Churchtown – 1937
Summer at Lovely Annagh Bridge
Going Across the Water
Going For a Brosna
The Night the Village Burnt
The Roads into Churchtown
The Village Pump
A Brylcream Night Out
To Kill the Red Deer
Big Toys, Small Toys
All ‘Round the House and Mind the Dresser
Meeting at Ballydavid
The Day is Done
St. Stephen’s Day
Memories of Imogane – 1959
Summer at Lovely Annagh Bridge in the 1950s
The arrival of the long awaited horse drawn floats in the summer were greeted with great delight, (The Float was a flat vehicle and stood about 18 inches or about 45 centimetres off the ground. It was about 8 feet or 2 ½ metres long, and about 6 feet or 2 metres wide. It had a winching system for hauling the large cocks/waines of hay on to it. We would ride on the float to the river, but would have to walk home as the float would be loaded. I believe the name ‘float’ was used only in the North Cork area, and would be called a hay cart elsewhere. And so we were off to spend our first day at the “Two-eyed bridge” where we would play around and catch collies (minnows) in jam jars. We loved this spot, and I never miss a chance to visit it, and walk right into the bog, when I go home for a holiday. The river is called the Awbeg. This is my first attempt at writing a poem.
R. Murphy, 1996 ………now Anne Murphy. 2000.
The stillness of the village is disturbed, not suddenly, gradually.
Children are awaking. A sound, a not unfamiliar sound is approaching,
a summer sound.
The sound of iron wheels on road, the sound of feet, many feet,
heavy feet, iron feet.
Children’s voices raise in joy, at last, at last, summer at last,
the river awaits, climb aboard, all aboard the long awaited float, to the river.
The laughter, the joy, the delight, the sounds of horses snorting,
heavy breathing, and sweating, all long awaited.
The river awakes from its long peaceful sleep, suddenly it hears the approaching sounds, familiar sounds, iron on road, the sound of feet, iron feet.
Children’s joyous laughter, summer is here, children are here
life is here again, happy days are back.
Children disembark, children rush, stop, hesitate, shout aloud.
River are you ready, may we join you, how long we have waited to see you,
to feel the coolness of your water, to look into the eyes that pour forth,
to scatter the life that you support, now panic in your domain.
Minnows scatter upstream, downstream, panic, bedlam, mayhem,
Many feet thrashing, splashing, kicking, disturbing.
River now truly awake from its long winter slumber.
Sleep a long way off, until summer is gone again, and everyone departs.
Many years have gone now, and we had to leave you to travel,
Just as you travel on your long journey through life.
Horses have gone, floats have gone, the vehicles that brought us to you.
All the familiar sounds that you waited for have left.
All innocence has left, do not wait for it to return.
But you will go on forever.
Maybe we’ll go full circle, and one day we will all come back to you, and
Once again awake you to the joys of youth, and create mayhem in your quiet domain.
Oh beautiful Awbeg of my childhood, you are in my thoughts for ever,
Flow gently sweet river, flow gently for ever. We’ll meet again one day.
Going across the water.
1957 was the year that Dad (for the first time in his life) had to emigrate, as there wasn’t any work. With the sudden demise of the rabbits (which he trapped as a way to make a living) through the man made disease myxomatosis, he was forced to go away.
By R. Murphy, 1996
I am now Anne Murphy, 2001
Dad was going away this day, he was quiet, not much to say.
This day he wasn’t coming back, he was going a long long way.
Dad had spent all his days in the fields that he loved.
Now all that was to change, the immigrant boat beckoned.
1957 was the year that it happened, choices were exhausted, nothing left.
He was leaving to join the many that had left and gone before him.
I remember the day so well, when emptiness visited home.
Emptiness replaced fullness, will things ever be the same.
Dad was going to England, that place over there somewhere.
Going across the water people said, didn’t matter where, he was going.
Lonely lonely days went by, and we waited for word to come.
Dad wasn’t a great writer, when it came it was brief.
I don’t remember the words now, probably “I have work and miss ye all”.
Also enclosed, the reason why he went, a brand new fiver for us to spend.
Time went by, we settled, cash arrived regularly.
We waited for the day when Dad would deliver it personally.
That fine day arrived at last, and with it so did Dad.
The hub of our lives was here, to support, to be our centre.
No lookout now for postmen. Pakie and Condy they were.
They were a link in our chain, our chain of communication.
Dad went back some more, to the land across the sea.
This time not to go alone, he took JP and me.
Going for a Brosna.
By R. Murphy, 1996.
I am now Anne Murphy 2001-05-02
When we were young, one of our most demanding tasks was having to go to the woods for sticks for the fire.
Our fire was kept going mainly on the fire-wood that we brought home on our backs. It was a nice enough job in the summer, but not so in the winter. A bundle of sticks tied together by ropes was called a Brosna, and carried home on one’s back. Arms wrapped ’round a bundle of sticks was called a Guwaal (not sure about the spelling of that) but pronounced a bit like goall). Having both arms full of anything, sticks, clothing, hedge cuttings, etc. would be called a Gywaal, and several Gywaals of sticks would be required to make a Brosna.
