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Tuesdays with Mary
By Nuala Collins
January 2012

The Tuesday afternoons I spent in Mary Maguire’s house in Nicholastown listening to her stories were a wonderful way to pass the Winter evenings before Christmas.  We always finished with tea, perfect service, tray cloth and all – a proper afternoon tea.  Mary couldn’t have me visit on Monday, she works a full day and other days are busy too with visiting her family and other commitments.  She has the energy of one half her age, God Bless her and she’s had her 80th birthday.  Everything about Mary gives the impression that she has had an interesting life to date.  She walks tall and with an air of confidence.   Her father who was used to serving the gentry coached her to speak properly.  Well, he was in the British Army and served in India.  Her mother trained her to behave correctly in any company.  Mother was in service with McCalmonts.

Mary was the only child of Thomas Herbert and Brigid Lally.  She was born on September 29th 1931.  Their home was in Henry Street Newbridge.  Thomas was a Dublin man, born on The Quays and Brigid came from Ahascragh in  Co. Galway.   Thomas’ family were craftsmen and he was a gifted sign-writer.   Later he became chauffeur for Major Mc Calmont.   Brigid was a ladies maid for Mrs McCalmont.  That was how they met.  Shades of “Upstairs Downstairs”!  Mrs McCalmont was a cousin of Mrs Blacker, who featured greatly in Mary’s married life.

School days were spent in Holy Family Newbridge.  Mary’s first job was with in Belfast with Mrs Quinn.  She loved it and remembers living on Alexander Street.   It only lasted 9 months due to unrest in the North.  Then she took up employment in Eccles Street Convent in Dublin and hated that.  She worked in the dining room there.  Next she was with an accountant in Terenure for some time.  Back to Newbridge she came to work in Newbridge Cutlery.   In her late teens she met and married Simon Maguire.   Simon worked in Castlemartin for Mrs Blacker.  They lived for a while with Mary’s parents.  Simon was on the lookout for a house on the Blacker estate and in the early 50’s they  moved  to the front gate lodge at Castlemartin.  Their first child Judy was 6 weeks old.

The story of getting the house is interesting.  Peggy Morrissey who lived with her parents in Castlemartin yard was engaged to be married to a Dublin man.   There was also her sister Phoebe and brother Johnny living in the house.  Peggy went to Mrs Blacker to tell her the good news of her forthcoming wedding and to ask for the gate lodge in which to set up home.  Mrs Blacker said “you can marry and have the lodge but your family will have to leave Castlemartin yard”.  This put Peggy in an awkward position where her family would be out on the road.  She broke off the engagement and never married.  She went in tears to the men in the yard, Simon, Johnny Cole and John McGrath and told them there would be no wedding.  Now the lodge was there for the taking.  So Simon went to Mrs Blacker and got the key of their new home.

The lodge dates from 1820’s and was in poor condition as it was unoccupied for many years.   It is said that Castlemartin House has 28 rooms, while the gate lodge had a kitchen and one room,  no light, no running water, no toilet, no heat, just a small fireplace to cook on and heat the house.  Nothing there “only moonshine” says Mary.  It wasn’t renovated till the 1980’s, long after Mary and Simon had moved to Nicholastown and Castlemartin had changed hands.   In 1967 the estate was left to The Earl of Gowrie by Mrs Sheelagh Blacker, his great aunt.  Four years later Lord Gowrie sold Castlemartin to the O’Reilly family.  It is said locally that Castlemartin is the coldest house in Kildare.   That was the reason Maj Beaumont didn’t buy it, he bought Harristown instead.   Castlemartin at the time of Maguires living in the gate lodge had a vibrant community all of its own.   The Morrisseys and Keoghs lived in houses in the yard.  Keegan’s home was called “the blue door” because it’s one and only door was blue.  Curley Keegan occupied “the back lodge”.  Snells and Tapley lived across the road.  Now Maguires would live in “the front lodge”.  Percy Blacker, one of the two sons of Blackers, and his wife were in the other house at the Kinneagh end of the estate.  Mrs Sheelagh Blacker, widow of Lt. Col. Frederick Blacker, or Madame as Mary calls her, resided in Castlemartin House.  Blackers bought the estate in 1854.  Mary had never lived in the country before her marriage.  Now in Castlemartin she felt very isolated and lonely.  At that time the front lodge was the only house on that side of the Newbridge road between Kilcullen and the second gates of Castlemartin.  No school, sports centre or housing estate across the road.

