‘Anyone who didn’t abide by the rule was tied to a tree’

Family Fortunes: Young cowboy in south Dublin had plenty of opportunities for war games

“As one of many young cowboys living in south county Dublin, I found plenty of other opportunities to engage in war games”

“As one of many young cowboys living in south county Dublin, I found plenty of other opportunities to engage in war games”

 

It happened the summer I spent in the trenches. I was an English soldier, shooting the Germans across no-man’s land in the back field. The usual sort of thing: “Hey, Fritz!”, “Yah, Tommy!”, “Bam! You’re dead!”.

Only, one day we didn’t have enough Fritzes to make up a proper army so I was elected to double job. This entailed legging it across no-man’s land every time “Fritz!” was called, just in time to catch the bullet and die a German. It was a dangerous job. On one frantic run, my foot caught in a root and I went flying into the German trench, badly scraping my knee on a bayonet en route. My flight ended with my head in the tin slop bucket that we had thoughtfully provided for the incontinent Germans.

And so I got my first war wound. And a lesson in the dangers of double-jobbing.

As one of many young cowboys living in south county Dublin, I found plenty of other opportunities to engage in war games. Sandyford was surrounded by fertile green fields in which Indians regularly set up camp or lurked behind trees. It was incumbent on us cowboys to rid our fields of these redskins to protect the neighbours from being massacred by the varmints. And so we would ride out of an afternoon all tooled up and ready to wipe out a few injuns.

Fall down

The deal was that anyone who took a hit – be they cowboy or injun – would fall down and count 10 before getting up to resume fighting. That way, we could keep the battle and the whooping and hollering going for hours. Anyone who didn’t abide by the rule was tied to a tree. Because he wasn’t very good at sums, *Donal Byrne (aka Hairy Eagle) spent many of his young days in this way. So much so that it was easy for the rest of us to forget about his existence.

We were safely in bed one night when a knock on the front door announced the arrival of Donal’s da on our doorstep. “Christine! Come down here!”, summoned my mother. It wasn’t until I saw Mr Byrne’s face that I remembered...

Me and my sisters, along with every other cowboy and injun in the village, spent a lot of time in pokey that year. I didn’t mind so much. It gave me time to nurse the war wound.

*Not Hairy Eagle’s real name.

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