Confession of a boy shooter

Confession of a boy shooter

At a horrifying time, when guns in the wrong hands are shocking communities on both coasts of our Wild Atlantic Way, with a soaring death toll every hour, I am about to make a full confession to all of you.

I illegally carried a gun along the Ulster border many times when I was a boy.

Furthermore, I shot and killed innocents in considerable numbers.

It was a slaughter of which I am now deeply ashamed.

It will never happen again.

And that is the pure truth.

Maybe I can offer evidence of some kind in mitigation for my wrongdoing.

I hope some of you will understand.

I will disclose all the details, and that might help.

The facts of that boyhood by the Erne, lapping the border, were that the single-barreled shotgun I erred with was licensed to my dear father, Sandy, whose arms were crippled by arthritis for as long as I can remember.

My first outings into the borderland fields around home were because of that arthritis.

I merely carried the heavy shotgun for Sandy, on those forays, and he did the shooting of the innocent victims we encountered.

A little later though, in my very early teens, during the ’50s of the bygone century, I often quite illegally ventured out alone, often without his permission.

And killed, without any compassion at all.

Perhaps I should point out that Sandy and I, on those hunting trips, were after one quarry only.

We were shooting rabbits, and nothing else.

The rabbits were for the pot that helped feed a family of eight in hard times.

This was long before Myxomatosis took the poor rabbits out of the rural food chain.

And our parents, but especially Sandy, because my mother Mary was the busy local schoolteacher, created juicy, succulent rabbit stews and casseroles, which I recall with relish to this day.

Another truth there.

There is more to come.

The rabbits around that segment of this accursed border, which is causing such a global problem currently, were so numerous they were easy prey, even if you were only a boy, and a poor enough marksman.

You would shoot four or five without any bother, gut them on the spot, string them on a forked willow rod, and triumphantly return home through the fields, making certain nobody spotted you illegally carrying a gun.

Back home again, it only took minutes to skin the poor rabbit, starting with making a cut at the back of the neck and then peeling off the pelt the way one peels a banana.

And, sadly enough, the poor creature was then decapitated, before the rest of the body was hung up on a hook in readiness for the pot.

I reckon, even after all these years, that I could still perform that task in my sleep.

But, of course, in a changed environment in every way, I never will.

In a week when Irish beef farmers are strongly protesting around the country about the uneconomic prices they are being offered for their beef and lambs by the processors, I grin wryly at the economics involved in my rabbit hunts.

Most of the rabbits taken in our parish went into the pot, yes, but some were sold to a processor in Enniskillen.

A cartridge for Sandy’s shotgun cost sixpence at the time, and the highest price available for the local lads who sold their kill to the processors was a half-crown, 2/6d in the currency of the time.

But those lads would not waste a sixpence of their expenditure on a cartridge.

They had wiry little terriers trained to plunge into the thick hedges and emerge with the terrified rabbits in their jaws.

Confession of a boy shooter

They also used wire snares cunningly set across the paths used by the rabbits.

And they also commonly used ferrets to plunge into the warrens and frighten the rabbits out, and into nets.

No spending at all for those lads, unlike their modern counterparts trying today to snare a decent profit for all their work on their farms, but faced with low prices and high costs.

Good luck to them all on that front.

That’s the end of my public confession for this week.

I will accept any penance which follows.

And equally expect absolution from many of you.

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