Friday, July 31, 2020

Hay Making in Decades Past. 29th July


Hay Making in Decades Past.

This was one of the more favourable farming ‘campaigns’ of the yearly cycle of my youth. It was clean, the days were long, the weather while difficult at times was generally bright and amenable. One could also achieve a good deal in a day.

In the mid-fifties, the meadow was cut by a horse-pulled mowing machine. There was little drama in this task. The corncrakes were often victims of this chore. But nature was not seen in a studied way then and seemed eternally capable of being replenished. The only variable in the meadow mowing was the reverse run to ‘take out’ the ‘back swarth’ adjacent to the ditch or wall.

The cut meadow was left for a number of days and then the teasing started. If the weather was kind this could be a clear run of defined tasks. In my boyish days, the swarths were shaken out manually with hand forks but in my memory, this was short as we had a hay turner which raised and shook the meadow for proper drying. A kind of curing process. The only grass which caused some difficulty was the one nearest the ditch/wall/hedge, i.e. the ‘back swarth’. After a couple of days, the real action began when the process was advanced to a real saving stage. The big intimidating horse rake was introduced to rake the meadow into rows. This required authority and guile to execute well. When the rows were made and had some more sun in them the next instrument in action, having a medieval look about it and may not have been a general tool, was what we called a ‘buck rake’. One could hardly call this a machine, more a device, as it collected the rowed meadow and by tipping it after say thirty yards it formed a heap which, when done four or five times, provided the material for the advanced stage in the whole process. The ‘buck rake’ was an intimidating device and on an occasion, in the tipping of it, a handle nearly caught me under the chin which would have been a knock-out blow.

If there were enough people for a decent ‘meitheal’ a number of these activities went on in tandem. If the working number was small and when material for a small number of cocks was gathered into a ragged heap, putting this into a cock of hay was the priority. On reflection, I wonder now when the meadow became hay? Perhaps when it was in its cocks.  

All the above was straight forward while the gods smiled but when the weather gods saw fit and the rain fell it was a different game. The bane of hay saving was in having a big field of meadow ‘down’ and being dried out and on the brink of the final press of getting into cocks and the rain came! It necessitated the second turn of having it in the right condition to put into cocks again. I had a real dislike of the process of making little cocks called, with us, ‘hand cocks’. There was a problem with semi-dried hay being cocked and descending into a process called ‘heating’ which damaged it to varying degrees. Also, the extra work was a psychological hit. I don’t wish to dwell too much on the negatives as they are water under the bridge in the memory bank.

Making decent cocks was a reasonable skill. We never over-indulged in that like some neighbours did. My father used to say they are not here to stay that long so they got a short lease. In his later years he did certain jobs such as making the hay ropes with me turning the twister which made the rope strong enough to tie down the cock which could be a victim of the wind.

We had meadow in different locations and they each provide different pictures for me now. One was on an upland hill area and it was suggested that on a clear day we could see Croagh Patrick. I was never convinced of that. I used to lie on my back occasionally and feel that I was on the edge of the globe’s surface to such an extent that I would slip off it. Odd but true. This was my mother’s old homestead of Aughtygad. We would have the kettle boiled in her abandoned home. We should have retained that house with the fuchsia colouring the gable end and some rose bushes creeping up in a corner.  

In another location, we would actually go to and be welcomed into Delia Leonard’s thatched cottage to have the kettle boiled giving strong ‘tae’ with hairy bacon sandwiches or whatever for lunch though that term was hardly used then. Delia lived with her brother the tailor.

As in the bog the small boxes of Galtee or Calvita cheese were a treat and because it was warm the memorable drink of the hayfield was the flagon of Cidona. We would give it a shake and open the cork and let the fizz propel into the nose.

Off the road to Athleague, we had another ‘long meadow field’ which ended in bottoms as it fringed the Suck river. One late summer with the hay saved as cocks in that field the weather turned bad for a long time and ‘the bottoms’ flooded to such an extent that the cocks looked like the islands in Clew Bay on Reek Sunday.
The final and arduous process in the hay saving was making ‘pikes’ of hay in the outlying land and bringing home the residue to be stored in the lofts or made into a ‘pike’ in the haggard. In the early days, this was done by horse and cart.  A well-crafted load might take five or six cocks of hay. Building this load for public road travel was a real skill with tramping and rope tying and adjustments to avoid slippage. The item of horse harness attire called the ‘breeching’ was important in the role of a brake to control the loaded cart from forcing its speed down a particular hill on the route to home. There the hay-cart was parked under a loft opening and forked into the said loft while someone there forking it back to the sides and back wall. On reflection, the loft work would have required one of those masks that are so much to the fore in these times. In those long days, there would be something like four runs or so from source to loft.

