The Long Acre

“Many times I’ve been alone
And many times I’ve cried
Anyway, you’ll never know
The many ways I’ve tried

And still they lead me back
To the long winding road
You left me standing here
A long, long time ago
Don’t leave me waiting here
Lead me to your door”

Lennon / McCartney

In times past the long acre was the grass verge on either side of a lane or road that a small farmer would let a couple of cows or calves out to roam and graze when the grass in his own fields was exhausted. It was a custom that faded over time with the advent of improved farm management, and the proliferation of cars. Well, mostly faded, I wrote off a Volkswagen Golf in the 90’s on the bog road from Glaslough to town during a foggy encounter with a large bullock enjoying the long acre. The Gardai that arrived on the scene were quite keen for me to pursue a claim against the farmer, as he’d been using the long acre a lot and mine wasn’t the first accident, but he turned out to be a drinking buddy of a friend, so I didn’t. He did buy me a pint.

But that’s not what I think of when I think of the Long Acre.

When I stroll about the place I get lost in the types of flowers that grow. Some people call them weeds, but I prefer to think of them as flowers with bad PR. I think about the people that planted the hedges, cultivated them, reinforced them, and built gates. Walking slowly you can sometimes see a whole wrought iron gate overgrown and barely visible in the ditch, or old cut stone gateposts, that are no longer used.

I mostly set out for a walk with a destination in mind, but sometimes the best walks are meanders, with no set goal, along the long acre, you’d never know what you’d see, or who you’d meet.

Now that I think about it my life has been a lot like a path along a long acre, maybe seeing value in things that other’s don’t, certainly spending large amounts of time meandering, and bumping into all sorts of wonderful people.

I’m sometimes softly criticised for sharing too many photos and moments on social media. I largely do it as a record for myself, and if someone gets a kick out of it, that’s just a great bonus. The most wonderful thing about sharing though is the people that come back into your life that you may not have seen or heard from in a while.

When I was a kid growing up in Dundalk I had older cousins, the Muckians and the Donnegans, whom we visited many times a week. Derek Donnegan was my oldest cousin and called to our house regularly and we were in awe of him. He could do tricks on bikes, was much better than us at football, had a penknife and introduced us to many swearwords. Aunty Noeleen would give out to him “Jesus Derek ! Stop that feckin’ swearin’ !”.

The Muckians , Sheila, Jackie, and Grainne, were my big sisters, Grainne almost my twin sister. Visits to their house were a treat as they had a large garden and a set of swings. Inside was a treasure trove of John Travolta fanzines. Jackie introduced me to The Jam. Grainne looked after me when we played with other kids. This lasted into our teenage years and the occasional broken hearted walk home from Evita’s Nite Club in The Fairways hotel.

We had exotic cousins in Dublin that we met rarely. They were actually the kids of Dad’s cousin Michael O’Brien and his wife Kay. Michael’s mother May Bond, was the only sister of my Granda , George Bond, who died when Dad was 5. Dad told us stories of visiting Harold’s Cross to stay with Aunty May, and his visit being cut short when he fell into the Grand Canal. He also mentioned that Michael was in a cycling club and one day knocking on the door of Dad’s mum’s house, Nanny Bond’s on Market St. in Dundalk. This was a terraced two up two down house, with the toilet out in the back yard. Michael asked Nanny if he and his friends could use the toilet, and Nanny insisted that they come in and have a cup of tea and a sandwich. Michael then paraded through the house with 30 clubmates and Nanny had to send Dad up to Taafes to buy another box of tea and three slice pans.

Michael’s wife Kay visited us when we moved to Monaghan, and brought her kids ,Ursula and David whom , I guess would be third cousins of ours. We were all under 10 years of age , and I remember Ursula stuck to our John like a limpet mine, and that David was the oldest, a real Dub even at 10, and that at one point I think he threatened to stab me.

I mentioned this to my Mum the other day and she said “Why didn’t you tell me that at the time ?”

“Because he threatened to stab me if I told you that he’d threatened to stab me!”

Interestingly the knife he threatened me with was a knife/dagger that we’d bought in Lourdes. We’d been on a camping holiday in Royan and Mam had decided that as we were that close it would be a shame not to visit Lourdes. ‘That close’ proved to be 500 kilometres. We ended up staying the night and as a treat the next day we were allowed buy a souvenir. I think Mam expected us to buy Rosary beads, but John , Stephen, and I all bought daggers in leatherette scabbards with LOURDES printed in gold lettering. Stephen and I bought black daggers, John bought a brown one…he was always the awkward one…maybe that’s what attracted Ursula to him ? The actual knife of the daggers was made from the same material as a biscuit tin and you were more likely to die from touching the foul smelling leatherette scabbard than anything the knife itself could inflict.

