St Johnston - Carrigans     ~ Co Donegal.

Washing

The task of washing clothes was left to the women in days of old.  This was really gruelling work and nobody enjoyed it.  It was number one of the hated household chores. 

In most of Ireland, and the St Johnston and Carrigans area would have been a typical example, the men worked hard on the fields and got really dirty and muddy and the job of washing their clothes was more than difficult.

The Romans found that stale animal urine had bleaching capabilities.  Locally it would have been used on linen tablecloths in the hope of whitening them.  But the practice died out about the middle of the 1800's. 

To shift very stubborn stains, a bizarre form of detergent was used.  The galls of oxen were heated to melting point and turned into cleaning substances.

Lye which was a concoction of animal fat that had been melted down and ashes was used.  During washing in warm water, the fat was able to carry away the dirt that loosened up and which had attached itself to the ash.

Luxury soap was used at Dunmore House in Carrigans and by locals wealthy enough to afford it.  The main ingredient of this soap was olive oil.  It had to be imported from Italy and France.

The washboard was used locally into the sixties.  The old washing machines were like tubs with paddles and they made the work a bit easier.  The women still had to boil a lot of water, they had to churn the clothes, they had to rinse the clothes twice or more.  After that they usually wrung the clothes by hand.  The luckier ones had a mangle to squeeze the water out.  Then the clothes had to be hung out or hung up in the house if the weather was poor.

Monday was the favoured day for washing.  Some long-suffering women got employment as washerwomen.  The task was so despised and difficult that a labour market for washerwomen appeared. 

Although the electric washing machine was invented in 1911, by the Whirlpool Corporation, it would be decades before the machines would be commonly used in the area.

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