Design a site like this with
Get started


Memoirs of my Grandfather Ian Kerr Bruce

Ian Kerr Bruce was born January 6, 1911 on the estate of Newtown Anner House, just outside the town of Clonmel, County Tipperary, Ireland. He wrote this memoir of his childhood in Ireland before he came to the U.S. at the age of 12 with his family.

My Grandfather Ian Kerr Bruce at a soccer match in Pasadena, California circa 1935

I was born on one of the few days in Irish history when there was a foot of snow on the ground and the temperature was well below freezing, at home in a two story house on the Duchess of St. Alban’s estate on January 6th, 1911.

I was the third son of Scottish parents who seemed to agree that they wanted children but spaced their births at three-year intervals.  Their last child was a girl so apparently they felt that this made their family complete.  

My mother was very pretty, with a quick temper and a gentle soul.  My father was a wiry Scotsman with bushy hair and eyebrows, small in statue but not in stature, with a tremendous amount of energy and drive.  He managed the large estate which included acres of gardens and a large farm.  

Newtown Anner House

Estates in Ireland were grants from the Kings of England and the cause for much resentment by the Irish.  Each estate was like a little kingdom in itself and very self-sufficient.  Practically all food was grown or raised within the confines of the estate and all services with a few exceptions were performed by the people living on the grounds.  In the winter, for example, ice was cut from the ponds and stored with a heavy sawdust cover in an underground ice-house.  (This made a great place for us to play but was of great concern to our mother).

The “Big House” – Newtown Anner House
Our house on the Duchess of St. Alban’s Estate

The big house, as we called the Duchess’ castle, was never at want for ice to make ice cream or cocktails.  Three excellent carpenters lived with their wives and families on the estate and had the ability to build anything from houses to fine furniture.

Twenty gardeners, who lived in a “bothy” on the grounds, attended to the raising of vegetables and fruit and kept the lawns, walks, and flowerbeds in perfect condition.  Even though the Duchess maintained two automobiles with attendant mechanics and drivers, most of the ordinary transportation was by horse, jennet, or donkey hitched to small carriages called “traps”.  Every Saturday mother would “drive” to town, a distance of about five miles, to do the weekly shopping for clothing, flour, condiments, or just to visit friends.  She usually took me alone (until my sister grew bigger) and I can remember very clearly the compassion she had for our pony.  

There were four hills between the estate and the town.  Going up the hills, Mother would get out and walk to lighten the load for our pony, and going down the hill she would also walk because the pony had a tendency to bolt.  It was a treat, of course, to go to town each weekend and I looked forward to buying a bag of licorice candy or a Mediterranean orange.

Ireland impresses most people with its delightful greenness  and this is particularly true of southern Ireland.  It is also very lush with many little meandering streams and rivers.  I just couldn’t wait for the warm summertime when shoes and stockings came off and the spongy grass squeezed up between my toes.  These were the days when a dinner fork tied to a stick made a great fishing spear to catch the small brown trout which were abundant in the streams and ponds.  These were the days, also, when I loved to walk into a wheat field and lie spread eagled to watch the sky and the ever moving pattern of the clouds.  

A large rookery of crows lived in a grove of trees across the field from our house.  Many attempts were made to get them to move on but to no avail.  A troublesome, noisy lot, they were constantly getting caught in the nets protecting the fruit in the kitchen garden.  Finally, a dozen of the gardeners decided to do some hunting and they all feasted on crow pie for the next few nights.  (Crows taste very much like wild pigeon which are also plentiful in that part of Ireland.)  The remaining crows wheeled and cawed for two days over their decimated home among the trees.  Then, suddenly they disappeared except for a group of about a dozen who landed in the large rhododendron tree next to the front door of the castle and stayed for five days in noisy protest to the Duchess.  Then, they too disappeared.

One of the favorite games of Irish boys was played with horse chestnuts.  A string was strung through the toughest nut you could find and knotted.  Each boy would take turns in trying to break the other’s nut by swinging at it as hard as possible.  The one with the hardest nut usually won but not until there were many barked knuckles and some black eyes.

There, also, was a game called “cat and dog” played regularly in the school yards.  It is played with a small six inch stick sharpened at both ends.  Then, with a longer stick for a bat you make the small stick jump in the air by striking a pointed end and swatting it like a baseball.  The one who hit the farthest distance won the game.  This gentle little pastime also developed cauliflower ear on many passersby.  

One of the national games in Ireland is a type of hockey called Shinty and is played by teams from two counties.  Starting on the county line, the game may last for days with the winning team having the ball in the other’s county.  This game, of course, is really legalized homicide with many players being hospitalized on both sides.

Royal Irish Constabulary

During WWI, Ireland was very sympathetic with the Germans.  The main reason was that the Irish hated the English more.  They didn’t mind the Scottish people, I guess they figured that we had been overrun by the damn English too.  Many Allied troops were trained in Southern Ireland and the Irish tried to sabotage the movement and training of those troops as much as possible.  In our area the main road was continually being blocked by felled trees.  Just as soon as the two or three trees were cleared away, two or three more came down.  It got to be a great game with youngsters guessing which trees would go down next and on what day.  So much disruption was being caused, the government finally sent out a detachment of the Royal Irish Constabulary to try to restore quiet.  Their arrival really scared us because they rode into town in full regalia with helmets bearing a small spear on top.  We had just been reading about the German Black Uhlans and we thought for certain that we had been invaded.  I ran the whole way home to alert my folks.  

German Black Uhlan Cavalry

Being born of Scottish parents, but living in Ireland, my folks decided that their Scottish ancestors should not be forgotten – so they sent to Scotland and bought me a kilt with a sporran and the works.  

King Robert the Bruce
The Bruce Family
Colorized photo of my older brothers Alan and William wearing kilts, and me.

They made me go to school in this outfit, much to my embarrassment and the amusement of the other pupils.  For the first week I had to prove many times over that I wasn’t a girl.  When I think back now, I’m glad  that they gave up on an idea that I should play the bagpipes.  I never could (and never will) like the noise of that squealing octopus.

