Life and Times of John Nellie

John Gallagher from Carnamaddy remembers events that most of us have only read about in history books. Born in 1919, he has witnessed a lot of changes in Ireland having lived through a civil war, a world war, and the troubles in Northern Ireland
Having just turned 90 years of age, the world John lives in today is also a very different place with people living in relative luxury compared with the Ireland of old.

Creeslough was a very different place back then and poverty was widespread, but according to John people still managed to enjoy themselves.

“Back then there was no such thing as electricity, computers, cars, telephones or television. Everyone was really poor and barely had enough to survive, but they never knew any other way.

One of the worst things to happen to Ireland was the television as it meant that people stayed inside and stopped talking to one another.

Today people have forgotten about their neighbours and keep to themselves and there isn’t the same sense of community.”

“When I was young when you went down to the end of the road, all the boys and girls would be sitting at the end of it and the craic would be mighty. We would also go raking and each house would have their own night when everyone would call over.

This was a great raking house and I remember making tea here for eleven people every Sunday night. There would be music, recitations, dancing, stories and a lot of debate- we would have the best of craic.

We would also play a lot of cards, the woman of the house would rare some geese and a few turkeys. It would be 1 shilling to play them, and there would always be a packed house.

But now that’s all gone and nobody goes visiting in the same way. It’s sad to see, and we’re worse off because of it.”

The majority of people in Ireland struggled financially to survive, and like today many were forced to emigrate to find work. Although there were many Irish who emigrated and prospered, there were those who struggled to find a good job and to settle in their new country.

“Nearly every man around here was abroad at some stage for there was nothing here for him, and they were left with no choice.

“A lot of the young Irish had left bad conditions and had no money when they went over, and ended up living in some of the rougher areas and falling in with bad company. It was sad, as many of them were homesick, and ended up spending a lot of time in the pub, and spent their time working with nothing to look forward to.

Some of them would make the grade and get a good job but more often than not they fell away by the wayside. It was sad to see, and it is still happening.”

“Even the person who went really wrong still had the liking for his home and his parents, even more so than the one who was doing right. He might not have been able to get work and ended up in debt and on the drink, but he couldn’t come home a failure, and even if he did come home there was no money here either so he had nothing to come home to.

Then there was the odd man who did make great money but was stupid with it and spent the whole lot and was left with nothing to show for it.”

Like many others from Donegal, John left Creeslough to find work in Scotland where he worked driving machinery.

“When I first went to Glasgow it was 11pence an hour and you would get a suit for £2.50- but the problem was getting the £ 2.50, as it was a lot of saving on 11pence an hour. Where was that going to come from? Working away was an experience there no doubt about it. When I started with the county council In Scotland it was £6 pound a week and that was great pay, for there would be a labourer working beside you and he would only be earning £4

After working in Scotland, John moved to England which was in the middle of the Second World War.

“I was in Bath the night it was bombed, and it did get some bombing. It was an awful time with a German plane coming over every night and dropping bombs. It was sad, and there was no doubt that it would scare you.”

One night I wakened up and I could feel a while draft coming in the door, I got up to see where everyone was but there wasn’t a being in the house only myself. All the windows had been blown out and everyone else had gone to the bomb shelter and had forgot about me.

The Germans levelled everything. There was a jam-jar factory beside us and it was completely levelled.”

One day at work John’s foreman offered him the chance to go to work in Aiden, and to experience his first aeroplane trip.

“In 1952 I went out to Aiden, what is now called Saudia Arabia. It was the first time I was on a plane and I was absolutely terrified. The plane trip was lot rougher than it would be now, and every time it went into an air pocket I thought we were going to crash and die.

At one stage I heard the engine making a funny noise and because I was used to driving a machine and knew about engines I was sure it sounded like it had failed, but thank God I got over safe enough.”

Although living in Aiden was a huge culture shock to John, he thoroughly enjoyed his time there, and met some wonderful people and even managed to pick up some of the language.

“Aiden was a great place and I loved it over there- it was like a completely different world compared to Ireland, and very rich because of the oil. The people were very friendly, and even now I can still speak a bit of the language.”

Eventually John returned home and got a job in the county council where he worked for 26 years.

“When I came back and started with Donegal county council the money was £6 a week and that was a great number at the time.

“I worked for the council for 26 years- doing a bit of plumbing and a bit of everything. When I first started I had a bike but in 1961 upgraded and I bought my first car which was a Ford for 11 ½ pound. There were very few cars about Creeslough then and it was a real novelty.

Today John has just recovered from a long illness, but is now better than ever and is comfortable and enjoying life in his little house in Carnamaddy.

“I was very sick for a while, and spent ten weeks in the home in Falcarragh with a broken leg, and then spent another six weeks with shingles. To top it all off then I ended up with gout in the foot but I got over it all and I’m as good as ever now.”

At 90 years of age, John has the spirit of a man half his age and has no plan on slowing up yet.

“Life is great and I’m very content . I go up to the day centre in Creeslough a couple of days a week where I get to chat to some great people and have the crack. I’m very lucky because I have a great home help who is the best cook in the town, and who looks after me very well. I have everything I need, and am very fortunate to have great neighbours and friends. I’m 90 years of age now, but I have plenty years left in me.