I wrote this little poem about that activity.
It was to Burton wood we often went
It was to the wood we were often sent.
After school we’d usually go,
for a Brosna, to keep the fire aglow.
Money wasn’t there to buy the bags of coal
We depended on sticks for fire on the whole.
The fire was lit in the morning, come light
and was needed lit ’till bed-time at night.
So off to the woods we’d go, each with a rope
To get a good Brosna of sticks was our hope.
Pick up sticks till you had a good Gywaal
Tie in a rope, and now for the haul.
In summer the wood gave us great pleasure
With daffodils and bluebells in abundant measure
Taking plenty of time with the job in hand
Enjoying the beauty of this lovely woodland.
Come, come we mist be going
Mother is waiting, the fire will be slowing.
We mustn’t let the fire die in the grate
Supper must be ready before its too late.
From the woods we emerge onto Burton road
Rest for a while, too much load.
From here the village and home is in sight
We’ll be warm tonight, the fire will be bright.
Making Hay – mid. 1950s
This is in rememberance of Patrick Dunlea and Dad, RIP, and Mick Relihan, who is still very much with us, T.G., John Pat, my brother and me.
Olive and Betty were Pat and Mrs. Dunlea’s daughters, and played their part as well, bringing the the (tae) to the men at the hay. John and I would have been only youngsters. It’s about a day at the hay making, around mid. 1950s.
By R. Murphy, 9.9.1996. I am now Anne Murphy, 2001.
Cows are all milkes, chores are all done,
back from the creamery, we’re hoping for sun.
Meadows are waiting, meadows of hay,
they’ve waited too long, it must be today.
We look to the sky as the clouds tumble by,
to be sure ’tis not looking too good.
If it doesn’t clear up by mid afternoon,
we might as well give up for good.
By one o’clock the sky is quite clear,
to a place called “the gub” we all go.
Pat Dunlea, Mick Relihan, and Dad,
John Pat and myself also.
To the wheelrake one horse is tackled,
another to the tumbling jack.
Mick Relihan and Dad they are waiting,
from now on no hay will they lack.
By mid afternoon the work carries on
they really are shifting the hay.
When Olive and Betty, they come through the gate,
bringing stout, and a gallon of tae.
Work ceases now, for we all must partake,
mugs of tae are passed ’round, bread and currant cake.
Tae and cake also for Robert and John,
we were there too, we just looked on.
The weather held up, it held up ’till nine,
the sougane tied the last wayne.
Thirty five waynes they made that fine day,
so back to the house, for supper and pay.
Peace be with them all, they’ve done a lot of mileage,
no more hay is cut for wayne, its now cut for the silage.
Those were very happy days, the days of making hay
lost but not forgotten, God bless ye all I say.
The Night the Village Burnt
The British Barracks in Churchtown, which was situated at the North end of the village, was attacked on the night of 31st. January 1882. The attackers were “The White Boys”. Many police-men died, and also some horses. Houses were also burned. A little poem about that night.
By R. Murphy, 1996. I am now Anne Murphy, 2001.
The night was January 31, and it was cold
when “the White Boys” came, they were bold
‘Twas the year of our Lord 1882
The village that night was quiet, too quiet
suddenly no more quiet, suddenly fright
People who were sleeping were disturbed
children awoke from innocent dreams
to noises, strange noises in the night
The darkness in the room is lit
lit brighter than ever, so bright
Mummy Mummy it can’t be day yet
day had just gone, not long before
no darling, day hasn’t come, ’tis still night
Lights flashing, blinding from the blaze
now the sound of gunfire, and voices mixed
many many sounds, unfamiliar sounds
Tonight the street is stained
with the blood of man and horse
Many died on that terrible night
some defending, some fighting for the cause
Three men were apprehended
after they had left the scene
Relihan, Mahony and Bresnihan
he was alias Breen
It was to Cork they were removed
in jail they stayed awhile
The verdict was anonymous
it was a six day trial
From Cork they were escorted
they left at six o’clock
to a place where they would pay the price
it was known as “Peggy’s Rock”
The year was 1882, it was February 25
when they faced the hangman
and now to forfeit life
To Cork the men were taken back
the journey took some time
not to a consecrated grave
but to a pit of lime
These men they were treated
as terrorists of their day
But now a headstone marks the grave
a salute to them one might say.
The village of Churchtown, my home village, has four roads leading into it, or out of it, depending on which way you are going. Note: This poem was written before the big renewal and revitalisation of Churchtown. It will be full of life again, like it was in times gone by. It will never be the same for me personally, as all the old folk (the best kind) are all gone. Their likes will never be again. But I’m a sentimentalist. This is a little poem about the roads.
