CORCRAIN AND THE FLEMINGS
Attacked by a Bull – Saved by a Lighted Match
My granda was a man who never complained. He hated causing bother to anyone. My granny used to tell us how one Saturday he came in after being out hunting through the fields with his hound, sat down on a chair and stayed there till bedtime. When she was serving the supper he asked her to bring his over to him. So he could take it where he was. She asked if he was all right and he replied that he was. But when it was time for him to go to bed, he couldn’t get up out of the chair. It was only then that he admitted to having fallen over a bit of a wall. When the doctor was sent for, it was discovered he had two broken ribs.
But when I was about 12 years old, my granda met with a horrific accident. The owner of the fields near where we lived asked him if he would keep an eye on his cattle. My granda was crossing one of the fields to check on the cattle when he came across some young boys. They had been throwing stones at a bull, but became frightened when the bull became angry and appeared ready to attack them. They had to pass it to get back home, but were too frightened to do so.
My granda told them to come on ahead and he would stand between them and the bull. The boys did as he told them and my granda waited till they were safely out of harm’s way. Then he turned his back on the bull to return the way he had come. He had only walked a few yards when he heard this wild stampede behind him and suddenly he was tossed up in the air. Next thing he knew the bull was coming at him a second time. It raced towards him while he lay injured on the ground and began to gore him. He said afterwards he was lying there with its front feet on his chest and him staring into the whites of its eyes. When it backed off he thought his ordeal was over. Next second it was pawing the ground, its head down, ready for another attack.
My granda was so badly injured he couldn’t get up, but never-the-less tried desperately to think of a way of preventing the bull from killing him, which it surely would have if it had gored him a second time! Remembering he had a penknife in his pocket, he struggled to find it. Instead of the knife he came upon a box of matches. The bull was coming at him again! Not having time to look any further for his knife, he struck a match and when it went to gore him, he held the lit match to its nose. The bull gave an almighty roar and thankfully backed off.
By this time the boys had run for help to some men who were digging ditches in a nearby field. They came with their shovels and managed to drive the bull away. But undoubtedly that match saved my granda’s life. Indeed he was lucky he lived to tell the tale. As well as suffering numerous cuts and bruises, every rib in his body was either broken or cracked. The men helped him home and I will never forget how he looked. His clothes were ripped to pieces and he was covered in blood. He was in such agony he couldn’t lie down on the bed. He finally managed to sit on a chair. The doctor and ambulance were sent for, but when they tried to lay him on a stretcher to take him to hospital he couldn’t bear the pain. A man called Johnny Rowe, who was a painter, was working at a house in Corcrain. He came into our house to see if there was anything he could do to help and it was him who suggested they carry my granda, chair and all, into the ambulance. So that is what they did! He was carried into the ambulance and taken to the hospital still in the chair. He was in hospital for a long time, but even when he came home it took months for his injuries to heal. And you know – the first thing he did when he was up and about again – was to go into the field where the bull had attacked him. He said if he hadn’t, he would never have entered the fields again. But his injuries took a lot out of him. He was never the same man again.
While in hospital the matron caught him smoking in bed, although he had been warned he wasn’t to smoke. She demanded of him, ‘Mr. Fleming – are you smoking?’
My granda replied, ‘It’s not me that’s smoking. It’s my cigarette.’ The man in the next bed was recovering from having his appendix out. He laughed so much he burst some of his stitches and had to be taken back to the theatre to have them put back in!
The doctors in the hospital used to bring people to meet my granda so they could tell them all about how he saved himself from the bull, by striking a match and holding it to its nose.
Working in Tavanagh Weaving Factory,
Drumcree Parade and Tartaraghan
There was a story my granda used to tell about himself. It happened while he worked in Tavanagh Weaving Factory, where he was a cloth passer. He was sitting beside this woman in the canteen and she must have been keeping him going, for he lifted the knife he was eating his dinner with and said, joking, ‘If you don’t give me peace – I’ll cut the hand of you!’
He grabbed her hand and went to saw the blunt edge of the knife across her wrist. Instead, by mistake, he used the sharp edge. The woman only sustained a small, insignificant cut and her and the rest of the workers had a good laugh, but it annoyed my granda. He swore he would never try that bit of tomfoolery again.
