“There’s a wee story for you,” a friend of mine suggested as he pulled out a chair in a local cafe and he leaned on the back support.
“I’m sorry I didn’t find out this guy’s name but you should take a wee run out where I lived and have a look at it.”
My friend lives in Ashlawn in Letterkenny, a place that he has lived in since he first came to Letterkenny many years ago when he was stationed here as a young Garda.
I remembered him in those early years because he came out to investigate a window that was broken in an old Anglia Estate that was parked up and abandoned on a waste piece of land at the back of our home in Glencar.
I had to go down into the Garda Station and report the damage. The old Station which was then located at the foot of the town where the Wolfe Tone Bar is now located.
It was daunting going onto the Garda Station. The reception was in the door and into the left a big map on the back wall and an old wooden table was the counter. The Garda took the details and wrote it into a big book and told us that they would take a run up later to look at the damage.
It was a big thing to see the Garda car pull into our housing estate and then proceed around to where the car was abandoned at the back of the houses. The Garda driving that Garda car all those years ago in the 1970’s was the same Garda that is sitting having a chat with me this week nearly 50 years on. He took the details from my father that day as he looked around the old family car and wrote a few notes into his notebook as you could see the odd heads of concerned neighbours peer out from the gateways at the back of their houses.
Telling me about the tree carving in Ashlawn he talked about what it was like when he first came to Letterkenny and what it was like when he moved into his new house in Ashlawn. Letterkenny was an expanding town and a lot were moving there when Courthauls built their factory nearby.
The residents of Ashlawn got together and decided to plant out the big housing estate with trees. There was a man living there that worked in the forestry that got a selection of native trees that were planted out by the residents when they all got together when they finished work in the evenings . The forestry man always gave them who helped out a wee talk on all the trees they were setting. Even though the estate was called after the Ash tree as in Ashlawn it was decided that the most common tree set all them years ago was Silver Birch. The other tree that gave a great bit of colour at the start of every spring was the Cherry Blossom.
Growing up in Letterkenny I worked for a while with the TV Centre in Letterkenny which was based down where Bizz Print is now. One of the men that owned that Sean Maguire had his home in Ashlawn and had his garage at the side converted into a wee shop. Every so often you could be sent up to look after the shop and I can remember working there when all these trees were just starting to establish themselves. The red brick house at the lower part of the estate where the shop was located looked completely different from any other type of house in the town. They looked more like a housing estate that you were likely to find in Northern Ireland.
For the short while that I worked with the TV centre we got many calls to Ashlawn to fit colouring aerials and install Normande televisions. In later years when I was the legal age to drive and it was the norm to do laps of the town we always would go up through Ashlawn in the days before they put speed ramps in the big hill in the centre of the estate was alway slippery and the old tyre on our father’s cars would alway lose the grip.
I took a spin out this week (pardon the pun) to have a look at the old trees after having the conversation with my friend now a retired Garda. The blossoms have just left the trees as a fresh green follows at the leaves fully form. The trunks of Silver Birch trees are beautiful The trees are taller than the house around them. My father had green fingers and could grow anything from a slip. He set a rowan tree at the front of our house in Wolfe Tone as part of the group when our residents were out setting their trees. I am not saying this because it was my father but his tree has outgrown all the trees in the green where we grew up and I feel like my good friend in Ashlawn. This is about the people that once lived in our neighbourhood and now are gone to their eternal rest.
The tree that stirred this conversation was one that was beautifully carved by a man called Guintas Poderys. My friend remembers setting this tree in the 1970’s with the group of residents all them years ago. The carving reminds him of friends and times when he first came to Letterkenny and got to know the town that he was to make his forever home.