By R. Murphy 11. 8. 1966. I am now Anne Murphy, 2001
From the North and the South, the East and the West
four roads came together, at the end of their quest
The quest that they set out on, was to find an ideal place
where they could come together, no more the land to chase
The North road came from Annagh, the lovely place of the river
it also brought the north wind, that’s the cold one, a bother
The South road came from Cork, the city on the Lee
it came through Mallow, Buttevant, via the blessed Biddy’s tree
The East road came from the mountains, from the Ballyhoura hills
past the great estate of Burton, and the mansion of Purcells
The West road came from Kerry, the place of the setting sun
with its multi-coloured flora, attractive to everyone
So now at last the four roads meet, our roots we must put down
it’s here we’ll have our ideal place, and it will be named Churchtown
The roads when they arrived here, in the century seventeen
were really only cart tracks, more commonly known as Boreen
The place of Churchtown was designed, to be a great domain
with Burton Road, and George’s Street,Chaple and Kerry Lane
In the centuries and the years gone by, Churchtown was the place to see
with business, shops, and work for all, ’twas as busy as a bee
But now these days all is quiet, no one to see day or night
the place to where the roads came, is changed, no more to be a sight
From the North and the South, from the East and the West,
the four roads came, to meet up and rest
Now the time is nearing, for what they were most fearing
the slow demise of their domain, their lovely Churchtown.
On a brighter note
in those fine days, the roads were rough
fine surface they did lack
when one fine day there was a change
the arrival of tarmac.
The Village Pump
A little poem about the best friend a village could have. The village pump in Churchtown has been redundant for many years.
By: R. Murphy, 2. 8. 1996
I do hope that the village pump is left here it has always been. It is a symbol of things past, good things in the writer’s opinion.
Anne Murphy, 16.2. 2001
I was the king of the place, an important king,
a popular King, a much needed king
I stood on my throne, and looked down on my kingdom
Churchtown was the place, it was my kingdom
I was such a busy king
every day they came, young and old
to climb the steps, to shake my hand
and I rewarded them with the drink of life
Water, cool sparkling water, from the depths of my kingdom
I poured forth day and night, year in year out
To satiate the thirst of man and beast, so busy I was
Suddenly they didn’t come. Why? Was I too old?
maybe a new king had taken my place
who had stolen the hands, hands that held me each day
warm hands. Where have they gone? Why have they left me
to stand in silence, to decay alone?
A Brylcream Night Out
In memory of the nights when we used to go the dances on our bikes. Hair well tied down with Brylcream, and would be shining. There would Dennis Pat Costello, Sean Relihan, Michael Doyle, Johnny Sullivan, Noel Relihan, Dennis Relihan, John Pat Murphy and I, and many more, all grand fellows. Those were the nights. Through the 50s. Rudge, Raleigh, and Hercules were makes of bikes and were heavy things to push. But they were of great quality.
By: R. Murphy, 1996. I am now Anne Murphy, 1999
Right lads, away we go, bike clips fixed, lamps aglow
Pumps at the ready in case of a leak
We young men were at our peak
Rudge, Raleigh, Hercules, sturdy steeds to say the least
Which town are we to hit, I ask, which dance do we want
Ceile aat Liscarroll, or jive at Buttevant
We put it to the vote, democratic lads we are
By six to one its Buttevant
And off we go, ’tis not far
We cycle hard to miss the rain, we park our steeds up Stabald lane
Lamps in hand, pumps slung low, stroll down town
For the greatest show
Cahirmee is on, the town is full, our objective, the girls to pull
At ten o’clock to the dance we go
The music is good, for ’tis Michael O’
First things first, to the gents we go
Comb the hair, just see hat glow
Get the parting right
For this might be the night
Stroll across thefloor, to the girl of your choice
“Are you dancing this one”? she replies that would be nice
Dancing cheek to cheek, to the sounds of Michael O’
“Any chance of the convey”? to this she answers “No”
I asked her if she’d save the last one, one waltz for me
And she could have a croosbar, as far as Biddy’s Tree
She told me what to do, with my crossbar and my bike
In no uncertain terms, she told me “take a hike”
She said she liked the Brylcream, she liked my style the best
“Good stuff” says she, “yes” says I, the stuff to lay the hair at rest
At last the dance is over, and outside we all meet,
To discuss the dance, the triumph or defeat
Defeat, so to Churchtown we retreat
Next week it’s the ceile, so better luck next time
With bikes and pumps and Brylcream
We’ll hit for Coullie line
To Kill the Red Deer
In 1961 I and my Dad and Mum and sister Eileen went to the Isle of Mull. My job and Dad’s was to be ghilles. Mum and Eileen were to work in the kitchen of the big house. My job and Dad’s was to go out with Deer stalking parties. My boss was Lord Massereene, who owned a huge estate on Mull. He also owned an estate and castle in Kent. He died recently. He was a good boss and I liked working for him. I did three Deer stalking sessions for him. On arriving at Oban, which is just a short distance from Mull, we couldn’t see the island for fog, and I was slightly apprehensive about what was out there in the fog. Part of the last three lines is taken from “The Last of the Mohicans” movie. I thought it appropriate to end my poem with
By: R. Murphy, 1996. I am now Anne Murphy, 1999.
