The village of Mullan is situated in North Monaghan about three miles from Emyvale and a stone’s throw from the border at Ballagh Bridge crossing point. It is a quiet rural hamlet with only as few families living there, a shop cum Post Office and two factories, one making shoes, the other producing bags and holdalls.
But it wasn’t always as quiet. Once there was a thriving centre with over twenty five families, most of whom were employed in Mullan Mills. There was a social centre which attracted people from far and near and a place where people, now famous in the showbiz world, performed on stage to packed houses. Alice Kerr has lived there since 1915 and can tell of all the good times and the poor times in this beautiful corner of the county.
John Kerr of Ballinahone married Mary McQuaid of Killycooley and went to live in Mullan. They had seven children, all but one of whom have gone to their eternal reward. Alice, the youngest of the family, still lives in the house in Mullan. The other members of the family were: John Joe, James, Genie, Mary Catherine, Annie and Susan, go ndeana Dia trocaire ar a nanamacha.
John, the father, worked for Pringles in their Mills in Caledon, weaving serge material. He left home at 6.00am to walk to Caledon and would arrive home again at 7.00pm or 8.00pm. Pringles then opened a Scutch Mill in Mullan and began weaving serge there too. John was a Tuner in Mullan and it was around this time that he moved into his home in one of the houses in the “White Row”.
Alice began her schooling in Killyrean and has great praise for two teachers there: Lily McKenna and Hugh Woods. Master Woods was a great teacher and had a wonderful way of explaining things. His sums were always taught using practical examples that were easily understood by the pupils. Not all of the pupils were as happy at school as Alice was. One fellow said he would prefer ‘to be cleaning out a shough and it teeming’, but for most it was school one day and off to work in the factory next day.
Alice began work in Mullan Mills in 1930. A local Board of Direstors had purchased the Mills and began making boots in 1927. There were five distinct sections in the factory but when a person was new the first job was ‘on the table’. Then there was the cutting room where the ‘clickers’ worked. The next process was in the Closing Room, which was staffed by women and it was here ‘the Skivers’ worked. Then on to ‘The Making Room’ where you had the ‘Lasters’, the ‘Nailers’ and ‘The Stickers’. From there the product passed to the ‘The finishing Room’ for ‘inking’ and ‘dyeing’ and lastly there was ‘The Dispatch Room’ from which the finished boot was carried to the train in Glaslough for delivery to its destination.
There were six or seven families from Belfast living in Mullan and working in the factory. As well, other trained men from Carland came to help train the locals. In the 30’s there were about 50 working in Mullan Mills.
The workers organised a Social Club in Mullan Hall and held all sorts of activity. Some would play cards and draughts till morning. Tours and excursions were organised and big concerts were held on a regular basis. The Clarie Hayden Roadshow was a big favourite and visited the Hall a couple of times each year, staying for a week or more each time. Some great names were part of his show and went on to become famous. Val Doonican was well known in the area and Tommy Burns, the singer, and Rory O’Connor, the dancer, and Joe Lynch (Dinny Byrne) performed regularly on Mullan Stage.
A man called Jimmy Hughes was the chief organiser of these events and was always thinking up novel ideas to enhance the social life of the area. He married Emyvale girl, Eileen Callaghan, and during the war years left the area.
Local Priest, Fr., Shreenan, a native of Belfast, loved the concerts and dances in Mullan. He was there every night and was always calling on singers to go up on stage and sing a song or two during the dances. Such was the fame of Mullan that, that people travelled long distances to join in the entertainment. Gussie Kierans and Leo McEntee would come from Threemilehouse and it was 7.30 or 8.00am next morning before they would reach home.
However, Mullan was not the only centre for social occasions. Davagh Hall, Donagh Hall, and Caledon were other well known Meccas. Alice and a group of locals used to travel to these places on bicycle. Sometimes the girls were given a lift on the bar of a bicycle and other times they shared a bicycle – one would cycle a mile or two and leave the bicycle along the side of the road for the other, who in turn would cycle on a mile or two past the first person and leave it again. One night a group of them , about 30, were on their way home from Davagh and very few if any had lamps on their bicycles. When they arrived at Emyvale, obviously in good spirits, the local Garda was waiting for them and stopped them. ‘Have you no respect for me, for yourselves or for the Law? Says he when he saw no lights. One clever fellow in the company speaks up and says ‘If you summons us this time I’ll tell the judge about all the other times you said nothing’ and so the Garda let them off with a warning.
Caledon dances were always great before Christmas, though sometimes the boys got carried away when swinging. If this happened the organiser would announce –‘No heavy swinging or I’ll clap it’. Meaning that he would stop the dance. That cooled the boys down. Donagh Hall over at Donaghrow was a great place any Sunday night.
Downs and Ups
The War years took its toll on Mullan as the Mill had to close. After the war James Boylan purchased it and towards the end of the 40’s got it going again as a shoe/boot factory.
The war years were lean years but were harder as so many people in the area depended on their wages to make ends meet. The money may not have been big but it was all that many of the families had. Alice remembers working from 8.30am to 6.30pm Monday to Friday and a half day on Saturday for six shillings a week. Sometimes they were asked to work overtime and might earn one penny for two hours work. Swingboats used come to the locality and these young workers might leave work and pay that one penny for a few minutes on the Swingboats. It was a great relief to the area then when the Mill became successful again under James Boylan.
Lady of Leisure.
In 1977 Alice decided to call it a day and retire from the Mill. Since then she keeps herself occupied with her housework and gardening. She is looking forward to the milder weather so that she can get out to the garden. During the winter months she reads a great deal and watches Television. Her favourite programmes are – ‘Where in the World’ and ‘Glenroe’. She loves her visits to Emyvale Leisure Centre every Thursday for the ‘Thursday Club’, where she meets her friends. She appreciates the hard work and commitment of the organisers. Thankfully Packie Sherry never has to shout - ’No heavy swinging or I’ll clap it’ as she enjoys the music, the swinging and the chat.
Mullan is quiet now. Few workers live in the village. She misses the hustle and bustle of days gone by and the prosperity which the industry brought to the area. She is lavish with her praise for her neighbours and says that the children of Mullan were always well behaved and caused no problems. The children who live there now are no different, just very friendly and helpful and the adults are kind, considerate and neighbourly. I have no doubt but that she leads by example and is loved and admired by all. May her pleasant smile and quiet voice continue to charm us and may her good health be long lived.