Come to Glasgow’s Celtic Connection Festival on Jan 20th – first time I’ve played there in years.
Seamus Ennis Centre Naul, Fingle Co Dublin Sat Dec 4th last Gig this tour.
Fergus’s Tractor and the Christmas Geese.
It was Christmas 1988, I had flown from New York to London to do a photo session and talk over promo plans for my up and coming album “The Sky and The Ground” I stayed with Clare at her London flat in Holborn. We were now a couple and planned on our first Christmas together. Once the tasks were all wrapped up, the presents purchased and dispatched and the cards in the mail, we loaded up the Renault 5 with everything we could possibly fit in her, including a portable TV and more than ample food supplies. We knew that we would be staying in my family home on the Wexford Quay, an unoccupied three story house with all the furnishing and curtains intact, almost as if my parents still lived there, a ghost house I suppose, but with remnants still of Molly and Jem’s warmth and all the songs, laughter and love that had permeated it’s walls. There would be scant luxury, it had electricity and that was it, it would be a bit like camping. But we’d be fine, we were young lovers and the idea of basing ourselves in the large 2nd floor sitting room with windows looking out over the bay and a blazing fire in the hearth seemed both romantic and bohemian. So off we set for Fishguard Wales where we would board the ferry for Rosslare Harbour just eleven miles outside my home town of Wexford.
It takes about five hours to get to Fishguard and another four on the ferry, even though the latter is only a distance of thirty miles. So altogether it takes close to ten hours. Clare of course organized everything down to the tiniest detail, including bunks on the ferry and a meal in the restaurant, luxuries I had never bothered with before.
When we landed in Rosslare it was dark and the harbour appeared all the more Christmassy because of it. The multi layered Ferry glowed like a Christmas tree as we drove out of her belly into the bustle of home going travellers. We would drive out on to the main road past the multiple warning signs in German and English “WARNING –ACHTUNG- KEEP TO THE LEFT SIDE!!” It had been too common for Europeans to come out of there exhausted from the journey and drive on the wrong side of the road into an oncoming car in the two way traffic; being extra mislead by their left side steering wheels. Just a couple of miles beyond the harbour the road turns back towards the mainland, bypassing the once popular beach Village of Rosslare. Being in a festive mood and excited by Clare’s first visit to Wexford, I suggested that we deviate our plans for a moment and take the slip road into Rosslare Village. It’s a place filled with very fond memories for me, a place that I looked forward to as a child all year long, when (provided my Parents could afford the splurge) we would rent a hut in Boyles field for the month of August. I guided Clare up over the hump back railway bridge down past the white washed Edwardian Summer homes, and up along the main street lined with Palm Trees, past a couple of elite hotels with rear access to the beach, that café on the corner where I would suck on a Brazil Orange and daydream to the Village’s only jukebox, usually preferring the B sides “Got a feeling” by the Mamas and Papas “See that Girl” by the Righteous Brothers; I wasn’t aware, at the time, that the Café was owned by Larry Kirwan’s no-nonsense Aunt.
It was dark now and everything was closed but for the Hotels and the Bars. I directed Clare up past the Golf course where we used to hunt for stray balls in the tall grass, golfers were glad to buy them back at sixpence each. And then, just when it seemed like the road was coming to a narrow end, I asked her to keep going around the curve to the right where the water softly ebbed up to the stony edge. I got out and swung open the farmers iron gate so that we could go a little deeper on into the pot holed gravel, I wanted to get us in a position where we could face the car towards the sound and view the lights of Wexford Town across the Bay. In the pitch black with the car engine turned off, the whole scene was reminiscent of a romantic movie; I was Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember bringing Clare to my secret cove on the beach. We had a little puff of the funny stuff to amplify our experience and put Pink Floyd on the stereo. Clare is from Brighton in England, a much bigger Town to mine, but nonetheless, a seaside Town, with many similarities, we pleasured in exploring our history while gazing at the dancing lights in the distance. After about half an hour I looked at my watch and thought of my family, “They might start wondering about us, maybe we better head in”
Clare turned on the engine, and began to back away from the water, we were not moving, she put her foot further down. We moved even less. Realising what was happening I asked her to stop and jumped out to take a look. The tide had come in a bit and even though our back wheels were on solid dry ground we were not gaining traction. It was then that I realized that Clare’s Renault was front wheel drive. I looked at the front and could see in the scant moonlight that we had been only been digging ourselves into a wet hole in the soft sand. I threw my jacket under one of the wheels in desperation, that tide was coming in! All it did was spit the jacket out. Our situation was quickly progressing from a curious problem to a possible catastrophe of major proportions; we could loose the fucking car! There were no phone booths around, we were a long walk from the nearest hotel, looking around in the pitch dark there was nothing except silent sand dunes and black clouds overhead; no mans land to Clare, but this was my country, I had been in Ireland’s butt fuck nowhere, before.
“let’s walk back a bit, I think I saw a little light deep in behind the bushes as we were driving in here”
Sure enough, with our eyes now adjusting to the dark, a small yellow light was visible over and above the dense bush. A little inroad became apparent, an entrance into some kind of yard. We followed it in, and before us an old white washed outhouse paralleled the road creating the familiar shape of what I knew to expect in traditional farmyards. Over to the right standing alone where it had been built in far more recent times was a small two-story house. The Woman of the house pulled the door open without hesitation.
