Summer School

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‘Is Seanie coming out?’

Seanie heard Timmy Hanley’s voice as he finished his bread and jam. It was Saturday morning and his father was standing at the open front door of their cottage. The July sun was already piercing through the high hedge that separated their house from the Hanley’s haggard. Seanie heard his father talking to Timmy as he slipped on his light summer jumper.

‘He’s finishing his breakfast. Have you the cows milked?’

‘Paddy’s on the way to the creamery already.’ Timmy always called his father by his first name.

Seanie knew his father was teasing. Timmy never milked the Hanley’s cows. He heard his father give a quick laugh.

‘What about the bog today?’ His father continued the work-based inquisition of Timmy.

‘Ah, there’s nothing dry there yet.’

Another short laugh. Seanie smiled to himself at Timmy’s quick answers.

‘Put on your wellingtons if ye are going to the river,’ his mother called, as he was about to put on his shoes.

He didn’t like wearing wellingtons with his short trousers. The wellington rims rubbed against his bare legs and always caused red lines on his skin. Sometimes he turned down the wellington tops so this wouldn’t happen.

Timmy Hanley had sandals on with no socks. They climbed the wall and jumped into the hurling field.  Timmy had already thrown the jam jars and the fishing net over the wall.

Seanie picked up the wire net and stared at it. He hadn’t seen it before. It had a short sally handle.

‘Made it last night. It’s very strong.’ Timmy seemed happy with his latest invention.

Seanie thought the bricíns and routags would easily swim through the holes in the lattice wire but he said nothing. Timmy was four years older than him and his mother said he was wild. The Hanleys lived a hundred yards up the road and had a small farm. Seanie was always happy when Timmy came for him.

The river was really a small stream that flowed down the edge of the hurling field and crossed the road under a small bridge about a hundred yards from their house. Seanie loved paddling in the river and catching bricíns and routags in jam jars. The deepest parts of the river were just over his knees. They headed for the opening where the bank had been taken away to allow horses and tractors to cross easily. The river was widest at this point. There was a tiny pebble beach and stepping stones to cross if you didn’t have wellingtons.

‘We’ll see if there’s anything under the rocks.’ Timmy had his sandals off and was already in the water. Seanie walked in with his wellingtons. The water only came up half way. He put two large jam jars on the sandy riverbed close to where Timmy began lifting one of the large stepping stones. The water rippled as two small fish flashed by Seanie’s legs.

‘Get anything?’ Timmy asked.

‘Empty! They went over them!’

They tried a few more rocks in the shallows and caught three bricíns. They let them go after watching them swim around the jars for a while.

‘Come on, we’ll go down to the bridge.’ Timmy headed off downstream.

The river narrowed under the bridge and the water flowed faster. Seanie took off his wellingtons and socks and carried them as he followed Timmy under the bridge and into the bull paddock.

‘Put the wellies on the bank and come in here!’ Timmy was already fifty yards downstream rooting under the alder and sally bushes that grew along the riverbank.

When Seanie reached him he was poking a stick amongst the roots and low branches.

‘I thought I saw something in the pool there.’ Timmy pointed. ‘Big fish maybe.’

Seanie knew that Timmy told lies. Exaggerated a bit his mother said. It didn’t bother him. Sometimes he liked Timmy’s fancy stories. Mostly he knew when he wasn’t telling the truth.

‘Here, you hold the net while I try to poke him out. Keep it still and don’t make any noise.’

He showed Seanie where to hold the wire net as he poked into the holes between the roots. The water was deeper and it came up above Seanie’s knees. He didn’t want to get his short trousers wet but he didn’t say anything. They might dry out in the sun before he got home. They fished down the river for another fifty yards. Seanie’s arms ached from holding the net in the current. Eventually the bushes and roots gave way to grass and muck as the river widened again. The bank had collapsed allowing a natural inlet where cattle came to drink and a little further on a barbed wire fence marked the boundary to Lanigan’s field. A rough concrete bridge crossed the river on Lanigan’s side.

‘Come on and we’ll have a few sweets.’ Timmy got out of the water and sat on the riverbank. Seanie didn’t need to be asked twice. They sat on the raised bank in the little inlet and let the sun warm them after the coldness of the river. Timmy shared a bag of Scott’s Clan. It was approaching midday and the sun was high. They lay back and looked at the sky. Seanie liked looking at the clouds and finding faces and animals in them.

‘Murray has been booted out of the school. Ye’ll have a new master when ye go back.’ Timmy’s tone was matter of fact.

Seanie hadn’t thought about school for the last week since they got their summer holidays. He would be in fourth class in September but he didn’t want to think about going back to school. The thought of Murray, even just the mention of his name, made his hands all clammy and his heart started to beat a bit faster. He wasn’t sure if Timmy was making up stories so he said nothing.

