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Vanishing Ireland

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Christy Waldron

(Photo: James Fennell)

 

CHRISTY WALDRON
CLOGHANOVER, CO. GALWAY.
CLOCK & WATCH REPAIRMAN
BORN 1932.

‘Did you never hear of the Wag of the Wall?’ asks Christy, somewhat incredulously. ‘It was the first clock to come along after the Sun Dial. It had a big long pendulum with chains and two weights. A man brought one into me once that hadn’t come down from the wall for 160 years. “You’ll never get that going!” he said. But it was in good shape. It had been lying idle and there was no wear on it. I got it going beautiful for him and he was delighted.’

Christy’s earliest memory of clocks harks back to a traveling man who ‘used to go around the roads of Ireland with a bag full of New Havens on his back.’ New Haven clocks were produced in the USA and shipped over to Europe en masse. ‘They had a big round face on them and the man would go from door to door selling them for seven and sixpence in the old money. Or you could buy it on a sort of hire purchase arrangement for sixpence a year. There was no money then so it was all done on trust.’

Christy’s first love was not clocks but speedometers. ‘When I was a young lad I loved getting speedometers and putting them all back to nought again.’ He was a schoolboy in Cloghanover at the time, sitting on the same rickety chairs in the same timber classroom where his mother sat thirty-five years earlier. She was Ellen Bane and her family farmed the land at Rafwee, just across the road from the school. Shortly after the First World War, she met and married Christy’s father Pat Waldron who hailed from Cross East, near Cong, County Mayo. Pat subsequently took on the Bane family farm and raised seven children, of whom Christy was the fifth.[i]

‘We’d be shaking afraid of him,’ says Christy of the Cloghanover schoolmaster whose four-room house he later bought. ‘And in all the days I passed his house going to school, I never thought I’d one day be living in it.’ It is also a curious coincidence that Christy’s grandfather drew the stones with which both the school and the schoolmaster’s house were constructed in 1895. Classes now take place in a modern building nearby but Christy’s old school still stands.[ii]

Christy was a bright kid. He excelled at maths and science. However, a serious leg injury at the age of twelve put paid to school and he was thereafter educated by his mother. ‘You could learn nearly as much at home as you did at school,’ he holds. ‘If you had an interest in books and things, you could keep on reading.’

In 1935, the Irish government shut down the Galway to Clifden railway. Seventy-six years later, Christy is still cross about the decision. ‘That was the biggest scandalism that was ever done in this country. It was a beautiful journey from Galway City, through the middle of Lough Corrib and on into Connemara. There is no more scenic view. The lovely pillars of the viaduct out in the Corrib were cut stone! But they closed it down and sold the scrap to England so they could make bombs to kill Hitler, and that’s a fact.’

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Christy was still in school when the Second World War broke out. ‘Money got so scarce, it was beyond belief,’ he recalls. ‘There wasn’t an orange or a banana to be seen, even if you offered a million pound for one.’[iii]

Petrol was also hard to come by, so that getting around by car became ‘an awful business.’ It was such common practice to run engines on charcoal that ‘there wasn’t a bush left around here they didn’t burn for fuel.’

Paranoia of a German airstrike ran so deep that the households of Clogahnover would quench their oil lamps whenever they heard a plane approaching.[iv] ‘They thought Hitler’s planes would try and land on the racecourse up the road. I remember coming home from school one evening and the Irish Army were dragging bushes and pushing tar barrels all over the racecourse to stop the German planes from landing.’

Christy left school in 1944 and, when his leg had recovered, went to help his widowed mother run the farm at Rafwee.[v] He often fished and shot in a place called the Rafwee Turlough. ‘It’s a hundred acres big and it used to flood in the winter which was great for wildlife. My grandfather told me the Galway Races were held there before they moved to Ballybrit. They’d watch the horses from a timber stand.’

He also made a few quid shooting rabbits and pigeons for which the butcher in Headford paid half a crown per head. In 1954, the Irish government introduced myxomatosis into Ireland to reduce the rabbit population. The effects of this miserable man-made disease were not only catastrophic for rabbits but also deprived people like Christy from a useful income as the demand for rabbit meat nose-dived.

There was little in the way of employment on offer for people in East Galway in the 1950s. All six of Christy’s siblings emigrated; his brother Eamon is the only one still living, far away in Canberra, Australia.

‘And when I got my chance I went to Dublin,’ says Christy. ‘I served my time with a watchmaker on the Quays called Rovada. After that I worked alongside fourteen other men with an Australian company on O’Connell Street. And then I moved to Benson’s Jewelers on Mary Street.’

‘We used to spend twelve hours a day repairing watches. Nine in the morning until nine at night. But that was what people did back in the Fifties and Sixties. I’d have the lens on my eye all day and when I was walking home up Henry Street after work, I’d be seeing stars. I’d almost be dreaming through the lens.’

‘When I got home there were always other watches to repair. I fixed all the watches for the nurses in Baggot Street Hospital. I’d get all the diamond rings for them too. I shared an apartment in Ranelagh with a Kerryman and we had two friends who taught at St Patrick’s Teacher Training College so I used to fix all their watches too! But there were some beautiful watches. If you’d seen the way Hunter pocket watches were finished! Christ, but they were works of arts.’

