In about some five miles south of Rathmore Village, in Co. Kerry, a great historian, story teller and ‘relations tracer’ whose name was Denis A. Cronin. To his neighbours and many friends he was familiarly known as Denny Andy.
The surname ‘Cronin’ is very popular in Cahirbarnagh — it was the ancestral home of Dr. A.J. Cronin — so Denny Andy was one of the ‘Cronin’s of Cahir’.
Denny Andy received his early education in Hollymount National School, some two miles from his parental home. Here he had studied, as he oftentimes related to his ‘rambling house listeners’, not with a pencil and paper, but with a ‘slate’ and a ‘slate pencil’.
He was wont to say that in that era it was ‘rough and tough’ in school. Punishment there was, for incorrect or unfinished homework; indeed occasionally for transgressions of a very minor nature.
On reaching the age of fourteen years he served his pursuit of education in Hollymount, going out into the ‘slavery-ridden servant boy’ world, where he worked with a farmer for two years prior to setting his sights on Queenstown, the emigrant ship and the New World.
Over the next seven or eight years he worked and travelled throughout the United States. Then he returned to Cahirbarnagh, where he had a new house built in a small mountainy farm — his herd comprised of four dairy cows, a few dry stock and a pony.
He found himself a wife and settled down in as neat and comfortable a home as you would find ‘on the county bounds.’ Denny Andy’s residence was an ancestral home on an acre of the National School.
I well remember his coming each night: complete with an oil burning storm lantern to light his way and a hazel walking stick being so used to his arrival, we in the house, would recognise his footsteps as he came down the path, past the living room window to the door.
Having lifted the latch, he removed the little bolt from the half door and stepped inside, his salutation was always the same — ‘Bail 0 Dhia oraibh go léir anseó.’ He would quench his lantern, and place it, with his walking stick, ‘below the dresser’, and then take his accustomed seat in the corner, by the fireside.
He would, night after night recall events, and invariably his tale would commence — ‘once upon a time’! He was well acquainted with literary works, and his traditional versions of that rich, brally preserved lore, which in those days was relatively prevalent in SUahh Luachra was a delight to listen to.
To me then, not yet in my ‘teens and receiving my youthful tuition from Pat McCarthy — the Master — in Shrone National School on the foothills of the historical Two Paps Mountain in ‘The Kingdom’,
the story-telling of Denny Andy was education extraordinary.
Marriages, relations and family connections all over the parish and indeed far beyond — going back two or three generations he could unravel without a bother.
Occasionally he would trace the ancestry of some particular family, formerly from the area, but long since gone because of poverty and excruciating circumstances occurring in the past all which he and his ancestors were well acquainted.
Yes, indeed, I have been privileged to listen to Denny Andy relate from his photographic memory, the story of many events acquired, studied and memorised by him during his journey through life. Most of the stories as related by him were not from the material obtained during his youthful years in Hollymount National School.
Denis A. Cronin has long since passed to the Great Unknown, and sleeps his last long sleep in Nuadh Congbhail, Nohoval Cemetery, Rathmore. May the green sod rest lightly on him.
He often told the story of a disastrous cloudburst which ‘hit’ the historical Clydagh Valley, Glenflesk, Killarney in 1831. Nine persons were swept away and drowned in the ensuing flood which occurred on a lovely harvest evening — but I’ll let Denny Andy tell the story in a future article.
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