John Arnold: Innocent times when ‘caffling’ gave us a laugh and a smile

You'd hardly ever hear the word ‘caffling’ nowadays, so says John Arnold in his weekly column, who explains what it is all about
John Arnold: Innocent times when ‘caffling’ gave us a laugh and a smile

SILLY PRANK: Did you hear the ‘caffling’ incident where a group of men dismantled a cart and rebuilt it in someone’s kitchen — with the donkey attached to the shafts? Picture: From 1880 Sean Sexton/Getty Images)

I SUPPOSE long ago there was no anti-social behaviour, or if there was that way of naming it wasn’t known back then. Nowadays it’s nothing short of criminal with wanton vandalism and destruction of property. Many blame drink or too much drink but that’s no excuse either. Times have changed and society has changed, maybe we lived in more innocent times 50 and 100 years ago but there was more respect for people and their possessions in an era when people had little.

Do you know what, you’d hardly ever hear the word ‘caffling’ nowadays — ask anyone this side of 30 and they’d be looking at you as if you had two heads! Normally, if you called a fella a caffler ‘twould be said with a bit of a laugh and a smile.

Caffling was playing practical jokes or pranks and bits of tricks. In reality it was more fun than anything though the ‘victim’ — that’s too strong a word in reality, the person who was tricked, mightn’t always see the funny side of it! In most cases though no harm was done and when the deed was later recalled everyone enjoyed the retelling of the story.

A crowd of lads from our side went on an outing one time to some seaside resort in a bus. Going on a bus was a big event 60 years ago and it was day and a night out with a dance thrown in for god measure. I’m not sure was it in the Majorca in Crosshaven they were or the Lilac in Enniskeane. Wasn’t there a tug o war rope thrown in the ‘boot’ of the bus and what did the boys do only tie the bus onto a public phone box. Sure the driver nearly burnt the clutch out of the bus revving and getting nowhere ‘til someone confessed.

Con Ahern from Lismire was buried last week. Con was a lovely man, a great character though a farm accident left him confined to a wheelchair for decades. He had great sense of humour - a real lovable rogue. I heard the story about Con and ‘twas told at his funeral. Of a dark winters evening a neighbour of Con’s was ploughing - some said with a horse others said with a tractor. It don’t matter which or whether but Con was passing the way and observed the ploughman in the gloom from a distance. He stayed a safe distance back and followed the plough down the furrow. As fast as the plough was turning the sod Con turned it back to it’s ‘original stat’ and was never seen. Well, when the ploughman came back down the furrow next time the same thing happened. He didn’t know whether ‘twas ghosts or fairies or what but all he knew was that he was making no progress at all. He gave up the job that night. Con and himself had a good laugh about it later when the truth, the whole truth came out!

The old people were very witty God Bless them! Long ago when the Station Mass was being said in country places the priest would mainly go to the Station House on horseback - I’m talking now mind of back in the early 1900’s. Most rural parishes had someone in charge of the chapel and in many cases that same person was in charge of the ‘Priest’s Box’. This timber box - like a travel chest, contained the chalice, sacred vestments, Holy Oils, scripture books and all the other requisites for the Station Mass in the house. That time all Station Masses were held in the morning - often at eight or half past. Where Stations were held in far flung parts of the parish the understanding was that the house that hosted the Station Mass on the Tuesday morning would ‘make arrangements’ to have the Priests Box transported to the house that was having Mass the next morning.

On this particular morning the Station Mass was being held at the house of the Quick family in Ballinterry in Rathcormac parish. The neighbours were there early. The priest duly arrived but lo and behold, due to some mix up the Priests Box hadn’t arrived. The Mass the day before was in a house nearly four miles distant. Someone was sent off on horseback to get the box. As he set our Johnny Quick looked at the priest, shook his head and said ‘God ‘tis a very bad tradesman arrives without his tools’ - quick by name and quick by nature!

There was man living not far from us, he must be dead these 50 years now. As long as he was able he’d never miss half nine mass in Bartlemy of a Sunday morning - you could set the clock by him. He’d walk over to the Chapel leaving about nine and after a bit of colloguing outside the gate he’d be back before 11. The same man had a grand little donkey and car for drawing sticks maybe a few bags of ration to fatten the pig.

Well one Sunday a few of the local fly boys arrived when he was just gone down the road. That time nobody locked the door and this man didn’t and hadn’t. The cafflers took the two wooden wheels off the donkey car and then removed the axle from the frame. They then took the cart into the kitchen and put back on the axle and the wheels. Next they brought Neddy the donkey in from the field tackled him to the shafts of the cart with straddle and all the other bits of tackling. Across the road then to await the return of the devout Mass-goer. He wasn’t inside the door when they heard the roaring and screeching and cursing and swearing.

Well lads the poor man was out of his mind. All reasoning and reckoning was gone and he couldn’t for the life of him figure out how the donkey and car had got into the kitchen - on their own! He was about to take the sledge and knock the gable end wall to get animal and beast back out when one of ‘the boys’ morryah was passing the road, coming from Mass, and heard all the racket and commotion. The poor man explained his dilemma and the other man scratched his head several times before coming up with a solution.

“If we un-tackled the donkey and dismantled the cart and took it out bit by bit,”

“Well ‘tis you have the brains surely.”

There used to be a lot of porter drank at the Old Fair in Bartlemy long ago. As well as the two local public house several ‘porter tents’ were always set up to ply their trade. As often as not too much drink had a lot to do with the starting of faction fights at this and other fairs. One evening of a fair day a woman had imbibed too much drink. She wandered around in a drunken stupor before collapsing into a rough hewn timber container - used to feed oats to horses. She fell fast asleep- an alcohol induced near comatose sleep. As she lay there her snores could be heard far and wide. Well a few locals - I was told their names but won’t mention them here, gently lifted the timber container on their shoulders. They then marched in a sombre funeral-like procession through the vast concourse of people at the fair. They looked suitably morose and chanted whatever bit of Latin they had picked up as altar boys years previously. A silence descended on the throng and people fell to their knees, blessed themselves and bowed their bared heads in mourning.

The six ‘pall bearers’ tread slowly and steadily towards the fence between the Fair field and the Galloping Field just below it. They picked their spot well. Just where there was a profusion of fine strong nettles growing they emptied their ‘coffin’ and ran like hell! Well the drink she had taken was strong but not as strong as hundreds of nettle stings to all parts of her anatomy! She roared and cursed as the crowd were in the stitches laughing at her ‘Lazarus-like’ recovery.

They say of a calm November night if you listen carefully you could still hear the string of curses she rained down on the local Bartlemy cafflers!

Selling kale plants instead of cabbage plants, selling a house and then buying it back after ‘haunting’ it, tying a goat in someone’s bed and piling snow at the front door - oh lads, the things they used to get up to! But sure ‘twas only all a bit of fun, caffling really.

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