Memories came flooding back for a returned emigrant Todd Greene when we spoke to him recently during a holiday to his native land. The visit gave Todd a chance to renew acquaintances with old friends now drastically reduced in number with the passing of the years. Now 85 years old he has the unique recall of the past peculiar to those who have spent their working lives in a foreign land.
Born in 1910 in the premises now run as a pub and meat processing plant by his nephew Joe Ryan and his family. Todd’s earliest memory is riding to Davris on a giant draught horse led by Tom Burke, Kilgevrin. He would cling to horses neck until he got to John Keane’s house where incidentally John’s grandson Oliver and his Wife Mary now operate a very successful egg wholesale business from their farm.
Like most children his favourite part of his schooldays were the long summer holidays, three months to be exact. In those times the change from English to Irish in the education system was under way. His teachers included Pat Diskin while Mr. Ned Connolly, Kilgevrin, whose son the late Edward John took over the family farm, taught Irish for a few years there.
In those days a lot of teachers spent their summer holidays in Spiddal, not, we hasten to add because it was a seaside holiday resort but because it gave them the chance to mix the local native Irish speakers and consequently the chance to improve their own knowledge of the language.
On March 11th, 1926 Todd went out into the great big world of business when he started work as an apprentice draper at the prestigious Moons of Galway. Prestige and a trade were all he got because he received no wage just his keep. Luckily for him his aunt Anne Costello lived nearby at the time. She was matron at Woodlands Hospital, now known as Merlin Park.
Anne had been a nurse in the Mater Hospital, Dublin and came to Galway as a District Nurse and ended up caring for the T.B. Patients. She got a bungalow built and kept a few wards exclusively for victims of that disease. She became matron of the sanatorium in the early twenties. Todd spent most of his free time with her and vividly remembers playing tennis and croquet on Thursdays.
As a child he helped out in the family business with brothers Joe and Mick and their sister Una (baby) who later inherited the concern and with her husband Miko Ryan from Dalgin ran it successfully until their son Joe took over the reins in the 1960’s. In the early part of the century it was a hive of activity, particularly on market day when dozens of asses and carts would ferry local produce to town to be sold.
Eggs in particular were very important to the economy and dealers or “egglers” as they were known came to Greene’s each week to buy vast quantities from local farmers. Todd remembers counting the eggs, three in one hand and two in the other as they were divided into scores. They were placed into boxes which were spilt into two sections with straw packaging.
A favourite pastime for many people at the time and one which brought tangible reward at the dinner table was catching salmon which abounded in those days in the River Clare. The fish were caught by throwing “Mills bombs” into the water. The stunned fish would soon float to the top where they would promptly be seized by the fishermen. Their task was made easier still by the very small number of bailillfs employed at the time.
His favourite years co-incided with a turbulent era in Irish history which saw the emergence of the I.R.A., the Civil War and the presence of the Black and Tans. He remembers going to his bedroom window on hearing gun shots on the night two R.I.C. men were shot at nearby Cnocán Mór by the I.R.A. Sergeant Moran (who ironically was to retire the following day) and Constable Day died in the ambush across the road from where the empty house formerly owned by the Lohan family stands.
There was great tension in those years. The police were always escorted and if attacked they would release flares known as Vera Lights into the air. Different towns had their own colours so that if for instance the lights were seen in Tuam the colour would indicate whether the alarm was being raised in Milltown, Dunmore or somewhere else within range.
He remembers lorry loads of soldiers going through the town after the 8 o’clock curfew which was in place even on summer evenings. He remembers hearing that a lady milking a cow in Davris had been shot at but not hit. His brother Mick who was a then student at U.C.G. and his friend Paddy Sheridan were once arrested by the I.R.A. on suspicion of being informers because the frequented pubs where the police often socialised. They were kept in a stable in Millbrook for a few days but were then released.
When another I.R.A. ambush claimed the life of Jack Lohan his brother Mick attended the funeral at which a volley was fired over his grave. Shortly after returning to his digs the Black and Tans quickly arrived. He was taken away, questioned and beaten up and at one stage had a gun put into his mouth. He was then thrown into Galway Gaol (where the Cathedral now stands) and stayed there until his father negotiated his release.
When guards first arrived in Milltown they spent some time living in Green’s. Five of them lived in the house and the kitchen actually served as a day rom with the large wooden table doubling as a desk. The living quarters were upstairs at the time to facilitate the guards temporarily while the barracks was being prepared.
Like many other young men and women at the time the idea of going abroad appealed to him and young Todd eventually set sail for England. The England of the 1930’s was not paradise with work in very short supply. Once again Todd Greene was to encounter the awful consequences of war and death. World War two commenced in 1939.
He had a stark choice to make return home or enlist in the Armed Forces, with seven other friends he opted to volunteer for duty. Of the eight only two returned. One of them Paddy Finnegan became a legendary Spitfire pilot before losing his life in action.
His travels in that awful episode took him to Durban, South Africa, Freetown, Sierra Leone and the Belgian Congo among other places. Mind you he never actually set in those cities as they only called there to refuel. He remembers clearly the incredible heavy rains that would hit Africa occasionally. On returning to England he settled down to a more normal and peaceful life with his wife Ruby. He worked for many years in the Custom House in London. After his retirement he restarted visiting his hometown and is now a regular visitor to Ryan’s Pub where he is very popular with and customers alike.