‘We learned very quickly not to become too attached to dogs’

Family Fortunes: Childhood memories of gundogs who passed through the home

Peadar Noone’s father and Toby, a German  gundog, in Connemara: working dogs were expected to earn their living hunting.

Peadar Noone’s father and Toby, a German gundog, in Connemara: working dogs were expected to earn their living hunting.

 

This picture is of my father Peadar and dog Toby surveying the western landscape in Connemara. He had a Patrick Pearse-like affection for the area, although home was north Roscommon.

The dog was a short-haired German pointer, a “gundog” as they were known. Toby was one of a long line of dogs that passed through the family over the years at home in Ballaghaderreen.

We learned very quickly not to become too attached to dogs – because they were not pets. These were working dogs, expected to earn their living hunting – in this case pheasant shooting on the old De Freyne estate land around Frenchpark, which was particularly rich in game.

They were generally not “inside dogs”; Mammy, as with many mothers of the day, would not tolerate the dog in the house, despite our pleas and visions of the dog cosily curled up by the fire.

There were some exceptions of course – my Uncle Thomas had an “inside dog” that would fetch a sod of turf with the instructions that “the fire is low”. Even dogs’ names were limited; we seemed to have an endless parade of “Spots” and “Brans”. Although they did have second names – Spot Donohue, Rex Carroll. There was the occasional oddity – there was a local “Sputnik” Molloy in honour of the times.

Interestingly it’s the same in rural North Carolina. People often have outside or “porch” dogs, also for hunting and rat-catching, distinct from the “inside” pet dog.

Shorter lives

We also did not become attached because the lifespan for a dog in those days was short. Many factors came into play: poisoning on protected land, cars, distemper (running to the vet was rare), or in our case, regularly sold on, and quickly replaced by a “better” dog.

My sister recently unearthed an old Feis Mhor Bhealach A’ Doirin programme with a scribbled draft Roscommon Herald ad by Daddy on the back – “wanted gun dog” – scribbled out, replaced by – “wanted male gun dog, trained”.

Countless Sunday afternoons were spent with Daddy and Uncle James discussing, in a postmortem-like fashion, the merits and demerits of the dogs after the morning’s shoot, especially the skill of tracking, pointing and rising pheasant. This could go on for hours, facilitated by copious cups of tea and liberal amounts of rhubarb tart supplied by Aunt Lizzie.

Toby at least did not come to an untimely end – but he did depart the family abruptly, sold from the back of the car on a whim while Daddy was buying home-made butter at the Galway market.

“What will you take for the dog?” was enough to seal Toby’s fate. I now look at our two dogs (Gatsby and Scout – literary siblings), and their Irish canine cousins, and wonder if they realise how good they have it compared to their ancestors – walked, treated, taken for grooming, nail cutting, “bed and breakfast” at the kennel, and massages (well, maybe not the massages). And they usually live a full, long coddled life, in no danger of being sold out from under the family’s feet at the local market. (Hold on, how much did you say you’d offer?)

Peadar Noone, Carrboro North Carolina, June 2018 (with thanks to Noirin, Maireád and cousin Peter Noone)

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