Potholing in Cavan

The potholes threw out a challenge to any driver. The roads around Cavan in particular were notorious for them and even the locals found them tedious. They were not just little holes where you would feel a bump as your wheel hit it, they were enormous ones, some as much as 9” deep. They would not just knock the tracking out, they would take the ball joint out as well. Once I commented that someone should contact the local council to try and get something done about the problem. I was behind the times, someone had already decided to do something about it. At the local elections later that year there were four parties standing for election onto the Cavan County Council; Sinn Fein, Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Pothole Party! The strength of feeling manifested itself and the Pothole Party duly had two representatives voted onto the County Council, one from Sinn Fein and one from Fine Gael. Now that is real democracy for you!

As we were setting off one day to go to Ardan Lough, only a stones-throw from Milltown, Úna our host, informed us we should go down towards Killeshandra to get to Ardan instead of via Milltown as there was a larger than usual pothole in the road near the school. We had heard all about them and they didn’t always pose anywhere near the threat people said. Of course we knew best. On arriving at the school we were confronted by an eight feet wide, three feet deep pothole! Now this was a real pothole, not one of your Mickey Mouse ones like we have in England. Moral: listen to the locals, they know best.

It was always a bit hairy driving the four miles back from the bar at midnight, trying to dodge the potholes in the dark, but after a couple of days we soon got to know where they were and could take early evasive action. This was all well and good but if there was something coming in the opposite direction unless you came to a full stop you had to brace yourself and drive over the hole, hoping you would emerge from the other side unscathed. Even when the Public Works filled the holes it wasn’t long before they were eroded and reappeared even bigger than before.

All the lanes in Cavan have high hazel or hawthorn hedges at the sides and invariably you cannot see more than fifty yards along the road even in daylight, as a matter of fact, it is easier driving at night, at least you can see the headlights pretty well in advance. The small lanes are used by all modes of traffic and the milk has to be collected by huge tankers from local farm creameries each day. Given the fact that this is farmland after all and that we were driving in rural and sometimes, inhospitable countryside, you have to be ready and aware that you can encounter anything on the narrow winding roads. This includes cows, sheep, tractors and milk tankers and in Connemara there is also the added hazard of tourists on bikes.
It is not uncommon to be bouncing along a lane and then be confronted at virtually point blank range by an articulated milk tanker. As this unwelcome monster passes you, you will invariably be splattered with milk, which freely comes splashing out of the tankers as they hurtle along the bumpy winding lanes.

On our visit in 1996 we could have been forgiven for thinking we had come to the wrong place. The roads had been resurfaced, and not only that, in many places they were nearly flat. It just wasn’t the same. You developed a certain respect for some of the potholes just as you would any adversary over a period of time. They were like long lost friends, and in a quirky sort of way we missed them. However, our all time favourite bump was still there, just outside Belturbet near to the old bridge (now totally covered in ivy) which had “FREE MEEHAN” daubed on it.* It reminded us of past visits and in moments of forgetfulness the driver would hit it too fast, bounce several centimetres into the air and have his ears well and truly warmed by a flurry of expletives from the unsuspecting passengers in the back seats. “Oops”, I would say. I have had my ears warmed many times!

*Martin Meehan was an IRA man who had several short imprisonments for myriad unlawful civilian activities including shootouts with loyalist thugs and even the gardai. He staged a spectacular escape from Crumlin road jail, recaptured, interned in Long Kesh for being a member or the Provisional IRA, went on hunger strikes, suffered beatings from British soldiers & the mainly loyalist prison officers, was eventually sent to prison for 12 years for kidnap, false imprisonment and the alleged torture of a 17 year old kid suspected as an informer. Released in 1985 after the conviction evidence was deemed flimsy, he was rearrested in 1988 and charged with kidnapping and imprisonment of a British soldier whose jaw was broken and was blindfolded and bound in a state ready for a typical IRA execution. He was released in 1994 and died in 2007. Described as a nasty piece of work by the Irish people we spoke to in Cavan, they had no explanation as to why anyone apart from the IRA in the north would want to free him but the graffiti was there for many years in huge letters.

I got to know my friend Andrew Leddy around this time, he sadly passed away after a short battle with cancer. He was a softly spoken man, a real hard worker who was building a small woodworking business making among other things, ornamental finials in the shape of acorns for B & Q for interior use on stairposts and bannisters. He leaves his wife Úna. RIP Andrew.