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Bill McStay writes on how work was found on Ulster farms a century and a half ago

Come all ye loyal heroes and listen unto me,
Don’t hire with any master till you know what your work will be,
For he will rise you early from the clear daylight till dawn
And you never will be able for to plough the rocks of Bawn.

The Rocks of Bawn, a Cavan song set to a traditional air, is one of the many about the practice of hiring labour, and the experiences of the men and women who found work through Ireland’s hiring fairs.
For virtually 200 years, until they tailed off during the first half of the 20th century, these fairs took place in as many as eighty locations throughout the Province of Ulster.  
They were held mostly around the twelfth of May and November.  They were often combined with market days, and they made towns and villages into places of bustling activity, excitement and indeed family tears. Venues and dates were set out in the immensely popular annual Old Moore’s Almanac.

On a typical Fair morning, young persons of both sexes, many of them as young as ten, assembled at a known meeting place in the town. They carried their personal possessions wrapped up in a bundle. Prospective employers, mainly farmers, would approach them.

When a deal was struck-for an agreed amount, plus free board and lodging for the six-month hiring period, the new employee would receive an ‘earnest’, amounting to a shilling or more, and would hand over the bundle with the promise to meet the employer later in the day. The contract was now legally binding.

Workers rated employers by the quality of the table they kept. Always popular was one reputed to keep ‘a good meat house’. He would have no difficulty in hiring workers. One such was old John who farmed in the Glens of Antrim, even if he was a strict Presbyterian with a strong work ethic, and ruled his little kingdom with a rod of iron.  He allowed only the Bible only to be read on Sundays. He disapproved of wakes and the Orange Order.  
When the priest called to enquire about members of his flock among the workers, he was ceremoniously brought into the parlour ‘to take a glass’ with his teetotal host.  
By contrast, Robert’s employer in the same county was a hard taskmaster.  Not satisfied that his hired boy walked horses all the way to Belfast market and back again, he sent him out to cart manure till bedtime, with only some bread and tea to break his fast.
One of the most prominent fairs in Ulster was held in Strabane, and continued until 1949.  It served not only the immediate hinterland, but drew workers from as far afield as Tory Island in Donegal.

On a Fair day, the town pulsated with activity. Eating houses competed for custom, providing cheap and substantial meals of potatoes, bacon and turnips.  Stalls lined the streets, selling farm and household utensils, clothes and knick-knacks.

Musicians, confidence tricksters and amusement booths beguiled the crowds. Young men and women converged on the town for days beforehand, arriving by the Donegal Railway, or walking for many miles barefooted and carrying their footwear for use only on the fair day. The hardship of those days is recalled by Donegal writers like Paddy the Cope Gallagher and Patrick McGill of Glenties.

Despite the hardship and the drudgery, dramatically reduced after the Dromore-born Harry Ferguson invented the tractor (which bears his name) just before the Second World War, hired young people found time for jollification and even romance.  

Lizzy Scott, hired at twelve in Limavady Fair, had to rise at six, and face a day of feeding pigs, milking cows and making butter. But she was fed plentifully on porridge, potatoes and buttermilk, enjoyed dancing in the rare breaks from work, and married a fellow-worker when she was twenty-four. Lizzie became an important member of her local community, called upon to assist at a birth or to lay out the dead.

Tyrone’s Killeter Fair is celebrated in song as the author’s meeting place with his future wife:
She stole my heart completely boys,
The truth I do declare, And the first
place that I met her boys
Was in Killeter Fair.
A Fermanagh man recalled the priest’s advice in a Sunday sermon before Roslea Fair. He called on his young listeners to be faithful to their religion and cautioned against the dangers of dancing and runaway marriages.
Despite advice like this from many a pulpit, the call of the heart usually prevailed, as in the case of the young Tyrone girl. She resisted her parents’ wish that she marry a settled gentleman they approved of, eloped with her sweetheart, married him, and now writes that:
‘With pleasure and contentment I never will deny, I’m living in America with my father’s servant boy’.

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1 Sept 1996. Wexford's Adrian Fenlon celebrates his side's victory over Limerick, All-Ireland Hurling Final, Wexford v Limerick. Picture Credit: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE.

