A Portrait of Paddy Callaghan

Vivian Timon

It was a bright sunny day as I stood on the crossroads in Lisdrumneil. It was twelve o clock and I could faintly hear the Angelus bells ring out from the Cathedral in Ballaghadereen. I had just come home on summer holidays from St. Nathy’s College the evening before. I looked up towards Fairymount hill and there sitting on the ‘corraun’ I could see his outline – Paddy Callaghan smoking his pipe. Paddy daily went up across the hill to herd cattle on a small farm left to him by his uncle, Tom Casserley. As always, my natural instinct was to get on my bike and join him for the chat. Paddy was a very special person and he played a very big part in the lives of my brother Brendan (RIP) and myself as we grew up in Lisdrumneil.

Paddy Callaghan was born in 1898. He was one of the first pupils to enter the new National School in 1906. He was identified as an exceptionally bright pupil by my grandfather, Master Timon, who following the official practice at that time as Principal teacher in the Don National School, came up each year to examine the pupils in Fairymount school as Master Fogarty travelled down to Cortoon to examine the Don school pupils. Paddy lived with his sister Margaret (Ciss) in a three room thatched house just over the road from where Brendan and I grew up. They had a small farm at the back of the house running down to the bog and inherited a second small farm at the back of the hill in Fairymount. Their door was always open and welcoming. Myself and Brendan made our own of the small stool beside the fire except on Saturday nights in wintertime when Martin Foley would ramble, commandeer the stool and proceed to frighten the daylights out of us telling ghost stories. I clearly recall the hair standing on the back of my neck as we listened in awe to those stories. I think I got my first insight to Paddy Callaghan’s wit and sense of humour on one of those nights when after a long and very frightening ghost story, Paddy said to Martin – “Sure the ghosts going nowadays aren’t a patch on the ghosts in those days”. Martin didn’t answer.

Paddy Callaghan was a man of many talents and self learned skills. He was an accomplished carpenter, a builder and a Thatcher- that rare skill now lost but to a few. He also had an innate ability to draw and as I’ll describe later was an artist in his own right. My first clear memories of his carpentry skills relate to my brother Brendan’s childhood love of animals – a love of animals he was to express all through his life. Callaghan’s donkey has a small dark brown foal which Brendan convinced my parents to buy despite the fact that we didn’t have any land. This young foal was Brendan’s pride and joy and eventually grew up to be a part of our ‘family’. The next challenge was to make a cart for the now grown donkey and who better to make the cart that Paddy Callaghan.

Paddy had few carpentry tools but I can still see him cut out and so perfectly shave the shafts, the fellows and spokes for the wheels and finally make and fit the four side-box pieces so expertly. As we so often watched him at his craft you couldn’t but be struck by the intelligent and efficient method in his work – the pipe in his mouth most of the time. Finally, the day arrived when the red and blue lead was mixed and the cart was painted. Neddy, the donkey was tackled up and the maiden voyage got underway – to Ballaghadereen no less, with Brendan on the reins.

However, those visits to Tom Casserley’s house where the cart was made showed a very different artistic side to Paddy Callaghan. The kitchen, in the then standard three room thatched house had a centre fire and chimney and two side walls – all of which had a thick coating of lime after years of being whitewashed for the Xmas. Paddy, using nothing more than a sharp stone and the burned-out turf and ashes from the fireplace had etched out a drawing all across the sidewalls and chimney breast that showed the gate and spire of Fairymount Church on the chimney breast and on either side the gatherings of men who usually stood outside the church before Mass began. It was unmistakably a Picasso-like artistic impression of Fairymount Church on a Sunday morning. Some years later when I learned that the house had fallen in I deeply regretted that I had not taken a picture of Paddy’s (magnum opus) artistic skill.

