The owner of the house, Helen, and her family can trace their ancestors and previous owners of the cottage back more than 160 years. Originally the house had only one room, but at some point, a partition wall was erected to make two separate rooms. There was also no bathroom in the cottage which is still a feature of the house today.

Who Lived Here?

In the mid-1800s, John Delaney and his wife lived in the small cottage where their eight daughters were born. However, it’s not clear where all eight women eventually ended up. Some may have left Ireland, some may have stayed, but one of the daughters, Ann, became Helen’s great-grandmother.

Memories passed down through the family recall John Delaney waiting at the large open turf fire in the kitchen for his baby to be born. Upon the arrival of his eighth daughter, the midwife told John, “You have another little washerwoman,” to which John replied, “And she is as welcomed as the first.”

It’s understood that the cottage became isolated though at some point when the eight girls grew up, perhaps after their parents passed away. However, one of the eight daughters, Ann, and her husband, Thomas (Tom) Barron (married in November 1903) would eventually reclaim the family home and make it their own.

Ann and Tom Barron.

Tom Barron, originally from Chatsworth in Clogh, was a local farm-hand getting work wherever he could in the surrounding areas of County Kilkenny and Laois and living in several neighbouring areas with his wife and children. But one day, rather than occupy another rented house, Tom kicked in the door of his wife’s idle family home, lit the fire, and raised their five children, Margaret (Maggie), Ann (Nan), Kate (Katie), Philip (Phe), and John in this cosy two-roomed house.

The Unique Characteristics of the House

The house and its adjoining garden that sit beneath Clogh bridge, next to Clogh River, still remain in the family today. In the house, there still survives a handmade wooden settle bed that Tom made from an ash tree in the garden and was built on the kitchen floor of the cottage. It has never left the house since. The handcrafted settle bed was used as a bench to sit on but was also pulled out as a sleeping cot in which all Tom and Ann’s children slept in, using straw for bedding. This multi-functional settle bed is a typical design of the original, vernacular furniture that existed during this time in Ireland.

(Left) Tom and Ann Barron with their daughter, Margaret (Maggie).

(Right) The settle bed built by Tom Barron from an ash tree.

The family members of the house were also waked in the settle bed before their funerals, including Tom Barron himself who died in 1956, and his wife, Ann who died in 1947. This authentic settle bed is a cherished component of the house and has never left the front door since Tom built it on the kitchen floor that day.

Tracing the Family Line to the Present Family

The whole family stayed together in the house until the early 1920s when Maggie emigrated to America. She lived in Springfield, Massachusetts where she worked as a housekeeper for an Irish-American family there. She returned home to see her parents in 1938 but when World War II broke out, she decided to stay with her family. Tom and Ann’s children resided together in the cottage even after their parents’ death.

Ann Barron (front) and Maggie Barron (right) with friend

Maggie later moved to Dublin where she married but left in 1942 with her six-week-old daughter, having separated from her husband. She returned to this little house by the river to live with her family, and raise her daughter with them.

Their sister, Ann (Nan) got married to a local man, John O’Neill, and left the home, eventually having four daughters of her own. Their youngest brother John, who Philip would later describe as very shy and innocent, died in 1944 at the age of 28, possibly from pneumonia. Since John was shy around cameras, there are no photographs of him, but his siblings made sure to keep his memory alive with stories of their brother for his descending family members.

Maggie Gallagher, née Barron’s passport photo, Kate (Katie) Barron, Philip Barron holding Helen Kealy (the current owner of the house).

Katie Barron worked in Kilkenny, about 30km from Clogh, for the Crotty family — a well-known, entrepreneurial family who owned a popular bakery in the city. Katie took care of the Crotty children as well as cleaned and cooked for them. She would spend most of her time in Kilkenny, visiting her home in Clogh from time to time. Years later, she returned home where she lived out the rest of her days in the little old house with her family. She died in 1981, aged 72.

(Top left) Kaite Barron and Margaret Kealy with Helen Kealy (Top right) Katie Barron holding Helen Kealy.

(Bottom left) Kaite Barron (Bottom right) Katie Barron holding Catherine Kealy, Helen’s sister.

Philip Barron worked in Fleming's Fireclays, a brick factory in the neighbouring village of The Swan — about 4km from Clogh which he cycled to and from every day. It’s believed that the brick chimneys at either end of the cottage were built with ceramic pots made in the factory where Philip worked. When he wasn’t working, Philip spent many days tending to the flowers and vegetables in the adjoining garden of the house. He spent many summer evenings after work sowing potatoes, carrots, lettuce, rhubarb, onions, scallions, beetroot, cabbage, tomatoes, and radish which were all cooked in the little cottage. This house and the people who lived in it were self-sufficient with their own vegetable garden, pigs, and chickens. Everything they needed they provided themselves.

(Top) Philip Barron, Casey Dempsey, Tommy Nash, Paddy Maguire, Larry Fitzpatrick, Johnny Deighton at Fleming's Fireclays.

(Bottom) Philip Barron laughing with Ann Kealy and his great-grandnephew, James Dunne.

Tom and Ann, their children Philip, Katie, and Maggie along with Maggie’s new daughter, Margaret, all lived in the two-roomed house together. The family raised their beloved new baby as a team, helping out their much-loved daughter and sister, Maggie who was now a newly-single mother.

Margaret was raised in a unique but loving environment at home with her mother and her mother’s family. Margaret would have also spent every night sleeping in the wooden settle bed that her grandfather, Tom built decades before. Margaret’s mother, Maggie died in 1973 at the age of 68.

A brief visual of the Phil Barron House family tree. From John and Margaret Kealy's line, there are also 12 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Philip Barron holding Marguerite (Mag) Doyle, née Kealy; Katie Barron holding James Kealy; Margaret Kealy; Maggie Gallagher holding Helen Kealy-Dunne.

Eventually, Maggie’s little baby, Margaret, grew up and would soon begin growing her own family. One day, when Margaret was on her way to a local dance in Clogh, a cheeky young lad on a scooter passed her but didn’t avoid the murky puddle of water next to her. He drove straight through the pool of water, drowned Margaret, and kept driving. She would tell him off later that evening when she saw him at the same dance but he must have charmed her somewhat because they eventually started courting, got married, and had five children together.

(Top left) A visiting priest from South America outside Phil Barron’s House in the 1970s who stopped to take a photo. He later sent the photo back to the family who lived in the house. (Top right) Philip Barron. (Bottom left) Philip Barron (Bottom middle) Katie Barron on the right with her friend, Susie Looney. (Bottom right) Maggie Gallagher standing with her cousin, Mary Wallace (a descendent of one of the eight women originally born in the house and Maggie’s cousin) holding Helen Kealy.

In 1965, Margaret and the guy on the scooter, John Kealy, married and had a baby girl called Helen, the current owner and caretaker of the old house. Later, Margaret gave birth to Marguerite (Mag), James, Catherine, and Michele. The house is a treasure for the family and its upkeep is imperative for their family history as well as the local heritage of Clogh. Between Margaret and John’s five children, there are now 12 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, and almost all of them knew Philip (Phe) Barron.

May Delaney Gallacher from Cleland, Motherwell, Scotland, a cousin of the Kealy family standing outside of Phil Barron’s House in the 1980s.

Life Living in This Little Old Lady

Life living in this little house was snug but it also came with its own unique way of living that many of us in modern homes take for granted. Helen’s sister, Mag, lived in the house from three months old until she was five — children living with other family members was a custom often done in Irish families in the 1960s. Even today, Mag has memories of Philip and his sister Katie being nervous living in a thatched house as they were more vulnerable to wind, storms, fires, and loiterers passing by — something we don’t consider when living under a secured tiled roof today.

(Top) A photo of Phil Barron, Anna May Tracey, and her husband, Jimmy with the kind permission of their daughter, Marie Ní Threasaigh, in the 1970s standing outside of the house as it’s being thatched.

(Bottom) Margaret Kealy, née Gallagher on her First Communion with her mother, Maggie.

After his sisters died, Philip Barron, remained living in the house until 1990. After suffering from a stroke, he moved in with his niece, Margaret and her husband, John, in The Swan, Co. Laois — where he originally worked in Fleming’s Fireclays. Philip, who was a father-figure to Margaret, passed the house to her in the 1980s, and in due course, Margaret then passed the house to her daughter, Helen in 1999.

Philip died in 2001 at the age of 89. Three years after her uncle’s death, Margaret Kealy died in 2004, aged 61. To this day, the family believe that Margaret and Philip’s bond could not be severed. Her children say she died of a broken heart and they are buried together in Clogh graveyard.

(Left) Margaret Gallagher, née Barron (Right) Philip Barron with his niece, Margaret Kealy, née Gallagher standing at the half-door of the house.

