By Mike Faricy
Drumshanbo Donkeys or (Two pieces of ass!)
We drove west, from Dublin to Geevagh, County Sligo on Saturday for a memorial Mass honoring my wife’s parents. The drive, with the new N4 roadway, took us just two and a half hours, the road now one of the few positive legacies from Celtic Tiger days. Teresa’s home place is close to Lough Key and as we drove along we passed a tattered sign advertising designer homes overlooking the lough. The contact phone number had fallen off, or maybe was torn off, hard to tell. Another legacy of the Celtic Tiger, a dozen homes, maybe twenty feet apart on a cul-de-sac in the middle of nowhere, available at the bargain price of 800,000+ Euro each, that’s a million dollars and change, each. All empty and though not quite located in the back of beyond, you can see it from here. Teresa now owns a portion of these homes, as does every Irish taxpayer. Not that they’ll get the use of one anytime soon. There are 350,000 new homes, in a nation of 4.5 million, sitting empty, built where the people aren’t.
The memorial mass was in the simple but beautiful St. Joseph’s church in Geevagh. We’re in and out the door in under fifty-five minutes which I know is not the proper attitude but suited well on this particular Saturday night. We stayed that evening with cousin’s in Drumshanbo, County Leitrim, about fifteen miles away, catching up on family gossip and retelling tales.
In the morning we had a traditional Irish breakfast consisting of hot tea, fried eggs, rashers (bacon), black pudding, sausages, baked beans and fried tomatoes. I willingly pass off my black pudding to Teresa. After breakfast my services were volunteered to help move two donkeys from one pasture to another. I might add here that as a city boy, anything involving livestock is not my strong suit.
But I do have Minnesota cousins with farms, so when you say pasture, I’m thinking acres of pasture, maybe a horizon thrown in for good measure. This pasture was more like two city lots in which stood two cattle, a donkey, Lady and her foal, Dolly. Dolly was born this past spring. Martin, my counter part, is fortunately wiser and more experienced in livestock issues than I. Way more experienced, as are his adult children, Leo and Jo Ann. I believe, in retrospect, my ineptitude is apparent to all at this point, something to do with that deer in the headlight look when Martin handed me the rope he had just made into a halter and slipped over Lady’s very large head. She rolled large brown eyes at me, disgusted or incredulous, I’m not sure which.
“Now hold this tight and don’t let go, you’re in charge.” Martin’s joking, … isn’t he?
“Here, I’ll take that,” Jo Ann said, grabbing the rope, my complete lack of talent obvious to all.
It is now casually announced that this is the first time Dolly has ever had a rope on her. Oh great! She doesn’t seem all that excited about the opportunity. She might be a foal but she’s a three hundred pound plus, foal, and not at all happy. Lady, with a mother’s sense of trouble, moves toward her, effortlessly brushing me out of the way. I stumble forward, catch my balance, then slide through remnants of cow, stammering, “I’ll get the gate.” Jo Ann rolled her eyes, picked up a bucket of oats and walked toward the gate. Lady began to follow her down the path, Dolly, after heavy duty coaxing from Leo, okay, he half lifted her a few times, eventually followed.
We’re now walking along the road. There are no shoulders to speak of so we’re actually in one of the traffic lanes. The other pasture is a good half-mile down the road. Jo Ann with the bucket of oats is in the lead, Martin has Lady, Leo is following with Dolly. A horse and foal are racing along the fence as we walk past, snorting, pawing the ground. That’s what we need now, a stampede. Martin calls to me over his shoulder, “I hope the dogs don’t come out, there’s three of them here, mean things, they’d go for you.” Are you kidding me?! I’m bringing up the rear, ready to alert motorists, who by the way, zip thru here at 80 KPH which is about 50 MPH. I’m alerting them to the fact that there are donkey’s ahead and one American dumb ass. At least half a dozen cars overtake us, each slows down to inquire the names of the donkeys, chat for a moment, ‘as you do’. One guy slows down, nods at Martin and says, “Ahh, the three wise men.” Unfortunately I’m number four, hmm-mmm.
Now it’s time to cross the road, Leo leads little three hundred plus pound Dolly to the far side. Martin begins to lead Lady across until she comes to an abrupt stop at the white line. She won’t cross it. She’s planted her feet in the middle of the road and has apparently decided she isn’t moving. Jo Ann spots a vehicle speeding toward us a half mile ahead, there’s another gaining on us from behind. Both she and Leo caution, “Dad, cars coming.” Lady is firmly rooted in the road. Martin is now pulling simultainously on the rope and Lady’s tail, coaxing her softly. It’s not working. She has no intention of moving forward or backward. ‘Stubborn as a mule’ springs to mind, along with some other phrases. Dolly decides this might be a good time to join mom in the middle of the road. I’m positively useless, the driver approaching from the rear has a look on his face that suggests; “Will you look at this plonker!” Jo An eventually coaxes Lady across the white line with the bucket of oats. Waves are exchanged and both drivers roll down their windows to inquire, of course, about the donkey’s names. Neither inquires about me.
We turn into a small lane, walk fifty feet up into a small farmyard, past a stone cow barn dating from about 1830 and into another city lot sized pasture. Lady and Dolly act as if they’re home and wonder what the fuss is all about. My wife looks at me, says “My God! What have you been doing? Clean those shoes before you get in my car. The state of you, honest to God!” I don’t think I’ll add donkey drover to my resume.