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Open Features: Salmon Poaching And Cattle Markets - Part Three

...For those uninitiated in the ways of Irish livestock fairs in the fifties and early sixties I should explain that with so many people in town for the monthly fair there was one moneymaking enterprise in which some of the villagers indulged. This was the setting up of what became known as “eating-houses.” Simply put it meant that anyone with a reasonably sized front room could enter into the restaurant business for the day and serve meals to all and sundry...

Alan McConnell wonderfully reawakens memories of life in rural Ireland half a century ago.

This is the third and concluding part of a series. To read the first two parts, and other articles by Alan, please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=alan+mcconnell

I had no sooner filled the pails than. Jemmy Brennan’s cattle lorry drew up in the yard and my father dismounted from the passenger seat. The driver, Jemmy himself, alighted and both he and my father made their way to the rear of the lorry, opened the rear doors and swung down the ramp. This accomplished Jemmy sprang on board and herded two heifers, the only occupants, down the ramp. These I presumed, rightly as it turned out, to be the animals to which my mother had made reference earlier. Upon emerging from the cattle lorry they gazed around at the unfamiliar surroundings.

“Here Willie,” said father, put these beasts in the back field along with the stirks. They’ll do there for the time being.” This said he turned to Jemmy who had just completed the job of replacing the ramp and closing the back doors of the lorry. “You’ll come in for a wee drap of tea, Jemmy, before you go any further.” “No, but thanks all the same. I’ve still got a couple of calls to make before I get home and I don’t want to delay.”

The rest of their conversation was lost to me as I had drawn out of earshot herding my two charges down the lane and towards their new home in the back field were two of the stirks evincing an interest in the newcomers suspended for the time being their cud-chewing and ambled over for a closer inspection.

By the time I returned to the house Jemmy had departed and my father was settling himself at the table upon which my mother had placed his dinner along with a mug containing the fresh buttermilk.

I heard him say, “Boys but I’m ready for this. I’ve hardly had a bite to eat all day.”

My mother looked up from the pot at the fire in which she was preparing the porridge for supper. “ I thought you usually went to Minnie Cooke’s for something to eat to tide you over on fair days. Were you so highly engaged in your business that you couldn’t spend the time to eat?”

“Not at all”, came back from father. “Sure didn’t I intend to get to Minnie’s in good time only I met Ben Byrne and he fell to telling me about a bit of trouble he had with two poachers on the river last night.

For those uninitiated in the ways of Irish livestock fairs in the fifties and early sixties I should explain that with so many people in town for the monthly fair there was one moneymaking enterprise in which some of the villagers indulged. This was the setting up of what became known as “eating-houses.” Simply put it meant that anyone with a reasonably sized front room could enter into the restaurant business for the day and serve meals to all and sundry. As a rule the meals consisted of meat, potatoes and a couple of vegetables with the inevitable splash of gravy. Their quality depended upon the ability of the cook and those who produced the most appetizing fare quickly became known and had their regular customers from one month to the next. Price, of course, entered into the equation and in the long run you got what you paid for. If there had been a Michelin Guide for eating houses Minnie’s would certainly have figured among the leaders and my father who appreciated a good roast of meat as well as the next man had over the years become one of her most faithful and appreciative customers.

But to resume, “Ach”, says mother, “never name it. Wasn’t Artie full of the story when he came with the post. I only hope that that decent man, Rob Diver, has suffered no ill effects from pulling and hauling to get the net away from the poachers.

“Never worry your head about Rob”, said father, “from what Ben told me they took the two boyos by surprise and had the net away from them before they could gather themselves to resist. I asked Rob if he was going to tell the Guards about it but he said it would be a waste of time. There would be a dozen men in Rose’s pub ready to swear that Plunky and Percy were right there with them at the time. Anyway, if it went to a court case the few shillings they’d be fined would mean nothing to them. Ben said the loss of the net would be a far bigger blow than any court conviction. Anyway, I never got as far as Minnie’s for I’d no sooner left Rob but I ran into Clement Anderson and he was all ears to hear if I’d managed to buy the two stirks from Slevin.”

At this point in his story he attacked his dinner as befits a man who has been bereft of proper sustenance all day and a minute or two passed and only after a hearty swig of the buttermilk did he resume the telling.

“Well what with one thing and another I ended up standing Clement a bottle of porter in Alex Maclean’s pub and it was just as well I’d finished the business of the stirks with Blaney for you know as well as I do that Clement when he gets started on a story the divil himself wouldn’t get him to the end before the middle of next week.

“Aye, you’re right there”, said my mother, “Sure didn’t Mrs Monroe say to him when he was spending so much time telling her about the rescue of his heifer from the bog hole, ‘Please, Clement tell me the story without those surplus details.’

Mrs Monroe was the Rev. Canon’s wife and looking back now I suppose that Clement was taken aback, thinking just what had her husband’s surplice to do with his story!

“Well”, said father, “this time he rambled on about him believing that Mickey White was stealing turf from his bog and how he’d got a Guard out one night last week and the two of them hid themselves and kept watch until three or four in the morning. It turned out to be a waste of time and all they had to show for the night’s work was a foundering for it was a cold night. At the rear the pair of them went back to Clement’s and had a couple of hot toddies and Clement put on the pan for a big fry before the Guard went back to the barracks.

“But boys a’ boys didn’t it take him the best part of half an hour to tell me what I’ve told you in a few minutes.

“On our way out of the pub didn’t we meet Pete Finnegan coming in. The boyo was in great form for hadn’t he got a good price from Charlie Johnston for his pork pigs.”

Before my father could say another word mother said , “If I know anything about Pete a good deal of his profit will be drunk before gets the length of home this evening. Thon man just doesn’t know where to stop once he gets a glass in his hand.”

Father smiled. “I doubt but that’s where you’re wrong this time. Wasn’t Pete’s woman with him when Charlie paid him and didn’t she wheek the money out of her man’s hand as smart as you please. Then she handed him a wheen of shillings and herself sailed off to settle up a few accounts around the town.”

“Boys,” said mother, “but hasn’t Martha Finnegan got the measure of thon man of hers all right.”

Father paused to take another drink of the buttermilk and then went off on another tack entirely.

“By the way Willie, I met young Stewart at the fair and he was asking me if you could give him a hand at the bog on Saturday. He has a load of turf to bring home and needs help to carry out to the road and load up. I think he only wants you for the company. Sure it wouldn’t take him very long to load thon cart of his on his own. It’s not much bigger nor a wheelbarrow!”

My father was having his little joke in describing Jim Stewart’s cart but I knew there was a grain of truth in what he said. The cart was quite small just suitable for the feisty wee pony by which it was drawn and if truth were told Jim wanted my presence mainly for company in the nine-mile journey.

The talk took a more serious turn with father regaling mother with details of the prices various animals were fetching that day. I tuned out and took up my Zane Grey, to exchange the world of the river poacher for that more exciting one of the cattle rustler.




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