The introduction of the blue and red Fordson Dexta tractor 7249 - on our farm in 1957- changed the pace of all those elements. The horses and the horse machines were side-lined. They are still to be seen, as if in a machinery graveyard, in a small field near farm sheds there today while the Dexta still survives in a hay shed with its age apparent.   

Speed was now the mantra though it took decades to arrive at the cut and wrap efficiency of today.  

That transformation saw the Weetabix bale, followed by the round bale, the intimidating silage heap with its molasses accelerant, the silage wrapped black bale with ‘Up Roscommon’ emblazoned on it near Fuerty and so on.

The haymaking of yore is now part of folklore and is illustrated through relics of related machines in museums such as Turlough Park near Castlebar and Kennedy’s in North Leitrim or in occasional farmyards reflecting sentimentality for the past.

For me, it was another segment of my youth which I remember with the nostalgia of age.                                  

Monday, July 13, 2020

Update 13th July

Jack Charlton a hugely deserving ‘Honorary Irishman’.

There is an outpouring of positive sentiment following the death of Jack Charlton. Jack and Bobby came from humble mining origins in the North East of England. Both became fine footballers Bobby being a contender as the greatest ever in England. It was something that two brothers would be members of a World Cup winning-team as they were in 1966. I was in London that summer when the sun seemed to shine all the time. Both were hugely loyal club men with Jack being with Leeds Utd. for a phenomenal number of games and Bobby at Manchester United for something similar. These were very contrasting clubs in many ways. These would include football style from the polished style of Manchester to the dogged fiercely competitive style of Leeds. The support following both clubs was totally diverse from the international cosmopolitan support of the one to the localised intense support and need of the other. Bobby and Jack were very representative of those differences. They had a very complicated relationship. Bobby was a survivor from the Man. UT. Munich aircraft disaster. Also, there was a rift as Bobby did not visit their mother when she was ill.  That both would reach the top of their profession is sociologically interesting. Perhaps that is why Jack found Ireland a kind of retreat to which he could dip into as a life in football but not be smothered by it.         

There have been many worthy tributes to Jack Charlton this week. Paul McGrath’s is my pick. So for those of you who might have missed it, I copy it as below.

McGrath played an integral role in Ireland’s three major tournaments under Charlton – Euro 88 and the 1990 and 1994 World Cups – and his performance in the 1-0 win over Italy in 1994 is regarded as one of the greatest ever of any Irish team player.

“Today, I am truly heartbroken at Jack’s passing,” McGrath said in a statement released through the FAI. It is difficult for me to articulate what Jack meant to me both on and off the football field. Throughout his ten years as manager of our International team, Jack backed me as a footballer and as a person - he became a father figure to me. He gave me his full support when I needed it most and for which I am forever grateful. He has been a hugely important person in my life. The Irish people warmed to him because of his big character and he gave us the belief in ourselves to compete in the big tournaments. I am very honoured to have been a part of Jack’s journey. Today is a sad day for the Irish football community and we all owe him huge gratitude for the joy and memories he has given us.
He is a man I genuinely loved.
My thoughts today are with Pat and the Charlton family.
Thank you Jack - sleep well.”

(Paul’s biography ‘Back from the Brink’ is amongst the great sporting books.)

Jack Charlton was part of a great time for many Irish people. I remember watching a number of those games in various houses in Forest View with all the young fellows of that time. Then when we got a result we went on parade around our estate to celebrate it all. This is remembered in a great picture of the youngsters during one of those campaigns.

In a recent Blog I mentioned John Healy crying after Ireland defeated Romania, I think. I was supervising the Matriculation Examination in McHale Park Gym, Castlebar and being allowed by my supervisor to watch snippets of a key match upstairs. I drove back to Boyle ‘quickly’ to become part of the celebration with the crew in The Craobhin but when I got there I was many gin and tonics behind the gathering there who were engaged in the conga or snake dance around the central supporting pillar.

Those were great games and celebrations and they gave the country a great lift. As someone said “I missed the Italia 90 World Cup as I was actually IN Italy”.

Jack Charlton enabled all that and the country began to come up off its knees after that. He was a unique man and a man for Ireland’s Mount Rushmore.

