How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit Acknowledgements


Garrett Keogh, Mary Fleming, Eamonn Nolan and the Gap Arts Festival Committee. Katherine Byrne, Anne-Marie Stafford and all the staff at Ballythomas National School. Ffion Scott Davies & Dolores Davies. Rory & Stephen Doonan. Maggie & Basim in Loggan. The Gap Pub, G.A.R.A. & Patrick Stack. Kilanerin Community Centre, Kilanerin Men’s Shed and Peter O’Connor. Fr. Denis Browne & Kilanerin National School. Robert Duffy & Tinahely Writers’ Group. Seamus O’Brien & Monaseed National School. Carol Boland, Cooneys and Hollyfort Book Club. Terence White and the Courthouse Arts Centre, Tinahely. Rev. Mark Hayden and St. John’s Church Committee. Fr. Chris Hayden & Shillelagh-Coolboy G.A.A. Club. Tinahely Men’s Shed. Kilanerin I.C.A. Coolboy Rangers Soccer Club. Tinahely I.C.A., Nolans of Annagh and Gorey Writers’ Group. Dearbhla Ní Laighin & all the staff at Gorey Library. Amanda Byrne and Gorey Chamber of Commerce. Special thanks to Liz Burns and all the staff at the Arts Department, Wexford County Council. Finally, grateful thanks to each and every participant and especially the parents/grandparents for doing the driving!

How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit Author Biographies


Carmel Kinsella lives in Toberpatrick. She came to the area when she married Laurence Kinsella in April 1967. Carmel enjoys baking and worked in Institutional Catering in public schools. This is her first time giving Creative Writing a go.

Avae Sweeney lives in North Wexford. She was born in October 2007. As well as telling stories, Avae loves to go on adventures and to swim.

Alex Sweetman McDonald was born in Wexford Hospital in 2009. He lives in Ballythomas and enjoys hurling, rugby, soccer and video games. This was his first time trying out a Creative Writing course and he found it really fun.

Caoimhe McGonigle lives in North Wexford. She enjoys hurling, swimming, football, gymnastics, music, soccer and playing. But her favourite is creative writing. Caoimhe loves exploring and adventures.

Fionn de Faoite plays soccer for Coolboy Rangers and Gaelic Football for Shillelagh-Coolboy G.A.A. Club. He goes to school at Gorey Educate Together. Fionn loves the Gap Arts Festival because it’s fun and there are plenty of activities.

Éadaoin Kinsella O’Neill lives in Toberpatrick. She enjoys doing gymnastics, rugby and G.A.A., but most of all she loves gardening with her Dad and running the fields with her dogs. She tried Creative Writing to help her tell her own stories and to do something different with her ‘Gran’ Carmel Kinsella.

J.R. Hogan lives in Craanford and has done for most of her twenty- two years. She writes because, when growing up, books were a gateway to so many different worlds and places. She hopes that one day her writing may be that same gateway for others.

Brigid Kinsella grew up in rural Ireland in the 60s. Having no TV or telephone, her family interacted daily with neighbouring families. Many tales were recalled in their homes. Now a retired nurse, this year Brigid joined a Creative Writing class.

Rua de Faoite is nearly fourteen. He loves sport, art and gaming. He enjoys writing because it clears your head and is probably kicking a ball in his back garden as you read this.

Brenda Barry is originally from Dublin. She now lives in South County Wicklow. Her grandchildren enjoy hearing her stories of life in County Down and County Dublin, during the 1940’s.

How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit Foreword


When i go into the school at Ballythomas, for a meeting of the Board of Management, or when we’re setting up the stage for the Gap Arts Festival, or for one of the Festival’s workshops, I’m fascinated by the drawings and paintings, the model-making, and the stories and poems and projects that line the walls.

We didn’t do painting or drawing when I was in school. I remember one day in Primary, a teacher telling the class that ‘there was no art in Ireland. No art and no minerals…’
In Secondary we learned passages of prose, plays and poetry by heart. And we memorised the literary terms such as litotes, synecdoche, pathetic fallacy—words of literary analysis that could get you high marks in exams, even if you never really understood what they meant.

