#OTD in 1978 – Death of Máire Bean Ui Sheaghdha (née Cremin) who was known locally as ‘Mary Geo’.

She played a valuable role in preserving an account of island customs and traditions. Her death heralded the passing of one of the last remaining true and fluent Irish language speakers who inherited the language from the cradle, or ‘on gcliabhán’ as described in Irish.

For more than 10 years she competed in storytelling competitions at the Oireachtas in Dublin and contributed a considerable amount of lore and legend to the archives of the Folklore Department of UCD, collected from her by the acclaimed folklorist Tadhg O’Murchú.

Here are some of her recollections:

“I remember sand being brought in boats from Beginis Island. The old people used to say that the sand from Beginis was better for land than the Valentia sand. It would remain longer in the land and the Valentia sand was only good for one crop. In those days there were no chemicals. They used to cut shells for manure. Those little shells were like small mussels. They used to grow on the rocks North of Valentia. They used to scrape them off with a spade and draw them up on the bank with baskets on their backs and often down home with the basket when the strand was over.

“Another industry in Valentia was fish curing. It was cured in the Slate Yard, also in Portmagee and Renard Point. I worked curing mackerel in the Slate Yard, packed it into barrels of pickle and a steamer took it from Valentia Pier to Cork to be shipped to England and the USA. It was very nice to see so many seine boats and followers rowing the channel a fine harvest morning to the Point with their cargo of fish, mackerel especially.

“I remember eight seine boats and followers in Valentia. There were three in Corobeag, one in Cooil, one in Tennis, one in Feighmane and one in Farranreigh, as well as one in Knightstown and also one in Chapeltown. My husband was the skipper of the Cooil seine boat called ‘Up Kerry,’ a boat which won many a regatta.

Another very hard job was butter making. Churning was hard labour, and then wash the butter and pack it into crocks. About 80 pounds of butter went into those crocks. It was taken to Cork market in small barrels especially made by a cooper, in creels on horseback.


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