It is poignant to see an old gentleman or lady fallen on hard times. This was a place of magic and awesome authority. It was the Eagle’s Nest, from which the railway men, surveyed the world, ‘saying to one, Go!..and he goeth and to another Come!..and he cometh’ etc. etc. The signal box is a tattered relic of its former importance, but it still retains its two pinnacles/finials, in defiance of time. The far end of the station is a clean and tidy commuter station with seats, electronic signs and the occasional flower bed. This end is a weed-covered dump. Nobody wants to park their train in the siding any more. The wrong end of the tracks? That goods-shed, peeping over the railings, has no roof. There are railings everywhere, possibly to deter thieves and train robbers.
I was coming home past the siding one winter’s evening, after a hard day of sliding down the cliffs in the Ballast Pit. You could slide on a piece of cardboard or corrugated iron from the dump. There were no plastic sacks in those days… bloody luxury! The best thing of all was a mudguard and running board from an old car. I should have mentioned that there was a dump in the Ballast Pit. While you might never get to Heaven in an old Ford car, you could get fairly close on the gravel slopes of ‘The Ballier’. There was no ski lift to get back up the slope, but it was worth the struggle. There was sometimes a price to be paid, the arse torn out of trousers or new shoes scuffed almost to destruction, difficult to explain away on arriving home. The smouldering cinder heaps took the shine off new rubber boots and made them sticky for ever afterwards. (I scuffed my new shoes, while taking these photographs.)
Anyway, I was on my way home, past the siding. There were goods wagons parked there, laden with parsnips. I love parsnips. I nicked the biggest one I could find and stuck it under my jacket. Ronnie Biggs was only in the ha’penny place. Fortunately I didn’t meet Mae West on the Station Road….’or are you just glad to see me?’ Oh, never mind. I wouldn’t have understood, anyway. My sister was making a stew… best end of neck mutton, from Willie Corcoran’s. ‘Have you any parsnips in that?’ (I was always something of a gurnet, when it came to food.) She shook her head. ‘Harry Maguire had no parsnips.’ (He never had anything. ‘Ask him if he has The Koh I Noor,’ my Old Man said once, in frustration.) I produced my loot. ‘Put this in,’ I directed. She was dubious. ‘It’s a bit big for a parsnip.’ She chopped it up anyway and added it to the pot. The stew was inedible. It was almost as sweet as golden syrup. There was an enquiry. They didn’t grow sugar-beet in our part of the country. How was I supposed to know? That train was part of The Campaign, the season in which sugar-beet was brought in vast quantities to the four sugar factories in Carlow, Thurles, Tuam and Mallow, with goods train rumbling through the night. I always wondered about DeValera sugar. My ‘parsnip’ was merely resting on its long journey. Crime doesn’t pay.
I had an argument with my brother in The Ballier, about pineapples. He maintained that they were ‘pine-ackles’. It’s a good word. In among the wrecked cars he found a tin with the label still on it: Pinnacle. There was a picture of pineapple slices on one side and a banner streaming from a pinnacle/finial/sticky-up bit, on a tower on the other side. ‘There,’ he said triumphantly. ‘Pine- ackle.’ What could I say? I didn’t even know what a parsnip looked like. I don’t remember Harry Maguire stocking pine-ackles either. However, I was struck by the way the banner was drawn. I practised it when I got home and still know how to do it. Knowledge can come from the most unlikely places.
One end of The Ballier has been gentrified, with a footpath and a football pitch. There were plans for a stadium to accommodate all sports, even Speedway. The plan was a bit ambitious for the 1950s. The other end of the pit is still wild and overgrown. There is wildlife there and blackberry bushes. We caught newts there with a badminton racquet. I don’t know why. Little dinosaurs. There were frogs and tadpoles, skylarks in the long grass and sliding gravel cliffs. I recommend a Dodge or a Nash, if you can get one. I mentioned to a family member who is into cycle-cross, that there appears to be a cycle track around the bushes. He was intrigued. Neeeaaaorwhooo! There could be speedway in The Ballier, after all.
When we grew up and became sophisticated, we discovered cheese and wine, pine-ackle, grapes and cheese impaled together on cocktail sticks. We discovered Chick Maryland, a bit of dry chicken with a few slices of pine-ackle on top. Adventurous cooking indeed. Gourmet dining. The sugar factories are gone. Nobody grows the beet anymore. If anyone tried to build a sugar refinery, I’m sure there would be protests. Pine-ackles were a popular motif in architecture, for many centuries. It’s not too late to stick a couple on the signal box, just for gosther.