By Jim Dromey, Tullamore

A native of Kilmichael, Co. Cork, Jim Dromey is a retired member of An Garda Síochána. He served in several divisions and was Weights and Measures Sergeant in Tullamore, Co. Offaly. He still lives there.
Jim has an abiding love of nature, fostered in him as a child by his parents while his strong regard for his native locality never waned. He has written some autobiographical material relating to his growing years in West Cork in the 1930s. "Holidays" is an extract.

It was summer holiday time and thoughts of school were banished for a month. My parents decided to take my brother and me to our Aunt Minnie's place in Ballingeary, 10 miles from home, for a week or so.

We loved the notion of going to our aunt's house because we had heard glowing accounts of it from older members of the family. I was eight years old; my brother was two years older.

Full of glee we set out one morning with our parents in a tub trap. Fitted  springs and rubber tyres, the trap glided smoothly drawn by Betsy the horse. We passed our school with its creaking gate and tall monkey tree. A man on a ladder was whitewashing the walls, how wonderful it was to pass by independently.

When we reached Inchigeelagh there was a fowl market in progress. We saw horse and donkey carts in which hens and ducks lay in straw, their legs tied together. Parked on the street were two touring buses. Those who alighted from them were being treated to humorous anecdotes by the popular Johnny Creedon of the post office and were in convulsions of laughter. As my father remarked: "Johnny could humour a poor man going to the gallows. "

On our journey to Ballingeary there was a picturesque panorama around every bend. On our left several lakes were shimmering in the sun. The edges of the lakes were decorated with white and yellow lilies lying on the water. Blue heathery hills in the background were mirrored in the calm lake waters. These are the waters of the River Lee and are guarded on one side by the hills and on the other by upland farms.

A fisherman sat on a rock reading a book. The line of the fishing-rod  was stretched out into the water. Further on a lady with an easel was painting a picture of the lakes with their background of green woods and blue hills. On our right men and women were saving hay in the sloping fields. An elderly lady walked along the road with a turkey under her arm. Children were gathering flowers along the lakeside and cracking
foxgloves or fairy thimbles as they are locally known.

We had almost reached Ballingeary when we parted company with the lakes. We stopped in the village and our father gave us money to buy minerals. In the shop people used Irish. They spoke very quickly and seemed to roll one word into the next. Sitting in the trap we drank and looked at the Irish names on the shops.

Our parents had decided to visit Gougane Barra, five miles from Ballingeary, to perform the rounds. My mother explained that it would be a quiet time for prayer, much more so than on the last Sunday in September, Gougane  Sunday. On that day people flocked there on a pilgrimage, some walking down from the mountains, others travelling by carts, trap, bicycle and saddled horse.

Having turned right off the Bantry road we travelled for about a mile into a most picturesque valley. From the lakeside two swans and some cygnets eyed us suspiciously. The lake was encircled by towering heather and myrtle-clad mountains from which several rivulets cascaded down.

Looking west along the valley, also guarded by the zone of black hills, the only sign of life we saw was a lone house. It looked like a grey rock in its obscurity, with a few fields overgrown with bushes, sally trees and tall rushes. We thought it was an isolated place to live.

We crossed a causeway to a little island. While our parents performed the rounds my brother and I examined the ruined remains of an 18th century building-outer walls into which six monastic-type cells were built, and close by a more modern oratory, small and attractive. This was the site of St Finbarr's 6th century hermitage.

The pilgrimage was over. We returned from the island to where Betsy was tied in the shade. Father gave her a feed of oats while mother took flasks of tea and parcels of food from  the trap. As we ate we could see the island with its ruined church and oratory, the lake and the sheep dotted mountains all around. When we had finished our picnic we said goodbye to Gougane Barra of many memories, sacred Gougane Barra which soothes the troubled mind and is conducive to contemplative thought.

Having returned to Ballingeary we travelled up a byroad to Aunt Minnies house. There we were given a warm welcome especially by a black and white collie which kept following Minnie's husband, William, around the kitchen. "He all but goes to bed with me ," William told my father.     

While the older people chatted, my brother and I went out to have a look at our new surroundings.  Nearby, Ronan's Mill was a hive of industry. Wheels were turned by the big belts and workmen were white with dust. Sacks of meal were filled from chutes and stacked nearby. Aunt Minnie warned us about the mill. "Once a cat went into one of those chutes chasing a rat and came out in the form of crushed oats," she said. The advice startled us and we kept away from the mill.

When our parents had left, Eileen, our 16-year-old cousin took us for a walk to the village. We saw young people there whom Eileen said were students at the Irish Collage. We met one of the students on the bridge. Eileen started talking to him and told us to go away and buy  sweets in the village. Our parents had given us two shillings each and we were overjoyed at having so much money. Now we could buy NKM toffees and slabs of Mickey Mouse chocolate. Having paid a visit to the church we returned to the bridge. Eileen was still there with the student and told us to continue homewards, she would catch up on us. "He's a cousin of ours," she said when she rejoined us a few minutes later.

We told Aunt Minnie about the sweets and our visit to the church and I mentioned that Eileen had met her cousin at the bridge. "What cousin?" asked Minnie. Eileen blushed and her mother took her into the parlour.  Next day Eileen seemed offended and wouldn't talk to me although she remained friendly towards my brother.  I asked him why she wouldn't talk to me. "A shut mouth catches no flies".  That's what she told me to tell you", he said.

Aunt Minnie was a warm-hearted lady.  Once I lost my balance when coming down stone steps from the loft with a container of newly-laid eggs.  All the eggs were smashed but my aunt's only concern was for my well-being.  "Don't worry about the eggs, the hens will lay again tomorrow", she said.

One day we went with the men of the house and his dog to round up the sheep for dipping.  The dog set off up the mountain very quickly until he got above the sheep.  He then eased them gently down the slope,

Sitting on a fence we watched the sheep being dipped.  The dog herded them into a pen where two men dipped them, one at a time, into a prepared solution.  One of the men, Mick, asked us if we would like to accompany him the next day when he went on horseback to collect his own sheep.  Aunt Minnie gave permission and when Mick arrived next morning we were ready.  He put us astride the grey horse's back and kept a hand on either side of us as he held the reins so that we wouldn't fall off.  His dog followed.  On the summit of the hill Mick told us we were now on the roof of the world.  He showed us the long range of Kerry mountains to the west, Inchigeelagh Lakes like sheets of broken glass to the east, Shehy Mountains to the south and the towering mountains that support Gougane Barra.

Mick took the opportunity to examine the bank of cut turf and pointed out two hares careering through the heather, having been disturbed by the dog.

The following day we got a lift in Ronan's lorry to Inchigeelagh to be met by our father.  It was the end of our holiday.  When we were leaving Ballingeary, Aunt Minnie gave each of us an apple and an orange.  Eileen shook my hand.  "I'm sorry,"  she said warmly,  "I should have known better. You're only half my age".

     Jim Dromey, Tullamore