Lá ar an bPortach
The lovely weather of the past couple of weeks has set the scene for the annual bog campaign. I have been involved in these, off and on, for decades. In our national school days there were a number of essays which were hardy annuals and ‘A Day on the Bog’ tri Gaeilge or English was a regular.
The farming year was a cycle. It started with the lambing season, followed by ploughing and planting with ‘the bog’ campaign beginning in May or early June. Nearly everyone had their area of bog. The first task was to survey the possible locations where the turf would be cut. This would naturally be a follow-on from the previous years. Some bogs were pretty well organised with regular banks, drains and spreading grounds. However, others were less so or a mix of both. The banks or bog holes needed to be cleaned of the top layers or more recent soft residue growth. It was a bit of a debate as to when to start the cutting of the turf proper as the top layers, even after the ground was ‘cleaned’, did not make for worthwhile fuel.
The turf cutting instrument was called the ‘sleán’ a type of sharp spade with a particular shape of wing. This had to be designed to facilitate the left-footed or right-footed user. I never graduated to the sleán. The expert here was my father assisted by my older brother. I was the wheelbarrow boy. The spreading ground could be limited around some of the bog holes or might entail a fairly long run with the barrow to maximise the return from the particular bank being cut. Local carpenters or handymen were the makers of the wheelbarrow.
This reminds me of Barry Feely’s story of a man boasting about a wheel barrow he had made saying to his unimpressed listener, regarding his creation “I made that wheelbarrow out of my own head” to which the listener replied “And I’d say there is the making of another one in it “.
If the ‘run’ was long then the single sleán turf cutter could use two barrow boys to spread the turf. There was a particular way for loading the sods onto the barrow so that when it was keeled over the sods would not break up. The catching of the sods from the sleán developed a kind of rhythm. Very occasionally one might take the sod from too near the sleán and get a nick from it. This was during your apprenticeship. As the bank lowered to water level the challenge began of bottoming out without the water encroaching over or into the bog hole. This necessitated the allowance of keeping a wall of uncut turf between the sunken part and the water outside. These were called ‘corries’. The really good or ‘stone’ turf was at the lowest levels. From time to time the corries might not be able to keep the water out and they would break like a dam burst and the remaining spits were lost. If one ever got to the gravel bottom one had got the full bounty of that particular bank. As the water threatened there was a scurry of activity as the corries themselves were cut and dumped on the high ground. The barrow was abandoned and it was like a ship rescue as the remaining turf was salvaged.
As he cut each spit, the work of the cutter grew progressively harder as he had to throw the sods higher and higher to clear the bank. Furthermore, as the cutter descended one spit at a time, the quality of the turf increased and the blacker and more compressed it became. By contrast, the burden eased for the spreaders as the earlier spits had to be spread further out than the later ones.
One of the treats of the day on the bog was the tea break where we would be joined by colleagues from neighbouring banks. The tea seemed to have absorbed a flavour of our environment.
We boys did not have the luxury of watches in the early years but the Dublin to Westport ‘up and down’ evening trains, which ran close to our bog, were our markers for the day’s end. By evening time both cutter and spreader were well and truly exhausted. The cutting element of the campaign could last well over a week. The ‘saving’ took much longer and of course the weather played a key role. While the turf today is cut in a commercial way it still has to be saved in the traditional time consuming and back-wearing way. That is what confronts me and many others in the coming months. There is the echo of a bog and man proverb there!
Senior People Charges
I have recently become aware of a senior person who had a package from Eircom which in my view was exorbitant and unsuitable. Apparently this agreement was arrived at a good while ago and there was no revision of it subsequently. I have a feeling that ‘senior’ people are often the victims of overcharging in a variety of ways. So if you have a senior relative you might bear that in mind. Of course I am also aware that many of these people are very capable and also it may be difficult to raise these matters with them. So terms and conditions apply!
Oliver Fallon and Gallipoli
I’d just like to recognise the contribution of Oliver Fallon to the RTE programme of Monday night last ‘Gallipoli-Ireland’s Forgotten Heroes’. The programme dealt with one of the many disastrous campaigns of The Great War and the Irish participation in it. It also reflected on the lack of recognition of their contribution on their return to a changed country. As Oliver reflected;
“They came home to a country where there was only room for one set of heroes-and it wasn’t them”.
Looking for Tony Keats and Family
I have had an enquiry from a friend of mine regarding the family of Tony Keats. He states that;
“The family of Tony Keats moved from London to a farm near Boyle in about 1940. She - a former singer - inherited land there and moved her family including a retired British Army officer, Phoebe, Phyllis and Toni a son”. If anyone has any information on these people I would be grateful if they could get in touch with me at 086 816 3399.
Thursday Night TV
Why is that Thursday night TV has such a dearth of watchable material? We’re not all students.
Another thing, do TV stations synchronise the transmission of their ads? It is difficult to surf away from a station’s ad breaks as many of the options are also similarly engaged.
Zsa Zsa Gabor, Actress
"I never hated my many ex-husbands enough to give them back their diamonds"
Roscommon’s U 21s Journey’s End
The journey of the Roscommon U 21 team came to an end on Saturday when they defeated by a good Tyrone side. Roscommon as a team and some components of the side did not play up to their best on the evening and the dash and flair that existed in Tuam was absent in a much more laboured performance. Credit for much of this must go to a Tyrone side that had its homework done and carried out their pre-match strategy excellently with the usual dash of gamesmanship. They had pace and purpose and in classic Tyrone style kept the ball with their hand-passing regime. They also picked off numerous long range points. Roscommon had a number of these also especially from Compton and Murtagh. When Tyrone went four points up at the start of the game the signs looked ominous though we could reflect on a similar start against Galway. Still the six point tally from corner forward Brennan from Tyrone was decisive. It is always the case that as a team progresses towards the ‘business end ‘ of major competitions the deficits in the team composition become apparent. It is a big ask for many of these players in terms of the amount of games they are asked to play and an element of staleness and exhaustion must be a consequence of this. This is an ongoing debate of course. While the Roscommon fans turned out in big numbers as usual they too were kind of stale too and very muted throughout.
P.S. I mentioned last week about abuse of players and managers, on Saturday evening a Roscommon supporter, close to where we were, adopted the Tyrone assistant manager and former great senior player Brian Dooher for ongoing barracking. It was a nonsensical exhibition of boorish behaviour.
Roscommon v Down in Division Two League Final
It is an excellent achievement for the Roscommon team to be participating at this level. They had been here in 2014 in the Division Three League Final last year against Cavan. Down will be motivated on Sunday to get the better of Roscommon since they were defeated by them in a vital league game early in the competition. The game is not hugely important in itself but it is very good preparation for the championship games to come. Also any game of significance in Croke Park is an experience for the team.
Boyle Senior Team’s League Progress
Boyle senior team have now played four games in the O’Rourke Cup League winning two and losing two. Their victories were against Tulsk and a fine win against Western Gaels. Their defeats were by Roscommon Gaels on a hot Easter Monday in Lisnamult in a bedraggled affair. On Sunday last they went down to Clann na Gael in Johnstown on the score of 2.13 to 2.7.
While Boyle has several top players the strength in depth seems to be lacking for this level. That is no reflection on the players they are as good as they are and that’s the reality. Might I suggest for consideration in terms of using scarce resources that Ciarán Beirne, a good goalkeeper, be used between the posts thus releasing Tadhg Lowe for a forward position. He will then be on site for free-taking in that area!
The first priority is staying in the top league division so the team will be hoping for another couple of wins to ensure that.