Country Matters: Pier life in a lobster pot of mirrors
The best of potatoes grew behind the cottage at Helvick. And onions, cabbage and purple-sprouting broccoli from plants at a garden shop on the road from Cork.
Our needs were simple, those of my wife and I. With fish a-plenty from the Co-op on the pier, we lived royally. It was a healthy life. A visiting poet was writing about it as he sat on the steps one morning, and a hare jumped over his outstretched legs, one creature just as startled as the other.
On the headland nearby, seabirds swirled over the cliffs, guillemots and razorbills flipped about their vantage perching places, choughs performed acrobatics overhead and a peregrine falcon came through the bars of a field gate at about 80mph.
Down at the pier one fisherman and rhymester had once lived in a lobster pot, having moved from a barrel when it sprang a leak. Old wooden porter barrels often became garden sheds, hen houses or dog kennels.
The pot man's resourcefulness was held up as an example of inventive spirit by a local sean-nos singer, Nioclas Toibin, who related it to Liam Clancy, a man with many gifts of his own as singer and story-teller, who, in turn, told it to me. Part of the folk-process, as Pete Seeger used call it.
It began, like many good tales, with a verse of a song. "The month of July being the month of the meadow/The sun in the heavens shone glorious and gay/In that lustrious month as it often before did/A ruction broke out in the Carabhat's hay."
On this went with various surmises as to the cause of the "ruction" or blaze that destroyed the hay: "Perhaps 'twas a rocket from far Cape Canaveral that was sadly misguided when sent on its way…"
The author of all this was Mike, the lobster pot man. "There's no doubt he was a genius," said Nick. "He invented the big lobster pot made from wire and bits of iron, about eight-feet long and six-feet wide, as high as himself.
"He was going to leave it in the water for a year and then haul a mighty catch of lobsters. He was going to be a millionaire! It was a mighty invention."
"But how could such a pot be launched? Liam asked. It would take a crane to lift it. "He had it all worked out," said Nick. "A crane would hoist it on a boat and launch it beyond Mine Head.''
The curious Clancy enquired: ''But what about bait. The lobsters would be long gone from the pot before he could haul it.''
"Mirrors," Nick gleefully announced. "Mirrors and coloured glass hanging on pieces of wire. He was going to hypnotise the lobsters. They would stay looking at themselves in the mirrors, and maybe start fighting. And the coloured glass would have them bamboozled so that they'd never leave."
For some reason, plans for the crane came to naught and the pot stayed put on the pier. Mike threw a tarpaulin over it and he moved in when the barrel sprang a leak.
"He was living in a barrel and he moved to a lobster pot," said Liam incredulously.
"He did, indeed," said Nick as he cleared his throat for a song. "Did you ever hear one he wrote called They're mighty smart bunnies in Ballycurreen?"