It is 50 years now since local man Jim Butler – at the time just a boy of seven – spent a Sunday night lost on top of Brown Mountain, Mountnugent in August 1962.
Jim was the seventh child in a large family – six boys and six girls. The children often helped with the farming, and shortly before 4pm, Jim and his sister Bridget went up Brown Mountain to bring home the cows. The two decided to pick some ‘fraughens’ – an old Irish name for wild red berries or blueberries.
Somewhere near the mountain’s summit, brother and sister became separated as a thick fog quickly rolled in around them.
“I was wet from the mist at this stage,” recalls Jim, who still lives in Mountnugent, Johnswell today.
“And I had been cut all over from the briars. I was hungry so I ate the fraughens.”
When Bridget arrived home on her own, it wasn’t long before the alarm was raised. A group of local citizens and gardai mounted a search party. They were soon joined by the army.
Although only a child of seven at the time, Jim recalls that Jim Gibbons – a Kilkenny man – had recently been elected as a member of the 17th Dail in the 1961 General Election. Mr Gibbons was able to contact then Minister of Defence Gerald Bartley, who mobilised the troops in the James Stephens Barracks.
“There were very few phones at the time,” recalls Jim.
“It would not have been easy to organise.”
The search was fruitless.
“There were hundreds of soldiers out looking for me,” he says.
“Garda Begley and Dan O’ Hanlon brought the gardai up. At that stage, they were starting to check the water along the high banks.”
By chance, in his wanderings, Jim came across the house of a local farmer – almost in Knockmajor. The farmer and his wife washed the boy’s feet and his cuts, before giving him a bed for the night.
“I followed a skylight I saw in the distance,” he says.
“Only for that, I was a goner.”
The farmer later told Jim that he had narrowly avoided falling into a crevice a horse had recently fallen into and been killed.
By morning, the fog had lifted.
“I arrived in that afernoon, they were all distraught,” he remembers.
“I was questioned by the detectives then. They thought I had got a beating I was that cut.”
The soldiers and family then went to Larkin’s in Cainsbridge, where they were looked after for minerals.
Looking back 50 years on, Jim has not forgotten a single detail of that night on the mountain.
“I always said my prayers,” he says.
“Things were better. I often had nightmares about it afterwards though.”
The incident attracted a lot of attention locally, and indeed, further abroad. That year’s Primary Cert (an optional exam for primary school students – abolished in 1967) featured Jim’s story.