When feeding calves on Easter Sunday morning and wondering what could I wear to church that was clean and ironed, while also debating why the hourwas going forward on a weekend when church was earlier than normal and sleep was in short supply due to calving, I thought of something my dad had said recently – how his sisters and mother and indeed, probably all his female relations and other female parishioners often got new clothes for Easter Sunday and always a new hat. The Easter bonnet wasn’t something decorated with rabbits, baby chicks and Easter eggs but a new hat to indicate spring and summer and to mark Easter Sunday.
The seasons were more marked then of course, with supplies of various foods being limited to when they were in season. They must have been enjoyed so much more when they weren’t available all year round. The days of the week were marked too. Each day had its role. Nowadays, we can pop a load of clothes into the washing machine at any time, it doesn’t require any big set up or organisation. We can make a cake easily by taking out a mixer and let it do the hard work while we multi-task by doing something else. While I don’t want to go back to the times when one whole day was dedicated to washing clothes, in some ways I wonder if we are busier now? Is life more hectic? Was it better when each day had its routine?
Monday was wash day – the day when the majority of the clothes as well as bedclothes were washed and hung out to dry. If raining, they were hung inside or on a clothes line in a breezy shed. Before the day of the washing machine, many buckets (one interviewee for my previous book remembered that it took 22 buckets of water to do the weekly wash) of water had to be carried from the well or river to the house, and heated over the fire before the washing could even commence. Ciara Meehan has done some interesting research into how the dishwashers and washing machines were advertised in women’s magazines in the 1960s, hugely aspirational for some considering many rural houses didn’t get piped water until well into the 1970s.
Tuesday was the day for ironing all the clothes washed the day before. Many rural houses didn’t have electricity until the late 1960s or even the early 1980s so until half a century ago, many women would have heated flat irons by the fire to iron the clothes. I know people wouldn’t have had as many clothes as we do nowadays but no wonder it took half the day.
Wednesday seems to have differened with the chores, I’m presuming butter-making had its day of the week too so that might have been Wednesday. My paternal grandparents made their butter on a Monday as they didn’t send the milk to the creamery on a Sunday morning (as the milk had to be delivered two hours earlier on a Sunday). What’s also interesting about Wednesdays in rural towns is that it was often a “closed half day” for all the local shops and remained so until about a decade ago. Now we are so busy that we have to do shopping on Sundays as well as Wednesday afternoons!
My maternal grandmother had an egg business and every Thursday she drove around Carlow delivering eggs to her customers. While locals called to the house to purchase eggs during the week, Thursday was her main selling day.
Friday was often the grocery shopping day. If a woman couldn’t drive, it was often a case of being chauffeured to town by her husband and doing the shopping while he was in the pub. Sometimes the husband did the grocery shopping. My paternal grandfather used to drop the shopping list into the shop and then went to see his brother who owned a radio shop in Dublin Street in Carlow, then he’d call back and his shopping would be all packaged up and ready for him. Much more civilised than shopping nowadays by the sound of it but of course, they wouldn’t have purchased as much then as they bought flour in four-stone bags from the mill, had their own butter and cheese, baked their own bread and cakes, and had their own supply of potatoes and vegetables too. Friday was also a house-cleaning day apparently.
Saturday was the ‘getting ready for Sunday’ day as the absolute minimum was done on a Sunday. People visited each other frequently then so lots of baking had to be done – apple tarts, sponge cakes and a fruit cake that would last all week. Kitchen chairs was wiped down, the kitchen floor was washed and shoes were polished. My memories of Saturday afternoons are of my dad watching a rugby match in the living room and my mum baking in the kitchen. I’d take a break from reading my Enid Blyton books to scrape out a bowl or eat a hot queen cake.
Sunday was a rest day for religious reasons. I can remember not being allowed to knit on a Sunday as a child and wondering why the lady on “The Riordans” was knitting then as the programme was shown on a Sunday. Part of me though thinks that there was another very good reason for doing the minimum on a Sunday – they had worked so hard the rest of the week that they not only really deserved a rest but probably needed a reason to validate it too.
Of course, these ‘days of the week’ jobs were all in addition to the chores that were completed every day such as cooking meals, washing up, fetching water, milking cows, feeding calves and pigs, collecting eggs, tending to poultry and yes, looking after children too.
Do you do any specific jobs on certain days of the week? I have to admit that I am more relaxed doing the farm jobs at the weekend and relish not having to watch the clock.