However, years later, one day when he was again sitting beside the same woman once more in the factory canteen, he said, ‘Do you remember the day I was acting the eejit and pretended I was going to cut off your hand and I accidentally cut your wrist?’ He took hold of her hand. ‘I meant to run the blunt edge of the knife over your wrist like this… Instead I turned it the wrong way round.’ He lifted his knife to demonstrate and to his horror once again did the very same thing and cut her again! Once again the cut wasn’t serious and so caused an even bigger laugh the second time round. But my granda wasn’t a man of violence. He wouldn’t have intentionally hurt a fly, never mind another human being!
While working in the same factory he once caught his finger in a machine and very nearly lost it. He was off work for a while and I remember how I loved it when he used to walk to school with me after lunch, while on his way to the doctor.
The Sunday before the Twelfth of July was always a great day. It was the day the Orangemen paraded to Drumcree Church to commemorate the Battle of the Somme in the First World War. All the members of Corcrain Lodge, which was my granda’s lodge, were given a rose to wear in their lapels during the parade. The parade passed through The Tunnel and Corcrain, where we lived, and it was great seeing my granda walking in the ranks. It was great too, seeing my Uncle Bob and Uncle Alex parading as well. Our house used to be packed to overflowing with all our relations gathered to see the parade going past. By this time I was older and was fond of baking. I baked for days beforehand, to provide our friends with something nice to eat, along with a cup of tea after the march had gone past. But the highlight of that day for me was when my granda got back from the church service and gave me his rose. That rose was so precious – simply because every year my granda kept it for me.
He was always telling us about the wee house in the country which he was born in, out by Tartaraghan. He said, when he was a wee fella he wore a cap with two peaks. I once visited the house with my mother and some cousins who lived near his old home. By this time the house was almost tumbled down, but from what was left of it I could see that it was a simple whitewashed cottage situated along the side of the road. When I got home I told my granda I saw the house where he was born and there was an oul cap with two peaks lying in the corner!
Old Mother Riley
Listening to Boxing on the Wireless
My granda used to tell us about the night he walked from the town to Corcrain when he was a young boy. It was winter and was very dark. There were no lights except for the odd gas lamp, so he was feeling a bit afraid, being all on his own. This big fat oul fella was walking along the road as well, so my granda thought if he kept behind him he would be safe. My granda was in his bare feet so the oul fella didn’t hear him padding along in his wake. But just as they were passing the end of Craigwell Avenue one of the gas lamps threw the shadow of the man in my granda’s path. It scared the wits out of my granda. He automatically reached out and grabbed the oul fella by the seat of the trousers. The oul fellow let out a yell and took to his heels, my granda after him!
My granda loved the cinema, or the ‘pictures’ as it was called then. Every time Mother Riley was on, he used to take me and Freddy. He loved Mother Riley. We all did – the way she flung her arms about and shouted for her daughter Kitty and Kitty would shout back, ‘I’m coming, Mother!’ He was also fond of Gabby Hayes who was in the Roy Roger’s films. So, that was another time we were sure of a visit to the ‘pictures’. And of course we never missed The Three Stooges! My granda would have gone to the pictures every night of the week for that matter – if he could have afforded it, Freddy and me along with him!
I wonder what he would have made of today’s television programmes.
I used to hate when there was a big fight on the wireless and some of the men my granda knew, who didn’t have a wireless, would come to our house to listen to it. You had to be as quiet as a mouse. If you weren’t, one of our visitors was sure to put a finger to his lips and tell you to shush. And it our house and our wireless! I used to amuse myself while they were listening to the fight by drawing. I wasn’t very good, but one night I managed to sketch one of my granda’s friends and it looked exactly like him. Making sure the rest couldn’t see it; I showed it to my mother. This set her into a fit of giggling. I in turn started to laugh. I can tell you there was a lot of shushing went on that night! Another time they had all gathered to listen to this big fight, which everyone had been talking about for days, when one of the contestants was knocked out almost as soon as the fight started. Our visitors were very disappointed but I was quare and glad!
