When I lived in the mountain, I had a green Cortina Mark 2. It cost me three hundred and ten pounds in 1974. The lights were put on by connecting two wires underneath the steering wheel. The steering wheel wobbled when the car went faster than a bicycle. But there was a tape deck. An invaluable item in any car of the time in West Cavan.
Tapes by Philomena Begley and Ray Lynam could be purchased in Mullan Mart, an outdoor Sunday morning event, on the border between Cavan and Fermanagh.
The windows of my Cortina didn’t wind down. The doors rattled. The exhaust pipe had holes in it that made the machine sound like a Kalashnikov AK 47, and caused British Soldiers at the checkpoints near Swanlinbar no end of anxiety.
But if you put four girls in the back seat, and three more in the front passenger seat, and turned the Philomena Begley tape up to maximum volume, then the Cortina became a dream machine.
Heavier on the road, it glided along, and freewheeled silently down the hills. Not a rattle could be heard above the steel guitar of Daniel O’Hara. Glangevlin at the time was like an extended family. People belonged to each other. The girls took a lift from me on weekend nights, to the Mayflower Ballroom in Drumshanbo, or the Ballroom of Romance in Glenfarne.
At the end of the night they all gathered with their men along the long bench by the wall of the tearoom, drinking mugs of tea. Men – pronounced ‘Min’. Min were often lads in platform shoes and tractors in the car park.
Sometimes you might see a smiling policeman in his off duty jumper, moving around like a pike among the perch. Some min were troublesome. I knew a girl who always took a knitting needle with her in her handbag, and dealt with any idle hands on the dance hall floor with a firm poke of her pointed weapon into the offender’s belly.
More often than not the girls chatted in the tearoom and shared cigarette butts for an hour or more, before they came looking for my Cortina.
On the way home they would laugh their heads off discussing the merits and otherwise of their dance partners. Sometimes we returned to one of their houses. There was more tea. The record player went on.
They danced quick steps round the kitchen to Hank Williams and other American Country artists till four or five, and always put a few sods of turf in the range before retiring, so that the fire would be ‘in’ and the kitchen warm for their parents at breakfast time. But life moves on. I left. They all left.
I once drove a carload to the Airport. Their mother splattered holy water on the bonnet of the Cortina and ran straight back into the house. She had her door closed before the car moved off. I sometimes think of that kitchen. And those old parents who remained. The range unlit. The porridge cold. The terrible silence of the long winters.
And recently I drove past an old car cemetery behind a filling station and I stopped to stare at an upturned Green Cortina, Mark 2 that lay on its side by the ditch. I got out and walked around it. No glass in the windows. No wheels at all. And even the back seat was gone.
But, as I said to the boy on the petrol pumps, other than that, she’s in good nick. He filled my Nissan with unleaded and stared at me, as if I wasn’t at all right in the head.