There’s a ferret on the loose.

The hen shed is dark and quiet. I like going there. The hens are friendly and cluck as I walk through them, most are outside.  I look in the boxes along the wall for eggs Mammy will collect, clean and pack later. I help her take care of the hens. There’s one that’s clocking. It’s in deep tea chest and sitting on dummy eggs. Funny, it’s furry today, I lean in and stroke it. It’s very soft.

The brown hen in that box is furry, Mammy.

Feathers, hens have feathers, son. Says my mother, busy in the kitchen.

Soft and furry, I was stroking it.  

We’ll go up and have a look, and collect any eggs.

Ivor and author with our mother, Ena and father, Tommy at Carniny Road at a garden birthday party. circa 1958

The wooden house for about 150 hens is on higher ground at the rear of the bungalow, its floor covered in loose peat. Carrying a basket for eggs we go in and over to the clocking hen.

When a ferret’s head appears from under the dead hen, Mammy screams and drops the basket.

I’m swept from the ground and she rushes back into the house, the eggs now forgotten.

Did it bite you? Did it bite? Mammy cries urgently.

I’m speechless.

Did it bite?

I shake my head slightly, unsure of what the right answer is.

Frantically my hands and arms are inspected, my clothes quickly taken off, looking for any sign of a bite.

This goes on for some time and I’m crying now wishing I’d never seen a furry hen.  Ivor stands close by taking in it all in.

There is always a story going around of a rat biting a baby in a buggy or in bed and it scares the wits out of any parent, that must have been it.

I am hugged and soothed, and with no bites to be found we all settle.

Mammy goes down to Sammy’s house, a neighbour who keeps ferrets and greyhounds, we know him well. He lives at the end of our lane a short walk away. Ivor is in a buggy.

The cottage, behind a rough privet hedge, has a corrugated tin roof and small cobbled yard in front. There are a few of low outbuildings. Sammy is a general handy man, particularly helpful to Daddy who is still new to rural living, even though he was raised in a terrace house not a mile away and tended an allotment garden. Sammy has all the tools, knows how to mend and fix things, he’s our first call when there’s a problem; but now his bicycle is missing from its usual place against the wall of his house.

Sammy Linton (?) with Mrs Kerr, Aunt Martha and author at garden birthday party. circa 1958

Sammy! Sammy! One of your ferrets is up in our hens! My mother calls as she wraps on the door.

His brother Michael greets us brightly.

Hello Misses. Sammy’s not here.

Mammy hurriedly explains the death and panic of the past hour.

The cottage is dark and smells of a mild sweet mould, though not unpleasant. There’s never any sign of heat from the black range but neither is it cold.

Sammy’ll be back soon. I’ll send him straight up. says Michael as we leave.

An hour later Sammy comes up to the bungalow on his bike with a small box strapped behind the saddle.

Sorry Missus. Sorry about the hens. Says Sammy at the back door.

Aye it’s one of mine, been on the loose since yesterday.

He’s a small, capped man with a hunched back, but agile all the same.

A hope there’s not too many kilt. Michael says it’s killin all around it.

Mammy laughs.

He’s havin you on Sammy. Just the one, I hope. Let’s go up and you’ll take care of it.


Ploughing with Paddy Giblin

Paddy Gilbin (1912- 1995) was from Lisgorman and a close neighbour of my Uncle Cecil. They worked together on meitheals. Cecil’s older brother Reco was also a ploughman but by this time he had married Dorothy, nee McIlroy and was living Wood Hill, Bunnadden, Co Sligo. Easter time 1965 was my only experience of ploughing on the Davis farm. It was a dry spring and a late Easter. My brother Ivor and myself follow Cecil around the farm and on this occasion, we get a surprise.

A two horse plough setup. Source Connacht Tribune.

It’s past ten o’clock on a late spring morning, the chill seeping away with the rising sun, as Paddy Giblin comes up the lane on a horse. We’ve heard him from a distance, the rhythmic clip-clop of a heavy trot, the ploughman with the second horse.

How ya men! He shouts loudly to one and all when he arrives in the yard.

Lock up yer lassies Davis, the randy ploughman’s about!

Now sliding heavily to the ground off the jute-bag-saddle, his boots crunch on the yard, his horse harnessed for the plough. He walks towards us with his peculiar lurching style, as the horses snicker at one another, familiar plough partners.

Easy Paddy there’s childer about! Do ye want a suppa tae before we start? Says Cecil.

Divil the hate, let’s keep movin while the sun shines.

He sees my Grandmother at the back door of the farmhouse.

Fine weather Mrs Davis. Great for the Easter. He says in a more subdued tone raising a hand. She salutes him and goes back inside.

Paddy is a grey, solid-built man in his fifties: a belt-and-braces man, a bachelor and renown bread-maker, a man with loud earthy humour, never stuck for a wise crack.

When the horses are harnessed to the Pierce plough, Paddy takes handles, Cecil the reins and the pair urge the horses forward to pull the plough over the top of the ground.  

We head to a relatively flat field above the Long Acre, a few hundred yards away from the farmyard.  An area of about an acre is marked out by a heavy scattering of dung.  This land is unfamiliar to the plough, no deep friable soil here, a challenge for horses and men alike.

Detail of Pierce horse plough.

Paddy lines up the plough and with a shout of – Go an boys! – and a flick of the reins from Cecil the horses strain, hooves bite into the grass as the chains tighten and the plough jerks forward. It tears into the grass, pulled forward and deeper as the sod is turned skyward. Paddy wrestles with the plough to keep a line as the horses find a rhythm.

We need it deeper men! he shouts.

