Jim takes everything in his stride and never holds a grudge

Bernie Commins


Bernie Commins

Jim takes everything in his stride and never holds a grudge
Sometimes in life, you encounter a few people who leave a lasting impression. A recent meeting with Jim McGrath, a 100-year-old gentleman from O’Neill Street in Clonmel, was one such instance for me.

Sometimes in life, you encounter a few people who leave a lasting impression. A recent meeting with Jim McGrath, a 100-year-old gentleman from O’Neill Street in Clonmel, was one such instance for me.

A funny, unassuming, immensely interesting and charming man, he recalled and recounted just some of the stories of his long life, yet it could have filled an entire newspaper.

His Wikipedia-like mind was awe-inspiring as he pondered and then plucked answers to my many questions.

Earlier this year Jim’s longtime friend Cllr Billy Shoer, honoured Jim and his century-long life in the Town Hall in Clonmel, during Cllr Shoer’s tenure as mayor. Accompanied by members of his family, Jim enjoyed a relaxing whiskey as he provided an eye witness account of how life used to be and how that life just might have been a little bit better.

Originally from Farranrory in Ballingarry, Jim was the eldest of ten, born into a farming family on November 21, 1912. Helping on the farm was inevitable as he grew up, but Jim always enjoyed the great outdoors and that was where he spent most of his working life.

He married his sweetheart Mary Pollard in 1948 and they had seven children – Liam, Tommy, Patricia, Maureen, Sarah, Catherine and Angela. By the time the family moved to O’Neill Street in Clonmel in 1969, most of the family were working, while a few were still at school. Jim worked in Clonmel Foods until its closure in 1983, when he was aged 71.

“Ah sure they couldn’t do without me,” he joked.

“And I’d still be there today if they hadn’t closed it,” he laughed.

It was Jim’s job to look after the cattle that were brought in for slaughter, meet the farmers, tag the animals, get dockets ready. And sometimes he would feed the cattle that were waiting to meet their fate. He enjoyed the work.

“The outdoor life suited me,” he said.

But a deskjob may also have suited him too: “I would have done it, but sure nobody would have me,” he joked. “I think I might have liked it, looking out the window watching someone else work,” he added.

But the rural ways were in his blood and he grew vegetables organically on a large plot at his house in O’Neill Street for years.

Like many, Jim’s school days evoke mixed emotions. Earlier years in the primary school in Ballingarry are associated with a very strict teacher while later at the old schoolhouse in The Commons, education was a more positive and enjoyable experience. Jim recalled having a male teacher there who was ‘a lovely man’.

“I don’t think we ever had a difference over anything,” he said.

“Learning came easy to me at that stage and anything I learned at that time, I still remeber it,” he said.

Born in the same year that the Titanic sank, Jim has lived through countless events of significance: the Easter Rising, the introduction of the Irish Free State; the electrification of rural Ireland; two World Wars; the Irish Civil War; huge advances in technology and medicine; and several recessions.

“There was a bad recession in 1929, the Wall Street Crash, that was a bad one alright,” he said, adding some interesting observations.

“But people were more self sufficient in those times, they weren’t relying on purchased goods anything like the degree we are now,” he said.

“Life was much simpler then. People were more united, and inter-mixed a lot better. They would walk into your house and that was it, It didn’t matter if you locked your door, I’d say there were some houses and they didn’t even know where the key to the door was,” he said.

This greater sense of community helped people through tough times, according to Jim. The simpler way of life is best, he says, something the Celtic Tiger forgot.

“Things were primitive [back then] but people were content. For the camaraderie, you couldn’t compare with the old days.”

“The Celtic Tiger was unreal, we were living on paper. The money that was being spent and tossed around, didn’t even exist.

Jim didn’t ponder much on it at the time, the Tiger certainly didn’t impact on Jim’s way of life and his value system.

“It didn’t give me a lot of trouble, but it gave me an uneasy feeling, if I was part of it I wouldn’t be very happy,” he said.

Jim regards the electrification of Ireland, especially rural areas, as the greatest achievement he has witnessed in his lifetime.

“That really put this country on wheels,” he said.

“You imagine now going into a house to a candle or an old paraffin lamp, you’d get used to it, but when the electricity was switched on, you really saw your own house,” said Jim. “It was like the house was never brushed,” he joked.

Jim recalled a funny story of the first time he ever felt the warm glow from an electric heater. He was waiting to see the doctor in Callan once, after he sprained an ankle. The receptionist produced the alien appliance.

“I remember looking all around it trying to see where the flame was coming from, that was the first time I had seen a heater,” he said.

“And then in the 1930s the radio was there and we could hear someone talking to us from England, and we thought, what was happening at all?,” he said.

Only two families in Ballingarry had a radio at that time, and the whole village would gather to listen to the huge events like an All Ireland final or Grand National.

“We used to go to the cinema a bit, but we would have to cycle to Callan to see it or to Kilkenny if there was a good one, that would have been about 14 miles away.

“But there used to be travelling shows also so we weren’t always dependent on the big towns.

“I remember during the second World War, coming into Clonmel to see a film, near were the Credit Union is. It was ‘The Bells of St Mary’s’, I thought that was a great film,” said Jim.

Another thing that has amazed Jim, is the progress that has been made in medicine.

“There was a time when doctors didn’t know what an appendix was or how to operate on it and you just died of inward pain. My father had his appendix out, when I was very small, oh I must have been very small because I can barely remember him going around with a stick. You would be an invalid for six months after it, they would almost cut you in half,” he said.

“The strides made in medicine and surgery, God you couldn’t explain it,” said Jim.

“And the transplants beat all aswell. I knew members of families who died from inward pain and nothing could be done for them,” he said.

He may be 100, but Jim McGrath is a poster-boy for enjoying the simple things in life and living similarly.

“I took everythng in my stride, I didn’t hold grudges. I was always laid back. I would never get fussy over things, some things people would be losing their head over and I would be thinking there is some natural way out of this.” Jim would take a puff of his pipe and go about his business.
He doesn’t attribute this calm attitude to his long life,
but there may be an important lesson there for all of us.