I used to go to the Hugh Lane Gallery, and look at the paintings. And although there were many I didn’t like, and more I didn’t understand, I thought that this was the sort of thing a teenager should do.

Then one day I was walking down the road near where I lived, and something caught my eye. A glass fanlight above a Georgian hall door. I’d seen these fanlights all over Dublin. But never like this. The teardrop shapes in the glass lay on top of each other like… Like shapes I’d seen in the Hugh Lane Gallery.

The Irish artist Michael Farrell had painted canvasses that spilled from the walls onto the floor like giant white teardrops. And I had stared at them, year after year, with not a clue what they were or what they meant.
It took a couple of years, but that day walking down my road, a road I had walked down a thousand times before, I stopped in my tracks. Because I had seen something that I saw every day in a new way.

We used the word metaphor in our Leaving Cert English analysis: a figure of speech in which one thing is compared to another. But they never told us that metaphor comes from two Greek words. And that they mean to carry, or to cross over. And that to me, is what art can do. It can carry us over into new worlds, worlds with different ways of seeing.

This Inter-Generational Writing Course is central to the Gap Arts Festival’s aim of developing skills in the community and collaborating with artists in telling our own stories in our own landscape. I thank Wexford County Council’s Arts Department for all their help and support under the Creative Communities Programme.

I congratulate all the participants and mentor Sylvia Cullen. And I look forward to their stories, their different ways of

looking at the world.

Garrett Keogh, Director, The Gap Arts Festival, June 2019

How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit Introduction


The idea of an Intergenerational Creative Writing Project came to me as I was walking in the woods, at the foot of Annagh Hill.

I had worked with children many times in Coolfancy and Tinahely, as well as when I was researching my plays The Thaw and Hunting the Strawberry Tree. Over the years, I had worked with groups of adults umpteen times: Traveller groups in Wicklow and Wexford, older people at Carnew Community Care, residents of Wexford Women’s Refuge and Shelton Abbey Open Prison. But I had never yet had the opportunity to mingle both age groups together and see what happened!

These workshops were a quiet pleasure: silence descended over Ballythomas School with only the thud of tennis balls to disturb this group of serious writers. It was the same over the road at Hollyfort Schoolhouse, with the sound of the fire crackling away in the background, while pen was put to paper in this wonderfully atmospheric building. All of the writers gave their best attention to the work and to one another. Jaws dropped as the technique of skinning a rabbit was described, or the ghostly apparition in a dark kitchen was relived…

Children surprised one another with their capacity to dig deeper, reaching for new words and lost memories. For all these reasons, this has been one of the most delightful workshop series that I have ever had the privilege to facilitate.

Sincere thanks to Garrett Keogh who took on the challenge of trying out something new, under the umbrella of the Gap Arts Festival. And to Mary Fleming, who gave so much time and energy to the planning stages of this project, as well as the booklet you now hold in your hands.
I will finish by remembering the words of Albert Camus, reminding us why words matter so much:

‘Were it not for the storyteller, civilisation would destroy itself.’

Enjoy these precious tales by young and old!

Sylvia Cullen

How to Skin a Rabbit Copyright Information How to Skin a Rabbit

Copyright Information

All authors retain copyright in their stories. All rights reserved © 2019

The Gap Arts Festival and Wexford County Council are permitted to reproduce the work.
Please contact regarding permission to reproduce or reprint.

Design by Mary Fleming Design, 086 8059039 Printed by Wexford County Council.

How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit The Ghost in the Kitchen



When, one summer, Ma, Da, little brother and I were on holiday in my grandparents’ house, I saw a ghost.
I didn’t know at the time that I was looking at a ghost. I was about four years old and terrified of the dark. My grandparents’ house was a Victorian redbrick on the South Circular Road in Dublin. My impression of Victorian houses is that they were always dark. And it was a long way from the dining room to the kitchen.

On the day in question, we were eating our dinner in the dining room. Dinner time was one p.m., always. My brother and I were the only children around the table. I think there were about six adults present. I never enjoyed eating in that room. I don’t know if it was because it was dark, or because my grandmother’s policy was that small children shouldn’t be acknowledged: seen and not heard.