The 25th Anniversary of the Massacre at SREBRENICA in Bosnia

After the Allied victory in World War II, Yugoslavia was set up as a federation of six republics, with borders drawn roughly along ethnic and historical lines: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. Serbia was the dominant region comprising the capital of Belgrade. This was all held together by the war resistance leader Tito who became the dictator of the federation or Yugoslavia. After his death this fell apart as the ethnic regions strove to establish their own independent countries.  Serbia resisted much of this and in one of those campaigns Serb forces captured the town of Srebrenica in Bosnia on July 11, 1995, and killed more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in a few days.

The commanding officer of the Serb forces was a vile general maned Ratko Mladic who was eventually brought to trial as a war criminal in The Hague from 2012 to 2017. He had been supported by Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic who died in The Hague where he too was on trial. 

The audacity of the Serbs is represented by them taking 400 Dutch U.N. peacekeepers into their custody as a shield against threatened Western airstrikes.

Mladic’s demeanour during the trial was that of total contempt for the court in all its elements and also the witnesses present from the SREBRENICA massacre.

The massacre is regarded as the most appalling act of genocide in Europe of that nature since the World War 2 and the Nazis. (Rwanda should be kept in mind here).

Today Sunday the 12th of July we might remember SREBRENICA and the incredible loss of nearly 10 thousand of its people. 100,000 died in the war itself. The righteous attitude of another ethnic group who found that they should destroy and kill off this community is incredible. But man (a civilised species supposedly) has the capacity for such atrocious acts.

The collapse of Yougoslavia and its effects is a life study and I am not terribly tuned into the intricacies of it all.  I did visit Croatia and the beautiful city of Dubrovnik and went to Bosnia and Herzegovina on a couple of trips.

Seeing that I am on a theme of genocide and dislocation I will mention what happened when India became and Independent country in the late forties next time.              

‘Drifting’ with Jarlath Tivnan

A short fifteen-minute film titled ‘Drifting’ has been making waves at Galway Film Festival. The waves have reached distant shores also. Amongst the reasons for this is that the lead role is played by Paul Mescal who is set to become a real star following his role in the television series ‘Normal People’. I have not watched ‘Normal People but will do so for educational purposes to see what all the talk is about.

The storyline in ‘Drifting’ is based on two lifelong friends in a small rural town find themselves at odds for the first time as their lifestyles begin to move in opposite directions. One of the two is a very quiet thoughtful person. The Mescal character is a more robust ‘out there’ personality. He gets into bother regularly and it does not seem to bother him. He uses his quiet friend as a prop, someone who looks out for him or as the phrase goes ‘has his back’. Jarlath plays a supporting role with his usual aplomb as a bar stool all-seeing eye who alerts the quiet character to pending issues.

The film's message is a regular one in Irish society. We often see a quiet inoffensive character swept along by a devil-may-care individual. This, from time to time, does not end up well for either of them.

It is a lovely moody short film with, helped by enhancing theme music and an identifiable and regular motif. My viewing was enabled by being able to rent it which was innovative.

‘Drifting’ will certainly expose all involved in it to a very large public audience and more importantly to people in the business and maybe it will see doors open for Jarlath.     

Some Errata Notes

We have a Government. Yippee. After x number of days. The Ministerial and Junior Ministerial accolades have been distributed. I heartily congratulate our own Frank Feighan on his appointment to the position of; ‘Minister of State of Public Health Well Being and National Drugs Strategy’. A somewhat long title!

One appointment that I find mind-boggling is that of the Green Party’s Catherine Martin who is vying for the leadership position of the Green Party just now. Take a deep breath, please.

Her portfolio is as follows: MINISTER FOR---MEDIA/TOURISM/ARTS &CULTURE/SPORT/ and THE GAELTACHT…I’ll use one of my oft used words here…. UNBELIEVABLE!

I have seen this department described, by top historian, Diarmaid Ferriter as follows; “This new department is surely indicative of both farce and folly in the administration and governance of vital areas of Irish life and society”.

This reminds of the final days of Brian Cowan as Taoiseach and as all around him was falling asunder he restructured his cabinet and asked a number of them to multi-task. Mary Coughlan may have been one of them. Speaking of Mary and if I really stretch it to the game of pulling down statues as in the U.S. and to a lesser degree the U.K. there is a significant rock with Mary’s name attached to it at the entrance to Lough Key Visitor Centre which could be relocated to the paddock of memorials in this region. One of the lesser populated islands in Lough Key for instance.  

I may be wrong but I seem to remember Ray Burke also multi-tasking in the mid- 90s’ around the time he was, with peacock chest out, drawing a line in the sand in front of Leinster House. There must have been some reconstruction on around there at the time.

