The river bounded the other side of the field where our house was located at Drumbally. It was about 20 feet across and about five feet deep between steep sides six feet above the level of the water. Two sturdy planks spanned the gap. The whole was about a yard wide with no side rails or rope support.
This was perilous enough at the best of times but when the river was in flood the roaring brown torrent was just below the level of the wood, and had anyone fallen in they would have been lucky to survive, especially since nobody could swim. This was “the plank” and was a shortcut for us when visiting our cousins, the Devlins and O’Reillys. It was also the shortcut for my father coming home from “Flints” with his bicycle, and mother was ever in a lather that he would fall in the river. He never did, or at least never admitted to it.
Over the hill were the McKeevers (distant cousins through my great grandmother Brigid Quinn). There was a boy, Jackie and two girls, Peggy and Eileen. I recall that on some occasion when my mother was away (I think in hospital in Newry about 1948) Peggy looked after us. I remember her reading to us from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. I found the very book among my mother’s things after she died in 1997. Eileen was godmother to my sister Eileen and gave her her own second name “Teresa” (according to Eileen).
We had a dog; I forget his name, which became a bit of a nuisance. He would lie in wait at the top of the lane and run out when people passed on bikes or in carts of traps. He knocked a few people off their bikes and my father had complaints about him so he decided to get rid of him by drowning him in the bog hole. He didn’t tell us about this as he knew there would be a roaring match. The first we knew that something was wrong was when the dog appeared at the door wringing wet and stinking, with a piece of rope around his neck where he had escaped from the bog when the rope broke from the stone to which it had been tied.
My father hadn’t the heart to try again and the dog was eventually given away to a neighbour.
We got another dog, a mongrel part collie who we called Bob after Black Bob, the Border collie in the comic strip. He was a friendly and intelligent dog and when he was only a year or so old we gave him to my grandad Boyle where he became an indispensable aid to the old man helping to round up and drive the cows. He made our visits to granda’s all the more enjoyable.
The house had no sanitation or running water. Water had to be carried by hand from the well, which was 100 yards away, up the lane on the side of the road. It was a natural spring lined with rocks and whitewashed regularly, after being emptied by hand, by my father. As we got older it was a regular daily chore to fetch the water, two buckets at a time. The buckets were heavy, straining the arms and shoulders and cutting into the fingers, ensuring many stops along the way.
… more later …