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  • caldun09


Updated: May 23, 2021

Ironing is a chore, avoid it if you can. I never really took to this shirt ironing and fancy creases, always keeping it to the minimum required.

I remember in my early teaching years we had a land lady who sent all our laundry to Celtic Laundry in Wexford. We were starched to the hilt heading into our classrooms. Our digs cost 5 pounds and the laundry cost a further ten shillings which was a big whack out of our colossal salary of eleven pounds per week.

All this changed drastically, and a terrible beauty was born when our good landladies quit the “keeping teachers as lodgers”. They were retiring and selling up the lodging house.

Now we were in a whole new personal maintenance game when we moved to flat life with its very limited laundry facilities. Now I quickly became familiar with the launderette for washing and drying but the ironing provided a different challenge.

Firstly, we had no iron and no apparatus on which to iron them. That was easily solved when we bought a shared iron.

The second problem was that we had no ironing board. After emergency planning meetings and very little discussion we decided that we could iron on the kitchen table using a blanket underneath.

We quickly realised that as we only wore a jumper and shirt every day to school, we only needed to iron the collar and the top bit exposed around the V-neck. We were always just one step ahead of the posse. We were praised at school for our neat ,smart looking collar and tie outfits.

I suppose I should have been better at the ironing game because of my youthful exposure to tailoring and irons. One of our neighbours was a tailor. I was fascinated by the various instruments for ironing he had access to. He had flat irons , box irons and goose irons. Jimmy was his name, and he was meticulous in putting creases in slacks when he had them tailored.

People came to the house by appointment and Jimmy dutifully and carefully got all the measurements right. He checked on their choice and depth of the trousers of the fold-up in the trousers .He always checked on whether they would be wearing braces or belt. Each measurement was double checked and finally committed to paper.

I was fascinated by the lengths of cloth and fabrics he kept in the house.

People came to the house by appointment and Jimmy dutifully and carefully got all the measurements right. He checked on their choice and depth of the trousers of the foldup in the trousers .He always checked on whether they would be wearing braces or belt. Each measurement was double checked and finally committed to paper.

Next was the marking of the material with the white chalk followed by the cutting with his big siosúr an tailliúra and then the loose temporary first stitching.

Now the big singer sewing machine whirred into action and hey presto the outline of the suit appeared.

Finally came the steaming and pressing of the new culaith eadaigh. The flat iron was heated on the range and the suit material was ironed through a piece of spare clothe in case of any damage to the fabric.

Now it was hung up to view and the prospective client was informed that his culaith eadaigh was ullamh.

Generally, the suit fitted well .On the occasions when some minor adjustments had to be made ,they were dutifully executed to perfection.

Finally, when he was satisfied that all was perfect the goose iron was heated up and the suit was gently pressed and admired putting the final touch to his artistry.

I will always remember the pride he took in each of his creations. Nothing ever left his workshop without Jimmy hanging his creativity on a hanger and walking around it and double checking it. You knew the work was done when he would walk around puffing away at a Sweet Afton cigarette.

Jimmy always had a great array of irons. Firstly, it was necessary to have two irons ready together so that you always had a hot iron ready when you were pressing a suit. You were ironing with one and the other was on the range. Great care was also taken that you kept the face of the iron clean.

I remember once when Jimmy wanted to order two new irons. He was in a quandary over how he could order them because you had to write a letter to order them. He wanted to know if he could say 2 goose irons or two geese irons. My father told him to order one goose iron and while they were at it, they could send another one . There was another problem ironed out.

The flat iron was also called the sad iron with sad being an old English word for solid and they were most definitely solid.

I remember a big problem with a lot of these irons was the solid iron handle which heated up with the iron and so you had to get a bunch of rags to catch the handle to start your ironing and prevent major burning of skin.

There was a major development when they invented the wooden handle for such flat irons. There were definitely less burns around.

Whenever I watch period dramas, I am always fascinated by the trouble Victorians took to iron sheets and bed linen in general. They had rollers and pulleys and beaters etc to make the bed clothes crease free. It was generally called ironing.

I wonder how the Romans managed to look so well in their togas which were never crumpled looking. Do you remember your Latin studies in school when Virgil described the Romans as a toga wearing nation?

The dictionary meaning for ironing is, in fact quite loose “The action or process of smoothing or pressing clothes with a heated iron.

Another definition was “the activity of making clothes flat and smooth using an iron”

Ironing and dry cleaning have advanced rapidly over the years and now houses have presses and steam irons or just go readily to laundry or dry cleaners to get their ironing done.

I was doodling this piece tonight while watching the excellent documentary about the life of Marian Finnucane.

In one excerpt the late Marian speaks about her husband and his ironing habits. He only always ironed the collar and the immediate area around it.I just loved that documentary .

It was filmed in black and white and was made using her husband as the voice over. It was just excellent and so moving.

Anyway, away with ye, get out those ironing boards and do that pile of ironing now.

PS There was always an abundance of tailors and cobblers around Tralee because of the Industrial School for boys which was based in Tralee. This institution trained many children to become tailors and shoemakers.

Mick O Callaghan

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