Go back in time in the Old Irish Ways museum

Donal O’Regan


Donal O’Regan

Many people will be calling to Denis O'Connors open day on Sunday at his Old Irish Ways museum near Bruff. Picture: Michael Cowhey
THE only thing missing from Denis O’Connor’s bar near Bruff is the beer.

THE only thing missing from Denis O’Connor’s bar near Bruff is the beer.

Laid out as a traditional public house, Blacky’s Bar is complete with a full collection of old-style whiskey and spirit bottles, taps, glasses and ashtrays.

Located upstairs in a large garage at the back of Denis’s home in Caherguillamore, the cosy bar is just one section of Old Irish Ways – an extensive exhibition of memorabilia dating from the 19th and 20th century.

“I wouldn’t say I had a serious interest but I would have great respect for things from bygone days,” says Denis of how his interest in collecting collectables came about.

The retired farmer started gathering materials around eight years ago when he had a particular interest in vintage tractors.

“I used to be taking those around the country to shows. It got a bit expensive and the jeep was acting up,” he explains.

Standing in Blacky’s Bar bar with his son Declan, Denis is putting the finishing touches to his mini museum ahead of an open day this Sunday where members of the public are being invited to step back in time and get a feel for what life was like for their ancestors.

This collection, Denis explains, was put together in about five years with a large bulk of the work being done in the past 12 months.

Many of the items were sourced by trawling through car boot sales around the country, or were donations from friends of friends - all keen to see Denis’s collection flourish.

The item he is most delighted to have gotten his hands on is the famine pot.

“I got that up in Mayo from a guy who said it was passed down through six generations of his family. At the time, it was sent to Lord Lucan’s estate in Killala and he immediately dispatched it to the workhouse in Castlebar because he didn’t want peasants dying on his land. The guy had tears in his eyes telling me this.”

Laid out neatly on a table on the landing are a number of old war items including a bayonet from the First World War, a musket ball maker going back to pre-First World War, and two gas masks – one dated November 1, 1944 and another dated 1940.

“You can see they upgraded them,” says Denis. “They used to be in a cardboard box with a chord handle and the kids used to bring them to school with them.”

Across the landing is a blended kitchen/bedroom complete with a traditional open fireplace, a quaint, old iron-framed bed, a baby’s cot and old-style pram.

There were actually 12 kids reared in that pram - the Donegans from Kilmallock,” says Denis pointing to an old-fashioned stroller which is full of personality with its big, old wheels and navy hood.

Beside it, stands a smaller wooden pushchair which Denis purchased at an auto-jumble in Fermoy for €25. “That’s going back to 1920. It actually folds up. I have never seen a timber pushchair,” he remarks before moving his attention to the striking old gramophone close-by.

The beautiful device which dates from the 1920s,”actually still works”, says Denis, enthusiastically, as he winds it up by its handle.

“There were no electrics – it’s just a spring that works it and there was no volume control,” he continues at the vinyl starts to crackle. Within seconds, the tune Spancil Hill is waking up any neighbour who may have been enjoying an afternoon nap. “That’s Joe Lynch singing- or Dinny from Glenore,” Denis shouts, above the music.

With normal service resumed, Denis points to an original newspaper cutting from 1963 featuring a striking portrait of JFK and his wife, Jackie.

“In the old houses years ago,” he says, “I faintly remember John F would be at one side, Pope John XXIII would be at the other and the boss would be in the middle.”

Dusting off an old radio, he recalls, how in those days these were operated by the wet and dry cell batteries.

“They wouldn’t be turned on only for the nine o’clock news, the Ceili House, and of course, for the matches on Sunday. There would be war if the radio wasn’t right because all the neighbours would gather as not everybody would have had a radio.”

Moving back out onto the landing, his attention is drawn to one particular gadget hanging from a railing.

“Have you any idea what this is for,” he asks. The small hand-held device he holds up is for weighing babies and even has an inscription to indicate the recommended weight of a baby in the first six months of their life.

“One month - nine pounds, five months -14 pounds” - and so on.

Other items worth closer inspection are a selection of old washboards, a gadget for taking the top off the eggs, old irons, an egg washing machine, a machine dating from the 1890s for peeling apples and numerous old roads signs offering the distance to Bruff, Kilmallock and more far-flung Irish towns.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Denis then escorts you into a classroom. While the bar may lack beer, this classroom has everything one would expect from a classroom of the past. There are the old-style desks Denis sourced from a friend in Athlacca, an old leather schoolbag which came out of the FCJ convent in Bruff, a tall teacher’s desk dating from 1850 and a small tin box housing nibs of the old ink pens.

The open day at Old Irish Ways on the Meanus Road runs from 11am to 5pm this Sunday. Admission is €5 for adults with free entry for children.

See www.oldirishways.com for further details.