A Cow called Baggio
If it wasn’t for the second postal strike we might never have met Andrew and Oonah (Úna) Leddy. Their beautiful little jasmine painted bungalow has been my refuge for many a year now and we have been able to observe their life develop alongside ours. When we first stayed with them, the year of the hunger strikes, we were the first people they had ever looked after under their own roof. We were also the first signatories in their visitor’s book. At this time all they had was their new bungalow and an acre or so of land. They named it “Sycamore View” for obvious reasons.
Since then they have acquired more land and some cattle. Andrew left the wood turning firm he worked for and started up on his own and now has a large workshop plonked on the original acre or so of land. Other outbuildings have sprung up since our first stay. The land they have acquired is suitable for cattle and one field is “flat” and could sustain crops, but Andrew is fully occupied with his woodturning business and Úna has now got (or had at the last count) thirty five cows to see to.
County Cavan is probably most famous for the Marble Arch cave system and it’s drumlins. These are small hills in the form of mounds. They are actually glacial deposits left behind from the ice age. During the early years of man’s development, basic defence consisted naturally of gaining the high ground so if you were attacked or you didn’t get on with your neighbour, you could lob stones at them from above. The top of a drumlin offered an excellent vantage point from which to spot potential enemies and even potential meals, wild boars for example. On the top and around the sides of one of Andrew’s drumlins are the ruins of one such Neolithic hillfort.
Stonehenge or Newgrange it is not, but all the same, it is several thousands of years old and opens a small window into Ireland’s prehistoric past. The view from the top of this drumlin is excellent. You can see Drumlane Abbey with it’s almost complete round tower and the ancient graveyard, Drumlane and Derrybrick Loughs along with all the roads in the valley bottom. These would have been tracks in prehistoric times and from the top you would have had an excellent view of potential aggressors as they passed through your territory.
A couple of years after moving into Sycamore View, Andrew and Una bought a lot of the surrounding land to avoid being boxed in and also to develop into farmland. After the acquisition of the land, the first calves arrived. I was over there at the time of their arrival. One of them had influenza and was in a bad state on the day I left for home. Luckily it survived and became one of the modest herd they have to this day.
We pulled up in the yard one year, to the usual greetings and the good news that a calf had been born. We’d only missed the calving by 5 minutes. At the time Ireland were playing Italy in Rome in the Football World Cup quarter-finals. They eventually went down 2-0. As usual the Italian fans went berserk. Scillacci scored first and then at the exact moment the calf was being born a certain Roberto Baggio wrong footed Donegal born Packi Bonner in the Irish goal to score a second. Una’s cows were not numbered, they all had names, so the new arrival was to be no exception, it was to be called Baggio! A cow called Baggio. A flipping cow called Baggio, would you believe it?
Imagine the scenario. Its a balmy summers evening, the fairies are dancing in the glen in the pale moonlight, the leprechauns are out pinching gold from travellers pockets as usual and high up on a drumlin near Drumlane lay Daisy, Gertrude, Rose and Petal, chewing their cud.
Then far away in a corner of the field is a single roan cow playing keepsie, flicking a ball up in the air with it’s horns then blasting the perfect overhead kick into the nearest hawthorn bush! Goaaaal Baggio!
Andrew and Una have always had a dog ever since I have known them and now with cattle they could not really do without one. They always have border collies. These are by far the most intelligent of our canine friends. Lassie was the first, she was old and eventually went blind as most borders do, before she died, but she got to know us even though we only stayed twice a year. The second one was only a pup but lots of time had been spent training her with the cattle. She was just getting round to responding to commands when she disappeared.
Apparently there were gangs of thieves up from Kerry taking young dogs with them back down south and selling them to the farmers down there. A fully trained Border collie or even a half-trained one is a valuable asset to any farmer. At the time, sheepdog rustling, as it was locally termed, was rife and the Cavan farmers became more vigilant with regard to all their livestock after these incidents. There was no animal cruelty involved as far as anyone knew, but all the time and effort, which had gone into training a dog, was wasted. It took just seconds to entice a friendly little puppy into a white transit van and off it was to a new home 100 miles away. Same job, same terrain but new master. Morally wrong and downright theft. Nasty people.
The latest dog is called Flossie and she is a very intelligent dog. She is a very good stockman’s dog, she knows her job inside out and in the evenings when she is locked away in the workshop she will bark at the slightest thing. Having said that, she is as daft as a brush (although I’ve never quite worked out how a brush can be daft).
Once when she was just a pup, she thought it was great fun one night, to chew off my shoelaces whilst I was dozing in the chair after my tea. I left my keepnet out to air in the garden one night and she chewed a great big hole in that as well. As I have previously mentioned, Flossie sleeps in the workshop. Her bed is a pile of dry wood shavings and sawdust. She is a very generous dog; she shares her bed with several other creatures, judging by the amount of scratching that she does.
Every morning at daylight she is let out. She does a comprehensive reconnoitre, then goes into the field for a roll about. She knows her duties very well and accompanies Una to the fields to round up the cattle, stopping every few yards for a quick scratch. She is always there as we are loading up our cars for our days fishing, fussing about, sniffing at the maggots and the keepnets. She is especially interested in the previous day’s groundbait bowls into which we might have added cinnamon, almond, or vanilla essence to attract the fish. Like most dogs she just loves to be the centre of attention, and with all of us being animal lovers, she gets more than her fair share.
On the window ledge outside the kitchen window Una fills half a coconut shell with solid fat for the birds to pick at. We have had a one legged Robin visit us for a couple of years now, along with Pied and Yellow Wagtails, Bluetits, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, as well as the ubiquitous House Sparrow. There is always a lot of wildlife to observe in Ireland. It is a largely unspoilt country with natural hedgerows for the birds, and unlike Britain there isn’t a plague of magpies, in fact you hardly ever see one. I have seen birds in Ireland I had only previously seen on David Attenborough programmes on the television.
I heard a curlew before I saw one, because I had never heard a sound like it from the sky before, so it automatically made me look up. In a later chapter I will enlighten you further with my limited ornithological acumen.
As I have mentioned before, Una is an excellent cook. The meals are wonderful, although I always have to apologise for leaving some because there is invariably more on my plate than I can tackle. She always brings a large tureen of potatoes out half way through the meal. Without meaning to be disrespectful, I can’t for the life of me understand why she thinks we should want anymore on top of the immense mound of food we already have on our plates. I am struggling to remember anyone ever wanting more potatoes, although my mate Ado seems to ring a bell. They don’t go to waste though, she will make potato cakes out of them and serve them up with our breakfast and this is how she will do it.
Recipe for Potato Cakes
1 lb. of boiled potatoes, 4 oz-ish of flour,
1 oz of butter, 2 tsp. of salt and one egg,
Mash the potatoes, mix in the egg and salt and butter, then work in as much flour as the potatoes will absorb. Turn onto a floured surface then roll into rounds a quarter of an inch thick. Gently cook on a skillet or a heavy based frying pan until golden brown, or leave to go cold and freeze it for later use, in which case fry it in hot bacon fat until it’s golden.
I feel the Pavlov’s dog syndrome coming on again just by writing about food! I’ve put herbs and pepper in sometimes to give them a different taste. Chuck ‘owt in, go on, experiment, be a devil. Now then, that surprised you didn’t it? Who is Delia Smith anyway?