Cristina Pamment

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EXCERPT:

I: Pamment

C: Pamment; that's because I was the wife of an Englishman, but it's a really rare name even for England. Well I was born in Croom, County Limerick, on 15th December 1929.

I: You were telling me about the one roomed?

C: Yes. We had what was called a labourer's cottage with an acre of land. But most of our neighbours lived in baked mud hut cottages, which had maybe one window, rather tiny, a fireplace, a mud floor, and that was it. And in some cases and in one I know in particular, we were quite friendly with there was a man and his wife, and twelve children in this tiny dark hall; the only light and heating was an open fire, and you had an oil candle, or whatever.

I: So they had to eat, sleep and cook and everything? 

C: In one room, which didn't have a stone floor; it was made of pure baked mud, the walls were mud, and I think there was the odd landlord, I think they were priced about four pence a week, but they very rarely got the rent because nobody had any money anyway. So I think I was born in the Ireland just after self-government, and the poverty, I suppose, could be almost compared with the third world of today. Children walked a distance of maybe six to eight miles to school in bare feet in summer or winter, and I remember the lunch given out by the nuns was one currant bun. Now that was the survival rate, and the child might have left home about half seven in the morning and got home about five in the evening. I would say the staple diet of most of the people in that day was bread and butter and cheese with maybe a shilling's worth of boiling beef on Sunday, and the odd bit of veg. As I say, lucky we had an acre, so my father grew veg. But I'm still vegetarian because of that meat was really a great luxury in those days.

I: When you're speaking about the nuns, I'm told a lot of people at the national schools were taught by nuns? 

C: Oh yes they were. I was educated at the national school by nuns. They did their best to the tiny Children; they used to give them hot cocoa; which was from three years old to about seven. Christmas time they might issue what they called a chemise in those days, which was a handmade garment; or they might give the poor family a pair of boots. Now I remember in my school because there were mixed children at the junior time that the richer children got toys, and I always thought why we never got toys. We always got a pair of boots or a useful jumper.

I: Was this from the nuns?

C: This was from the nuns, and it was the junior school that I went to up 'til I was seven years old. We were educated completely in our own language.

I: You mean the nuns - this was a national school?

C: That's right.

I: I suppose the nuns must have known the background of the families?

C: Oh yes.

I: And gave the rich children toys, and you?

C: What was more useful.

I: Which clothes did you fall into?

C: I fell in between, in between mostly. My father had been in the British army in the First World War, so he had a basic pension, which was very small. I think about five shillings a week. Which was our only income, apart from he did something which was called plucking, which is very old fashioned; he was known as Tom the Plucker, he went around in season and plucked some geese, which you need a ten bob start, and bought the down then sold it. So we had periods of the summer when we were quite well off. Christmas he would pluck the turkey, and in between we had this five shillings a week, which meant your only new clothes apart from these convent made awful garment was your first communion outfit, and your confirmation outfit.

I: Can you remember any specific?

C: I remember how I said the decorated Christmas tree in what was called First Class which would have been the seven years old and I remember we opening the presents given by the nuns, and I remember looking very enviously at the toys and the dolls given to the richer children, while I got a pair of hobnail boots; or if I didn't qualify for that, I got a homemade skirt, or something like. And I remember feeling terribly deprived. I know my parents did try to make some kind of Christmas, we had mottos and all, and perhaps jelly and custard, which was quite a big thing. I remember once, I said.

I: You had?  

C: Little mottos; Happy Christmas, cost about a penny. And then the local grocers, whom you bought your groceries for the year, generally gave the poorer families some food for Christmas.
I remember once, when it was Christmas time, somebody came, I said; "We're having a party with custard."
I think that sums up the custard being a very rare treat in those days. It sums up the Ireland of my childhood. But amazingly enough, my father whom I was the eldest child, and he was 43 years old when I was born was able to read and write; it seems strange in those days.

I: Your father or your younger brother?

C: My father. And he didn't marry until quite late in life, because he was the only son of a widow, and I was his first child, the eldest of five children. But, taking all that in, I don't remember my childhood in Ireland as being unhappy.

I: You mentioned about communion; can you remember that?

C: I remember quite well. I had pneumonia and pleurisy twice as a child, which was almost a fatal disease in those days; I lost a brother with this. And so it was decided 'cause I'd had six months off school, I could have communion just after my sixth birthday which I remember quite well, I came out from hospital about three weeks before, and I got a new white dress and a veil, and the shoes. I don't know how my parents got these things, but I remember that for that one day you were dressed up.

I: A long white dress?

C: No, mine was short, and somebody.

I: Was it customary to have long or short ones?

C: Well, it depends on how much you could afford, really. But it didn't really matter because I thought I looked quite okay. And then such people as could afford it gave you pennies, which was part of the communion process. And the nuns gave you a sort of a breakfast on your communion day, which was cake and all that. So communion was great. It's not a religious memory for me; it's memories of new clothes, and a party, and the spending money a lot of which I gave to my mother, I remember, because don't forget I was the eldest of five children. But that was the high note.

I: Did you have a special communion cake?

