From Brú Lao to Cardiff


Now my grandparents’ people – on my mother’s side – used to live there (in Brú Lao, pronounced: ‘Broo Lay’). They belonged to the family of Big Hayes – because you have the family of Big Hayes and the family of Little Hayes, you see.

During the Great Famine they were broken because they used to be big landowners. And the last one of them to live there he had a potato pit. It was twenty yards long, but he had only a single cow, when he should have been keeping twelve of them. But things got so bad that he had to sell them all. He used to leave one end of the potato pit open for the cow so that she could eat as many as she liked of them.

Well anyway, he had an awful lot of relations, you see, and every one of them would be coming across the strand, coming back from Mass or from the market, back from Rosscarbery. They used to be making their way across the strand and he would be looking down at them. He would go in to his mother: “Fill up that pot well—I see people coming over the strand and maybe they would call in on us.” His mother would be putting the potatoes on the fire.

He was getting demands to pay rent, rates and taxes, all at the same time. He got himself ready one Sunday morning. He went away over across the strand and his two hands behind his back and he went away off to England., and no one from these parts every laid eyes on him again nor he on them! I suppose he would have been married at that time. He left the land and everything else behind him. He sent for his wife and children. He became the richest man in Cardiff after that. He was a ganger in the docks, loading and unloading ships and his son after him.

So the land was there for years and no one would touch it. And a man, one of the Tobins, came along – I think he had got the money from one of his own people – and he paid off all the arrears of rates, taxes and rent and they are there to this day. Down from Barley Hill he came. He made a success of the land because he married a good woman – a miser! She made four thousand pounds there and she had a half share in a fishing boat. The boat cost six hundred and fifty pounds. The other half share belonged to a sister of hers in Myross parish.

And the farm, which had its own fleet of boats on the strand long ago, didn’t she buy it from Seán MacCarthy for three hundred and thirty pounds!

The short excerpt above, selected by the Editor (whose father, Stephen Tobin, born in Brú Lao, is now dead and buried in Cardiff), is from the book Seanchas ó Chairbre (‘Lore from Carbery’), published in 1985 by University College, Dublin.

That book in Irish – 660 pages long – contains the recollections of Seán (‘Hamit’) Ó hAo (Hayes), of Cregg — his house was not far from Brú Lao — based on interviews and recordings made in 1939 by Seán Ó Cróinín.

‘Hamit’ was born in 1861 when almost everyone in the area spoke Irish and died in 1946 when everyone spoke English.

Translation: Wales Famine Forum, 1998.


Published in The Green Dragon No 7, Summer, 1998.

Old words my parents knew.

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