Oh! mist why do you hide, the land we’ve come to see
the land where we will work, for two months, maybe three
We’ve come across from Ireland, at the request of Massareen
this land is multi coloured, unlike Ireland’s Green
The land of Mull is beautiful, that is to say the least
to enjoy it we’ll endeavour, as we kill the beast
The beast which I refer to, is the beautiful Red Deer
the stalking season has arrived, it is that time of year
With telescopes and guns, we head up to the hill
to stalk the beautiful Red Deer, we must be almost still
His senses are so finely tuned, no message must we send
if he becomes aware of us, he’ll flee, just like the wind
On hands and knees we all move quiet, to get the beast in rifle sight
we gaze down on a sight serene, a grazing stag, senses keen
But we have got the upper hand, we gaze down on Red Deer land
bang, now silence is drowned, no more quietness all around
The stag is hit, he jumps a foot or more
now he is down, dead on the floor
No more will you graze this beautiful land of yours
you were here before us, but now the land is ours
You were here before us, before we came along
maybe we’ll go away again, and no more do you wrong
You who is Monarch of the glen, we are sorry to kill today.
Big Toys, Small Toys
When I was a small boy my happiest time was Christmas, (after summer). A great delight for me was the decorating of a particular shop window in the village – my village of Churchtown. The shop belonged to Jimmy and May Gordon, and she (May) did the window up every Christmas for the kids. She filled it with all sorts of delightful toys, and many’s the time I stuck my nose to that window. I’ll never forget the atmosphere and the expectancy of Christmas, and not being able to afford the things in the window, apart from the little things, like cap guns at six pence – old money.
A little poem about that time.
By R. Murphy, 1996. I am now Anne Murphy, 2001.
The wind swept down from the old Black Road
‘Twas a dark December night
the village was in darkness, except for one bright light.
The light was in a window, the first one on the street
it was lit up by Mrs. Gordon, for the kids a special treat.
Christmas was approaching, a time of great delight
our noses to the window, Oh! what a lovely sight
but we didn’t have the money, to buy what lay beyond
to get our hands on those nice toys we’d need a magic wand.
There was a toy that I could buy, it cost a sixpence piece
a small toy gun, a roll of caps, I’d have some fun with these
Christmas Eve arrived at last, and that’s the one I chose
I walked out to the back yard, bang bang, bang bang at crows.
The crows stayed up in the sky, and I began to wonder why
I ran in to my Mother, and I shouted “why?”
She said ” Son, now calm down Son, why do you shout why?”
“I shot at all the crows, but they’re still in the sky”.
“Come here my son, come here my boy, and do not wonder why
that gun you carry in your hand is nought but just a toy”
“But Mum, it cost me sixpence, all the money that I had”
But the crows would now be on the floor, and that would be so sad.
Christmas Day arrived at last, my stocking it was full
an orange, an apple, a chocolate bar, and a cracker for to pull
A friend of mine, he got a bike, a watch, and a brand new suit
I got a stocking full, chocolate and some fruit.
We all believed in Santa Clause, his Reindeer and his sleigh
why I got so little and my fiend got so much, was to my great dismay.
Merry Christmas to all.
All Round The House and Mind The Dresser
In the old days, before the Radio and Television, dances used to be held in people’s houses in the winter nights. Saturday night would be the usual night. It was a grand form of entertainment and went on well into the night. This is a little poem about that activity and I’ll call it “All round the house and mind the dresser”
By: R. Murphy, 1996. I am now Anne Murphy
The Autumn is no more
time to light the lamp
prepare to rake the floor
Move the table and the chairs
into the room next door
Musicians very soon arrive
there’s a welcome at the door
Bed-time has arrived for kids
and so we take the stairs
We go to bed, we listen
for reels, jigs and slow airs
We lay in bed, we wait
for the ceile to start up
voices talking, laughing
I wished I was grown up
The candle flickers casting shadows
upon the walls and ceiling
soon the music will start up
for the waltz, the jigs and the wheeling
Very soon the house
is in its fullest swing
the music will go on for hours
maybe the dawn ’twill bring
It won’t be long before we kids
are well into dream-land
dreaming of fine music
and the ceile band
The dance goes on for many hours
and then its time to roam
‘tae’ and cake are passed around
and so they make for home
They all arrive at home
a couple of hours to pass
hardly worth-while goung to bed
it will soon be time for Mass
Meeting In Ballydavid
This is a little poem about an occasion when Clare and I were in Ireland, in the west coast of Kerry, and we met a person called Linda. She was back-packing and walking around Ireland. She came from the Netherlands. We had passed her on the road, and commented on how some people are so strong to rake on the roads with with a back-pack. She slept on the ground in a sleeping bag, under the stars. We chatted, and we keep in touch.
