When I heard of this competition, I was reading a book called ‘Letter to My Younger Self’ where inspiring
people shared moments that shaped their lives and on looking back, might offer advice to their sixteen-
year-old selves. While this is not a letter, I found my thoughts wandering to days when I was maybe half
that age living in one of the nearest houses to our river, a tributary of the Dinin, in Coon. The village
actually got its name from a bend in the river, Cuan a’ Phoill, the winding of the poll or hole.
Growing up in the late ‘60s we had the unrestrained freedom of the village which was barely more than
a hamlet. We awoke to the sounds of horses and carts with churns clattering around the cross as they
made their way over Burn’s bridge to the creamery at the riverbank. Days were spent exploring nearby
places. I see my younger self heading up the inch (water meadow) where hurling was played, with my
jam jar and tin, (boiled-sweet) can, for a day’s adventure on the river. Catching colics was my favourite
pastime and I spent hours tickling the little fish into my jam jar. Capturing a thornybank was a different
matter. I remember the sense of achievement the day I caught my first one and wonder how I managed
to balance that big fish in my small jar and remain upright in the water. My day’s result, fifty seven colics
and a thornybank…all safely returned to their watery home. We often wandered up past the Slip as we
called it, where we were ‘never’ to play as the land often gave way. It was our first experience of soil
erosion and we noticed it on the river verges too. Our limit was the Spout pond, quite a walk up where
I’d heard there was an otter.
As children we thought we knew the village secrets! We walked the mass paths that led to the ancient
church Cill a’ Chuain just above the river opposite the creamery and we played in its overgrown
graveyard where small, very low stones could trip the unsuspecting. I searched ditches for the coins left
by the highwayman I’d heard about in school. There were men I knew who were known only by two first
names and not far away, only four or five fields as the crow flies, was a road called the Pike Road, where
an army had passed long ago over the Kelly’s bridge farther up our river. I was fascinated with the castle
though. Caislean a’Chuain no longer existed in my day but my thoughts were of the secret passage that
led from it underneath the river and came up in a neighbour’s garden on the other side. Canon
Carrigan’s history says that the castle stood until about 1830, its stones were used in the building of the
church and that its cellars were intact. It was an O’ Brenan castle and many local families had that
surname and the men I knew with two Christian names were all Brennans.
The magic of those days and places still lingers. Any advice for my younger self? No, I think she’s doing
fine, living fully on a good path. As I got older, I learned that the army on the Pike road had suffered
defeat at Vinegar Hill in the 1798 Rebellion. I didn’t know then that one day, many years later, I’d live in
a townland in sight of that hill and call my house Cuan a’ Phoill.