Time to go.
I love it up here.
Ye can see all the way down to the lake – depending on what the Forestry have done during the year – and over to the far side – to Sliabh an Iarainn and the mountains.
And at this time of night in Summer, between sunset and the dark, everything is blue – the air, the water, even the mountain seems more blue than brown or green. It’s like being wrapped in a big blanket, and everything goes quiet – no birds, no cattle sounds, even the land seems to be still.
I wouldn’t say all that to the lads, mind ye, they’d think I’d gone cracked or something.
Still, it’s a grand time of day for thinking.
I’m only up here tonight because my Da asked me to come up and ‘check the ditches’.
A load of nonsense, like – check them for what? It’s just the way he talks to me these days. We never talked much, he was always working, and since we lost Mammy, there’d be no talk at all, if it wasn’t for his “When you’re in town, would ye ever…..” “I think there’s something on the roof of the big shed, would ye look for me?” “If you’re going to the Mart in Dowra, could ye….”.
We can’t talk about politics or religion any more, not these last few years, it just leads to rows; and he won’t mention Mammy, though I know he misses her – of course he does; you’d see him with watery eyes late at night, staring into the range. Me brothers and me sister are off the agenda too – he’s not forgiven them for going.
After a few pints down in Davitt’s of a Friday night, ye’d hear him talking football to his cronies – who’s coming through for the club; the young lads he’s seen down the field, and who’d be good enough for the county panel – but it’s like he’s going through the motions.
I think he’s scared if we had a proper conversation like, he’d have to talk about the future, the farm, how I can earn a living – all the stuff that terrifies him. He’s a grand lad, and I really do respect him, but it’s like trying to shake hands with a ghost when you’re looking to pin him down about anything important. He’s always sending me up the mountain in all weathers on daft jobs; he spends hours out there himself – doing nothing, as far as I can see.
I have to go though, I mean, nothing else makes sense, does it?
I told Mikey Rynne I’d see him for a lift at the top of the town tomorrow about 10. He’s going up to Enniskillen and I can get a train or bus from there to Belfast. Then it’s ferry and train to Glasgow and a new life for me.
Pat McGovern’s been there for three years – big miss to the club like, best goalkeeper we’ve had in ages – but he says there’s lots of clubs over there, he gets a game most weeks. He says if I don’t fancy bar work, the old computer qualifications will come in useful. Everyone has computers over there, but hardly anyone understands them, he says. So I’ll easily get a job in an office or even in a school. Them years at Sligo IT may have been worth it after all.. And I can stay with him as long as it takes; he has a flat near Celtic Park apparently, great pubs too.
I won’t tell the old fella; we’d both be in bits if I tried. I think he kind of knows anyway, ye know.
Better to go, and then maybe phone him before I get on the boat, then he could hear it on the answer phone yoke. I’ll come home at Christmas, maybe before. Sure everybody’s away now, just about. There’s nothing else for it. He knows that.
So I won’t be up here again anytime soon.
It’s the original cabin, ye know – this bit I’m sitting on, just a couple of stones all covered in bog and whins all round – but it’s all that’s left of the house that my grandfather’s grandfather was born in – old Michael Charles Rooney, Mickey Dubh. They must have had a grand view from here in them days – if they ever had the time to notice back in the 1830s.
The old fella’s Dad, my grandfather like, used to tell a grand story about it all – ye’d think he’d been there himself – but, fair play, he had heard the tale from his own grandfather who was there alright!
Start of the year in 1839, the Epiphany, January 6th. When they got up to go down to Mass, there was snow everywhere, thick on the fields it was. All the children played in it through the afternoon, rolling about, snowballs, and snowmen and that. It wouldn’t have been that common, so much snow, like.
But then, through the day, it starts getting warmer – too warm for winter really, especially with the snow about, and by the time they were off to bed it was like a hot summer’s day and as still as could be.
Grandad used to take his pipe out of his mouth at this bit, and narrow his eyes like he could see it all in his mind, and he’d say:
“The old people reported, twas so still at dusk, ye could stand in these fields and hear perfectly well every word that folk were saying over the lake in Corry. Some of them swore it was a sign for the end of the world.”
The children went to bed – they’d be up in the roof in them days.
And then the wind started. They’d feel it coming, through the gaps where the thatch was thin. At first just a bit wild, the way ye would check the sheds, like. Then, howling, with stuff blowing about all over the yard, and by the middle of the night, it was coming over Corry Mountain like a huge herd of mad cattle, roaring and thundering. The pig was blown into the haggard. The wind was completely unstoppable, so.
The roof went, and one of the walls, and most of the belongings – the dresser, the plates and pots all smashed or gone, a couple of old chairs, the table, and a bench. They were finding stuff all over the mountain for weeks. Ye would have no idea where it had come from.
