Mickey the Horse with May, Brigid nee Heffernan, Peadar(?) and Daniel Stephen Crowley
Families are not just people, pets and in Mickeys’ case ‘working animals’ played a big part in family life. Mickey was a legend in his own time and dearly loved by all at Friars Walk. Wonders never cease. I was handed this photo of Mickey last year (2000) by Mary Molloy and when I saw it I remembered the following story.
Mickey – a steel grey cob or light horse – was bought as a two year old colt at the fair of Dunmanway by Father who was accompanied by a worker, Din Mahony. This was about 1912.
Mickey was of Arabic stock. He had one less vertebrae in his spine than ordinary horses and his head was neat and well shaped.
They brought with them a donkey foal with whom Mickey had become friendly with while grazing in the fields of west Cork. The presence of the donkey foal eased considerably the difficulty of conveying the lively young Mickey to Friars Walk. (The donkey lived out his life in Friars Walk where he met a rather tragic death. A habit of his was to run down from the garden at certain times and throw himself down in front of the fire!)
Mickey was trained by a man with a glass eye named Murray from Evergreen (direct quote from Jimmy).
During the period of 36 or 37 years of his life Mickey became a legend not only among his loving admirers in Friars Walk but by everyone on the routes he travelled in the city and on many dusty country roads as well. He was not only the ‘lorry’ and ‘tractor’ to us, but also the motor car as well. Working hard all week, he gave us endless pleasure at the weekends.
At Work: His general work around the place consisted of ploughing, flattening, rolling (with roller almost running on to his heels), pulling the scuffler to remove weeds from between drills, raising to potatoes and cabbage with plough or refitted scuffler. When harnessed (heavy harness) to the car his jobs included being filled up with vegetables for the market which was held on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings; or for Sheehan’s of Dillon’s Cross (where Hazel had her Hair Salon); or being filled up with weeds, stones, stumps etc. when a square was being prepared for ploughing, drawing dung from the yard; drawing Corpa; drawing stable manure from the stables in town (like Suttons or Thompsons, firms which had many horses for delivery purposes). The dry straw from this stable manure used to be shaken out to be piled up into golden heaps for himself. The deep furrows in the garden paths bore witness to the heavy loads he used draw. In the memory of one small boy, a fearfully anxious moment used to be when Mickey with car loaded high with bags of spuds, maybe a hundred of well displayed cabbages, bundles of rhubarb, bunches of turnips, parsnips, carrots, onions on a pouring wet Friday afternoon with mud and water in the furrows would be asked to move. Would he make it? He always did. purposes course going in and out of town was an almost daily occurrence. Pulling a heavy car full of vegetables up the hill from the Coleseum to Dillon’s Cross was no easy task. Jerry had a hair raising account of driving Mickey, laden, down Barrack Street Hill when the seat board slipped behind Mickey’s rump and the car. This frightened Mickey and his efforts to keep the car from running down this very narrow, steep and twisting hill, by using his own weight, with rump pressed hard against the cart, wet and frustrated. Only Mickey and Jerry could have come safely out of it.
Other thoughts that come to mind in this connection – backing into his place at Musgraves in the Market (and woe betide any farmer who usurped his place with his lorry!); his automatic stopping outside Peggy’s shop on the Bandon road; the hissing deluge in the yard when he returned home; the way father would throw the reigns across his back and jump down from the car, jaded and tired and perhaps disappointed with his morning.
Trap Outings: Lighter harness was used, which was kept polished and shining. The slight embarrassment of fitting Mickey’s tail into the loop of the britching. A tub trap with door at back, washed regularly was pulled out of Georgies shed, His long tail combed. The places we would go to – Mass; Inniscarra (6 miles); Kilumney (10 miles); funerals; Pigeon Hill Races near Whites Cross); Crosshaven (14 miles); Ballinrea Races on Carrigaline Road (7 miles). The visit to the pubs on the way back from trips and funerals; biscuits in packets; ginger snaps, lemonade; visits to Aherns of Barrack street – into the room on the left passing the bar on the right, big bags of wheat and flower (which we ate), massive lumps of country butter sale, big yard at back with mysterious sheds, weighing scale covered in wheat dust and a big fire in winter.
Other random thoughts that come to mind were the clouds of dust from passing cars, and the petrol-smell of this dust from the untarred roads of the time. Giving visitors a day out – Ethel, Mrs Cotter, Brigid when she came home from America. Embarrassment in front of these visitors at the lifting of the noble tail, the sudden stops and gushing noises, the prolonged windy reports.