(From our All-Ireland Finals Annual)

Paul O’Reilly meets Adrian Fenlon, Wexford’s midfield general during their march to the All-Ireland Hurling Championships title of 1996

In 1981, in Enniscorthy Co. Wexford, after following his big brother Pat across the road to Bellefield GAA grounds, an eight-year-old Adrian Fenlon was met by ‘Choppers’ Cullen, the man who first put a hurl in earnest in the youngster’s hand. While Adrian’s father Tommy, a former cricket player in Enniscorthy Showgrounds, had often brought the family on day trips to Croke Park, up to then there wasn’t a strong tradition of hurling in the Fenlon clan.

Quickly developing a grá for the sport, Adrian practised daily, “baitin’” the sliothar either in the field, at school or against Mrs Whelan’s front wall, situated beside Bellefield and opposite the Fenlon household. Back then it was commonplace to see children on roads playing hurling, football, curbs, rounders and it was around this time that Adrian was credited in jest by a local reporter with “baitin’ a crack down the middle of his mother’s eight-foot wall”.

Adrian’s skill developed into his teens under the guidance of men like Brother O’Connell, a Tipperary man passionate about hurling, then teaching in Enniscorthy CBS; Pat Taylor, a Waterford man who first told the eager hurler that he had “too wild of a swing” and that “he needed to control it a little bit more”; and when playing under-14s for the Rapparees, Adrian’s coach was the iconic Paul Lynch, All-Ireland winner and star of the ’68 Wexford team.

Still a teenager, Adrian made his debut for the Rapps senior hurlers against Rathnure, marking Austin Codd. Adrian recalls that he “done okay” and that the “bigger lads” looked after him. The Rapps developed into a strong battling team, with Adrian eventually competing in four senior county finals, but on each occasion they fell just short at the final hurdle.

In 1992, fellow Enniscorthy man Christy Kehoe gave a nineteen-year-old Adrian his first run-out in the county colours, against Clare in an Oireachtas game in Cusack Park. Later credited by Liam Griffin as the man who had built the platform for the ‘96 success, Christy played Adrian at wing-forward from where he scored four points. Due to studies Adrian missed the ’93 League final saga against Cork, but returned for the heartbreaking Leinster final draw and subsequent replay-defeat to Kilkenny a few months later.

Though Griffin came in as manager in 1995 with new ideas and plans, it proved a difficult year, the lowest ebb a defeat to Meath in the League on Adrian’s doorstep, Bellefield.
However, despite this, there were critical factors throughout ’95 that instilled in the team an attitude that success was possible given the right preparations and frame of mind.
Clare’s All-Ireland win had given the Wexford team a belief that “a county steeped in hurling but not winning much” could fight through the pack. “We would’ve felt that pound for pound we were as good as Clare,” he says, “so if they can do it why can’t we?”
A lot of iron was pumped over the winter, plyometric workouts were introduced, nutrition was managed, a psychologist – Niamh Fitzpatrick – was brought in and as Griffin stamped his own meticulous mark, the mood was good coming into the ’96 championship.

While a Leinster quarter-final win over Kilkenny seemed to surprise the media, it came as no surprise to the underdogs. “We were in tip-top shape coming into the championship,” recalls Adrian, “and while there was that psychological thing there, that many Wexford teams just fell short in the last few minutes, we felt confident we could beat Kilkenny.”

Victory over Dublin in the semi-final set up a final “with the thorn in Wexford’s side”, Offaly, then a team of household names like Johnny Pilkington, the Dooleys and Brian Whelahan. A tit-for-tat game up to the final quarter, the floodgates then just opened as Wexford tagged on score after score. Adrian fondly remembers the final whistle, when club-mates Skinner Walsh and Michael Foley almost choked him with excitement on the pitch.

For the All-Ireland semi-final, Wexford knew that if they could “just contain and grind-out Galway” they would win, and that’s how it panned out as Galway missed some crucial scores to the roars of the Wexford supporters on Hill 16.

