By Mattie Lennon
Matt Toomey was a deserted husband before it was fashionable; it’s a state that many a man would desire but it’s not possible to make a living out of it. So, Matt was a higgler, who in the early part of the twentieth century sold eggs, herrings a and such like from a jennet’s cart around Kylebeg, Lacken , Balliinastockan and further afield.
Matt was illiterate. It’s not politically correct to say that; I should say he had learning difficulties. But I’ve said it now and I know you won’t tell anyone. Anyway recession struck and Matt ‘s business went downhill. Now, when I say recession struck I must explain that in Matt’s case there was a contributory factor. Matt always prided himself on the freshness of his eggs. Well, he bought twelve dozen of eggs, for what seemed to be a good price, from a man called Grace in Dunlavin. Twelve dozen that’s . . e h . . .one hundred and forty four eggs. But what Matt didn’t know was that Mr Grace only had one hen. So, some of the eggs were slightly past what would now be called the “best-before date.” Matt’s customers were not impressed. Anyway he asked, Tom, a friend of his who worked in Dublin if he could get him a job in the big smoke. The friend agreed and told Matt that he would write to him when he had a job secured. Matt reminded him the he couldn’t read and he pointed out between expletives that he certainly wouldn’t ask any of the !$%&* neighbours to read it. “Who read the last letter you got”? asked Tom and Matt told him that he had never got a letter. “well then” said Tom with a great deal of sense, “when you get a letter you’ll know it’s from me.” “But” says Matt “I won’t know what’s in it.” Oh you’ll know all right” says Tom “because there’ll be nothing in it only ‘come on to your work, Matt Toomey.’ ” Matt waited and he waited but no letter came. Income down to almost zero; drastic action had to be taken. He sold his Jennet, locked the door of his little cottage, made his way to Sallins and boarded the train for Queenstown in the county Cork having decided to go to Americay. Matt boarded the liner in Queenstown. And yes I know what you are thinking. You think you’re ahead of me, that the year was 1912 and the ship was the Titanic and that Kylebeg man Matt Toomey drowned in the North Atlantic. Well you’re wrong. It was 1911 and the ship was the Caronia. The Corinia was a steel hulled ship but Matt didn’t know that. So he tapped the timber panelling (the wainscoting) and asked a fellow passenger “is there nothing between me and Eternity only that bit of a board from here to New York?” The other passenger, who must have been a bit of a go-boy, answered in the affirmative and, although the ship hadn’t left the Quay Matt said, “Head her for the ditch there; I’m getting off.” Which he did.
He got on the train for home but it wasn’t long until a thought struck him; America was out. No sign of a job in Dublin. There was nothing for it but to go home any try to rebuild his higgling business. But he had sold his jennet. It was Fair-day in Portarlington so he broke his journey and bought another jennet. ( He would later tell people that he bought a jennet in the County Portarlington.) He spent the night in Portarlington. The next day was Sunday the day of the 1911 All Ireland football final at Jones’s Road. Cork was playing Antrim (Cork won by the way ;the score was Cork ; 6 goals and 6 points and Antrim 1 goal and 2 points. There were 11000 at the match. I remember it well! ) Anyway when he went to board the train for the remainder of his journey it was packed. He would manage to squeeze in but there was certainly no room for the jennet. Matt hit on a plan; he tied the jennet to back of the rear carriage of the train. Matt was a man, like myself, who wasn’t used to being in the company of an enthusiastic sports supporters but he settled into his journey. As the train picked up speed he asked a Cork supporter who had all the appearances of a seasoned traveller “what speed are we doing now”? “about sixty miles an hour, boy, I’d say” says the Corkman. “ “ be Gob” says Matt “The jennet is fairly tipping it now.”