Saturday, May 23, 2020

Update 23rd May

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.

New Government???
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. 

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Update 9th May

New Government???
I referenced this in my post two weeks ago and four weeks ago. Keep in mind that the election took place on Saturday, February 8th …now 90 days ago. I wrote then and I know I’m repeating myself with it but it is still valid; 
“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”.  
The Greens have agreed to join F.G and F. F. for more talks and someone has said, “The three leaders are confident that they will come to an agreement later this month or (early) next month” …or maybe after the summer recess!  

All this for a Government that will, in my view, last around eighteen months!  Unbelievable. If it was tenable the best option would be another election. John Mulligan, I see, is suggesting that the parties who enter the Government are putting themselves on the gallows with the advantage swinging to the major party in opposition i.e. Sinn Féin, in a protracted Government with the Tsunami of huge issues around the corner leading to a disaffected community. That is in the immediate future but we are living today….tomorrow is another day. 

 Centenary Commemorations;
There has been a lull in commemorations marking the various benchmarks of that major period in Irish history beginning with the 1916 Rebellion. The 1917 North Roscommon Election of Count Plunkett had a very good seminar organised by Sinn Féin in Boyle courthouse. I did not tune into the 1918 Election too much but the sitting of the First Dáil did get coverage. The thing is that a lot of the real recognition of these events takes place in Dublin and it is not that easy to be going there for all that. 
Now we are into the War of Independence period. I know that there are significant plans for the famous Bloody Sunday events in Tipperary and elsewhere from a friend involved there. 
In the last week I got a contact from Thomas Tormey of Trinity College as follows:     
“I am writing to you to highlight a historical event which I think should be commemorated or at least acknowledged by Roscommon County Council and the people of the county more broadly. 
This event was the first meeting of the Council following the local election of 1920. 
 It was at this meeting of 21 June 1920 that the council declared its allegiance to Dáil Éireann. It also removed from the minute book a motion from 1916 that condemned the Rising.

I am not sure how many other local authorities are marking their own centenaries of similar events but I note that Cork City Council did on January 30 prior to the Covid19 disaster. Local elections for urban areas were held earlier in the year in 1920.
I believe that the take-over of the council by the then Sinn Féin offers important context for the events that came later, such as the terror campaign by the RIC and British Army and the IRA's guerrilla war”.
Over the next three years, there will be a number of events from those times which are worthy of marking. The present incredible time will make the more immediate commemorations impossible to mark in the traditional manner. I wonder if there is any listing for Roscommon events that might be remembered?    
I imagine that Roscommon County Councillors and the Executive of the Council will take Mister Tormey’s call in hand and that some manner of commemoration will occur.
Of course, after the War of Independence, there is the Civil War period!  

Cocooning et al 
I have been following the rules diligently for around six weeks. With the hospitable weather and a programme of work which has been long-fingered for a considerable time, I have been fine. I continue to make progress with ‘the works’ programme. I was listening to Eamon Dunphy on T.V. last night and he too was comfortable that, his environment -as with myself- made cocooning no big issue. Of course, there are many people who are in very restricted environments and this is very different and difficult for them. 
There is a narrative regarding the emergence of a general attitude towards ‘senior’ people. I hope that when this time has abated that there will be a ‘discussion’ on that but there will be many discussions on many issues. A problem with imposing severe restrictions on a compliant section of society –which the senior segment is- is that when we see very blatant and significant breaches of generally accepted behaviour the question re-emerges, is there one rule for one section and another rule for others?
I am referring to the numbers coming and going through airports and ports. They sashay through the airport with a large number showing contempt rather than respect for the form-filling requirements of the present time. Why is there is no querying of this at passport control? Why could passports not be scanned as the basic solid information is all there? Even many of those who do fill in the forms cannot be contacted later. Contempt again. 
Why there are so many planes coming and going is also questionable.        
The experts tell us that the way forward after ‘flattening the curve’ is by ‘testing and tracing’/restricting inward travel/ social distancing and so on. 
The Northern open border is also a big issue. With the trauma of BREXIT coming down the track as Bud Abbot ‘Another fine mess’. While I should not say it I cannot see how there will not be a ‘hardish’ border reinstated.
Strawberry pickers??   
As the American philosopher Donald Rumsfeld stated: “Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know”.
A lot done, more to do.

