Jake, Sunday Mass, bacon, and cabbage


Part 1

Sunday Mass was a great time for me, back in the 40s, when I was about ten. No, I didn’t go – but lots of other people did. Including well-off farmers in our area. I had a gambling clown of a father. Aren’t all gamblers clowns? The only solution for a gambling waster is to increase his weight suddenly – by one ounce! Of lead! This parent of mine caused the deaths of three daughters — . The rest of us had nothing – except TB. All week I’d look forward to Sunday, when the gullible went into the local church to hear the dreadful old fraud – – Father O’Keefe – or ‘O’Thief’ as I nicknamed him – drone out his lies and feeble imaginings to a captive crowd. {I got many a beating when it was discovered I had so nicknamed the old fossil.} My own fault; a little braggart was I! {But there was also a gentle much-loved curate in the village, a Fr Cullen.}

Anyway, back to my love of the Sunday Mass. Most farmers used go to Second Mass, having milked the cows during the First. The whole family would hop into the ‘trap’ {gig} and off to the Temple of the Trogs. I’d be hiding in a nearby ditch, observing; and counting heads. If all the family were on board, I’d be up to the house door in no time; any watch-dog downfaced by my sturdy ash plant. Into the warm kitchen then, and the smell of cooking bacon like Chanel Number 5 in my nostrils.

The sweet grub would be simmering away, to be ready for the hungry ‘Saved Ones’ when they returned. I knew I’d h ave at least an hour, so I needen’t hurry or worry – but I made sure the back door was always ‘on the latch’, in case of a required ‘quick run.’ Mind you, I never raided the house of a decent family like the Brennans, Codys, or Treacys. The mean bauhocs were the ones … and they always had a good Sunday dinner on the go – for themselves. Which suited me no end. I’d get a big knife from the drawer, and hack off a fine slab of bacon, and grab a bit of cabbage, and a spud. When I’d sit down to this feast, I felt like the King of Ireland!! I’d have cut the meat off sideways, so had fat and lean. Removing all the fat would have made the eagle-eyed Missus suspicious. Having consumed this gorgeous grub, I would clean plate,, knife and fork, and return them to exactly where I’d found them. Because the Missus would spot everything, if she copped anything. I never took too much, only having a small belly.

Also, I stole not a penny. That would have doomed future visits, as anyone having a bit of cash in those tough days knew exactly how much – or little – they had. I would snaffle a few ‘cuts’ of bread – never taking a loose slice – but cutting them off the ‘heel.’ Loose slices would likely be missed.

On the way out, I would visit the henhouse. Always just taking two or three eggies. That few wouldn’t be missed. My old Mammy loved an egg on her toast of a morning. She never queried their sudden appearance. Probably guessed!

One Sunday when I was wiring into a great feed, I got a fair shock. The back door opened suddenly, and there was I, a tattered mendicant child – spooning illegally got victuals into my face!! A big fellow stood in the doorway, watching me, as surprised as I was. “And who” he go, “have we got here?” Realising I was snagged, I told the truth. “I’m from up the road a bit, my name is Neddie Egan.”

“Ah, an Egan” he replied, musingly. “Ye haven’t much up there at the Cross of Baurscoobe, have ye?” To which I replied “Naw, the bookie eats our food, every day.”

He came and sat down across from me. Big enough to put me in his pocket. “I suppose Cate – [the Missus of the house] – wouldn’t know about your little visit, Neddie? She’s not one for throwing grub around. My sister, but a tight one. I live in England, and when I come home, I give her a few pounds to cover my stay. I only come back here to walk the fields and talk to the animals. Not much good with people, me. That’s probably why the wife ran off, a good while ago. But you needn’t fear me, Neddie –- eat as much as you want – I haven’t even seen you!” That, with a grin!

Well, that was a good one! It turned out he always came to the area at night, by hackney car, up from Waterford Port. Same when he left. Only walked the home-farm lands, spent his days sitting by hedges or dykes or ditches, or walls, leaning against trees. Happy. Never answering anyone’s greeting, just a wave of the hand, and a friendly smile. Acting mute, which he certainly was not.

“ You know, young Egan, I was born in this house.” This was news to me. “I pulled out early in life. Went away to England, and got ready for what I always wanted to do. But first I had to learn a bit about electrics, and also bricklaying. So I worked as a labourer in those trades for a few years, and watched everything that the tradesmen did. Having a natural sharp memory, I would soon be ‘helping’ the main man, which would suit us both! And do you know what I wanted to be, Neddie E? Three guesses!” So I thought, out loud……… to be continued.

Ned E


The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of The Kilkenny Observer.

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