Chapter 31 - Adventures in Mobane with Uncle Ned
Their Uncle Ned was a frequent visitor to their home with "just a little something for the wee ones". One day Kathleen heard him tell their Daddy that the local poet, Patrick Kavanagh from Inniskeen, had stopped outside their house the previous day and called him out, as he was never one for going into people's houses. He wanted to know the origin of the famous couplet
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"From Carrickmacross to Crossmaglen
There are more rogues than honest men",
Ned had explained to him what he had heard from his own father, God be good to him. Way back in the 1880s a local rogue made his living by stealing horses and selling them as his own. To throw pursuers off the track, he removed the horses shoes and replaced them back to front. He was eventually arrested in Dundalk while in the act of selling a stolen horse. When he was brought before the Court it was the Resident Magistrate who composed the couplet,
Ned once saw Patrick Kavanagh play in goal for the Inniskeen team at Gaelic Football. As the goalkeeper at the other end he had time to pay him particular attention. Kavanagh wasn't the best goalkeeper he ever saw. It was a sultry evening and ice cream was being sold behind the goal. When the activity was at the other end and Ned in trouble, Patrick promptly deserted his post to get an ice cream and cool himself down. While he was away, a goal was scored against him. Ned and their Daddy had a good laugh about this.
Ned was a very popular Uncle as well as a considerate brother. He was the only son to remain at home. His two older brothers had emigrated to America when he was young. Kathleen had heard many stories about the tragedy of her Uncle James' death. He had been killed in a car accident when his car was crushed between two larger vehicles. Their Grandmother had taken it very badly and when his best friend returned home on holidays he tried to avoid her. He only lived a few fields away and took a short cut out by the Ball Alley so that he would not bump into her. Finally the day came when there was no escaping. The little mother stood outside her shop door and waited. As he came near the Ball Alley he saw her. She crossed the road and shouted to him,
"Pat isn't it about time you told a grieving mother how her son met his end".
They walked towards each other; she with outstretched arms and beseeching eyes. He held her in his arms as he told her about James' death. He was his best friend too and her silent sobs pulled at his heartstrings. Finally, composed, she dried her eyes and looked up at him.
"Thank you Pat. The heart must grieve but I am grateful to you for all the detail and life must go on".
He watched the little woman walk back to her door. He sensed her straighten her back and knew she would carry her grief with great dignity.
Kathleen was standing behind the counter in Uncle Ned's shop when Mick the Rocky walked in. She loved to spend her spare time and part of her holiday in Mobane and she served behind the counter any chance she got. She didn't know "The Rocky" very well but he was a weekly customer who arrived on his bicycle which he always placed carefully outside the shop window where he could keep an eye on it, just in case the childer around decided to have a ride while he was making his purchases. He liked to have a good chat about the land and crops, as he was a good and attentive farmer. He lived a few miles over the Back Road, beyond the rocks and near to Cappy Lake. His fields were surrounded by large hedges which in summer were covered with wild lupins, foxgloves and honeysuckle. The perfume could be enjoyed long before arriving.
A large iron gate led into one of his fields. Here he had a flourishing field of flax, the envy of many. When "The Rocky" arrived for his groceries, he was in a waspish mood and his weather-beaten face had a gloomy look to it.
"Who'd believe that a courtin' couple would have to use my field of flax to do their courtin' with all those rocks and whin bushes about. They'll be the ruination of me yet".
He looked over Kathleen's head to the shelves beyond but she could tell his mind was on his field of flax.
It was on the tip of Kathleen's tongue to tell him who the culprits were but one look from her Uncle and she disappeared into the kitchen. It was indeed a lovely field of high green flax and covered with the blue flax flowers. The culprits had climbed the gate into his field, and then headed for the very centre of the field, blazing a trail of flattened flax behind them. From there, no doubt they had plenty of privacy and a breath taking view of Slieve Gullion looking down as if to give a fatherly blessing. It was a romantic place for lovers in a perfect setting but if "The Rocky" had been there his blessing would have been of an entirely different kind.
As he left the shop he was still complaining,
"By God if I could get me hands on those two, I'd have their guts for garters".
