Silk purse from sow's ear in the case of one local farm dynasty

John B Keane


John B Keane

Silk purse from sow's ear in the case of one local farm dynasty

AT a recent Fine Gael meeting in Carraigkerry there was a discussion about Abbeyfeale and the common market. and the result was a unanimous vote against entry.

It would seem too that the village of Duagh is against entry, or at least the majority of the people residing there are.

Listowel is equally divided and in the pubs for the last few weeks the arguments range back and forth. It is extremely difficult to make any sort of forecast as to the outcome of the forthcoming referendum but one thing is certain and that is a close finish.

My own prediction is a narrow win for entry.

Jack Wilberforce Faulkner is against entry.

“There's too many of 'em there,” he told me, outside the Listowel cattle mart one day last week.

“Too many of whom?” I asked.

He refused to answer, but he told me that if we entered we would wind up in China. In the mart there was a heifer sale.

“They're as dear as racehorses,” Jack commented - and indeed they were because fabulous prices were being offered. Bonhams were also dear and it was while I was admiring these that I was approached by a Carraigkerry man who told me an astonishing tale.

He pointed to one of the most prosperous young farmers in West Limerick.

“That man's grandfather,” said he, “started out in life with nothing but a pet bonham. Today his grandchildren own the biggest and best farms in West Limerick.”

East Limerick

IT TRANSPIRED that the grandfather and his wife worked with a farmer in East Limerick many years ago, forty-five to be exact.

Tom, which was the grandfather's name, worked for seventeen pounds a year and Mary worked for nine. These were fairly good wages at the time.

They fell in love and decided to get married but they hadn't as much land as would graze a goose so they built on a strip of waste ground at a crossroads.

It took three years to build the tiny house which was little more than a croteen. Tom and Mary built it between them, stone upon stone, stick upon stick, and when they married at the end of the three years they were presented with a pet bonham by the farmer.

The bonham was reared with a bottle and nipple and her abode was a tea chest near the fire. After a time she learned to feed from the skillet or to go to the cupboard if she was hungry.

She grew strong and big and Tom built a shelter for her at the gable end of the house. At this time a son was born to Tom and Mary.

As the weeks passed, the pet bonham developed into a fine sow, but like all sows, had an enormous appetite so that Tom was obliged to give her the freedom of the countryside.

She quickly became the scourge of the neighborhood and the terror of every dog within miles.

They would take to their heels the moment they spotted her.

She raided potato pits and was not adverse to dining on turnips and mangolds of local farmers.

If there was a loaf of bread cooling on a window she would take it, or if a kitchen was left unguarded she would raid it, always selecting the best food.

Finally, Tom took her to the boar, and lo and behold after the prescribed period, she gave birth to seventeen bonhams.

They were weak and it looked as if they would not survive until Mary knitted seventeen socks. Into each sock, she put a bonham and left his head hanging out.

She hung the socks over the fire with clothes pegs, and bottle fed every one of the bonhams.

They lived and when they were hardy, Tom lodged them in an old ruin nearby.

That was the beginning of a now famous rags to riches story. When she died after six years the sow had given birth to a total of one hundred and sixty-two bonhams, sometimes farrowing twice a year.

Land was cheap at this time, and Tom managed to buy a small, abandoned farm. His luck with the bonhams continued.

When he died he left big farms to each of his three sons. As I said earlier, they are the most prosperous farmers in West Limerick, and all because of one pet bonham.

Horses and women

AND NOW part of a letter from Padraig O Geibeannaig, of Western Cedarhomes Led., Kildimo, County Limerick. As the letter is very long, I can quote only the choicest parts.

“Dear Sir - I have, for the past few years, listened to your various Radio and Television conversations and read your articles in the Limerick Leader, and to put it as clear as possible, I think what you have to say is a load of rubbish.

“First of all, you speak about the most foolish subjects under the sun and, not to mention, nothing whatever with any sense at all. Yes, no doubt, you do get some people who will both listen to and read your articles, but these are people living in the bogs of Ireland which would take in most of the area around where you come from, but any person with any piece of common sense would not read or listen to you, but I presume most of the listeners and readers are just like myself, curious to know what next stupid thing you are going to say.

“I think the most stupid of all your interests is the matchmaking, and I notice every time you refer to this subject you join in the bachelors of West Limerick with yours in North Kerry.

“Once and for all, will you leave the bachelors of West Limerick alone and out of your articles and conversations.

“There is no need at all for any West Limerick man to go to North Kerry for a wife, as no doubt you will have heard what Limerick is famous for: fast horses and beautiful women. You might please note once and for all, that matchmaking is gone out of West Limerick for numerous years and do not try to bring it back again please.

“If ‘tis not gone out of North Kerry, then I think, instead of carrying it on, you should for once try to do something good and get rid of it.

“This would be the most practical thing for you to do, and the next time you are either writing or speaking on the subject, urge the people of North Kerry to forget about matchmaking and go out and get their own wives.

“I hope that my little note will help you to write more constructive articles and make some constructive conversations on Radio and Television from now on.”

This is only part of Padraig O Geilbeannaig’s letter.

I hope he believes it came from himself.

The late, great John B Keane was a Leader columnist for more than 30 years. This column first appeared in our edition of February 26, 1972