Memories with Joe McGee

Joe McGee was born in Derryreel on 17 July 1937. He had two brothers and six sisters. They were Mary, Sarah, Rose, Margaret, Brid, Annie, Tony and Denis.

By Sharon Campbell

Like many families in the area at the time, Joe’s brother and sisters would have emigrated at one stage or another for work. His brother Denis was the only one of his siblings who didn’t emigrate and stayed on the farm. Joe went to school in Kildarragh and although he liked it he remembers that he didn’t go very often especially in the winter.

“You didn’t realise the benefit of getting an education back then, so we didn’t always go to school. We had a good few miles to walk to Kildarragh from Derryreel and that didn’t suit too well in the cold of winter,” he said. He remembers that the headmaster had bad asthma so could be off school for a month at a time which the children didn’t seem to mind at the time. Every student would bring their lunch to school or their ‘piece’ as Joe refers to it. “We all brought a piece with us to school and in the winter a pot of cocoa was made, and we would all get a cup of it to heat us up a wee bit. But we’d still be cold.”

Every student would have brought a sod of turf for the fire that heated the school during lessons. “The schools were big and cold, and the fire was the only way of heating the room, so you would have been cold.”

Joe left school at 14 years of age, and because he was too young to emigrate he helped to work on his own farm and those around. “All you would have got was 10 shillings from November to May and after that you got nothing. I remember working on the farm and setting spuds and then gathering them and putting them in their pit.”

Denis and Rose McGee, Joe’s parents.

His mother kept hens and Barney McGinley from Dunfanaghy would come around in his van to collect the eggs which earned his mother two shillings for a dozen eggs. The hens were precious as they made money, but he remembers on a special occasion, a hen would be killed for the dinner. His mother also baked bread and made butter. There was no sliced bread back then. “It didn’t happen very often, but a hen would be killed as a treat on a special occasion like Christmas. It was such a treat”, he remembers.

At the age of 21, Joe left Derryreel for Scotland. “I was 21 when I emigrated to Glasgow. I got the bus to Derry and then took the boat to Glasgow. The boat would sail about 7 o’ clock in the evening and you’d arrive in Glasgow the next morning.” He stayed with his uncle until he got digs. Joe enjoyed his time in Glasgow and recalls working hard during the week and then at the weekends going to listen to music or meeting up with others. He returned home every year for a holiday, before moving home permanently. “I had always intended to come back so was glad when I finally moved home.” Joe resides in the Lakehouse in Dunfanaghy. He loves his bingo and art and recently contributed to a Halloween display in the Lakehouse which came first in an all-Ireland arts and crafts competition on Sunshine tv. The residents were delighted to win an arts and crafts hamper”.