And so, as a result of the foundations laid by Christy Kehoe, the “hard training” and “methodical and systemic” detail to which Griffin and his team had analysed and coached, to a point where keywords were drilled into the team, Wexford had reached their first All-Ireland final since 1977.

As ‘Dancing at the Crossroads’ topped the charts, as the ‘Purple and Gold’ was waltzed to from ballroom to kitchen, as crocks of cars were painted in county colours, the team, taking counsel from true friends like those who’d stood by them after the Meath defeat a year earlier, were still “grounded enough not to get too carried away”.

“Psychologically we felt we were stronger going into that particular game,” Adrian says, recalling that Griffin had predicted Limerick would break from the parade before reaching Hill 16. Griffin also spoke about the importance of body language and Adrian remembers Limerick looking very “jittery” for the meeting of the President. Whereas minutes before, in an effort to relax his own team, Griffin had asked Larry O’Gorman to crack a couple of jokes before running onto the Croke Park sod.

“The first thing I remember about the match is that Seán O’Neill went to give Georgie a hunch just before the throw-in, but he chose the wrong time because he mis-hit his hunch, fell on the ground, and when Pat Horan threw in the ball myself and Georgie just flaked into it. And I think Seán came out the worst.”

A physical game, Wexford players were so well conditioned that when hit, they just bounced back up and when Larry Murphy scored a great opening point, it was the perfect tonic for nerves. Even when Eamonn Scallan was sent off, the meticulous preparation again kicked into play, as Wexford quickly regrouped and executed a ready-made plan.
One man down, Adrian recalls the second half as “a long, long half, as we were really just hanging on for dear life.
“Limerick had a supreme advantage, we had to become defensive, but that said, had Joe Quaid not pulled off some miraculous saves that day Gary Laffan could easily have been man of the match.”

The whistle gone, within seconds exhausted players were almost suffocated by an ecstatic crowd. Still on the field, Adrian handed his hurl to friend Micheál Doyle of Oylegate, but he kept his jersey and his mother guards his medal.

Alongside O’Gorman, Dunne, McCarthy, Storey, Murphy and Dempsey, Adrian earned his only All-Star that year and is extremely proud of the honour.

As for regrets, “Besides the four county final losses, the biggest is that we didn’t go on and do back-to-back titles in ’97. I feel we were probably caught off-guard that day (against Tipperary) and perhaps, in hindsight, hadn’t prepared as well as we should.
“And had we won that day there would’ve been a great atmosphere for the final.”

Of that there is little doubt. It would’ve been a final everyone would’ve wanted to see. Clare and Wexford, the champions of ’95 and ’96 after years of waiting in the wings, flaking it out to be crowned champions once again.

Read Ireland’s Own every Tuesday

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EUGENE DALY continues his series on various aspects of Irish folklore and customs

Lugh was a mythical hero, originally a Celtic deity. His name is often accompanied by the sobriquet Lámhfhada (long-armed), the idea being not of a physically long limb but that his weapons had long range.  He was adept at the use of the javelin and the sling. He was also known as Samhaildánach, meaning ‘the one who possesses all the arts’.
Writing of the Gauls, who ruled present-day France, Julius Caesar stated that they worshipped a god whom he compared to the Roman god Mercury: ‘They declare him the inventor of all arts, the guide for every road and journey, and they deem him to have the greatest influence for all money-making and commerce’.  

Sanctuaries to Lugh have been located throughout Gaulish territories, and the Celtic place names Lugudunon (fortress of Lugh), survive in many forms, for example, Lyons, Lauzon, London and Leiden.  

He was the focus of the harvest cult, for there was a great festival at Lyons at harvest time, which the Romans forcibly changed into a celebration of the emperor Augustus (hence the name August for that month).  

The celebration of such a festival has long been celebrated in Ireland, being called in Irish Lughnasa, originally applied to one of the four great Celtic festivals in Ireland, the others being Samhain (November 1st, the start of winter; Bealtaine (May 1st), the start of Summer; Imbolg or Imbolc, the start of Spring, now St. Brigid’s Day, February 1st.  
So Lughnasa, now the name in Irish for the month of August, provides a direct link between the mythology of the continental Celts and the tradition of Ireland.

