The Avondhu - By The Fireside


- By Eilís Uí Bhriain

The scorching sun in the heavens this past summer saw many country dwellers etching out a pathway to the old spring well, which never failed to yield such pure clear water from that gilded magic reservoir at the bottom corner of the meadow. There were many neighbouri­ng homesteads in my West Cork townland, away back in the fifties, that would tell you plainly “Yera tea isn’t tay without the bright sparkle of spring-water from the snow white enamel bucket!” There was a designated spot for that bountiful bucket inside every half door and the round cover was the perfect fit to ward off any speck of contaminat­ion!

I think that the year 2022 will be remembered for many striking reasons, but top of the list will be “The year the gáirdín spring went dry!” It was the year that many tea-water shrines were revisited, the once familiar stepping stones were laid bare and our shimmering reflection was once again to be viewed as we stooped for the tonic-fill.

I will always remember ‘going to the well’ as a rewarding ritual, when the swinging pail was your companion and, flanked by the prancing collie, you broke into a trot and sang a happy wee nursery rhyme tune. The hob-kettle by the open turf-fire was at the ready and was known to burst into song at suppertime, having its sturdy insides lined with a gushing fill from the ‘Spring’ bucket; that palate-pleasing taste of Mam’s tea-time pour had the memorable blas of pure crystal-clear nutrients from the small v-shaped well hiding under the craggy ditch, below the hen coop. We marvelled, as children on a jug-filling mission, how this tiny, rather obscure waterhole never stopped giving, even when the shaky flag at its mouth, scorched our bare feet in those hot summers.

It was quite a mystery to us and we loved the incessant, subtle music from the gentle trickle at the rear ‘neath the drooping ivy that peeped from the little well’s stony dome roof. What gifted stone mason carved out our bounteous family shrine that yielded the basic thirst-quenching pour, at every round-table feast. We sometimes paused for a soothing paddle on the exit-stream that flowed noiselessl­y down the fuschia-walled boreen. We could sit on the pale washed stone and pat faithful Lassie’s head, often in hushed silence at the nearing soporific warble of the visiting cuckoo, as she alighted from the thicket of mountain ash rising high above Mullach na gCaorach.

Yes, all of nature’s gifts were shared out from the surrounds of our sheltered spring well and we could talk to the trees, the bright lemon primroses and the vibrant curly, scented bluebells. We didn’t have an endless store of nursery rhymes in those days but we made up our own and hummed to the tune of the meandering stream, until our Mam called out for the awaited kettle-fill. The old well-stream was also the first venturing paddle for the pretty soft yellow baby ducklings and how they relished the freedom. We took turns at minding these fragile creatures from the threat of the hovering hawk on his beady-eyed prowl for such fluffy little foragers, so our designated post demanded a watchful eye at all times.

The spring-well was a recognised meeting point for the women in apron in bygone days and they looked forward so much to the chat, local family news and togetherne­ss, that the daily visit to the well meant to them. The cross-over apron was often bulging with goodies like rosy apples from the gáirdín orchard, a quarter of good-quality tea-leaves, a taoscán of sugar cubes for the Station Mass breakfast. These were all borrowed needs and niceties from the grámhar neighbour and would be gratefully returned a hundred fold. These hand-sewn inserted pockets were sometimes accompanie­d by a few securely wrapped ‘Woodbines’ fireside smoke, or a generous pinch of snuff for herself, the lady of the house to enjoy on a quiet moment, when chores were done and kiddies fast asleep.



Yes, these memories came flowing back this past summer 2022 when, with dangling enamel bucket, I made my way to the old spring well, as threats of water shortage hit. Alas! The old true-to-life seanfhocal sprung to mind as I gazed at an empty earthy hole at the foot of the small steps ... You’ll never miss the water till the well goes dry!

Yes, our seasons will change, rivers will run, tides will ebb and flow but every time I pause to watch nature’s wonders, my mind wanders. It fixes on the tireless meander of a silvery stream and escapes into that magic watery grotto, the white enamel bucket fill, childish chants and chirpy yellow ducklings...

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