Lá ar an bPortach… (Dedicated to B.C. who expressed surprise that I had not referred to the bog in my last post)
The recent long stretch of lovely weather has set the scene for and accelerated 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 title around then. It was easy as we followed a rule -that emerged much later-write about what you know.
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 on the country-farms had his 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 really 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 and my immediate older brothers were wheelbarrow boys. 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.
(Diversion: This reminds me of Barry Feely’s story of a man boasting about a wheelbarrow he had made saying to his unimpressed listener, regarding his creation “I made that wheelbarrow out of my own head” to which the unimpressed listener replied “And I’d say there is the makings of another one there too”)
If the ‘run’ was a long one, then the single sleán turf cutter could use two barrow boys to spread the turf. There was a particular way for loading the sads (sods was a much later pronunciation) 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 we called ‘corries’. The really good or ‘stone’ turf was at the lowest levels so every effort was made to maximise the return from there. 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 white 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 just dumped on the high ground or the ‘cutaway’ mounds. 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 the flavour of our environment. Eggs were boiled in pea tins on the turf and bramble fire and small boxes of Galtee or Calvita cheese were treats.
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 in that. While the turf today is cut in a commercial/industrial way it still has to be saved in the traditional time consuming and back-wearing way. Early in the year, this topic must have been a subject for discussion on Dodd’s Bar and I suggested to a local wit (P.C.) that it was a wonder how someone had not invented the machine for ‘footing’ turf. He replied; ‘Of course there is a machine for footing turf”. ” How so?” I asked. “Your hands” he replied.
The recent long stretch of great weather with extra people being available in this Covid19 era has meant a short sharp saving campaign. Socially distancing was easily adhered to on the wide expanse of the bog where nature prevails and the call cuckoo resonates in the silence.
Yesterday evening-Thursday- I loaded a trailer and covered it as best I could. I wonder now, as the wind blows energetically outside my window if the covering survived. The next process is ‘bringing it home’. In those early fifties, it was by horse and cart with tall side crates. In some bogs, it was difficult as the runs out of the bog were poor where the narrow wheels of the cart would sink easily or ‘keashs’ would collapse. Later the introduction of the rubber-wheeled cart was a big help and then it was the tractor and trailer which could compress the time of the task. Recently I read in a local ‘history’ by an Athleague man that they tied plastic bags over the hooves and socks of the horses to assist in traction! I had never heard of that even though Athleague was but ‘a stone’s throw’ from where I lived.
While some of us regularly query whether it is worth the work and trouble it seems to be part of our DNA, ‘you can take the man out of the bog but not the bog out of the man’ and all that. The environmental movement may bring it all to a close within the next decade and the centuries of working on the bogs will be no more.
Anyway, next winter’s fires are now provided for and in May 2021 we will address the same issues again and return to another bog campaign as the elders used to say, God willing. Maybe.
The sentiments do not change and I know very well that I’m repeating myself with it but it is still valid if boring, unbelievable;
I referenced this in my post of two weeks ago and four weeks ago and six weeks ago. Keep in mind that the election took place on Saturday, February 8th …now 104 days ago. I wrote then and I repeat;
“I can only call the efforts to form a Government in this country as PATHETIC. There have been talks about talks, preliminary talks, kind of meaningful talks, meaningful talks, documents being drawn up, talk of a ‘government formation document’ but yet no real progress. It is a disgrace especially for the parties who are not part of the ‘Interim -Government’ as of now”.
Richard Starkey of the Beatles going on 80
Richard Starkey is nearly 80 (July) being born in 1940 and looks pretty well for it. As Gerry Emmett sometimes flatters people by saying “He is wearing very even”. Anyway enough of the Richard Starkey. He is of course universally known as Ringo Starr the drummer with the Beatles, probably the most famous pop band in the history of the genre. For people of my generation, The Beatles were THE band. While I was a great admirer and loved many of their songs I am not an expert on their lives and music. Ringo with Paul McCartney (born 1942) are the two surviving members of the band the other two being George Harrison and John Lennon who was shot in New York in December 1980.
The Beatles lit up our lives in the sixties and led to it being referred to as ‘the Swinging Sixties’. It was a time when English pop music ruled the universal airwaves with the exception of the King i.e. Elvis Presley. The Beatles are of course a Liverpool creation and after some time in Hamburg, they returned to The Cavern Club in the city under the management of Brian Epstein. Ringo Starr had replaced Stuart Sutcliffe as the drummer. Every song released subsequently turned to gold. The band prompted frenetic popular support which became referred to as Beatle mania. This led to the band abandoning live performances apart from a memorable roof concert at Abbey Road, recording studio.
