Kells Archaeological & Historical Society


Oral History



(b. 1946)


Grew up at Kilmainham outside Kells. Worked for Pickups Shoes c1959-61. Then worked as a butcher in Dublin and Navan for about 20 years, followed by over 20 years in Wellman’s. Married Cepta Tighe of Kells in 1970 and has lived in Fr McCullen Park since 1971. Tom and Peter Moran (Dundalk) married two sisters. 



Kells 23rd September 2010


DC:     This is Danny Cusack on Thursday 23 September 2010 here at 25 Fr McCullen Crescent Kells taking to Tom Lynch. Tom, I believe you worked in Pickups rather than Tara Shoes. Do you want to say how you came to be working in Pickups; when and how old you were …?

TL:      I was thirteen years of age. I left school in 1959. I was born in 1946. I wanted no more school so that’s how the Brothers agreed, I got a job. They agreed to let me go to work in Pickups provided Mr Pickup would let me off to play school football. I was supposed to be good at football. They came to that agreement and every time there was a game of football in the evenings I’d be let off and I’d be brought up to the Brothers and given the OK for to play the football. So I was in Pickups for about a year and a half. When I was going to school I was doing part-time work with a butcher in the town called Paddy Reilly. I used to do messages, and deliveries. So he asked me if a job ever came up would I be interested in going to work with him, to serve my time as a butcher. So after a year and a half in Pickups a job did come up in Paddy Reilly’s and he sent for me. So when I went into Pickups I was on £1/17/6- per week. And I went to Paddy Reilly’s to serve my time as a butcher for £1/10/- per week.

DC:     So you went backward …

TL:      I went backward but I knew I was getting a trade. So I went home and handed in the £1/10/- and was handed back 5/- for me self.

DC:     That’s the way it was done in those days …

TL:      That’s the way it was done. So I went on to serve my time in Paddy Reilly’s and when I’d served my time – it took four years – he looked out for someone who would want a qualified butcher. So he did get me a job in Dublin but I didn’t want to leave home so [I started looking myself] and got one in Navan. In Brews Hill there was a fellow by the name of Joe Casserley. He’s dead now. I worked for him for a few years then the job came up in Wellman’s. I’d spent twenty years at butchering so at that stage I wanted a change. I applied for a job in Wellman International and I was successful. After a year in Wellmans working on the floor I was promoted to assistant shift manager. So I spent twenty years as an assistant shift manger and I was doing twelve hour shifts. Not great for the stomach. And finally a redundancy came up and I was prompted to take it. So approximately 13 of us took it and ever since then I was doing bits and pieces here and there, doing an odd day of butchering. And now I’m spending a few days a week driving taxis. I tried me hand at everything.

DC:     You sure have.  

TL:      Times were good and bad in the 60s. They weren’t great in the 80s. Even when I

was going to school would go home and into a potato field and pick potatoes until it gets dark just to help out at home with money. And go home then and maybe get the football boots and go training. That was our hobby. No drink, no money for drink. We didn’t know what the inside of a pub was like. We didn’t want to really know. We enjoyed life playing football. There were two girls in our family and four brothers. So we have one sister left and one brother. Unfortunately one brother was killed in 1964 on the road. He was walking home from the pictures one night. And the sister died suddenly at 50 years of age. And the mother and father died the one year - 1974. They died from a broken heart really. Times were good even though we’d no money. The games we played on people were petty games, they wouldn’t be vicious. Going in and progging apples and progging orchards and this type of thing. Working in the factory I enjoyed every minute of it. I worked with some good characters: George McGovern, the late Freddie Lawless, Kathleen Campbell (deceased), Maura Tormay, and Jimmy McManus. Now in Pickups there might only be about 14 or 15 of us working there. I was putting soles on the shoes; you did them by hand whereas beyond in Tara Shoes there was a machine. I was always interested in sport. This house is interested in sport. Two grandchildren now coming up and they’re playing football on Saturday.  A boy and a girl; she’s playing football – and soccer as well. I worked with some good characters, some great characters. You’d never know whether they were telling you lies or the truth.

