John Corbett with a selection of memories of life in the Irish countryside
What we regarded as the long trudge back to school began in September. The truth, of course, is that Cloonkeenkerrill N.S. was only about a mile from us but we regarded it as an unending trek which had to be done on Shank’s Mare.
There was lots of foliage on the roadside to protect us from northerly winds along the way. The road was untarred and the numerous potholes that it contained were filled with stones. We thought that the stones that covered it were much sharper than any of the ones in adjacent roads, although by the time the holidays arrived, the cuts and bruises to our feet had greatly diminished.
In autumn even though there was plenty foliage, fruit was scarce. Haws and sloes are the only ones that I can recall and neither was very tempting to taste but we followed suit when our friends began to eat them. Psychologists might view our behaviour as a typical response to peer pressure.
Electricity hadn’t yet come to the area and there were no telegraph poles on this particular route. Their absence and the scarcity of other targets was once given as an explanation for our good behaviour on the way to and from school, rather than any virtue on our part.
We took our time on the way home and engaged in banter and mini-races with our companions. However, when potato harvesting time came later in the autumn, we were expected to be home early in the evening to help with the work so we had to limit our ‘laxterin’, as one neighbour dubbed our dallying.
It was a busy month on the farm. We had over an acre of oats in the early 50’s and this was cut by my father with a scythe. Marie, my sister, and I would gather up the sheaves and bind them. Then we used to put them standing into stooks.
They were considered reasonably weather-proof in this position but they would be made into stacks later before being brought home to the haggard.
Dad was able to mow more than half an acre of corn in a day. However, people like Mattie Dan Coppinger, from Mounthazel, were capable of levelling an Irish acre in a day. Mattie also excelled at turf-cutting. Even though he was slight in build, he set many records in turf-cutting and in mowing meadow and grain-crops.