Blue strips of sky between bleak clouds this chill day before Christmas as winter entrenched across the remote midlands of Ireland. With darkness descending at tea time in the north east bedroom of a grey cut stone manor, an ample horsey woman who had the day before been riding to the hounds, groaned giving birth. The news was whispered from servant to servant down through the house and more loudly into the kitchens and louder still out across the lantern lit stable yards.
The husband of this woman, a man as well known for his gambling as he was for his generosity among cronies, had married for money and was, as he was mostly, away in England for the racing. And upon that birth day he had waged one hundred pounds on a rank outsider at one hundred to one, which had come waltzing in by eight lengths, a winner. And upon hearing the news of a boy sent a cable
And with this among other names a child was christened in the small chapel at the top of the stairs. Reginald Darcy Thormond Dancer Kildare.
Reached by a mile long winding drive through vast entanglements of ancient rhododendrons, Andromeda Park stood a weather worn cold edifice three storeys tall over a basement on a hill surveying lonely standing oak, beech and chestnut trees in a forty Irish acre field inclining down to a small river. Here three children, two sisters and their baby brother played along the grassy banks of these trout waters and ran as cowboys and Indians up into the higher hills of forest hiding other distant fields and meadows. And when recaptured for meals by nurses and nannies, were led, sometimes by the ears, up wide granite steps through an oak bulletproof door fitted with a small iron barred grill out which the cross eyed butler Crooks asked visitors their business so it could be discerned as to whether they were friend or foe. The latter always being those with a bill who wanted to be paid.
His nurse called this alabaster skinned, blue eyed and black haired boy Darcy Dancer and swaddled, dressed, fed and minded him in his nursery till he was six years old when a groom taught him to ride. And sometimes at the open stained glass chapel casement, with his older sisters each holding a hand, he watched the cattle stampeding as the hunt assembled on their front lawn. Later as darkness fell he saw them through a blue tinted pane of a north east parlour window come straggling back, scarlet coats, black coats and breeches, mud spattered, horses steaming, a few lamed some maimed and all, as Uncle Willie said, relieved to be alive.
He counted from the shortest winter’s day right into early spring the lengthening minutes of light. Till on midsummer nights a cold glow lurked in the northern sky way past bedtime when in the illumined sunset darkness he listened to the donkeys braying. To be always finally lulled to sleep by the chiming bells of the clock tower from which his mother’s father had removed the hands when too many of the locals trespassed to a neighbouring hill to be told the time of day by a man who owned a spy glass. And just beyond this hill he often dreamt there were green and white bearded little fairies with angels’ wings who lived and played joyously there in the lonely grassy beyonds and would one day come and bring him into their hidden warm wonderful kingdom where nice little boys could sit with them mending shoes.
His games were to ride the hay top of ricks as they were drawn to the barns at harvest time. And his chores were picking summer berries for winter jam in the hedgerows. He grew taller amid the smells of drying saddles and the whinny of horses and the pounding of their hooves in springtimes out across the surrounding pastures. All moments of this tiny world golden within petals of a buttercup. Till one early morning dawn, falling out of bed, breaking a collarbone and rolling in agony where a rocking chair rocked, I was carried sobbing and trembling in my nannie’s arms to her bedroom further down the hall to mend and convalesce. And learn to know that just as poison lurked in the beauteous soft tissue of yellow meadow flowers, so too did pain and sorrow lie before all one’s footsteps.