Amongst their great albums are Abbey Road, Revolver, The White Album and A Hard Day’s Night which was the soundtrack of a slight movie of theirs. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is regarded as the greatest album ever recorded. Ringo sang rarely but led the song ‘Yellow Submarine’ which first appeared on ‘The Revolver’ album. Donie O’Connor with his ‘Bubble’ song has resonances of ‘Yellow Submarine’ as it is a classic kid’s song. Ringo was later to be one of the voices in the popular children’s television series Thomas the Tank Engine. The Beatles went through many various incarnations in a short time. Ringo is married to Barbara Bach for over thirty-four years. He has stopped giving autographs and tries not to shake hands, anticipating our Covid19 necessary practise. The Beatles and Ringo were part of a fun time of emerging possibilities in our yesterdays. Many of their songs will endure, some just pleasant sound bites and others with the depth of one of their greatest ‘Imagine’.
I was reminded of all this when watching an excellent T.V. programme on Sunday, May 10th on T.G. 4 titled, ‘The Beatles—8 Days a Week’. In it the output of the Beatles in terms of song and musical composition was compared favourably to that of classical composers.
I’ve become smothered, in my mind, with all the material and achievements that I might refer to so recognising my own limitations I’ll just abandon that idea here.
Some Television Programmes I’ve Thought Good
Television at this time is the proverbial mixed bag. I suppose you could say that at any time. I have not watched a lot of it even it seems otherwise. I ‘study’ the programme lists and make my choices and here are some that have impressed me.
T.G. 4 comes out well in my list of programmes. By the end of this paragraph, I’ll know better about the other channels!
1. Well known and regarded traditional musicians father and son, ‘The Begleys’, have taken to the Wild Atlantic Way in reverse in our minds. They have started from their native Kerry along the West Coast. Their first county was the music-rich county Clare. This was a great beginning other than their mobile home breaking down and needing to be replaced. They spent two episodes in Galway and managed to go to probably to my favourite place i.e. Innishboffin Island out from Creggan in Connemara. It was a very short session in Murrays Hotel there. After that, they moved to Westport House and Molloy’s Bar of course in Mayo. The musicians are a mix of pretty well know musicians and singers and those who are not so well known. They felt the love themselves. A feature of their interaction is that they allow their guests to play their piece and do not dominate in any way the programme. Next week it is into Sligo so I look forward to that. Roscommon is not featured in this series but hopefully, it will be slated for the next series. Sunday night TG4 at 9.30 is the usual transmission time.
2. I am a history buff and I like to see programmes that deal with ‘surprise’ aspects of hidden history. A current short series is presented by the excellent- in all that he gets involved in- Andrew Marr on BBC 4 on Monday nights at 8. The series deals with ‘Post WW2 Britain’. The first episode dealt with the huge election shock of July 1945 when Winston Churchill the hero leader of Britain during the war lost out and the victory of Labour’s Clement Attlee. Some people might remember Churchill’s reply to the suggestion that Attlee was, ‘A very humble person’ to which he replied, ‘He had a lot to be humble about’.
Another classic from the Christine Keeler affair of the 60s’ was also referenced with a Mandy Rice Davis put down of a ‘client’s’ disparaging reference in the simple; “He would say that wouldn’t he.”
3. I mentioned Evan Boland last time but was re-educated by the documentary “Evan Boland: Is it Still the Same”. It turned out that President Mary Robinson was a best friend to Evan and vice versa. President Robinson quoted Evan when Mary was inaugurated as Ireland's first lady President.
4. A BBC 4 series presented by the exotically named Simon Sebag Montefiore deals with the great cities of Europe. It is related at breath-taking pace by its presenter. The episode I caught on Tuesday, May 12th at 12 midnights, dealt with; ‘Vienna Empire Dynasty and Dream’ It really enticed one to visit that city and the others in the series.
5. A sordid short series I stayed with was the near fall of the English Liberal Party Jeremy Thorpe. Hugh Grant was compellingly distasteful in his interpretation of Thorpe.
6. A hugely popular Netflix series is titled ‘The Last Dance’ and gives a definitive account of Michael Jordan's basketball career and the 1990s Chicago Bulls. It is packed with new footage from the 1997-98 season. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Phil Jackson (Team Manager) and many others contribute to this look at a legendary team. It shows the heights Jordan reaches to the icon level of Mohamed Ali as the most recognised and thought of sportsperson in American sporting history. The series has its critics in that it is consumed by Jordan and that it is all about him. Still for us, on this side of the pond, it shows how brilliant a basketball player he was and how he highlighted the sport of basketball. I really recommend it.
Epilogue; I see that David Brady is foremost in a social project where well-known sportspeople give a phone call to a senior person who is ‘into’ GAA or whatever sports.
A friend of mine, a former college colleague, took a call from a person I recommended he talk to whom he too had known slightly at that time also. He came back to me with a text saying, “I have just finished a 50-minute enriching conversation with x…. absolutely brilliant”.
So there is a power in mindfulness via the phone, especially in these challenging times.
Take Care and
May Your Gods go with you.