When my folks gave up on the bagpipes they launched me on a career in piano and sent me to a nearby convent for lessons.

I felt that this was for me and I took to the instrument readily, although I never could get my left hand to keep time with my right.  About this time, also, I wondered (being left-handed) why they didn’t make left-handed pianos with the high keys on the left hand side.  However, I stuck to it and after a full year of lessons I received a certificate showing that I had completed the primary course and I also got a letter to take home to my folks which read very nicely but pleading with them not to send me back.  I didn’t let this upset me because about this stage I was in love with Pearl White who was playing in a serial which was running at the local theater at the same hour that I had to take my piano lessons.

There were many poachers on the estate.  These were men who climbed the fence and set traps for rabbits and other game.  I became acquainted with many of these people and learned their tricks quickly.  I did not realize they were outside the law and fortunately, being on the quiet side, I never mentioned them either to my father or the game warden.  

One thing they taught me was how to catch trout with my bare hands.  This is the way it’s done:  Spotting a nice fat fish under an overhanging bank you mark the exact spot.  Then, by going upstream a few yards, you carefully muddy the water.  Lying down on the bank above the fish you wait until the muddy water floats down, hiding any movement of your hand and you can reach in and quietly grab the fish by the gills without trouble.  

In fact I have actually tickled some trout and had them not move their position.  Besides catching trout by hand another nastier method used by poachers was to throw a small dynamite stick into a pool, gather up the fish and disappear over the fence before anybody could get near the area.  

The closest seaside town to our area was called Waterford.  Every summer my whole family would pack up and spend one week in this quaint Irish port.  My recollections of those trips are of the little narrow streets, the fish mongers with their carts and the horribly cold water.  The beach was very stony and the brave people who went swimming had quite a time getting into the water.  But it was always fun to find shells and discover all the small sea life that lived among the rocks.

I remember on the first visit I gathered dozens of them in a bucket to take them back home for further study.  My folks didn’t know that I had this secret project until a week later my room began to reek of dead fish and I was marched out by the ear and handed a shovel to bury them immediately.  

As further stern treatment, I even had to take a bath and it wasn’t yet Saturday night.  I hated taking baths as all kids my age did and may still do.  Bathing was quite a ritual at our house.  Our tub was a large half of a wooden barrel and all the water was heated on the wood stove in large buckets.  Plenty of homemade soap was used and at the end you had to stand up and be rinsed off with a bucket of cold water – yelling at the top of your lungs during the process.   Usually, there was more water on the floor than in the tub at the finish.

Ian Bruce age 10

It seems everybody in Ireland owns a dog of some sort and our family was no exception.  Father had a particular love for Irish Terriers, so we always had an Irish Terrier as part of our family.  These dogs were about the size of an Airedale, red-brindle in color, and noted for their fighting abilities and spirit.  I think they would take on a lion as quickly as dive on a mouse and very protective.  Wherever any of my family went, there also went our beloved companion Tippy.  Tippy could run down rabbits and grouse with ease and would even dive into streams after fish, although I don’t believe he ever caught one. 

Irish Terrier
Irish Terrier
English Bulldog

In fights with neighboring dogs he always came out first until he met up with the ancient English Bulldog Squatty who belonged to the estate next door.  He was accompanying me on a rabbit hunt at the east fence line when he tangled with this dog.  As soon as each laid eyes on the other one, both dogs got a death grip on each other and nothing I could do could get them apart.  I tried to dislodge them for fifteen minutes, finally gave up, and ran the three quarters of a mile to get my father to help.  

When we got back to the fight they were still locked on to each other.  By this time thirty-five minutes had elapsed and neither dog was about to give up.  Father and I solved this problem by grabbing each dog by his hind legs and throwing them, still locked together, into the river.  This did the trick, but I still wonder if they would have died of starvation rather than let go their grip.

My father was a person who was very intense about anything he ever tackled.  So it was, when he decided that he wanted to play the violin, he bought one and started to play it.  How many years he practiced I do not know but in my earliest recollections of him he was very proficient at the “fiddle” and even turned to teaching mother to play.  He never had a lesson in his life and never could read music  but was in great demand for all of the community dances. 

The Irish are great fun-loving people and at that time their biggest entertainments were these get-together dances which usually were held every month at somebody’s house.  I can still remember driving home in our pony trap in the early morning from these affairs, after my father had played for four or five straight hours.  

I usually slept in the cloakroom of somebody’s house after staying awake as long as possible to watch the people doing the jigs and polkas that were popular at that time.  Father had boundless energy and would appear at work as usual by 6 a.m as if he had slept all night.  As I recall he even started making his own violins when he ran out of something to do for amusement.  He completed two or three before deciding that it was easier to buy one than build one.

He died at the age of 93 and could still entertain people with his fiddle, playing all the old Irish and Scottish songs, up until a few weeks before he passed on.  He had a prodigious memory for songs of all types and could accompany most of them with amusing parodies, replacing regular verses as written.  I’ll bet right now he’s playing his instrument for angel’s dances

Lord Osborne, who was the Duchess of St. Alban’s son, travelled to all corners of the globe.  He was an inveterate collector of the arts but he also had many other interests that ranged from women to botany.  As for his women interest, he entertained scores of beautiful ladies in a lavish manner at the castle.  His parties were famous, or infamous depending on your point of view, but he never picked a favorite and never settled down to “domestic” life until later in his life, at age 43.  

Lord Osborne Beauclerk

Most of my recollection of Lord Osborne was when he was either leaving on one of his trips or returning with one of his many trunks or boxes.  He never failed to look up my folks and tell of his new adventures.  He loved to come to tea and sample mother’s scones and blackberry jam.  He also never failed to give my sister, my brother and I a pat on the head and a penny to spend on the next trip to town.  

My father always knew that when Lord Osborne made one of his trips he would receive several crates of exotic plants shipped from whatever country was being visited.