DC:     There were a lot of tricks played …

TL:      Oh yeah … when you started work you’d be sent some place to get a bucket of steam, so you’d go off looking for a bucket of steam. In Wellman’s this went on. You’d send someone for the bucket of steam and they come back with the cardboard over it thinking they had a bucket of steam.                            

DC:     Perhaps you could just say a bit more about your family background at Kilmainham. Were you farming …?

TL:      No, we were ordinary labourers. My father was a county council worker sweeping and cleaning the roads. My eldest brother – he only died last year – he went to England when he was 14/15. He was a great footballer too. We were like everyone else who lived in a council house. We were poor. Everyone was poor then. Every penny I earned was handed up to help. But still we had good parents. I had a brother called Jack and there was Donal, Séamus and myself. My sisters were Margaret and May. Margaret’s still living, May’s deceased. My father had £14 every two weeks that was his wages. There was a shop called Hoyes and we used get credit. And that cheque practically went to pay for the two weeks groceries we’d get off them.

DC:     Not much saved....

TL:      Well, my Mother used to go out to pick potatoes as well, do a bit of housework, for people out here-Farmers etc, and we did the same coming from school. We’d go in and pick potatoes and dick out to earn the extra few pounds. Things were hard: Things weren’t easy because even though we have a recession, it’s a lot better now.

DC:     People have food in their stomachs, the basic necessities.

TL:      That’s right. I have two sons of my own. One of them is in Wellman’s these ten or eleven   years. And I said to him, if I was boy now in Wellman’s you’d never get into it. I have   another son; he has his outfit at the back. He does sport injuries. He did his exams and  passed the whole lot and seems to be doing well at it. 

DC:     A big number of men from Kells went to Wellman’s, particularly when Tara Shoes closed …

TL:      Yes they did and they were lucky enough that it closed down when it did because Wellman’s was only opening and they were taking on plenty of people. It was unfortunate for Tara Shoes to close down but at that time the shoe factories were dying. Now Pickups, he sold most of his shoes n Dublin. He’d go off every Thursday with a carload, no trailer or nothing, just fill the boot of the car with shoes. It’d be mostly all sandals. 

DC:     What was Pickups like to work for? A happy experience?

TL:      Very happy. Very happy. They’d never bother you once you did your work. Well, sure we did our work and at break time we’d do little things. I remember one day the late Freddie Lawless – he died a very young man – and we were out having our tea break and that was the canteen, a little shed off the factory, and of course you’d throw a cup of water at someone after the break. And Freddie threw a cup of water at George McGovern one day and he was left with the handle on his finger. The rest of the cup was gone. And he went in with the handle on his finger: “Mrs. Pickup, the cup broke”. And she stopped 2/6- out of his wages for the cup. 

DC:     It was down near where Oliver Usher is now …

TL:      Exactly, now you go into Oliver Usher’s ... to the right of him, then the building to the left. I don’t know what’s in there now. Well, the bakery was there. Fitzsimons, then Spicers. Then Arat Shoes opened when Tara closed down. That was Eamon McCabe and the late Jimmy Morris.

DC:     Were they based down near the railway station?

TL:      Near Kells Stores, the laneway leading up by Kells Stores.

DC:     They produced Scholl’s.

TL:      Yes, they’d be kind of like a slipper. And mostly women would be wearing them

DC:     During your time in Pickups were you a member of a trade union?

TL:      No, there was no trade union at that time. But there was in Tara Shoes.

DC:     Were there any industrial disputes?

TL:      No, there was never any dispute. Pickups were like a factory, you know what I mean…  Nobody had bad words with anybody. Like, as the fellow says, when you’re working together you have to do your work and have a bit of a laugh at the same time. Nobody fell out with one another. We all got on well together. George McGovern was a great man to work for now. I worked beside George. He was a great man; he used to be in the pantomimes. He could make up a song like that about anybody. He was great so he was. A lot of those McGovern’s worked in Pickups before I went there. Maybe five or six of them. When I went in there was only one in it – George.

DC:     Obviously if you were working in Pickups you had a fair bit to do with the workers in Tara and Norvic as well.

TL:      No. But they were good enough – if Pickups ran short of a clicker they could ring Tara and Tara would send him over a clicker for cutting out the sole. That’s a job in its own really. They’d send down the clicker. They’d never let one another down, they’d send over one if they were stuck. But we would never be sent over to Tara Shoes.

DC:     But there would have been a fair bit of socializing together, all living in the one town…

TL:      No, the most socializing we’d do that time … as I said, there’d be no pubs … would be going to football or playing football together. Or we’d go over the park and we’d run, we’d do a few laps of the park after work, Jimmy McManus and myself. We might have a bet of a shilling. Tara Shoes used to have dinner dances every year but Pickups, we never had one. Tara Shoes always had a dinner dance – and they used to have a children’s party at Christmas.

DC:     And a few marriages were made through Tara Shoes because there were men and women in the same place.

TL:      Yeah.

DC:     And they had a football team too, Tara Royals. 

TL:      Tara Royals. And we had a football team when I was working in the butchers in Navan - the Navan Shop Assistants. We used to play against factories: furniture factories, Tara Mines … And when I was in Wellman’s we had a football team there. And as life went on you’d have a Christmas party and a dinner dance. You’d bring the lads on your shift out at Christmas for a few drinks. So that night you’d have to spend a few pounds on them because they looked after you all year round. That’s the way you got on with fellows, communicate with them. If you didn’t communicate with them your job wouldn’t be long about going. You’d be like some of the TDs.

DC:     From the people I’ve already spoken to I’ve got a sense that in the shoe factory there was a great camaraderie, it was like one big happy family, they were all from the same town so they knew one another, they socialized together … that’s your impression too …?

TL:      Yeah. Now in Wellman’s we had a mix of Cavan and Meath. We’d have great bantering. Nothing bad about it, all harmless. Especially if a game of football would be coming up. They’d be putting up Dublin flags; likewise the Meath guys would be putting up Down flags if they were playing Cavan in Ulster. But there was nothing bad in it, nothing malicious. You’d always get a fellow that was mad into football. Now I love football myself. But you’d get a fellow who’d take it very seriously. And the same fellows who took it very seriously would never have kicked a ball in their lives. But they would take it very seriously and they’d get all the abuse when Meath would be playing. Likewise when Cavan was playing the Cavan boys would cop the abuse from the Meath boys. But it was good. The management was good in Wellman’s, they were brilliant. If you needed a bit of time off you had it, if you had a death in the family or a child sick or anything you’d get time off no problem, no questions asked. They were very good in Wellman’s like that.   

DC:     Obviously your time there was a very good experience …

TL:      Brilliant experience, brilliant experience. A partnership, But when you’re there for years … when it goes into 20 years and your stomach starts playing up and everything because you’re not having the proper food because it would save time

DC:     And you’re not getting any younger of course. Would you ever say a little bit more about your years in the butchery trade?

