Should you walk past Brehenny's cottage further down the railway line...armed with a machete 'cos it's awful overgrown...you'll reach the Boat-house of the Big house. Not that's much to see anymore because it has gone to rack and ruin now...the Big house is a sort of Gothic heap...quite incredibly ugly actually, all the downstairs windows have sturdy iron bars across them to stop the revolting peasants from breaking in and what was once a glorious garden, is now plain grass.
I became very friendly with the owner who was an Anglo-Irish woman who'd inherited the old title of Madam...her husband was referred to as the Prince of Coolavin. His family called him by his childhood name of Boy.
When Boy's mother was married she travelled by the train from town to the house...the engine was smothered in fresh flowers and people from the district stood by the line as the train travelled through...cheering and waving.
They had their own soldiers lodged in a Barracks in the village and provided most of the employment...the women working in the house and the men out on the estate...though Felicity told me they kept pigs in the Gate Lodge...I think that was during the Second War when many of the men had left to join the Forces.
We'd sit...she and I...on cold winter days drinking tea from delicate china cups until she gave in to the cold and fetched the whiskey...we'd spend hours poring over old maps in the dining room, which was as cold as charity...lined floor to ceiling with glass-fronted bookcases filled with ancient leather bound books and a wooden floor that creaked and groaned. Felicity was a little lady...with gnarled hands from arthritis...she always wore a woolly hat and a body warmer and stout sensible boots and she loved Irish history with a real passion so we never found ourselves at a loss for conversation and discussion...
Off the kitchen was a corridor with countless small rooms opening off...the butlers pantry...the silver room...the boot room. The kitchen had a small hatch opening outwards where the many servants and estate workers would queue up for their wages each Friday...handed a small brown package of a couple of Punt and some loose change...they'd also have a sack of potatoes and a reek of turf come the winter.
Boy went off to war and became a prisoner of the Japanese...he returned weighing seven stone and bearing the scars of having been crucified and castrated...Felicity had to take on the running of the estate fulltime with the help of an old man from the village...Willie. They made an unlikely pair...Willie would come in for a mug of tea but never strayed from the kitchen...he knew his place.
Willie is still here...he lives in a little cottage on the outskirts of the village...
Felicity died a few years ago...she never had children of course and her title died with her...the great house was put up for sale and rumour has that the Gallagher brothers have bought it...the Irish 'pop' singers known as Oasis...it is said they've bought it for their Granny...whether or not that is true remains to be seen.
It is the end of an era when people such as Felicity, The Madam, Mc' Dermott pass on...the end of waiting in line to receive your weeks wages...the end of having a Barrack full of soldiers to protect you from the peasantry...probably the end of a Tiger skin rug lying on the hall floor...shot by some relation and brought back as a trophy...Felicity's cleaning lady refused point blank to clean the hall because of the dead Tiger.
She was my friend and I miss those cold afternoons when we carried our cut glass tumblers through to the dining room to spend hours poring over ancient maps...