There came a blessed diversion: my grandad, who we called Pa, spilled gravy on the white, linen tablecloth. I loved Pa dearly. He was a very entertaining man—an engineer, who invented things. He was also a brilliant rat catcher. Pa would set the traps, designed by himself, show me where they should go, and after a few days, take me along to check the situation. I particularly remember one day when I followed him into the sitting room.

Pa went over to the top left-hand corner of the room. He lifted the carpet, then listened carefully. Finally, he whispered

‘We’ll have a look.’ Lifting a floorboard, he took out a trap. ‘Look at that! Mammy, Daddy and ten babies!’ I was surprised at the number of babies but the trap was designed to catch as many as possible.
I followed him through the house again as he triumphantly carried his prize out to the shed at the end of the garden.

My hero! However, my grandmother wasn’t as happy as I was. And now, Pa was entertaining me by spilling gravy on the snow white, starched, linen tablecloth.
Granny changed the mood very effectively, by ordering me to the kitchen for a wet dishcloth, in order to mop up the gravy. At the time, I felt that Pa should get it, but I was also worried about having to go alone down the hall, down a silent flight of stairs, down across into the lower hall. And no window to lighten the gloom. And I was never allowed switch on the light.

But on this day, when I reached the lower hall, I could see someone—a stranger—in the kitchen. I knew he wasn’t a family member. I had never seen anyone like him. He looked just like my soft toy doll*, given to me in 1944, the days when you couldn’t get toys. In my eyes, he was a six-foot tall version, with the same tall bristly black hair. And he had the smartest, polished black boots, that I had ever seen.

What was he doing? He was washing dishes. The sink was under the window and he was, very calmly, wiping plates then drying them. I watched as he walked across the kitchen to the dresser where he carefully placed them on the shelves. I had never seen anything like this before.

I don’t know if he saw me or not, but he didn’t stop his dishwashing. As I said, he was extremely tall and wore a strange, furry helmet on his head. He wore a red jacket and black trousers. And of course the shiny, black boots. He didn’t frighten me but I wasn’t very comfortable with his presence. I turned and hardly daring to breathe, made my way back up to the dining room. I hoped I could slide in next to my mother without being noticed. No such luck.

Granny, as serious as Pa was entertaining, turned towards me. ‘Did you bring the cloth Brenda?’ I managed to shake my head and tried to get closer to my mother. Granny looked at Ma and remarked, ‘You’re going to have to do something with that girl.’

My grandfather winked at me and started cleaning up with his table napkin. After the meal was over, the table cleared and everything put away, Ma asked me what happened. I told her as best I could about the man in the kitchen and how I just couldn’t go in there. My mother didn’t seem too surprised.

‘Nothing in this house would amaze me,’ she replied. And that was the end of the story… Or so it seemed!

About ten years later, I came in from school and checked that day’s post. In our house, letters and cards were always left on the kitchen window sill. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a postcard of a guardsman in front of Buckingham Palace. In those days there was no television and very few photographs in the newspapers, so there was no way I could recognise a British guardsman.

Very excitedly, I told my mother. She clearly remembered the day of the spilled gravy and suggested I should go back to the house on South Circular Road and talk to my Auntie May, who was still living there. So off I went, after school one day and told my story.

My Aunt was very interested. She was able to tell me that the family who had lived in that house before them, had two sons. When these boys were about eighteen and twenty years old, the First World War broke out. Both boys joined an Irish Regiment and went off with the British Army, to fight. They never returned…

Ghost stories are supposed to be sad. However, the ghost I saw wasn’t sad. I think he was happy, back in his childhood home. I didn’t feel sad when I saw him, and I could see how good he felt to be back in his mother’s kitchen.

I was glad that he decided it was me who should see him. My Aunt was thrilled to bits that he had come home. We talked about him over tea and scones and decided that he must have been a thoughtful, caring son. He was doing the dishes after all. And you can’t do a nicer thing for your mother.

