I was at the school beyond in Cloonaquin for a few years. A small school set up by the Dromahair landlord, Mr LaTouche for his Protestant tenants. It was all right, I learned more outside of it than in, from newspapers or books that I could get my hands on. There were no more than eight of us there. Arragh, I was always getting in trouble, either fallin asleep or asking too many questions. I got top marks all the same.
The memory is a great thing and mine has always been sharp. I just need to see or hear something wanst and I have it for good, a story, song, whatever. From when I was small the neighbours loved me coming in. They would question me up and down about what I knew. Maybe from the last paper I’d seen I would tell them how the army was fairing against the Boers, or about some strange part of the Empire. But divil the hate I knew what I was telling them. That’s where it all started.
I was working the farm here with Daddy for over 20 years, my brothers leaving one by one all the while. Richard and myself got the farm after Daddy died, we owned it for the first time then. Richard would have been a landlord himself if he could, starting with old Frank McLaughlin up there. Oh, he was smart like his father and was always hatching some new plan. Maybe cause I was older or that I’d already helped to build this place up, with the new house, I let Richard get on with it. I’d been a few times up to John in Meath then, and met Margaret.
Before I left, I fixed up the wee toilet for Annie. I gathered the water off the yard in a big drain, dug it down to the bottom of the haggard and built the toilet over it there. And sure as not, once or twice a year some flood or other would clear all the dirt down into the meadow below, never blocked once that I remember.
I always had a feel for water. I could look at a farm of land or a field and knew which way it should be drained. Where to catch the water or where the springs were rising. I set up the big tank at the top of the yard, found a good flowing spring not too far away, it rising not two yard from a ditch, runs the year round.
Home Rule troubled us at the time. We depended on England for everything, sure we were the one country. Richard and myself went to a few of the meetings that were opposing it. One of them in the market-house in Manorhamilton was packed to overflowing, we had to stay out in the street. The Orange lodges were active here too but there was nera one in Boggaun. I think my Uncle Thomas was the only one of us in it, we have his sash somewhere in the house, or I believe it’s his.
Everything changed after the Easter rebellion, it was never the same again. We didn’t get boycotted here but John did earlier, beyond in South Leitrim when he took that evicted farm, before he moved on to Meath. I heard some big houses around the country were being burned out then. And when I was at Corballis we heard the big – BOOM! – when the Boyne monument was blown up by the IRA, not more than a mile away from us. With all the changes and turmoil going on you couldn’t help but think the odd time, that they might come for us too.
Then Independence and a Border came. During those times some of our family and friends sold up and left for the North or went across the water. How and ever the sun kept rising, the cows were milked, dinners made to feed hungry bellies and the childer kept on growing. At Boggaun, after the blaggard ran off with our money, they had their own troubles without looking beyond the gate. We worked with neighbours like we always had, worked the mayheals, and the hired man got a fair day’s pay. Before I knew it, the worst seemed to be past and I suppose looking back at it now, it caused us no real bother.
The radio’s the new thing now, even Mary Jane listens to it. And at last Annie and herself have made their peace. The young ones grow up around me like nettles in spring, always wanting a story or a few riddles before bedtime. And sure, I’m more than happy to oblige.
1. Alec and his sister Mary Jane are buried in Manorhamilton Parish Church Graveyard. Their names do not appear on the family headstone.
2. Alec Davis features significantly in the Davises contributions to the Masterson National School addition to The Schools Collections. Many of his contributions of stories, riddles, lore and song can be seen at the link – Alec Davis in The Schools Collection
3. Frank McNally in the Irish Times discusses the origins of the ballad “The Rocks of Bawn” in the article and refers to Ena and Phyllis’s entry collected from Alec Davis in The School’s Collection. https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/classic-rock-frank-mcnally-on-tracing-the-origins-of-a-famous-irish-ballad-1.3634782
4. Thanks to Padraig Fitzpatrick for his recollection of Boggaun neighbours recounting of Mary Jane’s rows with Annie Davis including her comment to the effect – Twas my mistake to let ye in atall!
5. Alec, like a few others local story tellers, appears a number of times as a source to the stories and recollections in local school contributions to The Schools Collection. Alec is likely to have been the source of much of the very extensive contribution of his sister in-law Nan Gillmor living at Bohey House which is sourced to her. Nan Gillmor was a principal at Carrigeencor National School. Generally, these story tellers recorded in the Schools Collection, represent the final era of the oral tradition in Ireland. The School Collection can be searched and browsed at https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes
6. The article by Miriam Moffit, The Protestant experience of revolution in County Leitrim 1911-1928, is a fascinating paper on the Protestant experience of the period 1911 to 1928. https://www.academia.edu/39614775/The_Protestant_experience_of_revolution_in_County_Leitrim_1911-1928
7. The Boyne Obelisk, not far from the Davis home at Corballis was blown up by the IRA on 23rd May 1923.
8. The “Maytheal” I’ve used is an imagined Anglicised term used by Alec for the more proper “meitheal”. The word meitheal describes the old Irish tradition, current in Leitrim until the 1970’s, where people in rural communities gathered together on a neighbour’s farm to help save the hay, some other crop, or urgent or significant farm task. Each person would help their neighbour who would in turn reciprocate. They acted as a team and everybody benefited in some way. This built up strong friendships, social cohesion and respect among those involved in the meitheal. Modified from http://www.giy.ie
9. For a commentary on agricultural broadcasts on early Irish public radio see https://www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/the-first-agricultural-broadcasts-on-2rn/
10. Thanks to Padraig Fitzpartick and Dominic Rooney for their comments and encouragement.