The Animal Lover

The boy sat nestled in a doorway with his animals around him. His broken boots indicated that money was scarce. The tears flowed freely down the young lad’s face,  his sobs were deep, and he was inconsolable as he stared into space. Much to his horror and to his father’s delight, the two turkeys that sat beside him had just been sold. The lad refused to accept the obvious fate of the festive birds and ignored the frustrated pleas from his older brother to ‘stop whining’. He embraced his two shaggy dogs with obvious protection, fearful perhaps that they might also be for sale.

Seconds later, the birds were gone. The burly farmer had little time for his son’s sentimentality. He strode purposefully to the nearby building, recognised by all as the turkey slaughterhouse. Birds squealed, feathers flew and necks were quickly snapped.

This service was a condition of the sale to a local bargain hunter.  The execution cost a silver shilling for each turkey and a discount was applied if the skin was torn during plucking. The feathered wings were returned as they were highly prized for household cleaning.

The speed and swift efficiency caught the young lad by surprise. He stared at his lifeless, featherless friends in disbelief. His father was oblivious to the pain etched on his young son’s face. The exchange of notes, a spit on the hand to seal the deal, a short animated discussion about the weather and the transaction was completed. The farmer had a spring to his step when his customer left. The day had started well with the sale of the turkeys but there were vegetables and eggs to be sold before this day’s work was done.

In the background the young boy refused to respond to his father’s delight. He cuddled his dogs closer to his face. His matted, mousy-coloured hair blended with the shaggy coats of his canine friends. His eyes were obscured from view and he sobbed quietly.

Old Moll

Time stood still for Mary White. A dark lonely boreen led to the Spartan farmhouse that was her home for close on one hundred years. Her unmarried brother had died some time previously and she lived alone. A paraffin lamp lit the darkness and the open fire was constantly ablaze. The wind buffeted the house and deprived her of any creature comfort. She braced herself against the elements to visit her outside toilet; a basin of water would suffice if she needed a wash. She stubbornly resisted change. In her seventieth year she had electricity installed and even then, she limited its use. A single bulb hung from the cracked ceiling, yellowed by the smoke, from her only source of comfort.  No mod con would ever make its way into her home. This was how she lived and she knew no different.

She was a quiet woman and a creature of habit. She had no family or friends and kept her distance from her few neighbours, but they were there for her when she needed them.  Every Friday, Pat O Neill drove her to collect her pension from the Post Office. Once collected, she indulged herself in her only source of pleasure: a pint of Guinness followed by a glass of whiskey. She left her home every day to make the five-mile journey into Limerick. The crossroads at Clondrinagh was not an official stop for the bus from Shannon but the drivers bent the rules for their elderly passenger. She thanked them with a nod and sat silently in her seat.

The Saturday Market was her favourite place-a place of childhood memories and the only link to her past. Within those gates she was a different person and every week she wore a stylish hat. Her tall thin frame weaved its way through the stalls and she discovered her voice when it came to negotiating a bargain. She had a keen eye and knew quality when she saw it. Many a farmer crossed her at his peril and she would only buy from those who earned her trust. Those who knew her best would call her Moll. She once told me that her mother was born just after the Milk Market opened in 1857, a short few years after the Great Famine killed one million people in Ireland.

Nearly a century had passed since a young farmer and his wife heard the first joyful cry of their baby girl. Her passing went unnoticed that bleak winter’s day. A frantic search for a grave, an empty church, a funeral mass without tears and a few neighbours to shoulder her coffin. Her simple life was over: no stone to mark her resting place and no family to grieve. Now a photograph of her hangs above the hustle and bustle of the refurbished Limerick Milk market, a tribute to a hard lived life and a single reminder of Moll’s presence on this earth.