Paddy Plant is a man of ninety-six who lives in Ballyyahoo. He is very good at making chicken coups and fox-proof fences. In fact, Paddy Plant is good at everything that you can make with hammers, nails and shovels. He loves hard work even more than he loves his favourite dinner of liver in onion gravy in a ring of buttery spuds and that’s saying something.
Digging used to be Paddy’s favourite job. He used to win medals for his digging at the Ballyyahoo shovel festival but when he turned ninety-two, his hip started making a noise, a bit like the sound of a rusty gate opening. It happened every time he turned the shovel and the noise made every donkey in Ballyyahoo start making the loudest heehaw you ever heard. Doctor Donomore told Paddy it was the sands of time crunching up against his hip and he could either go on the waiting list for a new hip, or he could stop digging.
Paddy asked how long the list was. Doctor Donomore fiddled with his computer and frowned, his eyebrows got so close together they looked like one long hairy molly crawling across his face.
‘Well now, I’ll put it like this, Mister Plant, if you printed the list out it would stretch all the way from Ballyyahoo to County Wexford – twice! If I was you I’d put the oul shovel away, Paddy, can’t you get some young lad to do it?’ said Doctor Donomore.
‘Young lads?’ Sure they wouldn’t know a good day’s digging if it flew up and smacked them in the face with a wet fish,’ said Paddy.
‘Now, Mister Plant, don’t be like that. There’s plenty of strong young lads around that would be glad to help a good man like you,’ said Doctor Donomore.
‘Well, if there’s a young lad that can be dragged away from them oul plastic yokes with the tellys on them and them rat yokes that makes pictures on the screen move I’ll give it a go but in the meantime put me on the waiting list, you never know your luck, half of them might get the boat,’ said Paddy.
‘I’ll do that for you, Paddy, but even if half of them get the boat you would still be one hundred and twenty-six years old by the time it came to your turn. So remember while you’re waiting – no digging! Or else I can do no more, ‘ said Doctor Donomore.
Paddy was disappointed. This was the year he decided to put a pond in and Paddy didn’t have enough money to pay someone else to do it. That’s why when Gerry’s mother asked him to find some work for her lazy son to do Paddy decided now was his chance to get the pond dug.
Paddy always fancied a pond. He wanted frogs. Paddy loves frogs. He always wanted to keep them back in the last century when was a young lad but his mother wouldn’t let him and anyway in those days he was always too busy, picking potatoes, picking mushrooms, picking apples, turnips, carrots and swede.
In fact, Paddy used to wear his shoes down to nothing walking from farm to farm asking for work. When Paddy was young there was little or no work in Ireland for young lads who left school at eleven like Paddy, so lots of young people took the boat in search of better days. Paddy didn’t mind picking and pulling vegetables and fruit, besides he knew it was either that or get the cattle boat to England and Paddy didn’t have the fare.
Besides, Paddy didn’t want to leave his mother, Kathleen, on her own. His father had been a fisherman but had been drowned when a cruel storm had lashed his boat up against the rocks. Paddy’s mother was left with eleven children, ten hens and four cows. She somehow managed to feed them all but once the children grew up they all took the boats to England. All she had left was Paddy, one cow, twenty-seven hens and a pain in her heart where her husband and children used to be.
Paddy knew he could never leave his mother on her own to get the boat and follow his brothers and sisters to Liverpool and Birmingham so he was happy to get whatever work he could get. He never complained about hard work and the farmers always rewarded him with a bit of extra something, like a few rashers of bacon, or some sausages to bring home to share with Kathleen.
Later, Paddy met his wife, Mary, and they all lived together in Kathleen’s house. Apart from the occasional fight between Mary and Kathleen, or Paddy and Mary, or Kathleen and Paddy, those were mostly happy times and most fights were soon settled when Kathleen reminded them just whose name was on the deeds of the house and threatened to boot-propel them all up the road to Ballyuseless and nobody wants to go to Ballyuseless!
When children came along Paddy just built another bit on the back of the house, Mary would throw an extra few spuds in the pot and Kathleen would knit another jumper. Those years were busy and like the best of busy years they flew. They might have been a tiny bit happier if Paddy had been able to keep a few frogs but Mary used to turn green at the sight of them and Paddy’s heart went crossways to look at her green face so he never got his frogs.
Sadly, just after the children grew up and took the boat, Mary died in a terrible accident, when she fell and hit her head. Once again it was just Paddy and Kathleen in the house. Time moves slowly when you are sad and for a couple of years time was so slow to move it was as if it didn’t move at all.
Eventually they got used to it being just them again and gradually the sadness slipped away in silence until Paddy and Kathleen learned a new way to be.
Like a lot of the older people in Ballyyahoo, Kathleen had a long life. She lived to be one hundred and four. When anyone asked her secret she always said it was down to the fresh air and fresh fish in Ballyyahoo.
After Kathleen died Paddy knew it was too late for him to go anywhere else or do anything else other than what he already knew in Ballyyahoo. Ballyyahoo wasn’t just where Paddy’s friends lived it was where Paddy’s heart lived. Still there’s always room in an open heart for more and Paddy still yearned for frogs.
Now, for the first time ever, Paddy’s wish for frogs might just come true. He’s praying that the young lad, Gerry, isn’t one of them eejit-boys that’s always hanging around, doing nothing but swinging on the rusty old gates of Ballyyahoo.
Gerry is hoping Paddy isn’t one of those oul lads that make you work really hard and call you an eejit-boy while they try and work you like a slave. They just might both be right…
Read ‘The Little Book Of Swinging On A Gate’ to find out what happens when Paddy meets Gerry.