By Maurice Brick
On our little farm in Gorta Dubha we had for the most times, seven cows. The cows were well respected.
They each had a name and a particular stall in the cowshed. We had Bó Dave which we bought from Dave a’Gabha (blacksmith), Bó Danny we bought from Danny Sheehy and Bó Ghorm (Blue) the senior cow in the herd. (Bó = Cow). It was the bellowing of the Bó Ghorm that awakened Mam late one night and she woke Dad to find the cause. Of course I was awake too so unbeknownst to Dad I followed him to the cowshed.
He had a kerosene lamp and it gave a good enough light and he was startled when he spotted my shadow a little behind him. Sure enough, one of the other cows was in the throes of giving birth and Dad knew there was a problem. The cow was in difficulty and Dad told me to go up the Village for the Gréasaí. The Gréasaí (shoemaker) was a nickname for he was no more a Gréasaí than I. But Dad knew he had a way with cows in such difficulty.
Off with me, ecstatic at having such an important responsibility. In my excitement, I jumped over a stone fence by the Gréasaí’s house and landed full length in a lug of water, which by the stench of it must’ve been the last remnant of the Great Flood.
But my mission was too great and I was knocking on the Gréasaí’s in short order. He came to the door in his off white Long Johns and his first words were, ‘Tanaman diabhal cad d’imigh ort a dhuine bhocht?’ (My soul from the devil what happened you, you poor person?) I ignored the question and proceeded to tell him we had a cow in difficulty and to come right away. He was dressed and with me in a jiffy. On our way we passed the lug and he gave a slight but audible cough.
I ran ahead and told Dad the Gréasaí was a few paces behind and Dad said, ‘Cad d’imigh ort?’ (What happened to you?). I ignored that stating I had the Gréasaí, and in he walked before Dad could go any further.
The cow was lying on her belly and obviously agitated and at times trembling. My own troubles were minute compared to the poor cow’s. The Gréasaí determined the calf had turned on its way to birth and he began working his magic to set things right.
All the other cows were resting, lying on their bellies except for the Bó Ghorm which stood for the whole time. Dad was at the head of the birthing cow, gently caressing her neck and head to calm her. And he did. I was standing by the gable end avoiding attention but taking it all in.
The Gréasaí finally freed the calf from its mysterious constraints and there it was staggering about trying desperately to stand. I couldn’t help giving a skitter of a laugh and Dad threw me the eye but we were all happy and the Gréasaí, poor man, was dripping in sweat.
Dad told me to go to the house and ask Mam for the bottle from the cabinet in the room below for they wanted to wet the newborn calf. Off I went on another important mission and as soon as Mam saw me she said, ‘Cad d’imigh ort a chroí deóil?’ (What happened to you, my dear heart?) I avoided it. I told her the calf came with difficulty but that the Gréasaí managed to right everything and the calf was fine and now they wanted to wet the calf with the bottle from the press in the room below.
She gave it to me and off with me and I gave it to Dad who gave it to the Gréasaí and he took an almighty slug and handed it to Dad who did likewise. They both grimaced as if they disliked it but despite that they did it twice more and they seemed happier then. But nary a drop on the calf. I found that odd but I didn’t say a word for fear of unwanted attention.
Back in the house, Mam said I had to change all my clothes and she had the kettle boiling for hot water to clean myself. The following day was a Saturday and I had to wear a rainbow colored shirt and a light blue short pants we got in a parcel from my Auntie Salmon in America and though my brothers and sister had some laughs at my expense I had the memory of a hectic night seeing the cow calf.
And I still do.