The Black Bitch by Geoff Cronin
In Waterford when I was a boy, Ballybricken, which was that part of the city which was home to the pig buyers and the monthly fairs, was also renowned as the home of the most outrageous tall stories and the more their fame grew the taller the stories were. My favourite concerned ‘The Black Bitch’ and here it is – verbatim – as I heard it.
“One Saint Stephen’s day meself and me father went out the country to hunt hares. We had three dogs, a blue terrier, a fox terrier and me father’s pride and joy, a black greyhound bitch. At this time the bitch was past her best and getting on in years but she was as game as ever and could turn a hare, no bother. Of course in those days you could hunt wherever you liked and there was no let or hindrance apart from the odd estates where a gamekeeper was employed, so we had the freedom of the countryside, more or less.
Anyway, we were halfway down The Grassy Road, when the terriers got the scent of something at the gate of a four acre field. We went in quietly and when the terriers got excited, the father slipped the collar off the bitch and held her with his arm around her neck and chest.”
At this point I should tell you that a greyhound has little or no sense of smell and he hunts by sight only and will run down anything he can see.
But to return to my story… The next thing was that a huge buck hare exploded from his resting place in tall grass and headed for the ditch at the far side of the field. I tell you now, as true as I’m drinking this pint, this was some hare. He was dark brown with white tips to his ears and as big as the two terriers put together. Anyway me father let off the bitch the minute the hare rose and be God she turned that hare before he got to the ditch. Now the hare headed for the open field, twisting and turning every which way with the bitch hard on his heels. Well he tried every trick in the book as he crisscrossed the field for the next quarter of an hour and finally when he was nearly ‘bet’ didn’t the bitch slip making a tight turn and the hare escaped through a hole in the fence and off with him through the next field. The bitch however, was showing signs of exhaustion and the father was quite concerned.
“I think son,” he said, “she’s failing,” and we decided to go back home.
Well the next morning I found her dead in her kennel and I told me father. He took it badly and thinking to ease the situation, I said “I’ll bury her in the garden for you.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” he snapped. “You’ll take her down to my friend Watty in Stephen’s Street. Tell him to skin her and tan the hide and when ’tis ready to give it to Walsh the tailor and tell him I want a waistcoat made of if.”
So I carried out his instructions and the first week in June the tailor came to the house with a parcel under his arm and asked for me father. I told him to come in and I would get him and when the father saw him he said.
“I hope you have something nice for me Mikey?”
“I have indeed,” said the tailor opening the parcel and producing the sleek black waistcoat.
“Here,” he said, “try that on ye and tell me if it’s OK.”
Well my father put on the waistcoat and stroked it as if the black bitch was still in it.
“Be god Mikey,” he said, “you’ve done a beautiful job and I’ll be proud to wear it.”
He was smiling as he stroked the silky black fur and I hadn’t seen him smile like that since the bitch died.
Well, he wore the waistcoat constantly and only took it off when he went to bed and he never got another hound. All went well until the following Stephen’s Day when the father said. “I’m takin’ the two terriers out the country for a run – will ye come?”
I agreed and off we went and I knew before we started that it was going to be The Grassy Road. Sure enough, when we got to the cross we turned down that road and we stopped at the gate of the four acre field. Immediately, the two terriers dived into the long grass and before you could say Jack Robinson, our friend the big hare with the white tipped ears, broke cover and the terriers took off after him. Well that hare sailed off in ‘second gear’ and made rings around the terriers who just hadn’t a hope of catching him. But then to my amazement me father took off his coat and then his black waistcoat and threw the waistcoat in the field shouting “Get him girl.” And be god didn’t the waistcoat take off after the hare, turning him every time he got near the fence. This went on for ten minutes or so until the hare managed to get close to the top of the field and he dived through the hole in the hedge where he escaped before. But this time didn’t the waistcoat follow him through and then… Silence.
Well me and the father and the two terriers went up the field and out the gate at the top end and we weren’t gone fifty yards into the next field when we found the hare, dead as a doornail with the black waistcoat on top of him. The Black Bitch got her revenge in the end!”
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 The Colour of Life and the previous stories from the Black Bitch in this directory: