People often ask me if the Girl in the Shadows is about my own life. No, it is a work of fiction but I have used my experiences of rural life in Ireland to add flavor and depth to the series.
My Grandparents lived on a hilly farm in Co Kerry. My Dad and I used to visit them regularly from our farm in West Cork. I always volunteered for the trip (about 50 miles over the mountains) as I loved meeting my extended family – Uncles, Aunts and Cousins.
As soon as we arrived my Grandfather would pour a shot glass of Irish whiskey for my Dad. My Grandmother would hang the blackened kettle over the fire and put a few pinches of tea leaves into the battered stainless steel tea pot.
While the kettle was boiling my Grandmother would cut slices of sweet currant cake and place the pound of butter on the bord (table). Cups would be taken off the dresser and the fine turf ash rinsed out of them with a little water from the bucket. The rest of the water would be poured into a bowl and the empty bucket would be handed to me.
The well was a shallow hole in the ditch a few hundred yards down the road, filled by water dripping off the hill behind it. An old piece of wood was lodged over the hole to keep the worst of the dirt and debris out of the well and this would have to be carefully replaced once the bucket was full. It took a bit of practice to fill the bucket without stirring up dirt from the bottom of the well.
By the time I got back to the house the tea would be on the table and the currant cake would be buttered.
Sometimes, if we arrived early we would have bacon and cabbage with boiled spuds. My Grandmother used to show off the beautiful bacon with its two inches of fat, “Did you ever see a finer piece of meat?”
After eating I would help my Grandmother wash the ware. She always used Daz washing powder for the job. She never saw the point in getting washing up liquid when the clothes washing powder did the same thing.
My Dad would help my Grandad haul in a massive piece of tree trunk and this would be laid in the hearth on top of the glowing embers.This chunk of wood slowly burnt in the middle and when the fire needed making up, the two sides were simply pushed together. A few pieces of turf were thrown on top for good measure.
My Grandfather would take us on a walk around the farm, starting with the steep hill behind the house where the sheep were grazed and finishing up down by the river where the two or sometimes three, cows were kept. We would drive the cows home for milking.
It was my Grandmother’s job to milk the cows and I loved watching her as she filled the buckets with the creamy milk. The cow shed smelt of bracken as this was the bedding used by my Grandfather – straw was unknown on the mountain.
My Grandmother would pour a little milk into a bowl just inside the cow shed, “For the cats, they keep the mice away.”
After milking the men would drive the cows back down to the river fields.
As darkness began to fall the rest of my Dad’s family began to arrive bringing their own families with them. The parents would sit in the house drinking tea and playing cards while we younger ones played outside or just sat around in groups.
My cousins were as fascinated by my life in Cork as I was by their lives in Kerry. The counties are side by side but sometimes it seemed like a whole world away.
As the evening wore on we made our way into the fire and watched the card games and listened to the chatter.
Finally, the table was pushed back against the wall and everyone pulled up a seat to the fire.
“So! Who’s first for a song?”
One by one we all sang for the company. My cousins had some of the sweetest voices I have ever heard and I was always embarrassed to follow them but everyone clapped, praised and thanked each of the singers in turn so I never really minded.
All too soon it was time for Dad and I to say our goodbyes and head back over the mountains. I consoled myself with the knowledge that in a few short weeks we would be back again.