John O’Brien grew up in Ballymartin, close to the O’Brien ancestral home at Ringmoylan. His father joined the RIC prior to the Troubles and served in Connemara, Co. Galway; due to his traumatic experiences during the Civil War, he resigned from the police force and returned to Limerick to farm and fish at Ballymartin.
John describes fishing on the Shannon River and names the locations where the nets were dropped, and the types of fish caught. He recalls in detail the islands on the river and the navigation of the great waterway. He crafted his own boat, a gandelow, and the work and the materials used are described in detail. All of the families who lived on the shores and who used the river are named, including the Fitzgerald family who looked after the lighthouse at Horse Rock. John recalls the shooting of wild geese, duck, plover, curlew, pheasant and rabbits for the table during World War 2.
The north and south channels of the Shannon River were busy transport lanes down through the years, with boats carrying grain and other cargo. John explains that a big grain boat would sometimes need the assistance of a lighter boat, which would lighten the load of the larger vessel. He recalls the turf boats which came from Clare to Pallaskenry to sell turf on a regular basis during World War 2, and The Dingle, which carried provisions each week to Adare via the River Maigue.
John explains that when he finished his education he completed a four-year wheelwright apprenticeship with John McDonagh of Beagh, Ballysteen. He describes in great and fine detail the making of a cartwheel. Later, he worked as a carpenter on County Council cottages in rural areas of Co. Limerick, and he recalls his colleague Martin Hayes. With the assistance of his wife Eileen, John describes the process by which the building of a cottage was arranged with the Co. Council, the building materials used, the suppliers, the design of the dwellings and the ownership of an acre of land which would ease the process towards the building of a Co. Council cottage.