Legends about his ability to race motor bikes. Jimmy has a story of when he and Father left Cork one day at 11 o’ clock and were in time for 12 o’ clock mass in Bandon – a distance of twenty miles (32km). They were on their way to a score. His ability to speed up saved us at least once. I remember passing by Ballincollig Military Barracks one Sunday. A group of Free Staters were lounging around the gate. As Mickey trotted by, Father shouted appropriate imprecations at them and raised his fist to them. They did not like it and stood up and shouted back and threatened; Father stood up in the trap and roared abuse. They raised their rifles. But a touch of the reigns on Mickey soon had us out of danger. A big fright for a small boy.
Accidents: I remember two. Once, on the Crosshaven road, Mickey took a grab at a bite of hay from a passing lorry and came a sudden cropper on the ground. The shafts of the trap were broken and the passengers ended up on Mickey’s back for the most part. But he never stirred, as was his habit on such occasions. There were other accidents, at Pigeon Hill Races and near the Lions on what is now the dual carrigeway.
On Horseback: Jerry and Billy to memory were the only ones to ride him bareback, around the garden, up to the grass at the top of the orchard, over to tates for grazing – but there is a picture of Dan on his back. One of the pleasures for young babies and their Ma’s and Da’s was to get a spin on Micky’s back around the yard. No one younger than Roy (according to Dan) or Dan (according to Peadar) got one of these spins.
Micky at leisure: Many a time he was released (or escaped) out of his stable. Away with him, with main and long tail flying, past the beech hedge at a furious gallop, no lessening of speed until he reached the furthest part near Hennessy’s hedge. Stiff legged stop, head erect turned back toward the house, eyes and nostrils flaring in defiance as he looked back at us. Many a time he escaped from the stable or while being harnessed in the yard, and many a wallop he got for it too. Again grazing quietly on the square of grass at the top of the orchard or on the long lines of grass between the wheel furrows and the narrow path made by his own feet. He was allowed wander around the paths to graze, but inclined to choose his own ground, he often wandered into a square of young onions or transplanted early cabbage. We were often sent out to see where he was. He’d hear us coming and would stalk away and would watch us until we got fairly near him when he would stalk away to where he should have been. A special habit of his was coming down on a Sunday evening to the back kitchen window for his usual tasty morsels. He used sometimes to gallop away altogether, away past Regans, out on the road. Did somebody have to go after him or was he allowed to find his own way back?
His stable: This consisted of the inner of two sheds, situated between Georgies shed and the crashed. It had a rough stony floor covered with golden straw; one of the chores was regular cleaning out of the stable – ‘Go out and clean the stable’ and again to stop a child crying, ‘I’ll put you out to sleep with Mickey. There was a manger of hay fixed in one corner, parts of which became eaten away as the years went by, or became covered in black looking sweat from the constant rubbing by Mickey’s neck. His feeding bucket for oats, etc., was placed inside the door. The door was a half door with a rail over it. The annex to the stable had a double bin for oats, later reduced to to one bin, zinc lined. It also held his two sets of harness on hooks and timber brackets. Also pikes and shovels and spakes were stored there. The outside door was higher than the inside one, but it too had a space over it. Was he ever stabled in Georgie’s shed, next door? His shoes were made of iron and some of these are in possession of various members of the family. His shoes later became covered in rubber or rubber padded. How did he take to these?
When we thought he would have to be destroyed: One day Mickey was standing under the butt while heavy dung was being loaded, in the yard. When the butt was full he moved off but for some reason he fell and ended up on his side in a big, fairly deep hole. Father got the butt dragged away from him somehow and an effort was made to to pull him to his feet. He could or would not get up. Father examined the limb and came to the conclusion that it was broken. What tears, heartbreak, fear and sorrow spread around then. Everyone wept and hid themselves in various places around. The insurance man happened to arrive. He examined the leg and confirmed the break. The Gardai (police) from Togher barracks were sent for to put him out of his pain. Neighbours gathered to offer advice and to wonder if anything could be done. Then as a Garda was going across the passage, Father took a hold of the reins for the umpteenth time and pulled really hard on it in a last forlorn effort to get Mickey up. And this time it worked. The apparently limp broken leg was used and he stood up. I’m sure Father flaked him in relief; for the rest of us tears of joy replaced the other kind. What shouts of joy and amazement greeted him after hours he stood up and shook himself apparently none the worse. The loving and abuse he got, the individual visits to the stable that evening and the generous fists of oats he got.
The End: And finally in 1947 the end came (maybe 1946). At the age of about 37, which was remarkable for a horse – equivalent to 90 to 100 years old in a human. He died in August that year. Dan, Kevin, Una and Eileen were at home. Dan and Kevin dug his grave at the top of the garden, Close to the corner between Hennessy’s and Riordans. And there he was buried, amid tears.