THE OLDEST MAN
FIRST MOTOR CAUSES SENSATION
TALES OF THE PAST
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Mr Charles Ward, Jubilee Street, Ballinasloe, who is 88 years of age, and claims to be one of the oldest men in the town and district, is still hail and hearty for his age, and does not look more than 60. He is able to do his daily work as well as he was thirty years ago, and looks as sprightly and active as if he was only 60.
He told me during a talk I had with him on Tuesday that in his young days he was an athlete, and the foremost champion half-miler in the Boyle Militia, and won many valuable money prizes while serving in Boyle well over sixty years ago.
He is the father of nine children, fourteen grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. He is in receipt of the old-age pension for fifteen years, and would have had it much earlier, he said, but he had difficulty in proving his age as, it was difficult to get the records, which were not kept over eighty years ago as they are today.
He wan born in Kilconnell, and joined the Boyle Militia in 1871, did a good deal of training in Boyle and Renmore, Galway, and won a half-mile race in Boyle against the whole battalion in 1871. Even to-day his appearance suggests the athlete, and sprightly step and agility indicates the truth of his story that he was able in 1871 to throw the 28lbs. shot 32ft., which he said he did on the course in Renmore when in the army.
Asked to relate some of his experiences and the changes which have taken place in Ballinasloe for the past half a century, he said these changes were many. He saw the first motor car in Ballinasloe, a crude affair as compared to the present- day car. It must be forty years ago, he added, and it was the biggest sensation in the town for many years. The Agricultural Show was then held in the market square on the Hill o’Back at the back of the town, and for the hundreds who were seen at the show to-day there were thousands that time; all nationalities attended the Ballinasloe fifty years ago to buy horses. They were for weeks before the show coming from all directions, and for two weeks after the show they were going away again.
Jubilee street, where he still lives, he added, was up to fifty years ago the principal street in the town. There were twelve or fourteen large lodging houses there, and the week before the show, show week itself, and for a week following these lodging houses, including his own, were packed to the doors. Musicians, stall holders, fiddlers, jobbers, and all classes and descriptions of people congregated there, drinking, dancing and carousing into the small hours of the morning
The times were better than they are now, he said, reflectively; there was more money spent, although wages were much smaller, but everybody who came to the fair seemed to have plenty of money to spend, and they spent it freely. On a Saturday fifty years ago one could see up to twenty or thirty of the finest of young men at that corner there, he said, pointing to the corner of the square, stone-throwing after Mass. “Ah,” he added, “there were good men in Ballinasloe that time. All the business houses did well, and there were more public houses than there are to-day.” For the last thirty-five years he has had a contract for tin ware to the mental hospital, and only a few days ago he supplied an order there, most of the work having been done by himself. Forty-six years ago he took the pledge, and since then he assured me, he has not touched drink. Before this, he added, he used to travel a good deal of the country to fairs and markets when he was not serving in the militia, and he saw a good deal of drink on his travels.
One night, he said, with more drink than usual, he arrived back in Ballinasloe and there was a mission on. He went to the church as the priest was about to preach and the first words he heard as he entered the church were the text of the sermon “Woe to the drunkard.” The sermon followed on drink and its vices, and in these days, forty-five years ago, there was a lot of intemperance. The preacher for nearly an hour have terrible examples of the curse of drink in the families and homes which came within his own experience, “and he so impressed me that that very night, at the mission, forty-five years ago, I took the pledge, and I have not taken any drink since.
He was one of the first members to join the Confraternity of the Holy Family when it was established in 1873 in Ballinasloe, and he showed me the medal he got in 1923 on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the Confraternity, which was presented to the then jubilarians by Right Rev. Mons. Joyce, then P. P. in Ballinasloe.
Mr. Ward had many other interesting things to say about Ballinasloe during the past sixty years. When the River Suck drainage work started in 1877 hundreds of men from many districts were employed on the work, which lasted four or five years. They were given 12s. per week, but following a short strike for higher wages they were given 14s. per week. There would be up to 300 or 400 men employed, and no man in the town or district need be idle. There were good men working at Garbally Court at this time for 10s. per week, he said, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and first class tradesmen at £1 or 30s. per week. The present town hall was then an agricultural hall; there was a temperance club in part of the building, in which there were up to 300 members, and there were members there from the town and the country, where amusements of all kinds were provided. “When I was a boy, over seventy years ago”, he concluded, “labourers worked for 1s. per day, and tradesmen for 15s. and £1 per week.”
Source: Ballinasloe Correspondent, Connacht Tribune, 10 October 1936.