The evening sun was setting
lowering into the western sky
’twas a scene to make you slow
and watch the sea aglow
My friend and I were heading west
to eat, drink and take a rest
when by chance we were to see
a traveller also going west
We stopped at Ballydavid
a place of great beauty
at this place we decided
to eat, drink and be merry
We sat down to eat and drink
“Isn’t that the person that we passed”
I asked my friend? She said “yes”
maybe we should say “hello”
We said “hello” to Linda
and we all had a chat
from there on we were friends
and that was the beginning of that
Linda travelled on foot
we made use of cars
we slept under cover
she slept under the stars
We marvelled at her courage
and her strength of will
to walk the roads of Ireland
down the dale and up the hill
We stayed awhile and chatted
then we said “goodbye”
we took the low road
and Linda took the high
The Day Is Done
This little poem is about the end of the days of haymaking, when we’d leave Dunleas and walk home through the fields and woods. Around 1953/4. I remember it well.
By: R. Murphy, 9.9.1996. I am now Anne Murphy, 2001.
Might as well saunter away I suppose
Right, see ye tomorrow then I expect
Dad spoke first, then Patrick Dunlea.
The long day was done
Hay was saved, all were tired, supper was over
and we felt like sauntering.
We leave the yard, the noisy yard, for the cross country walk
home to the village and Mother.
Back to the field, and on to the marsh, the short cut.
Dusk is upon us now, and the stillness is eerie
the call of the curlew, the only sound
to break the quiet of dusk.
Into the wood, Burton wood.
Suddenly light again,
we emerge from trees, from the cover of leaves,
from the eerie place, and home.
Soon dawn will come, and we will do it all again,
refreshed and ready.
Not to saunter, but to hurry.
There is work to be done
A long day is ahead, before we saunter once again.
St. Stephen’s Day
26th of December is called St. Steven’s Day in Ireland, and has had a tradition for years where people, usually kids, go from door to door and sing or play music. They dress up in rags and paint their faces, or maybe wear a mask (High Fiddle) and carry a holly bush.
It’s all about hunting the Wren, the king of all birds.
By: R. Murphy, 6.8.1996. I am now Anne Murphy, 2001.
Christmas Day is over, ST. Steven’s Day is here,
to-day we’ll go a-hunting the Wren, just once a year.
Dad will wake us early, he’ll make us tea and toast
a sandwich for the journey, just some old turkey roast.
The turkey roast left over, from the day before.
“No thank you Dad, we’ll take our chance, we’ll knock on every door,
we’ll sing our songs, play our tunes, and hope that they will cheer,
and give us lots of pennies, saying you’re the best we’ve had this year”
We all dress up in rags, and paint our faces black,
it’ going to be a long long day before we’re done and back.
First we do the village, we go from door to door,
Booney’s, O’Brien’s and Gaffney’s and many many more.
Now we leave the village, we hit for Ballinguile.
Generous people over there, they’ll keep us for a while.
They’ll take us in their homes, and give us ‘tae’ and cake,
then they’ll give us pennies, now we’re on the make.
From Ballinguile we take our leave, and hit for Ballyhea.
they will know we’re strangers, maybe send us on our way.
The first door that we knock on, is opened and they say
“come on in ye Churchtown boys, are ye having a good day?
play us a tune from Churchtown, or sing a happy song
make ye’re selves at home boys, the kettle won’t be long”
We play our tunes, we sing our songs, soon we’re on our way,
we say good-bye to those nice folks, and good-bye Ballyhea.
At last, at last, the day is done, to home we must return,
the last place that we sing our song, is the place at Ahaburn.
Ellie Winters greets us, she says “ye’re awful late
I’ve given all my money, ye are the last of eight.
Don’t be disappointed, let us drink a toast,
have a little drink with me, and some old turkey roast”.
The roast it is from yesterday, that was Christmas Day,
“No thank you Mam, the day is done, we’ll be on our way”
Back home at last we do arrive, with pennies, an amount,
we put them on the table, and now to do the count.
Three pounds, three shillings was the take, that was quite a lot.
Off with the rags, wash the face, it’s been a long long day,
one more year before we hunt the Wren on St. Steven’s Day.
Memories of Imogane – 1959
by: Anne Murphy. Formerly Robert Murphy
My year with Cowheys of Imogane, the Moanroe marshland and Cowheys Fort Field
My memories of the Moanroe marshland and surrounds are clear. As you stand at St. Bridget’s Well, which is about half way between Buttevant and Churchtown, and look East, you can see the valley below the great stretch of marshland known as the Moanroe. This great marshland stretches from Mount Bridget to Ballincurrig, Templeconnell, Liskelly, Ballinguile, Balinatrilla, Walshestown and Imogane.
Dr. Charles Smith the historian, writing in the year 1750, describes this flatland as a deep and dangerous morass. In recent years, due to the use of modern machinery, and the bed of the river Awbeg being lowered, the Moanroe and its extended marshes were allowed to drain away considerably. In the year 1927, as workmen were clearing some of the ramparts in the Moanroe, they discovered the bones of the long extinct giant Irish Elk. The bones of the Moanroe Elk can now be seen at the Natural History Museum, 7 – 9 Merrion Row, in Dublin. Also, in the same museum canbe seen the remains/bones of the same kind of animal, which were found in the same marshland by Thomas Murphy, my Dad. He donated them in 1964. I don’t know exactly when he made the discovery.
