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Interviews - Vanishing Ireland

TERESA McGERTY
Shopkeeper and Publican
Longfield, Co Cavan
Born: 23 December 1925
Died: 1 March 2013

Teresa Galligan, youngest of eight, was born in the townland of Derrinlester, Co Cavan, where her father Thomas ran a 50-acre farm. Educated at Killygorman country school, she went on to work as a shopkeeper in Cellbridge, Co Kildare, and in Lurgan, Co Armagh.

In 1952, the 27 year old crossed the border into Co Leitrim and married local farmer Jack McGerty. In 1950 Jack’s aunt Roseanne Kiernan had died, leaving him a two-storey pub at the quiet crossroads of Longfield and an adjacent small farm.

Teresa’s shop-keeping experience stood her in good stead to run a pub. She and Jack duly modernized the interior, unrolled linoleum on the floor, installed a new bar counter and built shelves up every wall. They were busy days, says Teresa. ‘But if you want to make ends meet, you have to make an effort of yourself’.

As well as being a publican, Jack was widely known as a rate collector, auctioneer and cattle dealer. He was up at the crack of dawn to check on his own herd. Teresa worked behind the grocery from 8.30am every morning, when the nearby creamery opened for business. Paraffin was the big seller in the early years, before electricity came. ‘And a lot of people had chatty-bangers’, she says, referring to the battery-operated lamps they sold.

For half a century, the McGerty’s unassuming grocery bar was amongst the most popular rural retreats in Co Leitrim, famed for its impromptu dance nights and music sessions. Performers included the flamboyant Cork-born banjo player Margaret Barry, Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains and the acclaimed uillean piper Leo Rowsome.

For the first few years, the McGerty’s benefited from the infamous bona fide rule. This rule held that so long as a man has ‘travelled in good faith” for a distance of at least 3 miles, by public thoroughfare, from the place they had spent the previous night, then he was entitled to be served a refreshment after midnight and on Sundays. (Sunday drinking was then otherwise outlawed). Longfield is 5 miles from Killeshandra and 5 miles from Carrigallen, and so the pub was understandably popular with those eager to capitalize on the conditions of the Licensing Act of 1872. Teresa often concocted tea and sandwiches to sober up such late night revellers, and Jack often drove them home. The bona fide law was abolished in 1953.

One of their greatest customers was John Godley, 3rd Lord Kilbracken, a swash-buckling war veteran and aspiring journalist. Lordy, as he was known, inherited the nearby big house at Killegar in 1950, the year Jack inherited the pub. When Killegar caught fire twenty years later, Lordy escaped the smoke and flames and drove straight to the McGerty’s to raise the alarm. He was clad in his undergarments because he had not time to change.

As mother of Michael and John, she was forever washing, ironing and cooking, whilst simultaneously trying to maintain polite banter with customers behind the bar. The McGertys never holidayed; someone had to look after the cattle. However, Teresa occasionally escaped on the barefoot 3-day pilgrimage to St. Patrick's Purgatory on Lough Derg. She grimaces at the memory of the unappetizing ‘Lough Derg Soup’ (hot water, salt and pepper), which pilgrims drink during the fast of the first 24 hours. Like a surprising number of Ireland’s landlady’s, Teresa is a lifelong Pioneer. Her only slip up was a sip of champagne in celebration of the birth of Lord Kilbracken’s youngest son Seán, but she found it sweet and uninteresting.

When Jack died in March 1999, Teresa and her son John closed up the pub. The bar counter and shelves were removed and the space where so many people laughed and danced became their living room. Where once the walls were stacked with whiskey, firelighters, Weetabix and turpentine, today there are just a few poignant photographs, including one of Lord Kilbracken with Seán by the photographer Sven Arnstein. Teresa’s son John now runs the farm and grazes his cattle there and at Killegar.

FOOTNOTE

[i] Roseanne had been married to local school-teacher, Master Pat Kiernan. She was considered the ‘business partner’ in the marriage and ran the small pub.

WIth thanks to Sue Kilbracken.

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