PJ Davis was taught how to drive by his father Paddy in the early 1930s. The family had lived in Ennistymon, Co Clare, for several generations. Paddy’s father travelled the back-roads of the Banner County, distributing coal and turf with a horse and cart. With the arrival of commercial motorization in Ireland after the Great War, Paddy swapped the horse and cart for a one-ton lorry and became a full-time employee of the Griffin family, who owned the pub on Ennistymon’s Bridge Street as well as a coal yard.
All nine of Paddy Davis’s children emigrated to England with the exception of one son who still farms in Doolin. Some of his daughters became nurses in Stockport. One son joined the Navy, another became a mechanic in Manchester.
Patrick Joseph ‘PJ’ Davis, the fifth child, crossed the Irish Sea shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. For the next fifteen years, he worked for the Rootes Group (now Chrysler) in Ryton-on-Dunsmore, near Coventry. The company’s main business was the manufacture of Humber Hillman motorcars, one of the most popular brands of the 1930s and 1940s. PJ worked in the foundry, making parts for Hillman’s miscellaneous Hawks, Minx, Pullmans and Snipes ranges. ‘I could tell you about every part of every car we made … where it came from, the engine, the cylinder, the pistons, the chassis, the valve, the whole lot’. General Montgomery drove about in one of their 4.1 litre Super Snipes, which he called ‘Old Faithful’. In 1950, a Super Snipe which PJ helped build took second place in the Monte Carlo Rally with Maurice Gatsonides and the Baron van Zuylen de Nyvelt behind the wheel.
During the early 1950s, PJ returned to Ennistymon but there was insufficient work to keep him there. He duly returned to England and began work in the casting plant, blast furnace and rod mill of the Scunthorope Steelworks in North Lincolnshire. Scunthorpe had been a pivotal force in the global steel-making industry since the 1880s.[i] Part of PJ’s work involved spraying all the ballast dust out of the furnaces and transporting it to the railway company who used the powder to buttress sleepers along the railway tracks. ‘It’d give you powerful muscles’, he laughs.
In 1972, PJ returned to Ennistymon with a wife and several small children. He found work at the Stubben Saddles factory on the Lahinch Road. He helped maintain the machines with which enabled the saddlers to cut, bevel, sew, inlay, seam, quilt and pummel the leather. In his childhood, Ennistymon had half a dozen saddlers but by the 1980s Stubbens was the sole survivor [check]. ‘They were the dearest saddles money could buy’, says PJ proudly.
Ennistymon has changed beyond recognition, says PJ. ‘It used to be that every house was only one storey high’, he laughs. All the small pubs have either gone or been expanded into super-pubs. Your best chance for an old world pint is at Nan Healy’s. But, heeding hid doctor’s advice, PJ does not drink anymore. Today, the widower keeps fit with a long, daily stroll through the streets of his hometown, irrespective of the weather. He also enjoys occasional visits from his five children who are all married and living in Ireland.
PJ Davis passed away in July 2009 and was buried in the Old Cemetery, Ennistymon.
[i] Crude steel had been produced at Frodingham Ironworks in 1887 but this proved not to be viable. Maxmilian Mannaburg came to Frodingham Ironworks in 1889 to help build and run the steelmaking plant and on the night of 21 March 1890 the first steel was tapped. The number of workers here has fallen from 27,000 at its height to around 4,500 (not including outside contractors, such as Hanson plc) in 2008.