The road beside us is forever busy with the comings and goings of brave, new Ireland. As I walk with Paddy, a lorry pulls in to his gateway and comes to a halt. The driver, a friend, works with the company charged with quarrying rock for a nearby relief road. Paddy winks at me and tells the newcomer I’m here on behalf of the Revenue Commission. He says I am making some ‘preliminary investigations into allegations of misconduct’ by this very company. Tense moments tick tock by before Paddy roars with laughter.
‘F-A-G-I-N,’ he says, ‘like the auld lad in Oliver Twist.’ He was the fourth of eight children born to a farming couple in Granard, County Longford. His childhood sounds difficult. ‘I don’t know how we survived but we did. The Lord helped us and pushed us along. There were others who died young.’ He does not delve further into the subject and I do not press.
He left school at sixteen to seek his fortune and found employment with the forestry department. ‘There was no scarcity of work,’ he says of Ireland in the 1940s, ‘so long as you were inclined to work. There was plenty to be done. Money was scarce but it was out there. And if you got it, you’d survive. No problem. You would survive.’
Paddy relocated to County Meath shortly after the war. ‘I moved to make myself a happier man,’ he says, ‘but whether it worked out well, I still don’t know. I just carried on working.’ He now lives with his wife, Mary, in a small pebble-dashed cottage by the side of a road near Enfield, County Meath. Their children have grown up and moved on.
‘I’m just ticking over,’ says the eighty-two-year-old forester, while tippling several litres of petrol from a billy-can directly into a chainsaw without spilling a drop. ‘And once you keep ticking, you’re not too bad.’ The chainsaw is soon to perform its God-given duty on a sturdy oak Paddy had dragged over from a neighbour’s farm with his Nuttfield 66 the day before.
When not collecting timber, Paddy collected things. ‘Any old things.’ Standing all by itself is a handsome white door that leads to nowhere at all. Beside it is a clapped out Renault that doubles up as a tool box. Instead of a bonnet, an old blue Datsun offers a miscellany of scythes. Elsewhere there are grubbers, ploughs and turnip sowers. Plump red hens occasionally cluck into view. Paddy shakes his head at the sight of them. He confesses that he’s never really been fond of chickens any other way than on his plate.
In his childhood, he lived on a diet of cabbages, potatoes, turnips and bacon. Sometimes there might be a lettuce, an onion or some scallions. ‘They were all the go that time,’ he chuckles. ‘You had to grow them all yourself because you couldn’t buy them. You can buy anything now so long as you’ve got money. If you haven’t money, you’ll buy feck all. It’s as simple as that.’