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This is a little story written by Annraoi O Liathain (Harry Lyons) 1917 -1981 who was raised in the parish of Glendine in rural West Waterford. All his works were published in the medium of the Irish language, and the tragedy is that very few people have been able to read his literary output due to the decline of the Irish language, in this and previous generations. However, I have managed to translate it into English, and I hope you enjoy it. The story is about the excitement when the first Gramophone came to the parish of Glendine, possibly in the 1920’s.

 The Gramophone
A fairly rare event happened in our house on one occasion when I was growing up in Glendine, in the West Waterford Deise. A letter arrived from my mother’s aunt which contained a five pound note. We all gathered around our mother staring at this mysterious brown note. At that particular time it was unusual enough for the green pound notes to be coming into our house but it was hard to imagine that there were five green notes contained in this small brown one!
We were rich. There was nothing that we could not buy and we were short of money on many occasions. I needed a new trousers as a necessity, and not just to keep up with the latest fashions, and the nuns were not too happy with my sisters as their toes were beginning to show through their old footwear – and if a good pair of shoes were bought for each one of us, they would be the only good pair of shoes each one of us would have.
But it wasn’t from nowhere that I and the rest of us got the thrift and the ‘waste not want not’ attitude we all practiced. Our mother was a very practical woman. The Saturday after the windfall arrived, she dressed herself and dressed me, she deposited the windfall carefully into her purse and we walked the seven mile journey from Boola Hill to Youghal.

The journey seemed short for us as the sun was shining, the fall of ground was with us and the secret purpose for the five pound note was on our minds. It wasn’t long before we were heading back the same road again to Glendine. The darkness was approaching; the hill was in front of us as well as the five pounds worth of a heavy package that we were carrying between us.

The rest of the gang were waiting for us when were about a mile away from the house. They ran towards us and started asking us questions, but my mother had warned me not to answer any questions until we were inside in our kitchen. Then, the package was laid on the table very carefully, the wrapping paper was removed and we all stood around it staring in amazement at the practical fruits of the five pound note – a shiny yellow box with a small wheel on top, a large tin horn that would remind you of a top hat as well as ten shiny black discs in wrapping paper. “That’s a gramophone”, said my mother proudly. “Move yourself”, she said to me, “and get it working”.
I stooped down to put the equipment together as the shopkeeper had explained to me earlier. I attached the horn, wound the turntable, put a needle in the sound box and placed one of the records on the small green wheel. I wound another piece of apparatus, the record started to turn very quickly and I placed the needle on the outside of it. Nothing happened for a few moments and then a fine, ferocious sound started to cascade all over the kitchen. “That’s John Mc Cormack singing The Boys of Wexford”, my mother said.

It was written on the record that John Mc Cormack was a tenor, but according to the gramophone he was a fine soprano. Indeed, we found out from that gramophone that our opinions regarding music were all over the place, baritone was a bass, according to the gramophone, and tenor was a baritone and so on. Not to mention the lady singers. On one occasion we played a record performed by ladies and we had to adjust the volume before the rafters of the house came in on top of us!
Well, that’s how the first gramophone came to our parish. The story spread to the four corners of the parish and everyone had to come to see and listen to this new wonder. There was a large and happy gathering every night in the house – it was very lonely before this, as my mother was not a native of this locality and did not have much social contact before this – until the gramophone came to her assistance. There was an odd person who came and were not to our liking and they were put to flight very fast.

The visitors were seated beside the gramophone, the horn pointed in their direction and the loudest record we had was put on the turntable. There should have been a prize for the punishment they were suffering!

A transformation came over my mother. When she was ironing the clothes there was a little tilt of pride in her head as she sang along to the music. There was a smile in her eyes every Saturday morning as we got ourselves ready to make the trip to Youghal. And before she bought a grain of tea or a loaf of bread, in that town, she would make for the record shop and spend an hour going through the records, talking about the records with other people who also had gramophones, getting advice from the shopkeeper – and she never came out without a new record under her armpit. When money was in short supply, the shopping bags would be fairly light coming home, but she never failed to buy a new record.

Some of the neighbors began to talk. They said it was a bit of a step up in the world to get a gramophone in the first place and also a scandal the amount of money she was spending on new records.

Maybe they were right. And it wasn’t from any feeling of ill-will they said what they said. But this I know. Little money was spent compared with the happiness it brought to my mother as a result. From our point of view, we now have over two hundred songs that we wouldn’t have without that gramophone.

And when we look back and reflect on life, the gramophone was just great. It was bought, and the records as well – for a five pound note!

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