The following article was published in The Mid-Ulster Mail on the occasion of Alfie’s 100th birthday.
Wednesday 13 November 2013
Alfie with family members in 2013
THE 6th November, 2013 was an important date in the life of Alfie B Charleton of Coagh.
On that date Alfie celebrated his 100th birthday, with over 150 family members and friends calling at his neat house with a carefully manicured garden on the Urbal Road Coagh.
Over 200 birthday cards were delivered including one from her Majesty the Queen, one from the President of the Irish Republic and one card signed by the current Liverpool football team.
Alfie has had a lifelong interest in football and supported Liverpool for many years. The Charleton family have a long association with Coagh Presbyterian Church and visiting Alfie on his birthday the Rev Dr Andrew Rodgers, a former Moderator of the General Assembly, conveyed the greetings of the Church to Alfie.
Blessed with a great memory, Alfie recalls some happenings in his life in the Tyrone village of Coagh. Alfie’s father was sexton of the Presbyterian Church in Coagh and the family of nine children were reared in the sexton’s house near the Church.
The family slept head to toe as there were always more than two to a bed. His mother died very young and it was his sister, who left school early, who brought up the family.
Alfie attended Coagh National School, just opposite the family home and in those days the children were dressed alike, making it difficult to tell the boys from the girls.
They used black slates as writing material and wrote on them with chalk. As Alfie recalls: “If you wanted to rub out, you used your sleeve!”
There was a big fire in a stove in the middle of the schoolroom. Each pupil had to pay five shillings per year to help pay for the fuel, which was quite a sum in those days.
Alfie told the Courier: “There was a ‘Dunce’s Cap’. You were put in into a corner wearing it if you did not know your lessons and other children often made fun of the victim in the corner.”
When he left school, the pictures (cinema) in Cookstown were a big draw. They were silent movies; admission was three pence 1p and boys from the village got there by riding old bicycles.
Alfie never wore an overcoat because he didn’t possess such a thing! States Alfie: “You came out of the warm picture house on a frosty Winter’s night and you had to pedal like the hammers home to keep warm.
“When you were young it was all part of the excitement of a night out.”
Open air boxing matches in Stewartstown were also popular events and attracted the young men of Coagh. The occasional visit of the “wall of death” motor cycle attraction to the market yard in Cookstown also drew large crowds. The market yard is now the Molesworth Plaza at Molesworth Street.
Duff’s Linen Factory, in the village of Coagh, which was powered by water from the Ballinderry River, provided Alfie with his first job in 1929 as a weaver getting a wage of three shillings and sixpence (17p) a week. After a few years he progressed to become a “tenter”.
The Charleton family was a musical family and the owner of the mill, Mr Duff, brought Alfie his first accordion from Belfast. It cost 13 shillings (65p). Everyone in the house learned to play at least one tune on it.
Alfie joined Coagh Band playing the snare drum for many years before joining Tamlaght Accordion Band when it was formed in 1947 and he remained a faithful member until 1992. He also taught himself the banjo and mandolin and mouth organ.
Such was Alfie’s love of music he started teaching accordion bands at Drumbonaway and Stewartstown. Later he played in a dance band called “The Grand Ol Dance Band”.
Eventually, like many other Linen Mills in Ulster, Duff’s closed and Alfie had a variety of jobs including a postman; working in Cookstown Bacon Factory and on retirement he was a very popular School Crossing Patrol man in Coagh for 10 years.
In his spare time Alfie was a keen gardener, growing a wide range of vegetables to feed the family as well as having a grand display of flowers. Fretwork has been a lifelong passion and some of his very intricate work is now on display in homes in USA, Sweden as well as the United Kingdom.
In 2004 Alfie broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster’s “Your Place, Your Story” series, telling about Lover’s Lane in Coagh. This resulted in many congratulatory phone calls and letters.
Alfie married Rose Martin of Drumconvis in 1936. They had four girls and two boys. Sadly Rose passed away in 1999, aged 84 years, after 63 happy years together.
Reflecting on reaching 100 years, Alfie told the Courier: “I count myself lucky to have the life and health I have had and have managed to jump the hurdles that life has thrown at me. I enjoy the simple things in life and I am happy and contented. Keeping a good sense of humour I feel has helped me to keep a good balance in life and I am privileged to have family and friends around me and I am now a great great grandfather.”
Our best wishes are extended to this remarkable gentleman on his 100th birthday.
Black & White photos courtesy Coagh and District Local History Group