Discipline in the family was down to mother. I can recall only one occasion when my father punished me. I was swinging an old bicycle pump round my head in the street…
… when the top flew off and struck Anna in the mouth. This left a small scar on her upper lip that she carried all her days. My mother left it to him and I got two or three skelps on the backside when I got home. It was more humiliating than painful.
My early days made more of an impression than I realised for more than sixty years.
In 2002 when I was researching the family tree I met with Julia Pearce (nee Durkan), a second cousin. She asked me if I was the only boy in my family and when I said I was she exclaimed,
“You’re in my book!”
“What book?” I asked.
“One of the two I wrote about Crossmaglen and Blackrock”.
Although these had never been published Julia let me have a carbon copy of both. A fuller story of these books must await another day. However, the following extract demonstrates how I made an early impact.
The ‘Brigie’ in the story is Sadie Nugent (nee Devlin), my aunt; ‘Kathleen’ is Julia herself. At the time of the incident Julia’s family was living in Blackrock, Co Louth and Sadie was helping out in the home as Julia’s mother, Kathleen (nee
‘Brigie made frequent visits home to see her family and rarely went without Kathleen. They cycled the twelve miles or so to Mobane and knew the road like the back of their hands. Yet this Sunday was different. There was Brigie branching off to the right at the bottom of Castletown Hill, bringing her into strange country.
‘”Where do you think you’re going?” Kathleen asked, but this fell on deaf ears. Brigie was cycling with fierce determination – and so fast that Kathleen had a divil of a time keeping up with her.
When they alighted to walk a steep hill Brigie said, “It’s time we visited me brother as I never get a chance to see him”.
“That’s alright with me Brigie, but will you just give me a chance to get me breath back!” said Kathleen.
Brigie’s brother lived in the Creggan area. Not the familiar part that Kathleen knew but she was quite happy to go along. They walked their bicycles into the yard and put them against the white wall. They entered a warm friendly kitchen with a large square table already set for tea. The welcome from the family was enthusiastic.
“You’ll come in and share our tea with us”.
“Indeed we will”, replied Brigie, “Our throats are cut for the want of a drink. We’re both hungry and could do with a sit down”.
While Brigie played with the latest addition to the family Kathleen’s eyes kept straying to the crisp white tablecloth displaying freshly baked bread and scones. There was also a jam sponge, a pot of blackberry jam and a glass dish full of freshly churned country butter. She watched Brigie’s sister-in-law cut the fresh brown bread with masses of fruit in it. ‘Food for a King’, she thought as they drew their chairs up to the table. Brigie’s brother handed the baby to its mother, who placed him on her lap while he poured the tea.
She couldn’t wait to attack the food. She was starved after the long cycle ride and the yellow country butter was spread thickly over the brown bread.
She had only taken a few mouthfuls when suddenly a spout of water shot across the table, dropping on to the bread and scones. The baby boy, sitting on his mother’s lap without a nappy, was the culprit. Kathleen jumped to her feet in disgust, appetite already gone and excused herself while gales of laughter followed her to the door.
“Sure he’s only a baby and he needs a little freedom”, remarked his mother, as she cuddled her baby closer.
They were actually sitting down to the table again while the little innocent cherub was left sitting on a rug. Kathleen sat on her bicycle for twenty minutes furious and impatient, before Brigie appeared. They said their goodbyes. Kathleen was anxious to be on her way. She knew her parents wouldn’t have approved of her behaviour but then she had never before seen a baby sitting at a dining table without its nappy.’
Needless to say, that was me who was the star of the show!
… more later …