My grandfather’s house was known locally as the Rambling House. My grandfather, Ted, being a widower, was not subject to the usual rules of hospitality and time-keeping and the local menfolk, young and old, took advantage of this and rambled in once their days work was done and rambled home again in the early hours of the morning. In my grandfather’s house it was always late when the song ended and his friends and guests dispersed into the night.
Coolrecull then, over sixty years ago, was a small farming community in south County Sligo in the days before the great Rural Electrification Scheme spread the tentacles of pylons across the countryside and changed the working patterns of man and beast. The hours of darkness were long, except in the height of the summer, and entertainment and companionship were greatly valued.
Isolated they may have been but they were aware of the developments in the world at large. Radio, newspapers, gossip and letters from abroad, every family having established an outpost or ten in the cities of Britain and the United States, kept them informed of political developments, religious events, sporting victories, new movies, even if they didn’t get to see them, and songs of course. Ireland always had its own traditions of music, strong in south Sligo as elsewhere, but the local men would also know the lyrics and tunes of modern music, those of Irving Berlin being on the tongues of all. A popular song at the time being ‘The Song is Ended (but the melody lingers on)’, which was covered by a number of singing stars from Tubbercurry to Hollywood.
Entertainment in the Rambling House was quite simple, tea, the odd bottle of beer and maybe a drop of poitin brewed locally from the ubiquitous potatoes. Darts was the game of choice and chat, jokes and gossip the lubricants that kept the wheels rolling and the hours pleasantly passing.
William, a near neighbour and frequent visitor, was famed for taking his time. Whether it was shaving, farmwork or telling a story, Bill, as i knew him many years later his name shortened but not his methods, took his time, refusing to be rushed or ruffled. Throwing darts was not to be hurried, even by the more hasty of my grandfather’s visitors but Bill took it to another level. He would have been at home in all the reality television shows which pass as entertainment today; where the announcements of winners and losers, of successess and failures are released only after interminable pauses, the thin line between unbearable suspense and unbearable boredom being constantly courted. Bill, from the stories i hear, was capable of outlasting suspense.
This particular night, Bill was playing and throwing and my grandfather was keeping the score, his back to the players, marking up the blackboard with each subtraction as the players moved from 301 to zero. One gap between Bill’s darts extended such that my grandfather asked, without turning his head, “Has that man gone home?”, to the merriment of the impatient spectators waiting their turn to play.
Bill had family contacts in the village of Attymass in neighbouring County Mayo and that evening had one ear listening out for a delivery of sand and gravel from the local quarry there. Now Attymass has a singular claim to fame in Ireland, dating from the 19 November 1846 when the first deaths in Ireland from hunger were officially recorded there. They were not the first deaths during the Great Famine but the first to be officially recorded as being caused by starvation. Governments practised denial in those days too. It would have been worse but during 1846 the local priest, Fr O’Flynn, attended a meeting of the Relief Committee in the local town of Ballina and managed to secure a weekly allowance of sacks of Indian meal for the people of the parish. A local man called Mr Melody, a neighbour of Fr O’Flynn, would carry them to the priest’s house in the townland of Carrick. The parishioners in turn would come to the house on a set day to collect their weekly allowance.
Now by the time Bill was playing darts and getting his sand and gravel delivered, over a hundred years later, it appeared that the Melody’s had continued their delivery service and now had a couple of trucks and were in the sand and gravel haulage business. The third dart was thrown but zero was still a long way off, when the sound of a truck negotiating the narrow roadway down past my grandfather’s house and on to Bills, could be heard. Bill made his apologies, stating that Melody’s truck was bringing his load of sand and gravel and he had to go, and so he went, unruffled, unrushed, but determined. The spectators were momentarily shocked into silence, no one had abandoned a dart game before. The other player stood frozen, dart in hand, poised to take his throws. Not a sound was to be heard but the distant drone of Melody’s truck reversing up Bill’s street.
Another neighbour stood up, to claim his place before the dartboard. ‘That games over so’, he commented taking off his jacket. “True”, my grandfather agreed wiping clean the blackboard and chalking up two fresh 301s. “Bill is gone”, announced the abandoned player, thawing out slowly from his shock, “but the melody lingers on”.
And so that night passed into local folklore.
“The Song Is Ended (But The Melody Lingers On)
My thoughts go back to a heavenly dance
A moment of bliss we spent
Our hearts were filled with a song of romance
As into the night we went
And sang to our hearts’ content
The song is ended
But the melody lingers on
You and the song are gone
But the melody lingers on
The night was splendid
And the melody seemed to say
“Summer will pass away
Take your happiness while you may”
There ‘neath the light of the moon
We sang a love song that ended too soon
The moon descended
And I found with the break of dawn
You and the song had gone
But the melody lingers on”
With thanks to Irving Berlin and Tommy my local storyteller.
Namaste my friends – enjoy your stories.