By John Williams,
A story about my memories of my time on the farm when I was young.
My memories of this time in my life are of hot days, long warm evenings going slowly into the night time. On May Day it always felt like the summertime had began as the days were getting warmer. There was a tradition of decorating the May bush, most people took great pride in doing this. Some people with devotion to Our Lady liked to dress the tree with ribbons and egg shells, and would make an Altar and place candles and flowers on it. Other people would take part in the tradition but felt it was a “Piseog” that was handed down through the generations. It was a Festival to celebrate the coming of summer and the sun.
In spring the crops were sown, but some farmers had an opinion that you could sow crops while you could see through the ash tree. Clutches of chickens, ducks and goslings were now being hatched out. A lot of work was needed to mind them. After eleven days the eggs were checked to see if there were birds in them. This was done by holding them over a candle light in a dark place.
I remember the summer tasks happened in succession, each having their own place and time. Next it was off to the bog. The name of the bog is the wild goose. The first two days would be spent cleaning and levelling the bank, and then the cutting began. There were four layers of turf, the top layer was white, next brown, then ribbon and stone turf. There are two types of slean (sometimes spelled slane) is basically a sharp bladed spade with a wing on one side. One slain was a foot slane, the other could have a wing on the left or right side and used for breast cutting. There were two levels, the lower was known as the “plás” and the other was known as top bank or the “annach”. Quays could be found in the “annach” they looked like wells full of water or sometimes they would be covered over with algae.
The next two weeks were spent cutting and spreading as we would sell turf to local people, I loved to stroll through the bog, as I have a great interest in wildlife, and all kinds of nature. Sometimes I would watch the bees gather nectar to make their honey. Gathering bog cotton was another pastime of mine, I would check drains for tadpoles, and eels. Wild ducks and moorhens had their nests in the marsh place at the end of bog. The Snipe, Curlew, and Hare, were always to be seen. The sky lark could be seen rising up until he was nearly out of sight. I once saw a mini Twister in the bog, I saw turf dust, pieces of heather, and paper winding its way up to the sky, and it was scary.
“Bo the beet” was next on the list, after a month’s growing my father would scuffle the dykes, then we would start singling it, we used a triangle tool known as a hoe, in early years it would be singled by kneeling spread legged on the drill.
Sheep had to be brought to Farrell’s mill to be washed this could be difficult when meeting other flocks of sheep, as we had to keep them from mixing. Then the Sheep have to be shorn when the wool was dry, each fleece had to be rolled neat and tied by twisting some of wool into a rope, then it was loaded on to the horse cart and taken to the local merchant, and sold to pay the bills.
The potato crop was next they needed to be scuffled, and moulded and spray them with blue stone, and washing soda. These were mixed in separate barrels to dissolve as they were like crystals. Approximately eight pounds of blue stone and ten pounds of washing soda amounted to 45 gallons of spray that was mixed in a wooden barrel that was enough spray to cover a statute acre.
Bonfire night was a big occasion, we spent several evening collection old timber and tyres, all the neighbours would gather round when the fire was lit. The neighbours would take a lighting stick from the fire to put in their field. This was to prevent harm coming to their crops or stock.
The next day was St. John’s day. This was the fair day in Abbey it was big fair as people came from long distances to sell their lambs and cattle. This was the way people made their living, some would sell fowl, or clothes, while others did the three card trick, the wheel of fortune, or the double end of the cord.
The hay was next, it was cut with a horse drawn mower, usually two horses were needed, and one horse was usually borrowed from a neighbour. The hay had to be turned with rakes or forks and made into hand cocks, before it was tramped. Clutches of pheasants, and partridge could be found in the hay fields.
Our pastime back then was playing hurling, football, and handball. Other times we would go to watch the student from the Sacred Heart College play football, and hurling, against the top clubs in Galway, they were like Connaught finals. Sometimes we would play football in our local pitch, it was better known as the mangle field. Some of the students preferred boating, as there was a lake at the end of the wood, and they made plenty use of it. It was my first time in a boat it was moored at the mouth of a stream, with a sign that read “Snow Drop Harbour”. The wood in the dusk of evening had weird sounds, of bees, birds, and especially the grey herring as she sat guarding her young, she nested on top of a spruce tree, in a rugged nest. The hawk had its well constructed nest close to her. The herring needed to be on her guard as the hawk would kill her young, and I often saw that happening.
The evenings are now getting shorter the whitewashed houses look very well in the evening sunshine. These were normally thatched, and were whitewashed every year with lime and a little clothes blue, this was put into whiten it even more. Pink roses and flowers were sown in front of the houses which gave a lovely scent around the house.
The evenings are getting shorter, the turf is home, and in a reek beside the house. The hay is in cocks in the haggard. The trees are turning a rusty brown, a reminder that it is the end of summer.