Longford Lives: A lifetime of memories and wisdom at 80 years young

Drumlish twins Jimmy and Anthony Courtney celebrate their 80th birthday among family and friends

Aisling Kiernan

Reporter:

Aisling Kiernan

Email:

aisling.kiernan@longfordleader.ie

Longford Lives: A lifetime of memories and wisdom at 80 years young

Drumlish twins, Anthony and Jimmy Courtney, are celebrating their 80th birthday together.

It’s not everyone that reaches their 80th birthday but when you do, with your twin by your side, then that surely is something special.

And this is exactly what has happened for Jimmy and Anthony Courtney both of whom hail from Drumlish.

The brothers were born on May 6, 1938 into a family of nine siblings, eight of whom - including themselves - were to emigrate to the far corners of the world.

And although separated by the wild Atlantic Sea with Anthony based in New Jersey, and Jimmy back in Drumlish - not a Friday night passes without the pair chatting on the phone.

Anthony is a regular visitor to Drumlish making the trip home once a year, but the 2018 visit has been made all the more special by the milestone he and Jimmy share.

Anthony is home for the month, so no doubt that 80th birthday is going to be celebrated in some style out in north Longford before he returns to New Jersey at the end of the month.

Sitting down with the Longford Leader this week, Anthony and Jimmy recall a lifetime of memories as they chat from Jimmy’s home in Drumlish.

Their earliest memories surround their school days and the many chores they faced daily upon their return to the homestead.

“In the summertime we would have gone to school in our bare feet and that time most people got free boots from the Government, so we had the boots then for the winter,” smiled Anthony, before pointing out that the Courtneys went to school everyday and faced into their jobs when they came home.

“You had to pick spuds, pick stones, weed or go to the bog; you always had to work.”

Jimmy then quipped, “We are still going to the bog”, admitting too that he was only there last week footing and rearing turf!

Anthony, meanwhile, recalled food production, and the sharing of produce and manpower in the community.

“People were producing their own food in those times; if there were old women living in the area on their own us young fellas would have been sent up to help them with any jobs they needed doing,” he continued.

“You got the turf for them, sowed the potatoes and then dug them as well.

“Food was borrowed and shared that time too.

“Sometimes we could run short of milk or sugar but a neighbour up the road might have a plentiful supply so you could get some from them, and then maybe they might be short of potatoes and we had plenty so they got them from us.

“People shared what they had.”

The Courtneys say that they were happy times, despite the hardship.

“They were happy times; the hardship really was the hard physical work of it all, but it was great exercise and nowadays people are paying for that,” laughed Anthony, before Jimmy pointed out that the pair often got a slice of bread and jam in a neighbour’s house and “it was as good as anything you’d get”.

Jimmy then recalled the big snow of ‘47 and remembered his school days from that time.

In those days, he added, children went to school until they were 14 years old and the Courtney brothers were no exception to the rule.

“7th class still existed in national school and Master Halpin was the teacher at the time,” he smiled, before adding, “I remember going to school when the big show hit in 1947; in fact we were off school for six weeks that time.

“In those times if parents didn’t send their children to school they got summoned and then they had to pay a fine, so children were sent.

“You had to carry two turf under your arm for the school otherwise you had to pay 10 bob.

“There was a parish priest here and his name was Fr Meehan and he used to pay the 10 bob for people who had no money.”

Meanwhile, their mother was busy at home cooking and baking and churning butter to feed her large and hungry brood.

“Our mother made all the bread on the fire; she churned and made butter,” continued Jimmy.

“We had hens and turkeys and there was a pig killed at Christmas.”

When they left school, Jimmy worked for a couple of years with Charlie Kiernan and a local farmer before he set sail for England in 1956.

He went on to stay there for another 36 years.

It was in England that he met his wife Frances and settled down with their four children.

The couple are now surrounded by three of their children, nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren most of whom are in Longford.

Jimmy returned home to Drumlish in 1992 and worked for 12 years after that in Pat the Baker.

“In England, if you didn’t work you got sacked that evening, so I worked hard I can tell you,” laughed Jimmy, before pointing out that he based himself in Wolverhampton.

“Everything was done by hand; manholes were dug by hand; pipes were laid by hand - at the time I went to England there were houses being built everywhere.

“All the concrete was mixed by hand, everything came off a lorry by hand, every slate that was put on a house was done by hand.”

He says that the first wage packet he ever got in England contained £10.

“That was a good wage but I was working seven days a week for it,” he continued, before pointing out that he also worked the buses for a time in the English city.

“There was nearly 2,000 Irish working in a local tyre factory in Wolverhampton at the time as well and they were making good money in that factory.”

Jimmy also busied himself in the local community and served on the committee of St Mary’s GAA in Wolverhampton for 15 years.

The side won three Junior Championships during his reign.

“In those days children went to the Catholic schools and their parents would hold fairs to raise money for the school,” recalled Jimmy.