Paddy Callaghan’s talents were not confined to his hands; his wit and sense of humour were widely known and acclaimed. He also had a very questioning mind particularly as to the meaning and usage of words. As a student, I had the privilege to sit with him on the corraun and listen to his deeply provocative questions. One in particular related to the concept of God being all mighty. On the right-hand side of the corraun as you look down on Lisdrumneil stands a very large rock which legend has it was thrown over to Fairymount hill by a giant in Sligo- five marks on this massive rock are supposed to depict the shape of the hand of the giant. Telling me this story, Paddy said “Sure God would be able to throw that stone back to Sligo with his little finger and make it so big that the giant would not be able to throw it back”. He then paused and raised the question – “Would God be able to make the stone so big that He himself would not be able to throw the stone back to Sligo”??? Taking a pull on his pipe and with a wry smile he said “God save us we shouldn’t be talking like that”.

Another conversation that I remember very well and is so poignant to day concerned communication technologies – not that he used that phrase. He had read in the Roscommon Herald that a scientist in America had predicted that some day people would be able to see and speak to a person at the same time albeit the person would be many miles away – what we now term ‘videophone communication’. At the time in question electricity had not reached Fairymount let alone television. The only communications technology in the parish was the old fashioned ‘wind up telephone’ in Rodger’s post office but it was known that in some well-off places in America that television was being developed. Paddy mused at the thought of being able to see and talk at the same time to someone in America and asked the question – “When will they be able to see, talk to and shake hands with somebody in America?? His logic was that if science can harness the senses of sight and vision – why not the sense of feel – a clear expression of his openness to change. Once again with a wry smile he quickly added – “We’d be sent to Ballinasloe if people heard us talk like this!! In several other conversations Paddy comments displayed an instinctive rudimentary awareness of geometry and trigonometry even though he never had any formal or indeed informal exposure to mathematics.

Paddy is perhaps mostly remembered around the parish for his quick wit and sense of humour. Stories about his wit are so numerous and funny that they would justify a separate article – perhaps, other contributions in this booklet will capture more of them. I’ll relate just a few of those that I remember most vividly. I recall standing outside the chapel gate one Sunday morning listening to the men talk as they had their last smoke before going into Mass – a very regular and common practice every Sunday. As a certain woman from the parish passed in somebody remarked “ God, she is wearing a lot of powder this morning – a feature of lady’s fashion in those days. Not at all said Paddy “She was probably chasing a mouse in the flour bag before she came out”!!

On another occasion as Paddy was walking over to Lavin’s pub one summer’s day, a neighbour shouted out to him – “Do you think they have any rakes (meaning hay rakes) in Lavins”; Paddy’s quick retort was – “Well, if they don’t it won’t be long ‘till there is one in it”- clearly a reference to himself. On another occasion when a stranger passing Paddy’s house, enquired if this road would take him to Loughlinn, Paddy’s instant reaction was to say; “Well, I’ve lived on this road for the past forty years or more and it never took me to Loughlinn, Good luck to you if it takes you.!!

In other contexts, Paddy would and could be instinctively reactive; For example, as he drove Neddy the donkey past our house one day, my mother greeted them by saying “Good evening to you both” To which Paddy instantly replied by slapping the donkey and saying “Why don’t you speak to your sister!!!.

There are so many stories about Paddy Callaghan that beg belief, time and historic interest. All I can say after years of travel and exposure to many very different cultures and scientific developments is that it was a privilege to have known Paddy Callaghan.

Author: Vivian Timon

My name is Dr. Vivian Timon. I am a scientist by training and have worked in AN Foras Taluntais, Ireland, first as a scientist and then as Assistant Director. I spent two years in North Carolina State University as Professor of Genetics. Later I joined The Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and ended my 15-year career there as Senior Advisor, Science & Technology. In the year 2000, on retirement, I took a keen interest in Genealogy and Gaelic studies and went back to University (NUIG) to study the Gaelic language. During the past few years, I have built a Timon Family Tree now embracing over 1400 persons over more than 10 generations and published several articles relating to Genealogy and the History of the Timon Family in Irish and in English.

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