How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit When you were Ten



A number of differing shades of green battle for dominance, shafts of early morning sun filter through the gaps in sizable branches. A soft breeze caresses your

skin; you can feel it capturing your straw-coloured locks in its gentle gusts.

The cacophony of singing birds merges with the crunching of leaves underfoot in glorious harmony, the redolent scent of wildflowers invading your nostrils.

You’re alone, but not really… The forest doesn’t belong to you, not even a little bit—instead it belongs to the bugs, the birds, the bees and whatever other creatures have chosen to make their homes here. This is their abode and you… You are merely a visitor, thanking them for granting you entry and hoping they’ll forgive your ingression.

Footsteps echo as you stroll, a gentle thwack, thwack, thwack as your shoes meet the worn-down soil of the beaten forest floor. There is such an incomparable sense of freedom here, such an aura of wonderment—one you feel you haven’t lost since childhood.

You have lost a lot as you grew, as do most; everything is changing at such a rapid pace that you’re beginning to lose your footing. Though here… Here is liberating, it’s familiar, as though everything you fear, your doubts, your confusion— in here they’re reduced to nothing but an irritating buzz that is suddenly far easier to drown out. Suddenly you’re free.
You remember coming here in the company of your brothers,

your parents; it was a warm July evening, the only reason you remember that, is because it was the day after your mother’s birthday. Much has changed since then, that is undeniable.

You weren’t as reserved as you are now, nor as respectful, though you aren’t as carefree now as you were then, nor as excitable. In a way you suppose it’s an odd sort of balance, though also a stark realisation that you are no longer who you once were.

The forest at ten, was a whole other place than it is at twenty-two and you don’t just mean in relation to the thinning of the groves of trees, or the fact that this time, this time you’re alone.

You realise that it is probably the first time you’ve been back to this particular forest since then.

When you were ten, it was bigger. When you were ten, mystery lurked around every tree trunk, every grassy hill and overgrown path. Every tiny, inconsequential thing had a story behind it, an adventure to be had.

When you were ten, you and your brothers were on a treacherous quest—though the importance didn’t lie in the end-goal, but rather in the journey that awaited you.

There were dragons here too you know, witches also; in fact, when you were ten, there was a hodgepodge of magical, mythical creatures living alongside the birds, the bees and the bugs. You had to tread carefully and you remember warning your parents to stay behind, that you’d secure a path through the endless, impassable rows of towering barbs and thorns. Though now they’re merely thistles, daisies and dandelions.

When you were ten, a fallen branch was a sword. And armed with a series of twigs and random flowers that could absolutely heal any ailment that might befall you, you were finally ready to go.

You weren’t sure whether you were going to fell a dragon or tame a wolf, but regardless, it didn’t really matter. After all, when you were ten, the thrill was in the unknown.

When you’re twenty-two the unknown frightens you, it’s no longer a call to embark on another mystical quest, instead it’s unappealing, almost… unstable.

When you were ten, this same forest was a whole other world. You didn’t realise then that there was more to the world than just your backyard, or your school, or your local town. You didn’t realise back then that there was more to the universe than what you were familiar with and way back then, this now tiny forest was gargantuan. It seemed so far removed from the world you knew, just waiting to be explored and that was exactly what you did.
You spent hours in here, searching every nook and cranny, no stone was left unturned, no tree left unclimbed. In fact, you conquered every single one, even the giant oak that you fell from multiple times, though you didn’t give up. Instead you merely laughed. You laughed and laughed until tears streamed down your flushed, freckled cheeks and your brothers thought you were crying.

Though it seems that tree is dead now, that same determination has remained with you to this day and probably will for the rest of your days.

The seasons have changed, people have changed, you have changed.

But as you stand there, in that same old forest, some of the old you from when you were a child, still remains.

After all, there’s a lot more you can change now, than when you were ten.

