“WE had a baker here for a long number of years, Tommy Holden, and he was very close to the complete character. He had words at will. He could he cut you with the words if he had a mind to? There was a story about Tommy, and I have no reason to suspect that it was not true, although with the passing years it was embellished somewhat.
“But he would always go to the Friary for last Mass on Sunday, or at least he left his home to go in the direction of the Augustinian Friary on Mill Street. He was a connoisseur of the “laaarge bottl” (Guinness). He returned home to his wife, who had his dinner on a plate for him, and smelling the porter off him, she accused him of not being to Mass.
“You were in the Cosy (pub opposite the Friary gates) she rebuked. He vehemently denied her accusation about not being to Mass, whereupon she fired: All right then if you were at Mass, who said it? Tommy replied, an effin priest, who else would say it.”
Last week our profie subject celebrated his 90st birthday. It was a joyous occasion and he was surrounded by many members of his family. He was born close to the beginning of the last century in Callan, and from the first day that he reached reasonable understanding of where he came from, and who he was, his love of his own town has been unconditional.
John Kevin Keogh - the John is important because his son Kevin has been mine host of a very hospitable alehouse on Mill Street for a long number of years - has never left his native place, except for business reasons.
Kevin first saw the light of day when the country was still very much part of the British Empire. The Black and Tans were hugely conspicuous for a wide variety of innocuous reasons.
“I remember my father telling me that the worst part of their occupation was the nightly curfew,” Kevin recalled. “A platoon of them would start from their barracks (Old Workhouse) at the top of the town and they would march down the street, ten on either side, and woe betide anyone who looked out at them.
n Shot through the door
“There was a Mrs Ryan, who owned Hourigan’s pub, looked out through a crack in her door as a Tan was being brought into Kilkenny for burial after a skirmish in Garryricken wood. She was shot dead through her own door for daring to peep out as the funeral passed.
“What harm but her pub was one of the most frequented places by the Tans at the time,” he said. Apparently the curfew was from sundown (8pm) until sun up (8am). John Kevin was educated by the Christian Brothers and then at St Kieran’s College, the Kilkenny hurling nursery. He had a great early interest in the game, and he had the distinction of taking on and very nearly beating the legendary Fr Tommy Maher in one of the annual skill competitions. “There was a Fr Lowry (no relation of that Tipp TD, he smirked) who was the boss man,” Kevin recalled. “He had a tremendous interest in hurling and training teams”
n Did he play with the ’College? “I was on the junior team of 1937,” he dismissed. “But whilst my hurling prowess would not have had the Kilkenny selectors drooling in anticipation of a prospective talent, I do remember an occasion that in retrospect still gives me some pleasure. There was a long puck competition, which commenced on the 70-yard mark (remember that mark?).
“Unlike today, the sliotar was certainly far removed from the modern-day aerodynamic version, which flies through the air over fantastic distances. We didn’t even have a decent, never mind a new sliotar. There were 18 lads who reached the final stages of the competition. Then it was eventually whittled down to two, Tommy and myself.
“We both shot two points with our first efforts and Tommy made it three in-a-row with his third shot. My third effort went just wide, so Tommy was declared the winner. He was a class act. He was more than a deserving winner. I loved the ould game really, but sure I was no superstar,” he smiled.
Having finished his Leaving Certificate, John Kevin Keogh enrolled in the Brennan Academy, John Street (Business Diploma) with a view to getting involved in the family tradition of baking bread. His dad died unexpectedly and John Kevin Keogh was suddenly the boy with his finger in the Dyke.
n Five generations of bakers
He was the fifth generation of the Keogh family involved with baking bread. At the time, every village had a flourishing number of bakeries.
“You must appreciate that transport was not as mechanised as it is now,” he told us as he floated back to another time. “The movement of supplies was invariably by rail to a railhead, and then collected by horse and dray, or cart. You see articulated trucks drawing supplies, including bread to Supermarkets, but during the 1930s most villages were self sufficient in basic supplies.
“Farmers grew spuds, killed pigs and made their own butter. Lads snared rabbits, shot pheasant and tickled trout (Would you have a clue, sir?). Most households sowed their own spuds, had a pig or two and got their own firewood.
