A memory piece by Collette Bonnar

There was great excitement on our farm the year that the third clocking hen finally settled to hatch out a dozen eggs.

My mother hadn’t had much luck with the hen’s predecessors. The first hen wasn’t in a clocking mood. The second had met an untimely demise! After the non-cooperation of the first hen, Mammy spoke to another farmer’s wife at the far end of the parish. Mrs O’Neill was willing to lend us her clocking hen for the gestation period.

Two of my brothers were sent off to collect the prized fowl. Mammy produced a sack with a hole cut out for the hen’s head and gave them strict instructions for the transporting of the precious bird back to our farm.

But after the two boys collected the hen, carrying it home as instructed proved too onerous. When the bird had its head out, viewing the scenery and taking in the fresh air, she began to jump around like a jennet in the bag.

The boys, in their wisdom, decided to ditch the head out of the hole rule and threw the bag over their backs taking turns to carry it. Discussing the results of the Under-14 match the previous Sunday was much more interesting than the health and safety of the clocking hen.

The lack of movement in the bag as they neared our home rang no warning bells. When the two boys came traipsing into the yard Mammy went out to inspect the pedigree of the hen. To her horror it was stretched lifeless!

‘Death by suffocation,’ was the verdict of my sister Deirdre, the self appointed coroner. Another helpful neighbour supplied a willing clocking hen and when she settled we eagerly awaited the new arrivals.

Earlier in the spring a stray dog had wandered into our yard seeking asylum. The only member of the family who had any interest in the dog was my four-year-old brother Turlough. Daddy named the dog… Hopeless! She was a hopeless sheep dog and a hopeless guard dog. Intellectually she was minus nothing to the power of ten!  

When regular callers came to the house she would snarl and bark furiously, yet when a prowler came into the yard and made off with a chainsaw, she allowed herself to be petted by the cheeky intruder.

One day Mammy heard loud commotion coming from the direction of the outbuildings. She ran outside and as soon as she entered the barn, she knew something was terribly wrong. Hopeless ran out the door faster than an athlete on steroids.

The terrified, angry hen had sought sanctuary in the rafters of the barn squawking and clucking loudly.

Mammy was outraged and devastated at the carnage.   All twelve eggs had been demolished by the wayward dog. The straw from the nest was strewn everywhere and two empty egg shells were all that remained from the highly anticipated event.
Needless to say we were bitterly disappointed when we came home from school and were told the news. We had been looking forward to the tiny yellow puff balls making their appearance. However the weeks passed and a dozen chicks were delivered from Millbrae Hatcheries so the disappointment began to dissipate.

One day my younger brother announced to Mammy that Hopeless had been missing for two days. The following day my brother Desmond ran into the yard.

“Come quickly everybody,” he gasped excitedly, out of breath from running. “Hopeless has just had her pups at the bottom of the back field.”

Seven of us, wild with excitement, went dashing down the steep hill and towards the burn where the new mother and pups were recuperating.

Nestling in among the rushes was the bitch and her six little pups.  Carefully handing one to each of us, Desmond then lifted the new mother and the cavalcade headed back to the farmyard.

Trailing well behind us and clutching his little brown and white bundle, Turlough was quiet and showed little emotion. When we arrived back to the yard Mammy rushed out to see the new arrivals. Turlough was the last to appear looking very downcast.  

‘What’s wrong Turlough?’ Mammy enquired.

‘It’s not fair,’ he wailed, the tears now streaming down his face.  

Mammy moved over to comfort him as he looked up and sobbed: “How come, Hopeless ate twelve eggs but only had six pups?”

Read memories like these every week in Ireland’s Own