Jessica's People - a semi-fictional story of life in rural Ulster
Jessie Woodger

Cover of Jessica's People ISBN 1-873855-25-7

Social history unfolds, from quieter times in Ulster to post-war life in Headley, Hampshire

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Front cover: Photograph of Jessie, aged about 5

Paperback - 166 pages
John Owen Smith; ISBN: 1-873855-25-7; May 1998, revised 2005

Associated titles: The Connollys

Inside Flap . Back Cover . Contents . Excerpt . About the Author . About the Publisher . Further information

Inside Flap

We wandered idly along the lane with its neatly trimmed hedges on each side, my friend Pat and me. We had spent the afternoon playing with the kittens, now we were hungry and I hoped mum would be in a better mood. She had snapped at us this morning when I had brought home one of the kittens, a little ginger one - she yelled at me to take it back, saying we already have a cat.

As we came through the kitchen door a lovely smell greeted us. Mam was making blackcurrant jam. She smiled at us now, as she placed the big pan of jam on a cold slab to cool before she poured it into the jars all washed and ready.

We watched as she cut off two huge slices of soda bread, spread them thickly with butter and then jam from a saucer which had cooled on the table.

We sat on the doorstep and munched contentedly. Pat said, I wish my Mammy could make jam like this. Can't she then? I asked. Naw, she tried it once, it was rhubarb I think, it was all green and runny. Daddy wouldn't try it, he said it looked like cat's pee.

I saw Mam turn away and smile, but Auntie Jeannie, who was sitting knitting, said, You shouldn't let her play with that boy, she is rude enough already.

Mother didn't answer, she put the frying pan on and sliced cold potatoes and thick slices of bacon. My three brothers and sister would be back from school soon.

Cover photograph of Jessie, aged about 5

Back Cover

Nowadays, when sleep doesn't come readily, I close my eyes and go back sixty-five years to County Cavan ...

I see myself with a bucket in each hand, go through the gate where the cows stand waiting to be brought in for milking. I tread carefully on the seven stepping stones Dad put there so we need not walk in the mud.

Past the big puddle with the blue clay streak where we shaped cups and saucers for our wee house. Past the patch of cowslips and over the style into the castle meadow. The grass is longer here, and I search for trembling-grass which, no matter how still the day, shakes and sparkles with a life of its own.

Through the old iron gate and into the bluebell wood, with the eggtree hedge on one side. I stop to pop a few of the large white berries between finger and thumb, and suddenly I come out into the sunshine ....

I never get as far as the well, because peaceful sleep has overtaken me - it's better than a sleeping pill any day.

Jessie Woodger (neé McMahon) was born in 1923 close to where Co. Cavan meets Fermanagh - an area which is now border country between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Here she speaks of the quieter times in which her family still farmed 45 acres after four generations on the land - and of the irreversible changes brought upon them by separation during two world wars.


Fermanagh Gates

The Scarlett Roses


And Now ...


The Castle Sanderson estate lay partly in Cavan and partly in Fermanagh. There were three avenues leading to the Castle with imposing high white iron gates and spiked railings each side: the Belturbet gates so called because they lead off the road to Belturbet, a nice little town on the river Erne; the Sweep gates, I suppose because the road there swept round a double bend; and lastly the Fermanagh gates, which were the ones used mostly by the gentry in their fine carriages. Here there was a pretty little gate lodge and a bridge, and the avenue led past the little estate church with its surrounding grave yard in which lay the bodies of the Sanderson family for over 200 years, in a crypt with an iron gate and a strong metal door.

A few minutes' walk from the castle was a beautiful wild garden. It had been started by one of the Sanderson ladies many years before, and each lady in turn had added her own touches to it. The result was lovely - many beautiful trees had been brought back from all over the world, azaleas scented the air and lily of the valley added their fragrance. Streams with wooden bridges over them ran into a little lake with an island, where wild fowl nested in peace from predators. Such a peaceful place, even the bees, drunk on nectar, moved slowly from flower to flower.

Colonel Sanderson was a bustling, bad tempered little man and most of his staff feared him. His wife was an invalid in a wheelchair - she was a kind, gentle lady, and was the only one who didn't fear the Colonel. He could never outwit her in any argument - she just laughed at him.

The little road ran gently down. It was narrow and stony, and the carriage tracks were filled occasionally with rough stones from the quarry. On one side was the long stone wall behind which was the Castle Sanderson estate, on the other side were fields belonging to small farms. A fine farmhouse stood back from the road, belonging to the Scarlett family and now owned by William Scarlett, who lived with his widowed mother Ellen.

About the Author

Jessie Woodger (née McMahon) was born in 1923 close to where Co. Cavan meets Fermanagh - an area which is now border country between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

She settled in England after the Second World War, and lived in Headley, Hampshire.

Jessie died in April 2010.

About the Publisher

John Owen Smith was born in 1942 and trained as a Chemical Engineer at London University, but spent most of his working life designing commercial Information Systems for the paper-making industry. Following redundancy, he 'fell' into researching and recording the local history of east Hampshire, where he now lives. His own output of historical community plays, lectures, articles and books includes:-

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