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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

Johnny L-----

Johnny L----- was a West Wicklow man like myself. And he was similar to me in the sense that he wasn’t considered too bright. He was fairly old when I knew him. Well he was as old as I am now. (and that’s old enough for anyone, says you) but stories of his younger days were legion. Johnny was illiterate all his life . . . so needless to say he couldn’t read or write when he was going to school. The Powers that were, at the time, weren’t all that bothered about such things. As long as a person was considered sufficiently informed to save their immortal Soul that was all that mattered. What harm if you died with the hunger as long as Eternal Salvation was at the end of it.

When Johnny was aged about ten he was travelling the hill road one day in charge of three goats; two of them swivelled together and one of them free-lance, so to speak. Who comes along (?) only the Parish Priest. Now, at the time it wasn’t unusual for a Priest to stop even an adult on the road and ask them a question from the Catechism. So he asked Johnny, “ How many Divine persons are there in the one true God”.

The blank stare informed his reverence that a satisfactory answer wasn’t forthcoming and that a bit of religious instruction was called for. “There are three Divine persons in the one true God” he said, “The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost . Do you understand that”?

The answer was in the affirmative but the man-of-the-cloth decided to give Johnny a little memory hook. “Now,” says he “ So that you’ll remember in future just think of these three goats; “That goat is God the Father, the one tied to him is God the Son and the goat on his own is God The Holy Ghost”.

A few days later the Priest meets Johnny again but this time minus the venison. “Well” says he “ Name the Divine Persons in the one true God”.

Without hesitation Johnny answered, “God the Father and the Holy Ghost”.

“And what” says the Priest, ”happened to God the Son?”

“He hung himself down a ditch, Father, and only for Joe Clarke came along he would have took God the Father with him”.

When Johnny’s formal education terminated (or maybe nowadays truncated would be a more appropriate word) needless to say he didn’t go into the bank or take up a clerical position. And surprisingly enough he didn’t even go into politics. His employment was always of an agricultural nature. While employed in such a capacity with Peter Doyle of Ballyknockan, part of his duties consisted of bringing in the eggs. One day while heading towards the farm-house with a hatful of healthy looking embryo-chickens, a neighbour commented, “They’re a fine egg, Johnny”

“Begob they are”says Johnny “it wouldn’t take many o’ them to make a dozen”.

It was while he was in that particular employment that he advised a neighbouring farmer against buying a specific filly on the grounds that there was a history of infertility in her lineage; or, as Johnny put it, “ If I was you I wouldn’t buy that one, she won’t breed because the mother o’ that one didn’t have any foals.”

Once when he cut his hand with a broken bottle, it necessitated stitching and Dr. Clearkin, in Blessington, charged him four guineas for inserting five stitches. As Johnny was parting with the relevant amount he was heard to say,”….I wouldn’t care to get you to make a suit”.

While he would at times like the rest of us in general and George Bushe in particular say things arse-ways he was capable of delivering a message. There was, at the time, a travelling library, run by Wicklow County Council, which used to visit the area every Wednesday. . .

***’s niece was a member and one week she gave him her ticket with an instruction. **** went to the librarian with the ticket and the request, “ Mary wants a classic novel”.

“How about Pride and Prejudice”? says the librarian. “No” says Johnny “ she only wants the one”.

While, as I say, he could deliver a message he wouldn’t always relay the information verbatim ( now verbatim is not a term that Johnny himself would use--although he did have bigger words). One night an in-law of his read out an account of a hit and-run- accident from the Irish Press and when Johnny was passing on the news the next morning his account was as follows; “The motor car didn’t stop and the poor hoor was left lyin’ prostitute at a Presbyterian crossing”.

Like myself he would sometimes use language that wouldn’t be considered fit for polite company, such as yourselves. On one such occasion he went down to bring in his brother’s cows and it was a wet evening which, as is the way with cows, meant they were at the furthest point of the field and reluctant to come home. Johnny went inside the gate and first crack walked in a hole of water . . . down the bottom of the field he stepped in a boghole. And, not being a man to learn from his mistakes he put his foot in the first hole again on the way back up.

When the bovines were safely in the byre his brother asked him to go out and dig a bucket of spuds. The more quotable part of Johnny’s reply was”……I’m after getting’ three wet feet today already”.

While he wouldn’t have been au fait with the finer points of Irish history he did, nevertheless, have practical views on our past. One day when an erudite gentleman was pointing out the great boon that the Famine-relief schemes had been to the people of the area, Johnny put in his tuppenceworth. He said, “Sure, they would have died with the hunger around here on’y for the Famine”.

On another occasion a stranger, who, obviously had some knowledge of West Wicklow’s historic past was looking at the old and weathered tombstones in Templeboden graveyard. He said, “I’m sure there’s ’98 men buried in there”. “Begob, there is” says Johnny, “or there could be over 100 in it”.

When the Russians put up the first Sputnik, Sputnik One, what year was that? Me oul head is going. I think it was 1957. Anyhow we’d all be out at night marvelling at this moving star flying across the night sky. That is until Johnny warned us of the danger, ”Yez are all gone mad looking up at this Sput Nick yoke” says he, “if a linchpin or a bould hops out of it an’ hits wan o’ yez, yez won’t be so fond of it”.

Maybe I was unfair to Johnny when I pointed out that he wasn’t likely to become a member of Mensa. Because in his own way he was capable of assimilating information, which is what intelligence is all about; one day, in the Fair of Blessington, he established that it was snowing in some parts of the county while it was fine in others. As he watched the carts and vans arriving from different places he observed that “ . . . there’s snow on some of them and some on none of them”.

Even by the standards of the day personal hygiene wasn’t high on Johnny's list of priorities. But he did shave . . . infrequently . . . with the open- or cut-throat- razor. Among the many skills which he lacked was the ability to put a keen edge on the razor. One summers evening, at the end of Kyle lane, the subject of whetting came up for discussion among the assembled males (some barely of shaving age). Many suggestions were put forward by those who considered themselves knowledgeable in that field. Everything from, “ finish it off on your forearm” to give it a rub around the outside of a two-pound jam-pot” was put forward as the recipe for a fine edge.

Johnny listened attentively and took on board one piece of advice in particular. Next evening when he arrived at the usual rendezvous his face was a sight. . . . It was in bits. . . . It would have been a haematologist’s Paradise. His opening line, as he gingerly touched one jaw, was, “I don’t give a %7/$* what ye say lads, the scythe-stone is not the thing for the razor”.

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