If the Americans came down that time from the North weren't we finished. Sure, we were lined up for they to come down. They were going to take over the Twenty Six counties, sure. I'd'n't take off my tackling, as the fellow says, for two days waiting for 'em. But 'twas that diplomat - what's his name? - that saved us.
But, sure, we had shag-all ammunition. An' the way we had for pulling the machine-guns was, we had to carry 'em on our shoulders. The tripod was four stone weight. Three legs on it an' you'd put it across your shoulder. I used carry the gun on my shoulder an' that was filled with water, to keep the barrel cool. Well, they turned around then an' they got a thing like a pram, like a child's pram, an' you put 'em into it. There was so many canisters then to be brought, cans o' water, you see. An' we used to pull the pram after us, maybe twenty miles. Often we went out at seven o' clock in the night marching an' we wouldn't come back until seven the following morning. But you'd get used to it.
The only time I ever got caught, I was at home on a fortnight's holidays an' when I arrived back there was a route-march the following day, an' o' course I had no practice. They started out about seven o'clock in the evening an' we didn't come back until nine o'clock the following night. Jesus .....!
But there was one thing, you know. When you'd come back they'd have these pans o' water with special stuff, an' you'd put your feet into 'em an' 'twould give you some bit of ease.
I'll tell you about them route-marches, now. The first hour you marched five miles. An' you had all your equipment an' a change of underwear an' your overcoat an' your groundsheet. An' the second hour then the doctor'd come along to see was anyone scalded an' he'd attend to 'em.. The officer in command an' the doctor, they'd generally be on horseback. You'd fall out every four miles after that.
But there'd be five companies, an' the company that'd be last could get caught, you see. It happened my company once, an' 'twas a long route-march. 'Twas nearly into Dublin. We were in the back crowd an' some o' the lads had a drink taken. 'Twas pay-night. Wednesday night you'd get paid. I own to God, didn't he leave us there all night. The rest of 'em were walking away. We had to run to keep up to 'em. We nearly died out of it! Sure, he knew he was punishing us, the oul' commandant.
But often the sweat'd come out through the eyes o' your boots. I remember we marched from the Curragh - ah, 'twas the month o' June; I remember it as well as yesterday - an' talk o' the sun! An' Christ, when we landed in the Glen of Imaal, an' that was a long way out, I s'pose twenty miles, I was put on guard an' my boots was white with the sweat coming out. Oh yeah, there was hard days an' good days in it.
But one o' the good things I remember about my time there was the canteen. One o' the first questions you'd be asked when you'd go to a new company was whether 'twas Guinness or Murphy's you drank. When I was finished my training, now, in three months I was sent on to the gun company an' we were lined up an' a corporal went around an' asked us what kind o' drink we'd want, or whether we was a hurler, then, or a footballer. There was plenty games. An' the hurleys, everything, was free.
An' then, when I was in the Curragh, if you went up to any o' the matches in Dublin you'd get five fags an' five matches an' a free bus-ride. That's what you'd get, now, going, an' be back at twelve or one o'clock in the night.
Then when I was in Athlone, you see, I spent a good lot o' my time out in Moydrum filling sandbags an' putting up barricades. There was three of us in it an' we used to get five fags each every day an' the paper. Moydrum was the broadcasting-station. An' our job was to fill the sandbags an' raise 'em around an' put 'em abroad on the heath in case of an invasion. Three hundred feet high 'tis. An' there was a fellow there an' he had to climb to the top o' that mast every day to check was any nuts or bolts loose or anything. I don't know used he do it or not, but he told me he was supposed to do it.
But I was there one night - by the Lord, I'll never forget it. All the wires are going out, keeping it steady, you know, going out maybe ten yards on each side. I was on guard there, doing my round o' duty, an' talk o' thunder an' lightning! Well, Jesus, the wires used to light up. An' I had a steel bayonet on my shoulder. But you was allowed to take a bayonet off during lightning.
I'll never forget it.
You'd do your two hours there, an' go in an' lie down for two hours more, but you couldn't take off your equipment. You had to sleep in your equipment, or doze in it, whatever way you could.
In different places, then, the Curragh or wherever you'd be, when you'd be going on guard-duty at three o'clock in the evening, there might be an extra man, so the cleanest man in the guard, he'd be let off an' he'd get a free ticket for the pictures. 'Twas only worth fourpence, but 'twas better than being on guard, wasn't it. You had the evening off! You'd have your shoes polishes, an' the studs on your boots, you'd nearly have them polished, too! An' if 'twas going tight, then, between two or three the officer - some of 'em were all right but there was some of 'em hoors - he might make you take off your boots to see was your socks right, an' if there was a hole in your sock you was finished. Or he might make you empty your haversack to know had you your spare socks an' your housewife - that was your needles an' thread - in order.
But in one way, 'twas the best discipline ever known, sure. Any young lad, I'd advise him to join up for a while - if they'd take him.
Eddie has been collecting folklore in Co. Clare and further afield for nearly 40 years. Here, Eddie shares some of the stories he has collected on his travels. Print copies of each story appear in his long-running "Folklore Corner" in the Clare County Express.