It was a beautiful morning last May with a light frost. The chorus of birds was lifting my spirits. I was enjoying an early walk. Suddenly I remembered. I had forgotten that I was on the 8.00 Mass! I had walked at least two miles too far! A mild surge of panic hit me. I would never make it. To run I was not able. Well, not three miles! I did not want to disappoint that special group and keep them waiting. That would be coming close to a crisis. It would take a long time to recover from this one! I quickened the steps. I hurled a few prayers as the sun was casting its rays over Ballygurrane. How would I be able to explain myself? Late again!
And then I heard it – The rumble of a tractor in the distance. Would I thumb a lift? Would it be my good luck to meet a decent soul who would give me a break?
Was it prayer or sympathy or both that slowed him down? I leapt onto the bar. Behind him on the tractor I had a grand view of the countryside. The old Ferguson was moving at a steady pace. Not easy to talk because of the noise of the engine and fumes from the exhaust. The sheep were creating a racket in the trailer. My friend was a fine healthy man from Cregmore. Bronzed by weather and hard-work, he wanted to get in early for the Mart.
I felt that I had aroused his curiosity. An unusual sight at this hour! We started about the weather and the price of lambs. But then it got more serious. This is natural at that hour of the morning. “Not many out on the road in weather gear! Where was I staying? Was I long in Athenry? Where did I come from? Was I married? How did I make a living?” At last, I felt the least I may do was to declare my identity! How would he take it? I wanted to get the lift badly! What was his humour like? Had he any bad experience with his own parish Priest?
I told him who I was. Slowly, he turned around and smiled up at me! He winked with the left eye. I was safe. I had met a decent man. He welcomed me to Athenry. Did I really appreciate the parish I had been sent to? Had it really come home to me over the months how lucky I was?
This was his chance now…”Will you look out there”, he said, throwing his long brown arm to his right. “Look at that land – nothing like that in Mayo…By God there is nothing like it around Clifden …. ” “Sorry, Father, for using His Name, but am I right. Look at the cattle. Have you seen anything like them before”? I knew I was in for a lecture! But I did not mind.
Anything, even abuse. As long as I got back in time.
Then he stretched his left hand,”Will you take a look at the sheep…look at their condition. Not like the scrawny black-heads running wild like mountain goats.” But we were doing fine.
I would have even hit a bar of a song for him if he asked me! The diesel fumes of course would not help. He knew he had a diligent student! And I kept listening.
Passing by Coffey Construction, he shouted back to me. “Building bridges and roads and digging all over Ireland and England”. I was now wondering if he was now going to get into bricks and mortar. “Wouldn’t it make a fine slatted shed? he said. I wished him well at Prospect. I was awfully grateful.
To be sure, I would say a prayer for him. And many a one since, because he really put me thinking. And I’ll tell you why. I know the land is important. So also the cattle, the sheep and the Mart but is it not the people that make the difference.
What good would it be to have a fine table set out with a rich variety of food with empty chairs around it? People make the difference. Parish is about people. And everyone is important.
We’ll be talking about this again. God Bless.
Written by Tony King
Published here 09 Feb 2021 and originally published June 1995
A Fair Day: Recollections of 60 years in Athenry
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