A text from the ninth century explains Lughnasa as ‘an assembly held by Lugh at the beginning of harvest each year’.  Another source identifies this assembly as the great fair of Tailtiu (Teltown, Co. Meath).  

The origins of various communal activities relating to festival celebrations were also attributed to Lugh – ball games, horse racing and ficheall (the Irish form of chess).
The Lughnasa festival started on the last Sunday in July which had many names – Domhnach Chrom Dubh, Domhnach Deireannach, Garland Sunday, Hill Sunday, etc.  

The chief event of the festival was not so much the festive meal as the festive gathering out of doors.  This took the form of an excursion to some traditional site, usually on a hill or mountain top, or beside a lake or river, where large numbers of people gathered, travelling there on foot or horseback or in carts.

Many of the participants came to make a day of it, bringing food, drink and musical instruments and spending the afternoon and evening in eating, drinking, dancing and singing. The young men engaged in tests of skill and strength, in sports and games. The girls picked wild flowers and made them into garlands and nosegays. Almost always there were wild berries to be picked and enjoyed.

There were many such hill and mountain gatherings. Máire Mac Néill, in her famous book Festival of Lughnasa, enumerates seventy eight hills on which these assemblies were held: nine in Connacht, fifteen in Leinster, fifteen in Munster and thirty-nine in Ulster.

In addition to these, there are heights on which the merry secular gatherings took on at some time in the past a religious character and became pilgrimages or ‘patterns’. By far the most widely known of these is Croagh Patrick, the great quartzite cone of ‘the Reek’ as it is popularly known, on the southern side of Clew Bay in Co. Mayo.  

Along the mountain ridge and leading up to the summit are two rough tracks, one from the eastern side, the other from the western side.  Up these tracks the pilgrims have come on ‘Reek Sunday’, the last Sunday in July, for over a thousand years, to honour Ireland’s patron saint and to perform penance, on the spot where, it is said, the saint prayed and fasted for forty days and nights. Three other mountains formerly had pilgrimages at this time, Mount Brandon in Co. Kerry, Slieve Donard in County Down and Church Mountain in Co. Wicklow.

Another favourite gathering place at the Lughnasa festival was beside a lake or a river. These waterside gatherings differed little from those on the hills. There were the same dancing, eating and drinking, picking of wild flowers and fruit.  The driving of cattle and horses into the lakes or rivers seems to have been widespread.  

On the banks of Lough Owel near Mullingar there was a pattern held on the first Sunday in August, called the ‘Pattern of the Lough’.  

 It was also a favourite time for the holding of fairs. In ancient Ireland there was the Fair of Carman and the Fair at Tailtiu. A number of fairs held at this time bore names like ‘Gooseberry Fair’, ‘Bilberry Fair’ and ‘Lammas Fair’ in Northern Ireland, particularly in Ballycastle, Co. Antrim.  The most notable of the survivors is Puck Fair in Killorglin, Co. Kerry, formerly held on 1-2 August, but now on the 10-12th.

Read Eddie’s series on Irish customs every week in Ireland’s Own

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By Laura McCann

Every child in the Fifties looked forward to the yearly visit of the circus – even though most of us didn’t have the entrance fee.  It was the sheer magic it brought with it.  

The gaily painted wagons would arrive overnight and set up camp on the local Fair Green. From early morning the owners and performers would work hard preparing for the one day performance before moving on to the next town.  

Loudspeakers fixed to the top of a van crawled through the streets announcing the arrival of either Fossetts’ or Duffy’s circus. We children would follow the music as if we were following the ‘Pied Piper of Hamelin’.

Gathering together at the site we would watch the Big Top go up and see the animals being fed. We were allowed to feed the elephant under the supervision of its trainer.  A lion, a tiger and sometimes a leopard, were safely secured in cages pacing up and down making me feel nervous. We were warned not to put our fingers through the bars.   

A number of gaily painted wagons, which housed the performers, formed a semicircle around the Big Top.        

I longed to go to the circus as I had heard all about it from my older siblings. I wanted to experience for myself the thrill of watching the trapeze artists and the clowns. My brothers usually did odd jobs in exchange for free tickets. There was stiff competition between the local children for these prized jobs.

