If any one thread runs between my weekly blogs, it's the rivers. Being at the meeting place of the three sisters, the Rivers Barrow, Nore and Suir, that's probably not a surprise. But in all those blogs, one I think has been missing, the social element of the rivers, the connections between its riverside communities and the activities it brought.
One of my earliest memories of this interconnection was as a nipper going in the punt with my Father, Bob and Uncle Sonny to a wake in Great Island, directly across the river in Co Wexford. On reaching the quayside, I recall the fear of walking on the timber slated jetty, expecting I'd trip or fall down between the gaps. Next along the old road and under the Barrow Bridge, towering above me and worrying a train might come along. All new and wondrous. Then a concreted driveway, and a sweep down to an old two storey house, the driveway of which was lined with groups, predominately of men, and we stopped and talked to all. Into the house then and I have a memory of being wrapped up in female hospitality, ushered into a kitchen and a huge fuss being made, while the men went elsewhere. Although only snatches of memory, the overall feeling was of acceptance and welcome.
My grandmother often talked about boating trips on the river and visiting "neighbours". In her glass case she kept her mementos amongst which for years was a carefully folded piece of newspaper, upon which was a poem. Occasionally she'd take it out as she reminisced about these trips, and at some point would include her reciting these lines called Dunbrody by Kathy Leach, a contemporary of hers, who lived in the High Street, Cheekpoint.
In the springtime and in the summer, autumn and winter too.
I can see Dunbrody Abbey, nestling close beside the Suir;
I can see Dunbrody Abbey standing there so quiet and still,
sorrounded by the green fields, and the banks of Campile Pill.
How we loved the Sunday evenings in the summer long ago;
We urged the boys to get a boat, we coaxed them for to row.
They were great navigators, we never had a spill.
But sure we were delighted when we got through Campile Pill.
Then we went to see the Abbey, it looked so peaceful there.
It is a sacred place, where holy monks did pray.
We thought it part of heaven as we went on our way.
Up to Horeswood Chapel, where the bell rings every day.
When I hear the angelus bell ring, now calling all to pray,
it brings back golden memories of bygone happy days;
The old friends are all scattered now, some are dead and gone.
But rememberance of Dunbrody will forever linger on.
And of course there were events such as the regattas which I covered recently and the dances in the village. Not just in the Reading Room, but also at the cross roads and on the village green and on the strand road. I haven't a notion how they were organised, but have no doubt but that was as easy to promote and we would find it now. Passed by boat to boat, person to person, or maybe prearranged and agreed in a cyclical fashion. Apparently they would try to match the prevailing tides and would travel the rivers to Glass house, Ballinlaw, Great Island, Campile, Ballyhack and beyond. My father told me he could recall the stage being brought from the Reading Room to the Green. Apparently a great fuss was made to have the village looking at its best. And then via the river they came, in punt prong and sailing yawl and pleasure craft and an evening of song, music and dancing was enjoyed long into the summer nights. I've never seen a photo of it, but below is one I came across in a book called Lismore by Eugene F Dennis, which might give a sense.
As a consequence of the fishing, the travel and the social outings the communities of the river were much closer in the past. Marriage between the villages was more common and those ties strengthened the bonds between us. My Grandmother (her Grandfather was a Malone of Clearystown below New Ross) was often to be heard commenting on the happenings over in Nuke(directly across from the Russianside, in Co Wexford). Maybe it was the Whitty's and whether the boats were moored off, or fishing. Or compliment Mrs Murphy having the smoke out early in the morning, or maybe that there was a light on overnight in Shalloes and wondering if anyone was sick. I can often recall Josie Whitty of Nuke, who died earlier this year herself, attending local funerals in Faithlegg.
But this last generation has seen a dramatic shift in this connection to the rivers. The loss of the fishing has certainly played a decisive role, but already the old traditional ways were under threat. Perhaps even more so its being faced with so many options and activities, that the simpler pleasures have been lost. Odd when you think that we have never had such great opportunities to communicate, that those that are a little more than a half mile away now feel so distant.
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