TL:      When I started off … In the mornings I’d have a bicycle with a basket in front. I enjoyed delivering the meat, which would be part of your training. Let it be raining or anything you might have to go two miles up the road with a half pound of steak to someone. And according as time goes on there was a qualified butcher along with me. And the boss. What would happen is he’d kill maybe Tuesdays and Thursdays and I’d be standing just watching the other fellow killing and taking in all. I wouldn’t be let near it; I’d keep the floor washed and the area tidy and clean. Then as time went on I was let cut a couple of chops. When there was nobody in the shop the boss would take out a lion of lamb and say: “Now cut those chops till I see you”. I’d make plenty of mistakes but by mistakes I learned. Now I kept on at that until he started me in serving people. So I remember a woman asking me for a pound of steak one day and I was giving her a pound of mince. I thought it was steak, but that’s how you learn – by mistakes. Still after about two years I was let kill and skin a lamb but I was being supervised when I was doing it. I got on well at that; then after another couple of months I was back killing a beast, a heifer. And shoot them and draw the blood and skin them. And that time you had to saw them down the centre – just with a saw, it wasn’t easy going. The inspector and the vet come every Thursday and Friday and he examined the meat and put a stamp on it that it was OK for selling in the shop. It was Paddy Reilly I worked for, a good man to work for. He was over there in Farrell Street, next door to Arches Pub – where they used to do tattoos - that was a butcher’s shop. So then a qualified butcher had an accident beyond in Paddy Reilly’s. The humane killer, he was testing it one day. He was squeezing it and testing and didn’t he put a little cartridge into it and he pulled the trigger and it went through his hand. It was the spike of the humane killer … it didn’t kill them, it was used to only stun them … if you didn’t draw the blood quick enough they could get up after ten or fifteen minutes. You’re only stunning them, and then when you draw the blood they’re gone. So I had to do the killing then on my own and that’s where I learned about butchering, by doing it myself. Then I got to know all about cuts of meat. Oh, I remember one day … we used to do turkeys at Christmas, plucking them … and this year a woman brought in a goose to know would we pluck it for her. So I was sent down the shed and I could not get the feathers off the goose, just couldn’t. So I had a bright idea, I got a blowlamp. I lit up the blowlamp and tried to burn it. Well it left the goose all black… destroyed it. And it was the Guards wife. I remember it well. And the boss said: “Well, you’d better go up now to that woman with the goose. Did you clean it out?” “I did”. Well, when he seen the state of the goose. I left her the goose, she gave me 2/- of a tip for it. And the next thing the goose came out the gate, I was only gone out the gate on the bicycle and the goose came after me out the gate. I’d destroyed it. I never tried to pluck a goose again. Never. That finished me plucking geese. But I plucked several turkeys. It’s very hard to kill a turkey. What we used to do was get the handle of a brush and put the turkey’s neck over it, stand each side. A chicken would be all right, you’d pull a neck… but a turkey, oh, and you’d be pulling and pulling… Never. Some people could probably do it, no bother. .Very hard to kill the turkey. I remember one year in Casserley`s we plucked at night – after doing the butchering job – 150 turkeys for the week for Christmas. Oh, that was hard. Two of us. But we didn’t do it the one night, it was over a week. When you came home your hands would be numb. Your hands would be numb now as you’d pluck and pluck. And feathers all over the place, Jesus, it was tough. Now Joe Casserley, Lord have mercy on him, he was a hard man to work for, very hard man to work for. You couldn’t have a bit of craic or fun, it was all serious work, all serious.

DC:     That probably encouraged you to get out of the butchering trade.

TL:      It didn’t help now, it didn’t help. But I seen there was good money in Wellman’s and I seen this opportunity and I filled in an application form and didn’t I meet the personnel manager up the road. He came in for meat one day. I gave him a chop or 2… and I knew him from the other job.. and when I did that I asked him about any jobs going in Wellman’s. He says: “Come down and see me on Monday”. And I went down and got a job just like that. 

DC:     Would you just say a word or two about your time in Wellman’s, the kind of work you did?

TL:      There was approx. 30 men in each shift. There was a place called the sorting department. There was the spinning department. And then there was finishing. And I started off in the sorting department. Now I supervised about 20 fellows under me. And we used to sort all the raw material coming in and run it through a granulator and we’d blow it through a shoot out into a bale press. The fellows baling it would take out the bales and strap it and put wrappers on them. And they’d be all tested. And then they would go to a conveyor belt and be fed on. There’d be a mixture of bales; they wouldn’t be all the one lot. There’d be different lots and they’d all put on this long belt with a spiked apron. And it would be blown into a dryer and it would be so long and the dryer would be full all the time and it would drying the material. And it would go from there way up to the tower all done by air, blown up into the tower into the extruders. The extruders would be a very hot place in the tower to work. And it would be melted down. And there’d be a place on the next floor called Quench and there’d be spinnerets. And there might be about 500 small holes in each spinneret. Now it would be like a hair out of your head in that spinneret. And there would be 24 positions with 24 spinnerets. And the material would be coming down through all those spinnerets. It would be very interesting to get into Wellman’s to see what they do. And then that would come down to `Take up` and it would go from there to the Finishing line department and that would be run through the finishing line to the  bale presses to get ready for shipping. That was all exported. Now what they do with that fibre … did you ever see anoraks with white wool on the inside of them? … It was man-made fibre – polyester and nylon. But it’s a very interesting case if you ever got into it just to have a look to see what they do, very interesting. Now on the Finishing line department there’d be another supervisor. He’d have in around 20 fellows as well on the tower. Now there’d be roughly 60 fellows working at night. During the day there could be anything up to 300 or 400 between the warehouses and the offices. There’d be at least 250 during the day. You have all the warehouses and forklift drivers. But it was interesting. There was a tragedy down there one night when I was on. There was a chap working at the bale press when the ram came down and squeezed his head. Now the ram would be a few tons weight. His brains was, God bless us, all over the place. We dreamed …that happened about 3 o’clock in the morning so we rang the hospital and said don’t send anyone with a bad stomach because, God bless us, touch wood, there’s no head nearly there. Gone, it wasn’t cut off or anything, just squeezed through clean, it was very sad. We closed for a couple of days that time. He was from Oldcastle this chap, a lovely fellow.

DC:     You don’t get over that in a hurry …

TL:      No. It takes a while, you have nightmares. Even when you were sleeping during the day after working nights you’d have nightmares. No, you don’t get over those things.  

DC:     I suppose on the law of averages – even with the best of health and safety – something like that is going to happen. But that doesn’t make it any easier when it does.

TL:      Yes. But I know for a number of years before I left, Wellman’s they went crazy about health and safety. Even if you were caught out of place with something you’d get the door … once it involved health and safety. There was people there before, different managers would come, different production managers. Some of them, all they were interested in, was production and quality. Then another production manager came and he was more interested in health and safety, which, I suppose, he was right.

DC:     No harm.

TL:      No, no harm. Like it’s very important, very important. They had health and safety committees, they had first aid fellows on every shift, which is great. They all did training; they got in people from the first aid in Navan to train them. They bought their own ambulance. I don’t know do they still have it. I must ask my son, he’s first aid in it below now. So he’s enjoying working in it. He’d come home and tell you about some little bit of craic that happened in it. Such a fellow was asking for you … It still goes on, still goes on.

DC:     So overall it was a very good firm to work for …

TL:      Very good. An absolutely brilliant company… Like I’ve yet to look back and say that I’ve worked for a bad one. I didn’t. I find that if you go on and do your work and mind your own business that you’d get on with anybody. That’s my opinion. Like I’d say that if I had to pick stones off the road to earn money I’d do it, simple as that. I like working. I’m not getting any younger. I’m retiring next year, so I will. So that’s it.

DC:     Retirement to look forward to …

TL:      Ah well, I think I’d still do the odd bit of work

DC:     I think you’ll still be active for a long time.

TL:      Please God.       

DC:     Just going back to Pickups and Wellman’s and the butchery trade, you mentioned a few of the characters that struck you. Are there any other characters or personalities – or particular incidents – over the years which struck you?

TL:      Sure, look it, there was that many tales … you could play act on fellows... it was all harmless you know nothing malicious in it. Sometimes you could write a book on them if you sat down and thought about it. Of course I was no angel myself. I’d play games with fellows like take off somebody on the phone. I used to ring my sister-in-law – she worked in the squash court – and I used to change my voice into a woman’s voce and I’d say: “Hello, Frances… (Francis Monaghan owned the Squash Court… “No, Frances is not here at the moment, can I take a message for her?” This kind of thing… In the factory we had internal phones but one time - I don’t know how – we got an outside line and we got a Trim number. A man answered and we told him we were B D Flood’s with a load of concrete to deliver. And your man nearly lost it: “I ordered no concrete!” The games we played. Harmless fun. Now I never saw anyone having a boxing match, never.  

DC:     When did you come here to live in Fr McCullen Park?

TL:      We are here since - I got married in 1970 – about late ’71. We’ll be 40 years shortly.

DC:     You would have seen some fairly big changes in Kells in that time.

