About Me

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Typical Piscean, dreamer, story teller in the tradition of my country, I love to write. I'm not sure that I'm any good at it, but getting the words down has its reward.

20 February 2012

The Great Snowball fight

The Great Snowball War of '63

When we were nine, my pals and I, we took part in the last Great Snowball War.  It had snowed all week end, from Friday until Monday morning.  Great was our joy when we awoke on Saturday morning to be told by our Mothers that there would be no school today.  Life couldn't get much better than this.

Monday morning dawned bitterly cold, and with deep snow drifts in the field next to our place.  Every child in the village headed for this field, because of its layout, it usually provided great drifts of snow for us to make huge snowmen.  We were experts in those days.  Marty Moore  provided a ladder, which  wound up getting lost in the snow and was retrieved when the thaw came, but not before his Dad had invested in another ladder.

We arrived on site, and before long, with much energy applied, we were up to the shoulders of our snowman.  Katie Riordan and Violet Dunne had provided the hat and scarf respectively.  Not that permission had been sought.  Most of us were nine that year, and it was a wonderful age to be.  Next year you would have two digits in your age, but this was your last year being a single digit age, and in those days that seemed to be powerfully important to us.

Work was going on apace when the Teddy Boys from the next village arrived.  Timsy Moore, Bartle Rourke, Mickey Finnerty and Toby Wade.  Shortly after that, their older brothers arrived.  Competition in snowman making was fierce between the two villages and the older lads were not above sabotage to make sure that their village had the best snowman.  There were no prizes for snowmen, just kudos.

Timsy Moore struck the first blow.  A well placed snowball caused Larry Burke to totter on the ladder as he attempted to place the snowmans head on snowy shoulders.  Larry hit the ground heavily taking the snowman with him.  That was it!  There was no other recourse to us.  War was declared.

It has always amazed me, in hindesight, how we all knew our jobs.  The girls made the snowballs and lined them up for the lads to throw.  We were quick and our frozen agile fingers [surely a contradiction in terms] quickly made the pile of snowballs grow and grow.

Larry, dignity assaulted, was the best shot and it wasn't long before the air was alive with snowballs flying backwards and forwards between "Them" and "Us".  They made a soft "thuft" sound as they found a target.  Things were very satisfactorily going our way until Thady Hanrahan decided to add a stone to his snowball.  Violet Dunne was the recipent of this devious weapon and she was lucky not to have lost an eye.  Violet left the battlefield howling loudly for her Mammy.  In those days we usually took our injuries silently and fought on. 

Big Teasy Dunne came up the lane like a battleship in full attack mode.  The Hood had nothing on her.  Wielding a mop about her, she laid into the other village lads.  Timsy Moore got it across the shoulders; Mickey Finnerty ran down the lane holding his nether regions and howling like a gibbon.  That he could walk straight after that whack and was not damaged for life was a miracle.

Hearing Teasy roar, other parents began to arrive on the scene, and it wasn't long before the war was over.  The other village lot ran off down the hill, and we roared and hooted with laughter at them. 

We slowly wended our way home, warm, damp and exhausted but Oh! it was a great war that war of '63.

There was never such a war since.  Snow didn't fall that heavily 'til last year.  By that time we had all reached our 50's and 60's and dignity and all that you know...

The field is now a housing estate, and todays little darlings sit snugly indoors in snow as they play with their playstations.  Oh what they miss out on.

Timsy Moore and I stood at the end of the lane last year and reminisced in the snow about the Great Snow War of '63.  He now lives in Dubai, and has done so for about ten years.  Last year he came home for six weeks...and a lifetime of memories.

08 February 2012

Of village life...

Reading Maddie Griggs wonderful blog set me thinking about village life and the little things that go to make village life what it is.  The pub, [well this is Ireland], the village shop, the people, and the post office, if we had one that, and Dan.

I grew up in this village, as did my Mother, her Father, his Father before that and I suppose you could say "we belong".  The family have been here since after the Famine which wiped out that branch of the family and resulted in my GGF leaving Sligo on the west coast and taking to the road to emigrate to England, at the age of 13 in order to survive.  He got as far as the Wicklow/Wexford border, having been taken on by a cattle drover in Dublin, as he sought to earn the fare.  He took work, as we say here, with the farmer whose cattle he had brought down from the markets in Dublin, and five years later he eloped with that mans daughter.  Suffice it to say that he got away with the elopement insofar as her brother maintained family ties as did her Mother, his Father in law always greeted him, and the twelve children they went on to have, with a shotgun loosely held in his arm.  Time and space were good healers it appears.

In the heel of the hunt the descendents became dairy farmers here, and four years ago I became the next in line to take over the old homestead.  Almost before there was a village, our family have been here.  In my childhood we boasted two shops, one of which sold newspapers and I still lick my lips when I remember being told by Mrs Margaret, as she was called, that I could put my hand into the biscuit tin of my choice and pick a biscuit.  As a member of an old village family she allowed certain privileges to my peers and I.  Mikado was a major favourite with me, my friend always went for the gingery ones, and her brothers always went for the Rich Tea.  We never could figure out why they didn't go for the sticky ones until Raymond admitted you could get two RT's and even three with a bit of luck whereas the Mikado's were big and Mrs Margaret would spot you had more than one if you chanced your luck.