* The Chambers’ dictionary definition is: ‘a child’s soft doll with a black face, bristling hair and bright clothes.’ A doll like this dictionary definition featured in certain American children’s books; the first of which was illustrated by Florence Upton and was published in 1895.

I own a similar soft toy doll now, although it’s not really mine. It was my husband’s. Before he got it, some of his older cousins had it. They always said that it came to them from someone else. My daughter, now aged forty- six, had it when she was little. And then three of her four children did—the youngest one wasn’t interested. I imagine he must be almost a hundred years old now. But that’s not the one I had as a little girl. That one, my brother threw into the sea.

How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit The Den



It wasn’t my idea.
I wish it had been because it was my garden. But no, my friend came up with the idea. A den. A base. Our secret hideout, where we could escape to whenever we wanted. There is a row of trees at the front of my garden. Some small, some tall and a gigantic Sycamore tree, right at the centre, two or three times the height of my house. Myself, my friend and my younger brother all marched towards the wall of green, which was looming above our heads. Why? We were desperate to know what was behind those trees.

My friend had asked and I, feeling ashamed, told him that I hadn’t a clue. This was due to the fact that we had only been in the house for a year and a half. But that wasn’t an excuse for not wondering what was behind the trees. Whenever I bothered to try and see what was there from the roadside, I was again prevented by another blockade of trees which hid this mysterious place. It was almost as if these spectacular trees were hiding something that you had to prove you were worthy of seeing.

We needed to prove we were worthy. So, we stooped under the lowest branches, stomped through sharp, pointy briars and stinging nettles, to come face to face with… a wall of clay. That was the biggest challenge. Not giving up then.

We could see shrubs, bushes and one or two flowers above us, so we retrieved all the shovels we had, which was a grand total of two. Regardless, we hacked away at the clay until we had something that resembled a staircase. It was steep and hard to clamber up but we couldn’t turn back now.

I glanced to the left and then turned my head back to ogle the shrubs, bushes, birds and the amazing trees. There was a path, but made by what? I still don’t know because the house was new and I doubt the hardworking builders would have had much time to walk about this hidden wonderland. We trudged forward in single file, gasping and pointing at all the different sights. It came to a drop, which was where my parents dump the dead grass and compost. They had never looked up and noticed the ledge we were standing on.

During that summer, whenever my friend came over we would sometimes take turns jumping down into the place where the rotting grass was. After a few minutes of exploring, we ambled back to the entrance but we didn’t stop there.

Instead we continued on to the place we named ‘The Den’. It was perfect. Probably impossible to describe completely, because it was overwhelming. Bees buzzed, flowers danced in the cool breeze and even the trees looked vibrant. The spring sun filtered through the Sycamore leaves, casting a lovely light over our new hideout.

The roots of some trees actually poked through the surface of the ground. We were raised above ground level by about a metre and a half and we could see the road through the gaps in the Sycamore’s leaves. We could see but not be seen. Just what every young child wants.

Over the next few years the den changed. The trees on the road side were cut back making us more visible to the many people who glanced in at the den, probably wondering as they drove past, if they had seen a flicker of movement. That flicker was most likely us. Our parents were eventually allowed to come up. My Dad made us a tyre swing and a rope ladder, which nobody ever scaled until my eighth birthday, when the very same friend who asked the question ‘What’s behind those trees?’ managed to climb up and get stuck.

I had forgotten all about that. Now I’m going into second year and haven’t been in the Den for more than a year and a half. I’ll go up there soon. Maybe all this time I thought I was too old for such things. Too old to have fun up there. I now know that you’re never too old to have fun. |||

How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit Melting Moments



“Answer that bell,” commands Susan, the night sister in a busy London hospital. It’s three a.m.

Beth started training to be a nurse in 1970. This is her first time on night duty. The ward has full glass panels from ceiling to floor, with no blinds. It was previously used for patients getting treatment for tuberculosis.

Beth hides behind the sluice room door, peeping out slowly. Outside, thunder is raging. The windowpanes shake and rattle, as the lightning strikes make crackling noises. The night sky explodes with rays of light, like fireworks against the ominous dark.