He couldn't be blamed for being in a disagreeable mood. After all, this was all his work and toil and for what? Kathleen saw him off, helpful and understanding. As he flung his bag of purchases over the handlebar he looked down on her.
"Well Kathleen, when you see this couple, remind them rocks and whin bushes were good enough for the rest of us".
Then he threw his leg over his bicycle saddle and disappeared around the corner.
She had felt like asking him why he hadn't married but discretion had taken over. After all a field of flax wasn't much of a bedfellow and wouldn't keep a body warn on a cold winter's night. Here was another good man who didn't seem to have time for courtship or marriage and wasn't it a great pity.
That Spring, Kathleen happened to be staying in Uncle Ned's house on Shrove Tuesday, just before Lent started. It was then that received this strange request from Eileen, Ned's wife.
"Kathleen would you be a good girl and go as far as McCoy's to collect the Round Square for the pancakes?"
"What on earth are you talkin' about Eileen? Who ever heard of a round square?"
"Well I have for one and I always use it for makin' me pancakes".
"Well that's the first I've heard of it".
It didn't make sense but she decided to placate her Aunt. At least this time she wasn't on about the birds and the bees, but she did get some strange ideas. She got on her bicycle and started up John Aisy's hill.
It was a clear fresh day. The sun shone and the cool breeze from Slieve Gullion whipped roses into her cheeks. She pedalled fast and when she reached McCoy's gate she dismounted, opened the heavy barred gate, remounted and rode down the narrow lane to the house. It was easy. All she had to do was to keep in the rut produced by all the bicycles that had gone before her. She was met by the big Collie dog barking and retreating as he always did. At least he heralded her coming.
"Ah you're just an old coward", she whispered as she knocked and then opened the half door and walked into the kitchen.
It took her a moment or two to get her full bearings, coming in out of the sunshine. The turf fire was burning brightly and the welcome from Mary Anne was sincere.
"If we'd known you were comin' , we'd have had the flags out for ye".
She sat down beside Mary Anne's mother and told her why she was visiting them. She loved old people. They seemed to have so much more time and patience. There might have been a suspicion of a gleam in the mother's eye as she glanced at her daughter.
"Let's see now. Didn't we loan to Mary O'Dowd in the Hollow?"
Mary Anne thought it might be there but in the meantime they would like her to stay and have a cup of tea with them.
Kathleen enjoyed the crack. The tea was strong and piping hot and their home-made currant bread with butter was delicious. She told them so and they plied her with more bread and blackcurrant jam.
"What happened to all that lovely damson jam you used to make Mary Anne?"
"God knows child. Where's the snow that was last winter? I'll keep you in mind for the next making".
For Kathleen there was nothing so good as home baking and she didn't stop until she had eaten her fill. They discussed the family and the children and how poor Mrs McCoy was riddled with the rheumatism.
"When it gets into the auld bones, sure it's hard to get rid of it though I've heard tell Jemmy, up the road, has the cure for it. Them Comfrey leaves are very good but sure you have to be patient, and at my age that's about all there's left to me".
Kathleen knew about pain too but she didn't bother mentioning it, or that she had the cure for the stye. They probably knew that already. She thanked them for the lovely tea and said,
"I'd better move on the Mary O'Dowd's if me Aunt ever intends to make those pancakes. You know Mary Anne, she comes up with some funny ideas sometimes and I have to humour her".
"And a good job you're doin' of it too", was Mary Anne's reply as she grinned at her old mother.
To get to O'Dowd's house she had to pass Mobane and there was her Aunt Eileen on the crossroads chatting with the Breadman from McCann's Bakery. They were in a hilarious mood as she passed.
"It'll take a bit longer, Eileen, it's out on loan".
"Ah don't let that worry you. We've plenty of time".
Sometimes Eileen hadn't a notion about time.
Mary O'Dowd lived in the house in "the hollow" down in the dip of the road which ran past Mobane down to the border. Kathleen was often told they were a Republican family but she wasn't sure what that meant and it certainly didn't mean anything to her. Theirs was a one-storied building but it covered a lot of ground. Here too the welcome was sheer delight and Kathleen sat down to tea once again with homebaked scones and a boiled egg. She was beginning to feel really full now but didn't like to offend their good-natured hospitality.
