Hard earned shillings

Jan 3rd, 2014 | By | Category: Personal Columns

It is often the odd things that can most cause a sense of personal hurt. Things like a conversation during Brian Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come! that raises smiles among theatre audiences.

Gar O’Donnell who works for his father, the village shopkeeper in the rural Donegal of the early 1960s, aspires to marry the affluent, middle class Kate Doogan, daughter of a member of the Irish Senate. Kate is anxious that Gar have an income sufficient to support them.

“You’ll have to see about getting more money.”

“Of course I’ll see about getting more money! Haven’t I told you I’m going to ask for a rise?”

“But will he -?”

“I’ll get it; don’t you worry; I’ll get it. Besides I have a – a-a source of income that he knows nothing about – that nobody knows nothing about – ­knows anything about.”

“Investments? Like Daddy?”

“Well … sort of … You know when I go round the country every Tuesday and Thursday in the lorry?”


“Well, I buy eggs direct from the farms and sell them privately to McLaughlin’s Hotel for a handsome profit but he knows nothing about it”.

“And how much do you make?”

“It varies – depending on the time of year”.


“Oh, anything from us 12/6 to £1″.

“Every Tuesday and Thursday?”

“Every month”.

Many people growing up in the country would have been familiar with the extra bit of income brought in by keeping chickens. My Nan kept free range hens that laid big brown eggs, these were collected each day and carefully wiped clean before being placed into cardboard trays. Each tray held dozens of eggs – the filling of them demanded hours of caring for hens and collecting and cleaning eggs. Every so often the egg man would come and collect the eggs, presumably to sell to somewhere else in the manner of Gar O’Donnell.

Having earned money doing jobs like selling vegetables, painting chicken houses, pumping petrol, cutting plants and hoeing fields at various times during student years, there is a sting in audience laughter at Gar earning shillings selling eggs.There were plenty of moments when an extra pound in the pocket at the end of the week would have been something very welcome, and a pound in the days of Gar O’Donnell was worth a lot more than a pound in the 1970s.

Perhaps the hurt is about personal memories, perhaps it runs deeper and is about a sense of being rural in the face of affluent and sophisticated urban dwellers.

Muddy lane


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