Due to Covid 19 I’ve had a couple of new experiences recently, firstly I haven’t used an alarm clock since the middle of March! I thought I would have to wait until I retired to enjoy that treat, but not so, due to working from home. Secondly, for the first time ever I began to realise that I live a privileged life, appreciating, that few things really matter in life, one being where you live when confined to staying within two kilometres of your home, and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere better. I live in the house where I was born, in Crooke, directly opposite Duncannon Church on the Wexford side. My daily 40-50 minute walk takes me past Geneva Barrack to the Barrack Strand, down the lane at Newtown and back towards Passage up onto the road again by Johnny’s Lane, between Burke’s shop and Crooke Chapel. While the Lane has had more footfall in recent months due to the lockdown, it is still rare to meet anyone especially in the early mornings apart from a few locals, who like myself, walk it daily.
I know it as Johnny’s Lane, called after an old man who lived where Burke’s shop is now, called Johnny Hearn. I have only the vaguest memory of Johnny and am not even sure if it is my memory or someone else’s but I remembered my mother showing me a photo of my cousin Dermot Heffernan with Johnny as she told me where the lane got its name. With time on my hands, I recently sorted through my mother’s photos and memories. I was delighted to come across this photo of Johnny and Dermot taken at the top of the lane, both deceased now RIP. The Lane may have a new name now, as lanes are often called after those who live there, but to me it will always be Johnny’s Lane.
The Lane has an abundance of wild life, with several ancient crab apple trees, ready for making Jelly in the autumn, elders with flowers in the spring and berries in the autumn both good for making wine, meadowsweet with its pungent smell on a damp summer morning, sloes still green but ready soon for Christmas sloe gin, the nettles and docks grow in abundant companionship, one ready to undo the deeds of the other. A large branch from one of the crab apple trees fell last winter and the path has had to re-route around it while the broken branch is still growing apples. Left there, it provides cover for birds, wild animals, insects and plants. Us humans giving way to the natural world for a change. Without human upkeep the lane grows in abundance and reproduces and self-fertilises as it has done for ever. Its deadwood is providing cover for years before rotting back into the ground. In the spring the top of the lane is full of wild garlic releasing its strong smell underfoot on a crisp morning.
The Lane holds an untold history and many secrets. It has been the site of children’s camps and games and other devilment and still is no doubt. The strand still holds the memory of the cockle women, my grandmother Ellie Murphy and Aunt Molly among them, who picked on a low tide, bent over, heads low, among the rocks on the strand below. They carried and carted sacks of cockle and winkles up this lane. Its stone ditches at either side, still visible in parts, are wide enough for an ass and cart for those lucky enough to have one. Paddy Ryan recently told me that his mother Statia, daughter of cockle women Janey Organ, as a young girl helping her mother collapsed walking up the lane under the weight of the bag of cockles that she was carrying, damaging her hip. She spent nine months in bed but her hip never healed and was unable to pick cockles again. The injury impacted on her for the rest of her life. Statia was a kind and lovely woman and a regular visitor to our house when I was a child. I remember her playing ‘this little piggy’ with my toes, I was probably around the age of two.
Some mornings as I head up the lane from the strand, I stop and look back and on a full tide with the sun rising and dancing on the water I feel thankful to the cockle women and others who lived in Crooke and Passage before us who saved this lane for us by walking it. And though we can travel more freely again I continue to feel privileged to live in such a stunning place with this wonderful river that has provided for many of us who live here, in more ways than one.
Submitted by Breda for Heritage Week 2020