On the 10th of June 1940, I joined the army. Like many other young men at that time, I felt a responsibility to sign up and be there for my country if it ever needed me. I was based in Galway, Athlone and Dublin. I started off as a private on 13s 2d a week. There was food and board laid on but it was still a big come-down from Stuart’s. I was promoted to Training Sergeant after two years and my wages were increased to 36 shillings a week. I didn’t really like the army, but Ireland was very economically depressed during World War II and I knew that steady work in construction with good wages would have been nearly impossible to find. The army was definitely one of the best jobs a man could have had in those years. When I was released from the army in 1946 and I returned home to Letterfrack. I didn’t totally sever my relationship with the army however. In 1947, I joined the FCA and later that year I was commissioned by the Minister of Defence to the position of 2nd Lieutenant in 1948, and became a Captain in 1950. I was very honoured to be appointed a Commandant in 1955 and I eventually retired from the FCA in 1975.
When I came home to Letterfrack in 1946, I wasn’t sure initially what I would do because times were so bad after the war. I thought about emigrating, but had no desire to leave West Connemara again, so I decided to base myself in Clifden and to try to get back into the building again. I decided that I would be my own boss, relying on all the skills and experience I had gained at Stuart’s. I also made a decision to get into pricework. I was fortunate in that I did have a reputable name as a tradesman at the time. My first clients were Mrs O’Toole and Mrs Donaldson who lived side by side on Main Street. Both women wanted their premises refurbished. Mrs O’Toole wanted to convert a private house into a shop and Mrs Donaldson needed renovations carried out on her hairdressing salon. The job involved stripping the roofs, re-roofing and putting in new doors and windows. John Joyce from Clifden and Paul Conneely from Streamstown were my first employees. Concrete blocks were just about in by the mid-1940s and they were a great help in speeding up the work. I remember the price for Mrs O’Toole’s job was £300. As we worked on these projects, more work started to come in around the town, and from then on until I retired from building construction in 1973, I was never without work. In 1950, I sold the public house in Letterfrack to Molly Freeney, a first cousin of my own, who had just returned from America. The £3000 I received from the sale was a big help to my business at that early stage.
There was no such thing as a workers’ union in those days. The wages were controlled by the County Council and during my years as an employer I had to pay the same rate as the Council. In the 1940s the standard wage would have been £1.4s.6d increasing to about £8 a week by the 1960s. There was no direct taxation until the early 1970s so I used to put up a stamp for my employees. It was a card comprising fifty-two spaces for the fifty-two weeks of the year. Every week I would buy stamps and every month inspectors from the labour exchange would check all my cards to see how many employees I had. At the end of each year I had to return to the labour exchange for new cards. I still have one Cárta Arachaís from 1972. It amounted to £2.0s.3d a week. I, being the employer, paid £1.0s.1d and my employees paid £1.0s.2d. There was also another book called a Wet Time book, for men who were out sick and unable to work. I used to pay them a special wet time rate at the end of the week. Then every quarter, I used to fill out a claim form, which I sent in to the Department of Social Welfare. It would be something similar to business people claiming back VAT today.
Remembered by Eamonn Guy and written by Paul Gannon
Full Version Available in “The Way it Was”