ANN O’Donohue will always consider herself a Tipperary woman but she would never leave her adopted city to return to rural life. Having left her Barrack Street home last Tuesday afternoon, she turned down Newport Terrace towards the Hypercentre, a route she walks most days to pass some time. With bin lorries and ice-cream vans passing loudly, the latter teasing kids on their final few days before returning to school, the mundane features of urban life contrast heavily with her upbringing in Ballingarry, wedged between Thurles and the Kilkenny border.
“I have good memories of home,” she says of her rural background, “I grew up with eight sisters and three brothers. I was second so I was one of the big ones. You know yourself, we had nothing. So the children just played to keep ourselves busy – we would run around out in the fields in front of the house. I can’t remember what games we used to play but we just ran amok. It was a healthy childhood.”
With cash sparse in the family and Ireland in general, Ann entered the world of work at 12 to earn some money for the family purse. Nuns found the children of rural Tipperary jobs wherever they could and Ann was sent to De La Salle College as a general housekeeper despite not being a teenager.
“I was afraid and nervous when I first arrived. I didn’t know what to expect. The work was very hard. We worked from seven in the morning to eleven at night. We were cleaning and preparing tea and supper and everything like that for the boarders.
“I’d say there was about eight to ten of us and I enjoyed the company more than the job. I got to know them very well and we still meet up nowadays as well. We were living in a house right across the main road from De La Salle – the nuns had the house. Sure we weren’t allowed out or anything, we used to hide our fags and everything. When we were caught the punishment wasn’t great for us!”
Thankfully, their freedom increased as their age did and at around 17 they were allowed out in the evenings to enjoy nights at the Olympia ballroom where the girls admit they learned to dance.
“We had a bit more freedom then but still had to be back home for 10.30pm which meant we left the dances early. We never stayed out beyond that time because it wouldn’t have been worth it!
“I remember seeing the Bay City Rollers a few times down there. Oh I loved them, I really did. I don’t know what it was about them but even to this day if I hear a record from them I’ll be over the moon. You’d pay your money to get in and then all the men would be on one side with the women on the other waiting to be asked for a dance!”
After finishing in De La Salle, Ann spent time working in the Tower Hotel before moving on to the glass factory where she made countless new friends. Living in a Thomas Street flat at the time, she relished the freedom afforded to her without the nuns dictating to her, as well as the bump in wages.
“Beforehand I was earning a pittance for the hours we were putting in but when I went to the glass factory I felt like a millionaire after receiving my first wage packet. It was as if I had thousands. I went straight to town for clothes and make-up.”
“I had freedom. I could go where I wanted to go, had my few pound and I wasn’t sending home money anymore – it was my own. I could leave the flat walk everywhere in town at any time because it was so safe. In Ballingarry I wouldn’t walk to the village if it was night time. I was terrified walking past gates up there in case there would have been someone hiding behind it.”
As the years progressed Ann moved to Ballybeg and happily reared her three children as part of a tightly-knit community. While she no longer lives there, her pride in Ballybeg remains as strong as ever – speaking passionately of it and its people despite the fact others may look down on it.
“The community is special and once you’re living there you’re made feel like you’re a part of it. It’s an absolutely brilliant place to live and if you never need anything out there everybody will help you out. I have some great friends from there. The community centre across from the church run workshops on assertiveness and things like that so it was a great place to build your confidence. If people are in need they would always be able to help.”
38 years ago sitting at a Ballybeg bus stop waiting to travel into town, she struck up a conversation with an amiable woman who hailed from Dundrum in her native county. Today, she remains great friends with Kathleen O’Driscoll and as their kids grew up together, they know joke that the two blow-ins are the second-mother of each of their children.
Quick to note that the Premier were recently crowned All Ireland Under-21 Champions, Ann admits that her and Kathleen relish hurling in the summers, particularly when their native and adopted counties face-off.
“I love the craic whenever Waterford are playing Tipp. There’s a great buzz in the summers and my children are all supporters of the Deise. If Tipp aren’t playing I’ll shout for Waterford as well. I watch the matches on the telly with my daughters and Kathleen maybe – we might go to the pub and the two of us will be wearing our Tipp colours while the daughters have their Waterford jerseys on.”
While she lives happily on “brilliant Barrack Street”, she does get the bus to Goatenbridge regularly to stay with her sister for a few nights, but she will always happily return home to Waterford. Living so close to the city centre she can wander in for a browse to the women’s department of Dunnes Stores during the day before reading, usually crime novels, at night.
“Maybe there’s a bit of a murderer in me,” she jokes before letting out her trademark hearty laugh.
“I just love it here,” Ann says matter-of-factly as she heads towards the Yellow Road, “I could have went back to Tipperary but I wanted to stay here. It’s homely. You get to know most of the people and you get used to the daily life here. Even though I still say I’m from Tipperary I really do love Waterford. I’ve made so many friends here wherever I lived. I would never leave it.”
In conversation with Ronan Morrissey