The three bones that he donated are as follows:-
NMING, F7928 Lower Jaw Bone (Mandible)
NMING, F7929 Pelvis
NMING, F7930 Upper Front Limb Bone (Humerous)
I can remember my Dad clearing the ramparts of the weeds and wild grass that grew in them and choked them. They would become stagnant as the water’s progress would be impeded. Removing all of this obstruction must have been extremely hard graft. I remember seeing the results of his work. The rampart would be totally clear of the weeds and wild grass, and whatever else that grew there. The rampart would look like it had been to the barber for a ‘short back and sides’.
On the hillside surrounding this great marsh can be seen some of ancient ring forts. The largest of these ring forts can be seen at Imogane at the top of the hill, in what is known as the “Fort Field”, which brings me to this part of my life.
I remember the “Fort Field” well. I suppose it is still known as the “Fort Field” and it was owned by Jimmy Cowhey. Around Christmas time in 1959 I was asked if I would like to work at Imogane. I was familiar with the place in that I had delivered telegrams on occasions to the house. The reason that I remember it so clearly is because they kept dogs there. The dogs used to hang around the house and didn’t like visitors, even visitors that were delivering messages (telegrams). I used to be scared to death going to the door to deliver the telegram. I was never eaten. At the time of delivering telegrams I didn’t know that I would later become great friends with those dogs.
I took on the twelve month’s contract to work for Mr. Cowhey. Little did I know what lay ahead – most of it was good. I started work very early in the new year, probably the 2nd of January, and was contracted (verbally) to work for one year, ending on the following Christmas Eve. If my memory serves me right, that was the way it was done at all farms. You agreed to do twelve months there – whether you stuck it out or not was a different matter. In my next twelve months at a different farm, I walked out after six months. I had other plans – I went to the Isle of Mull. As there was no written contract there wasn’t much that anyone could about it – nothing was ever signed.
The day for me to start work soon arrived and I arrived in the yard. Everything, like outhouses and sheds and the cow byre looked like they had all seen much better days. They were pretty ramshackle, but they served their purpose well enough. The weather at that time of year would have been pretty cold. If I wasn’t working I would probably have been sitting in front of the fire at home, and making toast. Now I was going to have to either walk the land, so as to check the stock, or spend my time in outhouses doing my work.
The only part of the main dwelling that I was ever privy to was the kitchen. In the twelve months that I was there I never once asked if I could use the toilet. My toilet was…wherever ??? I had a separate little table in the kitchen where I would sit and have my meals. My employers sat at a different table in the same kitchen. Some houses had that kind of apartheid situation and others didn’t. In some houses everybody sat at the same table. It didn’t really matter either way.
Two years later I would sit on the hills of the Isle of Mull and eat in the company of Lords and Ladies and other V.I.P.s. We just sat together and ate our pieces (Scottish for sandwiches) in one company.
Taking after my Dad (in the wit department) I always had a joke or a yarn to spin. I never felt intimidated in the company of Lords and Ladies. As I said above, it was winter when my work started. It involved feeding cattle and sheep in the fields. It was then that I was introduced to the mangle. That machine was used for slicing Mangolds and turnips as feed for the animals. It was powered by turning a handle. I wasn’t strong enough to turn the handle when the feeder box was full. I discovered that if I put less mangolds or turnips in it, it was easier to turn the handle.
Cutting hay with the hay knife was even more difficult, as the blade was never sharp enough. I didn’t know how to sharpen it and there was no help about – I was left to my own devices. I saw little of my boss, Jimmy Cowhey, as he wasn’t in the best of health and indeed passed away whilst I was in his employ, R.I.P. It was a pretty miserable place to be really as it was in the middle of winter. I wouldn’t be busy for a lot of the time. I would spend much time sitting in an outside shed, chopping sticks for kindling the fire in the house.
It wasn’t long before lambs were being born in the fields and I was soon introduced to the art of nursing. For some reason that I don’t recall a new-born lamb was put in my care. I had to bottle feed it and make sure that it was kept warm and safe. Lambs are probably the cutest little animals of all and I soon became fond of this delicate little creature in my care. I was so naïve – I didn’t know that I was rearing it for the dinner plate. It’s just as well really that I didn’t know, as I would have been dreading the day.
The lamb became tame and would follow me all over the place, just like a pet dog. I didn’t mind that. What used to annoy me a little was, when I would be riding my bike off home in the evening, it would be trotting along the road qiote happily behind me and I’d have to go back again and secure it. As it got bigger we used to have wrestling matches and I got really close to what I now regarded as a pet. Some time later on I arrived home from the fields, only to discover that the butcher had been to buy the lambs. It never crossed my mind that that day would eventually come – just as well.
I wasn’t the happiest of campers for a few days. Around that time we had a bull calf that needed caring for, and I was put in charge. As he got a bit bigger I used to wrestle with him. I always won – that was until he got too big. I retired defeated.