“The women baked, knitted and balanced the books. There were tailors aplenty in every village, and in the bread business, we had at least 10 bakeries in Callan. There were three on Bridge Street, three more on Green Street and three more on West Street and Mill Street.
“Times were very tough, but people were thrifty, and very inventive. We were also looking at the distinct possibility of a World War because Germany invaded Poland.
“In Kilkenny we were looking forward to the All-Ireland final against Cork. But the day War was declared the country bent under the most ferocious storm ever visited on the place. But on the day when the War really started, we found ourselves drowned wet in Croke Park as Kilkenny beat Cork in a terrific final.”
War in Europe brought dreadful pressure, both psychological and fiscal to this little country. History books will tell of the problems encountered by Eamonn De Valera as he faced trade sanctions from Britain as a consequence of the Trade War. It will tell too that to sort out mounting problems, people were forced to export every spare ounce of grain, energy (turf/timber), livestock dead or on the hoof, and, of course, men folk to service the War effort.
“It was impossible to get things like sugar, petrol, tyres for bikes and motors, tea, butter, flour, any machinery be it for industry, transport, or farming. We had ration books,”John Kevin explained
If flour was scarce, given that grain was as valuable as gold, how did you and the rest of the bakeries get your flour? “We got the coupons from the people, and we got our supplies based on the demand as reflected by the coupon intake,” he explained. “It was all brown bed that time. No white bread anywhere.”
During the War, what did lads do? n Germans captured in Kildare
“The Local Defence Force (LDF) was formed to protect the country from invasion (how he roared laughing as the memory came flooding back). I joined the Red Cross. Jayz ‘twas a hunt yousir. There was a report that two Germans had been captured in Kildare, and everyone thought that we were about to be invaded.
“There was pandemonium. I had a V8 motorcar, but like anyone else with a car, we had to hang them up because we couldn’t get petrol. I remember one night being woken up at some ungodly hour by three Army men. They had the car pulled out from the shed, full of petrol and on the road.
“I was given instructions to bring this Army officer to Cregg House, Carrick-on-Suir (the Army confiscated every big house in the country for their Officer Corps). Everyone was talking about Germany invading, pointing to the two lads landing in Kildare after their plane crashed.
“I thought myself that the two Germans were delighted to crash the yoke, and stay in Ireland, fed and clothed by the Government until the War ended. Weren’t they better off than having their arses shot off in Stalingrad or Smolensk or wherever,” Kevin wondered aloud.
As he spoke, I visualised Capt George Mainwaring (Arthur Lowe), Sgt. Arthur Wilson (John Le Mesurier) and Lance Cpl. Jack Jones (Clive Dunn) walking down the avenue from the imposing Cregg House. Anyway, the Germans were captured and ‘twas all much ado about nothing. Kevin always had a big interest in things Callan, and over the years he has been a tremendous sponsor, and benefactor to many.
His lifestyle as a baker - working all night, and sleeping during the daylight hours - didn’t afford him much social time. He was a member of the Callan Golf Club, being President on three occasions. He didn’t play a lot of golf. Ditto the lifestyle.
His wife Maura was also a member, she being Lady captain too. Although he was a goodly number of years on the juvenile side of Michael Grace (snr), they were great friends. Michael Grace established a rather unique record in so far that he owned and trained a greyhound, Little Chummie, which won the Irish Derby (Shelbourne Park), the Irish National (Harolds Cross), the Lincoln (White City, London) and the Northawl Trophy (White City) all in 1931.
Pick the bones out of that, Gay McKenna! Kevin Keogh drove him and the dog to their many moments in the greyhound sun.
He spoke of the great teams in Callan in his youthful years, and the marvellous players. He spoke of Crowraddie and the Madigans, who later went to Dublin, and starting that stellar watering hole in the Capitol City, still as famous today as ever - Madigans of Thomas Street.
He made the observation that as the forerunners of the John Lockes, he seemed to remember that they wore a blue shirt with a white sash. He felt that the present colours of the Tipp colours of blue and gold were incorrect, that’s if they inherited the colours from the Crowraddie lads.
He spoke in glowing terms of the pride and esteem brought to the town by the country champions of 1957, Mick Kenny, Liam Egan, Jack Lynch, Ted O’Brien, Johnny Wall, Golly Sullivan, Pat Lennon and Martin Lynch.