“Really sorry to bother you” It was beginning to spit rain now and the wind was whipping up a bit too, I held the collar of my coat up around my eyes, Clare of course was not the overcoat type, she had on a nice little two piece jacket and skirt, she looked perished.
“We were down on the beach admiring the Town whe…” “FERGUS!!!”
“Yes Mammy” Came a male voice in prompt response.
“Get the tractor will ye? dere’s a nudder wan stuck in de sand!! “
We could hear someone rummaging around for something in the distance.
“C’mon in shur, Fergus’ll be here in a minute”
“Mammy do ye know where the Battery is?” Fergus, a twenty something fine big strapping chap comes rushing out from the back of the tiny house, with wellington boots up to his waistline, raincoat, and peak cap.
“It’s in the tractor already, shur I used it earlier when I was haulin up the straw”
An old man sat in a low chair by an open hearth fire, he looked bemused as he pulled away on his white clay pipe. We offered our names and I explained that Clare was English, but that I was a native of Wexford man. She suggested that Clare sit down by the fire while I go off with Fergus to find the car.
Outside, Fergus switched on an industrial strength lamp, it cut a bright beam through the blackness and revealed a mud covered red tractor with those typical massive wheels and an iron drivers seat with holes to let the weather through.
“Kin you hop on the tow bar dare, and hould de light out so I kin see what’s in front of me?”
I looked at where he wanted me to stand, and wasn’t sure it was possible. It was one of them metal yokes that stick out the back of a tractors with a knob on it for hauling trailers, or eejits like us that were stuck in the sand.
“Just hang on to me shoulders, and hould the lamp out”
I did the arithmetic in my head, one hand to hould on to his shoulder and one to hould the lamp, seemed to me like one hand too few houlding on to his shoulder! But up I got on the slippery bar, and before I could think about it, Fergus had the engine running and we were out the lane and bouncing along the beach towards our sinking car. Desperation is great leveler, I found the perseverance to stick myself to the round bar, a nearly impossible feat, and I was practically having a romance with Fergus with my left arm now wrapped ‘round his neck. It was hard to believe that just twenty minutes ago we had been sitting in our London car listening to Pink Floyd through a super hi fi stereo cooing at the view. Now here I was with the wind and rain blowing through my hair hanging on the back of a Tractor like a chariot, one arm around a strange man and providing his headlights by holding a very heavy lamp up above his head!
Fergus was well used to the routine, in no time he had the rope in under the car where it was secure, and that tractor effortlessly hauled the Renault 5 back to solid ground. I drove behind him back to the house, where Clare was now drinking tea by the fire looking absolutely puzzled by the old mans accent. I thanked them heartily and grabbed a couple of bottles of wine from the boot of the car, they seemed a bit confused about that, and I did wonder would they have preferred money, but was afraid they would be offended.
“Really sorry for interrupting your evening, thank you so much, you saved our lives”
“Ah shur you’re not the first couple dat got stuck down dare in de dark, people do be up to all kinds of tings down dare”
She seemed to be suggesting that we were there for a bit of rumpy pumpy?
We pulled out of the farmyard and up on to the main road laughing at our ordeal. We drove down past the hotels and the café and up on to the hump back railway bridge, we were at it’s precipice when Clare announced with a slap to her forehead.
“Shit, we have to go back, I just realized, I left my hand bag in the bloody chair”
“Are you fucking joking me?”
The laughter subsided as we did a U-ee and headed back past the Café, the Hotels and on to the old dirt road facing towards the once lovely view of Wexford town. Clare sat in the car as I fumbled my way in the dark towards the distant light. I sensed a strange presence, an odd animal sound was coming towards me, my inability to see it increased my alarm. I quickened my pace towards the house, disregarding my unsure footing, Honk!! Honk, honk, went the sound that drew me to look left. Coming in my direction with their necks stretched towards me in extreme enthusiasm was a gaggle of angry Geese, I increased my speed dramatically and ran at full pelt for the plain wooden door of the farmhouse. Fortunately Fergus’s Mother was expecting me and opened the door before I touched it. She went over and got the purse from the chair by the old man, who still sat in the same position by the fire smoking his clay pipe.
“Fergus!!! Dem Geese are after de man, don’t worry about dem, Fergus’ll send dem off”
Fergus came out and waved a backward hand at the Geese.
“Gi way outta dat”
They ran away, chasing there extended heads. Honk, honk, honk!!
I jumped back in the seat on the Renault with my heart still racing. Off we drove again, down past the golf club, the palm trees outside the hotels, the café, and over the hump back Railway Bridge, feeling less enthusiastic now.
When we arrived in Town, I went into my Brother Paddy’s chipper, which was part of our family home, to say hello and get the keys. We told him the story, he raised his forehead and nodded a knowing giggle, I thought that he seemed to assume we had been up to no good?
After being in Wexford for a few days, we gave up telling the story, everyone was sure that we had gone to that dark quiet spot for a bit of nooky like all the other couples that got famously stranded there.
“Ah yeah, Fergus! ah shur everyone knows him, he’s pulled us all out, one time or anudder! And dem feckin Geese are like guard dogs shur”