Irish poet, author, folklorist and traditional music aficionado, with a penchant for holding forth at length on the little vignettes and foibles of human nature that many others pass by unnoted, Mattie Lennon welcomes you.
Make yourself at home and sit awhile with him as he introduces you to some of the sights, scenes and sayings that he has come across in his travels from the little village of Kylebeg among the Wicklow Hills to where he lives.
Where that is exactly depends on what you are looking for. His employers i.e. those who pay my wages, expect to find him hard at work. He works as an inspector with Dublin Bus, while his wife expects to find him at home. He can be found in both locations, at least some of the time.
But he has managed to find some time to engage in general interests further afield. He has put together accounts of experiences in all manners and means of what he has been up to. Truly, has enjoyed his career, all o fit, to date and can only hope that there will be more of the same in times to come.
It was 1959. The National Council for The Blind of Ireland gave his visually impaired mother a wireless. It was his family’s first radio. At the time his contemporaries were clued in to the highlights of Radio Luxemburg and the Light Programme. But, always one to live in the past, he has a preference for the folk programmes on Radio Eireann.
THEN IN HIS OWN WORDS
On Monday, January 10th, 1949, I attained the age of three. I don’t remember it, but I do recall Thursday 13th, it was the Fair-Day in Blessington. When I awoke it was very dark. I made my way into the kitchen, attracted by the yellow glow of lamplight; my feet sensitive to the change of surface as I stepped from the concrete floor of the upper room to the granite paved kitchen. It was not night but morning; a fact proclaimed by my father’s apparel as he sat on a low stool at a military-style bench which on this occasion served as a breakfast table.
The Primary Cert, my first attempt at growing side locks and the feeling that my initial nocturnal adventure into Soho was in some way repugnant to Catechism teaching are all a sort of psychedelic jumble in my brain. Most memories have become blurred on the screen of time, but superimposed there and in no way distorted is my first picture of that big man, with graying hair, eating home-cured rashers from a maidenhair fern plate. The kitchen was devoid of a clock, but he threw the odd glance at the key-winder pocket watch which hung from a bent oval nail on the second shelf of the dresser. (Years later, during one of my unsuccessful attempts at horology I dismantled the faithful chronometer and having reassembled it, had parts left over; Nothing was learned from the operation except that it had been repaired in 1899). When he had mopped up the last drop of grease with a crust of home-made bread, I was to witness a scene that I would see repeated a thousand times. He took each of his boots in turn and placed a couple of small red coals inside each. Then, expertly, he rocked them from heel to toe several times. He replaced the coals in the fire, laced each boot firmly and stamped his feet on the hearth as if to test it.
A full pipe was tamped with his index finger and reddened with a paper spill lit from the glass-bowled oil lamp which stood at his right elbow. My mother often talked of trimming and filling oil-lamps in the house of gentry, yet she hardly ever succeeded in cutting this lamp wick straight across. The result was a diagonal flame.
Then, he took the reins out of the pony’s winkers that hung by the open fire, under the tallague. With the rope he made a head collar, went to the cow house and led out the white head cow. The name was not a misnomer; she was a big red animal, with a white forehead adorned by two sturdy unmatching horns. I was seeing her for the first time; having sprinkled her with Holy Water, from a jam-dish on the windowsill and making the Sign of the Cross on himself, he brought her to the road. The predawn hue was giving way to daylight. It was already bright enough to see the silhouetted paling posts and the stark contour of Black Hill and the stable.
A rat raced across the road. A neighbour cycled past on his way to work. Friendly salutations were exchanged. My mother ushered me back to bed. My first recordable day had begun.
I spent the first 25 years of my life at home on a small farm. I can identify with Patrick Kavanagh’s “burgled bank of youth” (and I am one of the few of my generation who knows how to make a bush-harrow). As a young fellow whenever I was blamed in the wrong, I would compose a derogatory ballad about my accuser. There weren’t many false accusations so I wasn’t very prolific.
I was nicknamed “the Poet” but the term wasn’t always complimentary. I agrees that what is said behind one’s back is their standing in the community and my favourite quotation is a comment made about me by a neighbour: “Wouldn’t you think someone would tell him he’s an eejit, when he doesn’t know himself”.
I have spent most of the last thirty years in Dublin but when asked “Will you ever go back to Kylebeg”? my answer is always Joycean. When James Joyce was asked, in Trieste; “Will you ever return to Dublin?” he said; “I never left”.
I have written articles (mostly humorous) for The Sunday Independent, The Irish Times, The Irish Post, Ireland’s Own, Ireland’s Eye, Kerry’s Eye, The Wicklow People, The Leinster Leader as well as numerous on-line publications.
