Try to remember the kind of September – Donegal Daily


Columnist Brian McDaid thought about the new starts September often brings… and it brings him back to the days of new jobs.

The toolbox was made using old technology from 9 x 1 1/4 inch marine plywood, in free classes. Dovetail and door seals cut and fitted with a piano hinge. It was September and instead of my fourth year of high school, I was heading to another school. I was starting my apprenticeship as a carpenter with Terence Ponsonby. In fact, I ended up at school, a new school he was building across from my house, in Wolfe Tone Place, which was to become St Bernadette.

My toolbox was painted red, dark red. I don’t know where my dad got the paint but he had all the wooden handles of the shovels, spades and hammers painted in this red. My new toolbox was tinted with the corporate color before crossing the green and crossing the catwalk between Shaun Mc Grath and Charlie Kerr on day one of my apprenticeship. Initially I had what was called a spacer which was manually operated to drill through wood, a set of chisels, a plane and a whetstone in the box that I had also made out of wood, two types of saws , a Sandvick for the big jobs and a Disston for the good job.

An old hammer from my father with the brand red handle

Children at Ballymacool including my mother Mary Ellen with her Berri next to her Fr Mark and Margaret in the front with Grandma and Grand aunt Mary Anne

I imagined myself working in dry wood chips and the smell of freshly cut wood, but the reality of starting an apprenticeship as a carpenter was that there was more time used with a claw hammer. The saw was made and shut down for a wintry weather in Donegal and your fair share of hard work throughout your apprenticeship.

I still have a hammer with a red handle today. It’s a ball hammer so I know it’s my dad’s hammer. It’s smaller than I remembered. He had a head that was missing a few nails and connected with the odd thumb he was hitting at the time.

The old toolbox is long gone, and the tools it contained were lost or rusted beyond use.

September, I think, is always the start of my year, a good time to make a private effort for yourself over the New Year’s resolution. In September 1977 I started a new school moving from St Eunan’s College to tech to follow the dream of becoming a carpenter a few years in an apprenticeship and although I still love carpentry the reality was not for me.

What I didn’t know at the time was that an evening job I got the same week I was working in the gas pumps at Hegarty served me better than just a job. It took me away from a family life that was under constant pressure, something that I thought I was managing well but was not managing well at all. The job started with a few evenings a week and a weekend day, but when my coworker got a job in the garage I ended up doing both shifts and enjoyed them. It took me out of the house 45 hours a week, and it was work so it was okay.

The Hegarty garage as it was when it opened in the 1960s

Hegarty’s garage as it was when I started working there in 1977

Every employee who worked at Hegarty before me wrote their name at the top on one of the roof rafters and a date they were there. 7/9/77 was all I wrote, too scared to put my name on it. We didn’t have a family car at home when I started in the pumps, so I never had or needed an elevator to work in the evenings when I started at 5:30 p.m. Andy Hegarty the owner would always come close and take you home at 10:30 am even when my dad bought a car the following year in ’78 he visited my work very rarely even to get gas.

My grandfather who lived on the outskirts of town died the year I started working in the gas pumps and all of the younger children were sent to Jeeves restaurant next to Bests in Lower Main St after the funeral. I remember a cousin of mine putting vinegar in the red sauce bottle to soften it a bit so that it comes out a little better from the red plastic bottle. We laughed and watched them work with the two bottles on the cafe table keeping one eye out to see that no staff were watching.

My grandfather’s vigil was the first I remember ever being able to attend, I remembered my mother’s death but her remains were brought straight from the hospital to the chapel. At my grandfather’s wake, his family told stories from his life, things like his days working for Irish Shell, and talked about his 25-year long service and even longer period of almost 30 years during which he received a pension from them.

Time, the clock my grandfather received when he retired from the Irish Shell. Photo Brian McDaid.

Working in the gas pumps in Hegarty, it seemed appropriate to me that I was selling Shell Petrol where my grandfather had left it across from Ballymacool Terrace where my mother and her family lived at No 19 Ballymacool. I often pictured them years before me, them walking the row out of town in the decades before I was born, as I stared out the window of the gas station hut.

My grandfather’s old Ford pickup truck with my grandma at the door of 19 Ballymacool

I think I was four years olds working for Andy Hegarty on the pumps, four years for me I was away from home without leaving Letterkenny. It was my university of life, meeting so many people every day. I went through tough days with gasoline shortages when we sold what were called “rockets” instead of shells. It smelled sweet compared to Super and Regular Shell. People spent their time in line hoping they wouldn’t have the “last car” stuck in the back of their car. I also had a great time at the pump and met people who have become lifelong friends who all started having a conversation next to a car putting in a few pounds of gasoline and handing out some Greens. Shield Stamps.

There is no such thing as perfection, we plan for the future and sometimes we don’t value the times we live in. September has always prepared me for the start of another year, a new page, a new school, or just a new way of looking at what we have around us and being grateful for it.

Happy auto people

DD Motoring: try to remember the kind of September was last modified: September 15, 2021 through Brian McDaid

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