We had only one cow, so milking wasn’t a big job, but had to be attended to seven days a week. She supplied milk for the house. She was black. I can see her now in my memory.
My main task was going out to the fields and checking the stock, to make sure they were where they were supposed to be, and feeding them, until there was new grass. I had to patch up fences a lot of the time. My fencing left a lot to be desired – just a handful of whatever came to hand was stuck in the hole. Sheep were constantly going off and had to be rounded up and brought back. That could prove difficult sometimes. The cold wouldn’t be a bother then as I would soon be in a sweat trying to keep them going in the right direction.
I loved being around sheep and lambs – I would have been happy to be a shepherd full time. As I write, it is the year 2001. England is at the moment in the full grip of Foot and Mouth disease. The pictures of lambs and sheep on television, awaiting the slaughter-man, is terribly distressing for me and I look away when news reports are on. I would shed tears at the sight of those innocent faces, and they not knowing what was in store for them.
I mentioned above about the hay knife – I didn’t use that at Imogane. I had to go to another farm for the hay. That farm was at the other side of the village, in a place called Farrendeen, and belonged to a sister of my employer. I would have to tackle the big black horse to the cart. I found this task also difficult, especially putting on the heavy collar, and securing it at the top. Backing the horse into the shafts, and raising the cart was also difficult, but I got used to it. I loved to ride along on the cart, and be in charge of this great big horse.
I remember one occasion when I was using the horse to pull a harrow along newly ploughed ground. The harrow was of metal, with lots of metal bars that were fashioned in a criss-cross manner, and had metal spikes which went into the ground to break up the soil, and get t ready for seeding. I wasn’t experienced enough to realise that the horse should be rested occasionally. He began to froth badly and went into a sort of frenzy. He backed back on to the harrow and got tangled up in the chains. That was really scary but I somehow managed to calm him and untangle him. He could have dome terrible damage to himself – I was learning the hard way. On another occasion I was negotiating the arc into the rear yard, with a large load of hay on the cart, it got stuck – I hadn’t kept the cart to the centre of the arch. The horse panicked and reared and bucked between the shafts. He dragged the load forcibly through the arch. Some of the load was deposited on the ground behind the cart but no damage was done. Sometimes I would look into that horse’s eyes and wonder what he thought of me. It seemed like he might be having a little laugh at me. He had sort of smiling eyes, or maybe grinning. He had enough strength to so as he pleased, if he so wished. For all of his size he was a gentle animal and did as he was told, like I did.
I was getting on fine with the dogs but sadly one of them got ill. The vet was called out. In his wisdom he decided that the dog would have to be put down. He tied a string around the dog’s neck and asked me to hold it. He then procuced some sosrt of gun. He put the gun to the dog’s forehead and shot it. Seeing animals shot wasn’t new to me as I had witnessed at least two horses being put down at Liscarrol point to point races. It’s a sad thing for anyone to see, especially the owners of such beautiful animals. Winter passed. The birds started their twittering. Things started to grow and the days started to get longer and warmer. I was never required to be at work before eight o’clock, and I stayed ’till five.
I was then able to enjoy trips to the fields more in the fine days. My favourite field was the “Fort Field”. I would sit on the hill-side of the Fort and look away in the distance. It was such a relaxing place to be and I could stay for as long as I wished. I would wonder what kind of people lived around here in the days when the forts were constructed. I would wonder what might lay under the ground….. maybe treasure, and the remains of the people that died there. I would stay there for an hour or so. As long as I was doing my job I was never chased. I still love the quietness and tranquillity of the fields. Here again, I take after my Dad as he wasn’t happy anywhere else. If Mum had had her way, she and Dad would probably have moved to England or maybe even America at that time, as there wasn’t much doing in the work scene at home. There was no shifting my Dad from the fields that he loved to be in, and I don’t blame one bit. He was the only one of his family that didn’t emigrate when he was young.
On hot summer days I would have to leave the Fort Field and scour the country-side for the cattle in my care. They would have taken flight to get away from the flies that would pester them. It would be very difficult to get them back again and sometimes they would try my patience. I threw a stone at them on one occasion when I was having great difficulty in controlling them. The stone caught one of them in the eye and the bullock lost the sight. It wasn’t immediately apparent that the eye was lost. I was devastated by what I’d done and even now, many years later, I ‘fill up’ when I think of the pain that I caused that animal. It was noticed by my boss – I didn’t own up – I had learned another lesson the hard way.
On at least two occasions I was required to take newly born kittens, and newly born puppies down to the little river that flows under Imogane Road, and drown them in a bag that would be weighted down with stones. On one occasion I went back to check that the kittens were dead – they were still alive after some minutes. When I think of it, it horrifies me – there should have been an easier and more humane way to dispose of them. Well, they shouldn’t be disposed of anyway – they should have been prevented from being conceived in the first place. The technology did exist to prevent conception – poor little mites. On arriving back in the farm yard you would see the Mum of the kittens or the puppies looking around in vain for her babies – it was very distressing.
My biggest fear in life is of drowning. Maybe it’s got something to do with what I subjected those kittens and puppies to. One minute they were safe in their mother’s womb and the next, they were in a sack in a rampart. They hadn’t yet even opened their little eyes to see the wonderful world that they had just arrived in. All that remains of those drownings will be the stones that weighted them down, probably still lying in the same spot. Whilst I’m on about killing, there was a pig at Imogane and its day arrived. A table was erected in the yard and lots of water was boiled. The butcher stood by and I stood by in anticipation of what was about to happen. There were about three men there and the pig was hoisted on to the table. The butcher cut its throat and the blood was allowed to flow into a bucket. The body was scalded and then shaved. I could never again witness such a scene.
A friend of mine who worked on another farm around that time arrived home one evening and told us that he had been ordered to kill a bullock, using a sledge-hammer on its forehead. I suppose it was cheaper than using a vet. I certainly would have disobeyed that order. It seemed to me that farming was all about killing things, and I suppose it was, to a certain extent anyway.
There were two women (more or less in residence) at Imogane at that time. One was Mr’s Ahern, and one was Catherine O’Brien and both were sisters of Mr. Cowhey. They were looking after him in his illness. They were good to me and until recently I used to visit Mr’s Ahern at her own house in Farrendeen.
Yearlings (race horses to be) were also kept at Imogane. They were bred for the turf. I hated going into their stables to feed them as they nervous and flighty. I used to ring them on the front lawn. A man called Jimmy Sullivan used to come and groom them. I seem to remember that they (the yearlings) were related to a horse called “Right Approach”, or it might have been “Royal Approach”.
There was a Vauxhall car there at that time. I seem to recall that it was a great big thing. A local man, Pat Cronin, used to look after it, and he used to drove Jimmy Cowhey to places in it. There was another man that used to come and go whilst I was there – he was Paddy Cronin. He would probably have done the ploughing before I arrived at Imogane and we became great friends. He was a grand fellow. He would help out when there would be too much for me to cope with, like ploughing for instance.
One day as I was walking along the bank of a rampart – the one that I’d used to drown the kittens and puppies in – I came across the mare that we had. I very rarely, if ever, walked along there, as there wasn’t any great need. This area is also a marshland. It is situated at the Churchtown side of the farm dwellings, whereas the other marshland (Moanroe) is situated at the Buttevant side. On that day, for some reason I did walk along there, and I discovered the mare in the rampart. She was up to her belly in soft mud and evidently in serious trouble. I ran to the house to raise the alarm. In a short time the Sullivan brothers, who had a farm nearby, were on the scene, also Paddy Cronin and one of the Guinees who had a farm nearby. Lifting the mare was going to be impossible. We had to dig away a large section of the bank down to water level and get the mare out sideways. It took several hours to achieve but we saved her. I hate to think of what might have happened had I not happened along on that fateful day. I am the only survivor of that day. I hope they all, including the mare, rest in peace.
My year passed away, mostly uneventfully. I had attended that farm every single day since I started, twice on Sundays. Going to work on Sunday afternoons was sometimes a major problem. I might be away to a hurling or a football match and I would have to be back and go to look at the cattle and sheep. I never failed to turn up.
Apart from the sad bits it was a good year for me. I learned a lot about life, and indeed death as well. It is so sad now for me to see all of this place to be derelict, as well as the Sullivan farm across at the other side of the road. All gone…people, cats, dogs, horses, sheep cattle and pigs. The cow and the mare that we went to so much trouble to save….everyone gone. I sometimes wonder what’s it all about.
My weekly wages at Imogane had been agreed at two pounds. I decided at the start of my year that I wouldn’t draw my money at weekend, but leave it all ’till Christmas, and Jimmy Cowhey agreed to this arrangement. I did dig into it once or twice in the year. When Christmas Eve arrived I drew £80.00. I had drawn £24.00 out before. I gave half of it to my Mother and I kept the rest. While I was at Imogane my Mother gave me five shillings every Friday night – £12.00 over the year. She got back £40.00 – not a bad investment. At the first available opportunity I hit for Willie Coleman’s in Buttevant and I bought a new suit. I then went next door to Percy Sheehan’s and bought a brand new Hercules bike. I was so proud to be the owner of such a machine. It had dynamo powered lights and Sturmey Archer Gears. I traded that bike in shortly after for the latest model. It was a sports model and it had five derailier gears and it was the first of its kind to be seen locally. A year and a half later (July 1962) I sold it to a friend foe £1.00.
I then left for Manchester where I’ve been ever since. After 39 years away I still don’t know if I made the right decision to leave. I guess if I don’t know now I’ll never know – I don’t have regrets. I just wonder what I’d have done had I stayed in Churchtown. Most of my school pals of those days went off in different directions to all parts of the world. I haven’t seen most of them since. I don’t expect to be seeing them. I wish them all well.
MEMORIES OF CHURCHTOWN