"Fireside Miscellany: A Collection of Irish Memories, Meanderings and History”, takes the reader from the era of the horse and cart, up to the present day.
“Lonely I wander through scenes of my childhood
They bring back to memory those happy days of yore
Gone are the old folk the house stands deserted,
No light at the window, no welcome at the door”
After a long absence, I obeyed that inner voice and stopped outside the old house, with the intention of only temporary glance.
Here and there, gaping holes had appeared as loose slates had slid free and lay in pieces on the ground. The old and frail house seemed to be eyeing its long-lost occupant and inviting me inside with its strange, appealing and vacant stare. I followed its lure and attempted to unlatch the narrow lawn gate but found it rusted firmly shut. Undeterred, I forced a path through the briars that had enfolded the narrow style.
The deep matted vegetation underfoot formed a cushion across the hidden concrete pathway and led me to the front door. I twisted the knob and pushed, but the heavy wooden door refused to budge. I hopped over the sidewall into what, for many years, was our very productive vegetable garden, where I toiled many a day tending to the crops.
Wandering round to the back, I was hoping to peek through the window into the once stately quarter that had served as our ‘good room’. Not alone was the frame and glass now absent but a huge jagged opening had been gorged out from roof to ground to create a way for the entry of an old grey Ferguson tractor now housed inside. It was parked center stage taking the place where, for many years, our elegant drop leaf oak table held prominence. I found it hard to believe that this indignity had befallen our precious sitting room.
In my younger days this room was out of bounds to us children, apart from certain short-lived exceptions, such as 'Station Morning' when the neighbors would gather in to hear Mass and take breakfast there afterwards, (this was in the era that required fasting from the previous midnight).This parlor was also kept sacred for special family visitors who arrived from England or the occasional Yank who might grace our dwelling, and would be quickly ushered within this sacristy to avoid the sight of other less-decorated quarters.
Except for Easter Sunday and a full week at Christmas time, we children were forbidden from wandering its hallowed expanse. This was the only room in our dwelling which could be locked, and the key hidden far beyond the reach of young hands.
What a delight on Christmas morning to run 'in the bare ones' from the cold concrete floor of the kitchen onto the plush smooth warm carpet which covered and complimented the wooden parlor floor. A quick search and each child would find their present hidden behind a curtain, under a chair, or covered by a cushion.
These Christmas presents varied little from year to year: from playing cards, cap guns, toy cars; board games such as draughts, and snakes and ladders which were the norm. We were given strict orders to protect the good furniture and we knew that if we failed to obey, an immediate lockout would ensue, and God help anyone who innocently broke a precious vase or caused any damage. This embargo placed a huge restriction on our horseplay and subdued our activities to playing board games, rather than our much-preferred pastime of hide and seek behind the furniture. An abiding memory is that of a glowing heat from the blazing turf fire on the open hearth, while above, the mantelpiece was decorated with the berried holly which we children had pinched the previous week from a neighboring farm.
Now the multitude of twigs lying in the cold fireplace confirmed that the jackdaws had taken possession of and made their home in this otherwise retired and smokeless chimney. The once elegant sideboard, which in its glory days, supported a large mirror and a display of fine vases, now lay disheveled in the corner where even the woodworm had abandoned it. The old HMV wind-up gramophone was pushed to one side, with its wooden cabinet broken, while a few ancient vinyl records and a multitude of discarded gramophone needles lay scattered and rusting on the floor. Here and there a strip of wallpaper still remained in place despite the pervading dampness. Out of curiosity I prized open an old rusty biscuit tin and was surprised to find it full of ancient receipts, displaying the payments made in pounds, shilling, and pence.
I ventured into the old kitchen/living area and when my eyes became accustomed to the dark, I found the room filled with old farm implements. Even the wide fireplace and both its hobs, where we as youngsters used as fireside seats, were in use as storage areas for buckets and tools. The old black crane with its adjustable hooks still remained waiting in place but it would never again be called on to support the huge pigs-pot of boiling potatoes swinging above a blazing turf fire.
I found it difficult to believe but had to accept that this house, which had been home to many generations, was now in fast decline and had entered the final throes of departure. I had absorbed enough and decided ….”Twas time I was leaving, Twas time I passed on”
The old John McCormack refrain still rings true in these changing times.
* In its cache of short stories Denis O'Higgins “Fireside Miscellany: A Collection of Irish Memories, Meanderings and History”, takes the reader from the era of the horse and cart, up to the present day. Some of these musings bring the former farming ways back to life, calling back to mind the habits of bygone days while others depict a formerly troubled North of Ireland.
The nostalgia takes the reader on a history trip around Ireland from Derry to Rostrevor, Waterford to Roscommon. Extending from a quiet corner of Co Monaghan to Kilowen, Co Down, from Newcastle to Letterfrack and back again. The Scottish village of Glencoe, the tragic annihilation of the McDonald Clan there, and the heroic deeds of the daring Flora McDonald also finds mention, while stories of other notable people, characters and special places are also embedded within its covers.
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