THE CHURCHYARD GATE
By Mattie Lennon.
The front numberplate appeared around Dillon’s corner.
Shafts of weak Autumn sunlight filtered through Birches and the exterior of Cleary’s hearse became……… quite a kaleidoscope.
Gestures were made towards hats and caps as hands darted vaguely towards foreheads shoulders and breasts in unison and with varying degrees of sleight-
No interruption was evident in the conversation, by Templebennett Cemetery gate, at the approach of the cortege. The crowd, waiting in groups, outnumbered those following the hearse. Such is the custom around Glengowna that it is not perceived, (as in other places) a display of half-
The assembly represented sections of the community as diverse as their transport, which only included one bicycle. Both sides of the road were taken up with vehicles ranging from an old Ford van, straw peeping under it’s rear door, and a canine as a captive occupant, to a left-
The owner of the former, shearing champion, Herbert Connell, commented on the driver of the latter, how he had negotiated the deceptive hairpin, at Larkhill Chapel, the previous evening, “wud wan lock”, an unusual feat for a stranger.
The subject of the complimentary remark, middle-
He was staying, for a few days, at the small Chesterfield Arms Hotel in Ballycorrig, and this morning he had informed residents and staff that he was ; “ going to a real Irish funeral”. Though words like “mortician” and “necropolis” were now being uttered with a Montery drawl, the Havana was not held ostentatiously; rather he was toying with it and flicking what appeared to be a gold cigar-
A stonecutter, an inquisitive individual, (recently nicknamed Paddy Brasswings, after the character in Seamus Murphy’s “Stone Mad”), who had the dubious talent of being able to eavesdrop on a number of conversations simultaneously while at the same time interrogating the person nearest to him now spoke. “Yer man….the Yank….he must be the first outsider ever, not to pass remarks about the Indian design of the parapets of Templebennett Bridge”.
The bridge, which stands about a hundred yards to the South of the graveyard, was built as a Relief Scheme by local Landlord, Col. Smith, who had served with the East India Company.
The kindness of the Landlord, and the Relief Scheme, were discussed now, as they always were when Templebennett Bridge came up as a topic.
On this occasion one of the listeners, paying attention, with toothless abandon, was a “harmless lad” from Knockstook, John Norman, whose habit it was to express agreement with all comment, by replying in the affirmative, having first called on his Maker to sanction it.
Now, when it was said that the Relief Scheme was a great help to the people of the area, John replied; “Be God it was,……….sure they would have died wud the hunger around here on’y for the famine”.
An event which took place a century after Black Forty-
When Publican, Liz O’Byrne’s kind comments about the deceased, were answered in a monosyllabic undertone by Joe “the poet” Donovan, she didn’t see it as dismissal. Liz knew “the poet” well enough to perceive that he was daydreaming. Joe had read somewhere that every word spoken is recorded somewhere in the universe. And he was now thinking that if, through an astral, as yet intangible dimension, the tangle of murmuring voices around him could be recalled, the full story of the corpse under discussion would emerge.
Fr. Martin, red-
One person who did not share the peasant feelings of the majority-
The ability to comment on classical music, justify every aspect of his own life and his moderate success at shedding the Glengowna accent placed him apart.
He walked with assurance, which he, no doubt say as dignity. He was always referred to, by children, as Mr.O ‘Connor and by a proportion of adults as “that bollix”.
He now stood, well dressed, sporting a soft hat, with the new Priest, traces of pipe-
With rounded vowels and eloquence he was imparting to the Clergyman, what perhaps a hundred others were ruminating in the vernacular of the countryside.
When the hearse wheels came to rest on the grass, Fr. Martin began to unroll his Stol. His body inclined forward, but his feet, for a couple of seconds seemed reluctant to follow.
As duty dragged him away from the words of James O ‘Connor, heads were bared and the Sign of The Cross was made by all, slowly and devoutly.
When Martin Cleary, and his son, slid out the coffin, as burly men offered assistance, the Breastplate, inscribed with MARY DALY AGED 92 seemed to produce a light of it’s own. The hum of half a century’s reminisces lowered a few decibels but, for the most part, continued in whispered intensity.
On an April evening in 1947 as 15 year-
A year earlier, on leaving Knocknacarrig National School, he came to work for old Pat Daly and his 42 year-
When Pat , like many others in the Parish went to his reward in the bad winter of 1947 Johnny remained to look after Mary’s forty-
Predictions of litigation were delivered, with the certainty of all fireside-
All forecasts proved inaccurate ….the O’ Sheas did not sue.
Despite the fact that Johnny was nicknamed “The Ramrod” by some patrons of De Vesey’s Barn-
When he sold 4 two-
Compliments about his bargaining powers, for one so young, were shrugged off without trace of haughtiness and neighbours who inquired……” Why didn’t yous Winter them” got evasive answers.
As the veil of night crept down Church Mountain, farmers who were out once a year told each other; “You didn’t go home yet”.
Johnny O ‘Shea was seen boarding Duke’s cattle-
Mary Daly had not authorised, agreed to or received any proceeds from the sale.
For most of the Winter, the seed, breed and generation-
In this case the consensus was that; “….it’s not in his race to do such a thing”.
Through December the cattle incident slowly descended the list of conversation priorities.
On Christmas morning a woman from across the hill, in Larkhall for her Christmas Duty, commiserated with Mary, only to be told; “I hope he took enough”. A search of her eyes for sarcasm or bitterness proved fruitless.
February told a tale.
The most innocent remark, about anything, took on a double meaning in Glengowna.
The practice of locating sheep buried in snowdrifts, by probing with a rod (a method known as “poleing”) provided a welcome double-
“She won’t die like a mule anyway”…….”It won’t spoil her growth” and such clichés were the order of the day, and any mention of Johnny O ‘Shea would be met with some variation of; “It was only his finger he got with the hatchet”.
On a March evening, with Slieve Airgead showing all the signs of a favourable spring, Martin’s hackney car collected Mary.
The neighbours looked after her farm for three weeks and children were told she was “…….gone to stay with a cousin one side o’ the Curragh”.
Uncharacteristically, for Glengowna, feelings dictated that events of that year would be put firmly in oblivion, or as firmly as is possible, in such cases.
Years later when a stranger, a schoolmaster, referred to Mary’s “tragedy” he was let know that he was talking out of turn and using the word out of it’s capacity.
And so 1947 was merely a milestone. A milestone on a road that was to wind through disappointment and contentment for four decades.
A quartet of males, representing four generations, had collectively digressed and was reminiscing about the palatal pleasure given by the sloes in Templebennet Graveyard on the journey home from school over four-
In the hope of getting his Kapp-
His pipe is filled he’s ready. Indicating the Yank’s cigar-