How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit The Hoover



Iwas only a year and a half old but away in a world of my own. Young, but already so independent. I loved being outside because out there, I could do anything. Helping my Dad in the garden was my favourite thing to do. Dad planted peas, spuds, carrots and onions. I always helped him because I was afraid that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t get any peas. And peas! Ahhh peas were my absolute favourite. I just love peas. I’m always robbing them, whenever I get the chance.

How can I describe why I love them so much and hoover them up like a Dyson?

Well, first of all the amazing taste. Fresh, juicy peas—there’s nothing on earth like them. The smallest ones are the sweetest. My Grandad Seán calls the big ones cannon balls!

This day anyway, I was outside playing in the garden. I strolled over to where the peas were growing, sat down and started to pick some. You have to hold the stem tightly and pull the pod right off. Or twist it, to get it off completely. You pinch the bottom of the pod to get it open. If you don’t do that, it’s hard to get the peas out. But if you pinch it and rip it open, the pod comes apart and you can just pop the peas straight into your mouth. They’re way nicer, way juicier than any of the ones you buy. Little balls of juiciness, so tasty.

So there I was this day, sitting and robbing peas. I’d say I was after eating nearly the whole garden! But what I didn’t know was, that back at the house, the big hunt for me had begun.

Everyone was out looking for me: my two big brothers, my Mam and Dad. They were frantic. Searching the whole house inside and out, top to bottom. My two brothers were sent off to search along the road, because I loved to go walking there with my Mam.

My parents tore outside and began searching our back garden. There was the big garage down the back and another shed up the top for all the shovels and tools. Perhaps they thought something could’ve fallen on me in there?

Nothing showed up. Still absolutely no sign. Next, my Mam would’ve started ringing people. My Uncle Kieran up the road, because I used to just love going off up to the farm or John, Betty and Ernie Evans, our neighbours, further up along the road. None of them had seen me.

At this stage, my parents were probably about to puke! I can’t imagine how dreadful those hours were for them.

I’ve a feeling that it was my brothers, J.J. and Achille, who thought of the pea plants. They know me well! J.J. and Achille ran up to the garden to check and when they saw me, they called Mam and Dad. They were delighted and relieved but most of all they laughed: ‘Should’ve known!’ Being so young, I didn’t understand the fuss; I was content hoovering up the peas, yum.

How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit Under the Bridge



It started on another one of those dewy, misty, pale Saturday mornings.
We had just finished our breakfast of brown soda bread and some local honey from Tinahely. We were all gathered around the dining table having thoughts about what to do that day in our favourite place—Loggan. I usually love going for a walk up the road with my dog, Sammy, especially in summer. It’s so nice walking up the hill towards Ballynabarney, with the sun on your back and a warm breeze blowing. And the newly-born lambs playing and bleating. I love the way the air is so fresh where we live in the countryside and I really like looking at the lush, green fields. They are the perfect picnic spots—especially the ones near the stream that flows into the Derry river.

So this summer’s morning, I had a strange longing to take a proper look at the local stone bridge. Every time we passed it in our car, it looked like a rather strange and dark place down there. So after my brother and I had gotten dressed, we went out the gate with our mother and headed straight off towards the bridge. I noticed nice big stems of Cow Parsley growing and some pink foxgloves up in the hedges. The road seemed quiet as we walked along, with only the sound of the wind blowing in the alder trees.

By the time we got there, I realised that we had a problem. You see, I wanted to actually go underneath the bridge, not look down from the top by the roadside. But we couldn’t descend to the water’s edge because of all the nettles growing on either side. After a few minutes of thinking, I realised that we had no choice. We would have to just risk going through the nettles.

After a few long minutes of careful climbing, stepping cautiously, we finally got down to the banks of the stream. I was the first to wade under the bridge and I was soon to realise that it was the perfect spot for a creature like Gollum to live. Dark and wet, with hardly any light.