She told them why she was there. This time she distinctly saw a smile pass briefly between mother and daughter. When she asked for the round square they said,
"Didn't we loan it to Petey at McShane's Cross?"
They were hesitant and careful. Now that was a long way to go and evening was coming on. Kathleen was beginning to get suspicious.
"Now tell me Mary. Is it worth me while going all the way to McShane's Cross or is it some sort of joke?"
"Well Kathleen I was going to send you on but I think it's carrying things a bit too far. Of course it's tomfoolery and your Aunt Eileen must be laughing her head off".
"She might but I'm not".
She wheeled her bicycle out of the yard walking across the cobbles. The smell of the dunkel was distinctly pig. She was no longer in the mood for entertainment. She was sick of hospitality, loving farewells and half the countryside laughing at her. She rode the quarter of a mile back to the Crossroads. Her step was purposeful and determined as she flung open the back door and faced her Aunt.
"You've made me the laughin' stock of the country - you and your round square. Who ever heard of a round square. With all the eatin' and drinkin' I've done I still didn't get a pancake".
It was teatime when she arrived. The table was set all waiting for her to sit down, but she could neither eat nor drink. She was so full of hospitality she could hardly bear to look at food.
After her frustrating day it was later in the evening before she got around to taking her bicycle into one of the outhouses for safety overnight. As she passed the hay shed she thought she heard soft laughter and on her way back she stood outside the door. She was right; there were voices in there, quiet though they were.
She pushed open the door and found herself facing a hay stack which almost reached to the rafters. She called,
"Who's up there?"
"Why it's only us, Kathleen".
That was Tommy Foy's voice. Any time she met Tommy, he was accompanied by his greyhounds.
"What are you doing up there Tommy?"
She heard a giggle so she climbed up the stack and confronted Tommy with Mary, his girl friend. She sat in front of them taking it all in. There was Tommy with his arm tight around Mary's waist and her liking every bit of it.
"Tell me Tommy, how are your greyhounds?"
"Away with ye gersha. Can't you see we're busy!"
That shook her. She sat straight up while they cuddled together.
"Are you two going to get married?"
"Now that's a silly question, Kathleen. Cut out all this interrogation and leave us in peace".
That didn't stop her. The next question was out.
"Well are you in love with her?"
"Of course I am, of course, of course".
Tommy replied in his quick way and he tightened his grip on Mary as she snuggled against him.
"Are you going to marry her then?"
He gave her no answer but turned towards Mary. At last she sensed that he wasn't happy with her there and he wasn't interested in his greyhounds either tonight. She quietly slipped down the haystack and closed the door silently behind her. There she stood looking up at the night sky. The stars were twinkling, the moon was out and strange stirrings inside her made her realise this was a night for romance. She cupped her hands and shouted,
"I hope you're going to marry Mary and have many children".
What on earth prompted her to say that? She thought that all the neighbours would hear her in the quiet night but not a blind bit of notice was taken of her and the shed door remained closed.
She burst in the back door straight to her Uncle Ned.
"Did you know Tommy Foy was canoodling with Mary on top of your hay stack?"
"Of course I do Kathleen. They always land up there on cold nights and you've no right to interfere with the course of true love".
"Sure I only asked him about his greyhounds".
"Greyhounds be damned. A nice time to choose to ask about greyhounds when Tommy was gearing himself up to ask Mary to marry him. And I might tell you Miss that was the way your father proposed to your mother. I've no doubt history will repeat itself with you too".
Kathleen went quiet. What with courtin' in whin bushes and in hay sheds, it was all getting a bit too much for her to take in all at once.
"You're not saying me Mammy and me Daddy used the hay shed and the whin bushes?"
"Of course they did. Can you think of a better place on a cold night?"
For once she was speechless.
"Kathleen, all the courting done round here was done in the same way in you mother's day. Why don't you ask them sometime".
Her Uncle was shocking and he gave her a lot to think about.
"You're trying to shock me Uncle Ned. Wait till I tell me Daddy".
Ned just let out a big guffaw as he moved across the kitchen to bar the back door. She was beginning to feel tired as she slowly made her way upstairs. She would have to think about all this another time.