TL:      Oh, yeah. Big changes in Kells… Big changes, there’s even a lot of people gone dead out of this place since we moved into it. Good friends of ours. Like there are fellows when I came in of an evening – like Michael Arkins down there, Tommy Grimes and Joe Kellett – and we’d all go off for a game of pitch and putt in Monaghans down at the end of Ard Na Gréine. We’d go down – just a pack of lads – and play a few rounds of pitch and putt for a 1s or 2s. We’d do that couple of times a week. Out in Ballinlough they have a grand pitch and putt course now. Then Monaghan sold theirs, for houses. He used get great societies, down from Dublin. Every Saturday… there could be up to a 100 people down there playing pitch and putt… and Sundays. And they’d have the food in Monaghan’s. Play a game, go up and have their lunch, then play another game, then go up and have their meal in the evening. Then there’d be music that night and they’d stay until closing time. The buses would come down to collect them and bring them back to Dublin. Oh, that was a grand course. They have one over in the Gaelic Centre now. 

DC:     So sport was obviously very central to your life then.

TL:      When I was playing sport when I was young you would go to the club and there were no dressing-rooms. There’d be no showers. You togged out behind a ditch or in car. And you waited until you went home… If you were lucky enough to have a bath at home. We had no running water out in the house. We had to dig a pump hole so many feet down.

DC:     So I guess that in terms of living standards, lifestyles and incomes things have improved within your lifetime.

TL:      Oh yeah there’ve improved a sight, yeah. When I was growing up you’d never see a woman in a pub. Now they’re in most nights of the week. And if your father went in it would be only for a couple of bottles of Guinness. I don’t know was here pints that time, maybe there was. People used to bottle their own Guinness. Where the Arches is now that was Carty’s and they always bottled their own Guinness. There was a man by the name of Paddy Tormey from Suffolk Street who used to do the bottling of the Guinness.       They were undertakers as well. Times have changed all right. Thank God, maybe it’s for he best. But there’s too many drugs now.

DC:     It’s a world epidemic, it’s not peculiar to Kells …

TL:      Yeah. When I was growing up – Tommy Grimes would probably tell you the same – you needed no Guards.. Nobody gave trouble. You could go to bed where I lived it at Kilmainham and leave the door open at night; you didn’t have to lock it. Now you’d need to barricade all the windows. It’s true, you wouldn’t need a Guard. We were afraid of Guards… We respected them, we really respected a Guard. But none of that now… None of it, unfortunately. They’re there to protect us. You have to have a bit of respect for them.

DC:     So there are plusses and minuses in terms of the changes that have happened. Most of those old trades have gone, like the shoe factories, the bakeries, the breweries …

TL:      Oh yeah, it’s all computers now.  It’s the same in Wellman’s. Where the finishing line bale presses are, you had eight fellows; all you need now is two. The bales are taken out of the machine, baled, strapped – the whole lot of it. Where you had to do it manually … it’s all finished … The chap…(automation) comes down, straps the bale, puts the wrapper on it … its like two big arms putting on the wrapper … putting the strap on it and throwing the bale out on to the Trolley.  Where you were doing it manually, now you don’t have to do it, it’s all done for them.  Fellows came over from Germany to do all those Bale presses.

DC:     Is there anything else before we wrap up, any little memories?

TL:      Well the only memory I have is that I met a Kells woman and I married a Kells woman. And I lived in Kilmainham, then we moved into Kells, then we had two little boys. And I’m very happy living in Kells. This little estate here, I’d never move out of it – not if I won a million in the lotto tomorrow night – I’d stay here. The neighbours are good and everyone helps one another. This park is like a small community where everyone pulls well together. We have great neighbours and I’d like to say we are good neighbours to our neighbours. If anyone needs help we’re all there to help them. I remember before I got married I was given a site at Kilmainham by my father. I had the foundation dug and the money was there, no problem, and I was building a four bedroom bungalow on two-and-a-half thousand… and I got cold feet and I pulled out of it. I thought I wouldn’t be able to pay for it. When we got married we moved in with Cepta’s mother for about six months then we got one of these houses. It was the best thing we did. We’re very happy here. And we wouldn’t change it.

DC:     What was Cepta’s maiden name?

TL:      Cepta lived in Carrick Street. Tighe was the name. 

The End

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