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15 October 2014
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A Boy's own story of Donegal during the war

by BBC Radio Foyle

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Archive List > Rationing

Contributed by 
BBC Radio Foyle
People in story: 
John Mc Laughlin
Location of story: 
Inishowen Co. Donegal, North West of Ireland
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A5622815
Contributed on: 
08 September 2005

John McLaughlin: Inishowen: War Years

I remember as a boy, the Royal Airforce leaving and crossing the Tramone Bay and heading west to meet the convoys that were coming from the North American countries, United States and Canada. We would know two or three days before the convoy was due in sight because the aircraft going over could only go out a certain distance about a hundred and fifty miles because that was all the fuel they could carry so they had to make sure that when they were out 150 miles that that they had enough fuel to take them back home to the base in Derry or Northern Ireland in general. And then after a couple of days we would see these big ships, destroyers leading them and destroyers behind them all the big cargo vessels approaching. And then at the rear of them you would see the U-boats following them up and torpedoing the last of them, the ones that were not quick enough to keep going. We often saw them going up in flames especially the oil tankers. In fact one August evening one of the oil tankers was hit and went up in flames and she burned for about three days out off Tremone Bay, about nine or ten miles out. All these convoys were heading in for Derry or going to Belfast or the Lagan or heading for the Clyde, Glasgow and Greenock. They were all very much needed supplies and arms, tanks and all that from the American countries.

From what I can remember about Carromenagh in the war years there was no oil so therefore there were no lights in the houses, just a few candles. But oil was the important thing for light. At that time the electricity supply had not reached Carromenagh. In fact it didn’t come until 1957 so that was a very dark period of time. Everything was rationed but the oil in particular seemed to affect houses a lot because the women needed the light to patch clothes, to knit and crochet and do all the rest of their household chores and without any light it was a very dismal and dreary period of time.

Now forbye that all the household goods were rationed too. There was half an ounce of tea per person per week and the same with sugar although sugar wouldn’t have been too bad because Ireland had four sugar factories and they were producing nearly enough sugar to keep the home market supplied but there was no sugar for jam making or desserts or anything like that. Bread was another commodity that was rationed. Though a lot of the women in Carromenagh always baked their own bread and a lot of the people would tell you yet that a ten stone bag of flour would just do the family a fortnight. Because every house in Carromenagh then had about eight to ten people in them and a lot of young hungry mouths to feed. When they hadn’t any flour there was a meal mill in Carndonagh, Andersons’, and the local farmers would take their corn into the mill to convert it into meal. And the mill sent out a post card to say “Your meal is now ready. If good tell others, if not tell us.” So that was supplementing the flour. So many fistfuls of flour and one fistful of meal. There was also Indian meal but a lot of people didn’t like the Indian meal because it was very difficult to cook and was harder, took longer to digest . And there was also oatmeal for making what they called hard oaten bread that was made on a griddle in front of the fire. At that time there would have been very few cookers in the villages or the area. It was all open hearths. That was the only consolation in the winter during the war years they always had a good cheery bright fire on the hearth. Another thing that was done every Saturday, the hobs would be all whitewashed, spick and span for the weekend.

Forbye that there was a lot of young men who weren’t able to emigrate at that time so they had to stay at home and seek work with the local farmers. Then during the war the Donegal County Council had to acquire X numbers of bog, for turf cutting and then about 1941 there was a big scheme started by the County Council to cut turf and dry them and drag them and then they were carted by Swilly lorries to St. Johnson and they were loaded unto the train and carried then to Dublin and there were big long turf stacks in Dublin. Somebody said that one time he saw turf stacks a mile long in the Phoenix Park. Then the turf was distributed to the households in Dublin. Apparently the turf was very wet by the time it reached the households and how they got fires going was a miracle. This turfcutting scheme provided a lot of work for local people and once the turf was cut the young people after school got something to eat and headed for Letterbane Hill and worked there. And you were paid by the spade. A spade would be about sixty yards long and nine yards wide. Then when the turf was dried the fathers came up with the horses and carts and helped to load them on the carts and take them out to the stacks where the lorries would take them from there.

There was also a Blacksmith by the name of Henry and he could get a supply of coal because he was a blacksmith and he got extra rations for the work he had to do shoeing horses and fixing ploughs and all other farm implements. That was always a ceilidhe house during the winter and there was always this big bright cheery fire and people came from fourteen town lands round Carromenagh all with their jobs to be done and hoping they would get them done that night to take home with them because Henry worked on until twelve or one o’clock. So people would come and if they needed something urgently for the next day Henry would give them priority and people appreciated that . Unfortunately Henry died in 1967and the forge has been closed since which is a deathknell to the local community.

There was a local defence force and they trained over in Carrowbeaga school that was an old school house that was built in 1873 and closed about 1940. That’s where the LDF, young men from the area joined and trained there every night. Michael O’Kane was the commanding officer and then they would have exercises, field days and dances and other functions all to keep the men together and keep it more interesting, not just the training. Then they had a big field alongside which was known as the Pound Park where they would maybe on a Sunday afternoon be out doing all the field exercises and then on a St. Patrick’s Day they all went to John McMullan’s house in Minletterbane, the Carromenagh men and the men form the three glens and they all marched to Ballynacreagh chapel for 11 o’clock mass. They all went up to the front seats in rotation and it was very impressive and colourful to see all these young men in their green uniforms.

Part of the job of the LDF would have been to protect the Inishowen Peninsula in different ways. There was a foot and mouth disease in the area in the early forties and their job was to patrol the roads to see that there was no cattle moving from farm to farm. All the farms were locked up. And also they were patrolling the beaches around, Tramone bay, Kinnego bay to see if there were any bodies washed up or any wreckage they were to report it to their commanding officer. And if there was any sight of an invasion, but luckily enough they never invaded Ireland. But it was just to keep an eye and see that things were generally protected. And if the guards needed any help, if there was a plane crash, and there were a few plane crashes. I talked earlier about the planes going out to meet convoys and if they hadn’t enough fuel to make it some of them crash landed on the hills of Inishowen and that would have been their function, to go and protect that wreck until the army came and took it away or whatever was done. They were also trained in the use of arms, rifle practice and rifle drill and all that type of thing. So it was a very exciting time for the young men.
There was a lot of smuggling goin on in the area too. A lot of commodities were not obtainable here and Derry was the nearest port and city. Also at Macgilligan where ther’es a ferry running now, Greencastle men were taking across whiskey and cigarettes. Cigarettes were the most important because there were no cigarettes obtainable and a lot of ships were in the Foyle then and they all had a supply. All the sailors had a supply far more than they could smoke and they were selling them at a fairly cheap rate so people who smuggled them were making a wee bit of profit on the side . So I suppose that encouraged them to smuggle more. But there were always stories about people, women, smuggling tea and sugar and butter on their persons, some true and some dressed up a bit. The commodities that were in short supply were smuggled.

The tea was the big thing that was scarce. A lot of people did not want coffee. There was Irel coffee, it was a liquid coffee like black tar and people just did not want it. Number one they never had taken coffee before. There was always tea. And then they just couldn’t get accustomed to the coffee and when people were going to cut turf in the hill they didn’t want to take coffee with them. They wanted tea. So there was tea on the Black Market for £1 a pound. At that time the tea would have been about 2/6. So there was nothing you could do. If you wanted tea for the men you had to pay the £1 a pound and be as easy on it as possible.

I suppose we were lucky in this part of the world for we weren’t affected too much by the war.

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