You can tell a lot about a man from the dog he owns.
I hope that's not true, Our dog was a was a fearsome looking Kerry Blue terrier named '
Charlie'. He was our very first dog and had been with us since we moved to Ireland. We
had lived in rented accommodation for most of his early life, and he didn't take security
very seriously. I'm sure he knew the houses we lived in up until then did not belong to
us., However, when we bought Clifford and he discovered he had a large property of his
own to defend, he changed from a lazy, part-time watchdog into the ultimate home
security system, defending the perimeter against any and all threats, 24/7. Charlie had
finally found his mission in life.
If there was one thing you could say for certain about Charlie, it was that he had
'presence'. He was a good size for his breed, and possessed the thick beard and small
dark beady eyes that told the story of his heritage. His ancestors came from the wild
Kerry mountains that tumble headlong into the Atlantic. The Kerry Blue's soft, curly,
blue-grey coat is identical to the poodle. It is believed that some aristocrat's lapdogs
swam ashore from the shipwrecks of the Spanish Armada which littered the Kerry
coastline in 1588. and bred with the native terriers. However there is nothing of the
lapdog about a Kerry Blue, their hair may have come from 'high society', but their
ruggedness, and devotion to duty they obtained from generations of working and living
alongside the humans of that region.
Kerry is probably the most beautiful part of Ireland, but as in all things, beauty
comes at a price, and Kerry's poor soil and mountainous terrain, for centuries, made it a
hard place to make a living. I once remarked to my Grandfather as we stood watching
the sun sink slowly into the rich dark blue of the Atlantic on a fine summer evening, how
lucky he was to have all that on his doorstep. "
Arra ..! Go'way to blazes with ye boy.!, he replied, "Tell me when did fine scenery ever
fill A man's belly.? "
The people of Kerry are a tenacious breed, quite set apart from the rest of the country,
Kerrymen are often the national target for jokes, but their remarkable quick wit and dry
humour are more than enough to keep them ahead of any detractors, and I have often
thought that a certain amount of envy has more to do with the treatment they receive
from their fellow countrymen than anything else.
Charlie was a tough looking character, a Kerry Blue's hair doesn't shed, it has to be cut,
so we used to let his fur grow long all Winter to keep him warm. By early Spring, he was
covered in a thick mat of fur and when he was lying in front of the big fireplace in the
drawing room, I often couldn't tell which end of him was which, and had to call his name
to see his tail wag. When Geraldine gave him his haircut in the Spring, he was like a
young puppy for a couple of days, bouncing and jumping with delight at his sudden
Charlie's life revolved around who came in and out of the house. If a car arrived,
he would stand squarely between the two gateposts that led into the yard, his head held
high, his little tail quivering with anticipation, and those beady eyes of his looking for
anything suspicious. All arrivals had to stop, and the driver visually inspected and
approved by Charlie before he would reluctantly step aside and allow the vehicle to
pass. He prided himself on his alertness. It was very rare for anything to get by him, but
once, when he was getting on in years, I managed to give him the slip. Charlie was
inclined to take a little nap in a sunny spot in front of the house when he thought no one
was around. He would scoop out a little hollow for himself in the round smooth river
gravel that surrounded the house. The lower layer of stones were cool and comfortable
in the heat of the day, and he would gently fold his tired old legs under him and drift off
to sleep as the sun climbed higher. I was returning from town one afternoon and was
surprised not to see Charlie at his post awaiting my arrival. As I drew closer I could see
the heap of matted fur lying in front of the house. He was fast asleep and hadn't heard
the car. I switched the engine off, and coasted the last few yards to stop beside him in
complete silence. Then I got out of the car and banged the door shut.
The poor dog lifted out of his cozy little nest almost vertically, and when he regained his
composure, the look of astonishment on his grizzled grey face was beyond priceless.
He simply could not understand how the car had managed to arrive without him hearing
it. He circled the vehicle, first one way, and then the other, his eyes darting back and
forth from me to the car, desperate to understand the mystery. I watched my dear old
friends antics with tears of laughter streaming down my cheeks, and then something in
his eyes made me pause, and the laughter stopped. There was a look of anguish that I
had never seen before. Poor Charlie was humiliated. He was an old dog but he fought
hard to stay young and do his job. Finally his age had made a fool of him, and worst of
all, made a fool of him in front of me. He must have felt dreadful. He lived for several
more years, but he was never quite the same again. Cancer took him in the end. I
watched it devour this once vital creature until only a weak shell remained. I determined
that when it became too much, I would end it for him. He would not suffer a lingering
death because of my reluctance to let him go. The circus was in town when that day
came, and Geraldine wisely took our two little girls away for the afternoon to spare them
the distressing event. Charlie lay in his bed, the fierce light that burned at the back of
those dark brown eyes was now just a dim flicker, it was time to end it. I called in the
vet, and at three pm on a fine Summer day, Charlie took his last breath, in my arms, in front of the house he
had loved and protected so well.
Patsy, our gamekeeper was as fond of Charlie as I was. They would often go fishing together
down on the river below the house. Charlie would sit quietly, watching the trout rolling
lazily in the warm sparkling water, waiting patiently for a bite of one of Patsy's huge
ham sandwiches, but the minute he heard a car engine, or voices above at the house,
he was off. When duty called Charlie always answered.
Patsy was not only our gamekeeper, he was also the village gravedigger. He knew a day or
two in advance that I was going to have to let Charlie go. Patsy had said nothing to me,
but had picked out a beautiful spot in the woods near the house. A little glade, warmed
by the sun and yet sheltered by the cool green leaves of the massive oak trees that
surrounded it. He had excavated the most perfect little grave for Charlie. It must
have been hard going as the ground was full of rocks but there it was, three feet deep,
four feet long and perfectly square. Patsy had showed me the grave that morning, and
pointed out the little pile of earth and stones sat neatly beside it to fill in afterwards.
The Vet made a weak attempt at small talk but could see I was in no mood for talking,
so he said his goodbyes, climbed into his battered Land Rover and roared off down
the drive in a cloud of dust. As I stood there, still with Charlie in my arms, Patsy
appeared beside me. He had come up from the river when he heard the vet's car arrive,
as he knew the reason for his visit. I burst into tears when Patsy put his hand on my
shoulder. He was a very quiet man, like many rural people, not much given to displays
of emotion, but he knew how much the dog meant to me and he reached out and took
the dog's body in his huge hands and said,
"Come on Dan, tis time to send him on his way". We walked into the woods together
and stopped at the little grave. The late afternoon sun was streaming into the glade and
everything was bathed in a warm golden glow. Patsy laid poor Charlie in the ground
and produced from his pocket, a small tin of dog food which he laid next to him in the
grave. He covered the body with the old purple blanket that Charlie used to sleep on,
and then carefully buried him, placing several large flat stones on top of the diminutive
"So's the oul foxes won't get at him" he explained, his voice cracking with emotion.
We stood and looked at the grave for a minute or two, both of us finding it hard to
believe such a larger than life character was no longer part of our lives. Finally as we
turned to leave, Patsy gestured to the sunlight all around us and said,
"Well he'll always be sleeping in the sun now, may God be good to him"