17 Aug 2022

What have a telephone booth, beer keg and a rusty tractor got in common

What have a telephone booth, an empty beer keg, and an iron-wheeled tractor with no tyres got in common?

What have a telephone booth, an empty beer keg, and an iron-wheeled tractor with no tyres got in common?

So asked Seamus Lawlor, curator of the Nore Folk Museum, of weekend visitors to his Aladdin’s Cave of exhibits on Cannon Hill, Bennettsbridge .

When nobody could think of an answer, he commenced to outline the significance of the three recent additions to his vast and critically acclaimed collection. Common to all three exhibits, he revealed, was that each represented a part of our heritage that was either already lost to us or about to take its leave.

Turning first to the tractor, he explained that it was a Fordson dating to the mid 1920s. The most striking feature was its iron wheels which had no tyres. The wheels had angle irons and cogs attached as “grips” for the roads of another era. Seamus pointed to candle lamps that the driver had to rely on in those far-off times to illuminate his path on dark winter evenings through fields or along roads, laneways, or rocky boreens . A crank handle was used to get the tractor started and it had one pedal to operate hand brake, clutch, and foot brake.

The lack of rubber tyres was a distinct advantage in the war years owing to the scarcity of rubber due to rationing and ship sinkings.

The iron-wheeled tractor was very much part of our past, a technical dinosaur when likened to our modern hi-tech machines, Seamus explained. It would never be seen again in rural Ireland, though he cherished his own memory of seeing and hearing one in his childhood, trundling noisily along a pot-holed back road outside Bennettsbridge. Even then it was deemed obsolete.

Next he indicated the beer keg. It was no ordinary barrel, he told the visitors. It had come from Smithwick’s brewery in Kilkenny. There was a poignancy about it, he opined, given the shattering news that the St Francis Abbey brewery at Irishtown in the City would close completely by Christmas 2013. The keg displayed near the entrance to the museum would stand as a simple memorial to the centuries –old tradition.

The brewery had celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2010. It was an integral part of Kilkenny’s culture and social life. Seamus hoped the symbolic beer keg he was showing to the visitors would not be all that remained of the great brewery a few years from now.

But what, a visitor asked, had the third exhibit, a telephone booth, to do with history or heritage? With supreme confidence, Seamus informed the group that this was a telephone box dating to the 1950s and that, like this ancient looking glass and wooden structure, all public telephone booths could soon yield to the unstoppable advance of the mobile. They would gradually disappear from our streets and other public places. Time was a great healer; he mused, but could be a destroyer too.

The visitors departed after many a handshake and thank you to the curator. Seamus Lawlor hoped they would reflect on what he wistfully called his “parable of the three relics”.

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