Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Let There Be Light

I was told a story by a Kerry legend, that I found so funny, I had to share it with you today. The teller of the story is Mike Bunny, Bunny not being his actual name, but that is a whole other tale.

Now Mike is the kind of fella who could tell you if a cow calved anywhere in Kerry, what time it happened, and if it had been a boy or a girl. He was having a cup of tea at the bar while I was telling a wayward tourist that the Blackvally outside Killarney was the last place in Ireland to get electricity and that had been in the 1970's.

"Yea, that's right," piped up Mike, "But did you know that Killarney had Electric Street Light before London?"

"Jesus, never!" I said with a dismissive wave of my hand.

"As true as I'm standing here. Not sure of the year but it was late ninety's, eighteen ninety's that is. Years before most of London had street lights. The Killarney Electric Light Company was right there in the middle of town, and it ran from a mill on the river."

"Rubbish," I said, but the tourist was hooked.

"Really?" he said in awe.

"Would I tell a lie," asked Bunny as if he were highly offended. The tourist shook his head and gazed on with puppy dog eyes.

"I even know a story about the first house with an electric light in the town," he said sipping his tea.

"Go on, you better tell us," I said and admittedly I was a bit hooked myself.

"Well, I was told of this young lad, about seventeen, who got a job down the creamery, and it was at the same time. He wandered down from the mountain with every stitch of clothes he owned in a cardboard suitcase no bigger than a woman's handbag. He secured lodgings with old Annie Guthrie, who happened to have just installed a new electric light in her kitchen. She gave the young lad a hearty meal and fixed him a lunch for his first day of work and was about to retire for the night when she asked the lad, "Are heading up?"

Now he'd never before been in a town as big as Killarney and was still agog at everything. His mind was buzzing with excitement and sleep was the furthest thing from his mind. "I'll stay up a while longer if you don't mind, Missus," he said.

"Not at all, just put out the light before you go," she said and climbed the stairs. A few hours later she was woken by cursing and scraping of furniture in the kitchen. She jumped out of bed and put her housecoat on and rushed down, noting that the kitchen light was still burning brightly. She pushed open the door to find the young creamery worker standing on the table with the red-hot light bulb in his hand and a look of fury on his face.

"What in the devil is going on?" she demanded.

"This house be haunted, I'll not sleep a night under the roof," he said, jumping off the table and regarding the woman with terrified eyes.

"It's not haunted you Amadán!" she snapped.

The boy pointed at the light and with terror in his eyes said, "I've been blowing on that lantern for the last two hours, and it won't quench, if that's not witchcraft, I don't know what is!"

With that, the boy dashed up the stairs, grabbed his meagre belongings and fled the house with Mrs Guthrie's cackles ringing in his ears."

Mike took a sip of his tea, and I had to admit there were tears in my eyes from laughing.

"Good story," I said.

"It all true," he said and waved a good by before leaving the pub.

I just had to find out myself, and sure enough, the Killarney Electric Light Company was set up and operating with full street lighting before 1892. Don't you live and learn?