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Up the Boreen in Co. Claire

Submitted by Ann

A Boreen in Co. Clare

A Boreen in Co. Clare

For those who don't know, a boreen is a country lane in Ireland. Pat and Joe's cottage is at the very end of a boreen, nestled in an acre of land.

When they first viewed the cottage, it was nothing more than a shell - an old, run-down shambles of a place, the garden overgrown with weeds and tall grasses, no-one was interested in purchasing it It had been on the market for a long time. It was their daughter who spotted it.. However, Pat and Joe viewed it and Joe, being a builder, and a good one, decided he could do something with it. So, they bought the place, a ruin.

Won't go into the details of how he built it up, as this is only a story, not a book, but they moved in after some preliminary work had been carried out. The old house had only a living room which also served as a kitchen - kitchen sink and all. They lived there and Joe worked away. They had no bathroom, just a toilet. Two bedrooms and that was it.

Anyway, Joe brought it up to date, installed a bathroom with shower, built a kitchen, bought a fireplace, installed central heating and it was at last habitable. He then had to work on the overgrown acre. I think he had to cut down several trees in the process and I don't know how he eventually managed to get it into the charming cottage and garden it is today. He now has an orchard, a rose garden, "the walk", a patio and probably other things which I have left out. This is just the background to the true story which I am about to tell.

My late Aunt Annie had recently lost her two sisters and, as Pat had a spare room, and as Annie always had a dream of living in the Republic of Ireland, she moved down to the Cottage. Everything was ideal, Annie was happy, Pat was happy with the company and Annie would clear up the dishes after dinner, as she was used to at home. They were all very happy.

However, after some years Annie became confused, as happens with elderly people. She couldn't be left on her own. So, one year, Pat, Joe and their whole family decided to have a holiday in Spain for 2 weeks. They asked Dominic and I if we would come down and look after my Aunt Annie. We didn't mind a bit. I probably had been my aunt's favourite niece and we were very close. I envisaged two weeks in beautiful surroundings, sitting in the garden where Joe had made a lovely patio area, admiring the roses and dining on his fresh vegetables. A really relaxing holiday and Annie would be no bother.

So, down we went, bringing wee Rachel with us. When we arrived, the sky was ominously dark but Pat reassured me that they had been having beautiful weather for weeks. We stayed there the first night before Pat and Joe left for Spain. We had a good evening's craic before going to bed. However, when we retired to bed, I noticed how dark it was in the country with no street lights. I also noticed the quietness but with Pat and Joe there I felt safe enough. Plus, there was Poteen, a wee Yorkie who barked at any noise.

Next morning I mentioned my apprehensions to them. Pat said, "For goodness sake, we're so isolated, no-one would ever find us, even if they wanted to". But, just as a wee addage, she mentioned that Joe had a hurling stick beside his bed, plus a shotgun. That unsettled me a wee bit, but I put it out of my head, because Pat and Joe were still there and their family were in the house too. Plenty of company, which I love.

Anyway, off the whole family went, except for one daughter and a son-in-law. Pat showed me an emergency telephone she had, which was for Annie's use really. (if Annie had fallen while they were out shopping or anything, she only had to press this red button). She told me that if I pressed the button, the Gardai and ambulance would be here in 10 minutes, so told me to be sure I didn't use it. That reassured me a bit. I thought to myself, "Well, if tinkers or anyone realise that the Burns' family are on holiday and come here to plunder, all I have to do is press the red button".

We awoke next morning to dull skies and rain. Not too bad, only the first day, and we were getting ourselves accustomed to the cottage. Annie didn't seem too bad. She would waken about 10 am, I would take her in breakfast, then she would lie for a wee while. Afterwards, I would get her up for a shower. I didn't want to roast her with hot water so I tended to keep it more tepid than anything. Annie would protest, "This water's freezing, this is awful, let me out". Then I would dry her off and get her dressed. Sometimes, the clothes I chose wouldn't please as she had her own ideas of what she wanted to wear, even if they were unseasonal. All in all not too bad. Rachel enjoyed the television and I think she and Annie were on the same wavelength so they talked together.

