The happy couple, May Gaffney and Michael Reilly.

A field of dreams at the carnival in Kilnaleck

Fr Jason Murphy takes readers back to their carnival days in his latest column - Let the busy world be hushed - in his own inimitable way...

Yet beneath their freshly-pressed shirts, their hearts thumped like a blacksmith’s hammer at the thoughts of having to ask a young wan out to dance for fear that she might turn him down in the hope of a lad with more acreage.

She got down from off her bike at the foot of the Green in Kilnaleck on that balmy summer’s evening on her way home from work in Pat Lynch’s bar and grocery shop to watch as the men in their twos and threes heaved on ropes as thick as your arm, as in a game of tug of war, to raise high the poles that held aloft the Tarpaulin of the Carnival Tent. It would take pride of place on the village green as the children watched on in amazement and the hearts of the young, from far and near, skipped a beat as they thought on the hay that had yet to be saved before Leddy’s Ceili Band would begin proceedings on the Sunday night, transforming the Green into a field of dreams for the upcoming week or so.

She thought on the new frock that had to be taken in and her hair that had yet to be curled, bad cess to Conaty and his cheap auld scarf he had bought her as a show of love, to then leave her crying at the foot of a reek in the meadows below Mullaghallum beyond at Ardkill mountain. By jay, she’d show him now, though her heart lay in pieces, that she could have any man she chose as she held close to her chest the weekly pass for the carnival that Pat Lynch had gifted her for minding the wee girl while his wife was indisposed within in St Felim’s hospital, having their new baby.

She had every chance to meet a new man with a bit of rouge and her brown hair curled over the nights that were to come and let Conaty dance his fancy woman from the far side of Boston at the foot of Sligh Lae mountain and vow his love with a cheap auld scarf for she had her weekly pass to the Carnival in Kilnaleck.

Oh the bicycles were piled high in twos and threes as both she and her cousin Annie McManus and their friend Tess Galligan wheeled their high nellies up the hill on that balmy summer’s night after cycling the miles of road from Drumavaddy, singing in unison at the top of their voices as they freewheeled down the hills.

Canon O’Reilly in his high Roman collar stood tall at the entrance beneath his black felt hat, keeping a tight eye on the takings at the hatch, observing closely a few dicey looking lads from Ballymachugh that he felt might chance their luck at bringing a young one into the field when his back was turned.

As they walked through the opening in the tarpaulin of the tent, oh how the excitement filled the air as the band tuned up and Eugene Leddy plucked at his fiddle. Young ones in summer dresses giggling together in huddled corners as the young men dressed in suits, their hair quiffed back, gave off an air of ease. Yet beneath their freshly-pressed shirts, their hearts thumped like a blacksmith’s hammer at the thoughts of having to ask a young wan out to dance for fear that she might turn him down in the hope of a lad with more acreage.

There in that moment, as she entered in, she caught the eye of a young man, handsome of looks, who leaned against a pole in the middle of the floor, a mineral in his hand betwixt a group of lads from Mountnugent, whose eyes followed her as she crossed the floor to where all the Drumavaddy girls assembled. Her heart fluttered as the band played up and she knew he was bound to stretch his hand to ask her out to dance as Conaty looked over his fancy wan’s shoulder. How could she have foretold, as she sat in tears at the foot of the reek, that she would dance and dance that whole night long with a lad more handsome than Conaty and indeed she danced with him each night of the whole week after. All that summer long of ’53 they cycled on bicycles to every carnival around and about until one could surely say they were courting.

So, as the bands tune up for the Breffni Bash and at festivals and carnivals here and there, young people know before ever they go of the one they’re sure to meet, having swiped the days before on Tinder, be it right or left. Yet still, there is nothing, they say, like the thump of the heart when a young man crosses the floor to ask the girl he fancies out to dance in the chance that she might say yes, for what will be will be, in the Master’s plan and what’s for you, as they say, won’t go by you.

So as she knelt that night to say her prayers, the night that he crossed the floor, she thanked her God how it all came to be, knowing that it was not just by chance that he asked her out, for God had heard her prayers. But, for Pat Lynch’s wife being indisposed and her being gifted the weekly pass, to say nothing of Conaty meeting the quare wan, she wondered how it all came to be in the years that were to come, for five years on the young May Gaffney from Ardkill’s mount married the man she first had spied, the young and handsome Michael Reilly as he leaned against the pole and she entered in beneath the tarpaulin of the carnival tent that night in Kilnaleck.


Let the busy world be hushed: Reflecting on a life well lived