The Death of the poet Evan Boland 
Evan Boland was one of the modern group of great Irish poets and a contemporary of Longley, Kennelly, and Mahon. Her first collection of poems was titled ‘War Horse’ in 1975. A favourite Evan Boland poem for me is the poem titled ‘Love’.  It is set in the United States where and when the family lived in Iowa. 

Eavan Boland
Dark falls on this mid-western town
where we once lived when myths collided.
Dusk has hidden the bridge in the river
which slides and deepens
to become the water
the hero crossed on his way to hell.

Not far from here is our old apartment.
We had a kitchen and an Amish table.
We had a view. And we discovered there
love had the feather and muscle of wings
and had come to live with us,
a brother of fire and air.
We had two infant children one of whom
was touched by death in this town
and spared: and when the hero
was hailed by his comrades in hell
their mouths opened and their voices failed and
there is no knowing what they would have asked
about a life they had shared and lost.

I am your wife.
It was years ago.
Our child was healed. We love each other still.
Across our day-to-day and ordinary distances,
we speak plainly. We hear each other clearly.

And yet I want to return to you
on the bridge of the Iowa river as you were,
with snow on the shoulders of your coat
and a car passing with its headlights on:

I see you as a hero in text--
the image blazing and the edges gilded--
and I long to cry out the epic question
my dear companion:
Will we ever live so intensely again?
Will love come to us again and be
so formidable at rest it offered us ascension
even to look at him?

But the words are shadows and you cannot hear me.
You walk away and I cannot follow

In much poetry and fine writing, there are sentences that arrest you and six lines from the end of this poem is one which does that for me. “Will we ever live so intensely again?”. Perhaps in this time, when we are living with the handbrake on, we might reflect on times in our lives and people in our lives that reflect that idea. 

Leaving Cert Debacle
‘I used to be indecisive but now I’m not so sure’ could be the mantra for the road towards finally deciding to abandon the Leaving Cert. It has been a long and winding road and must have caused much tension and anxiety for those affected by it. While the examination was the holy grail of fairness and legitimacy the logistics and waves of health considerations have eventually drowned that ship. How the authorities deal now with the flotsam of debris in the wake of the decision is a real conundrum. I certainly would not like to be the teacher who had to submit ‘predictive’ grades for students especially those who were on my football team, near neighbours or even my own household. 
‘Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall …’ comes to mind or maybe Rumsfeld’s philosophy is valid here also.

Lest We Forget
In the period of the Irish Famine, a group of people belonging to the Choctaw and Hopi tribes of American natives (referred to as Indians by the white man) heard of this Famine in a faraway island, Ireland. They made a collection and forwarded a donation, by whatever means, of $170 as a charitable bequest to help the starving people.  
In recent weeks the descendants of those tribes have found themselves in difficult straits themselves due to the Covid19. On becoming aware of that some Irish connections in the U.S. decided to help them, remembering as they did their 1847 gesture. So up to $100,000 has found its way to that Indian Community, to their great surprise, as an Irish bequest. So the goodwill shown 173 years ago has stood the test of time and is now being reciprocated.
It is a really nice thing to see.
I’ve been aware of the original story for some time and in 2017 the beautiful memorial of the event-below- was unveiled in Middletown, County Cork. 

Just a nugget of information. The ‘Indians’ were called such because Columbus and the early explorers were searching for a way to India and the East. Thinking that they had arrived in some extension of India led to the original natives being called…Indians. 
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!    

Enough stories for today. Not one mention of Dr. Trump!
Take very good care of ourselves. Play by the rules. 
This Covid19 has gone viral and it a real x,y,z.
I’ve used this before and Leo Varadkar used a version of it in his address to the nation so here goes;
 “Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”. Winston Churchill.