Through the years the botanical gardens of the estate grew in prominence until they became quite a show place, visited by many people from many lands.  It was at this time that I saw my first American, a flashy, large Texan who talked in a very loud voice.  For years my impression of Americans was based on this experience, an impression I had a hard time changing.

One of the experiences Lord Osborne related to my folks, and I overheard by listening outside the window, was his trip to the Klondike and how he panned for gold.  He was a fascinating story teller, relating not only the facts of his trip but also his feelings and impressions of death when he almost died of hypothermia, to be rescued at the last hour by some Indians.  He showed samples of gold nuggets but pointedly never said whether he had found them or not.

As I think about him now, he was not like a typical titled Englishman, although he had all the polish, but he was more like one of our American frontiersman out of the pages of history books.

Right, Lord Osborne Beauclerk in Klondike, Canada

Biography of Lord Osborne:

Lord Osborne Beauclerk was the son of William Beauclerk, 10th Duke of St Albans; his mother was Grace Bernal-Osborne of Tipperary, Ireland, a descendant of the politician and actor Ralph Bernal.

Lord Osborne (aka Obby Beauclerk) served as a Captain in the 17th Lancers during the Boer War, returning to the United Kingdom in December 1901.[1] In 1911 and 1913 he set off on a trip to British Columbia, Canada where he was involved in a prospective mining investment; part of his time there was spent camping with partners British travelogue writer Warburton Pike and the American mining engineer Marshall Latham Bond.

At the outbreak of World War I, Captain Beauclerk was appointed Aide-de-Camp to Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, serving in France.

On 19 August 1918, he married Beatrix Beresford, Dowager Marchioness of Waterford, GBE, DStJ, and daughter of the 5th Marquess of Lansdowne. He succeeded his half-brother in the family titles in 1934.[2]

In his late-eighties, Obby St Albans spent a month travelling throughout America on a Greyhound unlimited travel pass. His Grace died in 1964, aged 89 without children, when the titles devolved upon his cousin, Charles St Albans who succeeded as the 13th Duke.[3]

by Frederick & Richard Speaight, bromide print
Duchess of St. Albans, Lord Osborn’s mother, seated, left

Our little community Protestant Church was approximately 1.5 miles from our house and all the family attended services every Sunday.  The Duchess, when she was residing at the castle, would always drive to the services in her open carriage pulled by two magnificent horses and with her footman perched on top as driver.

My brother and I would leave home together each Sunday, taking short cuts through the woods, across a stream and over the boundary fence opposite the entry drive to the old church.  Usually, we met the Duchess’s carriage on the church drive and as she passed us we would salute in unison, much to her amusement.  We would time it to the fraction of a second by doing a count down to zero much as they do the blasting off of a missile today.  We always saluted the Duchess or Lord Osborne whenever we met.  This was a custom of the day and a gesture of respect.

Invariably, during our jaunts on Sunday mornings we would be looking for bird’s nests, rabbits and other things that interested boys of our age.  One morning on the way we filled our pockets with grass hoppers.  During church services my brother had the delightful idea to release them under the pew.  

Pretty soon, they were all over the inside of the church and jumping everywhere, much to the consternation of the rest of the congregation who had their heads bowed in prayer.  We, of course, were very amused to hear the many startled gasps when the cute little fellows would land on a neck or a bald head.  

The affair turned out so successful, from our point of view, that the next Sunday we stuffed our pockets with little frogs we had gathered from the stream.  However, father put a stop to this before we got inside the church.  He had an idea where the grasshoppers had come from the previous Sunday and wasn’t about to let it happen again.  We got our fannies paddled at the back of the church and I remember I had a painful time sitting on that hard pew during services.

Webster says that nostalgia is a longing for something far away or long ago.  It can be triggered by many things such as a familiar face or a train whistle, both of which have sent me looking off into space and remembering.  But it would seem that I can bring back more mental pictures through my nose than I can by any other source.

The smell of burning leaves, the aroma of new-mown hay, the fresh farmy odor of cows and horses, the powerful scent of oiled harness and saddle leather, will always bring back a surge of homesickness for the experiences of my Irish childhood years.  Happiness is reminiscing.  For example, the warm damp smell of growing plants in hothouses conjures up scenes of thousands of potted plants, espaliered grapes or cucumbers and hanging baskets of orchids.

On rainy days, when it was too wet to play outside, I spent most of the time in the six large glass houses in the kitchen garden.  While the gardeners went about their potting chores and the preparations of cuttings for spring planting I would build castles and forts out of empty flower pots or climb the beautiful obstacle courses formed by the supporting timbers under the benches. 

Occasionally a bird would enter a glasshouse through an open door or the small space at the indoor-outdoor watering tank.  This was always a special event because by chasing the poor thing forward and back I was able to catch it eventually.

I then would look up the type of bird it was in my bird book and tie a small label on its leg before setting it free.  In this way I was able to identify first hand dozens of birds over a period of several years.  

Another means of getting close to my feathered friends were the nets placed over the fruit trees to ward off sharp beaks which spoiled the fruit.  Many birds got tangled in these nets and hung by their feet until someone turned them loose.

In the winter, although much snow did not fall, it usually was cold enough to freeze.  The gardeners were kept busy protecting the plants with burlap and straw.  Most of the tender tropicals were kept in the steam-heated glasshouses but many semi-tropicals grew out in the open and would freeze if not covered.  

All this meant only one thing to me – make an ice slide.  In the front of the extensive garages there was a stone courtyard about two hundred feet long that sloped away from the garage doors and towards a large drain at one extremity.  This was the perfect place for a slide and a couple of dozen buckets of water splashed down on the cement during the night would do the trick.

By early morning the water was ice and the slide was almost ready.  We always wore hobnail boots in winter and they were perfect to slide on this two hundred-foot ice way.  I got expert enough to turn and slide backwards for a length and then forwards again.  It was great fun and usually lasted until one of the coachmen or mechanics fell on his backside.  Then sand would be brought in and the fun and excitement of winter sports was over.

