A Man of Many Talents
Paddy Kneasfey was born in Curradavitt in the year 1915. He was the second eldest in a family of four. He lived with his parents in a small thatched cottage, on a hillside farm. Paddy was four years old when his father died. His younger brother was born four months after his father’s death. In those days there was no Social Welfare or state help whatsoever – the only help they got was that of the kind neighbour’s.
At the age of six Paddy had to walk two and a half miles to attend school in Killadoon. As Paddy was the eldest boy in the family’ there was days he was needed at home on the farm so his school days were limited.
As a young boy he had to learn how to cut turf, mow hay etc. and being a very intelligent boy, if he saw a job done once he soon picked up the trade. He also had to learn how to keep the house in repair, such as thatching the roof, which had to be done every year. This in itself was a skill because the right rushes had to be cut; these rushes were then drawn to remove loose grass. The old sugans had to be taken down and new ones made to hold the thatch on the roof. The walls, both inside and outside had to be whitewashed.
Money was very scarce in those times and so in order to keep the family going Paddy would work wherever there was a job available. He worked with the Land Commission, where he built roads, stone walls and bridges. Paddy became an expert stone mason. In the summer months, young farmers travelled over to England to work for English farmers. At the age of nineteen Paddy joined another farmer and headed off on this journey. They reached England and in a short time they found a job. The work consisted of saving the hay, digging the potatoes, cutting corn, milking cows and all the other chores of the farm. They had to work from early morning until late at night during the summer months and they really earned their money. They left England and returned home for the Christmas. Paddy’s mother was glad to see him and the money he had earned, which was badly needed to pay bills such as the Rent and Rates on the house or to pay for new scythe or spade. Some of this money also had to go towards his brother and his sisters, to buy clothes, shoes and books for school. There was a lot of work awaiting Paddy, not just at his own house, but also among the neighbour’s. Paddy was an outstanding basket and cleave maker, so people came from far and near to get a cleave fixed or even a new set made.
Now that Paddy had decided to stay home, there was no income into the house so Paddy took any job he could get. This is where Paddy’s experience and talents came to the fore.
As money was scarce you couldn’t just walk out and buy a new pair of shoes every time your pair got worn, you had to fix them. In Paddy’s spare time he would repair his shoes, and soon he became a very good cobbler. People came from all over the parish to get their shoes mended. This became a great job for Paddy on long winter nights and on wet days.
Paddy invested in a bicycle. He had to save a long time before he could afford it. A bicycle in those days was as good as a car in modern times. He used his bicycle to travel to people’s houses to restore stone barns or put in a new rafter in someone’s house. Wages were very small, often no money changed hands – it might be a day’s work in return. As Paddy travelled so much on his bicycle he had to take good care of it and soon could fix any bicycle. If you had a flat tire, or a broken chain, or it the brakes needed adjusting, you could pay a visit to Paddy. There was always a bicycle turned upside down in the kitchen waiting to be fixed.
Paddy’s mother died after a short illness in 1949, which left Paddy all alone. Paddy, being a unique and caring person, felt the loss of his mother’s company. Although he felt alone Paddy’s house was never without visitors, because house visits were a big custom at that time. There were no radios, no televisions, no electricity, and no central heating. It was the oil lamp on the wall, or the candle in the window and the bright lit turf fire.
When the winter nights were long people had to make their own entertainment. Paddy’s house became the center of entertainment and much fun for young and old. His house was in modern days the equivalent to the Point Depot. Paddy was a great dancer – anything from the Fox Trot, the Old Time Waltz, to the Stack of Barley and of course the Half Set. Sure he could out-do Michael Flatley any day! Paddy taught many a young boy and girl how to dance. He could also provide the music by taking an ordinary hair comb, putting paper over it and playing music with it. As my father told me, here was many a happy night he spent over at the dances in Paddy’s house – they were always such good fun and craic.
Paddy was a man like no other; he could do any job from basket making, to cleave making, he could hang a scythe, mend a shoe, thatch a house, build a reek of oats or hay, build a stack of turf, mend a pot or repair a bicycle. He was also very handy in the house, painting or decorating. He could knit a pair of socks and even card and spin the wool to make the thread. The list of talents and skills this man had are endless.
I myself was very fortunate to have known the man for ten years. I can remember spending many pleasant hours with him. Whenever you called, the door was always open, the fire was blazing, and the kettle would be singing on the big black crane. He would always have a welcoming smile, and he would sit down and have a long chat. Paddy would often tell me about his children Carmel and Brendan. He would say how they were away at college now, or that they were never at home and how come I could never meet them. But I later found out that Paddy never married and the Carmel and Brendan were his imaginary family. Paddy seemed to have a special bond with children. I suppose that he was small of stature helped.
Paddy always kept a very neat and tidy house. The kitchen was spotless, and the large open dresser was full of brightly coloured plates and cups or every size. There were pictures of animals and different coloured flowers on them, and they were always shining brightly with the light of the fire. There was a small cupboard at the side of the fireplace, which always caught my eye whenever I walked into the house. When I asked him what it was he told me, “It’s my Bank of Ireland”. I can remember when I was four; I had just received my first bicycle as a present. To my misfortune the back wheel got broken. My father said “You’ll have to take it to the garage now”. I was thinking how I bring it all the way into the garage, but what he meant was to bring it over to Paddy because he was an expert at fixing a bicycle. So over I took it and Paddy said “Sure that’s only a small job, I’ll have it fixed in a few minutes”. And sure enough he had. I also got many haircuts at Paddy’s because he was a very good barber. On a Saturday there was always someone at Paddy’s getting a haircut or getting some job done.
Paddy remained a bachelor all his life. When I asked him why he never got married, he said, “I never found the time to find a suitable wife”. Sadly Paddy passed away after a very short illness, in December of 1992. I have many happy memories of him and he will be remembered by everyone near and far as a wonderful, talented and skillful man. May his gentle soul rest in peace.
Interviewer: Christopher Davitt
Interviewee: Walter Davitt