As I walked on through the shallow water, I began to explore the place and realised that the underneath of the bridge was rather cold and damp. Next of all, I looked up and noticed that overhead, there were ten or eleven green blobs sticking to the underside of the bridge. As I looked closer, I realised that the green blobs had eyes and legs and that they were actually frogs! I was about to tell my brother when suddenly one of them dropped and landed on my neck. I cried out and tumbled backwards into the stream. I was going to warn my mother and brother to watch out, when suddenly they both tumbled backwards into the stream too! All three of us quickly got up and were particularly wet and forlorn. Pushing and shoving to get back up onto the road, we trudged home, soaking wet, but with a tale to tell.

How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit A Scary Memory



The pink curtains were open. I was in my tiny cot and I was meant to be asleep… I was two years of age and my bedroom was up on the second floor.

Of course, I didn’t sleep. I shook the bars of the cot but they wouldn’t budge. I was scared that my parents might hear me but I didn’t give up. I tried to climb over but fell back down onto my blanket and pillow.

Well, I tried again and this time I got over! I hit my head on the wardrobe but I didn’t care about that. I climbed up onto the windowsill and opened the window. Outside, it was windy, but I stayed strong, holding on to the handle of the window. To the left, I could see the view of the village, Annagh.
I looked down and saw how far I was from the ground, but didn’t care! I climbed out onto the outside windowsill and felt free. I could see all of our neighbours’ houses and felt like I was hanging off a plane! My Dad was on the lawnmower, whistling happily, when he caught sight of me. His jaw dropped and he signalled frantically for me to get back inside!

Of course I thought he was waving at me, so I waved back at him, beaming. My Dad turned off the lawnmower as quickly as he could and sprinted inside, up the stairs and into my room. I was about to fall when Dad caught me. He grabbed my left leg and hauled me inside. He was red and puffing, so he looked like a tomato! Dad locked the window firmly and hugged and kissed me gently. I felt safe—but out there was so much fun!

How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit Picking Potatoes



When we go to my Grandad’s house, way down in Taghmon, south County Wexford, sometimes we go out to the field and pick potatoes.

Grandad’s house is in the country, in a very open place where there’s lots of space between the houses. At the time of this story, I was only six. Or nearly seven. But I remember that the field was big and wide. When we got up that morning, we went down to the kitchen and had a good breakfast of sausages, rashers and toast. Then we went and got dressed into old clothes. They had to be old because the potato field was very brown and muddy. But I learned that the hard way…

It was the day after Christmas and I had got a new tracksuit from my Uncle. The tracksuit was black with a white stripe all down the side. It was shiny and comfortable and I wore it happily the next day. The weather was fine and sunny, with only a few clouds.

The potato field was easy to get to. All we did was go out the back door and walk through the skinny trees and then we were standing in the field. Picking them was easy. All you had to do was get hold of the stem at the top and pull the potatoes out of the ground. Mostly they came in ones or twos. But sometimes four potatoes came out in the one go.

Well I was running across the field, because my Grandad had said ‘I’ll start at one end and you start at the other. Then we’ll meet in the middle.’ Suddenly I slipped and fell. I got covered in sticky mud and dry dirt. I felt sad because my brand-new tracksuit was all muddy and dirty.

But I kept picking even more potatoes! And when we were done, we went inside and my Nanny put my tracksuit in the wash and it was clean and dry the next day.

Roosters was the kind of potato that Grandad grew. For dinner that night, my Nanny made steak and chips. She made the chips out of the potatoes we had only just picked. They tasted really good! And way better than the ones you would buy in the shops. They were big chunky chips and I ate a whole plateful!

How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit The Hairclip



One time, I was visiting my Nanny’s house and asked her what was her favourite Christmas present, as we were doing a worksheet in school about one of your grandparents’

favourite Christmas presents. So I chose my Nanny.
My Nanny said ‘Well Avae, we never had anything like you did at Christmas time. All we did was bring in an evergreen tree from the woods beside our house and put it in the corner beside the fire. Perhaps we might have put some toys or

ornaments on it, for decoration…’
This was news to me and I wanted to hear more, so I asked

Nanny to tell me some more stories. And she did…
In those days, children got one of their socks and put them on the tree as Christmas stockings. The tradition was that each child would get three things: an apple, an orange (well you would always get these) and then the last thing was

something different—a surprise.
Nanny told me that her favourite Christmas present ever,

was a hairclip. It was one of those simple ones that you slipped into your hair and it clipped over. It was plain black but did its job very well.

