Drawing of the book cover Water Under the Railway Bridge by Bill Gerty

17 Summer



This was always a very enjoyable time of the year, we worked hard and played hard. June was the start of the turf cutting season. We cut nearly all our turf in Fees bog which was called mud turf. The top soil had to be taken off down to about one foot deep and about four foot wide for a distance of something like twenty yards. We are now down to the turf material which was thrown up on to the bank. When a section of about ten foot long and six foot deep was completed water began to fill the hole left, a bridge channel would have to be left when completing the next section to retain the water for future use. The water came in so fast that one would be lifted up from the bottom by this force. This system continued until all the section was completed, at the end a twenty yard channel of water would be available. The water level was now some distance below the bank where the mud thrown up. When a dry day became available we would get five or six of our neighbours to come and help us and bring some of their donkeys along with them. The first job would be to spread the mud which could be six foot high away from the edge of the water hole to a level of about nine inches. A one foot edge all along the water channel would be cleared completely of mud to allow the men to walk this section. Each man would now get a bucket with a length of rope attached to the handle. He then stood on this one foot ledge and whilst holding on to the rope threw the bucket into the water to collect a bucketful. This was thrown onto the mud until it was quite wet. Then men would have their trousers rolled up to their knees as they began to walk their donkeys up and down through the mud to mix the water into the mud. I've seen some of them slip off the ledge and into the water channel while they were doing the watering job.
This turf making job was just like making an enormous cake in more ways than you might think for when the mud was well mixed with the water it had to be baked. Starting at the front all the men lined up with a bucket of water in a row and moving backwards began to make the shape of a loaf with the thumbs touch­ing and their hands about five inches apart. Each man done six of these as he moved backwards until the whole was completed.
During this job all the meals had to be taken out to the men where they were working so a day before two or three chickens would be killed and got ready. There would be also a dozen or so eggs, two big soda cakes and pots of strong tea. We really enjoyed all the fun of running up and down in the mud. At the end of the day Uncle Eddie used to send me over to Cosgrove's for a gallon of porter. I suppose this was to say to the men thanks for a job well done. In those days no money changed hands for a couple of days work, we would go and work for our friends just the same when they wanted some help.
Us young ones had a job to do now the turf was done. The first job was to keep an eye on them and keep as many crows from lighting on them in search for grubs as they would do, this was only for a couple of days until they began to get hard. After two weeks it was time to lift the turf and put them in what was called foot­ings, that was three standing on end and one on top. After another week they were put in winnows and that was six on the bottom five on top, then four, three, two and one high. It took another three weeks depending on the weather to put them in clamps, this was a pyramid shape, the centre being filled in with turf as it rose to up to ten feet or more. When the turf were dry they were as hard as bricks and gave out as much heat as coal. Although we called them mud turf where they came from was ancient oak forests which had fallen down probably millions of years ago. Deep down in these mud areas we found large tree sections of black oak as hard as ebony.
Most summers as I recall were dry, warm and sunny. June was the month to start hay making and nearly every meadow you looked at had a horse and mowing machine working in it. The mowing machine had a wonderful sound accompanied by the driver talking to their horses "Walk on Bob, move up Sally" and so forth. This was a time when everyone from the youngest to the oldest in the family got out into the meadow and really enjoyed themselves. Not all the work was done by the machine, all around the edge of the meadow would be cut with a scythe. People say the smell of new mown hay is wonderful and I agree but you have to stand in one of these meadows just before it is cut to experience the perfume of so many wild flowers all in flower, but because of modern methods of farming very few of these meadows exist today. When the swath was cut it was left to dry for a day then it had to be turned over with a wooden rake, after a few hours when it was allowed to dry out a bit more it was then tossed in the air and shook for more drying. Sometime later when it was completely dry it was raked up into large circles where it was put up in tulip shaped stacks. A boy would stand on top of the stack, better known as a cock of hay, until it was at the right height. Hay ropes were then made and after the stack was all nicely raked down two ropes were used to secure it. The hay ropes were made with a tool called a twister, which was a piece of wire with a hook on the end. A man would form the size of the rope by shaping it from a pile of hay with his hands as a boy walking backwards with the twister in his hands and turning it clockwise made the length of rope needed for the job in hand. One of the other pieces of equipment used in hay making was a tumbling paddy. This was like a very large wooden comb with two curved handles, it was drawn along by a horse with two traces attached to the horses collar. It was used to collect the hay around the area where the stack was being made. When a big pile of hay was collected the driver would lift up the two handles causing the teeth of the comb to dig into the ground and the whole thing turned over leaving the hay where it was required and the comb ready to start all over again, hence the name tumbling paddy. It may sound a bit Irish but it was a very good tool for this job.
When we went hay making we usually took a gallon can of water and milk mixed
which was put in a river or running stream to keep it cool and again like the turf making all meals were eaten in the meadows when we sat in the hay and eat our food. The only problem we ever had were the wild bees which made small nests there and if you were unlucky enough to disturb them you had to be an excellent runner to escape, we were told to run into the wind where it was easier to get away from them, and as everyone of us younger ones never wore shoes in the Summer you made sure that you kept away from the nests.