Social Distancing a Game Changer

I have great faith in the directions of the many medical experts who populate our television screens at this time. We have a connection to one of them, the gentleman from Trinity College. They have become stars, part of the galaxy of caring people in our country over the past months.

There are various interpretations of social distancing and personally, I wish to adhere to the two-metre rule. Now, this is where I run into bother. Not everybody is on that wavelength. This makes it difficult when a person of the other church trespasses into your zone of two metres. It is hard to, as the lady in the ad for a television programme echoes; ‘two metres, two metres now’. So if you are a person who comes to chat with someone else do not make them uncomfortable by encroaching into their space. Just be mindful that everyone is not as optimistic as you are about the scene around you as pronounced in, ‘Sure there is no COVID around here’.

Many people will echo the sentiment that ‘God how would I feel if I am the person who passes it on to my grandmother, my family member with underlying issues or whoever?’

As I said in my last post I was hugely impressed by the RTE documentary from St. James’s hospital a few weeks ago. Amongst its many telling contributions, there was one of a mother who seemed to be going to extremes in cleaning/disinfecting her car etc. Her daughter was a day patient at St. James’s for a serious respiratory condition. The mother answered ‘I am protecting my daughter. There is nothing I would not do to protect her’.

So just be aware when approaching a friend that they may be keeping the bar higher than you think necessary. That is their prerogative.  

Barry Cowen and Driving

The formation of the new Government has struck some uncharted rocks since its announcement. The lack of senior ministerial appointments along the Wild Atlantic Way being one. The non-appointment of Dara Colleary was the obvious ‘ouch’ moment. I have mentioned the ridiculous agenda for Catherine Martin above. Over the last week, we have the toothache of Barry Cowen and his drink-driving issue from four years ago exacerbated by his lack of full licence then etc. Now there is a tangle with the Gardaí in terms of correctness and also who may have spilled the information to the media. There is also the fact that Michéal Martin was not aware of it before he appointed Barry to a top ministerial position. We certainly have more pressing problems at this time but it is stone in the shoe of the Taoiseach involving a very sensitive issue. There is the phrase as follows; ‘It is the small things that catch you out’.
How a senior (now 53 then 49) and very regarded politician could not have a full driving licence, the i s’ dotted and the ts’ crossed beats me, especially after the lessons given by Bertie some decades ago. 

The 72nd Anniversary of the National Health Service (NHS) in the U.K.

It is unusual to hear of an anniversary including the 2nd. It is probably because of the role the NHS is playing in the U.K. in its battle with Covid 19.

The regular notable anniversaries include; silver =25/ pearl =30/ ruby =40/ gold = 50/diamond (yellow)=60/ diamond (gold) =75.

Anyway, the NHS came into being in 1948. It was the result of the William Beveridge Report promoted by the politician Aneurin Bevan.   

It was a huge enterprise and became the envy of- one could say-the world. A huge number of Caribbean and other nationalities were recruited as nurses. Today it the Philippines and Indian nurses. There were also large numbers of Irish nurses also employed. My sister Carmel emigrated to London circa 1957 and trained to become a State Registered Nurse at West Middlesex Hospital I think near Twickenham.

I remember my own travails with poor dental care and wire-rimmed glasses as a boy. Amongst the first things I did when I went to England in the middle sixties was register with a doctor and get to a dentist and I owe the NHS a debt of gratitude that the care given then especially in the dental area has stood the test of time.

(If you see photographs of people from the forties/ fifties they can often expose terrible dental images. Then there were huge numbers with false teeth etc. I’ll adjourn there!)

It was a huge cost to the exchequer and was resisted of course but that was overcome.

The covering phrase for the all-inclusive system was that its care embraced ‘From the womb to the tomb’.          

I’ll finish today with another of Jane Clarke’s poems. (I spoke of my Castlecoote neighbour Jane in my last Blog.)

He stood at the top of the stairs

insisting he could go down himself

but, like a frightened bullock refusing

the crush, his body wouldn’t move

from the spot where I used to sit

in the dark listening to rows in the kitchen

when my mother showed him the bill

from the shop. He stood at the top

of the stairs in a fever that came on him

as fast as nightfall in winter,

steep, narrow steps between him

and the ambulance ticking

outside the back door.


He stood there in checked pyjamas

and thick Wellington socks,

in the house where he was born

and had sworn he would never leave.

I held him from behind

my brother in front

coaxing with a tenderness

I’d never seen between them,

come on Dad, just one step, one step.

Jane Clarke

from When the Tree Falls (Bloodaxe Books, 2019)


Slán for now. Take care. We’re not there yet.