independent

Wednesday 24 May 2017

Time stood still at house

The house in Ballygarrett dates back to the 17th century.
The house in Ballygarrett dates back to the 17th century.
One moment in time: image captured by Michael Fortune at the house which has now been demolished.
The house in Ballygarrett dated back to the 17th century.
Michael Fortune

David Tucker

Heritage and folklore expert Michael Fortune has recorded for posterity the faded remains of the lives of two late Wexford bachelors whose time-warp home recently gave way to the march of progress.

Michael said that a few weeks ago, he visited the home of Johnny Fortune and Jack Kehoe from Ballyoughna, Ballygarrett, who had lived together in the two-storey house which dated back possiblly to the 17th Century.

'Both men passed away some years back and growing up I only knew them from a distance. Even though Johnny was a Fortune, he was no relation,' said Michael, who is working with the county council on the dresser project which documents kitchen dressers through a combination of photography, film and story in five counties including Wexford.

Michael told this newspaper he remembers the two bachelors as a child growing up and recalls one story about how they slept in separate adjoining bedrooms, but knocked a hole in the wall so they could talk to each other at night.

Jack died several years ago and had been preceded by Johnny who died at the turn of the century, but since their departure the old house, which dates back to at least the 1830s, had been left untouched and virtually frozen in time with crockery on the dresser and even a bottle of water left in place, all coated in years of dust and grime. Michael told how he came to visit and explore the old house.

'I'd heard that their house including their dresser remained untouched since the day the men passed away and in the same breath I heard that the semi-derelict house was to be knocked down and a new home built.

'So in February I contacted the owner who told me to document or save whatever I could, as a digger was coming in March. 'It's a strange feeling going through the home of someone I didn't really know apart from just the anecdotal stories about what characters they were etc. It felt sad, it felt invasive and it felt wrong. But it was also an opportunity that was offered to me. 'It's sad in some ways, but without it, all of what was there would be gone and now some is being preserved,' he said. There were many classic pieces of farm furniture and objects in the house from old forums, tables, chairs, larders, butter churns, and butter stamps. There were even unused bags of bluestone for spraying the potatoes.

'However, my real delight was when I came across boxes of damp diaries and photos. I haven't had a chance to look at these in great detail but some stretched back to the late 1800s.

'Just turning the pages of a series of small diaries that Johnny kept from between the 1930s and the 1960s was a real eye opener,' he said. Michael said the diaries document a way of life in that period in Wexford, so it's sad in some ways, but then there is also a man who is starting a new life in a new home where the old house stood, with ancient piers recovered from the thorns and briars from the old forming part of the new.

He said the diaries highlight that Johnny was far removed from the widely held image of 'a backward farmer' and instead showed him as a careful and ordered man, with meticulously neat handwriting, who accounted for and documented every pound, shilling and penny spent.

Michael is working on a project called abouthisspace.ie which maps 'anything folkloric around Ballygarrett'.

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