Fam­ily For­tunes Any­one who didn’t abide by the rule was tied to a tree

The Irish Times - - Friday Life - CHRIS­TINE RYAN

It hap­pened the sum­mer I spent in the trenches. I was an English sol­dier, shoot­ing the Ger­mans across no-man’s land in the back field. The usual sort of thing: “Hey, Fritz?” “Yah, Tommy!”, “Bam! You’re dead!”

Only, one day we didn’t have enough Fritzes to make up a proper army so I was elected to dou­ble-job. This en­tailed leg­ging it across no-man’s land ev­ery time “Fritz!” was called, just in time to catch the bul­let and die a Ger­man. It was a dan­ger­ous job. On one fran­tic run, my foot caught in a root and I went fly­ing into the Ger­man trench, badly scrap­ing my knee on a bay­o­net en route. My flight ended with my head in the tin slop bucket we had thought­fully pro­vided for the in­con­ti­nent Ger­mans.

And so I got my first war wound. And a les­son in the dan­gers of dou­ble-job­bing.

As one of many young cow­boys liv­ing in south Co Dublin, I found plenty of other op­por­tu­ni­ties to en­gage in war games. Sandy­ford was sur­rounded by fer­tile green fields in which Indians reg­u­larly set up camp or lurked be­hind trees. It was in­cum­bent on us cow­boys to rid our fields of these red­skins to pro­tect the neigh­bours from be­ing mas­sa­cred by the varmints. And so we would ride out of an af­ter­noon all tooled up and ready to wipe out a few in­juns.

The deal was that any­one who took a hit – be they cow­boy or in­jun – would fall down and count 10 be­fore get­ting up to re­sume fight­ing. That way, we could keep the bat­tle and the whoop­ing and hol­ler­ing go­ing for hours. Any­one who didn’t abide by the rule was tied to a tree. Be­cause he wasn’t very good at sums, *Donal Byrne (aka Hairy Ea­gle) spent many of his young days in this way. So much so that it was easy for the rest of us to forget about his ex­is­tence.

We were safely in bed one night when a knock on the front door an­nounced the ar­rival of Donal’s da on our doorstep. “Chris­tine! Come down here!”, sum­moned my mother. It wasn’t until I saw Mr Byrne’s face that I re­mem­bered...

Me and my sisters, along with ev­ery other cow­boy and in­jun in the vil­lage, spent a lot of time in pokey that year. I didn’t mind so much. It gave me time to nurse the war wound.

*Not Hairy Ea­gle’s real name.

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