When one is young, summer vacation from school can be one of the biggest events of the year.  I always felt the same way and, although we were only allowed eight weeks, I used these weeks to their fullest extent.  Trips, football games, picnics, fishing forays and just plain loafing were all planned like Napolean’s battles.  

This was the time when our bicycles were used from dawn to dark, and even after by using our acetylene lamps.  Of course, all the kids in the neighborhood knew each other and if someone didn’t have a bike, he always got a ride on the backstop.  A backstop is a four inch extension to the axel of the rear wheel where a person can stand on one foot and hang on to the shoulders of the rider.  It was a fine way to travel as long as your bare foot held out and you didn’t get the toes of your other foot entangled in the spokes of the wheel, which happened quite often.

Crossing the Anner river at a narrow point was a footbridge composed of two long planks nailed together.  Most people used it as a short cut to get to the main county road.  It was always a challenge to ride these boards across the river on a bicycle and most of the boys used to accomplish this feat.

Of course, not everyone made it.  Those who did not were rewarded by a good dunking in the water which was about thirty inches deep at that point.  The trick was to get up enough speed before starting onto the bridge so that wobbling as eliminated.  

Like all the others, I had to learn the hard way and received many a wetting.  Being summer vacation, drying clothes was no problem.  Nobody ever went home to change because it wasted too much time.

One of the summers, during the WWI years, the whole of Europe experienced one of the worst flu epidemics in history [1918 – grandpa was 7 years old].  Thousands and thousands of people died and Ireland was stricken very badly.  I got the bug on the first day of summer vacation, as I recall, and just recovered in time to go back to school.

The Irish said that God was punishing the world because of all the fighting and killing amongst men.  Perhaps they were right.  But I was a boy, and felt that I was being punished because all my vacation was used up and I had to return to school and miss all those glorious eight weeks of fun.

On hot summer days, during summer vacation, some of the young boys of my age would gather at one of the ponds created by the small stream flowing through the estate.  We had built a crude dam out of logs and docks to increase the depth of the water so that we could swim comfortably for thirty to forty feet from bank to bank.  At the deepest end we also fixed a very serviceable diving board by placing a two by twelve on a rock and tucking the end under the roots of a nearby tree.

It was here we spent many carefree hours diving and swimming around in the nude.  The location of this pond was in a rather remote part of the estate and usually the only other persons we ever saw were the gamekeepers and poachers.  The area around the pool was wooded and afforded us security from any feminine prying eyes.  Although I suppose we were of the age when we were not very modest anyway.

My father always knew we were there and would send one of the gardeners to warn us if any guests were touring the grounds.  He slipped up one day, however, when suddenly we looked around to find a group of eight nuns watching us and laughing their hoods off.  

We started to scramble out to get behind a tree but they told us to stay in the water and walked on past giggling and holding their sides.

The water was always on the cold side and I still remember how we shivered when we got out.  Little patches of sun filtering through the trees helped until we could pat our bodies dry.

We made a small raft of planks nailed together and pretended to be pirates while poling ourselves around the pond.  Each group would have to repel boarding parties before the raft reached from bank to bank.

Another device for assault was what we called our “broadside”.  This was merely a rope tied to an overhanging branch and with an iron ring tied to the end.  By hanging on to the ring and running down the bank and swinging out over the water any one of us could tip over the raft by landing on an exposed edge.

We got very accurate.  There was enough water flow through the pond that a small board or large leaf set adrift at any point upstream made quite a moving target for practicing our jumps from the rope swing.

A great sport for us was to try to catch one of the many eels which abounded in the stream.  I don’t think we were ever successful but it was great fun to try.  Eels were a delicacy to most people on the estate and the cooks at the “big house” would have gladly traded a bag of cookies for any eel of reasonable size.

These water denizens were non-poisonous and some reached a good three feet in length.  They were very plentiful in all the streams in our particular area of Ireland along with trout, perch, and a type of pike which reached a sizable length , even in the smaller streams.

There were also thousands of little minnows which nibbled at your skin if you lay quietly in the water.  It was quite a ticklish sensation to have them nibble your legs or at the parts of your body which ordinarily would be covered by trunks.

Summer vacation from school lasted seven to eight weeks and seemed to us never to be long enough.  The weeks sped by too fast, just like the years today, but there still remains my vivid recollection of our private little swimming hole and all it’s happy associations.

The story of David and Goliath made quite an impression on most of the boys in our group.  So much so that we formed a “David” club and practiced daily with our home made slings.

Everything that moved was a target for our pebble barrage.  More damage was done to ourselves (because of our ineptness) than to any animal or bird that happened to stray across our path.  To be any kind of an expert took many hours of practice on how to release one of the strings at just the right moment.  Usually the stone flew backwards instead of forwards at our intended victim.

Everyone would try to duck but fifty percent of the time one of us would sustain a large bruise somewhere on our torso.  In fact before we abandoned the David type slings we came to be known as “The Lumpies”.

We next discovered that you could buy one quarter inch thick rubber bands at one of the variety stores and within a week we all had our own elastic sling shot in various sizes and shapes.  The woods were searched for branches with a nice wide Y and we carved them down to the right size.  Six inch pieces of the rubber bands were clipped and fastened to the prongs with strong string.  For the part that held the stone we found that the leather tongue of an old shoe worked beautifully.  Holes were punched in the tongue and tied with strong string to the rubber bands.  

We developed tremendous skill with these weapons in due time and our accuracy improved to the extent that we could hit a pigeon in a tree at sixty feet.  Most of us got so good that we had to form a rule that we could only shoot at birds in flight because we were decimating the bird kingdom in the area.

Rabbits were much harder to hit.  The fact that they were on the ground made them a more elusive target and almost impossible to bring down.

