Dawn walks with Dad

In memory of  Mickey Kenny 28/07/1928-09/05/2013

About five years after I left home I moved back briefly between jobs. I was running a craft shop I’d opened in the village and was enjoying living back with my parents as an adult. For a year I rose early and went for many dawn walks with my Father. We walked in Winter when it was barely light, in Spring when the early morning mists would shroud the lanes and hedgerows in mystery, in summer with the full heat of the sun lighting up the fresh green growth and in autumn when fog and rain could still not hide the vibrant colours of the changing leaves. For Dad every season had its own beauty. He would shake his head and express wonder that people in Ireland always moaned about the weather. We live in the most temperate climate he would say, no extremes of heat or cold,no extended drought, no hurricanes, no earthquakes, no volcanos, very little snow and most of the time a nice balmy 15 degrees.  He would always carry a walking stick and would point out cobwebs with raindrops, a birds nest woven perfectly into a hedge, thick soft moss on an ancient stone or the cracked bark on a gnarly tree . He had a quick mind and a vast knowledge and interest in local history. He knew where old  holy wells still existed and would talk at length about old customs and folklore. Long before he died I would think with regret that much of what was in that wonderful mind would disappear with him. I tried to listen and learn but am aware I only retain a fraction of what he knew. He did however instill in me a love and awareness of where we live and the beauty all around us. He also ignited an interest and a respect for our history for what went before. He never left Ireland, never went on a “foreign holiday “ and my much travelled mother gave up trying and went off with her brother and sister instead. I had the travel bug from a young age and would come home after various trips to extol the virtues of France or New York or Australia and he would listen with intense interest and look at the photos and would make insightful observations. One year I rang him while on a motorbike tour of Spain. We had spent the day driving through Valencia and I commented on the wonderful smell in the air. Dad immediately said oh yes that would be because the orange blossom is in flower now in Spain. For a man who never physically left Ireland I think he travelled more in in his mind that I ever did

.Every morning we would set out, him with his walking stick and dog at his heels and me trying to keep up both physically and mentally.

Sometimes we would only cross the road and go down the lane across from our house. When we were only at the head of the lane he would tell me about the croppies who were killed on this spot , then further down in the fields we would walk across the walls of a sunken house he called the 4 windows. In another field on the other side of the village he told me the earth under our feet was a rich vein of potters clay discovered hundreds of year before but never mined. Nearby he walked into a field and found an old thorn tree and said yes I think this is the site of St. Seachnall’s well. We returned one afternoon and dug out the earth pushed in by years of cattle walking the land. We uncovered the round well with the kneeling stone still intact. He told me it had been a well since pagan times as had many of the holy wells in Ireland. When Christianity came they just slapped a Saints name on as they were wise enough not to risk giving up access to the water. He said it would have been rich in sulphur and therefore would have been considered to have healing properties. We would walk the Hill of Tara when no one else was awake or mad enough to be out in middle of winter for a stroll. We walked to the stone of Destiny, we gazed into the mound of the hostages and we stood at the head of the banqueting hall and he asked me to imagine it in its heyday with the High King seated at the top and everyone else in descending order of their rank seated accordingly. We visited the sloping trenches one summer morning and lay down under a tree where he promptly fell asleep. I lay there listening to bees buzzing lazily above my head, the dog panting in the heat and my Dad snoring gently beside me and thought This, This is a perfect moment. We went to his farm in Drumree where we would walk across the fields and he would proudly tell me he’d never put fertilizer on the land and that was why it was full of not just grass but wild herbs. He’d hand me a leaf of wild sorrel and I learned to love its bitter taste, he’d pull vetches from the ditch and open the little pods to reveal tiny ripe black peas which despite their tiny size were full of flavour. We’d walk to his far field where there was an unusual mound that he’d shown to a local archaeologist . We’d walk home along the lane and he’d tell me that those ditches were dug as  famine relief work and when I’m gone they’ll be bulldozed out of here. He showed me where the land undulated gently and explained that they were the old potato ridges from the famine times which were never ploughed out . We’d stroll home along the lane in Spring and the primroses were so cheerful and sweet pushing their little heads up through long grass and moss. These he’d pick in big clumps to bring home to my mother and despite also pulling some of the grass they were always received with a laugh and an exclamation of oh you DO love me as she’d plant a kiss on his blushing cheek. We climbed down into ditches and up the other side because he wanted to show me the old mass path where during penal times people would go cross country to hear mass. We walked and talked and examined nature up close and personal.We often surprised pheasants or a fox and saw lots of hares and rabbits out for their early  morning constitutional. We saw the seasons change and he would exclaim at the delights that each one would bring. Unfurling leaves with bright new green or  primroses and violets in Spring, the lush growth of grass in summer, the gorgeous colours of autumn and the quiet calm beauty of winter. We would visit the old graveyard in the village and he’d point out my ancestors on both sides of the family and the holly tree his father had planted under which he and his family were buried. He would say with a grin “ I’ll be going in there someday too” and I’d push him and say “ah go on Dad not for a while yet”. We’d visit Trevit graveyard and he’d wander from stone to stone telling me stories of the different families buried there. His father had been the local postman and had a great knowledge of the graveyards. In those days if you died overseas it was common to be brought home for burial and it was my Grandad who often told the undertaker where the family plot was. He told a story of an unusual stone with a mermaid on it. How the family had taken the family crest of a mermaid when they were saved from drowning off the West of Ireland by one  who guided them safely to shore.

We would drive to Lough Crew near Oldcastle and climb the hill to the megalithic passage tombs where the view and sense of history were breathtaking. I listened to tales of the Hags chair and ancient art. Once we even walked from one peak to another cross country which took us hours. Crossing some farmland I was anxious we were trespassing until a farmer came out and hailed my father as an old friend and they chatted about cattle prices and local gossip before we continued on our way.

Before it was fashionable we went mushroom picking or foraging as they call it now. Dad would pick a long piece of grass with a strong stem and a thick seed head. We would then scour the fields for the little white treasures with me crowing with delight if I found them before he did. He would show me how to push the hard dry stem of the grass through the soft stem of the mushroom and that way we could carry numerous stems each hanging with up to 10 mushrooms. On some occasions he would be known to gather the edges of a none too clean hanky to bring them home. He just ignored the lecture he would then get from my mother. I had grown up with these stories and these images but that year of dawn walks cemented them in my mind. In this day of technology we have the world at our fingertips, the touch of a button and we can see all the wonders of the world through virtual travel. I also have been lucky enough to have travelled the world and have seen at first hand many wonderful things. However to me nothing compares to those memories of being at one with nature and at ease in the company of my father on those early morning walks..

Mickey brings a group on the mass path walk.
Mickey Kenny 1928-2013
Feeding the donkeys with his Grandchildren
At Moynalty Steam threshing
At Moynalty Steam threshing