Boys! Lie down there on the bar!

He nods urgently indicating the draw bar.

We look at each other hesitantly. There is only one bar, directly behind the horses.

Comm an boys! Down on it! He shouts.

Cecil, alongside, laughs, and with little option, we move right and left to lie down on the moving plough, the horses back hooves no distance from us, the turned sod just below us, our legs and feet trailing.

Lane on it boys! Com an lane on it! He shouts urging the plough into tight earth, the horses driven harder.

Christ, Davis! Are ye feedin these bucks atall? There’s no mate on them.

We lie squeezed together on the narrow draw bar, not looking forward, hearing a metallic click as the hooves catch a stone, smelling the musty soil turned upwards.

Paddy guides the plough, stumbling as he struggles to keep it straight. Occasionally, too deep, the plough turns up a skin of blue daub. When we near the edge of the plot we get off and the plough is dragged around, lined up, and we plough another furrow, the coarse ridges closed behind us, ready for the seed.

Suddenly, Paddy lets out a shout.

Ger up! Ger up boys! He’s about to phish!

The plough stops, and we spring up and out of the way.  Paddy’s horse arches his back and releases a jet of piss onto the grass where it pools in a foamy circle.

When he’s done Paddy nods to us.

Onto it again boys, if we want yer dinner! He says with a laugh.

And with a flick of the long reins the plough strains and cuts forward again, as a smell of beery horse piss wafts over us.

Author on the Davis plough horse, circa 1965.

In the summer we will help Cecil mix a large barrel of blight spray, stirring in the liquid soda, watching the deep blue liquid swirl milky.

Cecil with the back-sprayer, floats in a sea of green, the mist settling in his wake, as he walks backwards up and down the ridges, while we, kneeling, weed two long row of turnips, little chat, thinking of a break, food and escape.


Finding Bertie Gillmor

Bertie (Herbert Charles Gillmor 1893-1960) was my Grandmother’s brother, born at Boihy House near Manorhamilton. He emigrated to Alberta, Canada. Over the years I heard snippets of conversations about him when Granny would express her concerns about “Poor Bertie”, garnered from his letters. I remember mention of a big farm on the Prairie, living with a local woman but not married, things not being good, about some sort of conflict, and finally that he had tragically died in 1960, and that a gun was involved. She later believed that much his money had been taken. The distance between the siblings meant that communications had been very sketchy.

Bertie died intestate. Very recently his niece Etta Kerr sent me a copy of the distributions from his small estate. From it I gathered that he lived in Goodfare, Alberta. Yesterday afternoon I typed “Goodfare, Alberta” into Google maps and then looked for a possible burial location, the search brought me to Oliver’s Funeral Home in Grand Prairie. With no clear intent I sent message to them on their Contacts page and the following email conversation ensued.

Time 15:00


This is a long shot from Ireland!

My grand uncle Herbert Charles Gillmor, Goodfare, Alberta died on 5th May 1960. We have no idea where he is buried. He had no family. Any suggestions where we might find this out. Any suggestions would be most welcome.

Best Regards


AT 15:56

Good day Stan.  Thank you for your inquiry regarding your late Grand Uncle.  I checked our files and we did indeed do the funeral arrangements on May 14, 1960.  Date of death is listed as May 2-6, 1960 in our files.

I have attached what I have in our records and it appears he was buried in Lot 1, Block 31 of GP cemetery.  I should be able to get an opportunity to be near the cemetery in the next few days and will stop in to see if it the site is marked or not.  Let me know if there is anything else we can help with.

Best Regards,

Steve Logan,

Oliver’s Funeral Home,

10005 107 Ave, Grande Prairie, AB, T8V 1L8, (780) 532-2929

At 16:29

Good Morning Steve

Wow, you were fast with that! Thank you very much.

Where is the GP Cemetery? We knew that there had been a shooting. What newspaper should I look at to try and get a report on the incident?

I see my Uncle Alf is noted at the top, probably as the next of kin.

Thanks again.


At 17:17

Sorry Stan…that is local lingo.  GP Cemetery is short for Grande Prairie Cemetery.  An internet search will come up with that for sure but it is run and managed by the City of Grande Prairie and you can contact them phone at 1-780-538-0372 or by email at

Here is a link to their website:

I have also left a message with the manager of the cemetery (Caroline) to confirm what their records say regarding the interment and will advise when I hear back.

The most likely newspaper to contact is the Daily Herald Tribune.  They were probably just the “Herald Tribune” that far back as I don’t believe they became a daily paper until later on.  Website link:

Let me know if you run into any roadblocks and I will try and help out in any way I can.

Take care

At 17:18

Thanks Steve

You’re very helpful, given that you’re unlikely to get any of my business!!

I’ll follow up on the Tribune.

I’ve started writing a family history blog a few months ago and Herbert (Bertie) was my Grandmother’s brother. I heard her mention him many times but never know the real story. So now he might be in one of the future blogs.

All the best.


At 17:28

From Steve:

I visited the site he was buried and it is an unmarked graveside. I confirmed the plot immediately next to his from cemetery records online and will attach pics. His “neighbour” would be William Colpits. See below:

And you can see the records that he is confirmed in Block 31 Lot 2

The following picture would be where Herberts remains are currently resting. 

Basically, the snow kicked away was me looking for his headstone which is not present. By way of an option, I could direct you toward the sale of a headstone if that’s something you feel you would want. 

Hope this brings some light to your curiosity. 

Steve Logan

At 21:34

I emailed Steve asking for a quote to provide some simple mark for Herbert’s grave. Bertie’s story will be continued at a later date.