‘The Result of the Bad Dinner’

I love adding a bit of background to the places I’m researching. Recently I came across this entertaining story set in County Mayo, Ireland. I can hear the storyteller’s voice in the rhythm and words, and the humor brings a smile to my face.

“There once lived in Ballyglass a man named Patch Heskin who was a thatcher. One day Pat Heskin from Ballyrourke employed him thatching.

“At that time they used to stitch the thatch with rope. They used to have a big thatcher’s needle. The thatcher would have to be outside on the roof to put in the needle and another person inside to pull it in and put it out again.

“In the morning Pat Heskin was going to the market and he ordered his wife Peggy to give a good dinner of meat, cabbage, and potatoes to the thatcher. The wife was a very stingy woman and she herself tended on the thatcher rather than pay somebody else to do it. When dinner time came Patch was called in and to his surprise what had he to get only potatoes and buttermilk. He expected he would get a great dinner as he overheard the conversation Pat had with his wife before he left, so he said to himself that he would play a trick on Peggy before the day was out.

When dinner time came Patch was called in and to his surprise what had he to get only potatoes and buttermilk.

“After the dinner Peggy was helping the thatcher again. The thatcher was outside on the roof. She was inside and she was standing on top of the chair which was on top of a able, in order to reach the roof. At this time the thatcher told Peggy to pull the rope tightly. She started pulling with all her might. Patch just gave a cut to the rope with his knife and as Peggy was inside pulling with all her strength the rope gave way and she was tumbled head, neck, and heels to the ground. She gave a roar and Patch ran in, in a great hurry. He found her thrown on the ground and her ribs broken. He was pretending he had great pity for her and he said, ‘Why in the world did you pull it so strongly? Sure it was no wonder at all the rope broke and the pulling you had on it.’

“When Pat came home in the evening he found Peggy unable to stir, so from that day on she never tended on a thatcher again and Patch got a good dinner whenever he was working for her.”[1]

This story was collected from John Walshe, an 80-year-old resident of Loughanaganky, County Mayo, by Nellie Maye, who was a local schoolgirl. Nellie was one of the Republic of Ireland school children who were sent home to interview their oldest community members in 1937 and 1938. They gathered local history and folklore stories in school notebooks as a homework assignment. These notebooks are now digitized on https://www.duchas.ie/ and contain accounts of local traditions and beliefs stretching back into the 1800s and earlier.

Dúchas.ie also has a wonderful collection of photographs. Searching through them I was able to find this undated photo of an old women who could almost be Peggy.[2] Does she look a bit contrite to you?


[1] “The Schools’ Collection,” dúchas.ie, volume 103, page 230, “The Result of the Bad Dinner.

[2] “The Photographic Collection,” dúchas.(https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbeg/54027), M001.33.00033, photo of a woman and cats by the fireplace; image available under license CC-BY-NC 4.0.

About Pam Holland

Pam is a certificate holder from the Boston University Genealogical Research program and has researched family history for over 14 years. She has attended numerous genealogical institutes, including Samford University Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) and Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG). She also has a B.A. from the College of Wooster and a M.S. from Northeastern University. Her areas of interest include New England, New York (both city and state), Ireland, Germany, Social History, and DNA.

3 thoughts on “‘The Result of the Bad Dinner’

  1. I don’t see this story about an old woman being purposefully and seriously injured as entertaining. Nor do I see a reason why the old woman should be contrite unless one assumes that woman owe/owed a duty of perfect obedience to their husband while she did the work of a man to make ends meet? It does provide insight into the legal status of women c.1850.

  2. It’s folklore! And it’s message is don’t be stingy and shortchange (short dinner) your employees.

  3. I had just finished reading the Vita Brevis article, Return to Cloonduane, by Michael Dwyer, and looked at the faces of two women born in County Mayo, Annie and Ellen Flynn, when I saw the picture of the old woman in your article. I just have to go check out that Duchas photo collection. Of all things I love old pictures. Anyhow, it seems the old woman looks a lot like Annie and Ellen Flynn and I wondered how varied the gene pool was in County Mayo during that time period. Thanks for a great story and links to another photo collection!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.