As most kids will do, we divided into two factions of equal ability and with all the wooded country in which to operate we started our own private wars.  This went on for quite a long period with not too many casualties until one day a member of our rival gang was bopped behind the ear by a large pebble while scrambling over a fence.  The blow knocked him temporarily unconscious and when he landed on the other side he broke his leg.

His father soon put a stop to our campaigns and made us all promise to restrict our activities to shooting at tin cans or other inanimate objects.

Nobody questioned his authority and anyway we were feeling very badly that one of our buddies was hurt.  I think that none of us realized that we could get hurt by a pebble, especially hitting our hard Irish heads.

The house on which we lived on the estate was really very comfortable.  It was two stories with bedrooms on the second floor.  The ground floor contained a sitting room (which was only used to entertain guests) a large family combined with a kitchen; a sizable pantry for storing food and a huge laundry room where we took our tub baths on Saturday nights.

The laundry room also served as father’s office where he attended to the business of running the Duchess’s estate.  On days that were too rainy to play outdoors we had plenty of space to romp in this room with its polished iron stove providing warmth against the cold, dreary weather.

I have many fond memories of such days from the tub baths to making forts out of the logs used for firewood.  I vividly remember the time I was spanked for using a large sack of flour as a back support for the target while practicing archery.  The mess was horrible.

Another time, and with the same result, we used father’s bowler hat to practice “William Tell and the Apple”.  We certainly had accurate arrows.

It was in this room also that mother did all of her preserving and making jams and jellies.  There always was the smell of fruit in the air and even today when I smell apples, for example, it conjures up memories of our laundry room.

One of the bedrooms upstairs overlooked our sitting room below and a rose garden of considerable size.  The windows were the type that opened outward with catches in the center.  Directly in front of these good size double windows was a large padded bench.  One particular day, I was taking care of little sister Dorothy, who was climbing around on the bench playing with her doll.  I was reading a very interesting penny novel about Buffalo Bill and not paying too much attention to her.

She stood up on the bench and leaned against the window which promptly opened up and before I had a chance to catch her, she tumbled out.  Fortunately the sitting room below had a bay window with a sloping roof and this broke her fall initially but she rolled off this roof and landed in the biggest rose bush in the garden.

I rushed downstairs and extricated her from the bush unhurt but scratched from top to bottom by the thorns.  She howled bloody murder for about thirty minutes while I tried to tend to her scratches and finally calmed down, just as mother arrived from town to take over.

I fully expected to be spanked thoroughly for letting her fall out the window, but mother and father never said one hard word to me about my negligence, feeling, I’m sure, that I had been punished enough by the experience.

The Irish are a very sentimental and musical people.  They can be moved greatly by the playing or singing of “Danny Boy”, “Galway Bay”, or any of the songs and music so much a part of the Irish culture.  They will burst forth with song at the drop of a hat at any meeting, soiree, picnic or even when walking to and from work.

I never met an Irishman who would ever admit that he did not know all the famous melodies handed down through the years.  But, along with the standard lyrics, there would always be a dozen parodies of each song and everyone seemed to know them by heart.

Most of these parodies were the type for family singing but some, of course, were reserved for the neighborhood pubs.  Whenever we went shopping into town, I made a point of slipping into the back alley behind the pub and listening to the voices lifted in song over the clinking of glasses and loud conversation.  There were always two “whiskey” tenors leading the pack and carrying the melody – with the rest lending a sort of rumbling background usually about a half a note behind.  All in all, those sessions were most entertaining to me and increased my doubtful vocabulary immensely over the rest of the lads my age.

I learned that certain lines in the ditties were the ones with which all other lines must rhyme and usually these lines were given, preceded by a pause, right at the end of each verse.  There were many many verses.  When the voices ran out on one song the tenors would miraculously start together on a different basic tune and everybody would swing into a new set of verses.  Occasionally someone would start on a different song but he would not get very far until a glass or a bottle could be heard breaking and his voice would subside into a jumble of Gaelic swear words.

Most of the regular amusing “take-offs” on the Irish songs I learned through the men who worked on the estate.  During the evenings in the “bothy” the single men who lived on the estate played a game of inventing words to a familiar song and each person in turn would add a line until the song was completed.  I used to listen in on some of these hilarious bouts and even contributed a little to the fun myself.  Most of the men played the concertina and the instrument would be passed from man to man as each made up his lines.  It probably was from this background of making rhymes that has left me with the ability to quickly compose a poem for any occasion, be it a wedding or a goodbye.

Looking back at the years spent in that green damp beautiful land I can conjure up many memories of the wonderful people.  The simple life they lead, their fondness for a good fight yet with no malice when finished, their love of life and their traditional superstitions are all so entangled that at times it appears they don’t know fact from fancy.  But when you get to know these people, as I did, with their stories of banshees and the little folk, they have a very definite love of their country.  People are poor in the sense that they don’t have much money to jingle in their pockets but they are rich in tradition and history dating back thousands of years.  They are very opinionated and many a good donnybrook starts over small political problems we would consider minor.  Their feelings about life after death are very strong.  It is their belief that loved ones who pass on are always near at hand and return as the “little people”.  Their traditional “wake”, where the coffin is placed in the corner for a day while the family and friends drink and eat to mark his passing, not only is a precaution that the person will not be buried alive but is intended to show strong feelings that he will always be welcome in the home as a spirit from the world beyond.  

There was an old saying “Ireland for the Irish” and this very adequately describes the feeling of most of the native Irish people.  They fiercely resent outsiders and most of all Englishmen.  The English are blamed for any and all of their country’s troubles.  To listen to a fluent Irishman vent his spleen on the ever loving people just across the Irish Sea, is something to make you plug up your ears.

Being of Scottish descent my family were accepted mainly because they felt that we hated the English as much as the Irish did.  But even then there were times where we could feel the needle.

Any discussions on geography or history usually ended up with the statement of how much better Ireland would be without the stupid foreigners.  The Irish history books never revealed that the Irish were ever beaten in any of the ancient battles that were fought through the years, although they were invaded and overrun many times.  

