Drawing of the book cover Water Under the Railway Bridge by Bill Gerty

19 Winter



Early winter was a time when most families killed their own pig and salted it for the winter and we were no different from any other family. The pig would be killed in the morning and all cleaned up ready to be cut up where it would be placed between layers of salt and straw in a big tea chest. It would remain there for three weeks until it was cured, then it would be taken out washed and hung up in brown paper parcels for use during the Winter. As there were various parts cut off during the salting process it meant that there was a surplus supply of pork at that time far more than we could eat, there were no fridges in those days so we took bags of this around to our neighbours. They in turn did the same for us when their pig was killed.
Several times during the week I had to go shopping to Cosgrove's in Ballymagovern until Vera, Maisie or John were old enough to go there, later on this task fell to Muriel or George. We had to walk up Killyran lane to the end of the road, then cross some fields then over a rickety wooden bridge, across some more fields to reach the shops. Of course there was also a road which went there when we took the donkey and cart. Cosgrove's shop sold everything you could think of, apart from groceries one could buy corn, flour, shoes, hardware, clothes, fishing tackle, petrol, and of course they also ran a bar. Peter Cosgrove looked after the bar and apart from Miss Stafford our teacher he was the only person in the area to own a car which was a V8 Ford Pilot. When the bar was not busy he spent a lot of time looking out of the bar window across Ballymagovern lake to see if there were any wild ducks on the water. If he happened to see any he would be off across the fields with his double barrel shot gun. Mrs Cosgrove looked after the rest of the shop as well as looking after a young family. She was a very kind little lady, I remember going there in the winter's evening when it was cold and frosty. Sometimes if there were a lot of people waiting to be served she would say to me go up to the kitchen and I will call you when its your turn. Their kitchen was six times the size of ours with a big open fire in one end and a large range in the other end, I must have looked rather cold for her to send me up there. Her sister worked in the kitchen looking after the young ones and I usually got a mug of tea and a slice of cake while I waited to be served. On many occasions we had no money for the goods and there would be a note on the bottom of the list (please put it in the book) I never once heard her say I cannot do that, she was not that kind of woman. Auntie Louie got a cheque twice a year from the children's orphan society for looking after us, so on these occasions all the bills would be settled. Later on in years I was able to ride over there on a bike, this was Auntie Louie's old bike better known as Aunt Sally. It was an old sit up and beg bike and all of us learnt to ride on it, Vera being the only one to have an accident on it, she went up Taylor's hill
and said to George "watch me come flying down the hill on the bike", only to find that when she was halfway down the hill George decided to shut the railway gates across the road, as the old bike had no brakes she had to resort to going across a hedge into a nearby field, but she was lucky as there were plenty of fresh cow pats to break her fall.
Louie got herself a new bike and I got the job of cleaning it once a week for which I was paid the sum of one penny. Mrs Cosgrove could take a sheet of old news­paper and with the flick of her wrist make a dunces hat which she filled for us for one penny, or at Easter time you could get four farthing eggs for one penny but I saved most of my money for fishing tackle. Our postman Mr Quinn came around on horseback but I had to go to his Post Office in Garadice to collect Grannies pension which was around about three shillings in old money, this journey was around eight miles there and back and I walked the railway line most of the way. That was another small income which came from there. At Christmas we sold our flock of turkeys at the Christmas fair in Ballinamore. I recall having to get our donkey cart ready the night before, the cart had to have a special crate put on it to house the turkeys with a sheet over the top, then it was up at six in the morning to get the donkey and load up the turkeys. Bessie did not like it very much with all that gobble gobble behind her so I had to lead her all the way to the fair about five or six miles away. Auntie Louie followed later on in the morning on her bike and we arrived around the same time at the fair where there were cart loads of turkeys as far as you could see. We have to queue up to get them weighed and then we got a ticket with the complete weight of the turkeys on it. At this point we move back out in the main street and wait for a buyer to come along and make a purchase. This did not take too long and we were soon on our way to a cafe where I had an Irish Coffee for the first time. So now we have some money for Christmas. We did not hear much about the big day until two weeks before, I remember Grannie saying to Ernest and me hurry home from school today we are going on the train to Ballyconnel Christmas shopping, I had never been there before so there was great excitement on my part. When we got off the train Grannie gave us a penny each and we went into the waiting room and put our money in a machine where we got a bar of chocolate, then it was off to the shops where it seemed everyone knew Grannie, I think we got a cap gun each for that was all we ever wanted. We always had a present from Mrs Cosgrove which was a large fruit cake and a bottle of port. We always had a goose and a joint of beef on the day. We went to church very early in the morning and when we came home we had our breakfast when we took down one of our hams and sliced some of it off for break­fast with new laid eggs. Of course all the fun started in the early hours of the morning when someone ran downstairs and shouted "He's been". We used to hang up our socks over the fireplace in a row and whatever you got in them that was it but we never complained, a jotter, pencil, perhaps a small toy, a few sweets and an orange, we never wanted anything else. On Christmas night Uncle John, Auntie Sarah and Edna came to supper when we had our Christmas pudding. We never had our pudding after the midday meal, the only reason I can think of was that we were not used to big meals so it was better to have it later. Boxing day was a good day for us, it was the day the Wren men arrived on our doorstep and played their musical instruments and danced for about ten minutes. We never knew who they were or where they came from as they were always in disguise and usually arrived in numbers of four five or six. When they had finished their act they would ask for a penny to bury the wren, this custom dated back many years when it was said that during a big battle the little wren jumped on the big drum in the early morning and in doing so alerted the opposing army and as a result many soldiers were killed. The little wren was of course never killed or buried as the wren men took their pennies to the nearest pub that evening. John and me decided that this was a good way to make some money and a few years later we got all dressed up and went across to Crawford's farm all we had was an old mouth organ which I played and John done a bit of a dance and to our amazement they gave us some pennies. In those days it was only the Catholic's that carried on this custom so there would be a hell of a do if anyone found out that we had engaged in such a practice, so we took our money and hid it behind our haystack in the ground for to use at a later date. However, when we did come to dig it up it had disappeared without trace, I think we must have been close to Sydney Harbour in our attempt to locate it. Boxing day was also a great day for hunting in Cavan, it was not done on a big scale, there were only around half a dozen hounds in the area and every­one walked around the fields on foot. The huntsman was Jim Toher and he stood outside his house and blew his horn, the hounds would respond for miles around. Jimmy Downey was one of those people in Killyran who had one of these dogs and although he never followed the hunt, as far as I can remember, old Gingler his dog could be seen running down the railway line in response to the huntsman. I once saw these very untrained animals running across the fields one way as the fox ran the other way. I never saw a fox killed and I often thought he had a good laugh at them all.


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