She treasured it because that was the most useful thing that she had ever gotten. Back then, her hair was brown. I saw a picture of her when she was in her twenties—she’s in her seventies now—and her hair was short and curly. (My Mam got her curly hair from my Nanny and her grandmother. I think I did too!) So the present of a hairclip was great to keep all the hair off her face.

As Nanny was telling me this story, she looked very proud and smiled, recalling her best present. She also seemed happy to be telling me about all her Christmas memories. That day we spent a good, long while together: me listening and her talking.

She described waking up in her four-roomed cottage: there was the kitchen, the sitting room and two bedrooms one off the kitchen and one off the sitting room, where their Mam and Dad slept. The youngest child, Bridget, got to sleep in her parents’ bedroom, in their bed as there wasn’t another one. So, in the household there was Kate, Nellie, Nanny, Liz, Mag, Tom, Mary and Bridget. Then their Mam, Dad and their Grandad. Their Grandad slept in the bedroom off the kitchen, where two or three children also slept. In the kitchen there was a fold out bed, known as a ‘settlebed’. At least two children slept in it.

My Nanny’s siblings slept in the sitting room. They went to sleep on sofas and on the ground, some by the fire, some not. They covered themselves in well-worn woollen blankets and used cushions off the sofas as pillows. At Christmas, they were all excited for the morning to come, to see what presents they had got. They didn’t have as much stuff as we do now, but my Nanny said that even so, they were still Really Excited!

How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit How to Skin a Rabbit



At about eleven or twelve years of age, I was taught the technique of how to skin a rabbit. It was a regular chore for a child that time, if you had a supply of them.

In my early married life, here in Toberpatrick when I would be lucky enough to get a present of a dead one, I would put several layers of newspaper down onto our kitchen table and lay the rabbit out on it. First of all, I would break the animal’s four legs by hand and cut them off.

Next, I’d put a slit in its stomach with a sharp knife and clean out all the inner guts, as well as the liver and heart which would be fed to the waiting cat. Then I would catch the skin on one side of the slit and pull the skin away, from the bottom two legs right up to the top of the rabbit’s neck.

After that, I’d take the head in my hand and cut it right off. That was that.

Then the rabbit would be sectioned into small parts, ready to cook; depending on the size of the rabbits, it could be up to eight parts. When I worked in institutional catering, in public schools and colleges in England, some of the boys would present us with rabbit, pheasant, hare and woodcock that they would have killed. This was their pastime and then they would enjoy eating them.

In England, pheasant was left so long hanging, it would be falling apart. Some of them would want it rotten! I worked at St. Hugh’s College in Oxford, among students and then there were the Dons, lecturing. Those students and professors did not know what I was speaking to them about. They really wouldn’t know a thing about it—they were off in another world!

Getting back to my rabbit anyhow, all the innards were discarded and put into the dustbin. And when ever there was a pig killed, this was big work! The pig would be roped and pulled up a ladder with the head hanging down. His throat was slit and the blood was saved to make black pudding. I can remember the guts of the pig being cleaned in the river near home. They’d be filled later with onion and pinhead oaten meal. Then they’d be tied at each end and there’d be several of them laid out in a row. We never bothered with white pudding in our house.

The pig’s liver and heart were saved and the pig’s head was cured, cooked and made into collarhead of bacon. For this, the head would need to be pressed and cold; all the meat was removed and it was put into a tight bowl, left in a bag and pressed down on again. You’d slice it when it was cold and it was a very popular dish, served with salads. The pig was cut into flitches of bacon and hung from the ceiling in the kitchen to be cured.

I was never given a hare to be cooked but I know it would be skinned and sectioned like a rabbit. It’s not as tasty a treat, very dark meat, but boiled with vegetables and strained, you could make a nice hare soup, if anyone liked it.

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