Johnny Paddy’s?

Johnny RynneIn common with many rural Irish homes, our house has no street number, name or post/zip code. However, it is widely known by the older generation as “Johnny Paddy’s”. Why?

Before the days of automated sorting offices, the local Postman had to know where everyone lived. It was simple enough in a sparsely-populated area like West Clare. However, until well into the 20th Century, families were large and each generation would traditionally name at least one child after its father or mother. Despite occasional periods of mass emigration, the core population of rural areas remains fairly static, with the result that several generations of a family, bearing the same names, have raised their own families within a radius of two or three miles. Needing a way to differentiate between generations, people would simply refer to a property by tacking on the name of the current owner’s father. Hence, when John’s uncle, Johnny, inherited the farm from his father, Paddy, the land became known as “Johnny Paddy’s”.  John inherited the farm from his uncle in 1990, but the name has stuck.

A bit of history …

House 1954 (Photo: Dorothea Lange)Family research shows that there have been Rynnes on this land for around 200 years. In John’s great-grandfather’s day, the family home would have been the (now slightly dilapidated) neighbouring farmhouse that faces onto the road. However, as his sons grew up, he decided to split his land between the three of them and two new farmhouses were built: one for Paddy and one, now derelict, for Michael, down on the main road.

In 1954, an American photographer, Dorothea Lange, visited the area and took in excess of 2000 photos for a project in Life magazine. The above photo, showing Paddy’s farm as it was then, formed part of a collection, Dorothea Lange’s Ireland, published by her son, Daniel Dixon, in collaboration with Gerry Mullins, in 1998.

Of Johnny’s eight surviving siblings, only two of them, John’s father and a sister, married. Being the oldest boy, Johnny inherited Paddy’s farm, but having no heir of his own, he determined that the name on the land would not change and left it to John.  For his part, John had been raised in the UK and, having children at school there at the time of Johnny’s death, had no interest in working the land. Instead, he turned the majority of the farm over to forestry and let the farmhouse.

We’ll probably never know the exact chain of events that led to the fire but, suffice to say, one night in 1993, the house burned down. John’s intention was always to rebuild it, but during the years of the Celtic Tiger, building costs were prohibitive. It took many years but, eventually, as Ireland entered recession, John and Brigid sold their London home and used the proceeds to build a new house on the site.  Sadly, the old house seen in the picture is no more. Modern building regulations insist on a certain distance between a house and the boundary of the building plot. Since the old house was built too close to the boundary hedge, they were unable to use its footprint and it had to be demolished to make way for the new one. However, before the bulldozers moved in for the last time, they cleared away the rubble and soil, and salvaged the flagstones from the old kitchen. These original flagstones have been relaid in the new back kitchen and stones from the external walls of the old house have been used to create the chimney breast in the new living room.