Celtic Illumination, part 32, Flying chickens, Virgil and tractors.
I understand that many of you have decided not to attempt to become prospective apprentice Master Candle Makers. That’s fine. I’ve been warning you all the way along about the dangers and complexity of the essential training not to mention the determination required for such a journey. For those of you that remain I applaud you and I promise to give as much detail as I possibly can which might assist your journey. For those who have had to accept the humility, the embarrassment and shame of failure I know you will continue reading because that tiny spark of interest still remains within your heart, and you are welcome.
Cows in dormitories is one thing, I remember once that some senior boys once decided to conduct a series of experiments on the aerodynamic abilities of chickens. We had a school farm which supplied the school with milk, eggs, vegetables and the occasional working party. All valuable lessons for our lives and of course necessary, for our existence.
I remember one lesson I learned concerned tractors. Once, on a family farm in Dromara, I was sitting on a tractor in a barn. I was about six years old and rather than buzz my lips and make the noise, or the noise that I thought, resembled a tractor engine, I turned the ignition key. Okay, so as a six year old how was I to know that the tractor had been left in gear, so that when I turned the ignition key the tractor sprang into life and charged forward into the wall of the barn, demolishing it quite effectively I might add.
Now, at Violent Hell, we were out picking spuds on a field that more resembled the north face of the Eiger rather than a football pitch. This wasn’t slave labour, far from it, we actually looked forward getting out of the classroom and working on the farm. As a young eleven or twelve year old boy which would you rather do, stand in a dusty old classroom and conjugate a Latin verb or be sliding about a field in mud and slurry? However, I have to admit, listening to Virgil being read with a Northern Irish accent can be quite funny. We, back in the potato field at Violent Hell, would leap on the trailer at the bottom of the hill and trundle effortlessly to the top where we would disembark and make our way to the bottom picking spuds from the uncovered furrow. I decided that I should be the captain of the ship and therefore be at the front of the convoy. Looking back it was amazing at how my natural instincts for leadership would occasionally erupt.
I found a solid point for my feet at the base of the engine and leapt up. I reached out and grabbed the perpendicular exhaust pipe knowing, or at least expecting, to cut a dash as either Fletcher Christian or dear old Nelson himself. Of course the tractor had been active for a couple of hours, working up and down the hill and therefore the exhaust pipe was screamingly hot. So rather than ‘cutting a dash’ I was now writhing in agony while twenty boys and a priest cruised past me laughing their heads off.
I don’t mention the family farm at Dromara much as it was a mix of good and bad for me. I found my country cousins to be a bit rough considering that I was a sophisticated urbanite. They would laugh at my short trousers and long socks much like what would eventually happen at Violent Hell but they especially liked it when they would encourage me to try and cross an electrified fence. They had chickens too and I do remember enjoying watching the chickens run around the kitchen floor as we would be eating a meal.
As for the poor old chickens at Violent Hill some senior boys had taken them to the top dorm and launched them out through the windows to see if they could fly. They couldn’t and had the aerodynamic properties of a brick. But it was the first years who got the blame and, who had to tidy the mess up.