I was once told; “You have the perfect face for radio” and I compiled and presented my own programmes in the “Voiceover” series on RTE Radio One. I have presented ballad programmes on KIC FM, Liffey Sound and Radio Dublin.
I co-presented a Saint Patrick’s Day Ceol na nGael programme on WFUV 90.7 in the Bronx and I do pre-recorded programmes for other stations. One such programme is “The Story And The Song” in which I play a number of ballads, having first told the story behind each one.
I still write the occasional ballad (not all of them fit for human consumption).
Some of my literary efforts include stories and poems as well as some articles and essays I have penned for a variety of national newspapers and periodicals. Blogs have become Must Haves, a late addition to a virtual roomful of memories.
For some of my essays, short stories, plays, and poems go to my website http://www.mattielennon.com and for more of my work follow me on this website thebrainpanwordpress.me.
Some of Mattie’s Work can be found under the Mattie Works links in the right menu bar of this website.
By Mattie Lennon
It has been said that the first duty of a gentleman is to keep out of the hands of the police. Up to the time of writing I have carried out my gentlemanly duties, in that respect, every day of my life, with one exception. That was Tuesday 04th November 1969 when I was the victim of a wrongful arrest.
At 11:15 A.M. and I was feeding our one and only bonham. A car bearing the roof-sign of our National Guardians of the Peace stopped at the gate of our humble abode at Kylebeg. It was driven by a 38 year old farmer’s son, Paddy Browne, from Kenmare. He shared a surname with the one-time Earls of Kenmare but a Protestant farmer who had rented a house to him had once told me that there wasn’t much evidence of any nobility connection. The observer was a 44-year-old son-of-the-soil from Kilmorgan, Co. Sligo. His Name was Bill Tighe. (Up to that moment I had little dealings with either officer apart from meeting them during Census-taking. I knew that they referred to me as “the Poet”, which was understandable since I was in the habit of linking, even the most grim situation to a poetic allusion.) Despite their agricultural background they had no compunction about taking me away from my pig-feeding, when they asked me to accompany them to Blessington Station.
If my neighbours hadn’t known me as well as they did no doubt the would have been;” Wondering if the man had done a great or little thing”.
Didn’t the poet say;
To every Irishman on earth,
Arrest comes soon or late.
While Browne reversed the Squad-car down our narrow lane Tighe revealed to me that I had stolen an unspecified quantity of ham on Friday 24th October. Although I was no Phrenologist, looking at his profile from the back seat I recalled a comment made by one of my neighbours. Whatever about the grammatical correctness of the observation I was now tempted to accede to its accuracy; he had once described Tighe as being; “ as thick as the butt end of a horse’s bollocks that never saw anything only shite.” And, at that moment, I became a bit more tolerant of those who drew the cartoons of the Irish in the 19th century Punch magazine.
Once in the station another Garda had something to say. This 31 year old was Willie Nash, from Gurtnacrehy, Co. Limerick. (You may not have heard of Gurtnacrehy; the only time the word crops up is in the names of Greyhounds.) Nash was so well turned out that he was like a male mannequin compared to his more bucolic colleagues. When he first came to Blessington in January 1962 he was a useful man on the football field and sported a crew-cut. Now he was opting for a (slightly belated) Beatle look. He imparted the additional information that I had maliciously burned a rick of hay, the property of Dan Cullen, on Saturday 27th September. I didn’t share the view of the local farmer who, at the time, said, “There was only one mistake; that he wasn’t in it when they lit it.”
Nash’s body language (as he replaced a nail-file in his tunic pocket, having checked his reflection in the window ) proclaimed his lack of self-esteem and the fact that he was well aware of my innocence. His rhetorical question: “Would it surprise you to know that you were seen lighting it?” was slightly off the mark (not to mention off the wall).
I knew, through my own sources, that a quantity of ham had been reported stolen in Ballinastockan. (I wasn’t told if it was a quarter or a half pound) but I doubted the authenticity of the crime. As the interrogation progressed I became more convinced that the case of the purloined bacon should enter the annals along with The Easter Bunny, the Unicorn and a few pre-election promises. I knew that there wasn’t a great tradition of steling foodstuffs in the Lacken/Ballinastockan area; the last recorded theft of that nature was pertaining to an incident, during the Civil War, on 15th September 1922. Edward Grace, a Merchant, from Ballymore Eustace had some loaves stolen from two of his vans in Ballyknockan and Lacken on that day.
