As I walked through the village of Coolderry, Co Offaly the strong scent of the fully-grown palm trees brought me back to my childhood in Barraduff. I then found myself recalling memories that had been stored away. I enjoyed reliving them again and sharing them with my own family. There are so many neighbours, friends, community events and activities which holds memories of fun, freedom, laughter and togetherness. I began thinking of those hazy days of summer where we, as children, and later as self-conscious teenagers, would bask under the leafy greens dreaming of our end of summer glowing tans – only to be interrupted by a bucket of cold water poured over us by adventurous brother Pat and partners-in-crime, cousins Liam Walsh and Barry Delaney. Before we knew it a fully pledged water fight had begun. As I was the competitive type, I was never left unprepared for such attacks. I’d have the girl’s ammunition ready and available at different hiding spots. Dangers of falling off the garage roof didn’t seem to come to mind after successfully dousing the lads from above. The chase would run through from the front door to the back, upstairs, downstairs, in and out and all around the garden. My poor mother in the kitchen jokingly waving a wooden spoon would eventually join in the banter. All would end as we surrendered around the kitchen table for a feed of Mom’s griddle bread, the “real” Kerrygold butter and jam. Only on one occasion can I recall the water fight ending poorly. I was caught unawares. It was a revenge attack on my strategic planning. Pat, the leader, took my top half, Barry the left leg and Liam the right. I can still remember the roars and yelps as they carried me up the back field and hovered me over the cattle trough. The last time the hill heard such screams and shouts was the killing of our pet pig a couple of Christmasses previously. As the three took delight in their impending success, I was gradually lowered into the slimy green water. With the imaginary waving of my white flag, they gloried in their eventual success.
One of five girls and one boy and raised on our family farm, we had no choice but to pull up our sleeves, leave our fancy nails at the beauticians and our complaints in our bellies. I can always remember the summer holidays. The three small ones (myself and my two younger sisters) slept in single beds in the room opposite our parents. My Dad would enter the room, and even though the sun had woken us a lot earlier, we dared not stir in our beds. Eyes closed, pretending to be in a deep slumber – for it was the one that moved who would be the one to face the milking that morning. Failing this, he would pull the toes of the chosen one. The moans and groans would end in the realisation that there was no point complaining. To be fair, Dad would have given us all the same “training”. As a mother of four young children, I can now appreciate the privilege of growing up on a farm. We dared not mention the word “bored” for a list of jobs would be proposed. We were certainly not afraid of hard work. Part of the morning ritual was going on “the rounds” with Dad. Though sometimes tough, we enjoyed meeting the neighbours and taking advantage of their generous nature as they shared their drinks cabinet and biscuit jars – a rare commodity in our house, as they would disappear from the shopping bags soon after they were brought home. Along the way we’d meet characters like Batty Lynch whose hearty laugh lives on in our memory. We’d meet Ned and Doreen Barry, whose wonderful gardening skills we marvelled at. Up the hill and next to encounter our visit was Mary Ann Moran – a generous lady, she always made sure that our glasses were filled as she loved to hear stories from school. By the time we got to the creamery, we had definitely earned a packet of Golden Wonder Crisps across the road at O’Connor’s.
Neighbours played a great role in our childhood memories. Many a Sunday afternoon, when the sitting room was darkened and the Sunday Game was the focus of attention for the football fanatics in our house, the three small ones went on our frequent neighbourly visits to Denis O’Sullivan. Denis, a retired member of the Garda Síochána spent many hours listening to our stories and likewise he shared many with us. An educated gentleman, he’d recall days of his duty on the streets of Dublin. He’d reminisce on stories of his youth and how life was when he was a child. After getting our feed of Seven-up and biscuits, we’d take turns mounting the ass at the back of his house with Denis walking by our side ensuring we’d not fall. All was going well until brothers, Tadhg, Moss and Mick Brick would arrive on the scene. Like a little lad looking for a bit of mischief, Mick would slap the rear of the donkey. This sudden move would send the donkey racing off, bucking and leaping down to the far end of the field with the poor misfortune who happened to have been on the donkey hanging on for dear life. The rest of us were looking on from the side, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Poor Denis, feeling responsible, followed the mad, driven animal annoyed at his friend for causing such mayhem. Thinking back now, and knowing how much I love my Sunday afternoons, what patience and tolerance they must have possessed to have entertained us for hours at a time.
As all you readers know, Lisselton takes in our two local prominent businesses – Hegarty’s (as it was called when I was a child) and Behan’s. To get us from under her feet, my Mom would, on occasion, ask us to go and get a few groceries. On our bikes we’d go, conversing with many along the road. The high salute from Joan Lynch as she’d laugh over a yarn or two. She’d then draw from her apron a sweet for us as we’d head away on our quest. Joe and Mary B Kennelly’s house was always a great house to encounter. The geese and ducks roamed freely around the yard. The smell of Joe’s pipe as he’d offer us a tray of fresh eggs is a memory instilled in my mind forever. We’d then pedal on like the hammers of hell till we reached Gunn’s Cross. The best part of the bike ride was about to begin. Like greyhounds being set loose from their traps, we’d steady ourselves to make the rapid descent downwards. Legs straddled outwardly, hands tightly clinched to the rickety handlebars, beginning only moments apart from each other so as not to collide, we’d round the old school corner with a sigh of relief that we weren’t met with a misfortunate oncoming vehicle but also an exhilarating feeling that wanted us to repeat the experience each time we were sent on this mission. When we finally arrived at Lisselton the shopping list was taken out. Now my mother was a great believer in ensuring that everybody got a fair deal. This rule applied to shopping locally also and would have always given both shops equal custom. On one occasion, the top of the list read “Behan’s”. However, Catriona and I had different ideas. Hegarty’s had just brought out the latest range of gobstoppers and we worked hard to earn the price of them. As kids though, there was an inbuilt fear that if Behan’s saw us purchasing next door there would have been a parochial outrage. So between us, Catriona and I concocted a plan. As Catriona was the better talker, she was sent in to distract Jerry who was positioned just inside the large front facing window. I, on the other hand, decided to creep down on all fours, pass the shop door and underneath the windowsill and eventually make my getaway to Hegarty’s. All was going according to plan and in my own mind the gobstoppers seemed closer to my pocket now that I had passed both danger points. Then, out of nowhere my head was faced with a pair of boots. I slowly lifted my head from my crouched position, my eyes drawn to the long lanky stretch where Dick Behan stood – arms folded as he leant up against the wall. With a half-grin and a raised brow, it was as if he knew what our intentions were. I was, yet again, defeated and our gobstoppers had to wait for another day. We settled for the bag of sweets given to us by Dick after realising that it was my loose change that I was so intently looking for! Great memories, and I hope that my children will look back on their childhood with the same love as I look back on mine. Though married and settled very well in Offaly, Lissellton and Kerry will always be “home” to me.