At the age of 7, my brother Liam who was 5 years my senior, took me with him when looking for a job. He told me to stay near the wagons and if anybody needed messages, I was to go for them. In this way I might earn myself a free ticket. My 10 year old brother, Brian, had already found a job with the circus owner sorting out the tickets.

I was caught up in all the excitement around me when suddenly I heard a voice calling me. I looked around and saw a tall muscular dark-haired man with a moustache standing at the door of a wagon.

“Little girl,” he said, “will you go to the shop and get me 10 Woodbines.” “Yes,” I replied shyly, only too glad to do anything that would earn me a free ticket. I ran like wind and was back in no time. He handed me a penny for sweets on my return.

After what seemed like hours, Liam arrived back to say that he had taken on some extra work helping to clean out the animal cages in order to get a free ticket for me too. He was, as ever, my ‘knight in shining armour’.

I could hardly wait for 3 o’clock to come. I waited outside the Big Top for my brothers to arrive with the tickets. A long queue had formed and I was worried that all the seats would be taken.

Five minutes before the performance started, the three of us entered the Big Top together. I was amazed when I saw the inside of the tent.

Rows of tiered wooden seats reaching almost to the roof, went all around the interior; two trapezes were loosely tied to the high-wire for use later and on the ground there was a brightly-coloured wooden circus ring from which the smell of fresh sawdust emanated.  
That, combined with the smell of the damp grass and the canvas, gave the whole place a very earthy feel. The roar of the generators outside were hardly audible inside the tent.      

Sitting high up, flanked on each side by my brothers, I waited for the circus to begin. Suddenly the Big Top erupted into applause as the ringmaster, dressed in top hat and tails, entered the arena cracking a large whip in time to the beat of the music. He was followed in turn by clowns; bareback riders; jugglers; horses; acrobats; unicyclists; the fat lady, and the wild animals.

The man who I had bought the cigarettes for was introduced as ‘The World’s Strongest Man”’who came from Russia and didn’t speak English!

I watched spell-bound as the Flying Fontaines; a glamorous family of 4, took to the trapeze and the high-wire in a terrifying display of courage. My heart was in my mouth as they caught each other in mid-air without a safety net underneath.  

The terrifying silence in the tent was immediately followed by the thunderous clapping of the audience.

I left the circus that day intent on becoming a trapeze artist. I could see myself dressed in a brightly-coloured sequined outfit, flying through the air, to resounding applause.  It never occurred to me that with no head for heights (even the top of a double decker bus made me dizzy), I had chosen the wrong profession!

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A memory piece by Collette Bonnar

There was great excitement on our farm the year that the third clocking hen finally settled to hatch out a dozen eggs.

My mother hadn’t had much luck with the hen’s predecessors. The first hen wasn’t in a clocking mood. The second had met an untimely demise! After the non-cooperation of the first hen, Mammy spoke to another farmer’s wife at the far end of the parish. Mrs O’Neill was willing to lend us her clocking hen for the gestation period.

Two of my brothers were sent off to collect the prized fowl. Mammy produced a sack with a hole cut out for the hen’s head and gave them strict instructions for the transporting of the precious bird back to our farm.

But after the two boys collected the hen, carrying it home as instructed proved too onerous. When the bird had its head out, viewing the scenery and taking in the fresh air, she began to jump around like a jennet in the bag.

The boys, in their wisdom, decided to ditch the head out of the hole rule and threw the bag over their backs taking turns to carry it. Discussing the results of the Under-14 match the previous Sunday was much more interesting than the health and safety of the clocking hen.

The lack of movement in the bag as they neared our home rang no warning bells. When the two boys came traipsing into the yard Mammy went out to inspect the pedigree of the hen. To her horror it was stretched lifeless!

‘Death by suffocation,’ was the verdict of my sister Deirdre, the self appointed coroner. Another helpful neighbour supplied a willing clocking hen and when she settled we eagerly awaited the new arrivals.

