Dromintee

Published Monday, 19 November 2012
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It would be much easier to be a "pavee" these days - cheap flights, mobile phones, texting, e-mailing, internet cafes, skype, - multiple ways of staying in daily touch from the other side of the world.

I hadn't come across the word "pavee" before visiting the Dromintee area of South Armagh but the general tradition it refers to, whereby men would leave home and go to another country to earn a livelihood and send money back home to keep their families, is of course a familiar one throughout the whole country.

It still goes on today to some extent but back in the 1950s it was a common occurrence .They might not have gone as far afield as Canada or Australia, with the long absences such journeys naturally entailed, and they wouldn't be selling cloth as the pavees tended to, but when there was no work available at home many tradesmen would take their tools and their skills across to England to get work on one of the many building projects that sprang up in the post-war housing boom.

My own father was one such. He and his older brother were plasterers and they spent a good part of that decade travelling backwards and forwards to England working in building sites and often living in camp-like accommodation or digs that were shared with a lot of other tradesmen in similar circumstances.

It was a primitive enough existence by all accounts. They worked and ate and slept and sent home most of the money they earned, which was no fortune by any standards. The only social life available was the local pub, assuming there was one nearby that admitted a crowd of Irish building workers.

My father never drank so that particular outlet was denied to him. He read a lot and went to the cinema to pass the time, often to see the same film for the umpteenth time.

This was before the days of cheap and readily available travel so they would be away from home for months at a time, communicating through letter-writing for the most part, or through a telephone call that would have to be specially arranged in advance. I remember my mother taking me down to a telephone box two streets away where we would queue up behind other people awaiting or making similar calls.

You had to have a big pile of change and be ready to press buttons throughout your brief call, made briefer sometimes by the impatience of those waiting their turn behind you. I would tell my father what I had for dinner and what Santa was bringing me for Christmas and he would pretend to get them mixed up. I thought this was hilarious.

I wasn't so ready to talk to him when he managed to get home after a particularly long spell away.

I hung back shyly and my younger sister and brother did not recognise this strange man at all.

"It's your Daddy," my mother would insist but that didn't convince any of us. Our Daddy was in England working.

By the time we got used to him living at home he would have to leave again.

It must have been easier to be a pavee if you weren't leaving a young family behind.

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Joe Mahon
Joe Mahon

Joe Mahon is the presenter of UTV's long-running series Lesser Spotted Ulster.

He is a man who has seen more of the nooks and crannies of the Ulster countryside than anyone else.

His travels for the show have seen him cross land and sea finding the hidden histories of the local landscape.

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