By Ned Egan
IN THESE times of constant doom-talk, it’s nice to go back to youthful days, simpler times, and think of the bonds between country people and their dogs.
The canine pal back then had a useful part to play in human lives, be it fetching idle-minded cows for milking, keeping manners on deceitful and deadly bulls, or the chasing down of the tasty bunny who gave his little life unwillingly so that we could continue ours in some kind of a vertical state.
Somehow, when there was no TV or fancy gadgets – or even a wireless – the links were that much stronger, as there was no better playmate than the faithful madra.
But no matter how much affection, dogs’ life terms were shorter than ours, so we often lost them when we most loved them.
Such is life and fate.
But like a shooting star in the dark, the shortest love often burned brightest, and contained a great happiness that is remembered as fondly as long summer days in the woods and fields and rivers.
Many years ago, about 60 of the wretched things, I was working for Mick Costello – a good amiable farmer.
He had a great mare that had foaled a horse that went on to win a huge race in England called the Cesarewitch or some name like that.
The name of this flying gee-gee might have been Bluff King. Anyway, he was owned by a Lord Bicester, with whom Mick was friendly.
This racing horse’s daddy lived up at Kilvemnon Stud, near Mullinahone, in Tipp.
So, when the mare became a bit frisky, and her delightful little equine thoughts turned to matters romantic, I was given the job of leading her there from Goodwinsgarden.
A fair old walk, but nothing much in those days.
We walked along, the two of us, with not many alarms from cars, as they were few and far between then, and you’d hear their iron-boxy clattering a mile away.
Over the hill at Coolagh, and then you see a long white ribbon of dusty road, straight to Poulacapple.
The side of this road was a great haunt for the tinker clan – noble tinsmiths by trade and tradition – and well respected in all communities.
Anyway, I’m passing one of their tents, and a fellow comes out to talk to me.
Of course, he was making offers to buy the mare. “Will you sell that mare, sir?” – I decline – telling him who owned her.
He knew Mick’s farm: “I’ve mended many a pot for that dacent man, sir.”
Then I spied a tiny pup tied to a caravan wheel. A little beauty. “How much is that pup, there?” I asked.
“How much money have you got, sir?” “Half-a-crown” I go. “That’s exactly what I’m asking for that royal animal – that Yorkshire dog,” he cried.
I was amazed – and a bit curious – about this coincidence – but I handed the coin over, picked up the tiny bundle, and carried on to Kilvemnon.
Having handed over the mare, I walked off into Mullinahone – birthplace of my good mother – and called to see her brother, who had a house there.
Having told him I’d walked up from Baurscoobe to see him, I was rewarded with five bob. A small fortune then.
Alec would always give a few bob to a cheeky little chiseler, And gave me a pound for my mother, too, as well he knew her poverty-stricken state.
The long walk home then…and the little creature snoozing in the oxter of my shirt. After a few months, ‘Fang’ became adept at catching the rabbits, sneaking up on them like a mongoose.
Many a good feed resulted from her expertise, and she operated famously with a mongrel dog I had.
I loved them equally, they were in my company 16 hours of every day.
The mongrel rejoiced in the name of Doggo Dog, and was as clever as they come. He’d wait down the road for me to come home from work.
Sometimes I’d cod him by crossing fields and going in the back door, then watching him fidgeting his bum around on the road, and giving a few impatient barks.
Eventually he’d give up, and when he’d see me in the kitchen would launch a big ‘attack’ on me, forcing me to lie down and beg for mercy!
Then, one day, a shopkeeper’s son – a dire sour alcoholic brute – poisoned my mongrel.
So I was left with Fang. One day she went a bit mad, running around in circles. I had no money for a vet, but we knew it was ‘the fits.’ Sometimes the animal recovered.
I tied her up in the shed that night, went out to see her several times. But in the morning, she was gone, having chewed through the rope that held the chain to the butt of the post.
I searched the countryside for her. My two pals were gone in two weeks. No sign anywhere. So I buried her old feeding tin beside where lay my dear old Doggo Dog.
A couple of years went by. I never got another dog. I just went out with the gun and a borrowed terrier.
One winter’s day, a dry one with the wind roaring through the trees and bushes, I was getting over a ‘double-ditch’ down near McEnery’s bog.
As I was going to jump down, a shiny object caught my eye, near the bottom of the ditch I was standing on.
I climbed down to see what it was.
It was a shiny metal chain, and attached to it was a small rotting leather dog-collar.
And in the collar was the tiny skeleton of my little Fang. The other end of the lead was snagged around a bush on top of the bank, so she had starved away to a lonely little death.
I had passed within yards of her in all the weeks searching. Maybe fate had decreed she was strangled. Not much consolation, but the better of two rotten deaths.
I brought her home, every little bone of her.
I lifted the sods off the top of my dear old mongrel, and interred her amongst the chest bones of her faithful pal, the good old Doggo Dog.
Together now in death, as they had been in life.
I was sad to find her, and I was glad to find her. Memories only, last forever.
A child’s prayer for her little dog
By Ned Egan
My doggy died a week ago,
I miss him, oh I miss him so,
The sun is shining on the snow,
I cannot see his face,
Ah, crystal carpet, gently keep,
My little lad in his last sleep,
And tell him that I will not weep –
He’d want me to be brave;
And tell him rabbits still run free,
And in my dreams each night I see,
His little face upturned to me –
Tell him that I love him,
And tell him that a snowdrop grows,
Far fairer than the sweetest rose,
Among the wild eternal snows,
That lie on fields above him.