mostly mannin 2008 207

John and Pat lived in the ‘dream house’.

And I loved cycling down to them for tea and stories.

They were Brothers.

Two old bachelors thrown back together due to lack of women at the time when they were of marriageable age.

Or maybe their mother had lived too long and they had nothing to offer a young bride(after all what newly married woman would want to share a kitchen with her mother in law).

John looked after the animals and the garden.

It was said he grew the biggest cabbages in the county of Sligo

Once I watched him spot a white butterfly in the garden through the kitchen window.

Never before had I seen anyone move so fast.

He leapt over beauty, the dog, who was lying, paws on head at the fire , ran out the door and through the garden gate and caught the butterfly in his large gnarled fist, seconds before it had a chance to lay a single egg on his beautiful cabbages.

‘That’s me Boyo! ‘ We heard him exclaim in delight, before returning to calmly sip his tea again.

But other than this show of violence, He was a very gentle being…

Once when  I came upon him leaning over the wall gazing at a sheep with new born lamb a foot, I jokingly asked if he had a name for her?  ‘aye!  he replied dreamily.’I do call her Susie’.

Pat looked after the house and the cooking.

He made delicious soda bread with raisins which he soaked in poteen first.

Sometimes when I’d call by for a cup of tea, I’d find him washing enormous orange carrots and pink turnips under a tap in the yard. His hands swollen, cracked and purple from the cold.

I did buy him a large jar of coconut oil to rub on them and he thanked me profusely before laying the jar carefully on the dresser.

When the day came that the two were finally persuaded by relatives to go to a nursing home, I found it still unopened and covered in dust.

Although they had a wonderful rick of turf at the gable of the house, Pat loved jogging along the shore line gathering sticks and washed up bits of timber for the fire, maybe it was more an excuse to get away from the range and dishes.

They were as unalike as two peas in a pod are alike.

John was tall.

A big man with hands the size of overgrown turnips. He had a head of white curly hair which grew out in spurts through holes in his cap.

Sadly the day he went into the nursing home they cut his hair to get the cap off .

That was the beginning of the end for him. He went gradually down hill and died not long after.

Pat was small and stooped but he also had a head of white curly hair which he left bare.

Interestingly Pat settled into life at the nursing home more readily than his brother and introduced poker and other card games to the residents (some whom were quite grand).

Everyone loved him, especially the matron who would take him out for spins in her convertible on her days off.

I heard he used to get a neighbor to smuggle him in poteen and there would be great parties and story telling around his bed at night.

I often spotted the two of them when iId be out weeding my vegetable patch, heading up the hill in a beat up old tractor with the roof caved in.

Pat in the box at the back with the dog and usually a sheep.

John driving. His large frame jammed against the steering wheel his head ducked under the roof.

They would rattle back down the hill a few hours later with another or maybe the same sheep in the back (hard to tell one sheep from the other).

On the evening of my story, I cycled along the boreen lined with its fuchsia covered walls.

There was quite a sea breeze blowing and small red a pink flowers lay strewn on the ground.

I opened the old black gate.

With its many coats of paint and held together in places with pieces of wire, that gate could tell a few stories of Marriages, births and deaths.

Beauty was hiding in her place under the hedge waiting for a passing car to chase.

Old and fat, with a matted coat and her tail full of burr’s, she took off after me as I cycled the rest of the way, nipping at my heels and barking furiously. until I reached the door.

I loved the dream house.

I had a fantasy that one day I would live in it, but of course that never happened.

Built by the sea, with its back to the prevailing northwest wind, it ran the length of the courtyard, the other two sides were made of immaculately white washed sheds. the cottage itself was also white washed and the doors and window frames painted a cheerful red.

The roof’s which I would imagine were once thatched were now red corrugated iron.

The whole effect was of sheltered coziness.

A river ran by the side of the cottage swinging around in front of the courtyard to form a deep pool, before heading over a spit of round stones and escaping into the sea.

A small footbridge led over the river and through a gate into a square flat field through which you could cross and get onto the road to the village… A short cut…. And it was this field we were discussing as Pat cut the soda bread and poured the three of us strong sweet tea with a dollop of poteen in each cup.

Beauty, exhausted from chasing me, settled herself in her spot by the fire..

‘Yes’ John was saying ‘I swear by all that’s holy, I was once lead astray coming back from the pub across that very field.

‘He was that!’ Pat butted in ‘Tell her John, and tell her too how ya fixed them’

John took a deep sip from his cup and felt in his jacket pocket for his pipe,

I waited patiently as a wreath of smoke coiled up and lost itself among his white curls.

He leaned forward on his chair and rested his arms on his knee’s. He clasped his huge hands together and gazed for a few moments into the fire as if gathering together his memory of the event.

The pipe dangled magically from his mouth.

Then he straightened up again.

‘ It was the night of the 20th June and I was making my way back across the field from Donagher’s pub after a few pint’s’.

He took a swig of tea.

‘It was dark enough but there was some moon out. I walked to where the gate would be, but there was no gate there’

He paused for effect.

‘I thought maybe I’d missed it in the darkness so I made my way along the hedge and must have done the full round of the field and I still couldn’t find it…

I went around a second time , but bedad, still no luck and it was on me third attempt that I realized what was up!’

‘what?’ I asked curiously

He sucked fiercely on the pipe for a few second’s before replying.

‘It was the little people, trying to lead me astray’. He nodded his head , ‘Now I may have had a few pints taken and that is why the divils were waiting for me.  Because I was a tad drunk they thought they would lead me away with them ya see? They had watched me heading off and recognized me on my way home…but I got the better of them’

‘What did you do?’ I was even more curious now.

‘Well I lay down on the grass and pulled me coat around me and went to sleep and when I woke the next morning there was the gate in its usual place. and the next time I went to the pub, I turned my coat inside out for the journey home! to fool them like, so they wouldn’t recognize me !

He looked pleased with himself and we went on to discuss why the ‘little people’ do this..

Pat said ‘Its to bring humans up to the fairy fort and make them dance like ejit’s for their entertainment’.

‘Aye’ John agreed  ‘It’s for pure divilment’.

Still puzzling over John’s story I gathered up my coat and said my goodbye’s.

I took my bike from where I had left it leaning against the wall and walked back the lane in the darkness.

I opened the gate and went through.

The breeze had dropped and except for the distant lapping of waves against the shore all was quiet. I pulled the gate behind me. It was pretty dark and I could barely see my hands,.I managed to find the piece of baling twine and I tied the gate shut.

I put my foot on the pedal and scooted off.

Next thing I was in the ditch, upside down with the yellow bicycle on top of me.

I lay for a second or two moving my arms and legs to make sure I hadn’t broken anything.

Then, scrambling to my feet and up righting the bike, I headed through the bush back onto the road.

But….No road!

I scrambled further, but began to get scraped and tangled in the briar’s,

With a sinking heart I knew what was happening…

It was the fairy’s!, They were leading me astray!.

(But of course they weren’t . When I had initially stood up I was facing the wrong way and lost my sense of direction and was heading further and deeper into the ditch. As soon as I turned, there was the road a few steps away. I got home safely. but a small part of me wished it had been the fairies…I would love to see what being led astray entailed.i would have loved to have gone dancing with them up at the fairy ring fort. I hear their music is out of this world.)

mostly mannin 2008 208

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