liam says… My neighbor Mikey rang and asked if I wanted to go to Doon, Co. Limerick, to see a horse drive. I was buried in cottage work and smack in the middle of dismantling my bathroom, but I was off. A few minutes later, Mikey pulled up in his truck, and I climbed in the front seat as Mikey’s children, James and Katie, and their cousin Sean squeezed in the back.
In this part of Tipperary, weekends in the summer mean horse drives. “Horse people” take their ponies and horses out with their gigs. These gigs could be simple two seat metal yokes (“yoke” being the local equivalent of “stuff” or “things”) that are completely utilitarian to beautiful road carts with brakes and padded seats… or the cart I have coveted my whole life… a bucket trap car. This would be the carriage most American’s associate with Ireland. It’s the cozy one with a little door in the back that makes it easier to step inside. Some of these bucket traps are very plain and used for trips away from the cottage to do shopping others are decoratively painted with spindles surround the top of the car and plush velvet seats. Despite my vision of a cart like this rolling from farm to farm on Knockahopple Road, cars like this were usually driven by the landed gentry, not the average farmer.
We arrived in Doon at Paddy’s farm. Paddy is a big horse man and deals in horse gigs and tacklin’… which is basically anything that has to do with horses. With a quick glance, it’s clear the horse drive has already moved on. Mikey asked a lad in the farmyard where the drive had gone. As luck with have it, the lad turned out to be Paddy son. H pulled out his mobile phone and shared the coordinates…they had just left Toom and were heading on the main road which would lead them back to Doon. This would be about a twenty mile drive so we still had time to catch up.
Mikey, knowing my decades-long desire to own a bucket trap… (yes, owning a bucket trap is on my bucket list)… told me to follow him into the a large shed. Confused by this voluntary delay, I followed him around the corner. As I made the turn, I found bucket trap heaven. There in front of me was a collection of carriages, gigs, back-to-back cars, side cars and, be still my hear, BUCKET TRAPS!
The shed was loaded with every imaginable thing you could hook to a horse. James, Katie and Sean climbed into the carriages, on top of the carriages and around the carriages… as did I. As I touched the hand-carved wood of one of the vehicles, Mikey called us down to a second shed. Inside there were two beautiful hearses… one white and one black. They were beautifully appointed with polished silver trim and etched glass windows. Anyone pulled in one of these was certainly going out in style.
Mikey explained how Paddy drives for many traveler/tinker funerals. The traveling people of Ireland usually have very large, ornate funerals. The thought took me back to the time I pulled into Naas, and traffic was backed for a mile. When we finally reached town, the event could have been mistaken for a wedding… everyone was dressed to the nines… women in furs and hats… men in tailored suits, but it was, in fact a funeral.
“All right, let’s push on, lads,” was Mikey’s way of saying we needed continue our search for the drive. Our plan wasn’t perfect, we’d basically find the drive and then follow them back into the village of Doon… where we started. However, these drives are often set up as fund-raisers, and even though Mikey wasn’t part of this drive because of a broken horse box, he still wanted to show his support. He had sponsored a drive several weeks ago, and many of the horse people in today’s drive showed up and he wanted to return the favor.
Down the road we went with Mikey not quite sure of the direction they were headed. We had a basic idea, but there are so many small roads intersecting here and there that it was confusing. All of a sudden, on went the brakes. Mikey took a hard left, and pushed forward like a hound on the scent.
“How do you know they went this way?” I asked.
Mikey pointed to the piles of horse dung in the middle of the road. We following the horse shit.
This of course prompted a question from me, “Hey Mickey, how did you know which direction they were going? Were they ahead of us or behind us.” We knew that they had been on this road, but how in this web of roads could he be sure we where heading in the right direction.
With out taking a breath Mikey slowed down the truck, “I’ll show ye. Now go on out and pick up a piece of the shit in yer hand. If it’s warm, they were in front of us. If it was cold, they were behind us.”
Although he delivered the lines like a wise Irishman, I knew he was just was wise ass Irishman. However, he said it with such authority I almost found myself following his instructions. I looked back at Katie, James and Sean sitting in the back seat and could see the grins across their faces. All three off them hoped I would have jumped out and scooped up a big piece of steaming horse poop. The Irish love the craic and they start training their children at a very young age.
Tying the sugan
We continued down the road until we came up a crowd of gigs and traps and horses. What a beautiful sight, and I couldn’t wait to get a closer look. Just as we were getting close, Mikey put on the brakes and pulled off the road. The field was dotted with trams of hay….hay stacks, like the ones in a Monet painting.
Mickey jumped out and I followed him to the trams. It wasn’t until I asked James to pose for a photo that I realized how large some of the stacks were.
Mickey called me over as he started pulling a cluster of hay from the pile. Using his fingers, he began twisting it into a rope that quickly went from a few inches long to a few feet. He was demonstrating how the sugan was tied years ago. The ropes kept the trams of hay from blowing away. The fact that no one does this anymore made me cherish the moment even more. It was even more of a pleasure to see Sean, Katie and James give it a go. Mikey was not going to let the tradition die.
By the time we caught up with the ride, we were back in Paddy’s field and his sheds full of traps and carriages. The men were moving about getting water and hay for the horses. Then it was our turn… off to Kelly’s Pub. The folks in the bar had sandwiches and live music waiting for us. We were all to enjoy one pint… which of course turned into three.
Music, craic, history and just the perfect end to a perfect day.
PS – I will one day own a bucket trap car… just thought I’d mention that.