Gone Fishing

If you want to be deft with language, you can travel from anywhere in the world to a village
in the south of Ireland, hang upside down in the ramparts of an old castle, with your ankles
held by a pleasant gentleman, lay your lips on the Blarney stone, then words are supposed to
flow freely thereafter. Does it work? I have kissed it many times, maybe that is why I am
playing with words right now.
It is what you do not see when you are up in the ramparts of Blarney castle, that is
what I want to tell you about. Beyond the castle you will see Blarney House, The Mansion
we called it when growing up outside the estate in the forties and fifties but hidden from view
beyond the Mansion and its wide sweep of lawn is Blarney Lake.
This was our domain, our playground, seventy years ago. As soon as the school bell
rang at three o clock we were out the door skipping down the railway sleeper steps to the
road, a quick dash diagonally across the village square, then up the road to my house No 6,
and my pal Mary’s No 16. A quick “Hello” to our mothers as we kicked off the school shoes
and donned our wellies. These rubber boots were essential for our adventure. Helping
ourselves to a slice of bread and jam had a twofold purpose, we loved it and of course we
were hungry but it also meant we were able to slip a slice of dry bread into our pockets
unseen, another part of the plan.
We would climb through the gap in the ditch bordering the estate. It led into a large
field where the horses from the Turret farm grazed, by cutting diagonally across this field we
would ease under the fence bordering the avenue leading to Blarney House.
It was a long trek up the avenue, past the shadowed area around the witch’s kitchen, up past
the farm, another long stretch to the edge of the lake carefully skirting the Mansion grounds.
The lake was surrounded by weeping willows, reeds, and bull rushes. Under one of the
overhanging trees we had a hiding place for our bamboo rods, lengths of twine and a tin box
holding a selection of bent pins.
Rubbing the dry bread into a tight ball in our sweaty palms, it was easy to attach it to the pin
tied to the end of the twine. Next, we had to navigate the swampy ground to find a solid spot
to stand on and cast our lines. We hoped to catch perch or roach, we rarely caught anything,
our mothers never would have cooked them anyway, they were considered dirty fish.
The older boys were much more daring, my brother Ted and his friend Tom would
bring pocketknives and lengths of rope. There were lots of small branches lying around under
the trees. They would tie these together tightly and make a raft, shouting with excitement as
they set off round the edge of the lake. This terrified me as it was believed locally that the
lake was bottomless.
When I tired of fishing, I loved sitting on a grassy knoll and peeling the skin from a bulrush,
the challenge was to strip it from bottom to top without breaking the taper inside.
Late in the evenings an older gang again would arrive, they put down night lines into the
holes around the lake and in the morning, they would have caught eels as fat as my arm.