Some years ago I went with a friend to a remote farmhouse high up in the Ox mountains...I can't remember the reason behind the visit now, though it doesn't much matter.
It wasn't far off the Christmas and it was snowing heavily...big fat flakes settling on the narrow winding roads...then we turned off onto a rough track to the farm. Bumping along, with my friends old car protesting all the time, we eventually reached the house...half-thatched...half-slate tiled, it looked like something straight from a Christmas card.
We were welcomed into the kitchen...warm and cosy with a great turf fire in the hearth and the table laid for the tea...soda bread and pickles...jams and boiled eggs and a fruit cake sprinkled with rough lump sugar.
Granny and Grandpa sat at the table...Grandpa dozing and Granny reading the local paper...there were two Collie dogs lying under the table and a collection of cats curled up on the battered old settee. We moved the cats along and sat down and heaved a sigh of relief we'd arrived...
There must have been a dozen children...at least...maybe more. All foxy headed and all curious to see these two strange women who'd come to visit. They sat on the floor and on the arms of the settee and at their Grandparents feet.
The Mother came in and made us tea...cut the soda bread and buttered it...thick slices of the cake and a hard boiled egg each...told us her man was away up country but would be home soon enough and we sat by the fire and ate our food and drank the scalding hot tea and our feet were finally warm and we listened quietly while the Angelus bell rang out loud and clear on the radio...
Then I sneezed.
And the Grandpa shot to his feet and grabbed his stick and said 'You'll take a drop...for the cold?' and I said I would though I hadn't the faintest idea what he was about to give me...
He disappeared through the door to the back yard and came back ten minutes later carefully carrying a tall glass filled three-quarters full with a clear liquid. Handed the glass over to the Granny, who put two big teaspoonful's of sugar in it and topped up the glass with water from the simmering kettle.
I sipped it gingerly...it tasted lovely actually, though I still didn't know what it was...the children watched me and the Grandparents too...the Mother smiled and told me that cold would be gone in no time and my friend nudged me and said in a whisper...You lucky so and so...it's proper poteen.
And I drank the lot.
We'd been there long enough and the snow was still falling so we began to say our farewells and thank you for the tea and the dogs crept out from under the table and put cold noses in our hands and then I made to stand up.
My legs wouldn't work and the room went round and around...but I made it out to the car and we wended our slow way home down the mountainy roads while the world turned into a magical land of snow.
I didn't get the cold that was threatening to appear and I didn't have a hang-over either.