When We Were Kings And Queens of the Road: Bridget Goulding

Growing up in mid-Cork, we were lucky to live close to Kilmurry National School which was about a mile away. It was a four roomed school with four teachers. Two for boys and two for girls.

Blackboards and chalk were the only learning tools and for the first few years I used a pen and nib which had to be dipped in an ink well which was standard on all desks. We used blotting paper to soak up excessive ink and our hands were invariably stained blue at the end of the day.

In junior infants we had a lovely elderly teacher and we enjoyed spending time combing her grey hair. She was so gentle and kind to her pupils. Most of my memories of school are actually of the journey home. Maybe that’s because it was the best part of the day and there was no rush to get home. Parents seemed not to worry then about us coming to any harm. We turned up when we were hungry and had no sense of fear. We were fortunate to have good friends and neighbours.

During lunchtime we quickly downed a sandwich or bread and jam and milk from a recycled small glass whisky bottle. Back then, almost every used container found a reuse. On cold winter days, these little milk bottles were heated on the classroom’s range. The quicker we finished lunch, the quicker we could play. The range was coal-fired and during the winter months, many of us brought little bundles of dry kindling which our fathers had chopped to get the fire started.

A childhood photo of Bridget

Of course we walked to and from school in the 1960s. If it rained we gladly took a lift from local farmers and it wasn’t unusual to share the journey with a calf, a bale of hay or bags of ration. Having said that there is only a memory of one particularly wet afternoon walking home in the rain and finding a half drowned mouse in a puddle of water, we picked it up and brought it home to recuperate.

There are wonderful memories of the walk home and playing with friends. My aunt owned a shop and pub in Kilmurry village and we’d sometimes pop in to say hello. Sometimes we were given a bar of chocolate or an ice cream. Another favourite place to visit and play on our way home was our ancient graveyard. Here there are church ruins which are probably 800 years old. It was already a ruin when Cromwell’s soldiers stabled their horses there in the 1640s. We loved playing hide and seek amongst the tombs and headstones.

The roads were so quiet with little traffic and we felt very safe walking to and from school. Today, the volume of traffic and the speed is not conducive to walkers, particularly children.

The most vivid memory is our obsession with bird’s nests and keeping count of the number we found. In those days there were the local road men who kept the hedgerows and ditches immaculately neat and trim, drains cleared and potholes quickly repaired. The stone ditches were largely exposed and our keen eyesight quickly found every nest between home and school. There were blackbirds, thrushes, robins, pied wagtails, yellowhammers and wrens, each with its own distinctive nest and eggs. Such a privilege it is to observe the creation of a nest, the daily laying of eggs, the hatching and then the arrival of scrawny naked chicks which over a few weeks would Cinderella like, transform into beautiful independent feathered creatures before flying away.

There was always a sense of sadness to find them gone but relief also that they survived. We had been taught from an early age to never interfere with a nest or touch the eggs or the babies as the mother could forsake it. There is one further memory from those school days and that is how vibrant and busy our village was. It was the centre of our universe, where everyone shopped, drank and prayed. There was no sense of hurry and we weren’t slaves to the clock.

In our village we had five shops, three pubs, a dispensary where the GP attended once a week and the Public Health Nurse and Community Welfare Officer worked from. There is a Catholic and Church of Ireland church and three graveyards. Only one shop survived to today, the rest are unoccupied, in ruin or converted to domestic use. There was a good bus service, far better than today. Maybe with the changes that climate change demands, our schools and villages will undergo a transformation and our less hectic lives can return to simpler times?

Bridget Goulding, a retired medical secretary, lives in Kilmurry, Co. Cork. A nature lover, she is greatly concerned about the evident loss of biodiversity, animal cruelty and climate change. While such concerns can be overwhelming, she firmly believes in the old adage, ‘it is better to light one single candle than curse the darkness.’ An avid reader and a history and genealogy enthusiast, she was involved with Kilmurry Historical and Archaeological Association for many years, serving as Secretary and Board Director and on a number of committees. The Terence MacSwiney Museum in Kilmurry village was opened in 1965 by Máire MacSwiney Brugha in a building on loan from the Galvin family. While it served its purpose, it was always the intention to build a modern museum to house the collection.

During her tenure and with a wonderful group of officers and committee members, the financial support of a generous community and the donation of a prominent site, the KHAA fulfilled a long held ambition to build a state of the art museum in Kilmurry village. The KHAA were fortunate to obtain substantial LEADER funding from the West Cork Development Association, Cork County Council and the generosity of our community. In 2016, the custom built Independence Museum Kilmurry was officially opened by President Michael D Higgins. Since then, this unique exhibition telling the story of Ireland’s struggle for independence, with a local slant, has gained much acclaim during this centenary of commemorations.

The KHAA also recognised the importance of a community venue for meetings, social occasions and voluntary groups and so the Heritage Room on the 1st floor fulfils this vital function. Since retiring from KHAA, Bridget likes walking, attending lectures and participating in online courses in history and archaeology. She published her first book, Kilmurry Fields, in 2016 and her second, Fallen Leaves, in November 2022. She has contributed historical articles to the Kilmurry Historical and Archaeological Association Journal and to the Lee Valley Outlook.

On behalf of the Museum of Childhood Ireland and Robert Burns, we would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all of our wonderful participants for their time and their stories. We are thrilled to be presenting this project and we hope you will enjoy following along with us.

Have a story on this topic and want to get involved? Contact us on our social media sites, or email us at cbrowne@museumofchildhood.ie – we would love to hear from you!

By Chloe Browne

Chloe Browne is an Irish writer, curator and Art Historian, with a keen interest in objects and social history.