Dick Carmody was born in Listowel, Co.Kerry. He grew up in nearby townland of Derry from where he attended Clounmacon National School from 1950 to 1958. He worked for over 40 years in education administration and management in Dublin, Galway and Tralee. He now resides in Tralee. In 2012 he published ‘In the Shadow of the School – memories of growing up in rural North Kerry in the 1950`s.
The Big Dyke
The Big Dyke was only a few short steps across the limestone road from our front gate. It probably got its name because of the convergence of two smaller streams at this location. One flowed for about half a mile from Carmody’s Wood, near the Mail Road, and between Healy’s fields and high bog, gathering brown bog water along the way. At the Dromin Road, just outside our upper haggard, it merged with another smallish stream which sourced much of its clearer water from the many springs that bubbled up all about the Upper Drom and Pound fields in Walsh’s farm, about a mile away. Long before my time and memory, the Board of Works had seen the need to deepen the Big Dyke to prevent occasional flooding. To do so, they had to cut through a submerged fallen tree-trunk that had lay buried in the peaty soil for, perhaps, two to three millennia. This was done by two men using a ‘cross-cut’ saw to cut through the two-foot plus diameter of what was now fully preserved ‘black rock’ or bog oak. The gap cut in the tree trunk allowed for an easier and faster flow of water but also provided our family with an unintended aid to procuring water for household and farm needs. The remaining sections of tree-trunk on either side became useful steps from which to dip the buckets against the water flow and using the weight of the full bucket, to swing one-self back out over the dyke and onto the safety of the bank.
Though the old house and farmyard are long since gone, the Big Dyke flows on, and on, as do the memories of its usefulness. For our home, without the benefit of a water well, it was the main source of water for a whole range of household and farm related uses. Cast-iron kettles and pots were constantly boiling on the crane over the open fire to provide for washing, making ‘mess’ for animals and many other chores.
While ‘spring’ water was available from the pump in Healy’s yard nearby, in an emergency, the ‘dyke’ water might be called into service. The constantly singing kettle over the turf fire was an assurance that any imperfections were well destroyed before use.
It was at the corner of the Big Dyke, under the overhanging black sally bush that most activity took place. It was here we drove the cows in winter to water while we stowed the stalls/byres and filled their mangers with fresh hay. During their short walk there and back in pairs, with three or four-pronged pikes and coarse brush we shifted the dung of the previous twenty-four hours off their stand onto the cobblestone channel and out onto the dung heap. It was here too we buried the ‘clearing’ or afterbirth following the calving so as to prevent any marauding dogs from harming the recently calved cows. Finished drinking, the cows would walk back and resume their familiar positions in the stall.
Down the same well worn path to the dyke, we would take working horses to water while the ‘meitheal’ partook of whatever dinner was available on the day, with no valuable time to be wasted on either horse or worker. Here too, we submerged the bundles of thatching scallops/scolbs, all cut to size, split and pointed ready for the local thatcher. When needed, they would be still fresh, flexible and unlikely to break when bent. At the steps, we raised bucket after bucket of water for the mixing of mass concrete for the building of the new store and for replacing the old mud and rush walls of the cow stalls. All the gravel required for both had to be ‘banked’ on the River Feale and transported by hired tractor/trailer to the side of the road outside the haggard gate. Here on the limestone road, the gravel was measured out by the shovel before adding the Portland cement bought in from McKenna’s Yard in Listowel. The 6:1 mix was turned over twice before adding the water and then followed the even harder job of turning over the increasingly wet mix. From the timber wheel-barrow, the heavy concrete mix was soon being shovelled and packed into wooden panels/shuttering, secured by wire cross ties. It would be some time yet before mechanical mixers made an appearance.
