“Now just where in the heck do you think you’re going?”
That was how my younger brother, aged nine, greeted a farmer who was walking up our driveway. He was standing, feet apart, holding a double barrel shotgun. The farmer stopped.
Our house was a three bedroom bungalow, on a two acre site, at the foot of one big mountain.
My dad worked as a farming advisor for the Department of Agriculture. He was very generous with his time and farmers were always made welcome at our house after office hours. They would arrive with A4 sized forms (when unrolled and the dog ears straightened). My dad would spend many an evening at our kitchen table, filling in the paperwork for these country folk.
I could tell what sort of work each man had undertaken that day just by the smell of him. Sheep dip and the smell of silage are two that spring to mind. It would drive my mother crazy as the smell would linger after they were gone. But my dad would always defend them; “Some of those men can neither read nor write, but it’s people like that who keep us in food, literally,” as he would open wide the kitchen window.
Even though they irked her, she would always make them tea.
I remember one evening when dad was sitting with a farmer at the table, going through the questions, and scribbling as he did so. “…and how many children do you have?”
“Eleven,” the man answered.
Just then my mother plonked two mugs of tea in front of them.
“Thank you Missus. He’s a great man your husband. Without him, I wouldn’t have a clue where to put anything.”
Mammy, on her way back to the sink goes “Hmph! Eleven children, you seem to know where certain things go.”
The man and my dad laughed. Mammy didn’t. And I was too young to get it.
Ours was the only house to have a phone for miles around. Remember this was rural Ireland of the seventies and eighties. Daddy had it to keep in contact with his headquarters in Dublin. I remember the first phone we had. It was beige in colour with just one black button where the finger dial should have been. To make a call, one had to lift the receiver, press the button and an operator would then speak to you.
My older brother was bad. His favourite telly show in those days was Batman. There would always be a crime which was too big for the local cops to handle and they would have to use the direct line to Batman. They had the same phone as ours, only red instead of beige.
On numerous occasions my brother would go “This is a case for Batman,” and head straight to the phone. I witnessed him tell the operator of bank robberies, kidnappings, and evil jokers trying to take over Gotham city. Myself and my younger brother would be in stitches, egging him on.
As I said, we lived at the foot of a mountain. There was a field containing sheep behind the house. One day the three of us were playing cowboys outside when Robbie, a local farmer, parked at the foot of the driveway and started to walk up with his little collie dog. He was taking a short cut through our site to count his sheep.
No harm in it. This was Ireland, the land of a hundred, thousand welcomes. But not today. Today this was the wild west, where everybody was a potential rustler.
My younger brother casually strolled into the path of Robbie. And with his best cowboy accent asks Robbie where he’s headed. The man, being shy at the best of times, stopped in his tracks.
“I.. I.. I’m just going up to count the animals.”
“Not today you’re not! This here’s private property.” Then he kind of turned his head sideways whilst still keeping his eyes on Robbie and spat on the ground. He was deep in character alright. This was oscar material.
“Now I suggest you turn around, take your mutt with you, and head on back to Tibucktoo. Either that or both barrels. You getting me, old-timer?”
The next thing I heard was Mammy knocking on the kitchen window behind me. She shouted something at my brother, but he didn’t hear her. He was miles away on a ranch. She came running out of the house took him by one arm and gave him a smack on his behind.
She apologised profusely to Robbie and assured him safe passage through this bandit country we called home.
Thank you for reading