Despite being the victim of the dirtiest trick ever played on me, being spoken to like an imbecile, humiliated, embarrassed and treated like a criminal I refused to confess to two fictitious crimes. (It’s at times like this the words of Ethel Rosenberg spring to mind; “I am innocent……to forsake this truth is to pay too high a price”). The Sergeant, looking less than prepossessing and more than his thirty-seven years, gave the OK to have me locked in a cell. Maurice O ‘Sullivan, ex-Mental Nurse (known as a “keeper” at the time), from Slaheny, Co. Kerry, was very concise. Not living up to his family’s nickname of “The Long Maurices” he drew himself up to his full five-foot nine and a half inches, pretended to read from a manilla folder and told me : “I have enough evidence here to charge you”. Perhaps his past was the reason for the brevity;
For he to whom a watcher’s doom
Is given as his task
Must set a lock upon his lips
Did the experience in his previous life prompt him to believe that I was the sort, so much in awe of authority, who would confess to anything? Although it was fifteen years since he surrendered his badge in Saint Fenan’s Hospital, Killarney, the “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest Syndrome” obtained; He still thought that he could do what he liked? (“…for in a madhouse there exists no law”).
I thought of William Blackstone who said; ” It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer”. I soon reminded myself that Mr. Blackstone didn’t spend four years working in a Kerry asylum.)
When I was told, “You’ll get out when you tell us the truth” I took on board my neighbour’s opinion of the speaker. And the farmer’s boots and sly smile I saw as further evidence that Tighe was not a member of Mensa, would not appreciate Tennyson, and so I thought it would be futile to quote;
This truth within thy mind rehearse,
That in a boundless universe
Is boundless better, boundless worse.
My father always said that I would “hear the grass growing” and now I became acutely aware of my better –than- average auricular ability. Sound- proofing had not been a consideration in the design of the cell-door and I could hear every word spoken in the day-room. Industrial-relations matters, within the Gardaí, were touched on lightly before a turn in the conversation that was very interesting and informative; but that is a story for another day. Suffice, for now, to say that there was paraphrasing of the words of Thomas Jefferson; “ We have the wolf by the ears and we can neither hold him nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale and self-preservation on the other”
I knocked on the cell door. It immediately opened and framed Nash, who I felt was of the opinion that I needed taking down a peg. I studied his face. Why? Because Jim Blake who worked for Paddy Crotty had told me, “That Nash fella has square eyes.” He didn’t. While his optical hemispheres displayed the shiftiness of the insecure they were of regular shape.
He insisted on pretending that I was a suspect and closed the door.
When next I knocked on the cell-door it was opened by Tighe who told me, (why I don’t know) “The sergeant is gone out on another big job”. This was followed by, “Yer father says he doesn’t know what to tink. Will I go out for yer father?” When I once again protested my innocence this, ignorant, lazy, gobshite, who wouldn’t ever stand if he could sit, said, “We know certain tings Matt”. He didn’t specify what the “ things” with the silent “h” wre.) He closed the door slowly . . . like he did everything else.
When again I knocked with a hope of being released Browne uncovered the spyhole. His eye, viewed through the small rectangle of light, didn’t look friendly.
I was sitting on a wooden bench with some sort of a “tic” on it. Hey! . . . Didn’t I read on the Leinster Leader about a Ballinastockan man being fined ten pounds for pissing on a mattress in the cell of Blessington Garda station? (Of course it wasn’t worded so in the “Leader”.)
“Are you going to tell us about this fire?”. Guard Browne enquired. Now secure in the knowledge that they knew I wasn’t guilty of anything I didn’t protest my innocence. I simply asked; “Are you going to let me out?”
Browne didn’t reply. He opened the cell door and allowed me into the day room. As he lit a Goldflake butt with a paper spill from the open fire he again accused me of arson. As I looked at his well-worn shoes and archaic wristwatch I thought of his economy-consciousness which his former Sergeant, Frank Reynolds, had told me about. My comment about the coldness of the cell and my plea to be left in the Day-room fell on deaf, Kenmare, ears. As he dragged on the ignited butt I was sternly told to “get back in.”
I would compile a letter to the Minister for Justice. But that could wait. This was as good a time as any to make a start on a parody. The air of “ The Oul Alarm Clock” would do fine;
“I was told we’re going to charge you
With the burning of a rick,
By Nash and Tighe and Sullivan,
An’ Paddy Browne the prick.”
The cell door opened. Garda Willie Nash told me, “We’re lettin’ ye out but we’ll be takin’ ye in agin.” He wasn’t a man of his word; I haven’t seen the inside of that cell since.