Living among the Irish people we never were allowed to forget the fierce national pride these people have of their land.  Even when forced to emigrate, because of poor job opportunities in his native land, the Irishman will defend his country’s name and eternally dream of returning to spend the rest of his days in peace and contentment in the Emerald Isle.

The young kids are all brought up with this same feeling of national pride and many times I had to fight my way home from school for making some innocent remark like “all Irish look like monkeys”, or “Saint Patrick really was English”.  

Most of the students in the little country school that I attended called me “Spider” because of the history book story of “Bruce and the Spider”.  Other than that they never could think of any mean things to say about me.  I took a lot of kidding about my kilt which I wore during the first few years of school but even that calmed down when I showed them a dirk I carried around in my stocking.  They all thought that was great.  The dirk was a five inch bladed dagger which was part of the costume worn by the Highlanders and certainly was a real weapon.

I still wonder to this day how mother ever let me wear it.  Kilts were once commonplace in Ireland but gradually disappeared through the years.  So wearing this kind of attire was not too out of place.  All over the world people have asked the Scotsman to tell them what he wears under his kilt and as far as I was concerned there was nothing to tell.

To the north west of our little town of Clonmel, the Galtee mountains rimmed the skyline and to the south the Knockmealdown mountain range stretched for miles and miles.

Both these “mountains” soared to more than a thousand feet in height and were populated more by rabbits and foxes than people.  There were very few hardy souls living up in these areas and fewer roads to gain access across the furze-covered slopes.  

In the summer the hills were ablaze with the yellow flowers of the furze bushes and the dark purple of a kind of blueberry which grew in large patches in the little valleys.

For most of the year scudding clouds from the North Sea were caught for a while by the hills and lent a white backdrop for the color provided by Mother Nature’s land.  It was always a breathtaking sight and a source of pleasure.  The roads in our valley were narrow and very crooked.  They were always on the boundaries of large farms and estates.  The thought of trying to straighten a road through somebody’s property was unheard of completely.

Down through the years any rocks turned up by plowing were hauled to the side of the road and eventually a stone fence came into being and grew in height with each succeeding season.  The streams and rivers, of course, were another reason for these delightful meandering highways which mostly followed every bend taken by the water.

There were quite a few stone bridges but only where they were absolutely necessary to get to some particular hamlet or the entrance to some estate.

It took forever and a day to travel only a few miles but there didn’t seem to be any hurry in anybody anyway, so it didn’t matter.  

That is except for one year.  We had one very dry summer, which was unusual for a land with such a wet climate, and a fire started on the south slope of the Galtee mountains.

Before enough men could get to the blaze, it had a head start and burned out of control for two weeks.  It finally was brought under control when, as if in answer to our prayers, a storm brought heavy rains.

All available men had been fighting the fire night and day and were completely exhausted.  I remember my father slept for twenty-four hours when he got home and fell into bed.

When I first met Pat he worked as assistant to the butler on the Estate.  His father was Irish but his mother was born on the island of Malta.  He inherited his father’s stubborn nature and a fantastic ability to sing.  He had the most beautiful voice I have ever heard.

From his mother he inherited a violent temper and the fine features and dark eyes of those Mediterranean peoples who are a blend of many races but predominantly Latin.

His father married his mother when he was serving in the British army stationed in Malta.  It was a stormy union and Pat grew up under his father’s strict discipline and his mother’s lenient loving lethargic control.  Her fits of temper usually came when his father used the rod so as to not spoil the child.

Pat left home and Malta when he was 18 years old and after a tour of duty in the service came to Ireland to look up his father’s wayward brother.  He searched for many months and finally found his uncle living in Clonmel, our little country town.  

Pat was a proud man and when his money ran low took a job with the Duchess as a butler’s helper.

Because of his good looks and soft spoken manner, along with his beautiful voice he soon became the favorite of every woman for miles around.  It was a well known fact that before he had worked three months at the Castle he had all the female help eating out of his hand and sleeping in his bed, including the crusty old cook who was forty five years old but looked seventy.

He was quite in demand at any and all parties because of his singing, and even the Duchess would invite him to sing at her dress affairs where he would give welcome relief from the usual entertainment of concert violinists or operatic divas.

He sang many of the old Irish songs and with his tremendous voice range, he was able to handle the softest lullaby as well as the throatiest fighting song.  Although he never had any formal training he was a natural born entertainer with a poise beyond his years.  When he ended his performance with a sacred song there never appeared to be a dry eye in his audience.


I was privileged to hear him many times, from behind the hall door, along with most of the help working in the castle at the time.  As he ended his singing, everybody would scuttle back to their posts and I quickly disappeared into the pantry.

For his role as entertainer at these parties he was given extra pay and certain privileges.  He was able to take more time off duty to go to town more often and even borrow one of the horses to roam the countryside on his day off.  

He loved to fish and made his own bamboo rod, metal hooks, and feathered lures.  Looking back now, I don’t remember where he got his line, perhaps he brought it with him from Malta.

We got to be good friends and I went fishing with him often.  He had many stories to tell of his experiences and I was fascinated with all of them.  I suppose lots of them were pure fabrication but I didn’t care.  He never seemed at a loss for something to say and always seemed to be able to interject enough humor to keep me laughing.

Most of his humorous tales were on himself.  While in the Army he was shot twice, both times in the posterior, once by an irate husband and the other by a sentry while he was stealing chickens.

He went through many battles but maintained that the only time he killed anything was a sniper that turned out to be a mountain goat.

I was too young to really understand his love-life stories but I guess he didn’t expect me to, anyway.  He just loved to talk.  He had a good command of the English language but mixed in many Gaelic words which I later found out were swear words.

Irish people are very easy going people with tight family ties.  There are so many instances of extra-sensory perception between members, even living many thousands of miles away, that seem uncanny to the ordinary person.  The Irish always have an inner sense of intuition that other nationalities do not have.  Their closeness to the “little people” is legendary.