Mary lived at Castlemartin  lodge for less than twenty years but her memories are vivid of her time there in early marriage and rearing her young children.   Most are not pleasant memories and now she doesn’t even look at the estate as she passes by on the road.  She endured a lot of hardship there.   Cash, or rather lack of it, was always a problem with the owner of the place.  Sheelagh was asset rich and cash poor.  Wages weren’t always paid and Mary would go to “the big house” to collect for Simon who worked on the farm.   If she saw Percy on his way to visit Mother she says she would run “till my last breath was gone” to get there ahead of him or he would have the money gone off the mantelpiece and there would be no money for the Maguires.  If Percy, who was always in need of cash, was not in sight the ritual was less stressful.  Mary would knock on the library door.  Madame would say “enter” and enquire the purpose of the intrusion.  Then according to Mary “she would pay if she had it”.  Once Mary remembers being told “stand out on the step - you are only a labouring man’s wife”.  Two Christmases she remembers having no wages.  But for the generosity of the town business people they would have had a lean time.  Byrnes, Nolans and Orfords were always good for credit till New Year and better days.  The traders of Kilcullen were good to Mrs Blacker too in her later years when times were lean for her. Jim Byrne Junior would bring her a big box of groceries every Saturday.  She’d take the soup and sliced pan for herself and send the rest to Mr Percy.

Mary and Simon experienced two awful tragedies while living in Castlemartin.  They were there only a short time when their second child Mary Carmel died.  She three months old.  Again the kindness of the town’s people is not forgotten by Mary.  She remembers Miss Duffy and Miss Mayne of Byrne’s Drapery lining the little coffin with satin.   Jim Byrne drove the parents with the remains of Mary Carmel in the white coffin on their knees in the back seat of his car to New Abbey Cemetery.  Simon Junior was only fifteen years old when he was knocked down on the road near the house by a motorist.  He and his brother Billy were on their way to serve Benediction in the Parish Church.  He died later in Naas Hospital.  Mary’s big regret is that she was not allowed to see his body before burial.  She says that it helps the grieving if parents say a final “goodbye”.

Mary was always industrious and even with little money the family was never hungry.  Simon sowed the garden patch at the back of the gate lodge with potatoes and vegetables.   Tom McGrath was in charge of the walled garden on the estate but that produce was for the big house.  Mary had a clothes line at the back of the gate lodge but could only have it a certain height because the washing shouldn’t be seen from the road.   Mary knew the best cheap cuts of meat, with a few bones thrown in free, to be had in local butchers Orfords or Nolans.  She even produced her own honey.  She would get a hive from the trees near the house and extract the honey from it.   Fr. Price loved a jar of that.  He used to walk the avenue reading his brievery until he was refused permission to do so.  The nuns from the Convent were allowed to go down to the river bank via The Laurel Walk and have a picnic.  They were never turned back.  Mary often saw them as she went for water to the Pinkeen stream.

Fuel for cooking and heating was a problem too and coal or turf was expensive to buy.  There was lots of firewood in the woods of the estate, some scattered after fallen trees.  Mrs Blacker was very miserly and would not allow it to be taken.  The Maguires would collect some at night and hide it till an opportunity arose to take it home.  They had to watch and listen for Mrs Blacker’s car and run for cover.  Mary told me a story about the plan that the men, Billy Keegan,   Johnny Cole, Tom McGrath and her husband Simon had to cut down a tree to be shared out among the families.  It was Punchestown week 1951.  Lord and Lady Gowrie, relatives of Mrs Blacker were over from Poland for the festival.  When the chauffer driven cars pulled out from Castlemartin with all the occupants sitting inside in their finery ready for the races, the lads got to work.  Anyone old enough to remember, will recall that snow fell that year in April.  Punchestown races were cancelled.  So after a short time Mary heard the cars returning.  Panic stricken, she ran and she could run fast because she was in her early 20’s.  She ran to stop the men.  She had to dig her way through the snow in the big lawn at the side of the house.  She waved her hands frantically and her warning was received.  The sawing stopped.  The men buried themselves in the snow.   As the car doors were slammed shut and the big double door of the mansion opened to let the guests in the boys re-appeared.  They covered the tree and arranged to return next day to share the spoils.  A sigh of relief was released from the gang.  “Nothing for us all” says Mary “but we’d be out on the road if Herself found out”.  It would be funny, if it wasn’t so serious.

