By BRIAN MOORE
IS there anyone in West Cork going to school on horseback?
Well there was in 1966, as RTÉ archival footage showed this week.
The footage, which recently surfaced on the RTÉ website, was a vintage recording of Skibbereen in the RTÉ programme Newsbeat.
The late, great Bill O’Herlihy travelled to Union Hall fifty years ago to film 13-year-old schoolboy Michael Collins and his four-year-old black and white Cobb, Katey, (erroneously called ‘Kitty’ in the footage) as they set out on their 14-mile round trip, every day, to school.
Michael went out each morning, in rain, hail, sleet or snow, on his trusty steed, as Katey was the only way he could get to his school in Skibbereen.
‘Dad was in first year at Skibbereen Tech when The Southern Star photographer Michael Minihane spotted him one morning on his journey to school and took a photo as he cantered by,’ Michael’s son Brendan Collins said.
‘The week after the picture of Dad and Katey appeared in the Star, the photo was also printed in seven other newspapers across the country and that’s when RTE spotted it,’ he explained.
Bill O’Herhily arrived at Michael’s home place with a film crew and negotiations got underway. ‘The saddle that Dad has on Katey in the film was 60 years old at that time,’ Brendan explained. ‘Dad was a bit shy about the whole thing, I suppose, so Bill O’Herlihy told him that he would buy him a new saddle and bridle if he would agree to be filmed. So Dad jumped at this and off they went.’
The old saddle had been patched up and mended over the years and was looking the worse for wear as the cameras began to roll. ‘Apparently, Bill and the cameraman were sitting in the boot of the car travelling in front of Dad and Katey as they filmed,’ Brendan explained. ‘However, the real story was that while Dad would ride to and from school each day on Katey, as soon as they got home Katey was back to work again with the other horse on the farm Molly. There was no tractor back then.’
While it was ‘to school on horseback’ for Michael Collins each day, on certain occasions Katey was hitched to a trap. ‘Once a week Dad would bring a couple of bales with him, so that they would be ready for Katey for the following week. Also on market days he would bring a few ‘bonhams’ with him in the trap as well,’ Brendan said. However, it was 50 years before Michael and the rest of his family got to see RTE’s Newsbeat featuring their father.
‘Televisions were very scarce back then, so nobody saw the programme when it was first aired, in 1966. When we were growing up this story of Dad riding to school and being the star of an RTE programme became a bit of a legend,’ Brendan continued. ‘It wasn’t until his 50th birthday that we managed to track down a copy and so he got to see it then for the first time. Even now, after all these years Dad still has a few horses, and if you gave him a choice of taking the car or saddling up a horse and trap, he’d choose the horse every time.’
And what about the new saddle and bridle that Bill O’Herlihy arranged as payment for Michael’s day of filming? Were they a good fit for Katey?
‘Dad is still waiting for that saddle and bridle, but I suppose we have the memory and video! Although, he’d take the saddle and bridle if it was going,’ Brendan concluded