Without the past we have no future

Count John McCormack and ‘Shakin’ Stevens would be fairly polarised bedfellows musically. Yet during what has been a very emotionally challenging period, they both found their way to the forefront of thoughts. Two old houses. Two famous songs. Now read on…

Unless you’ve just landed in this reading space, it should be fairly well known that sport and farming have represented the mainstays of life here for as long as the wheels have turned. What can be said, though, is that maybe, just maybe, the two have swapped positions in terms of priority over the years. Or then again, maybe not.

Interest in both facets of life germinated in old houses. In one case, that of my paternal grandparents, both were under the one roof. The other old dwelling in question was so much more than a family home. More than a local business even. It, and more specifically the lands adjacent thereto were once the epicentre of the entire community.

All that remains now is barren, empty space. Yes, it is going to be developed. True also that when Nally’s open a supermarket thence next spring it will indeed be a fitting epitaph to the old ground in its former guise. But progress? I’m not so sure.

I refer, of course, to what will forever be known as Coogan’s shop and, even more especially, Tom’s Field to its rear. That even yours truly would struggle to properly summarise the contribution of Tom Yourell and his family, not only to the GAA in Dunboyne but to the entire area should tell anyone all they need to know.

At this point, perhaps a bit of clarification should ensue. It is not that this corner is anti-progress or anything like it. In fact, I am looking forward to the new business opening and it will be a welcome and needed addition to the locality. No, any angst felt revolves solely around significant elements of the past of the area vanishing without trace. There are elements of the current generation – never mind those who come behind – who will know nothing of a very special part of the history of the area.

Which is why the two songs come to mind. The older of the two was only heard for the first time recently. That is to say, the first time the official version of it was encountered. For, a local character of legendary status, the great Johnny Carey, has been belting out McCormack’s hit – with or without invitation – for decades!

However, it could scarcely have been more poignant that the first time the official rendition was heard was the day the old place was turned to dust. Now, the bond I was blessed to share with Tom and the old place scarcely needs further elaboration but, just as when comfort was taken from knowing he’d have had a wry old grin at the notion of going to the great beyond on my birthday, in one sense, what happened on the day his home and former place of business was demolished was him at play from afar again.

You see, amidst all the mangled rubble and debris, somebody unearthed one of the old tweed sports coats he used to always wear. For years, I – and many others probably – suspected he had only the one but it appears it had predecessors! Also found among the knocked down pile was, very poignantly, a scarf belonging to his late sister, Mary, as the anniversary of her death approached. It might come as small surprise to some that the old jacket now resides in my wardrobe, but I can’t begin to tell you how much it means.

When Tom reported for duty behind the great shop counter above in 2005, this corner undertook the most harrowing writing job ever tackled. The piece was titled If Wood Could Talk in reference to the old wooden fence where he spent most of his days sitting – meeting, greeting, entertaining and educating all and sundry. None, however, more than the occupant of this seat. It was for that reason that the other song came to mind: This old house once knew…

Yet, it was other lyrics from the same number which caused the greatest lump in the throat – Aint gonna need this house longer, aint gonna need this house no more. While factually speaking that is regrettably correct, maybe it’s just sentimentalist old me, but I do feel we need to at least maintain the memory of how the old town once was.

Indeed, such things could scarcely be more poignantly fitting than presently. St Peter’s GAA recently had one of the most memorable days in their long and illustrious history and, when the understandable euphoria had subsided, the inescapable feeling was a pondering of how many of the players and supporters – let alone the generations who will come after them – will have the slightest inclination of the foundations for all which surrounds them that were laid when Tom approached Fr Pat Carberry to start a football team in 1947.

But then, the dearly beloved old place wasn’t the only case of the past being more or less erased from sight and, regrettably, the consciousness of most. Indeed, I need look no further than our own ancestral home, The Corner House – as it will forever be to me – at the cross of the Rooske Road.

The home place was gutted in a blaze on Christmas Eve of 1996 in circumstances that were far from straightforward and, being honest, it has only been in the intervening years how much it truly meant to be has become so much clearer.

In paying tribute to the late Patsy McLoughlin some time ago, mention was afforded to the fact that my maternal grandfather was born in The Workhouse. What I forgot to include was the fact that the other grandfather, James Boylan, worked in the Arch Bar for many years too.

What’s most interesting about that, mind you, is that, at the time, pubs were so much more than just ale houses, also acting as shops, undertakers and purveyors of various other services. It seems The Arch was, among other things, an abattoir where the grandfather would’ve been involved in the slaughter of cattle and sheep.

Inspiration for my own passion for all things farming has often been attributed to a few things. The maternal grandfather working for the Brutons all his life and my brother, Paul, working for Pat Clarke all too long ago being foremost among them.

However, the more life has gone on, the more it has dawned on me that it was actually the infrastructure left in place by the paternal grandparents which did every bit as much to hook these wheels to farming as anything else. Put it this way, yes, Paul working for Pat was obviously a massive part of it, but, what magnified matters still further was the fact that when our family had – temporarily as it blessedly turned out – moved away from farming ourselves, Pat working the land behind the house – whether it was making the hay as the school holidays approached or grazing the aftergrass late into the year.

Being honest, one could never have envisaged us being back farming in our own right – let alone that it would yours truly taking the lead in such matters. Yet, July 1st 2013, bringing those first six bullocks up from Mayo, was the best decision I ever made. What it also did, mind you, was underline the fact that, without the past we have no present, and certainly no future.

2 comments

  1. Great to feel the old spark back in motion Brendan. Always part of our past as is the soil that is being turned at the moment. Times and people are changing in Dunboyne a lot faster than we ever expected. The future of this village is now in the hands of new ideas but you always remind us of our past. I thank you for that. Jx

  2. what a lovely poignant piece beautifully written , Brendan has a talent way beyond his years I give my own age away now because I remember when he was born . and proud to consider him a friend ,

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