The Avondhu - By The Fireside
‘A SPIRIT OF LIBERTY’
“We follow it all the time. Every morning, we check how many explosions there were, check if someone is dead. We call friends and relatives, see if they’re ok.
“This winter will be difficult. There is no electricity or heating in much of Ukraine, the street lights are off, and they are asking people to reduce the amount of energy and transport they use.”
The winter in Ukraine can reach minus 20 degrees, and while it might be possible to light a fire in a country house, it is impossible in an apartment with no open fire.
Her two youngest children are “happy at school” on the day The Avondhu meets Nadia, Olena and Yasmin at home in Kingston College. Nadia does not speak English and has fewer friends in Mitchelstown than in Millstreet, as there were more people there.
Studying at the Kharkiv National University of Economics, Yasmin is completing her classes online. Her first six months of college were in-person and normal. Then, it moved online due to Covid. Now, it’s online because of a war.
She has two good friends, and although they are still living in Millstreet, she manages to meet up with them in Cork City. Still, at 20 years of age, this is the time for Yasmin to learn how to drive, to enjoy life with her friends, etc. Instead, she is miles from home in a small town in rural Ireland. She shows a picture of her friend on Instagram. He was younger than her, and died in his apartment from a rocket attack. She talks about how they used to play soccer together, and before he died he was working, cooking food for volunteers in the war.
“Life is so unpredictable. If someone had told me a year ago that I would be working in Ireland, have my birthday here, and celebrate New Year’s here, I would have said, that’s not possible!”
Yasmin is good-natured and mature beyond her years and has found work locally in Supermac’s. Looking on the bright side, she says that it might be exciting to spend Christmas in another European country.
This interview takes place in late October, and both mother and daughter admit that Halloween is not celebrated as much in Ukraine so dressing up for school, as the younger two will do, is a novelty.
“We’ve met only good people here in Ireland. For example, I looked for a secondhand bike to buy for my children, but I got six or seven messages, all from people offering us bikes for free, and a scooter for my son.”
“Sometimes, with the kindness shown to us, I don’t have words. Maybe it’s because we have the same history of fighting. We know what the war is, we know what the famine means. Ireland is small, but brave and have a spirit of liberty from ancestors. We Ukrainians and the Irish don’t want to be slaves of anyone. We want to thank the Irish people and the government for their support and kindness.”
Just as most Irish people don’t know much about Ukraine, the Rakhim family didn’t know much about Ireland before it became their new home. Olena is an avid fan of the novel ‘Gone With The Wind’, having read it multiple times. In the novel, Scarlett O’Hara’s Irish heritage (‘her people’) is a prominent theme, and the famous closing lines are as follows:
“With the spirit of her people who would not know defeat, even when it stared them in the face, she raised her chin… After all, tomorrow is another day.”
Laughing and waving at the Galtees, Olena says “Scarlett is my queen, and now I am here. Hello, Scarlett!”
It was the New Year of 1963 and I was 15 - well I would be 16 in May. I was desperately wanting a job, a full time job. I had been odd-jobbing for Paddy Flynn in Coolneague, helping him out with farming tasks and that. A pal of mine, Michael Condon, told me he heard there was a job going in Barry’s Timber Yard in Fermoy. I applied and got the job. The age necessity was 16 but since I wasn’t asked my age at the interview, I played dumb and turned up for work the following Monday.
I was very nervous, but the excitement of my first real job, helped me overcome the nerves. I was appointed to Dave Fleming and my job was to ‘back’ the saw Dave was working on. Dave would guide the plank through the saw and I would take it through from the other side, take the off-cut and stack it etc. Being ‘last in’, I was also the tea boy - having the ten o’clock tea ready for the lads. I would wade through a swamp of used tea-leaves to fill an electric kettle from the tap, plug it in to a socket hanging from a piece of timber (health and safety hadn’t really kicked in at that time); fill the blackened kettle and set out eight or ten mugs on the sawdust as the lads gathered around, each having their own ten o’clock snack.
Mickey Callaghan was operating the giant bandsaw and I was mesmerised as he skilfully juggled with the giant saw blade on the pulley wheels as it laboured its way through a large beech or oak log. I recall one occasion at tea time when Mickey powered down the giant saw. As its speed decreased, it made a kind of a whining noise. Dave Fleming’s dog had followed him to work that particular day and the sound of the saw caused the dog to let out a loud cry. Davy Bane was in charge of the fire brigade at the time and thinking it was the siren from headquarters, he got up off his seat and rushed out to get his bike, and in the process, kicked over most of the cups of tea. He arrived back five or ten minutes later and told Dave what he thought of his dog, as all the lads were bent over with laughter.
They were a great bunch of lads some of them not a lot of years off retirement such as Mickey Callaghan (who was also the saw doctor), Walter Ennis (fork-lift driver), Dick Holmes, Ted Collins and Jimmy Gubbins (in charge of kiln drying). Dave Fleming’s other sawyer colleague was Seanie McLellan. In the few months before I left Barry’s Yard, Dave and Seanie were enjoying a lot of overtime (although I think they may have been paid per unit) when some very lucrative orders came in for finished pallets. Dick Thornton, Tommy Egan, Mick ‘Scobie’ Clancy (Clondulane) and Gerry O’Sullivan (Castlelyons) were also on the payroll in Barry’s with Michael O’Donnell, Paddy McCarthy, Tom Walsh (Glanworth) and ‘the boss’ Tadhg O Tuama, in the office.
Seanie McLellan, Mick Clancy, Gerry O’Sullivan and myself spent many happy lunchtimes playing handball against Barry’s front wall (opposite the Courthouse). One wouldn’t be able to do that today because of the sheer volume of traffic on that road.
One of the jobs I didn’t like was ‘Protimising’ the timber - dipping the various lengths of timber in the trough full of Protim. ‘Scobie’ Clancy was my partner in this and despite being rigged out in protective clothing, we still carried the smell of the Protim home with us.
While at times it could be hard work for a thin slip of a young fella as I was back then, the few short years at Barry’s Yard gave me great appreciation of timber and wood in general - particularly a lovely piece of finished teak, mahogany or oak or the ‘clean’ piece of white or red deal, straight and free of knots and blemishes.
- Liam Howard