The parish picnic was held in June at the rectory in Templeport and nearly all the people in Killyran and other areas gathered for this event. It was a great day out and everyone looked forward to going to it. The rectory was in a lovely setting beside Templeport lake just across from the church. There were two great big trees just by the edge of the lake and the men climbed up these trees and attached two giant swings. The idea was to get the ladies on the swings and when they pushed them they would go sailing out over the lake, this used to frighten the life out of some of them. I also think some of the men had an alternative motive and that was to see what colour underwear they were wearing. There was a long white gravel path leading down to the lake with nicely laid out lawns on either side surround­ed by large trees. All the ladies of the parish must have been busy some days previous making an array of lovely mouth watering cakes and sandwiches. After the swings and games, like the farmer wants a wife, with all the grown-ups joining in, it was time to sit in rows along the path and have our picnic, this was what I was looking forward to most of all. It all seemed to me like feeding the five thousand. When this was all finished it was time to go to the sports field. There were races for everyone finishing up with tug of war, where some of the women attached their men with umbrellas if they thought that they were not, to coin a phrase, pulling their weight. At the end of the day everyone agreed that they had a wonderful time and looked forward to next year.
Summer was a busy time around the station by now our cows were out in the fields and we had to go and milk them before going to school in the morning and every evening. Our two goats had to be milked daily, also the other chores like feeding the hens, turkey, ducks and our pig, if we had one at that time, were done by Vera, Maisie and Muriel, they also collected the eggs daily and fetched the water from the well. Everyone had a job to do. We cut our hay from an area near the station called the Blackpiece and down the embankments either side of the station. About half a mile down from the station was the Blackwater river and a railway bridge and on either side of this bridge we also cut hay from two small meadows. We also went down here on a Saturday to have a bath which was much nicer than the old tin bath at home. There was a road bridge a bit further downstream and in the summer we went down there with our donkey and water cart to collect water which was used for washing. The water cart was a two wheeled vehicle with a barrel set in the middle, there was a space where it could be backed right down into the water, when it was full everyone began to push to help the donkey to pull it out of the water.
Wearing no shoes in the summer had its downside, getting cut and getting thorns in our feet and having them removed with large needles and sometimes the use of a cut throat razor. But the worst thing of all was having to wash them in a tub of cold water which was placed on the other side of the track across from the station and tiptoeing across the line into the house waiting for them to dry before going to bed.
We had seven weeks holiday away from school in the summer which started in the middle of July and this was a time when any work which was necessary to be done on the school would take place. This was done by Uncle Eddie who could turn his hand to almost anything and was always in much demand by the local people. There were no cleaners at the school and every Friday the teacher would ask for two volunteers to sweep and tidy the school. As the cane was used in those days and the teacher had a good supply this was a golden opportunity to get rid of some of them. We found that if we removed a loose knot in the wooden floorboard we could easily push one of these torture sticks under the floorboards. It was only when Uncle Eddie was replacing one of these boards that the bundle of canes were discovered, of course no-one knew how they got there.
May, June and July were great months for fishing and I used every opportunity to get to a river bank, especially in the evenings. There is nothing more relaxing as sitting by the waters edge in the month of June. There were no cars or motorbikes to disturb the peace and quiet, just some cattle grazing nearby and of course in those days the sound of the corncrake. One would start at first around eight o'clock to be followed by several more later in these pleasant meadows, as the sun goes down in the western sky and all around the hedges of scented hawthorn. As I make my' way home along the little country lanes I noticed all the crops are well up in the fields and some of the potatoes are just coming into flower. With a few fish in one hand and an old fishing rod, which I cut from the hedgerow, in the other I think God has been good to me this day we will not starve tomorrow. Nature is the running stream, the singing bird, the sight of well tended fields, the Angelus bell that sends its message across the hillsides and valleys to make mankind realize that he has a partner to help him in times of trouble, but also someone who will share the good things in life of which this little island of ours has in abundance.
We always had a lot of people come of our house, the door was never locked and visitors just walked in especially in the evening. Uncle Eddie done all the hair cutting for miles around, this was done for free and in the winter someone had to hold a paraffin lamp to enable him to do this. We also had a man who walked along the railway line once a year who visited our house, no-one knew where he came from or where he was going to, but he always had something to eat and drink. There was a tinker boy who used to come around with a roll of rush mats with designs of lions and tigers on them and a string of mugs called porringers, these were all made by the tinkers. I remember this young boy very well because when he came to our house the first thing he would do was to kneel down on the doorstep and
say a prayer. He was always rewarded by us buying something and by giving him a slice of bread. There was also another man who came around selling clothes and Vera, Maisie and Muriel led him a merry dance by having him unwrap all his goods and looking through them, the poor man never knew if he ever got them all back again when it was time to wrap them up.


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