Saturday, 26 December 2009

The Banshee

I do remember a few of our other escapades. Just behind the houses were located allotments and bordering them was a bit of wild scrubland, this we called ‘The Jungle’. All the youngsters at 92 were banned from going in there. So children being what they are, we would go a bit further down the road, until those at 92 could not see or hear us and enter the scrubland unseen. For what reason we were banned from entering the area I do not know, but we had great fun running and hiding in that secret place. Another game, which had painful consequences for me consisted of racing along the road, chasing each other, hiding and catching. I remember running very fast and falling over a refuse bin, which had been left out on the pavement for collection. I completely flew over it, and landed full on my face. As I remember, it was a freezing cold evening, which did not help. It felt as though I had smashed my face.

When I reached 92 my Granny Lawlor and Aunty Mammie took it all in their stride, there were no open cuts, my nose was spread across my face and my forehead glowing over my eyes; quite a mess. My face was bathed and cleaned with water, into which had been added seaweed. What benefit the addition of seaweed had, I shall never know, but my face looked as though I had done ten rounds in the boxing ring. I was sent to school the following day, which attracted a great deal of attention.

In the winter months we had heavy freezing frosts, which encouraged another social event. One of the roads off Walsh Road had a very good incline. The kids would take it in turns to creep into their respective kitchens and collect buckets of water. This would be thrown down the middle of the road, it would freeze immediately and the surface would become like glass. It produced a wonderful slide and I do not remember any casualties or broken bones. I might add that there were few cars around our area at that time. The walk to school was made more interesting by improvising a game along the route; we would use an old polish tin and would kick this along the square pavement blocks, while avoiding the lines between the slabs. It was skilful and exciting and it must have been similar to playing hopscotch.

In the dark evenings there was no television to watch, we would all gather around the fireside and story telling would begin. The stories would go on for hours, the longer we listened, the less we were inclined to climb the stairs to bed. One such tale concerns my Granddad, Pop Lawlor, and the night he passed away. Aunty Lily and Aunty Kathleen were sitting together and talking, late into the night. Suddenly a knock was heard at the back door. This was a strange occurrence, since nobody but the family used the back door. So very gingerly the door was opened only to find there was no one there. Thinking they might have imagined it, they resumed their conversation by the fire. A second knock was heard at the door, it was again opened, but still no one was there. The knocking was repeated a third time and by this time both Aunties had become quite troubled and agitated. In Irish legend a knock on the door, repeated three times, is only ever the harbinger of a death.
As nothing could be done, the two nervously climbed the stairs to bed, but were quite distressed by the experience. A further event happened during that night, when a noise was heard down stairs. On investigation it was found that a picture had fallen off the wall; this is not generally considered a good omen. The next morning Pop Lawlor was late getting up at his usual time. Aunty Kathleen had gone up to wake him and, God bless him, he had died in his sleep. Dear Granny Lawlor had not noticed anything amiss; when earlier she had got out of bed.

A short time before Pop Lawlor died, he was telling one of his stories. He went on to say, he was walking home one night when a Banshee appeared along side him combing her hair, as that is what Banshees supposedly do. A short time later, a young cousin, Denis (the brother of Eamonn), who was living at 92, unexpectedly died of natural causes.

As for myself, thankfully, I have never seen the Banshee, or experienced a picture inexplicably falling off a wall. I did experience knocking on a door, repeated three times, or it may have been the distinctive rattle of a door handle, three times. I recall being most alarmed and my daughter Susan, who was with me at the time, ran into the garden thinking that someone was playing a prank. I later learned that my own dear father had died of a heart attack, that very same day. This experience had occurred years later, while we were living in Harborne. Make of it what you will.

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