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Random Reminiscences of a Youth Spent in Ballingeary
by Donnchadh Ó Luasaigh
Baile An Chollaigh



Is it long since you picked a sciortán?  It must have been donkey's years since I performed such a specific operation.  Long ago it was quite usual - maybe it still is but that I am no longer in the sciortán circle.  I no longer go to the far-away bog footing tough turf and I didn't turn hay  for ages, so maybe that is why I am no longer acquainted with them small obstinate little suckers.  I suppose they are still doing their act somewhere - maybe it is that I myself am no longer as good a menu in times of plenty.  And let me tell you that sciortáns are no fools.  What insect or animal is?  In fact they say that the bold fox is so cute that he never delegates to anyone as there is no one cleverer than himself available.

But coming to reflect on it, where have all the fleas also gone to?  When I was a little garsún in short trousers made by the tailor from Johnstown it was rare to see a young fellow's neck without plenty flea-bites dotted all over it.  Nasty little things too, that is the fleas.  A relative of mine who spent a night in Athy years ago didn't sleep a wink due to a flea invasion.  Isn't it very strange happenings I am recalling.  Regression!  Or maybe it's my own obsession.

I don't see any fellow lately with a big purple swollen sore finger.  Whitlows we called the condition at the time.  They were horrible old things and quite painful.  I wonder were they caused from being run-down or 'undernourished' to quote the modern lingo.  Whatever caused them they were quite common at the time.  I haven't seen one le fada an lá.  Coming to think of it, in my father's time the five fingers were titled:  méar mhór, méar na leiteann ( the one for stirring the stir-about), peigí flintí, mary liúití and liúití beag.  In later years they were called - ordóg, méar thosaigh, méar fhada, méar an fháinne and an lúidín.  The oul' fingers are very important lads!

Another complaint which seems to be out of fashion now is the craobhabhar or sty that pestered the eye region.  A sore old boyo!  And rightly so as it was said that the three sorest parts of the body were the eye, the knee and the elbow (súil, glúine agus uille).  So they said anyhow, más fíor bréag!

The chin-cough was another common malady in my youth with lads barking all over the place.  It is now called 'whooping cough' and I have never heard it in recent times since the custom of inoculation against it was introduced.  But it was not being prevented then and the disease was quite common.  It lasted for quite a while too and was very annoying.

Oh dear, things were so different then - measles, scarlet fever, mumps, scabies, boils and diphtheria were amongst the many illnesses of the day and indeed the night.  At least steps were taken to prevent small pox as "cutting the pox" was done on young people, many of us still bearing the distinctive scars on the arm.  The generation before mine seemed to have five scars; there were four in mine and it dropped to three or even two later on.  Now there are none.

In those far-off days too, visits to or from the doctor were few and far between.  So few, that doctor's visits then were linked to kicking the bucket.  And if the priest was also seen to visit somebody it was a sure sign of impending death.

I was told a story about a man from Ballingeary who went to the dentist in Macroom to have a few teeth extracted.  All went well until your man raised an unexpected shout from him in the middle of the procedure.  The dentist got a terrible shock - he thought the pliers had been swallowed or that some major problem had arisen.  "What is wrong with you?" he asked with intrepidation.  "I forgot to eat my dinner" says your man.  So much for priorities!  Our friend was later seen in a local eating house doing his best with a big feed despite his oral condition.  There were all sorts of species oozing out between his remaining grinders as you will imagine.

There was an another old man who went to the doctor complaining of a terrible pain in his leg.  The doctor duly examined the affected limb.  "I regret to tell, my good man, that your pain is due to old age" he said.  "I don't agree with you at all" says your man, "my other leg is exactly the same age and there's nothing in the world or under the sun wrong with it."  So, there you go!

There's an interesting story told of a car that went off the road as it was being driven on the Renanirree side of Béal a'Ghleanna.  It was occupied by four tourists.  It somersaulted several times and ended up in the very deep valley down below.  When at last it stopped, the rattled occupants emerged and , would you believe, took photographs of the incident, or was it the accident.  I think it was a miracle that no one was hurt.

On learning the story of how injury was avoided an old local man exclaimed - "They must have recited their prayers very well that morning."  It was later rumoured that they never said a prayer in their lives.  So, there you go again!

We were told that St. Patrick never visited Ballingeary during his mission around Ireland.  It was said that he came as far as Ros Mór, looking westward, raised his hand in blessing and exclaimed - "Beannaím uaim siar sibh."

So now to finish my rambles and to cheer you up I will ask you to give me the longest word in the English language.  The best I can do is 'antidisestablishmentarianism'.  Maybe you can do better, although some one said one time that 'smiles' was the longest word as there was a mile between the first letter and the last.  So you may smile away now if you wish - not alone will you enjoy it, but it will also help your health.

Caithimís uaim é mar scéal!