Monday 19 March 2018


So was it all twinsets and pearls for Irish housewives in the 1950s?

Not a bit of it, says Limerick woman Maura Clohessy. Maura got married in 1956 to a man she'd first met at a dance in Galway. She and Willie were engaged for two years before they eventually tied the knot, as Willie insisted they had their own house first.

So they saved like mad – Maura at her job in Roches Stores and Willie in his job at a local grocers – and bought a house in the Limerick suburb of Rosbrien for £340.

"I paid double that for a door last year," Maura laughs. "There was great excitement getting the house ready. Willie re-did every bit of it. I'm still here to this day."

The day she got married, Maura had to give up her job at Roches because of the marriage bar. But she was happy to do so.

"There was only one thing in my life, and that was to get married and to own a house. I was delighted to stop working. All of my friends were in the same boat, so it didn't matter."

Maura remembers life at their little home in the 1950s as simple but happy. The house had electricity, but no running water inside. The toilet was out the back.

"There were no baths or showers: you washed yourself as far as possible in the kitchen," remembers Maura. "Washday for clothes and sheets was always a Monday. You'd boil the kettle and the saucepan, and you'd rinse the whites in cold water first and then boil them. Then we used the washboard."

"I cooked on a gas cooker my mother-in-law bought me. I loved to bake, so everything in that line – like bread and cakes – I made myself."

Most of the shopping was done at the weekend, but because she had no fridge, Maura bought meat fresh every day from the butchers. Dinner was in the middle of the day, when Willie would come home from work for an hour. The rest of the day was taken up with chores.

When the couple's first child was born in 1958, the Clohessys built an extension, which gave them an inside bathroom at last. And Maura got a long-awaited fridge and washing machine.

"When we got the fridge it was like all my birthdays had come at once. It meant I didn't have to go to the butchers every day. You had your milk fresh and you could keep all the food away from flies."

The family didn't have a car until much later on, so their social life revolved around playing cards with friends who lived nearby.

"We went playing cards three nights in the week. Our friends would come to us or we'd go to them. We'd just have a cup of tea or a sandwich. There was no question of drink or anything, you'd only have a drink at Christmas."

"We were poor, but we were happy because we didn't know any different."

Maura doesn't envy young mothers today. "I think it was easier for us, to be honest," she says.

"They can't give up their jobs because they've had big wages and then it's very hard to come down.

"But in my day it was different. The house and the children were everything. They were my life."

Irish Independent

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