Ballinasloe's Vice- Chairman John Boland won first place in this prestigious national competition.
Where I Was Born
As a child, it was my universe. Like
the Connacht Tribune, “all human life was here.” The humble
whitewashed home nestled into the hilly landscape, it’s back set
defiantly against the prevailing S.W. wind. Two small green windows
broke the virginal white of the rear wall. Six green and white
geranium shrouded apertures, with weight and pulley sashes lined the
front east facing defenses, like Greek soldiers awaiting the arrival
of Persian hoards. Ever ready, eyes wide open; they kept watch over
all strangers who ventured along the weed-strewn gravel roadway and
the loud cattle in the field beyond. Lace half – curtains provided
strategic spy holes for would-be special agents within. Cats sunning
themselves on cut-stone sills, never quite slept, but rather snoozed
in the warm sun of memory.
The historic and original building,
referred to in Griffith’s Valuation of 1850 as “the herds house”
had long shed its humble beginnings and consisted of a four roomed
central thatched, double chimneyed edifice, with two slated and
timber-floored room sat either end. To-day one of these would be
grandly referred to as the “master bedroom”, also served as a
depository for Santa’s Christmas gifts.
The other was referred to as “the
room”. Here was grand furniture, almost complete wedding gift delph
sets, and yellowing bone handled cutlery. Unknown uncles and aunts
peered severely at us from sepia photographs in heavy ornate frames.
Crocheted tablecloths rested uncomfortable in musty drawers. Here
also stood the piano, and it’s far from interesting music stool,
which one could raise or lower with a spin. Here we sat grandly but
not comfortably on special occasions and never with feet on the
upholstery on the settee. A square of woolen carpet, surrounded with
shellacked floorboards, was the exact replica of the one in the
flying carpet stories of the Arabian fame.
The kitchen was far more user friendly
and at the heart of all the action really. A large open fireplace
with two polished hobs filled one end of the room. One of these
formed a repository for ashes, the other anchored an iron crane,
bristling with adjustable hooks, and swinging like a single bar gate
over the eternal flame of the turf fire. On its blackened hooks hung,
inter alia, a singing kettle, humming the eternal music of tea
making, while the lime coated marble banged against its metal sides.
Always during the pitch-black wind whispering night, the tuneless
crickets sang to their mates. Above, goblins and fairies flew past
the smoke belching chimney top, unable to gain entry into our happy
Ranged around the hearth was a
collection of chairs and stools. Father sat, as he felt was his
right, I suppose, in the armchair at the right of the fire. Mother
sat on a straight backed kitchen chair on the left, nearest the
turf-box. She was the keeper of the flame, a Celtic female tradition,
no doubt invented by men. In between the parents, sat the motley crew
of children, rejoicing in the physical and human warmth of family,
savoring affection and security in the few hours before bedtime.
At the other end of the room stood the
dresser –“filled with shining delph, speckled and white and blue
and brown”. Three large and very interesting oval platters, used
only to display the steaming turkey at Christmas, filled the shelf.
At the right of the dresser rested two enamel coated buckets of fresh
water from the well in the yard. The lower part of the dresser
contained the dried orange peel, spice- smelling, sweet-tasting
ingredients of our mother’s baking. Here the Orient met the west,
the strange powders transformed mundane meals into dishes that would
leave Nigella floundering. Between them and the delph were two
drawers, more important than the Holy Grail. Here creation was still
ongoing. Everything needed to pump a bike, repair, adjust, revive, or
regulate any matter, was always to be found “in the drawer of the
At the window, and beneath the large
wall mounted oil-lamp, stood the well scrubbed wooden table covered
in a floral oilcloth. This was the Reno of the 1940’s Ireland! Here
fortunes were bet on the turn of a card, and whole pennies wagered on
whether your opponent really had the five of trumps after all.
Draughts, Snakes and Ladders, Cludo and any number of board games
were dragged out to while away the fast passing and rarely
appreciated hours of youth.
A night-time knock on the door brought
instant reaction indoors. Ashes were swept aside, turf added to the
already ample fire, the kettle lowered on its hook to sing more
readily towards boiling point. Visitors were always welcomed by young
and old. Tea was made and bread, butter and jam handed around. All
drank strong tea…. “strong enough to trot a mouse on”. Stories
were told, prices of cattle discussed, and later when the young ones
were in bed, the meaty gossip of the day revealed. Some neighbors
were better than others for news in those pre CNN, or Sky news days.
Hitler and Churchill may have had their problems destroying or saving
the world, but who was “going out” with whom, or better still who
was no longer going out with whom, was of far greater importance in
the place where I was born.
Beyond the house was the wider world of
cattle, horses and sheep. Dogs constantly dashed around busily,
inviting them to give them work. The cockerel crowed importantly,
scratching hens ignored him; the ducks waddled in a line to the
nearby stream as it noisily made its weedy way to the river.
In the intimacy of the home we learned
more than any university ever taught. We learned the love of family
and friends, and the importance of place, especially the place where
I was born. We were infused with its colors; it’s ever changing
geography, sounds, and varied population. But most of all we were
marked for life by the values it gave us.
John Boland. 2013