Sarah Cregan and her family lived in a cottage down a little lane on the edge of a bog. Their small farm was not capable of sustaining a family in 1963. Like a lot of his generation, John Cregan took the boat to England to find work to supplement their income as well as to provide extra savings to extend and modernize their smallholding. Things were changing in Ireland in the early sixties. Electricity had come to most of the rural areas and people were acquiring grants to provide running water in their homes. Bathrooms and toilets were being built to replace the unhygienic privies which were found at the backs of houses.
The Cregans still held on to the old way of life, as they did not have the means or finances to improve their lifestyle. Their neighbours the Walshes had moved their lives on into more modern times and were quite comfortably off. Pat Rearden lived in a small dingy cottage at the back of the village and because of his circumstances and troubled past, he lived in a time-warp, unable to rise out of extreme poverty.
One of the life-lines the Cregan family had was their donkey and cart, which was used to take home the turf and other menial tasks on the farm. Tossie the donkey was important in their lives as well as the few cows which provided milk daily for the table.
Tossie and his little cart came into its own one very lonely night when Sarah and her brothers made a secret journey in the dead of night through frosty fields to the old cemetery.
The work of the old farm machinery was coming to an end, but it was used in places in 1963 and it was part and parcel of their simple lives.
The hen house provided shelter and safety for the fowl at night from foxes as well as a comfortable spot to lay their eggs. In November 1962, the supply of eggs was few and far between during early winter, but Sarah managed to keep a number of them fresh and ready for making the Christmas cake and plum pudding. She placed them on her bedroom window.
The provision of water for washing was provided by barrels which gathered the rainwater from the roof. This was used for washing mainly and for cleaning the privy. In winter, the flood known as the winter pond provided drinking water for the animals. but when the pond froze over during the big snow, Pat Rearden made a fire in the yard and heated snow and ice to provide drinking water for the animals.
Drinking water was fetched from wells and pumps in buckets. The county councils had provided public pumps along country roads for this purpose.
Most kitchens were adorned with Holy pictures or faded family photos in frames. Over the range was a mantlepiece covered with a colourful oil cloth with serrated edges. In the centre was a mantle clock and two delph ornaments, usually dogs at each end, complimenting each other, facing out into the kitchen symmetrically. There were often tin boxes with photos, or other documents. it was in one of these Pat stored the key to the mausoleum. By the end of 1963, each house hung a portrait of John F. Kennedy and Pope John XXVIII, as both of them died that year.
The kitchen was a busy place and its central hub was the dresser which stored all the delph, pots, pans and certain food items such as sugar, butter, bread, and jam. One of the regular chores during the year was churning the butter. Sarah gathered the cream off the top of the milk, morning and evening and when she had a large crock full of cream, churning took place. On large farms, where there was a considerable volume of milk, the end-over-end churn was used.
For a small holding like Cregans farm, a much smaller table churn was used and turning the handle, inside paddles, separated the cream from any other milk residue. After about half an hour, the butter was separated from the milk.
A bucket was placed on a chair under the churn. A wooden cork was pulled at the bottom of the churn and the buttermilk was collected. People then took a cup and drank some, which it was said it’s sharp bitter taste was good for the thirst. Buttermilk was also an ingredient of brown soda bread. The butter was removed. Salt was added and it was made into table-ready blocks for use at meal times, as well as for frying and cooking. If there was a glut of butter a portion was shared with neightbours or sold on market day in town.