Forgotten Ireland: A lament for Bernadette’s…and other small country shops

Our man Frank on Manchester United’s underperforming and want-away stars, memories of Bernadette’s little shop…and going nuts about squirrels…

It’s Sunday morning, the 9th of January. The tree, lights, decorations, and all the baubles are back up in the attic, and I am missing them – not so much the actual individual items, but moreso the hope, excitement, and anticipation that the Christmas season brings.

  I have to admit that all the Covid stuff and the fact that our Creggs rugby game (which was due to be played today) has been called off, is getting me down a bit. So, to brighten myself up, I decided to go for a walk up the quiet country roads of Lenamarla.

  As I head off, I find my mind going back more than 40 years to when I first came to live down in Crosswell. Bernadette Keaney’s little shop, 50 yards down the road on the corner, was undoubtedly the hub of our little area. While it sadly no longer exists, it is an example of the many important things that so-called progress has got rid of in rural Ireland.

  Bernadette was ‘married’ to her little shop, and Christmas Day was the same as any other day. When every other shop in the country was closed, Bernie’s was open, and if you were short of a loaf of bread or a pint of milk, she was always there. Even up until 11 o’clock at night (or as long as she was still up), she would oblige anyone she knew by opening her doors.

  When you knocked on her door at a late hour, you would hear Bernadette ask, “Who is it?”, and on hearing your name, you would hear her say, “Be there in a minute”. She would then have to take the security bar from the inside of the door, turn on all the lights, and let you in. All that might be for a pint of milk, or a loaf of bread, but no matter what it was, you would not go short.

  If you were operating on tick, everything would be written into her little accounts book, and it was all there to the very last penny. As times were pretty tough back in the ‘80s, there was quite a number of debtors in her book, but I never heard of her asking anyone to pay up. I’m sure she did, but in her own kind, smiling way, any such request was probably accompanied by one of her never-ending supply of jokes. If you heard the immortal words, “Did you hear the one about…”, you could rest assured that you wouldn’t be leaving the shop for quite some time.

  The truth was that a lot of her jokes weren’t terribly funny, but even before she started to tell them, she would be in fits of laughter. So, no matter what you thought of them, you had to laugh along with her, and if there was no one else in the shop, she would have another and another to tell you. Many is the time I would be praying that someone else would come in to buy penny sweets, or socks, or knickers (because Bernie literally sold everything), so I could make my escape.

  As I walked past the now-closed shop (Bernadette sadly passed away some years ago), I thought of the huge part she and all the other small country shop owners played in our lives. The big multinationals like Aldi, Lidl, and Tesco now dominate the shopping market, and having helped reduce the cost of living, they are surely here to stay. I don’t deny that I was sad to think that we will never see the likes of Bernadette’s, or indeed Bernadette, again.

  So in the end, the walk that was meant to cheer me up and improve my humour, only made me sad, as I reminisced of days gone by. I was a long way up in Lenamarla before the depression lifted, and as I returned home, I was glad to be alive, happily retired, relatively healthy (if you discount all the things that are wrong with me), and looking forward to a leisurely future with (hopefully) much better weather coming our way.

Underperforming  multimillionaires  testing my loyalty!

As you know by now, I started following Manchester United as a 12-year-old way back in 1963, simply because Cork man Noel Cantwell captained United when they won the FA Cup. They beat Leicester City 3-1 in the final at Wembley Stadium, the goals coming from United legends David Herd (2) and Denis Law (1).

  Since then, following the Reds has been quite a rollercoaster of a ride. There’s been enormous highs (like winning the European Cup/Champions League three times) and enormous lows (like being relegated thanks to a Denis Law goal while he was playing for rivals Manchester City in their second last game of the 1973/74 season). To his credit, Law did not celebrate scoring that goal, and United got back up to the First Division (now the Premier League) at the first attempt.

  For all of us long-suffering supporters, there were a lot of barren years before the magic era of Alex Ferguson and his all-conquering teams from the early ‘90s on, a golden period that lasted for almost two decades. Playing for United meant you lined out for one of the most revered football clubs in the world. It meant you earned wages that other footballers could only dream about. That you had truly made it as a footballer. So what is the matter with the present United footballers?

  We are told that as many as 17 of the first team squad want to leave Old Trafford, a move that is nearly always a backward step. Maybe it shows the lack of fight and ambition that the present squad undoubtedly have. How any footballer/sportsperson could voluntarily walk away from any club (never mind United) without really fighting for a place on the team beats me, and, if it truly is the case, then it’s no wonder we are seeing pathetic, spineless performances from these multimillionaires, week in, week out.

  We are told of unrest in the dressing room, but anyone that has ever togged out – even for the local Junior Fs – would know that you will not always be friends with everyone you share the dressing room with. However, the golden rule in team sports is that you put aside personal differences. Even if you hate someone’s guts, you pass the ball to your teammate when they are in a better position. You must also fight for your teammate no matter what, and stand by them when they make a mistake.

  Sadly, none of these values seem to apply to the present United squad. Their lack of desire, fight, and commitment is nothing short of appalling, and it appears as if most of them do not have the stomach for the fight. Even during the bad days of the 1970s and ‘80s, I can’t recall seeing a United team that looked as if it couldn’t care less.

  In a year’s time I’ll have been supporting them for 60 years, but if the present lack of effort continues, I might have to turn to Liverpool (only joking) or Leyton Orient!

And finally…

Finally for this week…one of the things that I enjoy at this time of the year is feeding the many little birds that populate our garden.

  While I don’t really know what varieties are out there apart from sparrows, robins, various tits, and the very recognisable willie wagtails, I love to see them as they congregate round the bird feeder, seemingly waiting their turn until it’s time for them to feed. We also have up to four doves calling on a regular basis, along with a few unwelcome crows, but thankfully no squirrels so far.

  Over in Hartlepool before Christmas, a greedy squirrel managed to get into a supposedly squirrel-proof feeder. He ate all the nuts and seeds that were left out for the birds, but sadly ate so much that he couldn’t get back out – and instead got himself stuck inside the metal bars. Luckily, his plight was spotted before he did himself any damage, and an RSPCA officer, Ruth Thomas-Coxon, came to the rescue. Using wire cutters, she freed the very full squirrel, who scampered away to pastures new.

  Another grey squirrel was similarly trapped in Surrey a few weeks earlier, and so people are advised to check on their feeders regularly. I don’t think the grey squirrel is very common out here in Crosswell, but from now on I will keep an even closer eye on the feeder. I will be very surprised if I ever do find any stuffed squirrel(s) stuck inside it.