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Open Features: An Outing with Great Aunt Mary - 6 – Teatime Conversation

...Shortly after this we drew back from the table and the women folk fell to clearing up. While they were engaged in this worthy task, my grandfather addressed me, “Well, caddie, it’s milking time. We’ll have a wee dander as far as the back meadow and bring Daisy in. The exercise will help to sack down some of that grub you’ve been putting away.” So saying, he lifted the scoured milking pail from its resting place beneath the little back table and we set forth...

Alan McConnell continues his engaging account of what life was like in rural Ireland decades ago.

Just before we rose from the table the grownups’ conversation momentarily ceased but the pause was soon banished when Grandmother said to me, “How’s your friend Jim these days? I haven’t seen him with you lately.”

“Ach, Jim’s the best. When he’s not at school he’s kept busy helping his father at the fishing.”

“I thought he was working in Scotland,” said Grandmother.

“No, when the fishing’s finished he’ll be for Scotland to the tattie hoking and it’ll be near Christmas before he gets back.”

Aunt Mary said, “Surely the potato harvest will be finished long before Christmas.”

“Aye,” I said, “but the man he works for over there usually has other work for him once the potatoes are lifted.”

“Well,” said my grandfather, “He’s as well staying on and gathering a few extra pounds to help the family over Christmas.”

“Sure wasn’t that always the way,” said Grandmother, “isn’t the great pity that so many men still have to leave home just get a few pounds to make ends meet? But Peter Gilbey has always been a well-doing man and you’ll not get him sitting around complaining about hard times.”

Great Aunt Mary interposed, “Aye, it was the same in my time thirty years ago and it looks as it hasn’t changed a great deal in all that time. We can only hope that change will come and that you’ll have enough work in this country to keep the young ’uns at home.”

“Well,” my grandfather chipped in, “maybe this big electric scheme at Ballyshannon will be the start. They say it’s giving a good deal of work and you never know what will come out of it.” Then he said with a laugh, “Sure we could all have electric light before you know it.” This last remark raised smiles on the faces of my grandmother and Aunt Mary.

“Aye”, said my grandmother, “live ‘oul horse and you’ll get grass. I doubt but it will be a while before the electric gets this length. I think we’ll hold on to the tilley lamps for another while.”

Shortly after this we drew back from the table and the women folk fell to clearing up. While they were engaged in this worthy task, my grandfather addressed me, “Well, caddie, it’s milking time. We’ll have a wee dander as far as the back meadow and bring Daisy in. The exercise will help to sack down some of that grub you’ve been putting away.” So saying, he lifted the scoured milking pail from its resting place beneath the little back table and we set forth.

Nothing loath I followed him out. Portly abandoned his bed and accompanied us. We went out past the barn and down the back meadow where we found Daisy standing close to the gate, obviously anticipating my grandfather’s arrival. The other occupant of the field, grandfather’s horse Dick, familiar to me for as long as I could remember and now retired from farming operations, was down at the bottom of the field close to the iron gate opening onto the railway line.

The line was the march between Grandfather’s farm and that of his nearest neighbours, the Vances. On the other side of the line an identical gate led into their land. Dick seemed to have a fascination for the trains and rail buses using the line. Invariably when he heard their approach he would trot to the gate and remain there until they had passed by.

On this occasion we were in time to see the sparsely occupied six-thirty up rail bus pass by with the driver, Jimmy Kennedy, giving us a wave of recognition, or was it Dick he was acknowledging, he being a more familiar presence in the meadow than were we?

These rail buses were not noted for their speed. If they got up to thirty miles per hour they were really travelling. Perhaps this lack of haste was just a reflection of their passengers’ outlook on life. In those days people just didn’t need or feel the necessity for the haste and hassle so prevalent in our lives today.

Having seen the rail bus out of sight Dick turned from the gate and trotted to where we stood ready to direct Daisy to her byre for milking. On his approach grandfather produced an apple from his pocket and reached it forward. It was instantly seized and devoured. This daily ritual completed, we herded Daisy to the byre which was situated on the ground floor of the barn. Upon entering she ambled over to her stall, divided from the remainder of the ground floor by a low wall.

At this stage Portly took himself off in pursuit of some business of his own.

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