Earlier in the spring a stray dog had wandered into our yard seeking asylum. The only member of the family who had any interest in the dog was my four-year-old brother Turlough. Daddy named the dog… Hopeless! She was a hopeless sheep dog and a hopeless guard dog. Intellectually she was minus nothing to the power of ten!  

When regular callers came to the house she would snarl and bark furiously, yet when a prowler came into the yard and made off with a chainsaw, she allowed herself to be petted by the cheeky intruder.

One day Mammy heard loud commotion coming from the direction of the outbuildings. She ran outside and as soon as she entered the barn, she knew something was terribly wrong. Hopeless ran out the door faster than an athlete on steroids.

The terrified, angry hen had sought sanctuary in the rafters of the barn squawking and clucking loudly.

Mammy was outraged and devastated at the carnage.   All twelve eggs had been demolished by the wayward dog. The straw from the nest was strewn everywhere and two empty egg shells were all that remained from the highly anticipated event.
Needless to say we were bitterly disappointed when we came home from school and were told the news. We had been looking forward to the tiny yellow puff balls making their appearance. However the weeks passed and a dozen chicks were delivered from Millbrae Hatcheries so the disappointment began to dissipate.

One day my younger brother announced to Mammy that Hopeless had been missing for two days. The following day my brother Desmond ran into the yard.

“Come quickly everybody,” he gasped excitedly, out of breath from running. “Hopeless has just had her pups at the bottom of the back field.”

Seven of us, wild with excitement, went dashing down the steep hill and towards the burn where the new mother and pups were recuperating.

Nestling in among the rushes was the bitch and her six little pups.  Carefully handing one to each of us, Desmond then lifted the new mother and the cavalcade headed back to the farmyard.

Trailing well behind us and clutching his little brown and white bundle, Turlough was quiet and showed little emotion. When we arrived back to the yard Mammy rushed out to see the new arrivals. Turlough was the last to appear looking very downcast.  

‘What’s wrong Turlough?’ Mammy enquired.

‘It’s not fair,’ he wailed, the tears now streaming down his face.  

Mammy moved over to comfort him as he looked up and sobbed: “How come, Hopeless ate twelve eggs but only had six pups?”

Read memories like these every week in Ireland’s Own

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By John Harrold

The new year was just a couple of days old when news filtered through from Nashville that country music had lost one of it’s most beloved characters. The dimunitive performer with the big heart and even bigger personality made a huge impression on all who knew him or had the privilege of hearing him perform.

Little Jimmy Dickens was admitted to hospital on Christmas Day and passed away on Friday, January 2nd, 2015. Jimmy, or James Cecil Dickens, had celebrated his 94th birthday on December 19th and had given his last Grand Ole Opry performance the following night.

Jimmy was born in Bolt, West Virginia, in 1920, the oldest of thirteen children of a coal-mining father. He was raised by his grandparents in a musical family. His first excursion into the entertainment world was on the roster of a local radio station.
He soon gave up his university course and toured the country working at numerous radio stations and performing with the stars who appeared on the programmes, using the name Jimmy the Kid. He caught the ear of Roy Acuff, one of country music’s biggest stars at the time, who recommended him to both the Grand Ole Opry and to Columbia Records.

In September, 1948, two events changed his Jimmy’s life – he signed with Columbia and joined the Opry.

From then on, Jimmy Dickens star was on the rise. Inspired by his short stature, he started using the name ‘Little Jimmy Dickens’ around this time – he was just 4’ 11’’ in height. He is also credited with being the first country performer to wear brightly coloured suits lavishly decorated with rhinestones – the so-called ‘Nudie suits’, designed and made by Los Angeles-based tailor, Nudie Cohn.  

Recordings with Columbia saw Jimmy almost immediately reach the upper echelons of the country charts. His speciality was novelty songs with releases like A-Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed, Take an Old Cold ‘Tater (And Wait), Country Boy, Out Behind the Barn and Hillbilly Fever all reaching the Top Ten in the early 1950s.

Hank Williams nicknamed Jimmy ‘Tater’ after one of these hits, a nickname which stuck with Jimmy for the rest of his life.

