A Day Spent Mitching

The only thing I remember about my school days was the day I went mitching with my
brother Vincent. Somewhere between our house and Boyhan’s Forge we decided we would
go mitching for the day. Heavens only knows what put the thought in our heads: perhaps I
didn’t have my homework done and knew I would get a hiding from the Master; perhaps we
got a whisper that Daddy was going to be mowing meadow and by some false reasoning
figured we could be home for it. I’ll boast here that it was my idea and that Vincent went
along with it! We went up as far as Boyhans’ and then out on the main road, past Carthys’.
At that time, the Monagh River crossed under the bridge at a very sharp bend at the head of
the road, opposite Delaneys’. Then it turns towards Farthingstown, crossing at the head of
the townland’s farms and skirting Rochfortbridge before turning south. We got into Carthy’s
field at the main road and soon came on the river.
Everyone in Farthingstown got a bit of the river: Boyhans, Boylans, Dignams, Walshes,
Briens and ourselves. We spent the day along it, trying to stay out of sight by using the
ditches, trees and furze for cover. We lay about, doing anything to put in the time until we
could go home. It was a hot summer’s day in early June, with not a cloud in the sky. We took
off our shoes and paddled in the water. We spotted rabbits (they would talk to you then!) and
tried to catch pinkeens in a jam jar we found along the way. We ate the lunches we had in our
bags and finished off the bottles of milk to go with them. There were no loud, boyish
competitions like trying to outdo one another in racing, jumping or climbing. We were 11 or
12 years old and thought we knew how to go unseen for a day by the Monagh. We talked a
little about the weather, cutting the meadow, our jobs at home, our teacher, getting caught,
such things but we were quiet fellows then and a fair bit of the day passed in silence
between us. We day-dreamed and looked about us, and pondered the flowing waters that
wound their way far ahead, through the bogs and plantings to the Westmeath-Offaly border.
At the end of the field farthest from our house the river formed the mearing. A strong, wide
wooden plank (Daddy called it the Black Stick) lay across it from bank to bank. There was a
walking pass through the village farmland then, starting from Briens’, through our land,
across the Monagh, into Eighans’ and on to the Bridge. Some people always walked that way
to mass and to the shops. A number of wooden stiles allowed users to cross over ditches and
banks from one field to the other. The Black Stick made it possible for them to cross the river
in safety. In addition to the plank, there was a hand rope running from side to side, about
waist high, to hold on to. How could two boys on the mitch not let loose some of their
energies on the inviting structure?
Perhaps it was our unrestrained exuberance that drew the attention of Tom Brien who
reported our presence to Daddy. He was sent back immediately to fetch us home: “You
might as well come home, your father knows you’re here and he wants to see you”. We knew
we were in trouble. We were marched home, given a hiding, told not to do that ever again
and sent to bed with no dinner. We had to go into school the next day and tell the Master
what we had been doing the day before and got in trouble all over again!