John Arnold: Taking stock of my life and family as I reach the big 65!

John Arnold marks a significant birthday this week and reflects on life
John Arnold: Taking stock of my life and family as I reach the big 65!

The wedding of John Arnold’s grandparents, John Twomey and Nora McCarthy.

I DON’T know if my two grandfathers ever met. They might have, as the districts of Bartlemy and Castlelyons are adjoining, writes John Arnold.

Both were sons of the land so it’s very possible that back in the 1920s, they could have been at the same Fermoy Cattle Fair, or even at Bartlemy Horse Fair.

Both John Twomey and Batt Arnold had deeply rooted connections with their ancestral acres. In the Arnold case, it was my grandfather’s father who first took possession of our farm in the 1870s - strangely, another ‘branch’ of the Arnold clan had farmed here 30 years earlier - distant cousins I think.

In the case of the Twomeys from Kilcor, Castlelyons, well, it looks like the first John came there I n the 1830s, marrying an O’Shea girl whose progenitors were in the farm for close on two centuries.

Earlier this week, I celebrated what is often referred to as a ‘significant birthday’, let’s just say I’m only a year away from the Bus Pass!

Well, I had the company of our nine grandchildren and what joy they bring each occasion they call or when we visit them. We always count our blessings to have this new, rising generation all around us and not, like so many, in far-flung places all across the world.

Seeing these young children laugh and play, and maybe cry the odd time too, I surmised about the blessings that grandchildren bring. Who was it that said, ‘If I thought grandchildren were so much fun, I’d have had them first’! It’s pure true, and you know, when people see them or look at pictures of the little faces the reaction is varied and amazing.

‘A real Arnold or a pure Meade’, and ‘she’s a McGrath’, or ‘he’s a Falvey, no doubt about it’, and ‘he’s a Ronayne, no doubt’.

Amazing, isn’t it, how different family traits - high foreheads, dimples, eye colour or hair type, come through down the generations.

My two grandfathers never knew the joy of grandchildren playing on their knee or running round the yard and marvelling at simple things. Mam’s father John died in 1943 aged just 54, after suffering from a heart condition for two and a half years. An only son with four sisters, John Twomey was destined to be the farmer after his own father died in 1921, but he took an unusual path in life. He got a job with the Free State Department of Agriculture. Initially he worked on the Cow Testing (milk recording) Scheme. Later then he got promotion and became a Senior Livestock Inspector in the province of Leinster.

His wife Nora McCarthy (from Leamlara) - the only grandparent I really knew - kept the home fires burning and with two workmen managed the farm.

He inherited a 39 acre farm from his father - the holding the Twomeys were evicted from - and he added more acres to build up a fine farm.

Mam was just 18 when her father died in 1943, and her five siblings all younger. As was the normal ‘naming pattern’ for children when I was born in 1957, I was named after my mother’s father, thus I was christened John in St Patrick’s Church in Cork city. We were all born in the Marie Celine Nursing Home on the Northside of Cork city and baptiwed in the nearby St Patrick’s.

Granny Twomey lived until 1972 and saw a new generation of grandchildren growing up. I was just 14 when she passed away. Amazing the things you’d remember - like, though her husband died in 1943, she always wore black as a widow. 

She had one finger bent completely back after cutting a sinew as a young girl. I often recall her saying, ‘fasting and prayer are good for the sinner but the working man must have his dinner’.

She was a great woman, Granny Twomey, to rear and educate six children and run a farm as well.

Her cousins, the Leahys of Abbeylands, Castlelyons, had a threshing set out on hire to farmers. Someone told me that they were short a man one Saturday and asked my grandfather to help them out. Well, they thrashed that day at McCarthys of Leamlara and young John Twomey came home that night, besotted, and declared: “I saw the girl I’m going to marry today!” He had spotted Nora McCarthy whilst threshing for her father, Dan.

They met at an all Night Dance in Knockeen shortly after that and the rest is history.

My Arnold grandfather, Batt, was born in 1876. He married Nora Barry of Ballard, Castlelyons, and his sister Mary married John Barry - his wife’s brother.

Batt Arnold died in 1951 at the age of 75. That was the year my father and mother met - they were ‘introduced’ while both were ‘staying up at night’ with a dying cousin – ach sin sceal eile!

My parents married in 1952, so, like John Twomey, Batt Arnold never got to see any grandchildren born. His wife lived until 1959 and I barely remember her.

When Dada died in 1961, the five of us were under eight, so history repeated itself and Mam did what her mother had done before her, farming, rearing and educating us.

Amazingly, when I was in St Colman’s there were three of us in the same class all born on Friday, February 8, 1957; Dan and myself, Bartlemy neighbours, are still to the good, but sadly Michael Dennehy from Fermoy is dead many a year now.

We are so lucky to be able to enjoy the company of a new generation now growing up and, though all cousins, they have their individual personalities

I love to think that John Twomey and Batt Arnold, who never had the joy of grandchildren, have passed on some family traits to these great-grandchildren of theirs.

I have lovely pictures of John Twomey, but Batt seemed to be ‘camera shy’ and never did consent to have a photograph taken, though my father Dan was an accomplished photographer.

Still, talking to old neighbours down the years that knew him, I have a mental image of what he looked like. They said he was a good farmer but would never praise himself, indeed he would always ‘talk down’ his crops and stock!

I like to think that maybe one September day around 90 years ago, the Bartlemy farmer and the Castlelyons farmer might have bought or sold a cow or a foal or a sheep. 

Maybe they did a deal and slapped hands to seal it - little did they think that a daughter and son of theirs might one day wed.

Well, they did, and I thought of them the other day on my birthday surrounded by grandchildren.

Another man I tell my grandchildren about is Jim Woods. Son of Bartlemy merchant and shopkeeper John Woods, Jim was a great friend of my father – though much younger.

It was Jim, just 21 years old at the time, who drove my mother at high speed apparently from here to the Nursing Home in Cork on the morning I was born. I think my father was ill at the time so the call went up to Bartlemy Cross for Woods’ car to rush to Cork city.

God bless and keep you Jim, you drove safely and later that day I too arrived safely.

I am so lucky and privileged to have stories like these to tell the next generation.

Seeing their first steps and hearing their sounds become words, first days in school, first games and other activities... but most of all lots of hugs and kisses - priceless.

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