The Snipe Shoot – 1939
Jim Skids was one of the “characters” of his village. He was of indeterminate age, wore a flat cap, a threadbare gabardine coat and hob-nailed boots. He was professionally unemployed, by which I mean that he was never known to willingly do a day’s work. He was a known poacher, of trout, salmon and any kind of game you care to mention. An expert with dogs and ferrets he knew every rabbit-run, every pheasant roost in the parish and if put to the test could probably tell you exactly the whereabouts of the local gamekeeper at any time of the day. In consequence of all this knowledge he had quite a reputation as a guide and ghillie and part of his scant income came from taking shooting parties out for a day’s sport on the bogs and stubble fields in the area.
Skids was quite old when I knew him and I reckoned he was well into his sixties, because his sight was beginning to fail. His pride and joy was on a Monday evening to sit behind a pint of stout in his local and name drop about the people he had out for the shoot on the Sunday – and the fabulous bag of game that they shot – thanks to his “expert guidance”.
Incidentally, nobody could tell why he was called “Skids” – he just was!
He had an ancient double-barrelled shotgun with hammer action and Damascus twisted steel barrels, with patterns inlaid in gold on the box of the gun. It was a real beauty of a gun and had been a gift from a grateful client many years ago.
Skids was never known to buy cartridges yet he generally seemed to have a few in his pocket. His technique for acquiring them was unique. When he took a party out to shoot they would foregather at the edge of a bog, where they would expect to meet Snipe, and maybe the odd Teal or Mallard, and Skids would arrange the guns in a certain order before they set out to walk the bog. Before the start, however, he would approach some guy in the line and hold out a few cartridges in his hand. “Would you ever swap these number fours for number eights, ’cos I only have fours and we’ll be meetin’ snipe?” The client would invariably toss him five or six and would magnanimously tell him to keep his own few cartridges. He never seemed to have the right sized shot and by using this ploy he managed to end up with a pocketful of all sizes.
One particular day I was a member of a party which had engaged Skids as a Ghillie for a day’s bog shoot and as we progressed across the first bog snipe were rising in front of us and were falling here and there. Then I saw Skids taking a shot back, behind the line of guns. I could see no snipe although he went over and picked up a bird.
“I didn’t see that snipe getting up Jim” I said.
“’Twould be hard for ye to see him boy” he answered, “I shot that one on the ground!”
It was the most outrageous fib I had ever heard and what had actually happened was that the spaniel had missed that particular snipe, which another member of the party had shot, and Skids had taken the ball “on the hop” so to speak. It was then that I realised that his sight was failing and that he could no longer see the little snipe rising.
I said nothing, for I couldn’t see him lose face by having nothing to show at the end of the day. Anyway, he would normally defer to his “guests” when birds were scarce.
That was the last time I shot with this marvellous old poacher, though I heard that he carried on being “The Ghillie” for another year or so. Even after he was dead & gone shooting men gathering in the local after a day out could be heard quoting some of Skids’ tall tales. If I had to write his epitaph it would read;-
He was a character.
About Geoff Cronin – 1923 – 2017
There were few jobs that Geoff could not turn his hands to, and over the years he mastered an impressive number of professional undertakings. Master baker and confectioner, mobile cinema operator, salesman, band leader, senior executive and master wood turner, storyteller and writer.
Geoff Cronin published his first book in 2005 at age 82. The Colour of Life is a collection of stories of life in Waterford during his childhood and early adulthood in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. This was followed by two further books that related tales of further adventures in Waterford and Dublin.
Thank you for dropping in today and you can read the previous chapters of The Colour of Life in this directory: