My father-in-law, Geoff Cronin was a raconteur with a encyclopedic memory spanning his 93 years. He sadly died in 2017 but not before he had been persuaded to commit these memories of his childhood and young adulthood in Waterford in the 1920s to the 1940s.
The books are now out of print, but I know he would love to know that his stories are still being enjoyed, and so I am repeating the original series of his books. I hope those who have already read the stories will enjoy again and that new readers will discover the wonderful colour of life in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.
The Crane 1930
The Grey Heron was always known as “the Crane” among the locals of Woodstown when I was growing up there. A large and apparently solitary bird, frequenting bog holes and other lonely places, it fascinated those of us who hunted rats, and anything that moved, along the banks of the streams near our home.
For my own part, I found the mysteries of nature so amazing that I was able to believe most of the lore I was able to glean by talking to those more knowledgeable than myself in that pursuit. Often I stood quietly and listened avidly to the conversation of the local men when they sat on the stone at the “Gap” of a summer’s evening, smoking their blue fumed pipes, or playing a hand of cards on the balding grass patch where the sand showed through.
It was in this way I learned all about the crane; how he had only one long gut and was so nervous that if you could get near him and make a really loud noise, he would drop dead – “and why wouldn’t he, with only one gut. Sure it stood to reason.”
Another well proven fact was that if a man were to shoot a crane, on purpose, or even by accident, that man would never be able to father a child. Indeed I heard that precise reason given as to why a neighbour and his wife had no family. The fact that they were both in their fifties when they wedded seemed not to enter into the particular discussion.
It was on one of my listening sessions that I heard the following story, declared at the time to be “as true as Jazes.” Here it is as near verbatim as my pen will reach:-
“Meself and another fella were down in the lower village of Cheekpoint one evening near sunset and we were sitting on the wall by the bank of the river watchin’ the shallows to see if there was any fishin’. T’was a weak tide, slow and still by the bank where the water was slack and you could see the mudbank beginning to show up the river a piece. We were there thinking of nothing at all when down floated an auld crane, and dropped into the shadow of the bank in a few inches of water. We were looking down on him from above and could see him as clear as anything.
They’re very nervous, ye know, and of course they have only one gut inside in ’em.
Anyway, he stood there, still as a stone, takin’ in everythin’ We never moved and after a while he began to stroll around slowly, watchin’ the water to see would he find his supper – they ate crabs and small fishes and that class of thing.
Did you ever see the way he walks? Well, I’ll tell ye; he never lifts the foot out of the water and never a ripple even though his feet are as long as your hand. Lookin’ at him goin’ along like that, you’d think he couldn’t move fast, but upon me song, you’d be wrong! Wait till I tell ye now – the next thing we saw was yer man (the crane), frozen still, like a stick lookin’ down be the side of a rock and his neck crooked back like an “S-hook”, and not a stir out of him.
I thought bejazes he was gone asleep, when quick as a flash down went his head into the water – and you know they have a bake like a feckin’ harpoon – up came the head again and he had a fair sized eel caught in his bake.
Well, straight away, he lifted his head up in the air, opened the bake, and down the gullet went the eel – it was all over in a second – but hauld on now till you hear…
Off he went, strollin’ like before, but he wasn’t gone three yards when out came the eel wriggling out of the crane’s arse and dropped into the water – they have only one gut ye see, and there was nothin’ to stop the eel goin’ right through yer man.
Well if that crane moved fast when he first caught that eel bejazus he moved twice as fast now. Round he swung, took a step a yard long, down went the bake and up again like a flash with that eel caught again. He paused for a second and swallowed the eel for the second time.
We thought that was that, and the oul’ crane had bested the eel, but true as God, we were wrong again. No sooner did the crane start to walk again, than out of his arse wriggled that eel again, and down into the water he dropped. By this time, we were looking out of our mouths at the carry on. We never seen the like before.
Well, bejazus boy, lighnin’ was slow compared to the speed at which that crane turned and dived on the eel for the third time, and he caught him tight in that big bake. He wasn’t goin’ to be done out of his supper, d’ye see. But now, he didn’t swallow the eel this time. Instead, he held him in his bake and commenced to look around slowly. After a while he walked in to where there was a fair sized rock stickin’ up-out of the water. An’ then bejazes, didn’t he turn his back to the rock, lifted his tail, sat down on the rock, and swallowed the eel with one gulp. Well he sat there for a full ten minutes until, I suppose, the eel smothered inside him. At any rate, when he walked off through the water, that eel never appeared again. And that’s a fact boy – there’s cranes for you now!!”
©Geoff Cronin 2005
About Geoff Cronin
I was born at tea time at number 12 John Street, Waterford on September 23rd 1923. My father was Richard Cronin and my mother was Claire Spencer of John Street Waterford. They were married in St John’s Church in 1919.
Things are moving so fast in this day and age – and people are so absorbed, and necessarily so, with here and now – that things of the past tend to get buried deeper and deeper. Also, people’s memories seem to be shorter now and they cannot remember the little things – day to day pictures which make up the larger canvas of life.
It seems to me that soon there may be little or no detailed knowledge of what life was really like in the 1930s in a town – sorry, I should have said City, in accordance with its ancient charter – like Waterford. So I shall attempt to provide some of these little cameos as much for the fun of telling as for the benefit of posterity.
Thank you for visiting today and I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of Waterford in the 1930s courtesy of Geoff Cronin. As always your feedback is very welcome. thanks Sally.