(Left) Margaret Kealy, née Gallagher (Right) Kaite Barron with Margaret Kealy, holding Margaret’s daughter, Helen.

There is also an important Dublin connection to the little thatched house. Frank Gallagher of Sandycove, Dún Laoghaire married Maggie Gallagher, née Barron of Clogh in the 1940s. Their daughter Margaret was raised in the cottage and would eventually pass the house onto her daughter, Helen.

(Top left and middle) Frank Gallagher young. (Top right) Frank Gallagher’s memory card.
(Bottom left) Frank Gallagher second man to the left. (Bottom right) Frank Gallagher on the far right.

Clogh and the Coal Mining Industry

The significance of the coal mining industry in Clogh and the surrounding areas was prevalent as most people in the village were employed in the neighbouring collieries. Coal mining began in the area in the 1640s, and by the late 1800s, seven or eight mines existed. In the 1920s, Tom Barron was part of a team that sunk the Deerpark Mines, the largest opencast coal mine in Ireland, just 3km from the village of Clogh. The sinking of this coal mine would become a flourishing source of income and employment for the area.

YouTube video by the Castlecomer Discovery Park on the Deerpark Mines

After the Great Famine of 1845-1849, many coal-mining families emigrated to Heckscherville, Pennsylvania. The coal mining industry there provided transportation, employment, and homes to those who agreed to move. Many of the descendants of these Irish coal miners still travel to Ireland today in search of their roots and information on their families.

Helen’s own father, John Kealy also comes from an extensive coal mining background, dating back hundreds of years. So, the significance of coal mining and its heritage are important for the owner since both sides of her family were coal mining labourers. As the song by Loretta Lynn goes, “I was born a coal miner’s daughter.” However, with Helen’s family’s colourful coal mining background, she can say, “I was born a coal miner’s daughter, granddaughter, great-granddaughter, great-great-granddaughter, and proud of it.”

(Top) Phil Barron’s House c. 2005.

(Bottom) Helen Kealy-Dunne outside of the house c.1999.

Clogh’s coal mining community was immense and the conditions of working in the mines were hazardous for its labourers. Clogh people speak of hearing the distinct “miner’s cough” from the young and old who worked underground to provide for their families. It is said that the miner’s cough could be heard echoing from each little house as you walked by.

YouTube video by the Castlecomer Discovery Park of John Kealy, his brother Peter, and colleagues working the coal mines and being interviewed by Liam Nolan for RTE. The current owner, Helen, can also be seen in the background of this footage on the 30th of August, 1979 — her 14th birthday.

As a result of the harsh working conditions, most of the workers suffered from emphysema or coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP). Tom Barron was one of the miners who would experience the effects of these dangerous working environments. He died of a lung condition in 1956.

Clogh village heritage sign.

How Old Is the House?

It’s difficult to say when exactly the house was built, as there are few features that can correctly date traditional buildings of this sort. However, the house is recorded on an Ordnance Survey (OS) map from 1839-1840, which suggests that the house was likely built long before 1839 when this map was surveyed.

OS Map of Clogh from the 1830s-1930s. Image Credit: Ordnance Survey Ireland.

A Shortcut to Phil Barron’s

A poem by Willie-Joe Meally, January 2016

Willie-Joe is a descendent of one of the eight women born in the house to the original Delaney couple.

We walk towards the new line, my hand in hers,
Shadows shorten across the old fields
Our breaths mingle
And I full of excitement.

We pass Number Six pithead
Night creeps in,
Bushes bend and creak
I tighten my grip,
Ah, don’t mind that now a mhic
No need to be afraid
These fields are safe.
I enquire about the fairies
Yes but we can’t disturb them.
I loosen my grip.

Lamps flicker in Boland’s,
The Birdie’s and Long Martin’s,
A cow bawls in the haggard.
Larue is a peaceful place, she whispers.
Every stile different
Some high some low,
Sometimes a running board over a stream,
Ger Baker’s thatch sparkles against the moonlight
His sheepdog follows us to the next stile.
Mother knows her way through Lowry’s Bassets
We hear The Deen tipping over weirs,
The cool river air
Like needles against my legs.

At Massford Bridge we rest
I want to stay here,
But she takes me over another stile
And we head for Coultha.
Crossing Buggy’s Beam,
Is it much longer?
We’re nearly there, a mhic.

Now I hear water tumbling near Clogh Bridge.
We cross the last stile
And walk on this distant road
Until we enter a half-doored heaven
Of smiles and handshakes
An open coal fire
And gestures of tea and currant cake

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