After another several days rain, I was becoming a bit despondent. The place, to me, was really creepy at night, the silence, the darkness, but the thought of that red button kept giving me a degree of security. All those plans we had for Dominic doing the garden while I sat with Annie and Rachel in the sun were long gone. As it was, we were confined to the cottage. Annie didn't want to go anywhere in the car, so we wouldn't force her. She felt safe in the house, didn't know where we would take her to - she was very vulnerable, just like Rachel. In that way, I understood her.

I played all the records Pat had, Perry Como, Dean Martin, Charlie Kunz (now I'll know the younger ones will ask "who the hell is Charlie Kunz"?) but he was a great pianist, all the old records to put in the time, and they did, for a while. Still the rain continued. Annie was rambliing, didn't know who I was or Dominic or even Rachel, who I thought sure she would remember. She had known Rachel before she left Lisburn and had been at her christening.

One day, hurrah, it stopped raining. I brought Annie and Rachel out into the garden - it was beautiful. Dominic did a bit of gardening and the rest of us sat on the patio, in the sun. Wonderful. Taking advantage of the good weather, I had put out a line of white sheets, towels, etc. Annie nudges me, says, "There's nuns down there". Stupidly enough, I says, "Where". "Look", she says, "down at the house, in their white robes". I realised that what she saw were the towels and sheets fluttering in the breeze. "Annie, I says, "how the hell would nuns get here?", me being worse than she. "Look", she says, "they're there". I took her by the arm and brought her down to the line. I showed her the white sheets and towels and tried to tell her that that's what she had thought were nuns. She was having none of it. "No", she says, "they must have gone into the house". At this stage, I realised that Annie was in an in-between world, that there was no use trying to explain who I was and who Dominic was - my old, dear aunt Annie had entered another twilight world. It was sad. The rain started again so we all traipsed indoors.

The wet weather continued for the whole 2 weeks we were there. I became quite depressed. One day, Pat's daughter came over and, when I saw her, I burst into tears, just at the sight of another human being. Even though it was raining, she and I walked round the garden and I explained to her how I felt - lonely, scared at the isolation and fed up with the weather. However, the red button was still there in an emergency, which gave me security. I must add that Dominic is not a John Wayne type of person.

One night, trundling about the bedroom, by accident, I pressed the red button. Thought to myself, "My God, the Gardai and the ambulance will be here in 10 minutes, what will I say"? NO CHANCE. If I'd waited until now, no-one came, so that really set me off - scared to death. What if the tinkers come and slashed our throats, we're so isolated, if we'd shouted at the top of our voices for help, no-one would have heard. I lay at night, listening for every noise, and I was so thankful when the dawn came.

One day I decided to phone home, to hear a living voice. God, what a phone, well, several phones. There was "Annie's phone" in case of an emergency. Then there were two other phones. One gave the greeting "Cead mile Failte", which means "a hundred thousand welcomes" and the other was a "normal" phone. I couldn't get any of them to work. Panic, again. Here, in the wilderness I couldn't even dial 999. In a state, I rang Pat's son-in-law Michael. He came over right away. "Cead mile Failte" my arse, he says, Anyway, whatever he did do, he fixed the phones again, for which I was very grateful.

Can I say one thing? Joe's potatoes. We had those every night for dinner. They were gorgeous, have never tasted potatoes like those before or since. I think they were Queen's. Dominic pulled them up out of the ground, completely fresh. I washed them, and the skin just slid off. They were beautiful - even with all the bad weather and the fears about being in the countryside, those potatoes I can still taste. The potatoes alone made up for all those fears, we had them to look forward to each evening.

When Pat and family came home, Annie didn't recognise them. She thought I was Pat and wanted to come home with me. Put on her coat and hat. I looked at Pat and said, "What will I do"?. I felt so sorry for Annie. Pat suggested that she go into the porch and take Annie with her, and that I get into the car.

By this time, Annie had forgotten me and thought Pat was me. Annie died 3 years ago, she was a very good and holy person and I'm sure she's in Heaven. If she's not, God help the rest of us.

Hope you enjoyed this true tale.