“It would do you good to see the Irish at Mass in England at that time - the way they were dressed and the great communities they created for each other.”

Anthony, meanwhile went to the Technical school in Longford after national school and left Drumlish on January 1, 1959.

He went to England first where he stayed in Wolverhampton and worked with the electricity board until 1961 when he embarked on his journey to the US.

He worked the sites from England to New York and even did a stint in the American Army.

He also went to night school when he arrived in New York and earned himself a High School Diploma.

“I got drafted into the Service then and did two years as a medic,” he added, before pointing out that he went to college for a couple of years while he was in the Army and, when he came out , he got a job with the Port Authority.

He worked with them for 40 years.

Anthony married Kathleen - a native of New Jersey - and together the couple have two daughters and six grandchildren.

The have twin granddaughters who are 15-years-old and the apple of their grandad’s eye!

Anthony and Kathleen will be married 50 years in 2019.

These days the brothers spend time with their families and enjoy the football - Gaelic Park in New York for Anthony and Fr Manning Gaels for Jimmy.

Jimmy says he also likes a few pints “when she gives me money”, joking fondly with Frances - his wife of 57 years.

He also sells the lotto tickets for the local club every week and enjoys the games.

Anthony, meanwhile, is deeply involved with the GAA in New York and played football with Fr Manning Gaels at junior and senior level in his youth.

“I actually came home from America and played for them throughout the 60s,” he added.

“We won two New York Senior B Championships and a Junior Championship; I still go to all the games.

“A game of football always kept us happy!.”

He says that while the GAA is steeped in history in New Jersey, it is more prevalent in New York and most especially in areas like Pearl River.

“There is a lot of GAA in New Jersey, but most of it now is up around Pearl River in New York; in my time it was mostly Irish fellas that came out and played in Gaelic Park, but nowadays we have a good sprinkle of American fellas playing,” Anthony continued.

“Actually a lot of the young teams have American Fellas playing for them now - they seem to play the old style football - catch and kick and a lot of running - and it’s very enjoyable to watch.”

Anthony and Kathleen are also members of the Longford Association in New York and have been for many, many years.

“I always attended the meetings and supported the Association in any way I could; we had great times,” he recalled, before pointing to the high esteem in which the Association was held in New York and the support it has shown to other clubs and associations in the Big Apple.

Anthony was also a bit of a marathon man in his day.

He participated in numerous events and one of his best marathon times is 2:19.

“I try to play a bit of golf too,” he smiled, before admitting that he snuck down to Roscommon the other day to play a game on the green there.

Meanwhile, the brothers are acutely aware of the changes in society and the advances in technology over the past 80 years.

Neither are daunted by the changes although Jimmy feels that there should always be a place for God in people’s hearts.

He has held on to his deep faith and never misses Sunday Mass.

“Technology is all gone too far,” he added, before admitting that he doesn’t know how to use a mobile phone.

“I don’t need one - I use the landline if I need to make a phone call and people ring me on that.

“The family bought me a mobile phone there a few years ago to bring with me when I was going down to the bog or out on my own, but sure I never use it.

“I put my trust in God to save me - it’s as good a trust as any.

“I wouldn’t miss Mass; I go every Sunday.”

Jimmy also says that while things are changing he’s not sure if those changes are for the better.

“The Church is all gone down now and I think that is a bad start, and while I don’t agree with some of the things the Church did, people still need to talk to God themselves,” he added.

“It’s nice to go to church on a Sunday.

“As you get older, you look at things differently.”

Anthony, on the other hand, has a mobile phone and an iPad, but admits, “I don’t use that much of them to be honest with you.

“I can use them if I need to, but I like face to face contact.”

He says one of the biggest changes in society that he has seen is the pressure that the family unit has come under.

“One of the biggest changes I have seen is two people working in homes now,” he continues.

“Young people can’t afford not to work - everything has gotten so expensive and the wages didn’t go up that much.

“All of this is forcing the father and mother to work and this is happening in Ireland, England and America - all over the world.”

Anthony says it's all work these days and people are not getting a break from the pressure.

“It’s all work now and that is very hard on people and on families,” he adds.

“There should be time out for people - a couple of hours out for people to do something else besides work.

“The family structure is coming under pressure in the States and in many cases it breaks down altogether.

“People are under too much pressure these days; it’s very hard for young people to make a living today compared to the way it was when we grew up.”

He also thinks that it is vital that young and old spend time with each other.

“When we were young we mixed with the old people and that’s where young people get a lot of the wisdom from,” says Anthony.

“The best education you will ever get in your life is to listen to the old people telling their stories and sharing their wisdom - it’s all based on life experience.

“One of my fondest memories is when I used to come home as a young man and head down the town with my father for a pint.

“I’d listen to all the ol’ fellas having their chat - I picked up great knowledge from them and sayings that you would never get in a book.

“Mistakes in this world were made when the young began to separate themselves from the old.”