By Sally Moss
Back in the 1940s, the first person I met each morning on my way to Murlog School was a very nice old gentleman whose name was Jimmy Houston. He would have been on his way to the shop for his daily newspaper.
He sat up straight on his Daisy bicycle which had a big bell on the handlebars. His dog, Pincer, always tagged along faithfully, carrying the Irish Independent in his mouth for his master.
As he cycled towards me, I knew what he was going to say, because he greeted me in the same way every morning. He had a large Crookshank pipe hanging from his lips.
“Hello girly,” he would say. “On your way to school? Make sure you get no slaps today.”
I looked at him in amazement, wondering how he could talk to me, and keep the pipe in his mouth. I kept looking back, almost falling over myself, until he and Pincer were out of sight.
I walked on and I picked hawthorn berries to eat, which I may add, had no taste at all.
The next person that I met was Mrs Gallagher, a gentle old lady wearing a black shawl. Her grey hair was like a frame round her face. She was on her way to the well to fetch a bucket of water.
Then one morning, she called me over and as I walked slowly towards her, I could hear little chicks chirping. She said, “Come and see what I’ve got,” as she opened her shawl. To my amazement, I saw three or four little chicks nestling close to her.
I didn’t speak. I just kept staring with surprise. She said, “Mr Fox stole their mother last night, and I have to keep them warm or they will die.”
“That’s sad,” I murmured as I walked away slowly.
At this stage, I was approaching the Hurley Spout, and I could hear the running water as it trickled down. The water was so clear it was like a glinting mirror, and looking at it, I used to think, will the water ever dry up?
Standing there deep in thought, I felt a presence. I looked up and there was Mr Hunter, and his donkey, Neddy.
“I didn’t hear you today, Mr Hunter,” I said. “I normally hear the clank of you coming noisily along.”
He replied, “Ah no, we’re travelling in style today, aren’t we, Neddy?” The donkey turned his head as if to agree. Mr Hunter said, “Look here, girly, and tell me what you see?”
I couldn’t see anything.
He said, “Neddy’s cart has new rubber-shod wheels.”
As I walked on, I could hear the nine-thirty train, travelling towards Raphoe and onto Letterkenny. As it was going up the cutting it seemed to say, “I have to go, I canny go,” but it went on, carrying its passengers to their destination.
Time was running short, school was about to start. As I reached the top of the hill, I could hear the master, ringing the school bell. He always rang it ten minutes before class started.
I thought to myself, I’d better hurry. I had to put my bottle of tea, wrapped in an old sock, up beside the fire before class began. It sat there until lunch-time with the heat of the fire keeping a little warmth in it.
Going to school didn’t bother me. Those school friends of long ago are still clear in my memory today, as if it was yesterday. When I travel that road today, I still visualise all the people I’ve mentioned.
I will always treasure those happy, carefree days, and smile when I recall the precious memories of the walk to Murlog school.