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Memories of Kilmaine

London-based Mick Tully remembers summers spent in Kilmaine

These are some of my recollection of holidays spent in Mayo. They will tell you nothing you don't already know, but in my mind they are vividly remembered. Sights and sounds, but above all smells from one's childhood are forever indelibly etched in the mind.

Do you recall your first football/hurling match? I certainly do. The mouth-watering smell of the onions, the stink of the cigarettes and the heavy aroma of beer pervaded the event. I still go to matches regularly - I am a QPR fan for my sins - but although my senses do not register those smells as they once did, the memories are as sharp as ever.

'Cahir' was my mother's family home in Tullyduff, Kilmaine. My Grandmother, Anne Coyne, and her son, Paddy lived there. Gran supervised the farmyard with its chickens, geese, and pigs. She made bread, butter and cheese. The eggs were an important source of currency. 

Every few days an old van used to wheeze up the hill and Grandmother used to swap some for tea, coffee, soap, and other household needs. Paddy worked the land. He was the only boy among eight girls.

The first time we travelled by train, but we always took the car on the boat from Holyhead afterwards. I remember watching, with some excitement, the loading operation. Slings were placed under the wheels and the car was lifted by crane and manoeuvred into the hold by deck hands, hauling on rough brown ropes to stop it hitting the sides. 

Many will remember that boat, the 'Princess Maud', with less than fond memories. The old tub wallowed fearfully on the rough Irish Sea, and the smell of alcohol, puke and disinfectant were all pervasive. The roll-on ferry, with its stabilisers, was a huge improvement! 

'Cahir' was a busy place, a working farm, with sheep and pigs and cattle. The house had no electricity in those days. Paraffin lamps provided lighting, while the open turf fire with its swinging range provided for cooking and heating. Water was taken from a well a couple of fields away. (My brother Tony pissed in it when he was about ten. I refused to drink from it for the rest of our stay!) The cattle were watered from a trough at the rear supplied by drainage from the barns' roofing. There was no toilet, the cattle barn was utilised for the purpose. 

Many would recoil from such hardships today, but it seemed natural enough at the time, even though we were living with all modern comforts in England. In fact, given the riches of truly fresh bread, butter, cheese and vegetables, life was very good for we foreigners. 

Within two or three years electricity transformed the house. Clean lighting and the dreaded TV set were proudly exhibited. The barns held about a dozen bikes in various states of disrepair and I enjoyed fixing the odd puncture, or cannibalising in order to ride the couple of miles into town, for an ice-cream or sweets.

The trips to the bog were happy memories. The first time, in 1954, was the best. I was thrilled to go by horse and cart. I don't think I did any work, I was only four years' old, but it was a great day out for this little boy. The bog was out on the Headford road, but my mother says that sometime during the sixties it was exhausted and Paddy obtained another patch much further away. He then used to hire a lorry to bring home the turves.

For lunch. Paddy lit a peat fire, and a large baked bean can was utilised both as a saucepan and as a kettle for the tea. We ate bread, butter and boiled eggs. The taste of that simple meal remains with me to this day. Later on, when I was older, I helped turn the turves. (Not the same ones, I hasten to add) A simple-enough job, but backbreaking after a few hours.

The fair in Kilmaine was a real event. When I was sixteen, or so, Paddy, my late father, John, and myself spent all day gossiping over many pints of Guinness. We all had a very late night, yet me and Paddy struggled up, somewhat unsteadily, at about five in the morning to bring the sheep to town. It rained steadily, a fine mist, propelled by a stiff breeze. The ground hardly got wet, but any upright structure or anyone stupid enough to walk out into that heavy drizzle was immediately soaked. As soon as we got to Kilmaine Paddy disappeared into the pub. An hour later I swapped places with him. At around 10:00 dad showed up. Well, that was business done for the day! I was left with the dogs and the lambs, while the older men had more than a 'hair of the dog'. The fair finished, and I was the last one to have animals on the street, but before it was all over, half a dozen yelling and cursing, porter-fuelled men and boys, on bikes, drove their sheep at speed right down the road. Paddy's animals were scattered everywhere! Two of the beasts went missing, though they turned up after we came back to England.

When I was eighteen I travelled on my own to help Paddy with the hay. I worked very hard, but really enjoyed myself. Every evening we finished at about nine-o-clock, had a meal and went into Ballinrobe for a pint, or four! The night before I came back to England I sat on the wall at the end of the farmyard for about an hour. I looked over the falling, undulating landscape with its grey stone walls softened in the pastel-pink light of late evening. The dark blue hills in the background broodily crested the bright golden hayfields and the green meadows. It was the loveliest thing I ever saw. During his later years, poor old Paddy suffered from a heart condition. A warm and comfortable portacabin was furnished for him, and the house and land fell into disuse. Paddy died about ten years ago. He had never married, and the land was sold.

The village is located on the N84 road between Shrule and Ballinrobe.  The nearest town is Ballinrobe, and the  village of Kilmaine has a population of less than two hundred, while the rural population around is nearly 1000

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