McCLEARY Jimmy PDF Print E-mail

Jimmy McCleary - Sixty Years in Auchencairn 

I came to Auchencairn in 1938 with my parents when I was twenty. Before that I had been living in Dundrennan and most of the work I did was in Dundrennan.

I've worked at many farms including Higher Barend, Minton, and Castle Creavie.

I started off as a ploughman and used to work with two Clydesdales for Mr Houston. Then I started work as a dairyman and was often responsible for 60 to 80 cows. I would start at about 5 a.m. and bring in the cows to be milked, and then take them out to the fields again. Then I had to do this again at 4 p.m., it was a very long day.

This was when I became in charge of the cheese making side of dairying. In those days nearly all dairy farms used to make their own cheeses. It used to be Cheddar Farmhouse cheese that we made. First we would put the morning milking into the vat and then add the evening milking on the same day. In those days the milk was always unpasturised. It was churned and poured into chissocks which could be 10, 15 or 20 pound containers. The cheeses would be put in cloths and pressed until all the whey was squeezed out. These were then bandaged and stored in the loft where they would stay for 4 to 6 months. We had to turn these around every day so that they would mature evenly. When the farmer thought they were ready, the cheese tester came in from the creamery and would put in a testing tool and give a half turn and pull it out. First he would smell it and then taste it, looking to see if it had enough acid in it to keep it from going off. If it was too sweet it would be rejected. Then he would grade it either Grade 1 or Grade 2 and it would be taken to market where shopkeepers would buy it to sell in their shops. It the cheese was unfit to be sold it would be taken away and rendered ‘dowt’ to be used for other things.

Most dairy farms then would keep pigs and all the whey that was removed from the cheese making would be fed to them, as it was very good for fattening pigs. 80 cows would give about 200 gallons of milk which would make a lot of cheese. When we weren't making cheese the milk was poured into urns and ta'n away by lorry to the creameries. When the cheese is first made it is white. We kept jars of colouring so if yellow or red cheese was wanted we would add a set amount. It had to be done very carefully because if we added too much colour it would spoil the cheese.

In those days we didn't get paid but if we agreed to work for six months got our food and clothes given to us. It was very rarely we got a holiday, and had to work seven days a week! I used to sleep in the bothy on the farm and at the end of the day, sometimes, I cycled back to Auchencairn. Much later on I could afford a Reliant Robin, the three-wheeler kind.
It wasn't all work, however, as I used to go to dances almost every week. The dances were always Old Time or Scottish dances and I worked with H Calder and his band, I was MC and used to do the singing. Some of them we did were 'Dundee', 'Dark Island', etc. and we would go all over the Stewartry up to New Galloway and out to Newton Stewart. I'd catch the bus to Kirkcudbright and then Campbell's bus would take us to wherever the dance was that night. Mrs Clark of Castle Douglas was our pianist and one of the band joined the navy, another became Police Sergeant in Glasgow. There were a lot of bands in those days, Alberta's Band, Hugh Calder's, Jimmy Shand, and so on. After playing all these jigs and reels and singing the band I would have to get home and be up again at 5 in the morning. We played right through the war years.

Dundrennan then was a much more lively place and had its own drama group. They used to practice in many places including Town Head where the barracks were for the Range, and at Kirkcudbright and Gatehouse.
One of the times remember very much was the time of the Big Freeze in 1947 when the snow was 6 or 7 foot deep. I was at Milton then and came home to Auchencairn one night walking along a narrow pathway through the snow this was before we had snow-ploughs. In some places all I could see was the tops of telegraph poles. By the time I got home it was almost time to go hack. The snow was so bad it lasted right through to June. When it was at its worst the lorries couldn't get through to collect the milk and for a whole week we had to milk the cows, and then pull the plug out of the vats and let the milk drain away. We also had to walk through the fields with sticks and prod the snow to see if we could find any sheep.

After many years I left the farms and went to work at the Range. At that time there were many troops there and I worked in the kitchens. There were seven of us and the cooks from the Army Catering Corps. We worked on three. shifts a day. By this time the band had closed up as the different players had all gone their own way. After the kitchens I work on the range in maintenance until 1982 when I retired.

Life in Auchencairn now is very different from what it used to be like.