I asked Mary about parties and balls in Castlemartin.  She told me of one Christmas, Mrs Blacker allowed her to bring the children to see the big Christmas tree in the front hall before the party.  All the local gentry were invited.  The Dean of Kildare and Mr Ken Urquhart were among the guests.  Jack Snell was in charge of the car parking.   Every year on St. Stephen’s day the Kildare Hunt was invited to the front of the house.  She remembers Paddy Powell and the hunting horn, and trays of drinks at the front door.  Her kids would hide behind the lime trees to watch.  The lime trees are there no more.

In spite of everything Mary has a certain sympathy for Mrs Blacker.  Her description of the woman is that she always looked very old, she was domineering, could be very insulting but Mary adds that that was “part of her upbringing”.  She had no luck with Castlemartin.  Her only other child, her son Ian, who was a captain in the British army, was killed at the battle of Monte Cassino in Italy in 1944.  “She was down to her last thread when Ian died,” according to Mary.   She sold the corner house across the road for £800 but got nothing out of the sale because she owed it all to Mr Alfie Brennan.  No luck either with the horses - the mares and foals died on her.  She bought an old black car from Mr Paddy Cox and it was useless, the doors wouldn’t close, she had them tied with twine – that’s what Mary told me.  Mrs Blacker drove a big Vauxhall at one time, and since she was a petite lady and often had to have someone turn the car around for her, no power steering that time and maybe she needed a booster seat!  She had a theory that the more petrol one put in the car, the more it consumed.   So she usually got the petrol pump attendant to put two gallons in the tank and two in a spare can she carried in the boot.  Trouble was that after she used the spare petrol she forgot to refill the can, meaning she got stuck on the road again.  Sheelagh Blacker tried a little enterprise with pigs!  She bought a sort of lorry, well a cab with a small back for carrying things.  She reared the pigs in the back yard and when the bonhams were ready for market in Dublin she loaded them and set off at the crack of dawn.  At Brownstown, on the Naas Road, the back came off the contraption and the baby pigs escaped, along with the profit that was to be made from their sale.  She sat there in the cab, which incidentally had no windows in it, till somebody came along hours later and helped her.  She always travelled with a hot water bottle on her knees and a rug round her feet.  The yard where the pigs were reared is now the location of a swimming pool.  But to Sheela’s credit she reared a special breed of pig and showed them at the R.D.S. show in Ballsbridge, where she won many prizes.  Castlemartin pigs were good.

All that life is in the past now for Mary.  She says it was like moving to a palace when she, her husband Simon and children Judy, Billy, Mary and Elizabeth moved to the old Maguire home in Nicholastown.  Simon is dead 14 years R.I.P.  She enjoys her 14 grandchildren and 7 great-grand-children.  Mary never forgets her deceased children.  She doesn’t like Sundays.  Her son Simon was killed on a Sunday evening, the morning of which Percy Blacker was killed at The Red Cow in Dublin.  That was September 25th 1967.  Mrs Blacker herself had died three weeks earlier.  Mary loves all her neighbours in Nicholastown and I’m sure they love her too.   A few years ago Mary’s granddaughter Leona took her for a drive on the Curragh.  It was an automatic car and Mary had a go.  She managed very well and fancied the idea of buying herself a car.   She had a bit of money saved and considered it for a while.  Then she decided that it would be a better idea to get heat installed in the house instead.  Young at heart...that’s Mary!

Nuala Collins chats with Mary Maguire, of Nicholastown. Our thanks to Nuala for sending in this engaging piece

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