WHEN Peg Tebay arrived into the city as a young lady she fell in love with it there and then. Having been born and reared in Enniscorthy, she remembers admiring the quayside shops and hotels as she crossed the bridge to meet her husband John – instantly becoming a proud Waterford woman who would spend the rest of her life in the city contributing to its social life in any way she could.
“I really and truly still love it,” she says from her beautifully kept living room in St John’s Park.
Peg spent her first 17 years in the Wexford town with a great interesting in stepdancing and credits her caring mother for instilling in her an interest in helping others. The 84-year-old’s father was taken before his time after contracting Tuberculosis and her mother worked in hotels to support her three kids, sewing their clothes to help save money and also pass the time away.
When Peg was a teenager, the family home welcomed boarders who were erecting poles around the south east for the ESB, one of whom would turn out to be Peg’s life partner. John, who passed away 18 years ago, spent 50 happy years with Peg, despite her initial reluctance.
“I was too young at the time and I was trying to get him to go with a cousin of mine, she was mad about him, but he didn‘t want it. We were all pushing for that and then out of the blue one night he said it to my mother, ‘I’d prefer to go with your daughter’. She said it to me and sure I nearly died, I didn’t want a boyfriend, but it worked out alright. I got used to him!”
“He would cycle the 45 miles and he hadn’t a good bike, it wasn’t a good road either.”
“So you never met him half way,” I added in jest.
“No, when he’d be going home on a Sunday evening I often went so far with him but he was always worried about me going back so I never went further than two miles.”
A gorgeous singer, John was loved by Peg’s family and friends in her native town because of his jokes and blaggarding, and she still thinks of him every day.
“I couldn’t have got any better than him. He loved me all his life and his last words were ‘I love you’. I know he’ll be waiting for me, he will.”
Following their marriage, the couple moved into a flat on Morgan Street before stints at Dominick’s Place and Tycor Avenue. Despite naturally being a social creature, Peg found it lonely within the one room flats while her husband worked at Denny’s and now she looks back joking that she couldn’t even pass time away cleaning furniture because they hadn’t enough of it. The turning point, she says, came when she had children and would get to know their friends’ mothers.
With new homes being built in St John’s Park, Peg chanced writing to the City Manager 64 years ago saying she’d be willing to take a shed with a window and a door after the family, now with three kids, had outgrown their flat Tycor Avenue. Thankfully, her plea was good enough and she remains in the house on the cusp of the city today.
“There were no houses past us, across the road was Fr Pat’s field and that saved everyone’s children and the mothers in St John’s Park. The women would get out their washing and get everything done and then we’d all meet over there at about three o’clock. We’d be sharing everything we had made like tarts or buns. If the children left the house in the summer we knew that’s where they were.
“I had nothing when I got this house apart from a round table belong to my Grandfather and two chairs. I walked out with the pram and when I arrived the other Ms Tebay from 149 was here with another neighbour Ms Long. My kitchen was all laid out when I got here. Another woman cooked buns because she heard we had children. I became great friends with them, Biddy Grant, Babs Stewart, we would meet every day in the field.”
Her new community, she says, was like an extended family – everybody helped their neighbours out and protected their fellow Johnnies. If Peg’s daughters were in town at the dances she would know the local boys would keep an eye out for her to ensure she’d get home safely.
Peg, who is heavily involved with the Sacred Heart Active Retirement group, later worked in Kromberg and Schubert and credits her former boss Mr Diegmann for never allowing spirits to sink in the factory.
“He worried about the morale, as long as the morale was up things were good. Some days he’d ask how it was and somebody might say ‘ah sure it’s so-and-so, neither up or down’. The next thing when we’d go in for lunch there’d be vans outside with all fancy cakes. The morale wouldn’t be long going up!
“We had so many things during the year like dinner dances and fancy dress. Me and John won a number of times – we dressed as Josephine and Napoleon, Mickie and Minnie Mouse, Wonderwoman and Superman. My husband was thin so we had to stuff him with wool. We were driving to it that night when a young fella and his girlfriend pulled up on a motorbike beside us and copped what we were dressed like!”
Peg, who used to love help making the costumes for Waterford Crystal’s Tops of the Town entries, was always passionate about helping the marginalised, and those at risk of marginalisation, in society.
An example of this came when Peg, along with Babs Murphy and the late Gary Wyse’s father, founded the Golden Years Festival fifteen years ago. Inspired by words from her friend the actress Anna Manahan, they set out establishing the annual event for the elderly, with hundreds from across the country flocking to the city each November for the three-day celebration. It is a source of great pride to her and noting that she never wants to give it up, she adds that she hopes somebody will ensure it continues afterwards.
Fortunately, she has never found it difficult to get people on board to allow the show to go on. Businesses, councilors, friends and families all lend their support to the event and Peg firmly believes such a level of willingness is a trait unique to her adopted city.
“I think the people in Waterford are so friendly. They’re the most generous people I’ve ever come across. If there’s something to be got for anybody that money will come. You have somebody to listen to you if you have problems. You’ll never need be short of anything in Waterford as long as you have a neighbour.”
In conversation with Ronan Morrissey