That long summer holiday


Few Cavan families took holidays in the 1940s. Those who did, like doctors and teachers, went to Bettystown or Blackrock in the off season -May or September. Some people might spend a week or two in the home of a parent or grandparent or other relative. Foreign holidays in exotic places were unheard-of; nobody could afford them anyway. The world was a big place then and travelling to most major centres in Ireland, let alone abroad, took a lot to time and money. A bus excursion to the seaside on a sunny Sunday was the holiday highlight for some lucky people. Others took none at all.

Town children enjoyed holidaying in the country on the farm of a relative where the older ones paid for their keep by helping in saving hay, footing turf, and carrying the tay to the men in the meadow and the bog; they gave a hand with the threshing and late that evening, stole to the barn to espy the day's meitheal of friends and neighbours happily regaling themselves with refreshments, music and dance. Smaller children loved feeding the chickens and the ducks and gathering the eggs. All these activities were unforgettable features on a country holiday.
During school holidays, some Scout Masters in East Cavan arranged a day trip to the seaside for their troops. The trip would be well organised beforehand; three or four cars hired into which numerous laughing young lads crammed at 7:30am on a Sunday morning; and as soon as the cars moved off in convoy, car windows were opened, troops coloured neckerchiefs thrust out and singing and cheering began and did not abate between stops until Bettystown or Blackrock was reached. The first trip to Bettystown included stops at historic Monsterboise to inspect the round tower and loudly applaud the Scoutmaster when he suddenly appeared taking a few steps onto its top rim; then on to the great Cistercian monastery at Mellifont, the first Irish Cistercian abbey, to explore the grounds and participate in the troops race to the tree in the centre of the marvellous maze to win the Scoutmaster's prize of half a crown.

On a first visit to Mellifont, a young scout endeavouring to demonstrate his brave leadership qualities, ran ahead of the main group along a tree-lined avenue (in spite of instructions to the contrary); his quasi-brave qualities were amply displayed when with a pale face, he took startled return flight to his pals on seeing a white robed and sandaled monk noiselessly approaching under the trees - he thought he had seen an apparition floating towards him.
Next stop, the main destination, Bettystown, and what joy for young inland lubbers to see for the first time the big blue rolling sea with its foaming white waves crashing thunderously on the long golden strand. All the lads hurriedly changed into their bathing gear behind the sand duns about 70 yards from the water edge, and a race into the sea was organised, a half crown for the first to enter the water. What a sight an onlooker witnessed when the whistle blew to start the race and a variety of twenty mad cheering and whooping skinny young lads of various sizes arose from the dunes and dashed madly to the sea, all clad in assorted bathing gear of mulitpile coloured tops and bottoms, some wearing trousers with legs cut off, others wearing their father's or big brother's oversized swimming gear. On coming out of the water, the drying of pelts was achieved by a game of football on the beach refereed by the Scoutmaster; any by-standing young enthusiastic footballers were invited to join in the game.
High tea in the late evening was usually served in a Drogheda restaurant where ravenous lads rapidly devoured the main course of ham and egg sandwiches, followed by pink and white iced buns strategically produced when stomachs were full (due to funding constraints). The day was rounded off by a visit to the pictures in a Dundalk cinema; the scarier the film, the better. "It Walks the Woods" was the title of the delightful scary film seen on a troop's first visit to a Dundalk cinema. After the pictures, fagged out but still cheery lads crammed into the cars and sang all the way home.

It was important to bring home presents from the seaside to brothers and sisters, such as sets of jackstones for sisters and sticky rocks for the rest.
During the holidays, away from the strict regime of school, the town's streets and environs would be alive with happy voices of children; their spare time spent playing on the street or in backyards; boys played games of marbles, handball, football, cowboys and Indians as well fishing and sometimes bike racing. Girls played games of jackstones, tig, skipping, hop scotch, and nurses. Children sent by their parents for messages often forgot to come home. Games played by girls had "sing song" rhymes attached to them, all learned and sung on the street. Some of the games and accompanying rhymes were:

The game of jackstones was played by girls, big and small. A set of "Jacks" comprised of five small egg shaped whitish stones perhaps with coloured streaks, seashore stones were prized. A girl, lucky enough to holiday at the seaside always brought back a set of "Jacks" to her best pal. That was considered a great present. Girls usually played the game on a convenient step or flagstone in a doorway or on the edge of a pavement. The game commenced by a player placing four stones on the back of one hand, tossing them in the air, and with the same hand picking the remaining stone off the ground catching as many as possible of the four airbourne stones as they descended. Words shouted for particular parts of the game were "Heartsie" when having picked the stone of the ground, she hit her heart before catching the descending ones and "Scramble" when denoting an attempt to catch five descending stones.
Synchronised Clapping - Rhythm and Rhyme:

Please porridge hot; please porridge cold
Please in the pot, nine days old
Some like it hot; some like it cold
Some like it in the pot; nine days old

This rhyme was recited in sing song fashion by two girls as they stood facing each other and commenced by clapping the palms of both each other's hands at chest high level, followed by clapping left palm against left palm, right against right, left against right and so on, striking on the rhyming words - hot, cold, pot, old, hot, cold, pot, and old; action commenced slowly and was repeated several times, each repeat speeded up considerably until an impossible crescendo of speedy speech and clapping was reached.

Spelling Rhyme:
"My mother and your mother were washing clothes
My mother hit your mother a bat on the nose
What colour was the blood?"

This rhyming question tested each player's ability to spell a colour with an appropriate number of letters to ensure she won the game; an outlandish colour, such as, "Puce" would be nominated. The opponent then spelled out the word "puce" (if she could spell it), saying "P-U-C-E spells puce" and as she named each letter and finally the colour, she alternating hit her own and her pal's shoulder. The loser was the girl whose shoulder was hit on the word "puce"; or incorrectly spelled the word in the first instance; the next pal in line took up position to play the winner.

As school holidays drew to a close, one of the bigger lads who was not returning to national school, prematurely dampened the spirits of those who were, by reciting the well known rhyme about the schoolmaster's rod:
"Master McCann is a baldy wee man
He goes to mass on Sunday.
He prays to God to send him a rod
To bate the boys on Monday."

And on the first Monday in September, the national school reopens and the street is quiet. Many of the bigger boys and girls have played their last game on the street; some are going on to secondary school, their bikes ready for the sixteen mile daily return trip; others are facing the adult world. The following year, their places in the street will be filled by younger brothers and sisters and a few small newcomers. Those were the days!

Hey lads! Before you go, who's that auld fella over there? He looks familiar? Hey sir! Who are you?
I'm just one of the boys
who played in the street
Of the village,
long ago,
Just one of the boys
Who fished from the shore
And knocked on your door
in the village,
long ago
Just one of the boys
Who swam in the pool,
Mitched from the school,
in the village,
long ago.
Just one of the boys
Who hadn't a job; hadn't a bob
And took the road to God-knows-where
From the village,
long ago.