We – my older brothers Alan and Bill, and I, looked upon our little sister Dorothy as one of the “little people”.  She had an uncanny method of getting under our skin.  Not in a mean sort of way, but she could look through any subterfuge that we were trying to pull and would tell the folks what we were up to.

Whenever we were trying to set up an unusual comic situation she would jump up and down like a leprechaun and spoil the whole scene.  She was an imp but we loved and protected her.

Women in Ireland were very revered.  The men worked in their businesses but the women worked in the home and held the family together.

But in the evenings, the distaff side control all activity.  They would hold seances and talk to long departed relatives.  They even went as far as to communicate with St. Patrick, the patron saint of all Irishmen.

Dorothy never participated in any of these affairs in the family, but she could always foretell all our future activities.  In her impish way she told us where we would spend our vacations, when Santa Claus would appear and even what we would have for dinner.

As boys, we were dumb enough not to know that mother kept her informed on these feminine matters.

Grandpa’s little sister Dorothy grew up and became Linus Pauling’s personal assistant for over 25 years (Dorothy Munro)

General History of Ireland by Ian Kerr Bruce

The people of Ireland – a melding of centuries of conquerors and settlers – are no longer divisible into any distinct ethnic groups.  The Celts of Gaul appeared in the 4th century B.C.  In time they overcame the Picts in the north and the Erainn in the south.  They apparently absorbed whatever culture and traditions they did not destroy and established a Gaelic civilization.  Their first settlements were in reality small states that later were divided into five permanent kingdoms, still called the “fifths” of Ireland:  Ulster, North Leinster, South Leinster, Munster, and Connacht.  The people of Connacht, with legendary Tara as their capital, took over Ireland and reigned as kings until about 1000 A.D.

St. Patrick was brought to Ireland as a captive and found that parts of Ireland were already Christian.  Pagan rituals mixed with religious preoccupation for years and years until the influence of the great Latin schools and culture finally won complete conversion.  

Ireland today is 92% Roman Catholic and 8% Protestant.  Anglo-Norman invaders during the 12th century stayed and intermarried with the Irish and became more Irish than the natives, causing many struggles with the clans.  Pope Adrian granted Henry II of England overlordship of Ireland during the 12th century causing an attempt to conquer Ireland and initiating eight hundred years of Anglo-Irish strife.  In the 16th century the English confiscated all property.  

This caused much more bitter fighting through the years until the climax in the enactment of the Penal Laws which deprived Irish Catholics of all legal rights.

The resentment of English colonists in Ireland to London’s domination forced the formation of an Independent Irish Parliament in 1780 but participation in it was limited to Protestants.  The Act of Union,  in 1801, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland abolished it but gave Ireland representatives in the British Parliament.

Catholic emancipation, however, did not come until 1829.  In 1845 the Great Famine, brought on by a blight to the potato crops, killed about one million people by starvation and disease.  Nearly two million people were forced to immigrate and the effects of this were felt for many, many years.  

Home rule agitation increased and Charles Stewart Parnell rose as the leader of the Irish cause in British Parliament.

A political movement, Sinn Fein, supported the Easter Rebellion of 1916 that, when crushed, developed into guerrilla warfare.  Misdirected attempts by the English to restore order with Black and Tans (auxiliary troops) intensified the bloody rebellion in 1919, and the terrorism and reprisals that continued for eight years succeeded only in bolstering the Irish cause.  

David Lloyd George and Eamon de Valera, leader of the Sinn Fein, reached an agreement on the formation of the Irish Free State with six northern counties remaining in the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland.  This was in January 1922.

Because we lived on a large estate which grew most of its vegetables and fruit and raised most of its meat and poultry we were never looking for good food.  Mother had a knack for preparing many different meals and was an excellent cook.

Her scones, bread, cookies, tarts, and cakes were a never-ending source of delight to us.  No matter what she prepared as the main dish always turned out to be a gourmet’s delight.  Beef was usually scarce but her lamb or pork roasts were great.

Her dishes varied from day to day and even when using some of the more uncommon parts of the animal her main dish was superbly flavorful.  When she prepared potted head, tongue, liver, or tripe they were always blended with spices and sauces which made them an adventure in eating.

Fruits and berries were a continuous part of the table setting and no matter what time of year, there was always a bowl of flowers or an exotic plant as the centerpiece.  Our table was perennially festive looking.

Rabbit made a tasty appearance every fortnight as did chicken or duck and, depending on father’s aim with a gun, wood pigeon also became part of our meals.

Mother, at rare times, would break down and prepare crow pie.  Father loved crow pie but it was one dish that I only tolerated.  When eating it I could never get away from the feeling that it might talk back to me.

Fish of course was a regular member of mother’s rotation of meals.  As I grew older I gradually acquired the skill to carefully cut down the middle of one side of a trout in order to fold the tender meat away from the backbone which could then be removed intact.  Before learning to do this correctly I wrestled with many a mouthful of bones.

Eels, which were a delicacy with the local people, never found their way to our table.  Mother was the type of person who was deathly afraid of anything that slithered – even worms.

One of the great assists in the preparation of any of our food was the freshness of the vegetables and fruit – imparting a delightful “open air” taste to everything. 

We grew our own mushrooms and of course used them extensively in cooking.  Although the mushrooms were grown in darkened sheds, there were times when we were able to gather baskets of them from the open pasture in front of our house.

We were careful not to pick toadstools because, at an early age, father made sure we knew the difference between a toadstool and a good mushroom.

The eating habits of people in localities and countries differ in many ways.  The use of a knife and fork, for example.  But the one little thing that sticks in my mind was the simple use of jams and jellies.  We never would use jam on bread to be eaten during the main course.

One day a neighbor, who had recently returned from an extended stay in America, came over for breakfast.  While eating her bacon and eggs she spread jam on her toast, and I will always remember wondering how she could spoil the taste of her meal with the sweet taste of jam.

It was about as repulsive as spoiling a good steak by smothering it with catsup.