I attended the Sir Robert Hart Memorial School in Portadown. I loved my school. Except for a brief period which I will come to later, I was there until I was 14, when I then went to Portadown Technical. Every year, when the school started back after the summer holidays, everyone was moved up to the next class. That meant a new set of books. I could never wait to get my hands on my new books. Some children had to be content with using ones passed down by older pupils – they were sometimes given them – or else managed to buy them cheap. Some were lucky enough to inherit them from a brother or sister. I was very fortunate, for every year my granda took a great pride in buying me all my schoolbooks. I used to carry them to school in a small wooden attaché case my father made for me and which I have in my possession to this day. It was a great case. You could set it up on the desk to take your books out and when you raised the lid the teacher couldn’t see you behind it!
After my granda was discharged from the army and when he had recovered from his wounds, he was supplied with a sewing machine and for a while went to learn tailoring. His machine used to sit on our upstairs landing. He was good at the sewing and could even do invisible mending. There was a boy in Corcrain who tore his new trousers. Afraid of his mother finding out, he asked my granda if he would mend them. My granda mended the tear and it wasn’t until years later, when the boy confessed, that his mother knew anything about it. She continually washed and ironed his trousers and never noticed the difference.
He also made this ointment which could cure numerous rashes. When anyone asked for it, he would spend ages boiling together this mixture which contained amongst other things, lard, sulphur and quick silver. I used to love watching the quick silver; the way it had of ‘running’ when he put some on a plate or saucer. The ointment smelt terrible, especially while it was boiling, but people used to swear by it. I remember my cousin Margo had a terrible rash and nothing the doctors gave her was any use. Eventually my father got my granda to make some of his special ointment for her. Her rash disappeared in no time at all. The tragedy is – nobody in the family thought to learn the recipe from him.
Christmas and Secrets
My granda was very bad at keeping a secret. One Christmas my parents bought me a toy sewing machine which was to be my present from Santa. They hid the machine in the wardrobe, but my granda was so excited about me getting this machine he couldn’t keep it to himself. So, when he got everyone out of the house, he showed it to me, with the promise that I wouldn’t let on I had seen it. For days before Christmas he and I used to secretly play with my machine. He got hold of scraps of material and taught me how to sew and make clothes for my doll. When Christmas Day finally arrived – along with several other presents – I received the machine from Santa. I never said a word to anyone, and it was a long time before the rest of the family learned of our little secret. Only I think that was the year I realized there was no such person as Santa Claus!
There was one other Christmas, shortly after the war, when toys were very hard to come by. My father made me a little wooden bed for my dolls. It was perfect! It had a wooden headboard and everything! My granda made a mattress, pillows, sheets, bed cover, the lot! It was every little girl’s dream! But could my granda wait for Christmas? I didn’t know at the time but my parents had warned him he wasn’t to let me see the completed bed. But he couldn’t wait. One day he said to me, ‘If I show you what’s hidden in my bedroom, will you promise not to let on?’
He opened the door of his and my granny’s room and there was this unique little bed. It became one more of my granda and my little secrets. Only this time I didn’t get playing with it before the big day. I was only allowed that one glimpse and that was all.
Even though times were hard my brother Freddy and I didn’t do too badly. Every year, a few days before Christmas my granda would bring us into the town to buy us a Christmas present. He wouldn’t let us choose anything until we had done a complete tour of all the shops. We used to go from one shop to the other looking at all the things in the windows. I usually ended up with books, but one year I fell for this great sewing set. It had little rolls of different patterns of material as well as all the usual needles, thread, scissors, etc. It even had a tiny doll so you could make clothes from the material to fit it. When I brought it home my granda helped me make up the doll’s clothes.
The Beggar Man
Getting a Fright
Reading the Tea Leaves
Lizzie – Brightening things up
Joe Hughes’ Clock
Growing up in Corcrain
Mrs. Montgomery Tam
The First Primroses
Walks around the Country Roads
Finding a Skull
The First World War
A Wee Drop of Drink
Attacked by a Bull – Saved by a Lighted Match
Dead but Wouldn’t Lie down
The Second World War
Ghosts and Lizzie Curry
The Country Fellas Come to Town
The Hay Shifter
The Christmas Rhymers
Maggie’s Birthday Parties
Chapter 9 Alex