Stories From the Road between Greencastle and Stroove.

I was in a car that drove to Inishowen Head twice this trip.  Once with Suzi and Brian and once with Kevin and Shannon.  Inishowen head is just north of Stroove, which is 3 miles north of Greencastle.  There is a lighthouse at Point Dunagree.

Stroove and Greencastle play an important role in family history.  In 1993 Suzi, my mother and I were staying at a B&B owned by the McCanns.  We were sitting there one night and there was a knock on the door.  Mr. Liam McClrmick, one of Ireland’s most noted church architects wanted to know if George Brews’s grandson was around. I was.  He said he had a score to settle with me.   Apparently, I owed him a bottle of Jamison Whisky. 

My great grandfather, the town constable, had arrested his grandfather.   In the 1890s Ireland had a blue law that denied drink to all on the Lord’s Day, except for the confirmed traveler who needed comfort and a drink to knock the dust from the road out of his throat, “don’t ya know.” 

A confirmed traveler was one who ventured more than 3 miles from the comforts of home.  Conveniently, if not coincidently, many road-houses were located just three mileposts from town lines.  The towns of Moville, Greencastle, and Stroove are located 3 miles from each other eliminating the need for roadhouses.  Every Sunday after mass, or church (in this Protestants and Catholics were in agreement) outside of Lent of course, the towns happily exchanged populations and offered each other the hospitality of the open road.

My great-grandfather was Greencastle town constable and a temperance man. He disapproved of drinking on the Lord’s Day and did his best to discourage the increase in the number of confirmed travelers on Sundays. Mr. McCormick’s grandfather and great uncle lived in Stroove, just 3 miles from the Black Dog Pub in Greencastle. They shared a thatch roofed cottage with two separate doors. One Sunday great-grandfather arrested both McCormick brothers for drinking without being confirmed travelers.  They had just ordered their Jamison’s and had to leave them on the bar without taking even one sip.  The brothers protested claiming travelers’ privilege because they were 3 miles from home.  “Any idiot knows Stroove is 3 miles from Greencastle.”

There wasn’t much other crime in Ireland in the 1890s, so great-grandfather was easily able to find two other constables from neighboring towns in need of something to do, and the following day they took a surveying chain borrowed from the ordnance survey that mapped Ireland a decade before. The chain was 1 rod long and they paced off 3 miles. They picked up and set down the chain over 960 times, like American Sunday “armored” football referees but, as McCormick said, without the striped shirts.  Great grandfather, with pencil and paper, ticked off each length of chain.  The pole at the end of 360th length of the chain, fell between the brothers’ front doors.  One was acquitted while the other, Mr. McCormick’s grandfather, served the following Sunday in jail.

The price Mr. McCormick named to settle the score, a bottle of Jamison Irish Whiskey. I mean, the brothers had each left a glass of the stuff on the bar and with 100 years interest, it was at least a bottle I owed Mr. McCormick.  Mr. McCann, who owned the B&B, provided the bottle,  McCormick said “be sure to add it to his bill.”

Mr. McCormick looked at my mother and said “Margaret, shall we do this bottle justice?”  Mom nodded, McCann provided glasses for everyone and asked if we wanted water with the Jamison.  He then looked at my mother with a wink and said “remember the commandment.  ‘Thou shalt do no murder’—Margaret?” We each refused the splash.   But as the evening wore on and the craic got better, the men McCormick, McCann and McClear, took a splash — on the side.  My mother took it straight.

As we were driving, I told that story and Shannon wanted to go back to the Greencastle Pub and measure 3 miles on the odometer to see if there was still a cottage with two doors.  The question did they travel the high road or the low road to Stroove when they measured the rods?

Is this the house?

That 1993 trip generated several stories about life in Greencastle.  Thirty years ago, the fog horn at Point Dunagree Light, near Point Inishowen, malfunctioned and started sounding, all night at random intervals.  It would blast just as people were getting to sleep.  Mrs. McCann said it was so bad “I became demented.”  The problem was that the lighthouse is manned, and no one wanted to call the lighthouse service for fear that the lighthouse keeper, their neighbor, would lose his job.  So, no one complained until one night the whole town “got demented” at the same time and everyone called.

Mrs. McCann tried to call the lighthouse keeper first to complain but he said he couldn’t understand her over the phone because the foghorn was sounding, his hearing was shot because of the foghorn.  The lighthouse keeper had tried to fix it but it was an intermittent short-circuit and he couldn’t track it down.   He had called his supervisor at the lighthouse service for help but he had set fixing Point Dunagree lighthouse as a low priority because it had been malfunctioning for the better part of a month and no one had complained.

At the head above the light there are fields of grazing sheep.  There is barbed wire and each barb has wool hanging from it.  The sheep use it to scratch their backs and butts.

Itchy Sheep

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