C: No. The nuns gave us sandwiches and little cakes in the school after the communion, and that one time was a great leveller, because whether you were rich or poor, you had the same simple fare after your communion. And don't forget, this was when you were at that time only six years old I started school at three and I did very well at school.

I: Started at three; that was very young?

C: That was young. I went to school at three, so I was very bright pupil, and I was the best girl in the class, you know.

I: Was Irish very important?

C: We were educated entirely which I'm sorry it's not like that now in our own language; Irish, apart from English composition. So everything, arithmetic I still add up in Irish.

I: Do you think it was normal for kids to be educated through the medium of Irish? 

C: Yes, all the schools were. You had no choice in those days: don't forget, we'd just come into self-government, and it was important we got our identity back. And I found no trouble learning tables, sums, arithmetic, or anything, in Irish, or even to go to whatever even our prayers were said with the nuns. I remember the nuns as being very kindly people; I had no bad memories of the nuns. And we were educated completely which I wish it was so today in our own language. We did have English composition, and English reading.

I: Did some kids find that difficult?

C: No, I don't think so. Like any other school you had bright or not so bright. You got on as best you could.
The big problem was, in those days, of course, you had to buy your books. Now it meant that if you had a rich father and the first day of the new term he gave you five shillings which was the average for the whole term's books but if you were like me you had to hope to buy your books from someone from last year, or try and study without the books. It was sort of pennies and tuppence to try and get an Irish book, or whatever. I was very crafty; I used to be very good at school, and from the richer children I used to get an apple or a book or a penny for doing their homework. So I didn't do so bad in getting my books. They had no scholarship then. At the age of seven you went from the infants’ school into primary school, where you stayed until your 14th birthday. And I was taught entirely by nuns. We didn't have any drama or music, or art. We did have art in the junior school. We had a very great nun who was a great artist. But we did have a good grounding, I think, in the three R's, and we were taught domestic science, and cookery. But even for that, you had to supply your own eggs for the sponge cake, so there was always this problem of not. And you had to supply the wool for the knitting or the material to make the dress. So again the poor people were at the lower end of the spectrum in all these talents at that time.

I: If you were very bright, then you had no chance of improving your education?

C: No. The only chance they had; there was a program given by the Dublin government at that time, which is supposed to be old stories of Irish folklore, and genuine Irish composition, and certain pupils were picked out to rewrite their essay in a big ledger in Gaelic, and I was the one, one children, was going to be sent to Dublin and kept for some reason 'twas very vague at the time it was a great honour to be able to write your composition into this.
And the only other highlight of the year, which I suppose, doesn't sound bad for a catholic was the retreat. We had a three-week retreat, with the fathers giving us damnation! But you did get your meals in the convent grounds for the three weeks. So there for another three weeks we had meat and food and whatever, because we were walking around, supposedly, in silence all day, and listening to these sermons on hell and damnation and chastity, or whatever, for the three weeks. So then again, you looked forward to these meals prepared by the nuns, and served in their laundry, I remember.

I: Served in their laundry?

C: Yes, with sweets. And we had lamb sandwiches and cakes; again the famous jelly and custard. I remember this was another sort of treat. There were trees, which we walked around in the convent.

I: Do you remember any particular retreat?

C: Yes.

I: How old were you when you went on these retreats?

C: We started going when we were about eleven. And as you know, education, or sexual education, or adult education was an unknown quantity in those days. Nobody knew anything about what was going to happen. And me more than any. But all you went these retreats, and you heard these sermons about; you must never sit in a room alone with a boy, and all the rest of it. And I didn't know a word what they was saying. But I remember one particular retreat, somebody, obviously, who knew better than I did, tittered. And we were all punished. Every one of us got six slaps, because nobody would own up to laughed, and whatever this minister was saying which was completely over my head; I didn't know what he was talking about to start with but we were all punished because somebody gave a titter at this reference to a meeting between a boy and a girl. Now I remember in those days I wouldn't know what the word S.E.X. stood for, nor would anyone else where I came from. As a matter of fact I never knew anything like things like menstruation; neither my mother told me, neither did the nuns tell you. The only thing you were told was that you must never be alone in the same room as a boy. And I thought that's how you got pregnant. I remember when I got a bit older, and our only entertainment was going to the pictures which was on a Sunday afternoon so I'm a real cinema buff which was ha'pence to go in; and if it was a suitable film we were allowed to, Shirley Kennedy, Deanna Durban, and all the rest of it. And that when I was fourteen the fourpenny dance was the highlight of entertainment. And when I was younger, the matinee on Sunday afternoon. They mainly showed children’s programmes: Shirley Temple, Diana Durban, that sort of thing. So somehow or other our parents would try and scrap, or we do errands to get this tuppence to go. And if we didn't have enough money, the owner was a very nice man called, Old Mr. Hurley, and he always sat in the front row, and he waited 'til the cinema began, and even if you only had a ha'penny then, he took all the children under his wing and we all had to sit near him. And he let us see the pictures. And that's the world I saw, the world of the cinema. The world of evening dresses, the world of musicals.

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