The famous “Irish Stew” was made with only three ingredients, chunks of lamb, onions, and potatoes.  At our table every vegetable grown in the “kitchen” garden went into the pot, making it an epicurean delight.

Irish Stew

Mother usually enlisted the aid of all of us to prepare the vegetables for the stew and it was fun to help.  To this day I love to prepare an Irish Stew and love to eat it more so.

Mother was a person with very quick moves.  Her finger dexterity was such that she probably would have made a good surgeon.  I have never seen a person who could set the table and serve a meal in such a short time.

One day as we were sitting down for dinner, a big fly plopped into the jug of milk.  Mother gave a groan of disgust, picked up the jug and quickly took it over to the sink.  Before we could open our mouths to stop her she whipped down a large sieve and poured in the milk.

Of course the milk went down the drain, but mother stood there for a second with a triumphant look, having captured the fly.  A second later she realized what she had done and we all burst out laughing at her expression of frustration.  She had acted in a flash without thinking.

It used to amaze me how she was such a good cook.  She never followed a recipe.  It was a handful of this, a pinch of that, and a dash of something else, for all of her baking.  She never used any other kind of measuring container except her hands and perhaps a teaspoon when she added something liquid.

She did use a sieve to sift the flour and a bowl for mixing but she used her hands to do most of the blending of the ingredients.

On occasion she would be baking something, stop to throw some coal on the fire and continue to mix the dough with sooty hands.  It didn’t seem to make any difference to us when we ate her hot scones with little black dots all through them.

She always said that “We have to eat a peck of dirt before we die.”

At Christmas, all the individual estates formed singing groups and travelled around in hay wagons singing carols and hymns, stopping at the little hamlets and isolated homes throughout the countryside.

It was great fun for everyone.  After their concert outside the home they were always invited in for a piece of cake and a hot toddy.  After half a dozen stops the adult members of the troupe usually were so loaded that nobody could really distinguish what song was being sung.

After ten stops most of them went to sleep on the hay filled wagon bottom and the youngsters took over.  The pure clear voices of the young people could be heard for miles and miles on the cold, still, winter air.  

They didn’t wait until they got to any particular place, they just sang continuously.  My folks never would let us go on any of these jaunts but we looked forward to hearing them when they came to the castle.

We could hear them coming as far as two miles away.  It was quite a thrill to join in the singing and sneak in for a piece of cherry cake along with the rest when they concluded.  Soon they were on their way again and their voices would gradually fade away as they got out of earshot.

In another half hour a new group would be heard approaching and a new concert would be given and as a reward another plateful of cake would be handed out.  Again, with each group we would help eat the cake.

Toward the end of the evening we were full to the brim with all the tasty handouts and ended up with tummy aches.

The first group would arrive in the late afternoon and the last one left about 7:00 p.m. in the dark of the evening.

Each of the singers carried a lantern which added to the visual excitement because as they sang they would swing the lights in unison.  It was quite a beautiful sight.

Even the horses that pulled the wagons seemed to know that they were part of a happy happening and joined in with snorts and stamping hooves.

Fair time was always a very busy time for everybody.  Planning, of course, was done all year but the selecting of specimens for display was always left to the last minute.  Fruit and vegetables were picked, cleaned, and polished on the morning of the opening day.  Every display was specially arranged for effect and impact on the judges.  Patterns were worked out to display all the different fruits from flags to tartan designs.  Cut flowers and potted plants were banked and terraced with special attention to shades of colors, heights, and sizes.  Moss was used to hide all pots and containers from view and all display tables were screened in some manner for better effect.

This was serious business for the men but for the younger generation it was fun.  We were always underfoot.  Finally everything was ready and everybody cleared out of the buildings.  Then the judges entered to get down to the monumental task of picking the winners.  Judging usually lasted about three hours but to the contestants the time must have felt like three weeks.

The wait was eventually over and the doors opened to allow everyone to see the results of the hard work on the part of the participants.  There were many smiles by the winners and there were many glum faces on those who lost.

About this time bottles started to appear like magic and before long the winners were consoling the losers and the losers were toasting the winners.  After a while isolated donnybrooks would break out but most everybody began feeling very happy.

The inevitable singing started and before long everybody joined in.  Each show seemed better than the last one and all agreed when they left that the next one would be even better.

Each of the large estates in the county participated with tremendous zeal in the county fairs.  There was an intense rivalry between the managers and head gardeners which compared to the Olympic Games.  The estate that won the most first place ribbons became the toast of the area all year.

The estate owners as well took great pride in winning the sweepstakes trophy which they displayed on their mantle shelf for all friends to see.  The managers and head gardeners had to be winners to hold their jobs, much in the same way football coaches have to have a winning team or suffer the consequences.

My father’s long tenure with the Duchess of St. Albans had quite a bit to do with his knack for winning ribbons at the yearly fairs.  He acquired a reputation as being a person who could perform miracles in growing exotic plants from seeds.  

I remember the time a rival head gardener from a neighboring estate sent him a package of seeds with a note saying that these seeds were very rare and could my father please germinate them and notify him when they became plants.

Father waited for two weeks and then sent his rival a note saying that he had germinated the seeds and asked him over to see the resulting plants.  Thinking he had really put something over on my dad, the man arrived with two of his henchmen – all eager to laugh at how my father had been taken in.

The laugh turned on them when father took them over to a flower bed which he had prepared with rows of fish heads sticking up through the soil.  

These so called “seeds” were fish eggs.

Fish heads, fish heads….

Father kept his reputation alive and the men from the neighboring estate went home with a lot more respect for a person who had bested them.

Ian Bruce and Self Portrait
Ian Bruce circa 1960

Dedication to Ian Kerr Bruce, a poem by my grandfather’s favorite poet, Robert Burns…

Epitaph on my own Friend

An honest man here lies at rest,
As e’er God with His image blessed:
The friend of man, the friend of truth;
The friend of age, the guide of youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so informe’d:
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.

— Robert Burns


One thought on “Cheerthinker

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: