Monday, April 7, 2008

Gone but not Forgotten

My parents Mollie and Mick pictured just after they married 6th October 1938
La Bealtaine
" Celebrations "
the Hill of Tara
to mark
Tenth Birthday
County Meath VEC's
Writer's Circle

In May 2002, the Meath VEC's Writers Circle published a book titled ''Celebrations'', to mark their Tenth Birthday. I had two stories published in the book one titled ''Close Encounter'', which was posted earlier on this site.

Here is the other piece titled,


My mother Mary Sheils, '' Mollie '', died on the first of July 1986 aged 65. Her maiden name was Mary Donohue. She came from the Borough of Bracklyn three miles outside Delvin in Co. Westmeath. The Borough was a row of small cottages on the estate of Captain Fetherston-Hough. She had one brother my uncle Edward, '' Ned ''.

The measure of a person's life is not in their length of days or their failings, but in what they give to others. I have come to treasure what my mother gave to me, the memories, values and identity of which I can be proud.

She grew up amidst the poverty of the 1930's and often told me about her childhood. She instilled in me a passion for green fields, for trees and animals, for the simplicity of country life, so different from the urban living I was used to.

She met my father, Michael, and they got married in Delvin on the 26th October 1938. She was 18 years of age; he was 25 and a widower. They had nine children. My fathers first wife Catherine Mahon, died on the 10th of July 1936 aged 22years.

My parents had a hard life but it was a good life. When I was a young boy growing up in Navan, my mother often sent me and my younger brothers to stay with my grandparents, Catherine,' Katie' and Pat Donohue for a few weeks during our school holidays. For children from suburbia this was a dream come true. The excitement would start weeks before we left for the Borough. We'd stay awake at night talking about our last holiday there.

I loved the freedom of the wide open spaces. It was a joy to run through the green fields chasing the white- winged butterfly, dodging the thistles and kicking the heads off the dandelions to see the parachutes rise.

The house was very old and had none of today's modern comforts. There was no running water. It had to be carried from a well a mile away and there was no proper toilet. This made life very difficult. During our holidays we were to learn the value of water. We helped our grandfather to draw it from the well. There was a wide open fireplace in the house. A steel chain with a hook hung from inside the chimney- breast and the cooking pots were suspended from the chain over a turf fire. There was a large three-legged iron pot in which my grandmother baked bread.

She would put the freshly mixed dough into the pot and burn turf underneath and on top of the pot. She made the nicest bread I ever tasted. Across the road from the house my grandmother had a garden of vegetables and fruit trees, I'll never forget the name she had for the luscious apples, she called them ''sheep's noses''. They always had a cow or two and chickens so we were all the time learning about country life. There was a wooden churn for making butter and I would often do the churning.

My grandfather Pat was a very tall slim man who loved reading. He once told me that you could travel the world by reading books. He had an ass and cart which he used for drawing turf from the bog. There was always great excitement, whenever he decided to bring home the turf. He showed us how to harness the ass to the cart. Granny always prepared a basket of food and we would have a picnic on the bog. My brothers and I would climb on to the cart and head on down the road with grandfather at the reins.

The noise from the iron-rimmed wooden wheels on the roadway, was like music to our ears. Unable to contain our excitement, with shouts of joy we would travel down the bog road. We were cowboys for the day, masters of all we surveyed off on a great adventure.

Things are a lot different in the country nowadays. Everyone has running water and flushed toilets. The ass and cart and the work horse are just a memory. Everything is highly mechanised now.

Recently, I went for a drive down memory lane with my wife, Josephine. When I came to the spot where the Borough used to be I didn't recognise it. The houses had been demolished years ago. It's now a field where cattle graze among the buttercups and daisies. I saw the white-winged butterfly but now I'm too old to chase them. As we gazed at the scene, memories came flooding back. In my mind's eye I saw my grandmother leaning across the half door and the freshly baked bread cooling on the windowsill. I wondered is there a half door in Heaven?. I like to think there is so I turned my eyes to Heaven and gave a wave.

My grandparents; my mother and my uncle Ned are all gone now. But they're not forgotten.

Michael '' The Sheriff '' Sheils