A St Patrick’s Day bird’s-eye view of my childhood

On these pages, I often record childhood memories of growing up in a County Donegal village in the 1950s and 60’s. I also often struggle to find pictures of this place that truly impart the geographic character and splendid location, the real sense of place where we led Huckleberry Finn type lives as children. Here we roved in packs, perhaps gone for hours playing Cowboys and Indians; 6 and 7 years old Belle Stars and Annie Oakleys often hid in Gallagher’s cornfield with Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill, Kit Carson and Roy Rogers seeking them out, while war cries of Crow and Blackfoot Indians resounded over Figart sending chills down the spines of everyone within hearing distance. These war cries emanated from loud shrill whooping sounds that were embellished by rapid covering and uncovering of the mouth – truly blood curdling stuff!  Here too we gathered up empty pea and bean tins, jam pots and sauce bottles from Kiely’s yard and set out our shop stall behind Speers or in whichever shed we could find a space; here we children  ambled over the Barrack Brae to October Devotions on dark nights (where were the adults!?) , often with only shooting stars and Will O’ the Wisp skipping along Logues Burn down  on the Lee for company; here we went bathing (never swimming!) when the tide came in to the safe inlet behind the village; here we sleighed down a snow-covered Figart on our homemade sleighs, not sitting one behind the other, but lying one on top of the other for more speed, and Cathal McClafferty or Séamus Gallagher would shout when it was time for us to tumble off, before the sleigh went over the edge onto the stones below; here we dug man-traps in the Planting beside the church and concealed them with branches in the hope that another unsuspecting child might fall in; here we headed off on our bikes or trikes for a day out ( I personally, at about 4 or 5 years of age, rode my red tricycle into Island Roy and could not get back as the incoming tide had covered the road); here we wandered in and out of houses for an apple, a drink of water or just to say hello!  All of these childhood activities took place without the supervision of adults.

However our lifestyle of wandering freely came under serious threat when three of our number went missing for almost an entire day. John Boylan, son of the local Garda (Police) Sergeant, Andrew Speer whose poor mother was not in good health and there was talk of not telling her for fear of inducing a relapse, and my brother Noel, had failed to return home at mealtime. I believe they were aged about 4 or so. Search parties were got up and we spread out and combed every nook and cranny. Hopes were raised when word of a sighting of three small figures crossing Logues 9-hole Golf Course and headed towards the sandy hills was reported. The sandy hills was an area of ‘bent’ grass and deep sand dunes that backed Tramore beach.Tramore was not a safe place for small boys. The sandy hills were often used by people walking to Tramore, and it was not difficult even for older people to get lost in here. I was aged about 7 or 8 at the time, but I have a clear memory of the sense of urgency and concern about finding them. The search party headed through the sand dunes, shouting out their names.

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Paddy Vaughan, with his cap as-ever slightly askew, arrived on his big bicycle with straight handlebars and made his way through the undulating terrain. I can recall people saying  that it was a bit silly to be taking a bicycle into the sandy hills, yet there was serious concern for the safety of the boys and to find them before they hit the Atlantic Ocean. The hero of the day was of course Paddy on his bike: He discovered the three who had been playing with shells on a green of the Rosapenna Golf  Links just as they were about to head towards Tramore! The tired trio were safe and unscarred by their great adventure, albeit a bit hungry! Thankfully too,after due reprimands and awful warnings, our escapades continued and we were still allowed to wander about the hinterland as truly ‘free range’ children!

Yesterday, March 17, Saint Patrick’s Day was celebrated and marked all over the world and in countless towns and villages across the breadth and length of Ireland. As is the case, these events are photographed, and nowadays with the advent of drone photography, we can sometimes get aerial views of our local landscape. This aerial footage of my native landscape has evoked in me a rush of memories that cram themselves into every second, memories of times past, memories of a different world where children were raised by the village, and we were safe to roam and wander.

I am grateful to a reader of my blog who alerted me to the fact that Donegal Daily featured drone footage of the St Patrick’s Day Parade in my home village, footage that evoked all of these memories. I am grateful to my blog follower ‘Mulroy’ for bringing this to my attention!

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13 Comments

Filed under Ireland, Living in Ireland, My Oral History

13 responses to “A St Patrick’s Day bird’s-eye view of my childhood

  1. Really enjoyed this evocative blog Angela and remember similar carefree times ! Holidayed in Downings/Rosapenna /Marble Hill area of Donegal for years as my paternal grandmother was a McFadden from Creeslough and my Dad rediscovered his roots in about 1957 when I was six! Still probably have lots of far removed cousins up there. Great to see you last Sunday albeit so briefly. Coming to Cork April 9th-13th so hope we can meet up some evening then.

  2. How I love this, as always… brings back memories of our wanderings, playing in the bullrushes beside the lake, feeling really brave by crossing the road to play in the ‘rec’ (recreation reserve), and the huge box swing which seemed to be able to take as many kids as could climb in.
    Stories abound, longing to be written and shared… very soon I would think.

  3. Mu husband has a similar story about Tramore. His cousin and himself took off to the beach, had trouble in the water and were lucky to make it home. Times have changed a lot! I am horrified at the thought of my little girls getting up the the dangerous mischief we did!

    • Yes they certainly were different times! And indeed not without tragedy. We were often told the story of the three young children from Glenree who wandered out onto Tramore to get their geese and who were drowned. Their names are on the memorial at Downing Pier. It was a wonderful life though, and remarkably we survived it all! I wonder if kids there are allowed to wander as freely nowadays! Thank you for sharing your story and for dropping by! Would I know your husband?

  4. Belated Happy St. Patrick’s day to you!

  5. Nice post SV. One is accounted a bad parent these days if a child is left unattended for five minutes. We too used to be gone all day, learnt much about the world in the process and came to little harm.

    • Strange how it was the ‘norm’ to allow children to roam wild and free and what has happened that this would now be seen as neglect? We dammed streams, carried water in buckets, dug up some farmer’s turnips to eat, walked miles to school and back, jumped across small rivers that were in full flood, went fishing with pitchforks, walked miles on unlit roads in the dark in winter, attended at wakes with ‘real live’ corpses, all without supervising adults. What happened?

  6. mulroy

    I knew you’d like the Carrigart drone footage!
    Talking of children wandering unsupervised in the 60s reminds me scarily of frozen lakes, 100 ft. cliffs, setting light to carbide-filled Andrews Liver Salts tins, climbing out on rotten branches, stampeding horses in another planting, BB air guns, chasing cars on sleighs, testing a bicycle’s stopping ability on a wooden pier, fitting nails as arrow heads to use on a 5 ft. home-made bow, cutting up inner tubes to make catapults, jumping off a first floor roof into sand heaps on a building site…the blood runs cold even now in horrified retrospect.
    We came to no harm but I did eventually break a leg. But that was much later – the year I was thirty five years old and really ought to have known better!!

    • Isn’t it gas! Parents would be arrested now for permitting children to indulge in such activities..although the air gun is a bit scarey! Thanks for the footage of home and for the memories it evoked! Ah the memories….golden ones they are! Hope you write yours too…it’s a different way of life 🙂

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