Back in the Day. 1 : Ballycorus
Nowadays, people “have a place” in Greece, in Italy, in Kerry. We had a place in Ballycorus just 12 miles outside Dublin.The house was a three-roomed, granite cottage that had once been the paymaster’s office of the old Ballycorus leadmines.
Nothing could be left in it over the winter because of the damp and so the car – a Standard 12 with blue interior leather – was crammed with blankets, sheets, pillows and summer clothes which included wellingtons.
Here’s a list of things the cottage didn’t have: a bathroom, electricity, a telephone, enough beds,a cooker, a fridge, water. So what happened? Well, as the youngest person in the family, I was usually sent to the well for a pail of drinking water. Outside, there was a barrel with a fine brass tap which dispensed rain water which was used for washing clothes, delph and ourselves.The lavatory was either a chamber-pot under the bed or a marvellous contraption called an earth closet, located outside away from the house. Here’s how it worked: by sitting on the wooden seat, you depressed it slightly which released onto a tray a handful of earth from the box behind.When you’d done your business into a bucket you stood up, the seat returned to its first position and the earth shot down onto your offering. Simple. Our lavatory paper was a page torn from an old telephone directory. It was my father’s job to fill the closet with earth and to empty the bucket. Where he threw its contents there grew grass greener than anywhere else in the garden.
There were no lights. Instead we had candles which could throw frightening shadows on the wall. The height of sophistication was the Tilley lamp but we, alas, didn’t have one.
If the summer evenings got chilly, we lit the fire with fir cones and sat around it playing Jack’s Alive and Alive Still…
To play, you shoved a spill into the flames till it smouldered, held it as you repeated the Jack’s Alive phrase as fast as you could then passed it to the next person. Whoever was left holding the spill when it ceased to glow, was “it” and if that happened, you had to pay a forfeit which was never more daunting than, perhaps, singing a song.
We had outings up into the woods to collect fircones and on a good day, with nine or ten people collecting we could fill enough sacks for two evenings.
Cooking was done on a fearsome primus stove which, if it didn’t ignite properly, could explode momentarily with a frightening bang. I hated it.
Without a fridge, the milk often went off though I suspect it would have done anyway. We got it from Suzanne who lived two fields away. I was often sent to get the milk and lived in terror of the bad-tempered geese which congregated round the farm gate.
Once on the way home though, and out of danger, I’d swing the full milkcan round and round without losing a drop: centrifugal force though to me it was just another of life’s mysteries.
No phone but no need of one either. My father, working in his civil servant’s office in Dublin’s Kildare Street, came out to Ballycorus on a Friday, getting the old Harcourt Line to Carrickmines and walking the last bit across the links. Luckily, he liked walking. It was he who brought us any news there was from during the week though none of it was as interesting as our days in Ballycorus.