Turtle Bunbury

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Vanishing Ireland 4

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Drumloona, Carrigallen, County Leitrim

Farmer & Actor

Born 1931

(Photo: James Fennell)



‘But if you had joined the American army in the late 1950s, you’d have had to go to Vietnam,’ says I.

‘I know!’ replies Pat, drawing out the word

‘know’ like he’s registered this point a million times. ‘And I would have loved that. I would love to have gone to Vietnam.’

Instead of serving his time with the Marines, Pat had to make do with a stint in the Local Defence Force in County Leitrim. But even that experience convinced him of the benefits of military life.

‘I think the army is the best place any young lad ever went. You have to do what you’re told. You learn to wash and clean yourself every morning, and make your bed. You’re trained in the best of manners. You could train to be a mechanic, a shoemaker, a cook, whatever it is, they train you. The army never says, “We’ll try this.” They say, “We’ll do it.”’

Pat never got to America. His mother, whose brother had vanished into Ohio as a young man, was hostile to any form of emigration.

‘My mother – God be good to her, I hope she is in heaven – she had a horror of America and thought I would lose my religion. “Rotten dirty England,” she’d say. And America was worse. This was drilled into me every day and I believed it until I was about twenty-eight. I thought that if you went away to America you’d be in the dump, rotting. She got over the point well. She kept me at home anyway. A lot went to America to earn a few pound and they were supposed to bring it home, but then they started to do well and they forgot to come home. So I didn’t know any better. But then I used to see people who came home from England and America, like Johnny Doolin and Father Kevin Rourke. And to me they were like models. They told me it wasn’t so bad. But I had lost the race by then and gotten too old.’

Pat is by no means embittered about having to stay at home and his speech is peppered with humour. It’s simply that his mother was a force to be reckoned with. She was a farmer’s daughter from Curraghboy. Pat has hazy memories of her father trotting past the house with a horse and cart when he was a baby. It’s the same farmhouse where he lives today, just north of Carrigallen in the townland of Drumloona.

‘Every place around here is called Drum-something or other. It’s all drumlins. They say there was a man called Looney in Drumloona one time. And there’s a loony living here still,’ says he with a yelp of laughter.

‘I can bring the Fitzpatricks back to 1770,’ he says. ‘My father’s name was John. His father was Francis. Then there was Bernard. Then Patrick, like myself, and then Bernard again. They’re all buried in the one place in Drumeela, a mile from here.’

Pat was the second of nine children. ‘They were all big families around here that time. As the fellow with fifteen children said to the priest, “Well, you see, Father, it’s like this, there was three twosomes and two threesomes and one a good many times.”’

The memories of his childhood resound with the sound of clogs. ‘In the war years – Jayzus, times were tough and nobody had any money – so, what they done is they got soles made out of timber. When the shoe was worn, you brought them to the shoemaker in Newtown Gore – there was another in Carrigallen – and they nailed the leather to the wood. I knew one man who wore them until he died, nothing only clogs. You’d hear him walking forty mile away.’

He pulled on his first pair of Wellington boots in 1947. ‘That was just after the Big Snow. I know that because I could have done with them before the Big Snow. That was a bad time. The snow blew up into drifts and stayed that way for three solid weeks. There were people with bread vans delivering bread around the country that didn’t get home for three weeks. You couldn’t move anywhere. My cousins, four hundred yards from here, couldn’t get out of their house. For three weeks! Sheep and cattle were dead everywhere. One farmer here lost fifty cattle. He had the whole lot wiped out.’

By the time of the Big Snow, Pat was working full-time on the thirty-three-acre family farm to which he ultimately succeeded on the death of his father, aged eighty-four, in 1972, just months after his mother’s passing.

Pat proved to be a very capable farmer and was one of the leading lights of Macra na Feirme, the voluntary organisation championing the cause of young farmers, which was founded by science teacher Stephen Cullinan in 1944. One of Pat’s most prized photographs is of himself and the six men with whom he won the seven-a-side tug-o-war Macra na Feirme championship in 1958.

One of Macra na Feirme’s projects was to encourage farmers to participate in the performing arts. Pat soon discovered he had a taste for the stage and became an actor of some renown in the locality. He is particularly well known for his supporting role in John B. Keane’s Sharon’s Grave where he carried Dinzie Conlee, the crippled ‘humpback ferret from Hell’, for the duration of the play.

‘Say nothing till ya hear more,’ whispers Pat. This was a line from The Run of the Country, a coming-of-age IRA novel by Shane Connaughton, which was filmed in Redhills, County Cavan, in 1995. Pat had a small role in the film which is probably best known for its vivid depiction of the main character being tarred and feathered. He was also involved with an award-winning 1996 film adaptation of John McGahern’s short story Korea.

On his kitchen table, Pat keeps a copy of Leland Lewis Duncan's book The Face of Time: Photographs of County Leitrim, 1862–1923, which is filled with extraordinary photographs of grim-faced butlers and stoic labourers, tumbling mud houses and women curing goat-skins.

‘What do you remark about that?’ says Pat of a photograph depicting a large gathering of men. ‘Not a bare head in it. Them were the times when no man would leave a house without a hat.’


All four 'Vanishing Ireland' books are available via Turtle's Amazon page at http://astore.amazon.com/wwwturtlebunb-20



Click here to see a full list of persons interviewed for the Vanishing Ireland project.