Townland of Pottle, Lavey Parish Co. Cavan
Summers 1963 - .....
At times ‘amid the din of towns and cities’ I reflect on my good fortune at not having experienced the trials in life of my siblings, of friends’ and acquaintances’ travaux and many other unpleasantries , for I feel I might not have had the courage to resist the traps, temptations and deceit they experienced in their many different careers.
I am led to this thought as I often do not know how to thank God for my good fortune in life. How then do I thank those who have been kind to me and who are now sadly deceased? I suppose just by remembering them and imitating them where possible.
Undoubtedly for my brother, Peter, and me , the happiest long periods of our mutual lives, were our two or three short holidays in Pottle, Cavan with our second cousin , Peter, his wife, Mary and their only son, Gerard, our third cousin.
The warmth, the joy, the excitement , the energy, the fun of those days is still with us sixty years later. Our cousins gave us everything. And we took it with gay abandon and returned what we could in our own little way to help them. We took part in everything with a great sense of adventure and enthusiasm, the enthusiasm that only a city child could show on this wonderful farm setting , this veritable phantasy land.
Our father delivered us there on a Friday evening, after work. He had such a long drive from Dublin, three to four hours, he stayed a couple of hours and then drove back to Dublin that night. He must have been so tired. He collected us a week later and brought us home.
In that short time we discovered a real world, unnoticed by us in our own self-centredness, unknown to every city child and just taken for granted by anyone born to this farm community.
Our day was full. We rose at 7.30, washed, dressed, and helped Peter bring the cattle down from the fields to the byre for milking. There were eight at the most. We tied them in, cleaned their udders with a damp cloth, and got a three-legged stool and bucket and began to milk at least two cows each. We became very good at it very quickly. When the bucket was full we poured the steaming, bubbling milk from it into a big silver milk churn through a material net and then brought the cows back to the back-field. Both of us rolled the large churns out to the front gate of the farm for collection by the creamery tractor driver .
Time for breakfast. Wow, we were hungry and it was worth the wait for Mary’s breakfast. We nearly always had a small fry with rashers, sausages, two eggs, black pudding , fried bread and several cups of tea. Maybe even bread butter and marmalade! The powerful smell of the freshly churned butter and strong homemade brown bread is still with me to this day, the fragrance of happiness and freedom!!!!!
A few little jobs!
After that we helped at several jobs, collecting eggs from the hen-house in a basket, cleaning out the byre of cow manure and putting in new hay in the mangers, feeding the pigs slops in their trough in the yard and cleaning out the pig sties. Yep, we had our work cut out for us. And what a joy it was to show how fit and strong we were. After that we ‘played’ , ‘explored’ our new world.
Oh , and what exploration!!!!
Leaving the main farmyard in a quick gallop , as we were imitating the Lone Ranger and Tonto, we discovered the haggard or hay barn. So high, warm, dusty, such a great hiding place and resting place when tired! We counted the swallows’ and martins’ nests, listened for field mice in the hay and straw and practised jumping from the high hay to the lower levels.
The ‘Rio Grande’
Behind it was the ‘Rio Grande’ , actually a pretty big stream. We hunted for tadpoles, admired the minnows and some other fish there as well, but never caught them. Perhaps they were river trout but no bigger than our hand.
It was in the ‘Rio Grande’ that I saw my first Kingfisher. The beautiful blue, red, white gleam against the evening sun caught my eye. I couldn’t believe I would ever see one so close and so calm. It dived twice into the stream and caught something, I imagine a minnow and swallowed it happily. At times ducks, mallards and herons would fly over the farm in the direction of the nearby large pond and of course we got to know a whole family of swallows and two sets of house martins nesting in the main house, for Sodens had lived in Pottle since 1830 , in Lavey and Virginia parishes since 1770. These were Soden Swallows and Martins beyond a doubt.
We counted regularly the jackdaws, crows, an odd pair of ravens and several hooded crows daily. The resident blackbirds and robins on this farm, wrens and green linnets watched our every move and inspected any disturbance we caused from which they might get some nourishment. How wonderful to hear their piercing sounds in the early morning and early evening. The natural world around here was teeming. Not knowing much about insects, we only noticed wasps, bees, ladybirds, bluebottles, terrible ugly big horseflies and approximately six million midges.
We rode figuratively, of course, our sturdy steeds up the hill to the farm well which had a metal covering on it. The water was so clear, cool and crisp. We were told it had no bottom.
Saving the hay..........
The big job where we helped out was ‘saving the hay’. This one phrase does not at all cover the diverse activities involved. What a new experience! When we had mastered the ‘system’ we were so proud of ourselves and in later years amazed at the uniqueness of the operation.
Firstly, Danny, the horse, had to be hooked into the hay trolly, a large flat open two-wheeled contraption. We rode on it with Peter to the field where the grass lay cut and pretty dry already for a few days, accompanied as always by Rover, the sheep dog. With our hay hooks we gathered it all up to make a big haycock. Then came the novel part where we had to make a hay rope and use this to haul the haycock slowly and gingerly up onto the trolly. We brought one haycock home at a time, and ‘threw’ this hay up into the highest part of the hay barn. Yep, thirsty work and we were rewarded by Mary with some fine refreshment.
It was during this hay work that I saw my first and only corncrake. Even in the seventies they were becoming rare but the combine harvester wiped them out for sure. While cutting long grass in a meadow on another day, something fluttered ahead of me and this non-descript greenish bird ran away ahead of me and it was only then could I see the makings of a nest.
During these hard days, Mary would come up to the field with two wickerwork baskets. She brought with her two large teapots, a bottle of watered milk so it wouldn’t go sour, and at least three big sandwiches each of tomato, egg, scallions, mayonnaise and ham. At the end there might have been a bar of chocolate. There was no greater reward for such hard work than all this.
Undoubtedly my greatest task, you might say test, was when I had to bring Peter’s sow to market in Cavan town. I was commissioned to drive this animal the four or fives miles to the market in Cavan. All I would have were the clothes on my back and a light stick to keep direction. As soon as we got on the main road, the distractions were legion. Beeping cars and tractors, exciting edibles on the road side, pauses , moments of outright resistance to this forced march. It felt like fifteen miles and ten hours but I succeeded though of much frayed nerves. The hearty lunch and Taylor-Keith orange at the end wiped out all frustration.
We are certain our Cavan relatives believed we considered them local yokals with strange accents, and that they regarded us as cheeky know-all Dublin jackeens. But this was in no way the case. We loved the time in Cavan, with a kind friendly people who gave us everything. This bad name as being a mean and stingy people, we have never found to be true, in fact quite the opposite. We only have the memories and they are and have been treasures for us now and always.’
As the song goes,
‘Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me.
I’m thinking of the days
I won’ t forget a single day , believe me. ..........’
[Felix Soden, May , 2022]