All the houses on the top road were wrecked, one way or the other, and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for how they were damaged. It was like a drunk striking out at all about him in a pub fight, whatever got in the way was smashed – and ye couldn’t stay living in any of them. Wasn’t just here, of course. The Big Wind – Oíche na Gaoithe Móire – hit all over the West, but, sure there wouldn’t be many that were more exposed to it than those up here, like.
Some of the landlords were more helpful than others, but mostly the people just got together and started to rebuild – but they made sure to choose more sheltered spots. So the Cullens were down by the side of the river – damp but sheltered, the McPartlands down the road in that dip by the trees, the McHughs down beside us – and then our place that ye can see from here.
My Da always says that they took stones from this house here down the road to build our old house – but I’d say they would have needed fierce muscles or a strong horse to manage that alright.
If ye look – before it gets too dark – ye can see what we call the old house – it’s always been a shed since I remember, like. Ye see it there – with the whitewash and the kind of red corrugated iron roof – that would have been thatch at one time. That’s where my grandfather was born. The Yanks love it when they come home – the small windows, earth floor, a few hens running about. They’d be expecting John Wayne or Pierce Brosnan or someone to come running out.
Then, facing it, across the yard by the big shed, that’s the ‘new house’: two storeys, slate roof, very modern it would have been. The Land Commission helped get it built in the 1920s I think. So that’s where my dad was born, that’d be in 1952, and granddad lived there right till he died. We called it John Michael’s, still do really, even though nobody lives there now.
Then, just along the way, with the fencing round it, that’s the house the old fella built for Mammy when they got married – she was fierce on him to get it finished, the way they could move in straight after the wedding, she always said.
“Ah, Philly!” she’d say to me, “If you and your brothers and sister hadn’t come along, the top floor would still be waiting on being finished – we’d be living in a three roomed shack like his grandparents did. The bog Rooneys they called them.!” My dad would just look up, and smile. I think he liked it when she teased him.
Sometimes I still really miss her, even though I’m grown up, like.
So that’s my house, where I grew up –so I could see two more of our houses and the site here of another from my own bedroom window. I suppose if I’d have stayed and found a girl, there would have been another one some time – though God knows where I’d have found the money for that, trying to work around here.
Or a girl who’d have me, for that matter.
Ye just take it for granted, don’t ye, all the houses, the buildings, like. There was a lad down in the town last year, doing research or something, checking all the ruins of houses: “Stone ancestors” he called them, or something like that. Bought a fair few rounds in the pub, so.
When I’m up here I always know that it’s time to go back down when the lights start appearing over the water there. Ye might see the odd car, the headlights moving about, like, but mostly it’s the houses. There’s McGrains, slightly up the hill there, the Leydens right down by the water, and our cousins’ place just over by Rossbeg; Mary always puts a light on upstairs as well as downstairs; Frank says she thinks she’s living in a lighthouse.
Not many lights on our mountain now. There’s Kate Ryan – well in her eighties and reading the Observer from cover to cover each week so she knows all the news. Ye have to sneak past there or the dog will out and ye’ll have to go in for a cup of tea. The Gallaghers are all gone now; Anne and Martin both said they’d come back through the summer – but they never did. Their Mam’s flower garden’s overgrown, the ditches are wild, and a few slates have slipped already. Then there’s Packy McGuire – all on his own since his brother died below in the Main Street after Mass that time. They do say he’s got even more weird. When I hear him at the front door of our house, I’m out the back like a shot.
And there’s the empty places, some of them families gone so long I don’t know who they were – Da knows though, he has a story for each of them.
I’ve not packed anything.
Well – I don’t want him to know, and, anyway, I don’t really know what to take. A change of clothes should do it, the laptop, the mobile and maybe a Leitrim shirt in case I ever get to watch the lads on the telly or something. In the pub, like.
I can pick up the rest when I’m next home. At Christmas, like. Or before, even.
Time to go.
Ye know it’s a grand feeling walking down that lane in the pitch black and still knowing everything that’s around ye, even though ye can’t see it.
It’s comforting. Like seeing all our old houses, like ye could sense the folk who lived in them. Jeez, I can even feel the old stones underneath me just now, digging right into me through the daub and me jeans.
I wonder if I’ll ever sense that feeling of familiarity in Glasgow.
Aw God , me bones are stiff. It’s hard moving when you’ve been on the ground this long.
Ah – there’s my Da put the light on in the yard – big shadows on the walls of the shed; used to scare me silly when I was a little one.
He’ll be at the door looking for me coming – and then dashing to the table when he hears me in the street, as if he didn’t care.
Maybe I’ll wait till the new year.
That might really be the right time to go…….