My big task: To de-clutter fifty boxes of my lifetime memories

On May 1, I set myself a task — a major task if the truth be told - so said John Arnold in his weekly column. 
My big task: To de-clutter fifty boxes of my lifetime memories

INFORMATION OVERLOAD: John Arnold admits he is a hoarder of old GAA memorabilia and old newspapers like the Echo.

I KNOW, I know, and many a person said it, some in jest and some meant it.

‘If that young fella had spent half as much time studying as he did reading papers, books and GAA match programmes, he’d have got a great Leaving Cert’!

There’s no good crying over spilt milk and que sera, sera and all that. In the words of singer Edith Piaf, je ne regrette rien, no regrets, what’s done is done and what’s won is won and what’s lost is lost and gone forever.

Well, not exactly. I did read a lot of papers in the ’70s and ’80s and to tell the truth, ever since.

Growing up we got the Examiner every day in Woods shop — later Dooleys. On Friday the bread-man would bring the Farmers Journal and for years the East Cork News And Star. After Mass on a Sunday we’d get both the Sunday Independent and Press. Don’t think we were trying to hide our Blueshirt credentials, maybe we just wanted to see what ‘the other side’ were reading about!

Any trip to Cork would mean buying the Echo from the man who weaved in and out of the traffic and if Mam was in Fermoy she’d often bring The Corkman. We regularly got the ‘Africa’ and The Catholic Fireside too. Then, in the late 1970, we got ‘our own’ local paper when The Avondhu started up.

I often wrote letters to different editors and later contributed ‘Notes’ to various publications. GAA, Macra na Feirme, politics, Muintir na Tire and general country matters were always close to my heart.

Amazing really, isn’t it, for a fella that has only 10% vision in one eye that I read and wrote so much?

I must admit that I was upset that I didn’t at least get Honours in English and History in the Leaving ’cause outside of text books I’d read hundreds of books before I was 18.

No, when Canon Twohig, the then President of St Colman’s College in Fermoy, began with the immortal words ‘John, we thought you would have done better’ on the day of the results, my single Honour in Irish ensured any thoughts of a Third Level Education place vanished fairly quickly!

Getting back to the papers, so about 350 papers a year came into the house and believe it or not for nearly 20 years I kept all of them. I’d carefully cut out match reports and items of local interest — unfortunately I wasn’t a scrapbook person. I just kept the newspaper clippings and I still have them somewhere — if only I could find them but hope springs eternal, especially in these Covid days.

We used to leave the papers on the kitchen table for ages. We’d joke that once the sunlight was blocked from coming in the window by the papers ‘twas time to move them!

Under the Hot Press in the room were two huge storage spaces with a shelf in between. For years I piled the papers in there. When that was full the space under the stairs was the next stop.

Over the kitchen is what we call ‘Paddy’s room’ as it was here Paddy Geary, our farm workman, slept from 1947 until 1981 when he moved ‘up to the new house’ — he died in 1985. Paddy’s room is accessed by a timber ladder hanging from the ceiling and more and more papers went up that.

We never had any argument about keeping the papers but about 20 years ago, with growing children, not to mention my growing ‘collection’ of letters, maps, GAA material and hundreds of miscellaneous documents, something had to go.

It wasn’t a case of me or the papers, no, I suppose I was getting a modicum of common sense as I neared 40.

Reluctant to simply dump them, I got about 200 tomato cartons, you know, the stackable ones made from light timber, and just shifted the newspapers from the dwelling house out to what we call the Grain House. It was dry and had a good roof and there they sat in the corner for years.

Timber and seats and drama props and old furniture and plastic bags all accumulated around the boxes over the years. The Grain House has timber rafters and of course on frosty winter mornings the moisture just dropped down on the boxes. In recent years, I noticed too an increase in vermin. Sure, warm paper nests were heavenly for the little four- legged creatures!

Meanwhile, back in the farmhouse, Paddy’s room, under the stairs and under the Hot Press didn’t stay vacant for long. I put my hand up now and freely and truthfully admit I’m a hoarder — a compulsive keeper of ‘things’, anything really.

It’s not that I think in the future I’ll find some use for items 30 and 40 years old, but I suppose I love history and any scraps of information I ever gleaned I write them down.

Notebooks are two a penny. Some have ‘interviews’ I did with relations and parishioners down the years. Other notebooks were used for keeping scores of matches and team line-outs and rough minutes of meetings over nearly half a century.

So though the papers were gone, the ‘stuff’ kept gathering at the rate of roughly two boxes a year. I just checked a box from three years ago and amongst other treasures were over 20 letters from diverse parts of the planet from people seeking relatives. While many now send emails, the posted letter still comes very often.

So five years ago, my son Brian converted our old poultry house to a proper repository for documents. He put a new insulated roof on it and dry- lined the walls. Bookshelves were installed and I was thrilled. My GAA collection of over 1,000 programmes along with family history documents and parish history-related material was all housed here.

I’m no way organised and I tend to pile stacks of papers and letters here, so much so that its capacity is now nearly fully taken up.

On May 1, I set myself a task — a major task if the truth be told. My plan is to go through the 50 boxes of material, categorise all the items and then put them in air-tight plastic trunks — I have 20 already purchased. I want to index each container and then in the future I’ll know exactly where everything is.

Now, maybe I’ll give it up as an impossible task after ten or 20 nights at it, but it’s something that has to be done. For research purposes, one needs to be able to find source material easily. I’m not a naturally tidy person but this de-cluttering isn’t so much about discarding things but simply knowing what I have and where it is.

About 30 years ago, James Murphy, a native of Coola in Kildinan, completed huge research on his ancestors. He had spent years working in Dagenham and settled in Castlelyons on his return. He immersed himself in research and produced a huge ‘Murphy’ document. His Murphys and ‘my’ Murphys are distantly related but he was able to make the connection. I have that document somewhere here but for the life of me I cannot find it.

Anyway, in the mid 1980s a Paul Cotter visited this parish from the U.S seeking his roots — his great grandfather had emigrated around 1860. There was a ‘rinsing’ of a link between the Cotters and Murphys so I copied James’s document for them.

Well, lads, the other night and I going through a parcel of assorted correspondence didn’t I find a large brown envelope sent by Paul Cotter’s daughter to me in 1990. Lo and behold, she had returned a fully printed copy of the original family tree — talk about rejoicing at finding the lost sheep in the Bible long ago!

Now I’m not saying my ‘Archives’ are very valuable but it’s important to share information and knowledge with like-minded others into the future. It’s a mammoth task so wish me luck!

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