Miss Imelda ran the local post office and one of my memories entailed being sent down with 10/= to her and being told to invest 5/= and I could spend the other 5/=.  The large, wide, brass railed counter was approximately an inch over my head, and I stood up on the rail, shot the post office book across the counter to Miss Imelda  squeaking at her that "Mum says five in and five out and please Miss can I have it in change so I can buy a book".  I was 7 years old at the time.  She looked across her pince nez at me and told me I was a good girl and handed me back 2/6 and told me one book would do me just as good and was it Enid Blyton.  Taking her for a mind reader, I dumbly nodded and clutching the 2/6 in a probably grubby paw, I stalked out the door and roared my head off all the way home.

Our other pride and joy in the village was the other shop where meat and veg was available and for many years there was stiff competiton between Mrs Margaret and Mrs Foley for custom.  The newspapers were the deciding factor.  The pub was owned by a man from Leitrim, 6'5" if he was an inch and we were all terrified of him; he owned a gladstone bag and we were never quite sure if the local men seen going into the pub after work weren't going in for medicinal reasons.  But, sure isn't Guinness good for you anyway?

Maggie Twohig was an elderly widow who lived in what would, by todays standards, be called a slum.  Indeed we were always, my friends and I, very industrious in our manner of walking past her house on the opposite side of the road.  Maggie always had her hall door open and anything could come flying out.  Broom handles, chamber pots [with contents], her mangy dog Bosco, or Maggie herself to spit her chewing tobacco out into the gutter.

Legend has it that my Great Grandmother was passing the door when Maggie was a young "gel" of innocent years.  Appearing with a pot in her hand, filled to the brim with cabbage, Maggie hailed GGM and asked her what was wrong with the cabbage she was cooking for her Daddy.  Her Mammy was in bed producing infant #2,345 or thereabouts, and she was chef for the day.  Taking a small bit, GGM spat it out and said "It tastes appalling".  Taking a bite herself, Maggie then announced in an astonished voice, "So that's where me chewing tobacco went to".  GGM continued on her way to the post office to regale her close friend and confidante Miss Imelda of the latest of the Twohig's tales. Indeed there were many to tell.  Maggie never married and had six strapping sons of her own and two of them were even able to share the same father.

Maggie was 86 when I was a child and had cleaned her act up.  She lived with her Granddaughter and had a bath every month without an R in it, cut her tobacco chewing back to Sundays and never in Lent and was rarely invited to assist Grainne with cooking the dinner.  She outlived her own sons and Grainne was generally considered worthy of nomination to sainthood for putting up with her.

The Bull Maguire was another character of my childhood, of whom legends aplenty abounded.  His proud boast that he could drink any man under the table was only challenged, and beaten, when Larry Pullen [5'4 and ferret like in feature] punched him on the nose, knocked him out and, when he came to, had six pint glasses in front of him.  This lead to The Bull staggering out of the pub, never to return.  He took the pledge in '36 much to the publican of the day's dismay.  He was that mans best customer.  Larry the Pullet Pullen never drank the six pints.  It was a stunt thought up to try to get the Bull to curtail his alcoholic intake.  The Pullet was the Bulls brother in law.  It worked better beyond their wildest dreams. I remember the Bull standing at the village pump, handing out leaflets for the Sodality and Temperance group and he was well in his 70's at that stage.

Today we have the same pub that was always there.  However, it is now decorated in contemporary fashion by people who were considered to be blow-ins.  The locals drink in the next village and each week end a designat

Of village life Part 2

For some reason the previous blog lost its tail end, so I have decided to add a Part 2 to it.  To complete the last sentence, "designated drivers" has become the way to go for the locals now.  A fact that saddens me when I think that, instead of being able to stroll down to the local of a Saturday night for a pint, they migrate to the next town and someone drops them off and collects them.

Dan was a sort of local handyman.  He was 6'4" and devastatingly George Clooney-like with ravens wing black hair, eyes of violet blue and no idea how good looking he was.  When I was eight, Dan was twenty five and any girl over sixteen had an eye to this gorgeous man.  He was incredibly shy. I adored him from the age of seven, when he rescued me from an oak tree in a neighbours garden.  I had taken refuge from her puck goat, as nasty a piece of work with huge horns and mean diabolical eyes.  Dan, coming up home from the pub at lunchtime, strode past said goat, horns and all, and calmly lifted me down and carried me to a safe distance.  Therein was Dans problem.  The pub.  He was its best customer. 

For many years I would walk up the road with him on my return from school,  or work and we would chat about the local bird life.  Dan could name any bird and this gentle giant had another string to his bow.  On the rare occasions when he gave up drink, for Lent, the month of the Holy Souls [November] two weeks before and after his mothers birthday, Dan could make the most fabulous furniture, complete with intricate carving.  He could take a piece of plywood and by the time he was finished it would take an expert to tell the difference between Chippendale and his work.  Dan made few pieces, and those still in existence, are treasured. 

Ten years ago Dan was found frozen to death in a bus shelter.  The drink had finally gotten him.  He had lost everything, his looks, his talent for woodwork, his home.  After his Mother died when he was 52, he had stayed off the drink for fifteen months, as he proudly told everyone.  However, the demon drink is a hard mistress and she called him to her like a Siren of old.  He lost his house because he couldn't pay his rent, and the Council in those days took very little heed of where people wound up.  He had tried rehab, but fell off the wagon.  Dan was too shy to really communicate, but he had more friends here than he realised. There wasn't a dry eye in the village over him.  Most interestingly enough those that wept for him all could trace their ancestry back in this village, as I can.  Only the  "in-comers" sneered in contempt.  What did they know of this kindly man who never harmed anyone, and who quietly did more good deeds around the place, whether under the influence of alcohol or not. 

Part 3 to come...The Great Snowball challenge.