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Westmeath Independent: Profile on Aidan’s Gram, Bridgie

From a 1930″s childhood on a farm in Castledaly to Athlone urban life
Wednesday, 3rd June, 2009

Story by Tom Kelly

It was a world of plenty where food was concerned for the McAuley family growing up on a farm in Castledaly in the 1930s. This was because the family grew all of their own food and reared animals, which led to a surprise for Bridgie McAuley when she married in 1951, and moved into Athlone, because she then had to buy her own vegetables for the first time in her life.

‘What I found awful funny was buying vegetables and potatoes, because I never ever had to buy them before I got married and moved into Athlone,’ said Bridgie Turner (nee McAuley) laughing. ‘I couldn”t get over buying them, and it was so funny, but I found a shop, “Mick Shines”, on the Dublin Road, opposite St. Patrick”s Terrace.’

Bridgie also never needed to have a doctor until she got married and went to live in town. ‘You were hardy in the country,’ she joked.

Bridgie was born into an old republican family of seven girls and two boys in the townland of Boyanna, Castledaly. Her mother was Bridie Nestor from Mount Temple. Her father James fought against the Black and Tans in the War of Independence, and was interned at Ballykinler, Co. Down and was released in 1921 after the Treaty. The ancestral home of the McAuley”s was at Dunegan Castle, Mount Temple.

The family took the anti-Treaty side afterwards, and were friends with future President Erskine Childers, who used to visit their Castledaly farm.

‘Childers used to take the train to Moate, and then come out to our house on a bicycle after he”d been speaking in Castledaly,’ said Bridgie.

Bridgie”s late brother, Jimmy, was a Westmeath county councillor for 34 years.

Bridgie was born in the year of the Eucharistic Congress 1932, and was christened Eucharia in its honour. She and her siblings worked hard with her parents on the farm, and food and work was plentiful there, although she admits there was a big shortage of money.

‘The land was good, and we had all our own sheep and cows, and kept two bulls for service,’ she said. ‘We never had to buy anything except flour, and tea and sugar from Williams of Moate. There was also a little shop near us, Mike Stone”s. But we had our own turkeys, geese, chickens, eggs, and had six pigs, two of which were killed every year, and we sold the other four.’

The McAuley”s also had horses and were involved in the fairs in Moate and Athlone. During the “30s and “40s dealers met the farmers outside of the town to buy the animals, but Bridgie”s father, James, was happy when the time came that the sales took place in town, and the cattle were sold by weight.

Bridgie remembers the army coming out to help in the locality during a bad winter in the late 1940s. There was no electricity in those days, and Bridgie”s mother used to make bread on the griddle on the open fire. The family used oil lamps which hung from the ceiling in the kitchen.

‘My mother always invited people back to our house, after she”d been at a wedding, and many a party was had there with music by local musicians like Bill Donnolly and Frank Reid,’ said Bridgie.

The family did the threshing every year, and brought corn to Larkins of the Mill in Castledaly.

‘We also sold sugar beet, and were the only people around who did that, and we got a bag of sugar during the war, for growing the beet,’ said Bridgie. ‘But there were big rates to be paid. There was plenty of food in the house, but very little money, and what you got for the cattle you sold at the fair, was depleted when the rate collector called that evening.’

At night they listened to the radio, but not before one of the family carried the wet battery on a bicycle into a garage in Moate to get the battery charged. They also had a gramophone at home, where they listened to the records of John McCormack.

Such was the dedication to self-sufficiency that Bridgie picked an acre of potatoes on the farm on the day that she went to train as a nurse at St. Loman”s Hospital, Mullingar.

Her husband Bill Turner was no strange to Bridgie, as she says herself, because she knew him when she was a child on the farm when he would on occasion carry out odd jobs as a carpenter there.

Bill, who was from Doon, taught Bridgie to drive a car, when she worked in St. Loman”s.

‘Bill was a carpenter and used to buy sites and build houses, after he had his days work done, and he built our house on the Dublin Road, and if I wanted the moon he would have got it for me,’ she said smiling.

‘He taught me to drive around 1950, and I”m driving since and thank God, I never had an accident.’ She recalls driving from Mullingar to Boyanna on her first journey, when she didn”t know how to reverse.

‘I met one lorry just and my brother Jimmy had to reverse the car for me to drive back,’ she said laughing.

Bridgie and Bill married in 1951, in a double wedding with her sister, Madeline and her husband Paddy Flynn, which was officiated by Fr. McGowan in St. Kieran”s Church, Castledaly. In those days, women had to resign their job when they got married, so Bridgie had to give up nursing in St. Lomans.

The couple had six children, Adrian, Liam, Pearse, Breda, Philip and Avril.

Adrian is an architect in Roscommon and Liam is back from South Africa, and working as an electrician, Pearse is an electrician with Dublin Corporation, Breda is teaching in Templeogue, Dublin, Philip has own camera security business in Castledaly, and Avril works in an architect”s office in Ballyshannon. Sadly, Bridgie”s husband, Bill died in 1996.

After she moved into town, Bridgie shopped in Shines, Foys, Alcooks, and Liptons among others. When her children were older, she got involved in Athlone Little Theatre and took part in many plays, partly because she had gained a great love of drama from listening to the radio years earlier in Castledaly.

Bridgie”s life took a new turn when her sister, Kitty, and family bought the Goldsmith Tavern, and Bridgie took up the job of working behind the bar there. She went from there to working with James Kilroy in “41”s”, and then she did over a decade tending the bar at the Prince of Wales hotel.

‘I loved working the bar, and everyone knew me there, particularly at the Prince and I got to know everyone,’ she said.

These days, Bridgie is a member of the popular Sunday night Dancing for Pleasure club at the Athlone GAA centre, where she has met great friends. She also is a season-ticket holder of the All-Ireland Amateur Drama Festival.

‘I never did much dancing when I was young, because I married so young, and there was no such thing as babysitters in those days, but I did some dancing for schoolplays,’ she said.

Bridgie”s grandson, Aidan Turner (son of Pearse) has followed in her footsteps, and is an actor on RTE”s “The Clinic”, playing the character, Ruairi.

Bridie is also a member of Castledaly Active Aged Group, where she plays bingo, and knits clothes for future sales of work, and goes on tours all across Ireland.

While she is a countrywoman at heart, Bridgie is very happy in her family home on the Dublin Road, which Bill built, and she said she would never leave it, because of her great friends and neighbours around the locality.

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