The Boy with the Glass Arse

Mrs Mulligan's hat sligo heritage ireland

Mrs. Mulligan wore a hat.  It was a soft black felt hat with a rim on it like a man’s hat, and a funny sort of pointed wedge shape on top.  The black hat sat on her head all day long whether she was inside or outside, working or resting — she was never without it.  The rest of her was black too: black jumper, black cardigan, and long flowing black skirt that went all the way down to her black hobnail boots.  And she was old.

She got married late in life and had no children of her own, but she took pleasure in being kind to the neighbours’ children, and we took full advantage of that.  She churned her own butter and baked bread in a black pot-oven sitting on the coals beside the open hearth fire at a time when most of her neighbours had graduated to ‘Stanley No. 9’ ranges and ate creamery butter from the shop.

I still remember the first slice of currant bread I ever got from Mrs. Mulligan.  I watched with bated breath as she cut the thick slice of bread with an old wooden handled knife that had been washed so often the wood was a yellowish white with dark circles round the three brass rivets that held it together.  First she cut the slice of bread and then with the same knife she took a large knob of thick country butter from a dish and spread it on top till it was nearly half an inch deep.  Then she put the bread, buttered side down, into a big orange coloured glass sugar bowl and pushed it into the sugar.  She squished and squashed and pushed the bread down into the sugar until the butter and the sugar and the currant bread were one sweet solid slab: ‘Now young fella,’ said her husband Paddy from the chimney corner, ‘put your lugs back and lie into that. 

I did as I was told!

I can barely see Paddy Mulligan now, way down in the far corner of my memory.  He was very bent, and when he walked at all it was with the aid of a stick.
‘Would you sit down there young fella and stop running ‘round or you’ll fall down and break your glass arse!,’ he would say to me.
When Paddy got cross with us Mrs. Mulligan would tell him to ‘calm down and have patience, sure they’re only childer.’

As we got a little older we learned how to humour Paddy and get him to recite poems and rhymes for us:
‘Ah go on Paddy and tell us about poor dog Tray,’ we’d plead, and eventually after much persuasion off he would go:

‘On the banks of the Shannon when Sheila was nigh,
Not a bright Irish lad was as happy as I…’

Paddy would always be watching his audience and when he got to the sad bit where the dog died he would be watching to see if one of the girls had a tear in her eye and then he would tip me a sly wink. 

Irish cows sligo heritage ireland

When Paddy went out to the yard to help his dog Rex put the cows into the byre he would bring two sticks, one to keep him from toppling over and the other one to threaten the cows.  Rex Mulligan was the best trained dog in our townland.  Paddy could stand at his back door and say: ‘Go for the cows Rex’ and off the dog would go through the fields and bring the cows home for milking.   If any of the neighbours cattle were thieving in the pasture Rex would chase it back out through the nearest hole in the ditch.  The only problem was that if Paddy went to the fair and bought a new cow it would suffer the same fate!

I was around seven or eight when Paddy died.  I remember seeing the coffin sitting on two stools in the parlour and the smells of burning candles and of whiskey and port wine.  The kitchen table was set with the big white tablecloth that only ever came out for the station mass.  It was loaded down with all sorts of sandwiches, bottles of stout and glasses, china cups with saucers under them, and the good delph teapot.  The big glass sugar bowl sat in the very centre.  I had asked Mrs. Mulligan for a slice of currant bread and then in case my mother, who was serving tea in the parlour, would see me eating it I slipped in under the table.  Rex was already hiding in there.  The big white cloth almost touched the ground and it was very dark.

When Rex was finished licking the sugar off my face we curled up together and were soon fast asleep.  The search for me on the night of the wake is one of our family legends.  All I remember is the smell of whiskey off my father’s breath as he gently lifted me on to his shoulders to carry me home.  His words echo in my ears all these years later:
‘Jesus Christ’ he said, ‘you must be the only child in Ireland who can be sound asleep and still cause trouble!’

Author: Mick Geelin










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