Memories of Mullagh, Co. Cavan

Jim Clarke recalls a number of his boyhood heroes.

Mullagh and its landscape of hill, glen, bog and lake has been good to us. It is our home, where we were reared, schooled, where we live and work, where our folk are buried and where our many migrants and emigrants return willingly and with a smile on their face.

Once a Mullagh man and dare I be asked about the situation by any of my female friends quoting sexism, once a Mullagh lady, then always a Mullagh lady.

Our community spirit is beyond question, we live in a modern world and yet we have never departed from our ancient ways and habits. We like our Irishness around Mullagh and yet have time to offer a welcoming hand to all creeds and nations who settle in our locality.

Of course we have our football club and not long ago Messrs Farrelly, Carolan and Cahill brought home Ulster medals as a reminder of our prowess in this field. Many’s the famous head that came out of Mullagh.

But what is the word famous? What does it really mean? Maybe if you went to Dublin or London and got your name in some paper or other or if you happened to appear as a spectator at some event on Sky television you might be called famous.

However, there are various kinds of famous, and around Mullagh we value our local characters. To me they are the famous ones, in a different type of way but they are the people who count. They are our real ‘famous’. Sure the place at present is full of local characters but I want to go back a few years to my childhood and put on paper some of ‘my characters’ and their deeds, to record these before they disappear into the mists of time. Men like Paddy Watt.

Now like most of us Paddy was fond of the odd jar or two and had a habit of really celebrating on Fair Days in the town. Anyway, this particular Fair Day, Paddy as was his custom spent the day ‘celebrating’. He had an awful habit of falling asleep when he over indulged and true to form slept on a grassy ditch while trying to map out a way home.

Unknown to him these two bright sparks (we cannot name them) were returning in a cart from the fair. Mad for a bit of craic themselves they stumbled upon the unfortunate Paddy.

Now Paddy had another problem. When he fell asleep ‘by Janey’ he was impossible to wake. So Paddy was lifted up into the cart and our bould boys headed in the direction of the graveyard. Their luck was in, there was a funeral the next day and an open grave was ready at their disposal. And yes, our friends gently lifted Mr Watts into the waiting grave before slipping off quietly into the night.
Paddy slept away and must have woke the next morning. Anyway there was no sign of him when that days funeral took place. Days later he was telling all and sundry about his experience in Paddy McCormack’s pub and this was his version.

“Some so and so’s (I won’t use the real words) put me in this grave. Anyway when I woke up the next morning I had this one hell of a sore head. I managed to stand up and my eyes only came to the top of the grave. I looked around and saw all these headstones and by god lads yeah know I was sure and certain that it was the last day and I was the first one up.”

Another grand old fellow was Tommy Hynes and people said he suffered from shell shock he got during the war. There was not a bother wrong with Tommy except for the fact that he had a racing mind and tended to walk in his sleep. When I talk about walking I don’t mean around his kitchen or into another bedroom. Tommy was known to walk up and down the street outside and it was once claimed he was seen near Kells and not talking to man or beast but dressed only in his night attire.
Anyway, ‘Tee’ Smith was having a bit of a ceile in his brothers house in Mullagh one winters night. At this time there was no ESB in Mullagh and if a fella went out at night he could see all kinds of strange things or even bump into a lump of a bullock roaming outside. Tee had to walk right through the town to get home and out the Moynalty road which had big trees on both sides.

A little noise like a branch breaking off a tree or a calf galloping in a field nearby would have the bravest of us on our guard. Tee was to come across more than a suck calf. His encounter was from the other world or so he thought. He was later to describe it as ‘a huge white thing’. It flew past as Tee jumped into the ditch and prayed it would not come back. Saying three Hail Mary’s he was left in a bit of a fix. If he went back to his brothers house or into Fitzsimons they would say he had ‘flipped the lid’ completely.

Tee had to be up early to get his brothers breakfast so this swung things as he pulled himself together and continued on his journey. He got as far as the hall where it was more open country and brighter. And lo and behold the ‘white thing’ was heading back. Tee again jumped for the ditch and blessed himself three times. However, this time the apparation was much lower and had reduced its speed.

Tee had another decision to make. Dare he open his eyes and see a vision from the other world or keep them closed and hope ‘the white thing’ would go away. Bravely he had a wee peep but it was enough for him to identify the culprit. Wasn’t it Hynes out walking with his ould bike and he only wearing a white shirt. The bould Tommy did not need any lamp as he flew in the direction of Moynalty and must surely have been Irelands first ‘bike walker’. I am also glad to report that Tee Smith lived to walk through Mullagh for many a long day.

Janey, if you ever wanted to invent a character Tommy Hynes had it all. He was always fortunate or unfortunate to be in the wrong (right) place at the right (wrong) time. He owned a house in Mullagh and rented out the front of it to Andy and Jimmy Brady who ran a shoe repair business. Andy was disabled but it would be a lesson for us young fellas to go in and see him at work.

Andy was a very holy man and if ever there was a wrong move made at mass or if somebody was late you would hear about it from Andy. Father McCauley was the priest in Mullagh around this time and the instructions went round that every house had to say the rosary. And if you were alone you would have to join up with another friend so as to do the job right. Andy and Tommy decided to get hitched and things were going great for a spell.

Remember before when we said that Tommy Hynes had a racing mind. He was a great man to talk but if he had something in his head and worrying him he was very likely to ramble on in an outburst about what was annoying him in the middle of what seemed a sane conversation.

On this particular day Tommy had wheeled out turf for Willie Dalton to bring home in the horse and cart that evening. It was a grand dry day but didn’t it start spilling around tea time. Whether Willie wouldn’t go out in the rain or not he did not turn up and Hynes was furious. Of course, Dalton was at fault. Anyway they were doing the rosary and it was Tommy’s turn to say the Our Father. He goes along like this with a statement that was to shock poor old Andy, “Our Father who are in Heaven, f*** (we will say darn to be polite) Willie Dalton and the turf.” Andy being the holy man he was pulled himself up on his two sticks and out the door he went quicker than ever before and not even giving a backward glance to Hynes who was still praying away. I suppose poor old Tommy never knew why he left and there was no more rosary partnerships between this duo. Andy explained later the terrible thing that Tommy had said and I think Tommy criticised him for not having the patience to continue saying the rosary. God be good to them, they were great harmless craic and manys the time we spent in Hynes showmakers playing cards and draughts, on cold dark winter nights. Of course, Cavan football was the main topic of conversation.

There were hundreds of stories centered around Tommy Hynes. Like the day he was in a fierce hurry on that famous bicycle of his. He was peddling away like the ‘hammers of hell’ but for some strange reason he felt he was not going quick enough. What did he do but get down off the bike and started to run with it. Another evening Tommy was washing up dishes and went outside, cigarette and all in his mouth to throw out the dirty water, he left the basin down on the ground, threw out the cigarette and came back in with the water. Those of us who knew him well would hear him say ‘glazes’ when something like this went wrong.

I could as the fella said ‘go on all day’ about the characters that Mullagh bred in my boyhood days but I am sure the editor has already ran out of space with my story. Hopefully we can come up with part two in next years edition. Finally, I am not ridiculing the people mentioned, good men who have gone to their rest. I am just recording some of their yarns. I know Tommy Hynes, Paddy Watts, Andy Brady and friends would love to have their acts recorded and especially long after their deaths. Wouldn’t we all. They were my heroes.