The only great-grandparents I’ve been able to find are my father’s grandmother and grandfather. Their surname was Corcoran. They lived in Cork County. They were big sheep dealers, selling their sheep to factories. This was from the 1860s to 1900’s. They passed on around the turn of the century.
I don’t know how big the farm was but it was a mile outside town, on the road to a lake. The farmhouse was joined to a neighbor’s. A long time ago you would have two houses joined together, two farms sharing one yard. It was a long low house, a typical farmhouse. They were very comfortable. They probably led the high life, but my great-grandfather was very strict on the girls.
There were lots of girls. Memmie, my grandmother, would have been one of the daughters. They were all gorgeous looking it seems. Everybody used to watch them going to church because their hats were amazing. This was around the 1860s. There were at least three girls in the family, and a few boys, but I don’t know enough about the boys. My great grandfather was so strict he didn’t allow the girls out at all. My great-grandmother used to feel very sorry for them. When there was a dance on she would help them all steal out the window at night after they had gone to bed. She would pass their clothes out the window and they would get dressed in the outhouses and then go to the dance. My mother told me that, and Memmie, her mother, told her.
My grandfather’s name was Joseph O’Shea. He was a carpenter, and serving his apprenticeship for somebody in Waterford. This would have been in the late 1800s. He came from about 20 miles away. They really didn’t approve of my grandfather at all. He wasn’t good enough. But my grandmother loved him anyway, so she left home and married. He was just a carpenter. He wouldn’t have been in their league at all. I don’t know the story about their wedding, but she probably eloped with him to Waterford. Eventually the family probably reconciled with her.
He started up his own little carpentry trade and he was a brilliant craftsman. It seems he was a perfectionist and very hard to work for because he demanded perfection. He had a few men working for him and I still have people who come in and tell me about him, older men from Waterford who would have been very young boys at the time they worked for him. He used to make carts for donkeys and horses. He always signed his name JOS – Joseph O’Shea- on the shaft of the cart because he was proud of his work. If you were proud of your work in those times you always signed your name on the piece of furniture.
He had a fine workshop at the back and when we were children we used to get into the coffins and cover ourselves with shavings, because he used to make coffins as well. He was successful but he had a lot of mouths to feed. He built his own house, a three-story house in Waterford, in the town just opposite the fountain. There were 14 children in the family. My mother would have been the fourth youngest. She was born in 1918. They wouldn’t have been very well off – put it this way, they had enough to eat.
Memmie died at 49 from an overdose. She used to get terrible migraines and one night the doctor was sent for. He was drunk and he gave her an overdose of morphine and he died. My grandfather went to kill the doctor and had to be held back. In those days doctors weren’t prosecuted because there was no such thing as proof. My mother remembered passing the bedroom and seeing her mother lying dead in the bed just after she had died. She was only 9. My grandfather was heartbroken. He used to make all the coffins and people would come in and book their coffin. They were always beautifully carved. The coffins wouldn’t be lined until they were needed, they would be plain wood. He would shave them, making sure they were smooth on the outside. We used to have great fun lying down inside them. I can still smell the shavings. That’s why I love wood so much, because of that and working with wood, and feeling wood. It stems from there, my love of carpentry, from Grandpap.