Anyway, life being life, after we moved to Monaghan and grew up we’d see our cousins less frequently, and our exotic Dub third cousins not at all.

But then through the wonder of social media randomly you get a message from a cousin commenting on a photo or a post, you ‘friend’ each other and before you know it Aunty Noeleen is telling my Dad what our kids are up to before I have because cousin Jennifer is following me on Facebook.

When I was assistant to the coaches in Monaghan Phoenix Athletic, looking after the reluctant kids who were only there because they had an older brother or sister who actually liked athletics and their Mum needed that hour to herself, the real coaches Brian and Damien felt sorry for me, what with me not having a whistle and all, and they bought me a proper coach’s jacket in the Phoenix club colours, with the club crest embroidered on it, my initials embroidered, and the word COACH in large white letters printed on the back.

They also posed with me in a photo, titled ‘Club Coaches’, and let me stand in the middle, and posted it on the club Facebook page.

This led to a lady called Ursula Hayes messaging me to say ‘Hi’ and asking if we were cousins.

It turned out that Ursula’s husband John and Brian, our actual coach, were college buddies, and she’d spotted my name in Brian’s photo.

This was 5 or 6 years ago and we’ve been FB friends ever since. Ursula messaged me every single week when I was on treatment last year with words of encouragement. As did Dundalk cousins Sheila and Jackie.

( I have great cousins on the McKenna side of the family, the Duffys and the Burns , and they were no less awesome in their friendship and support, but this is a Bond story )

This week Kay O’Brien passed away and my cousin Sheila sent me the funeral details. I arrived at the Divine Word Church in Marley Grange, Dublin yesterday morning and got a shout of “Hey Paul !” as soon as I got out of the car. Sheila was parked nearby and had Jackie and Aunty Noeleen with her. We chatted for a while before the cortege arrived.

Sheila led the way to meet and commiserate with the family, introducing the grown up O’Brien kids, to the grown up versions of us, Bonds, Muckians, Donnegans, all of the offspring George ,and May Bond’s respective families , from 58 Market St., Dundalk.

I trailed around after Sheila, Jackie, and Aunty Noeleen, just like I did when I was a kid, saying hello to different people.

I gave and got a big hug from Ursula.

Her sister Bernie gave me a hug and said “I recognise you from the Facebook photos Ursula shows me.”

Her brother Michael chatted to us and thanked us very much for coming and reminisced about his ‘holidays’ in Dundalk in Aunty Bridie’s house.

And then David spotted us and marched over “Look ! It’s the culchies !” and gave us each a hug.

The funeral itself was a celebration of Kay’s life rather than a mournful passage of rite.

We mingled outside afterwards chatting among ourselves and to the O’Briens. Jackie and I chatted about our cancers and I thought that if I have half of her strength I’ll be OK…to a background of ‘A Town Called Malice’ which is always in the background when I see or think of Jackie. Sheila said that Grainne had passed away 13 years ago today, which was a shock. Aunty Noeleen marvelled at how they’d all fitted into Market St as kids when the O’Briens visited on their holidays…and how my Dad had survived into adulthood.

I drove home listening to the Santiago Boys podcast which is brilliant and deals with the Allende government in Chile before the Pinochet coup, the CIA, ITT, cybernetics and a gloriously bizarre character called Stafford Beer. They reference the book ‘One Hunderd Years Of Solitude’ in the podcast, which is a book I’d never hear of before this year, but which I’m reading for the second time right now, which I thought was wonderfully odd.

I called to Mum and Dad’s before I went home to tell them how I got on and who I met and was only 10 minutes into it when Aunty Noeleen rang Dad to do the same thing. I went on home, Aunty Noeleen had met more people than I had, and has a much better recollection of names.

My Soulmates sister, and my best friend Ger is staying with us at the moment , on her holidays from Wales, with our nephew Caolan. Robyn’s home too , so we’ve had nice chats over long dinners.

I think our kids and their Liddy cousins will have similar cherished memories of holidays in each others’ houses , and will meet up years hence, and just like today with Sheila, Jackie, Aunty Noeleen, Ursula, Bernie, Michael and David, it will be like they just met yesterday…somewhere along the Long Acre.



P.S. Pictured are our neighbours Holly and Daithi eating the long grass along our hedge. They are owned by Shauna, an ethereal being who has meandered into our lives and made them all just that little bit better. We’ve known her partner Chrissy ever since we first saw him as a 9 year old at the Threemilehouse school Christmas Concert, murdering the Kerry Polka.

He was always a cowboy, now he has a horse.

P.P.S. It had to be this

Author: paul

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