Wit and Wonder

by Dan Keane

There aren’t many people alive today who remember the black ass my father sold to Billy Murphy of Kilmeaney.  I have heard her referred to as a Spanish ass, maybe her ancestors came with the Milesians, but there was nothing Spanish about her to me.  She hee-hawed with the richness of the Kerry brogue and she stepped on the road with the calm, placid independence of a Kerry team marching onto Croke Park on All-Ireland day.  She wasn’t a genius in the bog.  That’s why, probably, she was replaced by a smaller black ass which we got from Jim Moloney of Coilagurteen, a wonderful animal able to manoeuvre her own way out of a bog made of melted ice cream.  What have asses got to do with wit and wonder? – nothing; even though every ass has got its own sense. But it was the black Spanish-ass which took me to one of my earliest Wonders. My father tackled her to a new car made by Shines of Moyvane, put the seat and guards in position and placed a sack of hay neatly flattened, as a cushion on top. We were not long doing the three miles to Listowel – there was no speed limit in those days.

The purpose of my father’s visit was to see Kerry playing against whom I don’t know – I doubt if I ever knew. The only thing I had in mind was to see this wonder-man called Con Brosnan, whom I had heard; so much about. Even though I lived in the parish I had never seen him except in my mind’s eye and I saw him then in the same bracket as Cuchulainn, Fionn McCumhail and all the great warriors of the past. I remember the black ass stepping gracefully down by Danaher’s Lodge onto Nolan’s at the poundland marks which I was not then aware of. I remember slowing up at Nolan’s to take the turn towards the fountain of Ballygologue – where the mode of transport was parked, but before we turned my father drew my attention to two men who were chatting near the sportsfield gate. He said ‘Do you know the roan nearer to us”. I said no. Then he said ‘That’s Con Brosnan’, My heart sank. He was only like any other man, I thought he would be up over the houses. Still I was happy to learn ordinary men can do great things. I always link this experience with Pudsy Ryan when the cow was sick and his father sent for the vet. Pudsy asked what is a vet. His father said a cow doctor. Pudsy waited anxiously to see the cow doctor but said sadly later, it was no cow that came it was a man.

Speaking of men there were many in the parish whose wit was a wonder. Men who could simplify wonder with their wit; men who could evade wonder who could avoid complications with the swiftness and brevity of a neutralising reply.

Such a man was Jack Manaher. I knew Jack well. He used to visit Larkins in Carrueragh. His mother actually went from Carrueragh to the , village. He was a shoemaker by trade but was no stranger to farm work. One day Jack was cutting rushes in the bog beside our house. He left the bog and went to Larkins where he reported to Jack Larkin that he had broken the scythe tree. Jack Larkin said why didn’t you go in to Keane’S you’d get a good scythe there? Jack replied: ‘The truth is the best to be told. I have Keane’s broken tool!

It was years later when I worked at Larkins – we were cutting corn. Jack and his brother Mick were there. Jack came on the following day – Mick did not, That evening Jack Larkin was reviewing the day’s work. He said: “Jack, the four of us did more today than the five Of us did yesterday”. Jack replied: “isn’t it a pity I didn’t stay at home, the three of ye would have finished it.”

I have said Jack was a shoemaker – he was also a daily communicant. One day a woman called and asked Jack if he’d repair a shoe while she waited. Jack said he would and having performed the task handed her her shoe. She was a shrewd woman and said thanks Jack, you weren’t a minute. Jack perceived her designs and met her shrewedness with silence. She was forced to speak again and said “You won’t charge me anything for that little biff. ‘I’m afraid ” says Jack “that wouldn’t pay”. “Go on you rogue” says she “an you fasting every morning”. “Isn’t that enough” says Jack “not to be fasting all day!”

On another occasion Jack was at-the door of the old church with his little box for the purpose of taking up the collection. Some poor woman came to the door. The church seemed to be full. She turned to Jack and said; “Any room here Jack”. Jack replied: “no main but won’t you be grand in the kitchen”. This was during mission times and the story came to the ears of one of the missioners, who said he should make an acquaintance with Jack. He walked up the Glin Road where Jack lived. On seeing Jack he approached him and said: “Excuse me. Jack is this the road to Glin?” Jack said “How did you know my name?” “I guessed it” said the missioner”.

Well, if you did” says Jack ” you can guess the road to Glin”. I could be telling stories all day about Jack. Like the day A teacher sent one of his pupils on a message. He went into Jacks and said: “The master sent me down for a file”- which, of course, when spoken sounded like ‘while’, Jack said: “Sit down there as long as you like”. On another occasion there was a woman coming down the street in a half trot. She was wondering if he would be in time for Mass, She asked Jack: “Is the bell gone?” Jack said. “It can’t be gone far. I heard it ringing five minutes ago!”

To conclude about Jack, here is one story which has a moral for everybody. One day Jack was up the street and on returning home his mother asked: Any news up the street?”. Like a true Kerryman Jack said “What news would I hear?”. His mother said: “Did you hear any news?Then Jack asked: “Did you hear anything about Jack Mulvihill?”. Like son,like mother, she said: “what would I hear?”. Then came Jack’s philosophical reply: “He is either dead or gone to America – they are all talking good of him!”

