few christenings, birthdays despite enjoying a great meal out, it was always a race back to the house to feast on Mam’s sandwiches”. A compliment from Waterford for Mam. Even little Andy, who turned 3 a few weeks ago, and they were telling him big granny has passed away, and an age difference between them of 87 years, little Andy said “I’ll miss her cause she always brought us nice jam”- Mam’s personality now bringing a fourth generation of admirers.
The golden generation always seem to select the exact correct time to slip gently away and Mam did this to perfection. There are times God does work but not perhaps in the way we want and if we are lucky take a step backwards and things just seem to fall into place. The selection of the christening date probably six months ago of Shane and Fiona’s beautiful baby Mealla in Kilsheelan on first May 2022 bears enormous significance now. It was Mam’s last day she would attend a service in her beloved church. Mam always seemed to have a preference for prayer on her own. When she would attend any of the services in Gambonsfield Church, if she wasn’t there twenty minutes before service started, Mam considered it to be late.
Mealla is the first of this Prendergast family to be christened in Kilsheelan church for over half a century. Mam was in her element and there are now priceless photos of Mam including four generations of the Prendergast family. The christening ceremony on the side altar was so beautiful and so wonderfully conducted by Fr Carey. In typical fashion Mam called me over while photos were ongoing after the ceremony giving out “Edmond Fr Carey would not like to see the children crawling around the church”. I just smiled and said they’ll be all right and I returned to crawling on the pews with the children. The following day, Mam fell and with two breaks it was unlikely there would be a long-term positive outcome given she had passed with some distinction last Nov and had taken up membership of that very rare breed of Nonagenarian’s.
Never forgetting her Ballypatrick roots, Gertie Hannigan became Mrs. Gertie Prendergast in 1957 and spent the next 65 years as a contented hard working farmer’s wife living her life mostly in the background without ever causing any fuss exactly the way she choose to leave this world.
I am so immensely proud to say this lady was My Mam.
May we extend sympathy to all of the Prendergast families, her treasured friends from far and near and her best lifelong friend, Joan next door.
Mam’s Month’s Mind Mass will take place Saturday evening 16th July in Gambonsfield Church at 6.15 pm, and refreshments served in the KPLAN centre afterwards, all are most welcome.
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