While yet a teenager, I collected most of these clay pipes around Loughrea, in county Galway, some from the lake shore, some from under the water using a snorkel and mask, the smallest ones from the bottom of a hole I was digging in Elephant and Castle, while working as a student in London.
I cannot say if any of them were made in Knockrockery, the little village in Roscommon, that was destroyed by the Black and Tans in 1921 in reprisal for a fatal ambush on a British officer in Athlone. While the blame for the ambush was laid at the feet of the people of Knockrockery, it is unlikely that anyone from that village had anything much to do with the attack. Unfortunately however, the only business of note in the village, that of Clay Pipe-making, which had been carried out there for over a hundred years, was destroyed by the rampaging Black and Tan soldiers. The entire village was burned to the ground that fateful night. The kilns were destroyed and the factory was never re-built. Knockrockery's clay pipe-making tradition died, there and then.
My clay pipes are all incomplete. While the bowls were robust, the long, white, swan-necked stems were delicate and were easily broken. Two of the stems are marked Waterford and Wexford. One is marked Hanley Brothers. One bowl is marked 6 High Street, Sligo. An eclectic mix one might say. Why they all ended up in the lake at the back of the old famine work-house is anyone's guess.
In local parlance the pipes were known as 'Duidins' (dude-eens) and were the poor man's or poor woman's smoking pipe. Women especially favoured them, being able to secret them away in their bosoms, safely, without fear of burning, unlike a cigarette.
My grand-father's shop, a grocery, drapery, apothecary and general store, M A Brody and Co, in Killimor, Co. Galway, used to supply the local 'Wakes' with the 'wake order'. The typical wake order included a 'Habit' (for the deceased), wax candles (for the vigil), a pound of Brody's Best Tea, (especially blended by my grand-dad Michael Brody), a half gallon (or more) of whiskey, several ounces of snuff, and a gross (144) of filled pipes or duidins.
A 'flaithuilach' or 'fliurseach' of these ingredients made for a good wake. A dearth of them did the deceased no honour at all and no self-respecting family would let the house down by being 'mean' with the necessities. 'Like snuff at a wake' was the catchphrase for a generous helping of anything in life, or death, whether it be drink, food or any other freely given delight. Plenty of snuff at a wake really meant that the odours emanating from the deceased's body needed to be disguised, but even so, a little snuff was never enuff!
My mother, Josephine Brody, and my uncle, Padraic Brody, as teenage children in the 1930s, used to have to fill the pipes for the wake order, cutting the hard plug tobacco into shreds with a pen-knife and then packing the 144 clay pipes with a single smokes worth. The pipes were delicate and often broke during the packing, so great care, dexterity and patience was needed, to get the order 'filled'. Mum never smoked, she reckons 'cause of her dislike of the smell of the tobacco from those days. Nor indeed did my uncle smoke either.
In the early 1970s, some 40 years after my mum had filled her last wake order, I worked a summer job in my uncle's shop. The clay pipes were long gone and the half-gallon jugs of whiskey too, but the snuff was still there, in a tightly- capped glass jar behind the counter. I had only three customers that summer for snuff, all older ladies. They came in once a week or once a fortnight for their shopping and when their list was all done, they would ask for their snuff by the 1/4 or 1/2 ounce. There was a special silver scoop for the snuff, a tiny thing, which I would use to measure out a deal of the pepper-like powder into a little white paper bag. I would then weigh the bag and its contents on the brass balance scale, matching the weight of the baggie with the 1/2 ounce brass weight, Once weighed, I would fold the bag onto itself, at angles, and then full fold, sealing in the fragrant yellow powder.
Only once I had the temerity to ask one lady what snuff was for? I had in mind that it might be like the cayenne pepper that my dad used shake on his fried egg, which naturally, being a child, I never even ventured to taste, assuming it to be on the same par as whiskey, which I had made the mistake of trying once, with predictable results.
She smiled and kindly introduced me to the delicate and secret etiquette of snuff. First one must open one's 'snuff box'....a small indent 2 inches behind one's thumb, if the thumb and index finger are simultaneously extended. A tiny amount of snuff is 'pinched' between the thumb and index finger of the right hand and sprinkled into the 'snuff box' of the left hand. Then while blocking one one nostril at a time with one's right thumb, one sniffed, or snuffed the snuff box with the other 'nose' in one long, deep snort. Repeating the same with the other side, one emptied the snuff box and stood straight, head back, and then it came...the biggest, most violent, most sinus-clearing efficient sneeze ever, bending ones spine to astonishing curvature and the spring-back was capable of launching a sliothar the length of a hurling pitch.
Aah yes, my first 'snuff' experience...and my last!! My eyes wept for days and my nose ran like a stream in at snow-melt. Such was the force of my sneeze I was unable to pee for two days, not to mind anything else. The little old lady smiled and as she turned to leave the shop, the light caught the yellow powder residue on her jacket sleeve, just above the wrist, where she had stemmed many's a similar sneeze, smothering the explosion with her arm.
Last night, we were invited to a pre-Christmas dinner in a friend's house in Monivea. Barbara and Gabriel are wonderful hosts and their hospitality left us as sated as beached seals on the strand. While I sipped an Irish Coffee, another guest regaled us with tales of Galway in the 1970's and then she talked about a bar her family had owned near the Claddagh in Galway. The bar was called 'The Genoa' after Christopher Columbus, who hailed from that city and apparently visited Galway in 1487, some five years before he discovered America.
We had great fun listening to her telling us in her laconic Galway accent, 'D'je know the Genoa' .Afterwards she told us of all the times the old Claddagh women would come into the bar after selling their fish on the Raven Terrace opposite the Spanish Arch, and how they would sidle quietly into the 'snug' where they would have a small-half-one and a maybe a baby bottle of Guinness, and all the while puffing on their duidins, under their Paisley shawls, their wizened weather-beaten faces, cracked into perpetual smiles, disarmingly obfuscating their hard lives.
I looked again at my little collection of broken clay pipes and wondered at all the tales they might hold and how little we really understand of our not-so-long-gone ancestors. Each pipe has a story to tell, but like the long gone wisps of smoke that curled up from the lit bowls a hundred years ago, those stories have dissipated into the air, wafting around the houses, across the bogs and over the hills and where if we are lucky, the wind occasionally blows back a faint aroma of a time long past, a fragrant flicker of the hint of a life, now gone, scattered, like snuff at a wake.
I hope you have enjoyed this story. You can hear many more by coming for a walk with me in Galway.
Come join me on one of my 'Galway's Horrible History Walking Tours'. See www.galwaywalks.com