Other recordings released by Jimmy included I’m Little, But I’m Loud, Walk, Chicken, Walk, Sidemeat and Cabbage, Stinky Pass That Hat Around and Raisin’ the Dickens. Jimmy had his only Number One in 1965 with May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose, another novelty song which stayed at the top of the charts for two weeks.

In between, in the late 1950s, Jimmy recorded some rockabilly tracks but these failed to make any great impression in the charts. Following the success of Bird of Paradise, Jimmy had a string of minor chart hits over the following six or seven years including Who Licked the Red Off Your Candy, Country Music Lover, Raggedy Ann and Try It, You’ll Like It.
Jimmy left the Grand Ole Opry in 1957 to tour with the Philip Morris Country Music Show. For decades, he performed up to 300 shows a year. In the late 1960s and early 1970s he changed record labels, spending time with both Decca and United Artists.
In 1975, he was warmly welcomed back to the fold of the Grand Ole Opry and became one of it’s most popular and respected members until his death. He welcomed many new members to the Opry over the years.

One of the most unusual inductions must have been that of Trace Adkins. Trace stood six foot six to Jimmy’s four foot eleven but Jimmy found a solution – he used a stepladder on stage!

In recent years, Jimmy’s career got a new lease of life when he became friends with country star – and fellow West Virginian – Brad Paisley. He appeared on a number of Brad’s albums and videos and on the Opry stage with him.

Jimmy had a long line of jokes – many self-deprecating – as part of his stage show and his collaboration with Brad showcased this side of him. He also participated in a series of comic interludes with co-hosts Brad and Carrie Underwood during the CMA Awards shows.

Jimmy Dickens was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1983. Jimmy is survived by his wife, Mona, whom he married on Christmas Eve, 1971, and two daughters, Pamela and Lisa.

A public Celebration of Life service for Little Jimmy Dickens was held at the Grand Ole Opry House, with many of today’s country stars turning up to pay tribute to him in the place he loved so much. He is buried in Nashville.

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By Patrick O’Sullivan

The past is another country, they say, and this is especially true of the summers of old: the skies a deep mesmeric blue that might have been imagined centuries before.

Our tiny little field by the house may have been the hay meadow, but it was so much more besides. It was the place where the fairies played their football on warm moonlit nights. There was nothing strange in this, I suppose, for the fairies domain, the old ringed fort was just a few fields away overlooking the bay.

There it rose up against the skyline, it’s magic circle of trees ever and always looking out across the tide, its ancient grandeur enhanced every evening by the glow of the setting sun.

It was a place of mystery and stillness, the accumulated stillness of years and decades and centuries: wild roses among the mosses and lichens that painted its walls. It never occurred to us to ask why the fairies overlooked so many larger fields in favour of our much smaller one.

 No, we never tried to rationalise it at all, but if we had asked about it, I’m sure we would have been told that the fairies being diminutive themselves liked things on a smaller scale, hence the attraction of our little field to them.

It wasn’t  just some vague tradition though, this story of the fairy footballer’s, for those of the older generation had the names of more than one witness. They told of how one such or another was passing the road very late at night , invariably giving the reason for their lateness so that it all seemed to sound so much more plausible still.

Sometimes I think that whereas adults deal in probabilities, children deal in possibilities, which makes them  far more open to tales of wonder and magic and enchantment. The fairy football games were always played on moonlit nights, another detail that sounded perfectly reasonable so that it became the easiest thing in the world to picture the fairies togged out in their football gear: the moon shining down on the dewy grasses and shimmering too in the bay beyond.

That was the way with the fairies. They may have been mischievous at times up to all sorts of pranks when it suited them, but they had it seemed very human attributes too. There was nothing they liked better than a good game of football so that rivalries between neighbouring forts were as keen as any between neighbouring parishes of the human kind.

There was another fort, a few fields further off, connected as it was according to tradition to the main fort overlooking the bay. It seemed doubtful, therefore, that the inmates of this second fort were rivals of the first. All that was certain was that the fairy matches were as  hotly contested as those of their human neighbours.

Apart from football, the fairies loved music, song and dance: all of which it seemed gave witness to their poetic and creative spirit. This was why they valued so highly the achievement of singers, musicians and storytellers, not just among their own kind but human kind too.

