John Arnold: The story of a Bantam cock smuggled from Cork to Paris

John Arnold recalls a French student who visited Cork and decided to smuggle a bantam cock, which is on the crest of the French rugby jersey, back home with him
John Arnold: The story of a Bantam cock smuggled from Cork to Paris

The cock was placed in an Easter egg box, which Pierre carried with him on the flight to Paris, said John Arnold. Picture: Stock

THERE’S a grand old phrase, perhaps a sean-fhocail, in Irish ‘Is ait an mac an saol’ which is translated into English as ‘life is strange’. How true that little gem of wisdom is.

I suppose I have a vivid imagination, but still life is indeed strange.

What often amazes me is the way a word, a sentence, a verse of a poem or a song can trigger something in my head and send me away in tangent.

Recently, while reading, I was also listening to the songs of Sean Dunphy — the man that sang If I Could Choose in the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest. I was only ten that year and we weren’t long after getting a black and white television and the Eurovision was just huge for us.

In 1965, Butch Moore with Walking The Streets in The Rain was 6th. The following year Dickie Rock with Come Back To Stay was 4th and Sean was runner up to Sandie Shaw’s Puppet On a String in 67. Two years later he had a huge hit with The Lonely Woods Of Upton.

It was another ‘Cork song’ sung by Sean Dunphy Mount Massey, The Pride Of Macroom that set me thinking back down boithrìn na smaointe recently. Growing up in Bartlemy in the 1960s we had many local characters like Fagin, Dave Ryan, Tom O Brien, Mike Spillane, Johnny and Jerry, Jer Connors, Dan Dooley, Bill Cronin and a man named Tim Moynihan. Tim had a habit of saying ‘Old Sport, Old Boy, Old Chap’ and the song he loved was Sean Dunphy’s Mount Massy. I was only a garsún but I can vividly recall Tim above at The Cross singing;

How I long to remember those bright days of yore

Which sweetly with joy I beguiled

The friends that frequented my old cabin floor

And the comrades I loved as a child

How I longed for to roam, by Mount Massey’s green groves

Or poach by the light of the moon

That spot of my birth, there’s no place on earth

Like Mount Massey, the flower of Macroom

The song was Tim’s party piece in the same way that Jer Connors ‘The Campaigner’ used to sing The Galway Shawl. Tim Moynihan and his wife Annie were a lovely couple — I often compared them to The Tailor and Ansty! They lived at Hightown just near where the Bartlemy Races are held.

Tim was born in 1901 at Raleigh, Macroom. The following year at the other end of the country a girl named Annie McGill was born in the Glenties in Co. Donegal. Growing up in an Irish speaking home, she was called ‘Annie Joe’ to distinguish her from her cousin Annie.

Many years later, Annie Joe recalled being taken to a ‘Hiring Fair’ where she was ‘hired into service’ in a Big House’ — she was only 14 years old at this time. She worked in different parts of the country and in the 1930’s ‘came South’ and obtained employment in Massytown House near Macroom. There she met Tim Moynihan ‘Old boy, old sport’. They fell in love and courted and in February, 1939, they wed in St Colmans Church in Macroom.

Tim worked here and there and the newly-married couple had a few different homes before finally settling in Bartlemy in the late 1950s. It’s a long, long way from Donegal — and from Macroom also — to Bartlemy but here’s where they stayed for the rest of their lives.

Tim got employment working in the forestry, which was a major employer in rural Ireland, 50 and 60 years ago. Annie Moynihan had the sweetest Donegal Irish. I loved it —though I could understand only a focail here and there — it was very different from the school Irish we learned. She was an industrious woman and kept every kind of poultry and fowl. At Moynihans there were ducks, geese, turkeys, guinea hens and bantams of all descriptions.

Now, we always kept hens at home — like most country folk did. We had a fowl house for the hens with a door to walk in to collect the eggs and a little small dooreen, about 18 inches square where the hens came up into the haggard when left out each morning. Back in 1933 the Poultry House was built as well, for rearing chickens, broilers and turkeys.

When I was small there’d always be, maybe, two dozen hens clucking and scratching around the place —Wyandottes, Leghorns, Black Minorcas and Rhode Island Reds.

It was Mrs Moynihan who introduced us to the bantam breed. They are just like minature hens and lay tiny eggs — yerra, you’d need four bantam eggs for the breakfast!

They are a grand, colourful breed and I loved them. Before long we were breeding them and ‘showing’ them too! Fermoy Show was going strong then. I recall winning first prize for both cabbage and lettuce in different years. I entered the bantams several years. To be truthful the bantams were ‘a minority religion’ — more for show than for profit. For Fermoy Show the bantams would be washed and shampooed and groomed — I was 2nd a few times but a Lysaght man from over Doneraile side always produced the winners!

I remember one year there was a French student staying with an uncle and aunt of mine near Fermoy. He came with them visiting us during his summer stay and was enthralled with our bantams. The bantam is on the crest of the French rugby jersey and nothing would do him only to get a bantam to take back home! We said it couldn’t be done with rules and regulations. Ireland wasn’t in the EEC back then, but we knew that ‘smuggling’ a live bantam cock on a plane was against the rules. Well, he had his mind set on it, come hell or high water.

A few days before he bid adieu he went with us up to Mrs Moynihan’s and selected a fine year-old bantam cock, I think five bob was the price. The student was speaking French, Annie Moynihan was blessing the departing bird in Donegal Irish and the bantam was crowing loudly — a chorus of chaotic sound. When the day of departure for Paris came, a piece of soft twine was placed loosely around the birds beak — to encourage silence during the flight. He was placed in a box which was put in an Easter egg box which Pierre carried with him on the flight. We heard afterwards that man and bird arrived safely and more than likely his offspring are still crowing somewhere West of the Pyrenees!

Annie Moynihan was a wonderful woman for telling the weather forecast. From her parents and neighbours in the Glenties she had learned how to ‘watch the signs’. She knew how to interpret the way the wind was blowing, the manner in which animals lay down and got up, the flight patterns of crows, the clouds and the way the wild birds sang. She was a marvel and could foretell rain maybe 36 hours before it’s arrival.

Tim and Annie Moynihan are both dead with these good few years past. Their home was sold and their place knows them no more. We have no hen at all at present. We got six of ‘em two years ago and we couldn’t give away all the surplus eggs we had. Last year then the fox took one and another one died of fright I’d say. The remaining two gave us about a dozen eggs a week.

Like when we were small ourselves the grandchildren loved going up to collect the eggs when they’d call. During the summer the divil of a fox returned and wiped out our small flock altogether. Do you know what but you’d miss them around the yard. We’re going to repair the fowl house door and make it fox-proof and get six hens again.

Hens and eggs — and I started with Sean Dunphy and Mount Massy! Is ait an mac an saol alright.

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