Each year, one was issued with a ration book, with a set number of coupons allocated to such things as butter, tea, sugar soap and clothes. If you bought say a summer outfit or a winter one, there was no way you could afford to buy a second one in the year; the coupons just didn’t cover it. Of course it was just as important to produce the coupons as the money, when making the purchase. An extremely well known Irish artist stayed at Tigaluinn during those years and after her holiday wrote back for her vest which she had left behind. It wasn't available, the girl cleaning the room having used it as a convenient duster, so she had to be recompensed 4s/6d for the vest and three coupons.
The shopkeeper had to produce these coupons to replace the stock, so you always came armed with your ration book and those of your family, when buying the domestic supply of bread, sugar, tea, butter and soap. The weekly ration of butter was two ounces; sugar ¾lb; tea was down to ½oz a week at one stage. So that Jack Flynn who lived in Chapel Row put all his rations into the teapot on Sunday mornings and went without for the rest of the week. Various alternatives were tried like roasting grated carrots and so on. People keenly missed their tea and the occasions of threshings in particular were agonising for the farmers concerned. It often happened that such and such a shopkeeper had stockpiled before the advent of rationing and tea was available 'under the counter', often at fancy prices, depending on the integrity of the shopkeeper concerned. This happened with other commodities too, such as candles, sweets, biscuits, cigarettes, but most shopkeepers devised their own rationing systems with them and distributed them as fairly as possible to the customers.
One had to be registered for paraffin oil and this was most important in an area like Ardmore, which had no electricity or gas. The bread was brown, as was the flour. Rashers were a luxury rarely encountered. Currants, oranges, bananas never appeared as these had obviously to be imported and valuable shipping space was not generally allocated to unnecessary items. During my teaching period in Youghal, a small child produced a battered orange one day in the playground and all the children crowded round to see and examine the strange object. It had evidently been washed in on the beach and of course, they had never seen one before.
"No jars no jam" was a common place slogan in the shops, but the possession of a jar didn't always ensure a pot of jam. These war time jams were referred to by my father as "and jams", they were never plain strawberry say or blackcurrant, but strawberry and apple or blackcurrant and apple and so on, and we had our suspicions that apple wasn't always the second fruit. An extra ration of sugar was given to beet growers, also to jam makers. Turf cutters were entitled to extra bread rations and we still have a letter of thanks to my father from a man in Araglin. He went there regularly for turf and evidently, the men had had no luck in their application for extra bread. My father filled the form and the bread coupons arrived, so they attributed it to his superior influence with the 'powers that be'. It was probably the result of filling in the form properly.
Fuel was always a problem. Coal wasn't available so the alternatives were timber and turf and the turf was more often than not badly harvested and wet. "Oh the wet turf" is one of the most anguished memories of the war years. Because of this, trains were often late. A friend of mine was on the platform in Tralee one day, awaiting the arrival of the Limerick train, which was very late. On enquiry, she was told by the porter, "Shes shtuck for shtame (steam) in Lishtowel." "Is your journey really necessary" was another emergency saying. Only doctors, priests, hackney drivers, van and lorry drivers had petrol; there were just no other cars in case of helping possible invaders. There were no signposts on the roads. Bicycles were the normal means of transport, even though tyres were scarce and not easily obtained. One was ready to go practically anywhere on a bicycle.
In spite of transport and other difficulties Lord Longford's drama groups and Anew Mac Masters' made frequent visits to the country towns. We often cycled to Youghal and to Dungarvan to see them. On one occasion, Anew Mac Master hired my father's lorry to transport himself and some of the group and the stage props to Tallow. The load was so high that there was a doubt as to whether or not they could get under the Clock Gate in Youghal, but they made it.
All letters to England were censored and of course there was no communication whatever with the continent. Newspapers had only a few pages and the quality of the actual paper was most inferior. T.V. didn't exist and naturally the BBC war bulletins on the radio were strictly censored; however one got the other side of the story from Lord Haw Haw, an Irishman named Joyce who broadcast in English regularly from Germany, giving of course a completely different account. After the war the British hanged him for his pains
The sea area just to the south of the country was heavily mined and ships were also being torpedoed, so many strange things were washed in on the beach. A raft came in to Ballyquin with blankets, chocolate and sealed tins of water, packed in Baltimore, U.S.A. Other rafts came too. Great big heavily compressed bales of rubber were often among the flotsam and jetsam and these were sold to Dunlops in Cork of course. There was plenty of timber to be retrieved.
The mines themselves came floating in too, but thankfully caused no damage, apart from a few broken windows, when these were blown up by some of the military personnel stationed in Youghal, who were sent out on those occasions. The report of the blown up mine could be heard miles away. One particular mine was being washed in one day and was heading for the bend of the storm-wall at the end of the village. Many onlookers blithely watched its course; I myself was on the roof of Tigaluinn observing it, but instead of hitting the wall with terrible consequences, it landed harmlessly on the beginning of the strand. Our safe deliverance was attributed to St. Declan.
There was a ring of 83 lookout posts right around the coast, each one linked by telephone. These were manned day and night and we frequently dropped in to our local one on Ram Head and sat at the fire and chatted and surveyed the logbook. These were accounts of planes and convoys of boats and floating mines and of various explosions. Éire 20 was delineated clearly on the cliff top by large white stones now completely covered by grass and heather.
And then, at last, the war was over, and things gradually got back to normal. There were still shortages; babies were being wheeled around in prams with wooden wheels, no rubber as yet. I got married in November 1945 and had a conventional wedding cake. Two friends married in August of the same year and had none; currants and raisins were still in short supply.
English people began to come over to enjoy good Irish food after their wartime privations. One day in Dublin, a visitor asked me "Could you tell me the origin of……." And I prepared myself for a dissertation on some historical monument, but he finished his question "the peat walls in your Phoenix Park." The government of the day had stockpiled turf along the roads there.
It all seems so incredible now in 1999. Another 'emergency' is unimaginable. Indeed, it is unimaginable, as well we know, next time it wouldn't be merely an emergency; it would be horribly real. May the Lord preserve us from it.
Author: Siobhan Lincoln, T. Mooney, Fritz Hirsch