Inevitably they had enchanted tunes of their own, tunes which they jealously guarded and tried to keep to themselves. Sometimes one of these tunes was almost unwittingly overheard by some local musician of note who then became famous for his knowledge of the fairy tune.

The character of the fairies of course said much about the people who imagined them, their creators investing them with an imagining and a love of all things fanciful that clearly rivalled their own.

I don’t know that we thought about it too much but when we gave up the field in the lateness of evening, it was as if we were surrendering it again to the fairies and their kind.

Or maybe it was the other way round. Maybe they were the ones who lent it to us during the daytime, taking possession of it again when the moon hung like a silver apple in the sky.

All of this makes me think that every single field, no matter how big, no matter how small, has a secret history of its own: a history long since embedded in popular culture and tradition. It is a history not just of human involvement in the field, but also of the wild, of nature itself shaping it and moulding it over time.

There was the time when the hare gave birth to her young in a grassy corner of her own. The hare’s nest, or form, was no more than a flattening of the grasses, but the young, the tiny leverets, were the sweetest, most endearing things imaginable.

They might have come straight from a storybook, though I doubt if any story, no matter how well crafted and told, could rival the living beauty of nature itself. We never wondered what the fairies made of them, but surely like us they were glad of them too.

It was no great wonder though that I was reading about wildlife in magazines and books, for the field, the little fairy field of summer had a magic all of its own.

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By Patrick O’Sullivan

“You do a good line in nostalgia,” a reader said one time. “Do I?” I asked in reply, not knowing if this was meant as a compliment or otherwise. “You do, and do you know what it is, I’m always the better for reading it,” my companion told me with a smile so that I felt like smiling too.

There are very few topics, very few themes, that have not been the subject of some scientific investigation and nostalgia is no exception. There was a time apparently, centuries ago, when it was very much frowned upon. It must be borne in mind, however, that it had a very different meaning then, describing as it did, a condition which would now be thought of as some form of melancholy or depression.

Today, nostalgia generally refers to remembrance of times past: reminiscences of family and friends, home and holidays, songs and stories and so much more besides. These memories are generally light and positive, though not universally so.

Sometimes they are tinged with some bittersweet emotion of their own, but even then, say researchers, they have the capacity to make life more meaningful for us still.
“When people speak wistfully about the past, they become more optimistic about the future. Nostalgia makes us a bit more human.” This is the latest theory, or one of them at least.

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With Aileen Acheson

August is dahlia month. Remember they need staking. Trying to raise a dahlia with a lot of heavy foliage and succulent stems from the horizontal to the vertical is a horrible job. And one rarely successful. You will hear a snap and be left with a lot of cut flowers.
 Vaseline the stems well and if you have them in tubs or window boxes Vaseline the outsides of these too. This stops the ear wigs in their tracks a bit. If your phlox is showing signs of mildew it may revive if you water it well. Cans of water sloshed round it are more effective than sprinkling. Get the roots well wet.

The stems of lavatera need shortening towards the end of the month. Then again in spring another trim. This makes for sturdy stems able for the wind.

Plant Russian sage ‘Blue Spire’ in full sun. They like rocky, open places, where they will be baked, like in their natural habitat, Afghanistan. If you want a cool looking spot in your garden in this dusty looking month, plant Itea Ilicifolia. Glossy dark green leaves, with prickles. Tiny lime green flowers, fragrant but a big shrub. It needs a bit of space.
At the seaside recently I saw the loveliest thrift sea pinks in bloom. Laburnums were growing within a few feet of a sea wall. No sign of wind damage to their leaves, mind you. Roses were marvellous, very healthy looking, campanula seeding into the walls and alyssum was romping everywhere.

Globe thistles in light blue abounded in several gardens. A jewel of a sea holly, about three feet tall, in shimmering, silvery blue was growing in sandy soil, in a very sunny spot. I don’t think it would do well in any other type of soil or in shade.

If you want a few extra cut flowers in your August garden, plant Achillea Summer berries. This perennial is easy enough to grow from seed and usually flowers the first year. It will put up with dry conditions and flowers for months usually.

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