Pat, the Irishman

W. A. M. MacKenzie remembers this local character and his horses, two big working Clydesdales used for clearing timber from the nearby forest in 1950s Invercharron farm.

A Clydesdale horse pulling logs, circa 1960.  Photo courtesy of the Inverness, Ross and Skye Forest District. ©

Pat slipped into my boyhood ken almost unnoticed. There was no fanfare, no advance publicity. He and his two giant Clydesdale horses were suddenly there in the Invercarron stable.

I first saw Pat and his horses in action when I was out for a walk with my father. Such walks were never casual. He would be on a scouting recce. Maybe looking for firewood or leaf mould or seeking a suitable site for a beehive. Down the denuded slope of Invercarron Hill Pat’s two great horses dragged a huge chained load of timber. Pat danced behind, clutching long reins, dodging the swinging logs and carrying on a constant encouragement to the two beasts.
When they were in earshot my father shouted “Aye, Pat, it’s hard work.”

“It is so,” cried Pat, and the conversation was closed.

In the early evenings Pat would bring his horses down the road. He rode side-saddle atop one and, if we were in the garden, he would give us a silent salute. Later he would return, this time on a creaking bicycle, for he lodged in Ardgay.

“Has he never heard of oil,” my mother would sigh but hide her irritation with a smile and a wave.

I did not take long to introduce myself to Pat. His weekends were spent cosseting his charges. He handed me a big comb and pointed to the horse’s hooves.

“Give the long hair a tidy,” he said and I nervously began to stroke the comb through the long white hair which hung around the massive hoof. I was delighted, and flattered, when in response to my meagre attention the hoof was slightly lifted. “Aye, he likes that,” Pat grinned.

From then on I was regularly to be found pampering the horses. Sometimes, on a Sunday, I would start before Pat arrived for he was often slow on a Sunday morning – a result, I was led to believe, of roistering Saturday nights in Fergie’s bar.

Our village concerts were for the most part a repeat of the last one, same performers and sometimes same songs. So it was a surprise when the MC announced that we would be given an Irish treat by Mister Patrick Connelly. It was an even bigger surprise when wee Pat walked out. Dressed in his usual overalls and jaunty cap he stood motionless in the middle of the stage. Then from off a fiddle began to play and  Pat began to dance. The top of his body was still and his arms were tight by his sides, but his legs and feet were moving like lightning and his boots clattered in perfect rhythm. His eyes were fixed on some point on the back of the hall and there was  no expression on his face.

As suddenly as it begun, the music and the dance ceased. For a brief moment Pat’s eyes lowered and he gave a small smile and an even smaller bow. There was a few seconds of hush and then we all howled our delight. Much of the audience wore tackety boots (shepherds, crofters, gamekeepers and we boys) and here was a man who turned our everyday footwear into a thing of beauty, a work of art. Much as we boys tried over the succeeding months to reproduce Pat’s magic we always failed. “You must need to be Irish,” we said.

I was having my tea when my mother told me that one of Pat’s horses was sick. “He’s been down there all day.”

“I’ll go,” was my response but my suggestion was vetoed. “He’ll not be wanting you interfering,” my mother did not realise my close tie to the horses.

“Besides it’s dark and you have homework.”

When my father got home and had his tea he was allowed to go down to the steading.

“Here’s a sandwich and a scone and there a flask of tea.” My mother presented the bag. “He’s been down there all day. The poor man will be starving.”

I was allowed to stay up until he came back. “It’s not good ,” he said.

“Did he have the food?” Mother asked anxiously.

“Aye, after a bit of persuasion he ate it all. But he’s just sitting in the straw with the poor beast’s head in his lap. It’s not good.”

It was not good. In the morning my mother told me that the horse had not survived the night. We both shed tears.

A few days later Pat was gone and his surviving horse was gone. No fanfare, no warning. They went as softly as they had come and I was never to know where they went.

But all my life I have, when I hear the thud of giant hooves or the scamper of dancing feet, thought of Pat and his mighty beasts.

by W.A.M. MacKenzie

W.A.M MacKenzie’s memoirs Where’s Home? Glimpses of a boy I used to know are available online here.


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