Traveller writer John Woods visited Ireland in 1947 and wrote a travel guide with insightful observations which provide a vivid social history account of 1940s post war Ireland. I first read the book when I was researching for an assignment for my diploma in heritage and folklore and wrote an assignment on visitors travel accounts of Sligo. Here is an excerpt from his book ‘With Rucksack Round Ireland’, we join the writer as he arrives in County Sligo.
I intended to stay a night in Ballina, but its Horse Show was on, and I could find no accommodation. I did get a plain tea that belied its name by having several varieties of bread and pastries – a most unusual experience – and then crossed the Moy, with Enniscrone on the Sligo side of Killala Bay as my goal for the night.
Enniscrone is a bathing resort with a splendid expanse of sand backed by low cliffs and dunes, and for the last couple of the eight miles thereto I was conveyed in a car by a gentleman who proved to be a merchant of Ballina out for an evening run with his English wife.
The fact that he mentioned his telephone number reminds me that in the telephone directory of Eire there are more subscribers with his surname than any other, though it is not one that English people would guess as to the commonest. Mr M. foresaw difficulty for me, and instead of driving away as soon as I had got out to ask at a hotel, he waited for me and took me on to half a dozen other places. At last, I was successful at the boarding house of Mrs Tuohy, and only just in time, for a few minutes later a lady tried to book a room there for a priest, but I had got the only vacancy. Mr M. would not leave me until he had taken me to the corner grocery and bought me a bottle of stout, though he would not have one in return.
After supper the landlady and her two attractive and accomplished daughters formed an audience in the kitchen whilst I narrated some of my adventures; meantime the husband (an ex-sergeant of the Royal Irish Constabulary) hovered about in the background just like every other husband of a seaside landlady. Maureen and Kathleen were a dewy-eyed pair who inevitably recalled to me MacHeath’s lines from ‘The Beggars’ Opera:
How happy could I be with either,
Were t’other dear charmer away.
Strangely, I saw one of them in Birmingham before the year was over, wearing the nun-like garb of a convent-school pupil whilst being coached for a university; and shortly afterwards I had a call from her sister. When the Irish have given a higher education to their bright young people they are fated to lose many of them.
After a lazy morning spent wandering barefoot on the sands of Enniscrone I shouldered the burden again and walked by a coast road that was not quite near enough to the sea as far as Dromore. Thence a timely bus took along by the foot of the north-eastern end of the Ox Mountains.
Second hand copies of the book are still available online with many fascinating chapters on other counties around Ireland.
Excerpt first published on melcoo.com on 19 February 2019, republished on SligoWalkingTours.com on 10 March 2021
Woods, John, With Rucksack Round Ireland (Paul Elek, 1948)
Maughan Advertisement from 1947 Tourist booklet (Blog Authors Own)
Backpacker image: flickr