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REFLECTIONS

 

 

 

By Eamonn Burke

The period I spent in Peterswell National School co-incided very much with “The Rural Electrification Scheme” in Ireland.  The ESB sent personal around to each household explaining what would be involved and where ever a few neighbouring houses agreed to the proposals, before long poles and wires were in place.  Up to this time, the sources of light were the candle, lantern, tilly-lamp and for outside use there was the hurricane lamp.  I am speaking of the late forties and into the fifties.  All the modern household appliances and gadgets which we take for granted today; were non-existent in rural Ireland of the late forties.

            During my period at school, there was a schedule of work laid out for when we got home.  During the winter months, this consisted mainly of putting in a fresh bale of straw for the stock that were housed, and giving them a supply of hay, turnips, mangels, ground barley or oats as the case may be.  The cows, calves and horses were kept indoors in those times.  As the winter months gave way to spring and summer, our work pattern changed also.  Now, all the family were out in the fields.  There were times when there seemed to be no end to the amount of thinning and weeding that had to be done.  It wasn’t all drudgery, and nature was answering itself elsewhere on the farm – lambs were being born, cows were giving birth to calves and there was also the odd foal.  While all this work was going on, people still found time to cut and save turf.  We had a bank of turf in Gortardigan.  Back on the farm sheep had to be shorn, branded and dipped  and the maggot fly kept us busy during the summer months.  As the root crops and corn grew “Braisteac” had to be pulled from the files of wheat and barley. 

As the year progressed into June, July the hay season came into full swing.  It was cut either by scythe or with a pair of horses and mowing machine.  Later on it was turned, rowed, trammed and brought into the hayshed or sheep cocks were made out in the files or in the haggard.  If the weather got bad at this time of the year, there was a lot of work involved in saving the hay.  We used to take in all the tram-cocks, as the fields were about he house.  This was done with a pair of horses and a wire rope.   As the hay saving finished, barley, oats and wheat were beginning to ripen.  Soon the scythe and mowing machine bar were in action, especially in the earlier years.  After being cut the shaves were bound and stocked.  Later on the reaper came on the scene and finally the combine harvester.  The stocks were left in the fields for a few weeks and then gathered into the haggard where the stacks were made.  Finally the day of the thrashing arrived and this was the big day of the year.  We were usually kept home from school on this day.  While the thrasher was being set up, “A meitheal” would have arrived and soon the whole operation got under way with everyone having a specific job to do.  This included someone on a stack on either side of the mill pitching sheaves, a couple on top cutting them, another feeding the grain, two or three at the bags, a couple pitching straw and a couple were making a reek.  There was always a couple of us clearing away the chaff and watching out for the odd rat.  Dinner and tea would be provided in the course of the day and mugs of porter passed around at various intervals.

 

Finally in the autumn months of the year, the root crops had to be harvested.  The spuds were dug, gathered and pitted, turnips were pulled and snagged and pitted and likewise mangels and fodder beet.  The beet had to be crowned, brought to the side of the road from where it was taken to the Tuam factory in a beet lorry.

The farm year would not be completed without reference to cattle and sheep fairs in Gort.  They were occasions, all of their own.  As you can see the era that I speak of is before the advance of the tract, - up until then it was all horse-power and man-power.

Earlier on I made mention of rural electrification.  It has brought many advantages since then both inside and outside the home but one electric device that influenced us more that anything else, was the radio and through it the voice of Michael O’Hehir.  Names still spring to mind of that period through is commentary.  There was Ring, Willie John Daly, Mat Fahy and Tony O’Shaughnessy of Cork, Stakelum, Bannon and Jimmy Finn of Tipperary.  Paddy Prendergast,  Monzey and Mick Mulderrig of Mayo, Paddy O’Brien and Peter McDermott of Meath.  Josie Gallagher, Sean Duggan, John Rolly, Mickey Burke, Joe Sammon, Billy Duffy, John Killeen of Galway and lastly Jimmy Langton and Billy Welton of Kilkenny.  I often heard older people in the parish relate about a Sunday in 1947 in Birr where Galway played Kilkenny in an All Ireland semi-final and Jimmy Langton scored the winning point at the stroke of fulltime.  Quite a few cycled to Birr that day from Peterswell and I’m glad to say that one of those is still alive and well in our midst.  I have mentioned hurling and football so far but our sporting interests were not confined to those sports alone.   Again through the medium of radio, we heard how Roger Bannister was the first in the world to break the four minute mile at the White City.  Lasey Viren of Sweden was the top middle distance runner in the world, and in the ring there were great world title fights that involved such names as Joe Louis, Barney Joe Walcott, and Rocky Marciano.  As we go into the mid fifties the great Galway football team of 1956 emerged, in which Purcell and Stockwell starred, it was also the time that a powerful Wexford hurling team came through which included the likes of Rock?
Morrisseys, Tim Flood, Nick O’Donnell and many more.  1956 was also the year that Ron  Delaney won gold for Ireland at the Melbourne Olympics.

We worked hard on the farm but still made time for sport and leisure.  Hurling was our game since we were young.  Although competition was very scarce in comparision to nowadays.  We didn’t have a hurling pitch as such and so we found ourselves practicing in the turlough and in fields belonging to Pat Lahiffe, Mrs Glennon, Lar Connaire and Paddy Burke.  At various times the chief venue for matches in South Galway at that time was Ardrahan.  I remember great tussles between Peterswell and Clarenbridge and also battles between Kinvara and ourselves. Travelling to matches in those days was done on bikes and you could always tell the location of a group of lads going to a game by noting the fog of dust that rose into the sky.  Roads were not tarred in those days.  Apart from going to matches we also went to other sporting/cultured events.  I remember well the “Feis” in Kilbecanty, held in at Russane.  I can still picture the musicians and step dancers on stage with a 7 aside hurling tournament going on in the background. 

Shanaglish sports were also a venue we used go to in our youth.  The six mile junior cycle champoinship of Ireland used to be held then.  Names of Athletes and cyclists that come to mind from that period are – the Egan brothers of Shanaglish, Willie Morris of Derrydonnel and the Mannions of Lought, to mention but a few.  There was also another tournament I remember being at in those years.  Gort and Ardrahan used clash at Ballinamonton sometime in June.

There are other events of that time which I will just refer to briefly –
The bonfire of “Cris” on St. Johns night, with music and dancing.
The “mummers” dance at Cunniffes and the way we used to all look forward to it.
The decoration of the “May Bush” with primroses, cowslips, daisies and ribbons.  We used to have it in a barrel at the back of the house.
The Killing of a sheep for St Martins feast day.  (I haven’t referred at all to the role the pig played in households at those times).
The Christmas in late 1940’s when my father and Kathy brought a gramaphone and records home from Galway.  It was the tie of Delia Murphy, John McCormack, the Aughrim Slopes to be followed a short time later with the likes of the Ballinakill, Richie Fitzgerald, the Tulla and Kilfenora etc.,

The significance of a deck of cards in a house for the long winter nights and all the different games we had.

The summer evenings we used to go setting snares for rabbits and looking out for ash trees, the making of hurls.

In the frosty weather we used to set traps for blackbirds.

The gathering of hazel nuts in Autumn for Halloween and also the bringing in of “Tráithín” full of fresh mushrooms from the field.