Other happenings also come to mind. As when, ‘home alone’ one day, I filled an old pipe of my father’s with tea and took myself to the ‘steps’ at the Big Dyke before lighting up. On inhaling, I found myself feeling dizzy and retreated to safety up the sharp embankment beside the dyke to the safety of the road. I remember too that Sunday when we returned from Mass in Listowel in my brother, Tom’s Ford Prefect. In our rush inside the house to change out of our ‘Sunday Best’, we left a car door open. A little while later, my mother went to put on the dinner and couldn’t find the meat she had purchased earlier in Listowel. Despatched to get it from the back seat of the car, I spied Shep, our very own sheepdog, on the high ground above the Big Dyke, happily working his way through the piece of ‘fresh meat’, still in its brown paper wrapping. We had to forego our piece of ‘round’ steak – sirloin, fillet and striploin yet to be in any great demand, and had to settle for a few fried eggs and pandy on this occasion.
At a very young age I might have believed that money ‘grew on trees’. As I drove cattle to the Big Dyke one day, I noticed a multicoloured contraption embedded in the black sally bush in the corner. Though a little apprehensive, I investigated the unusual object before taking it home to find it was a damaged weather balloon that had been released from Valentia Weather Station, almost a hundred miles away in South Kerry. Attached was a carefully wrapped, weather-proof packet containing information about the balloon, with packing instructions for its return to the Irish Meteorological Office in Dublin and a promise of a reward for its safe return. And so it was, as a short time after, I received a ‘thank-you’ letter in the post with a payment for the postage and a further sum of ten-shillings for my efforts.
We often searched the Big Dyke in vain, looking for ‘ciseáiníns’, not realising that they would not have thrived or survived in the brown silted bog water. We sometimes watched as both wren and rabbit played ‘hide ‘n seek’ in and around the bright yellow furze bushes that grew plentifully on the higher right bank in Healy’s bog.
On the occasions when the Big Dyke flooded and overflowed its banks, sometimes to a depth of a foot or more at Dore’s Cross, our first thoughts were usually for Tommy, one of three bachelor brothers who lived ‘in the fields’ a short distance from our house. He cycled regularly to the village of Newtown(sandes), now known as Moyvane. As his sight was very poor, he tended to wear glasses with lenses like bottle ends. Though we always feared the worst, Tommy, who was devout and God-fearing, always made it home safely through the flood.
Past our house, the Big Dyke gained momentum and mass as, beyond ‘the hill o’ the road’, it gathered the outflow of numerous smaller dykes and drains coming off the usually peaty soil on either side of the road. Soon it dipped under the road at Dore’s Cross and then continued north before turning west between Danny Connor’s meadow and Mick Mac’s field which was often tilled for potatoes and oats. It turned north again at our own ‘three-quarters’ field, at which point we used the deep flow to ‘rise’ water for cattle, often using a 5-gallon bucket suspended on a rope when we were unwilling or unable to prime the mechanical pump or ‘soaker’ mounted on an old tar barrel on the bank beside the water trough.
From here it raced on to be joined by water from the Glaise which divided the Derry and Meen Bogs and which carried a substantial flow since it was widened and deepened as part of the Arterial Drainage Scheme of the 1950’s. This scheme resulted in badly needed land drainage and improvement but also some tragedy, as when Danny, a local youth, was killed in a work-related accident while engaged in the movement of large mats or sleepers used to support the huge and heavy Ruston-Bucyrus dredging crane as it moved along the river bank. From here the ever increasing flow now passed under the ‘Burma Road’, which had been built to provide lorry and machinery access to the Bord na Móna turf-cutting scheme in Meen Bog. There now only remained the last short stretch between the lands of Denis Connor and Jack Finucane before the Big Dyke entered the trout-rich River Gale(y), having made an important contribution to the lives and times of the people of Clountubrid, Derry, Clounprohus and Meen.
Despite the changes that have since taken place and the passing of the many generations who travelled this way, the Big Dyke still flows freely, a witness to our memories and a soon-to-be-forgotten way of life. It will always be fondly remembered by me for the magic, mystery and mishaps that it visited on my rural childhood of the ‘50’s.