Among the Wicklow Hills
By Mattie Lennon

Long before DeValera expressed his dream of "comely maidens and athlethic youths at crossroads" young people danced at the Green Gate in Kylebeg. This venue was the entrance to Kylebeg Lodge and was then the equivalent of Computadate or Dateline. 

The twenties (not "roaring", we presume, in Kylebeg) also saw a tradition of house dances. There was the occasional "American Wake" 'though not described as such in that part of the country. There were also a number of regular dancing houses; usually dwellings with flagged floors and one or more eligible daughters. The small two-roomed home of John Osborne was one such house. Situated at the hill ditch, which divided the common grazing area of "The Rock" from the relatively arable land. It was accessible only through the aptly named Rock Park; the nocturnal negotiation of which was a feat even for the most sure-footed. 

The man of the house was an accomplished flautist. Did he, I wonder, favour saturating his instrument, like the flute-player from Ballyknockan, who on arrival at a session would request the facility to "....dip me flute in a bucket o' water". 

Whether for flute-immersion or not a galvanized bucket of water was a permanent feature on the stone bench outside Osborne's door. A well known story tells of a June night when the boys and girls (a term used to describe those unmarried, and under 70) having made it relatively unscathed through the Rock Park were knocking sparks from the floor. They were glad of the opportunity, amid the jigs and the reels (and God only knows what other energy-sapping activities) to exit occasionally for a refreshing draught from the Parnassian bucket. 

At day-break, while preparing to depart, the exhausted assembly was informed by a youth (looked on locally as "s sort of a cod") of how he had suffered during the night with a stone-bruise on his big toe. The pain, se said, would have been unbearable but for the fact that; " I used to go out now an' agin an' dip it in the bucket o' water". 

That's the sort of people we had in the Wicklow Mountains. 

And here's a true story told to me by a cousin, in Ballinastockan, who wouldn't know how to tell a lie. He was drawing out turf with an ass and cleeves....the cousin was. Do you know the creels (baskets) that you se on the backs of donkeys in Bord Failte postcards and such like? Well up this way they're called "cleeves" and they're held in position by a "cleeving-straddle"; which is a saddle-like harness with a spike, or hook, on either side to hold the cleeves. 

Anyway the cousin was using said mode of haulage when, due to inadequate upholstering, didn't he cleeving-straddle irritate and cut the ass, leaving a nasty lesion on either side of his (the ass's) backbone. 

The weather being warm of course the flies attacked the open wounds, which festered (savin' your presence) developing into two raw nasty-looking holes in the ass's back. 

The ass, tired after a hard day's work, went out and lay down at the back of the house under a hawthorn tree. And what do you think but didn't a couple of haws fall into the holes in his back. The holes eventually healed but the next Spring didn't two little whitethorn trees sprout out of his back. 

Do you know what the cousin did? He waited for them to grow fairly strong and then he sawed them off about four inches from the base. And thereafter he had the only ass in Ireland with a permanent cleeving-straddle.

 

That's the cousin. And wait 'til I tell you about his brother-in-law, Johnny N. 

He was in the habit of making statements that didn't quite add up; "You shouldn't ever get into a car with a stranger, unless you know him". It's not the fathers an' mothers I blame at all, it's the parents". I bought a half pound o' cooked ham in Jim Burkes an' ate it raw goin' home". But he didn't have all that much confidence in his own judgement, and consequently he tended to take a lot of advice. An example is a number of "smart boys" gave him" various and conflicting pieces of information on the best way to sharpen his cut-throat razor. He took one fellow's advice and when he came down to the end of the lane (the usual meeting place) his face was a haematologist's paradise. As he gingerly fingered his sensitive cheeks he declared; " I don't give a *(# ?'*&\ what you say lads, the scythe-stone is not the thing for the razor".

Spent most of his life working with farmers and had no knowledge of any other type of employment. The when he was in his fifties, during the building boom of the sixties (that sounds almost poetic) he headed down to Clondalkin (or as he called it "Clondaltin") to seek a job on one of the many building sites. When he approached the foreman looking for "a start" he must have come across as material for a "nipper" and general factotum, for the following conversation took place;

Foreman:  Can you make tea? 
Johnny N.:  I can. 
Foreman:  Can you drive a fork-lift? 
Johnny N.:  Why, how big is the taypot? 

And what about the time a local cattle dealer asked Johnnie to check if the off-side indicator on his (the cattle-dealer's) truck was working. Johnny walked to the rear of the vehicle, his Wellington-legs colliding with each other in a most rhythmic manner. Then came the answer; "IT is", "It's not", "It is", "It's n........"

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