Tales with Tam

Thomas Patrick Corley

Published in the Milltown Newsletter April 1996

Thomas Patrick Corley was born in Cloonagh, Milltown in 1909. Before he emigrated he lived there with his parents John and Delia and his brother Johnny. He went to Dalgin National School and he worked in Glynn’s of Milltown. The following is an excerpt from a Huddersfield Newspaper where he now resides at the age of eighty nine and is famous for his tales of long ago.

Old Tam has a Galway brogue as deep as the bay, even though he has been drinking in the Fleece at Sheepridge since 1937.

His Irish eyes always seem to be smiling and he has a simple reason for his health and longevity: “Clean living and Guinness”. He lives just around the corner from the pub where he imbibes the black stuff twice a day, lunchtime and early evening. It is not a compulsory ritual but might expect to see pigs fly before he breaks his routine.

Thomas Patrick Corley, to give him his Sunday name, was born in Cloonagh, Milltown in County Galway 89 years ago. “The time I was at school, the teacher turned out nine priests. There was never sixty of us at the school. There was 59 one but never 60”.

His memory stretches back through Anglo-Irish history and social change to days of poverty. His stories are endless. They can be tragic and amusing and best taken with a pint or two.

He tells me what Eamon De Valera said in a speech from back of a lorry, has second thoughts, even though it was 53 years ago, and says: “You’d better not put that”. His head shakes, still unable to understand the sense as he recounts how the local police sergeant in the next village was shot dead before his wedding day. And he remembers when he and his fellow schoolmates were out playing one time in 1921. “There we were, kids running around, and a lorry of the Black and Tans came along and we shouted “Up the Republicans”! You know, we were kids,” he says, explaining childish taunts. “Eleven or 12 years old.

“They backed up and we ran. Down the wood we ran, leaves were threaded with bullets around us. They fired at us. Good God a’mighty, they were shocking.” Then he laughs and he’s away again on a different tack.

“When I was 12, I was a bugger for poaching. Rabbits, hare, wild ducks, geese, waterfowl. My father had two brothers home from America and this evening, I took one of them out after rabbits. We had a shower of rain and I got wet through and let the clothes dry on me, I put them on again the next morning and I didn’t I get double pneumonia? If I wiped the sweat of my hand I could see it bulging out again.”

The doctor diagnosed the illness and the inevitable outcome. But he had reckoned without Tom’s constitution and a good dose of whiskey. He went to bed expecting to die but survived. “I got up in the morning and I thanked that whiskey or I would be dead” says Tom.

He first came to England when he was 19 in 1928. “There was no work in Ireland. We came haymaking. We went to Oldham first down to Lincolnshire. It was an awful place to work. An awful dry spot. You could drink the ocean. We picked spuds and beet and everything. It was murder. “It was murder of a different kind for one of the farmer’s poultry.

“A cock came in the Paddy hut, It would not go out and I threw a lump of coke at it. It got it in the head and killed it . The farmer would have gone mad. So we plucked it and boiled it in a bucket. Tom, he says, what have you in the bucket? My shirt, sir, I says and we got away with it. We ate the cock and buried the bones in the field”

On another trip they arrived at Denton in Lancashire in the early hours of the morning. “We went along the road and it was a quarter to three and I said we will go in there. They said we will get nothing at this hour. We knocked on the back door of this pub and he lets us in. A grand little man, he was. Six of us there and six pints we said. By the time he finished pulling the sixth, he had to start all over again. We had six pints each and he says “I’ll let you have one on the house now” We could drink then. We were young. It was 4d a pint so we gave him two shillings each (10p) and he says no, put that back in your pocket. This pub is our hobby, he says, “We won £100,000 on the Irish Sweepstake and we made a vow that we would never take for a drink from an Irishman”.

In 1930, the young men of his village were making the annual journey to England for seasonal wok but Tom was undecided. “It was 10 o’clock on the Monday morning and I went to this ganger. If he gives me a job I’ll stop, I thought. If not, I’ll go to England.” There was no job but the ganger took him to the pub.

“I had two bob,” says Tom. “Two pints and 10 cigarettes”, So the ganger borrows a pound off the landlord and gives it to me. But I’ve still not enough. I’m riding home on my bike and I see Christy. Give me a pound for me bike, I says, and he did, and so I had two pounds. I got ready and was off. It was the quarter to three train and all I had in the world was £2. I wanted a ticket Manchester, going by Liverpool. “You can’t have it, he says. Your mates have gone by Hollyhead”. But it was £1 7s 6d by Liverpool and £1 12s by Holyhead. Anyway he gives me the ticket by Liverpool and £1 19s 8d change. He made an awful mistake. He only charged me 4d. 

For a moment he remembers his guilt and blushes. “He was the only man I ever cheated for a penny in my life and that was in 1930.” That was the year he got a job in Barkisland. The farmer told him to take an untamed pony to the fair at Halifax . “First thing we meet on the road was a lorry piled with baskets and the pony rears up and rips off me waistcoat, but I stuck to him.”

They took lanes and side roads and he found a pound note on the ground. “What’s that,” says the farmer. “An old Woodbine packet, I says.”

The pony caused trouble all the way to Halifax but the farmer only gave Tom two shillings. He told Tom to sell the animal for £8 but he got £8 10s from a gypsy and pocketed the difference. “I went in the pub and met the farmer’s brother and said the farmer had only given me two shillings. His brother told him to give me a pound. So I had his pound and the pound I found, and the 10 shillings and the two bob.” He grins at a small triumph in a life of laughter and hard work.

Tom married Ellen Cassidy, an Irish girl from Philadelphia. The family had moved down to Dewsbury from America. He is now a widower. He worked at David Brown’s ICI and in the building trade. Later, he was a school caretaker at St Gregory’s, the old college in North Road, Mount Pleasant, Deighton School and Ashbrow.

“There is this bus driver in Lancashire and he has a load of women in his bus. It’s a grand summer’s evening and he sees this old Irishman at the side of the road smoking his pipe. The bus stops and this feller says, I beg your pardon, sir, but have you got a match? I have a match, says the Irishman, and he takes him a match and looks in the bus at all the ladies and says, “That’s a lovely lot of women you have. Where are you taking them?” I’m taking them to Burnham, says the driver. Will you wait five minutes, says the Irishman, “I’ll bring my bugger and you can throw her on at the same time.” It was at this point I stopped trying to take notes and enjoyed the crack. Anybody can, twice a day at The Fleece.

This page was added on 24/05/2017.

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