‘Ah, I had nimble fingers at that time but they’re failing on me now. I used to make leather wallets too. But it was mainly watches when I started and they were coming in by the bucket. They were all mechanical then. There were ten or twelve spare parts specialists in Dublin alone. But there’s no need for watchmakers or spare parts these days. All the movement is done by computer now, and the rest of it is vulcanized. You can’t even take them apart anymore. Most people use their mobile phone to tell the time. If your watch stops, you just stick in a new battery and off you go. And if it doesn’t work – the dustbin.’

In 1969, Christy went to visit his brothers in Boston and was offered a full-time job with a Jewish jeweler. ‘I was working for a Jewish jeweler in Dublin at the time and you could have sworn this was his twin brother!’ he marvels. However, the proffered wage was insufficient. ‘I was getting better money in Dublin!’ Moreover, he wasn’t crazy about the cold Massachusetts winters. ‘They have awful frost over there. My brother’s Ford Mustang disappeared under twelve foot of snow one time and we didn’t see it again for two weeks. But I still had the bad leg and the snow wasn’t good for it and so I said, “Bloody hell, I won’t” and I came back.’

‘And if he’d stayed, he’d have missed me,’ observes Siobhan. The couple met in Dublin where she was working as a telephonist and switchboard operator in the post office. She was the second of seven children born to a farming family from Spiddal, County Galway.[vi] It was a small self-sufficient farm, two cows, five sheep, potatoes and turf. ‘I worked on the bog and I picked potatoes and that was life that time,’ she says.

The Waldrons were married in Rome in 1974.[vii] ‘One of my best friends from when I was growing up became head of the Carmelites in Rome,’ explains Christy. ‘Whenever he was back visiting the Carmelites in Donnybrook, he’d always come into the city and see me. “Christy,” he’d say, “if ever you’re getting married, let me know.” And I said “I’ll hold you to that.” And I did! We were married in St Patrick’s Church and he brought us to meet the Pope afterwards. We were in the right place for the honeymoon anyway.’

Christy was longing to return to the west and in 1977, the Waldrons moved back to Cloghanover and raised their two daughters in the old schoolmaster’s house. They still have the original school roll books in which the handwriting of the children, Christy’s mother included, is often astonishingly beautiful.

‘When we were at school, good writing was completely drummed into us,’ says Siobhan. ‘That’s all gone completely. Now the children learn how to write and that’s about it. And they write in text language. “Gr8 2 C U last nite!” I know we can’t stand in the place of progress but you have to have the basics as well.’

From Cloghanover, Christy established himself as the main man, if not the only man, out west for clock repairs. His innumerable clients have included Eamon de Valera and a woman from Partry who ‘spoke the very same as Margaret Thatcher.’[viii] There have been some massive jobs along the way, such as an eight-foot antique Grandfather clock that was all but destroyed when a container crashed down on it during a voyage home from North America. The owner glumly showed it to Christy. ‘It was an incredible clock,’ exhales Christy. ‘It had a moon dial on the side which could tell you when there was a full moon in the sky. So I rebuilt it and I got the whole lot going again for him.’

And although Christy is now officially retired, with reading, writing and playing the melodeon on his list of daily pursuits, he clearly still relishes the challenge of being presented with a broken clock and told it’s a hopeless case. ‘It’s a jigsaw,’ he says. ‘You just have to piece it all back together again.’

With thanks to Alex and Daria Blackwell.

FOOTNOTES

[i] Pat Waldron died in 1940 aged just 55.

[ii] The school is now a private residence with a new school next door built in 1963.

[iii] The Waldrons had their own fruit garden with apples, plums and gooseberries. Every family was issued with a ration book. ‘If you wanted to buy shoes or clothes, you’d bring the book to the shop and the shopkeepr would cut out the appropriate coupons.’

[iv] News from around the world filtered in slowly. A missionary from Cloghanover was on board a passenger ship bound for Nigeria which was bombed by the Luftwaffe, killing all on board bar the priest and eleven others. When other boats tried to rescue them, the German planes bombed them too. ‘They clung to timber beams until a small cattle boat slipped in and picked them up off the coast,’ says Christy. ‘All his possessions went to the bottom of the sea, chalice and all.’

[v] A photograph of his sister Mary on a threshing mill dates to this era. The family kept hens, duck and geese.

[vi] Siobhan is the second of seven children, five girls and two fellows. Christy is also one of seven children. ‘We’re a very young nation’, says Siobhan who went to Dublin in 1965. She is a regular attendee at Mass in the nearby town of Headfort – ‘every Holy Day, Sunday and odd days during the week,’ she says. She also encourages everyone from the neighbourhood to write for the historical journal.

[vii] There was just the two of them and another couple from Tralee – he was the manager of the creamery in Tralee and she owned the Munster Bar in Tralee - who stood as bridesmaid and best man; they returned the favour and stood for them in return. They’ve both passed away since. Christy and Siobhan had their family do’s when they got home after the wedding.

[viii] He recalls a 90-year-old lady from Patry House who ‘talked like Mrs Thatcher.’ She drove down to him aged ninety with a mantel clock and when he fixed it, she remarked, ‘oh its lovely to see that clock going again after it lying idle for 67 years’.

 

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Click here to see a full list of persons interviewed for the Vanishing Ireland project.