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Himself and the Bicycle

Sure, he was only a little lad of 4ft 10ins. Little Paddy, I called him. He was eighty-two-years-old when I was twelve-years-old, but he was great craic.

Little Paddy was a bogman. He lived in the bog of Derrycoffey. Think he was the last to live in that bog. I used to meet him all the time along the Tore road, wheeling a big black Raleigh bicycle.

Well, that small of a man made the bicycle look huge. He wore a fedora hat and the smallest topcoat I ever saw upon a man. Never rode the bicycle. His legs were not long enough to reach the pedals. Oh God, no.

The bicycle had two purposes. One, to balance him, and he full to the gills with porter. He loved a sup of porter and would walk the five miles from Derrycoffey bog to the village of Tyrrellspass, wheeling the bicycle there and back. Sober going into the village and mouldy drunk coming home.

He would have two bags of shopping upon the handlebars of this bicycle. It be at a slant of about fifteen degrees, and himself be slanted about the same fifteen degrees into the bicycle. It was like a circus act and no way could he fall, no matter how drunk, the bicycle kept him up.

I used to love seeing him coming along the quiet Tore road during the 1970s. No matter if I met him drunk or sober, it was the same every time. He would stop about twenty feet ahead of me upon the far side of the road and say nothing. Just stare.

Then he would pull his topcoat to one side, and snarl. ‘Make your play, Mister. Draw for your gun.’ The shoot-out would begin, bang, bang, bang, with finger pistols. Me being a young lad, I always let little Paddy win. Because as I would fall to the road, riddled with imaginary bullets, little Paddy would keep firing. And every time he fired, I would do another roll, like another bullet passing through my corpse.

It was great craic, and little Paddy be stood blowing gunsmoke from that finger gun he made. ‘Another one bites the dust,’ he would say. We done this religiously for several years.

He was an amusing and entertaining little lad, living alone in a lonely bog. I cut turf for little Paddy one time, and I must admit I did feel sad for him, when I saw how he overcame his loneliness and isolation.

He be going about the house, giving out to a dog that wasn’t there. He had no dog. Only the one he pretended to have. The same with the woman. Kept referring to “Herself, the Missus,” but he had no wife. He was an ol bachelor.

The Missus was in fact a plain woman’s frock hanging from a nail behind the kitchen door, and a plain pair of women’s shoes beneath them. You could see by the dust and turf mould, they had been untouched in years.

The Missus and the dog were his imagination’s way of beating the loneliness of his isolation. I never knew him once but to be full of sport and craic. I never knew him to be any other way but humble and happy, and always ready for the imaginary shoot-out with me.

The first day I was cutting the turf for little Paddy, and at dinner time he said ‘We will go to the house for grub.’

It was primitive. No gas nor electricity, just the turf fire to cook upon. On that hot summers day, he opened a drawer to the Welsh dresser in the kitchen and five or six big bluebottle flies flew out. ‘Will you have a lump of bacon, Young Nick?’ 

‘Ah God no, Paddy,’ says I.

‘Ah what ails you, Young Nick? You been working hard. Surely you will eat a lump of good mait (meat)?’

‘Ah God no, Paddy. I’m grand, thanks. Sure, didn’t I eat yesterday? And today I’m still full up from all I ate yesterday.’ I didn’t have the heart to tell him the mait full of bluebottles had sickened me to look at, let alone eat. Poor ole Paddy ate the mait himself. He knew little or nothing about hygiene, but what a great character of a man he was. He lived till his late 80s and yet I never knew him to be sick a day in his life.

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Nick Feery is The Boy from Tore. He writes from memories of the times, as a boy in the 1970s, Nick walked and read the land and lakes of rural Tore in Ireland’s County Westmeath. Feery feels the past lives of his own ancestors and many others remain in that land, as they left it just so.

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