With nine million chocolate Easter eggs being eaten in Ireland over Easter, I wondered if our children have any idea what life was like for our parents and grand-parents.
My grandfather, Michael Brody, operated a general store, grocery, hardware, provisions, drapery, apothecary and fuels dealer. He also traded as a licenced egg wholesaler in Killimor, near drapery, apothecary and fuels dealer. He also traded as a licenced egg wholesaler in Killimor, near Portumna, Co.Galway, for nearly sixty years. From the time he opened the shop in 1914, each day his 'travelling shop' or a lorry went around the countryside, from country story to village shop, all over the Sliabh Aughty mountains, in south Galway and north Clare, buying eggs from the little local shops, who in turn had bought them from local farms, almost exclusively from the womenfolk, whose responsibility the farms' chickens was. They earned their 'pin-money' from the eggs, and that was so important before the advent of Childrens Allowance, which was only introduced in the 1950's.
'Boss Brody' would then have the eggs washed, graded, checked for freshness, dated and stamped and with his 'Egg Dearer's registered number', packed onto cardboard trays, and then layered carefully in wooden crates, each crate holding several 'gross' of eggs (a gross was 144). When he had a full load, his lorry would be driven, carefully, to the Port of Dublin, for onwards shipment to Liverpool or Hollyhead via the mail-boat, from where the eggs would be brought by train to the 'Egg Exchange Market', at Covent Garden, in London, to be sold.
It was a good business, but with plenty of hassles, including getting paid by his London agent, which often left my grand-father in a precarious financial position, especially during The Emergency, during WWII. Cash was king during the war, but Grandad's cash was already spent, paying the smaller shops for their eggs, while his dealer might take 30 days or even more credit before paying him. My mum told me this was a regular difficulty for Grandad. That wasn't the only problem with eggs. You could be 'had' too, as lots of eggs were already 'off' when bought by the shops, as back then, hens laid their eggs under hedges or in outhouses around the farmyard, so sometimes the eggs might be old, or less than fresh, by the time they were found, or they might even be half-hatched. Buying fresh eggs was an art. Grandad had to suffer a government 'Egg-inspector's' visit each week, whose job it was to ensure standards were adhered to. As chickens don't lay eggs much in the winter-time, and a lack of refridgeration back then, in order to keep them fresh for use over the winter months, eggs were preserved before shipping, by coating them in a vaseline solution before shipping. Yes, eggs were a messy bsuiness indeed.
Grandad loved to spin a good story to us, his grand-children. He often told me the story of how back in the 'forties, his truck took a bend near Eyrecourt, just a little too too fast and ended up tipping over into the field, with egg crates tossed everywhere, though miraculously, hardly a one broke. They heeled the truck back on its axles, reloaded the eggs and took off for the boat.
Another time he got an urgent call to bring eggs to an American liner in Galway Bay. He was delighted with the wind-fall order and hurriedly loaded the new lorry that he had just taken delivery of. It was a little bigger than the old one and a little higher, and a little shinier and my grandad was really proud of it. So proud was he that he decided to drive the lorry to Galway himself, though with very little time to spare to catch the ship before she sailed with the tide. He took off at a mighty pace, in through Gurtymadden to Loughrea, on to Craughwell and Oranmore, then in by the old Galway road behind Merlin Park, under the railway bridge, for which the truck was just 8 inches too high. The bridge took the top row of egg crates clean off the top of the truck, leaving the biggest omellette in Galway in the middle of the road. Despite the mishap, and his embarrassment, he made the ship, and then hit straight over to to Athenry to have a new creel made or the truck, one that was a foot lower.
This little story posted by a friend of mine, Karin Joyce who lives in Boston, about her mother's memories of Easter eggs in the 'thirties, brought a smile to my face, and right back to Grandad's shop in Killimor. How different things were back then, our children cannot even imagine what austerity was.
'Happy Easter to you all. I think of my mother on Easter as she loved to have an egg and especially on Easter morning. Once she was in the hospital and was delighted to tell us that all the patients got a dyed egg that morning. It stemmed from her childhood. As a child in Ballacurra, Co. Galway, she never had a whole egg except on Easter. Being one of 17, her mother sold the eggs to Glynn's shop. Her granny was the only one to get an egg during the year. Granny would give the children turns and give them the top of her egg. I told my mother she must have had to wait her turn for two weeks. My mother, Katie Monahan and her sisters were so happy and proud to have an egg on Easter morning that they dribbled the yolk on their chins and went to mass to show everyone they got an egg'.