“To win a championship like that is great for the morale of a place. What the chaps have done over the last couple of years has been equally meritorious and valuable,” he intoned. Over the years the bakery business has evolved through a wide raft of change. He remembered deliveries by hand-drawn, or hand-pushed bread barrows and horse-drawn vans.
Kevin Keogh remembered that there was a time when it was illegal - for totally mind-blowing reason - to bake bread before six bells in the am. The business morphed into all sorts of product, with the big development being the evolution of the confectionary line. How that has developed!
He has seen his ovens fired with wood, coke and oil. The timber was harvested locally. The coke was drawn by horse and cart from the Kilkenny gas works, two loads a week. And the oil? He doesn’t have to go to Iraq or Iran for that.
He is a tremendous raconteur, and had a compelling, if somewhat ascetic sense of humour. He remembered great nights with Gardai hunting them out of public houses. He remembered the great platform dances in Mullinahone, Fethard and Ballyline.
He remembered too how a man could have the price of a dance in Fethard, the price of a taxi return, a rake of small bottles costing 6p, good craic and change in his pocket for the cure the following day, all from a ten-shilling note. He spoke of bank staff earning the princely sum of £2 a week.
n Gardai in Callan
A dough-maker could earn £3 per week. A master baker could command £3-10s for a week’s work.
Going back to the Gardai, Kevin said that there were some five Gardai stationed in Callan, plus a Superintendent and a Sergeant at one time.
“They were strict enough, and sometimes they did things that were not too popular,” he said. “I remember a case where a lad was fined for being in charge of a jennet drunk, and the headline on the Kilkenny Journal at the time read: ‘Man fined for being in charge of a jennett drunk’. I think some foreign papers picked it up with great glee wondering whether the man or the jennet was drunk.”
He remembered the daunting, sometimes very hostile Parish Missions too. “These Redemtorists or Passionist Priests would come into the parish, and I often wondered afterwards how a lad could ever meet a girl with a view to marriage afterwards,” he smiled. “We would hear stories of Hell’s fire for company keeping, and the occasion of sin. They all but told husbands and wives to have separate rooms.
“I’d say some lads, and women too, woke up screaming and shouting in the night after coming down from the Mission. They would round up lads out the road who hadn’t seen trace or track of a church since they made their Confirmation and march them into the church above.
“The men had a week on their own every night, and the women had their week, and then they would be together for the final week. They were dead bent on the company keeping and drink. I’d say they put lads off drink for life.
“There was a story about the bit where you lit a candle, holding it in your hand and renouncing the devil with all his works and pomps. A local lad, who had a weakness for free drink especially arrived up for the devil bit. Holding his burning candle our hero listened as the Missioner roared: “Do you renounce the devil with all his works and pomp?”. The all male congregation said reverently: “I do”.
The Missioner thumping the pulpit roared “louder”. “Do you renounce etc”. “I do,” said every member of the terrified congregation, but not loud enough for a Missioner hell bent on frightening Ould Nick to oblivion.
n The Missioners
“Louder” bellowed the hapless Missioner. “Do you etc”, and having put the question, the congregation roared, bellowed even, “I DO” followed by our hero, who in the excitement allowed the molten wax to course down onto his bare flesh shouted “ and f**k ‘im”.
Rural life was so different in Kevin Keogh’s time. Shopping other than in your own town was unheard of, unless someone needed to go to Dublin for a special item. The shops were open until six every evening, and on Saturday night they didn’t close until nine.
That was to facilitate the country people who shopped on Saturday. There were fair days, and that brought plenty of commerce into the town. Everybody made a bob or two.
“We had some land too, and my father had got me interested in the farm,” Kevin revealed. “I often went to fairs in places like Carrick-on-Suir and Hugginstown, which was known as the Fair of Harvey (there’s one for you Hugganites). We would always come home with the cattle along the road from Carrick through Windgap.
“Pat Shea’s pub was a woeful magnet for the lads, the Phelans’, driving the cattle I can tell you. But I was never going to be a farmer, I can tell you”. He spoke of the man who had the only radio in the town.
“Mick Power would have a bigger crowd outside his house when there would be a match broadcast by Micheál O Hehir,” he smiled, another simple memory revisited. He was father of Noel Power, the singer.