Fellow workers hurry past, shouting in Cockney accents. “Come look at the storm, reminds me of Guy Fawkes night,” as they stand and gaze out the long glass windows.
Electric lights flicker and dim. Bells are ringing all around, as Beth’s legs slowly melt beneath her. She feels sweaty. Barely able to breathe. Her head is dizzy and her mouth dry. “If I was at home,” she thought, “I could hide in the dark wardrobe and put blankets on the bedroom windows…”

It happened when Beth was nine years old.

One hot summer’s day in 1964, she ran from the hay field as her father stopped Bob the workhorse and parked the hay binder on the headland of the Brow field. Her brothers and sisters chased each other home through the long, mossy lane.

The sky got darker, as loud bangs of thunder and explosive flashes of lightning cracked out. Horses neighed loudly and kicked up their hind legs. Squawking hens, ducks and geese ran, as they pushed their way through the iron farm gate.

Beth’s mother shook holy water as she handed them all rosary beads. The last one in got the old, worn, brown beads.

“God save us all,” whispered their mother, as she recited mysteries and litanies.

Kneeling, the children pinched and pushed at each other, to get the best space around the hearthstone. Two huge, black kettles hung on pot racks over the fire for making tea. Beth looked up at the wide, tar-covered chimney, remembering her Granny’s stories of hiding uniforms there for men on the run, when the Black and Tans were in Ireland in 1919. Santa also came down the same chimney if you were good, filling everyone’s socks hanging on a massive beam over the fanners, that kept the fire lighting.

Without warning, a ball of lightning as big as a football came rolling down the chimney, blazing hot fire and hitting Beth’s sister Nan on the elbow as it rolled along the cold kitchen flagstones.

Everyone screamed as the ball of lightning blazed through the house, shooting out the open kitchen door into the storm outside. Their father hurriedly got everyone out as some cried, while others were stunned into silence. Flames and smoke suddenly appeared in the sky as their neighbour’s house went on fire.
Beth hears her name being called to Matron’s office immediately.
Taking deep breaths, she puts on her starched white hat and in full uniform, head up, she marches purposely past the wall of windows and in through the Matron’s door.

How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit Ill Got, Ill Gone



In Tipperary, where I come from, they say the Devil’s children have the Devil’s luck…
When I was growing up in Portroe, my home was in the townland of Ballingeer, and there was always a few of us coming home together after school. I was the eldest at that time because my older sisters and brothers had moved on. Well this day, a few of my sisters and my brother were with me. School finished at three o’clock and there was a rush out of last class to get our coats and home with us, as quick as our legs could carry us, starving with the hunger.

Our mother would have lovely home-cured bacon and cabbage ready for us, with home-grown potatoes. Delicious food. At that time, most people in the country killed their own pig for bacon. Streaky bacon would be my own favourite. Of course, almost everyone around in the countryside had a kitchen garden and provided all the vegetables for the household.

Coming home through the fields, we would see plenty of rabbits, big and small. There’d be the odd hare and lots of foxes. Years ago, farmers would kill foxes, cut the tails off and sell them for ten shillings in old money. The odd person would skin the fox and cure it with almond saltpetre, to make a rug. Big work!

That time, people would go walking through their fields with their gun. They’d see the rabbit and shoot! It was brought

home and left hanging by the legs for a few days, before it would be prepared for cooking: sectioned into eight pieces, fried or put into a casserole with onions and other veg, and cooked for a few hours.

Walking home from school, we always went the same way— cutting across fields on a short cut, instead of going around the roads. There was Boland’s Field and Hogan’s Field. And then our own: Grace’s Field. These all had cattle in them, so we always thought when we reached our own gate, that we were safe at last!

This day anyway, we decided to go through an orchard that belonged to Mrs Boland. She was a poor old lady, average size, with black hair just going grey. Getting on a bit without a doubt! She lived with her son who never married. Well this particular day, we were in and up the tree trunks, as if we had never seen an apple on a tree. Now our parents would not have been pleased at us, upsetting the old lady—and sure anyhow hadn’t we apples galore at home?