From Glin Road I will go right across the parish to Carrueragh- the Bog Lane and the Drurys. They were known far and wide. Locally they not always known as the Drurys of the Bog Lane. They were always The Drurys of the Bog Lane – they were one of thirty five families evicted from the Kilmeaney area when ‘The Defender of Small Nations’ was confiscating the lands for the Domain, the Estate or the Great House, whichever you choose to call it Paud was probably the best known of the Drurys – he had wit – no doubt he was better known as a rhymer or poet. Sorry to say most of his songs are lost. He wrote a lot of patriotic songs, and in all revealed he had no love for the Crown. I remember one line of a song he wrote:

“If John Bull had the five and the Knave he wouldn’t knock a trick out of Sinn Fein”.

Easy to see he played ‘forty one’ – though he claimed he couldn’t count that far. I remember one night, Paud was at our house. Someone said: “Would you be a great scholar if you got schooling?” Paud said: “I went to school for a day and a half. I’d be a wonderful scholar if I finished the second day!” Asked how the day and a half came in, he said: “I stole away at play-hour, down to Flavin’s cock-of-hay where their sheep dog had five pups. That’s how I learned to count as far as five”. There is a story told about Paud being in Listowel and rubbing shoulders with a man – Mr. Hill, who lived there at the time. Mr. Hill became indignant at the idea of one he regarded as lowly touching his person in any way and told so to Paud. Paud gave a quick glance at him and said: “Between Hill and Hell there is only one letter, and if Hill was in Hell wouldn’t Ireland be better!”

On another occasion Paud was working for a farmer. On going to bed an enamel jug was left on the table with milk for Paud’s supper, – but they over-looked putting out the cat. Like all cats he was very obliging to himself.  He jumped onto the table pushing his head down the jug as he drank. Having completed his mission he jumped off the table but being unable to extract himself from the jug, he had no choice but to bring it with him. His manoeuvers on the floor-frightened the farmer who was nervous. On hearing Paud coming in he called on him to investigate and later when quietness was restored, he called on Paud for an explanation, Paud’s answer was:”
“He wasn’t in prison,
He wasn’t in Jail.
There was nothing out
But his arse and tail,
You were an awful man,
To stay lying on your flat,
And wouldn’t come down,
To release the cat.
The Bog Lane-was noted for its characters and when put to the test they said what was needed to be said and didn’t put a tooth in it as my last and next story illustrates.

There was once a woman from the Bog Lane. She worked with a family who classed themselves as the gentry. It was grand for the gentry to tolerate her when doing their work but to socialise with such a person the Ladies of the House thought beneath them. At this time there was a brand of flour known, as “The Bulldog”. This was in pre-plastic days and the flour bags were useful when washed to make underwear for the ladies, of course, the servant was in a position to be aware of this fact. One day the said servant girl was in Listowel. She met one ,of the. Ladies of the Manor with whom she thought to have a friendly chat. Lo and behold, she was completely, ignored. The.  Lady whipped past her, ignoring her completely. Ignored but not defeated – the servant girl rushed after her – caught her by the shoulder whipped her around and in front of all shouted at her: “As good as you are and,as bad as- I am, I’m as good as you are, as bad as I’m and I haven’t the ‘Bulldog’ brand on my arse like you have!”

There was another man who lived in the Bog Lane – William Madigan – known always as Billy. Billy was not known as well as the Drurys. He was never regarded as a poet. I have heard of only one rhyme he ever made. Billy .  lived alone. He used frequent our house a lot – my mother used occasionally bake a loaf of bread for him. One night she gave him a loaf which he put into a message bag. He then threw the bag over his shoulder and tied it with a string to his belt. When he opened the door to go home my father put the familiar question: “What is the night like?. Billy looked up at the sky and said:
“There’s a moon on my back,
There’s a moon in the sky.
And the moon on my back,
Will be in my belly bye-and-bye.
Billy was also a step-dancer and usually finished his dance by saying: “I’m as loose as ashes but not so scattersome”. He was by nature good-natured and light-hearted but he still could look at life with seriousness and speak in a manner that was unique and poetic. My great friend, Jim Walsh of Gael Bridge, once met him in Moyvane. He did not then know him but was so impressed that he asked me who was this man of intellect with the artistic turn of phrase. It is sad so much of his beautiful sayings are lost. I’ll quote an extract from a letter which he wrote to my sister Joan in Australia, having stated he had no money or no desire to have it. He wrote: “I’d rather be picking flowers in the fields of the fairies than counting coins in this false world and when I stand on the threshold of Eternity I will look back and bid a loud ha-ha to this land of bubbles. “This is only a fraction of what I could write about the Wit and Wonder and the beauty I have known. The real beauty was the bond of brotherhood that existed between them, they made jokes and enjoyed being caught out. James Leahy of Carrueragh, once told me a story which he enjoyed and enjoyed telling. My grandfather, Daniel Keane, used cross the short-cut to Knockanure for a few pints. His journey took him between two quarries which was as eerie a haunt as you could find for a ghost to appear. He placed a white sheet on a support for the purpose of frightening Daniel on his way home. Next day the sheet was missing and there was no word from Daniel. It went for a week and no word. Eventually Daniel called to Leahy’s. James Casually said: “Daniel I left a white sheet in the quarry and it has disappeared”. Daniel replied with an air of satisfaction: “‘Tis below down on Biddy McMahon and better engaged than to be around a shovel in the quarry”.

It must truly be a Land of Bubbles for they have all passed on – “May the perpetual light of Heaven shine for ever upon them”.