“After a game when Cork bet us, I heard a lad say that you couldn’t bate them Cork lads because they had three great men hurling for them,” he continued. “Jayz them three great men, Dinny, Barry, Murphy bet us on their own.”
While Callan has improved enormously, he bemoaned the fact that emigration has blighted its development.
“There were some terrific young people here who were highly qualified, but for circumstances beyond their control they had to emigrate. I gave Michael (Australia), Helen (London), Seamus (London) to the emigrant ship. But they were only a few of the thousands that went.
“That kind of haemorrhaging of our highly qualified youth has been a very sad, regrettable black mark against our elected representatives over a very long number of years. I will never understand why the intelligentsia of our little island happened to be the greatest export product that we have had,” he sadly observed.
n Maintained a standard How does a small-town establishment like Keogh’s Model Bakery stay in the race?
“We try very hard to maintain a standard that has served us well over six generations of bread makers,” Kevin said proudly. “We take pride in the quality of our product, the flavour of our product, and the trust earned by a great number of people over a greater number of years.”
Kevin is as fresh as the turnover with which his family Bakery is so synonymous. Thanks for the trip, Kevin.
n Piltown charge into the new season
Piltown 1-23 St. Lachtains 0-9
PILTOWN got their competitive season off to a winning start when they scored a comprehensive victory over St Lachtain’s in Piltown on Saturday in the All county junior hurling league.
Although it was Lachtain’s who got on the ’board first with a point from a short free, it was Piltown who dominated from there on. The winners clocked up an easy couple of points early on from frees by Peter McCarthy.
Midfield was dominated by Piltown’s Nicky Kenny, who hit a hatrick of points within a three minute period midway through the opening half to put Piltown 0-9 to 0-2 ahead. Piltown’s forward play was dictated by Peter McCarthy who was influential by his precise passing and accurate free taking, and none more so than his rifling shot from a 21 yard free on the stroke of half-time which rattled the back of the net, putting his team 1-14 to 0- 3 ahead.
St Lachtain’s came out in the second half with renewed vigour. They put three points on the ’board straight off, but Piltown weathered the storm with their half-back line holding strong.
A goal line clearance by Lachtain’s denied Piltown a second goal half way through the second period as a long range free was dropped in by Andrew McCarthy and scrambled off the line. Piltown drove on with five of their six forwards getting on the scoresheet and substitute Tommy O’Gorman finishing the scoring with a fine effort close to the sideline.
The competitive match will stand to both teams getting the Winter rustiness out of their systems. For St Lachtain’s Michael Kavanagh steadied the ship when he was moved to centre-back and Brendan Hughes and Shane McGree were most prominent.
Piltown’s defence stood firm all through and Nicky Kenny struck a lot of ball in the hour at midfield. Up front Richie McCarthy, Kevin Brophy and Martin Power carried a constant threat.
Credit must also be paid to the Lachtain’s John Doheny and Piltown’s Peter McCarthy for their pinpoint free taking in what can only be described as extremely blustery conditions.
Scorers: Piltown - Peter McCarthy (1-10); Nicky Kenny (0-3); Michael Power (0-3); Paul Kirby (0-2); James Brophy, Danial Norris, Kevin Brophy, Richie McCarthy, Tommy O’Gorman (0-1 each). St Lachtain’s - J. Doheny (0-7, six frees); L. Darcy, S. McGree (0-1 each).
Piltown - J. Norris, B. Norris, P. Connolly, M. Burchill, J. Brophy, A. McCarthy, S. Kinsella, N. Kenny, D. Norris, A. Norris, P. McCarthy, K. Brophy, R. McCarthy, P. Kirby, M. Power. Subs: T. O’ Gorman, N. Kelly, P. Kenny, B. Farrell, A. Murphy.
St Lachtain’s - D. Deegan, J. Costelloe, K. Hughes, N. Maher, P. Mullan, L. D’arcy (0-1), B. Quinn, B. Hughes, J. Dowley, M. Kavanagh, M. Farrell, S. McGree (0-1), J. Doheny (0-7), M. Power, D. Lennon. Subs: J. Phelan, S Donnelly, M. Bowden, O Waldron, P. Campion.