‘They finally got the bastard. My hands still have the welts from his stick.’ He held up his palms to look at them. Timmy was fourteen and had finished school.

‘What happened to him?’ Seanie couldn’t hide his curiosity any longer. He didn’t want to talk about Murray but what if it was true? He wouldn’t be in dread going to school every day.

‘There were complaints to the parish priest and someone threatened to call the Guards.’ Timmy paused, adding drama to his words. ‘Sure he was sick anyway. Half dead.’

There was silence for a while as they finished the sweets.

‘Come on, we’ll look under the bridge.’ Timmy was quickly into the water. ‘Bring the net.’

Murray had been sick after the Easter holidays and he wasn’t in school every day. Miss Madigan, the Junior class teacher, had to teach in their classroom as well as her own, until Miss O’Brien arrived. Seanie liked Miss O’Brien straight away. She gave them more homework than Murray ever did but she read to them in class and did geography. He liked the way she said poems. His mother told him Miss O’Brien was a substitute until Murray returned. He tried not to think about that. He lived in fear of Murray and his stick. Although he escaped most of the punishment, his classmates were regularly slapped hard on the hands with Murray’s stick. Sometimes the slaps turned into beatings.

After passing under the bridge they ventured further into Lanigans. The field was huge and marshy around the river. The water was deeper so Seanie got out and followed Timmy along the bank. Lanigans had more than ten cows and they were grazing on the hill away up to the right of the river. Seanie wasn’t sure if he should be in Lanigan’s land. His mother always told him not to go further than the bull paddock. He also knew the Hanleys and the Lanigans didn’t get on.

‘How do you know about Murray?’ Seanie thought he might distract Timmy and get him to go back.

‘Heard my mother saying it. She was talking to people in the village.’ Timmy didn’t look up from the water.

‘Is he sick?’

‘Sick in the head, the bastard.’

Seanie noticed the cows were walking slowly down the hillside towards the bridge. Maybe it was time to go in for milking? He hoped Tommy Lanigan wasn’t coming out for them.

‘I thought I saw something move in the last pool, above in the bull paddock.’

‘Where I saw the big fish?’

‘I think so.’ Seanie didn’t like lying but he wanted to get out of Lanigan’s field. He wondered if it was a big enough lie to have to mention it in confession.

Timmy threw the wire net up onto the bank and climbed out of the water.

‘Come on so and we’ll have another look.’

Seanie kept an eye on the cows as they crossed the bridge and continued their slow march into the low field near Lanigan’s house. He wondered how they knew the time and if they would wait there until milking.

Back in the bull paddock, they got back into the river and worked their way along. Timmy poked with the stick and Seanie held the net underwater wherever he was told to place it. They had been out for hours and he was hungry. He hoped Timmy would give the word to go home.

‘Will Murray ever come back then?’ Seanie was starting to think that what Timmy said might be true.

‘No. The bastard might get jail or be sent to Clonmel.’

Seanie was about to ask Timmy why Murray would be sent to the mental hospital when he felt something hit the wire net. He quickly lifted it out of the water as Timmy had taught him. His heart jumped and he struggled to hold onto the wet sally handle. For a second neither of them spoke as they stared at the wriggling fish.

‘Throw it on to the bank!’ Timmy shouted.

Seanie threw the net over the bushes before the fish could jump out. They both clambered up the bank. The fish was out of the net and thrashing about on the grass. They sat and watched as the fish’s movement slowed.

‘What is it?’ Seanie finally asked. It was like a fish you’d see in pictures.

‘The biggest trout I’ve ever caught. It must be two feet long!’

It was the biggest fish Seanie had ever seen but he didn’t think it was two feet. Maybe a foot and a half. They continued to stare as the fish died. In the silence Seanie thought about Murray. He had so many questions but he didn’t want to ask them. He was afraid of the answers. He was afraid to believe. Was Murray really gone?


Timmy was beaming as they brought the trout into the house. Seanie was excited and proud as his mother looked at the fish with some amazement. She was used to them bringing home tiny trout that she cooked on the pan to please Seanie.

‘Where did ye catch it?’

‘In a pool along the bull paddock.’ Seanie hoped she wouldn’t ask how far down the river they went.

‘Ye are great fishermen. What are you going to do with it Timmy?’

‘Bring it up home I suppose.’

‘Would you sell it?’ Seanie’s mother smiled and winked at him. ‘What about two and sixpence?’

Timmy didn’t hesitate and he headed out the door with the coins rattling in his pocket.

‘Will you be coming fishing tomorrow Seanie?’ He called back as he opened the yard gate.

‘Tomorrow is Sunday.’ Seanie’s mother reminded them.

‘Monday so.’ Timmy shouted as he climbed the hurling field wall and began walking along the jagged stones that lined the top.


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