Well we’d shake the branches for the apples to come down and if you weren’t quick, they’d fall off and hit your head. Eaters and Cookers they were. We’d take bites out of some and throw others away—the sour ones. We often thought about throwing them at the old lady—such bold children we were! Sure we were only young ones that time…

Eating apples had a nice smell. They were small with reddish colours. Cookers were green and bigger. When peeled and sliced, if the seeds were white they were not ripe. Seeds had to be brown and well-fit for cooking. In July, the eating apples were ripe and suitable to eat. One type was called Beauty of Bath and kept well until October.

We also used to get Bramley apples, which were cookers, specially for stewing and making tarts. These consisted of shortcrust pastry, rolled out and put on a dish, filled with peeled and sliced apples and sugar to taste. Then, covered over with pastry again and baked in a very hot oven. The folk in the household would have them eaten up in a minute!

In those times, our parents were always very friendly with the Boland family. Of course they were—sure they were our neighbours! But as we were busy up in the tops of the trees shaking the branches like blazes, suddenly, didn’t Mrs Boland appear, looking very cross! She was after coming out her door to tell us off. She gave out like she never did before: told us not to be taking her apples, finally threatening us with a stick.

At that, we’d run! Racing home through the fields and leaping across the drains, just like cattle would do—except we’d make sure not to get our feet wet. Mrs Boland’s angry words would be ringing in our ears: “Ill got, ill gone,” she’d call out. Bold enough we were and would answer her back, shouting out ‘We don’t mind you!’

How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit The Babysitting Nightmare



‘Stop pushing me!’ Róisín screamed. ‘I’m not even touching you,’ I cried.

‘Now you’re pushing me!’ Aoife shrieked.

‘Get out! We’re here now and I don’t want to hear you for another second!’ Mam snapped.

We froze but started to crawl out of the car eventually. Mam was quite surprised at how we quietened down so quickly, but tried to keep a firm face. Once we were out of the car, we ran inside my Aunt’s house.

My sisters, Aoife, Róisín, and I, were going to be babysitting our cousins Katie and Billy for the first time ever! Katie was a cute toddler but always let off a tantrum or two. As for Billy, the baby, he was a little on the quiet side. He was so good, he wouldn’t even cry if someone turned off the TV when he was watching it.

When we went in the door, Billy and Katie exclaimed, ‘YAY, YAY, YAY!’ They were so happy. The adults set off to their concert and we were left all on our own.
It was now seven o’clock so we were facing our first job, which was to put Billy to bed. That was hard… He screamed for Ireland and kicked too. He was two years of age and was well able to crawl and walk. He also loved attention.

Luckily, I had stayed downstairs with Katie, so that was alright—quiet and peaceful. She was watching a TV programme called Octonauts. I sat on the couch and closed my eyes… I imagined Mam crashing into the hedges and being rushed to hospital. I could hear screaming and roaring and shouting all around me.

I woke up in a panic to find Katie jumping on me. It was her doing all the screaming. I tried desperately to stop her because I knew she would wake up Billy, but she just wouldn’t stop.

Next thing I knew, Róisín and Aoife came rushing downstairs and started screeching at me to stop her. I tried again and again to shush her and finally she stopped bawling. But by this time Billy was screaming too. I really wanted to do a runner, but I knew I couldn’t.

All of a sudden, everything went strangely quiet… The three of us ran out into the hall. We froze for the second time. Billy had got out of his cot and he was right over at the banister! One more step and he could be DEAD. Aoife tiptoed up to him, but tripped over a step. Róisín jumped over her but then fell backwards. It was all up to ME.

Billy started smiling and jumping on the spot at the top of the stairs. I was terrified out of my skin. Taking a breath, I began to walk up to him. Billy quite liked me so he lifted his little foot as if he was going to step towards me. I grabbed him into my arms and hugged him so tightly. He kissed me on the nose so I kissed him back. I was so happy! Aoife and Róisín started clapping.

Katie walked out into the hall and started cheering and laughing, even though she didn’t have a clue about any of it. So then, we all started laughing—even little Billy!

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