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

3 Johnstone's Estate



On Saturday night my father always went shopping down to Mulally's in Bawnboy. I suppose he had a few pints of Guinness while he waited for the shopping to be packed up. This would be things like tea, sugar, flour, butter and paraffin oil for our lamps. I am quite sure we would not afford any more on the wages that he got. We had our hens, chickens and eggs. When I went to bed I was able to look through the bedroom door into the kitchen I could see my mother walking around until I went to sleep but when I woke up in the morning there was always a sweet under my pillow. The only time I remember being unwell was one afternoon, I was lying in bed with my mother and Nurse Connolly came in she probably came in to see her. I recall that she gave me a white mint which cleared up the problem and I was okay the next day. She was a frequent visitor to our house. I also remember seeing her again when my father took me down to a big house in Bawnboy, when we got inside the place was full of parents and children. My left sleeve was rolled up and I was carried along in a line with other children until we came to a man with a bottle and brush, he painted some brown stuff on my arm, after which we continued along till we came to a man in a white coat and whatever he did to my arm it was very sore for many days afterwards.
Until Vera came along I used to spend most of my time playing in the woods opposite our house or down where my father worked. Once I found a baby rabbit and took it indoors where it quickly ran off and hid behind our dresser and no matter how much I called him he refused to budge, so I went out and collected some grass which I stuffed in one side. When I got up next morning I found that some of the grass had gone but alas the rabbit had also gone. I suppose as soon as the door was opened in the morning he made a run for it.
Our father would sometimes come home at dinner time riding a horse, dinner time in Ireland being around one o'clock, so I got very fond of horses. I had a sad expe­rience one day as I walked through the woods, I came to a fence and looking into the field on the other side I saw two men lead a horse along to a large hole which they had dug then one of the men took a gun and shot it, it fell straight into the hole and they covered it up. One minute it was there and the next it was gone as if blown away by the wind, end of first lesson on life.
I loved going down to the Johnstone's walking all around the farm buildings and talking to the animals, The first building was the cow shed where all the milking was done, and to the left of that was a row of calf sheds where all the small calves were housed, these were generally taken from their mothers at birth and fed separately. In fact our mother used to cook a great big pot of Indian meal for the very young ones. This pot would hold about four gallons and she used to do this a couple of times a week. When it was put outside to cool we used to wait until a skin formed on top and then pull strips off the top and eat it. Getting back to the farm, next to where the calves were housed was a row of horse boxes. It was great fun to go and pat the horses on the nose, I had my own name for all of them which I am sure bore no resemblance to what their real names were. Next building was where all the harness was kept, it had a lovely smell of leather, behind this building was a big hay shed. Turning left towards the house and on the right hand side was sort of do-it-yourself barn where many small tools, bits of chain, various pieces of broken harness, nails, screws, lamps etc. were kept. Opposite this barn was the end of the cowshed with some steps leading up to the granary where all the corn was stored. The next building on the right hand side was the dairy where the milk came in and was put into creamery cans ready for dispatch to the local creamery. The dairy had a big red separating machine where milk was poured into a container on the top and when the handle was turned the cream would be separated. I saw my father doing this job and taking some cream down to the big house. One afternoon we went into the dairy and there was a large rat in there, my father told me to stop outside but there was a hole in the door so I could see inside, he then proceeded to pick up an axe and chase it around the dairy where he eventually got it in a corner and chopped its head off, end of second lesson on life.
One of my favourite places was in the next building which was the carriage house, there were some lovely ones here all horse drawn. I used to go from one to the other and sit on the very plush velvet seats. There was one in there that was different to all the others and it was some time later before I found that that in fact it was a hearse. The Johnstones had their own burial vault which I shall tell you about later. There was a long avenue from the big house down to the gate lodge by the main road.
When the hay making was being done I used to ride down there on a hay cart, better known as the cock-shifter. Let me explain: the hay was built in a pyramid shape known as a cock. The hay cart had a very low flat body about eighteen inches from the ground, highly polished wood with a steel strip over the wood at the rear end. Along the front was a steel roller with a ratchet and handle on each side. Around the roller was a very thick rope. The cock shifter would be backed up to the cock of hay where a lever would be pulled and the back end would lower down to the base of the cock of hay.
The rope was then pulled around the hay, a rope on each side. Where the ropes met at the rear they were joined together by a half-moon piece of metal about twelve inches deep. The ratchet on either side would be operated by the handle and the cock of hay would start to slide up the hay cart. As it went over the centre of gravity the hay cart would lower itself to its original position and the horse could move off with the load, hence the name (cock shifter). Because it was so low I could run along behind it then turn around quickly and sit on the back. The driver would be sitting up at the front and the load of hay would conceal anyone sitting on the rear.
It was during one of these trips that I wandered off over the fields behind the gate lodge when I came across the burial vault. I did not know what it was at that time. It had a steel grid at the front and behind that was a glass door so one could look inside. There was a light inside and lots of flowers. When I found out what it was I never went there again.
Bertie Johnstone and Mr. Richards often went for a walk. They always wore plus fours and carried canes and were accompanied by two or three Irish setters. It was not unusual to see them going up or down the avenue. Up in the paddocks behind our house they had a large water tank where they used to go swimming. I only saw this place once when I went there with my father, we were not allowed to go near the place as it was far too dangerous.
I was walking down the avenue once kicking the sand in the middle where the horses walked with my bare feet when I saw something shining in the sand, it was a shilling. I gave it to my mother, the look on her face said that I gave her a pot of gold. In those days a shilling could buy quite a few things.
One day while walking near some beech trees at the big house I saw this red animal with a long bushy tail. I never saw an animal like that before and as I stood there watching it I remember being quite frightened as it sat on its bottom, lifted its front feet up off the ground and stared at me before scampering up to the top of the tree, it was my first of many encounters with squirrels.

Mary Jane Gerty
My mother Mary Jane


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