Brian McDaid recalls simpler days of building dens and spring adventures.
I looked back down into Letterkenny and we were higher than the chapel spire. We were making our way along the cover of win bushes in ‘Sweetie Harris’ fields. I was the youngest of the gang. If the truth be told I wasn’t really in the gang at all I just happened to be in the green that day that the older boys decided to go on a very special journey. I had followed them out of Wolfe Tone Place.
The green was our boundary that wasn’t allowed to leave unless of course you were going down to Gallen’s shop for messages or 20 Major for Daddy. I had passed where the Travellers lived in tents along a rock face on the old Glencar Rd. lane. They had a cross dog tied up that barked at me that blew my cover. Now the boys were all cross with me and told me to go back home, just the same way as you would tell your dog ‘Shep’ to ‘go home’ when it would’ve followed you to the shop. I made as if to head back down the lane way but keep an eye on the gang as they turned up Sweetie Harris’ lane and climbed over the ditch and then had to jump across a stream. I had heard stories of this journey that had made many a time navigating past all these tests along the way. There wasn’t a house of any kind to be seen in any direction except for the old Glencar School further up Old Glencar Rd with the grass in the middle of the road. I followed the gang up the lane from a distance and crossed the ditch and stream and as they got to the highest part of the field they spotted me again.
“Come on to F… then” one of them shouted down to me. I was now in the gang. We all went out over the top of the hill like commandos. In the distance we could see our destination with a haze of smoke blowing across the hillside. We were heading to the Letterkenny town dump.
Going across the fields you landed at the back of the dump. It was mostly tractors and tipping trailers in the days that we had the old tin dustbins. It was mostly ashes that were thrown in the bin, waste food was called brock and was kept for the brock men who would call for the leftover food to feed pigs. The old dump looked like it once was an old quarry with big deep pools of water that were slowly filled with the town’s waste. ‘THERE’S ONE’ one of the gang called out as a rat ran in under the bonnet of a car. We were thinking of taking that bonnet home with us for the roof for a new den but none of us were brave enough to take on the rat that ran in under it.
It was just before Easter and the evenings were getting longer and there would be dens made up from whatever you could find places like Regan’s forest and at the bottom of Crawford’s field were great locations for dens.
The other thing you were always on the lookout for were old prams that you could take the wheels off to make trolleys with.
Our luck was in as it happened that day, or so we thought!
We spotted the top of a pram half submerged in one of the deep pools. We could see if there were wheels on it. Old branches were hitting it but it still could not budge it. Because I had wellies on, (never left them off in them days) I was able to stand into water and get a bit closer, I got a hand on the top of the pram and was trying to pull it a bit closer to the edge when I lost my balance and caught Yuel Tease for a pull out he also lost his balance and the both of us fell into the deep pool, both of us ending up holding on to the pram until one of the others found a plank that we managed to get back on the dry ground. Yuel was ripping mad with me for pulling him into the water.
“The ould doll is going to kill me when I get home,” he scolded as he stood with his two arms straight down so as not to move in the wringing wet clothes which were covered in mud, slime and ashes.
I would say we looked a wile sight but Yuel didn’t look in any mood to see the funny side.
We decided to head home. My wellies were full of water but I just ploughed down the fields and eventually out onto the lane and down the road and down the backs of the houses in Wolfe Tone Place so no one would see us.
I wasn’t right in the back door of my house when I heard the roar “Ah Jesus Christ Yuel” from Martha, Yuel’s mother. They were our next door neighbours.
They only managed to get one of my wellies pulled off when Martha came in our back door. I thought she was going to give me a telling off but her manner had mellowed to that concern. She took me into her house and went searching for dry clothes, then it was up into the bath after Yuel was finished using the same bath water, as I watched a few tadpoles which found their way into socks and pockets from the pool at the dump. I think I had an old jumper of Yuel’s brother Trevor on me when I came out of my next door neighbours as Martha got the clothes all washed and out on the line. I was expecting a telling off from my father when he got home, being sure that someone would have told him, but he never knew.
A good fifty-odd years on as the evening was getting longer and the grass was trying to grow a bit. I was giving the lawn the first cut of the year and that evening it was the first time
I smelled summer as everything awakened from the winter. And it dawned on me that all these years ago we didn’t manage to build an Easter den from that trip to the dump but I realised that my house is built on the same field as we all travelled across as wanes on our way up to the dump. And as it happens my next door neighbour a bit further up that old field of Sweetie Harris’ is still my neighbour Yuel Tease who also built his home up the field a bit from me.
The photo that I used for this write up is one that my son Brendan took one day he went up the same field at the back of our house. He took a picture of our dog Mollie sitting exhausted at the top of the hill. Sadly our dog has since passed away but her memory still lives on as do the great days of growing up in Glencar at the tip top of Letterkenny.
Happy Easter folks.