JOHN CORBETT with a selection of memories of life in the Irish countryside

February was the second month to be attached to the old ten month calendar, January of course being the first. In ancient times one of the four great fire festivals, Imbolc, marked its arrival.

Imbolc literally means ‘in milk’ – a time of lactation in ewes and cows and because milk was considered very important in the lives of ordinary folk, it was something that required special celebrations.

In far back times the custom of rocking young children in cradles was prevalent, although this was banned in Britain under the rule of Oliver Cromwell. The practice originated in memory of the Presentation of the Child Jesus at the Temple.

If Candlemas Day be fair and
Winter will have another flight.
But if it be dark with clouds and
Winter is gone and will not come

Candlemas is on the 2nd of February and the above lines were written long before weather forecasting and meteorology came into the lives of ordinary people. In distant days country folk devoted a great deal of time trying to figure out what the rest of the year held in store for them in terms of crops and also in their personal lives.
In our school going days candles were brought to church to be blessed on the 2nd and it was regarded as a serious omission not to have a store of blessed candles in the house. It would be interesting to learn how many rural dwellers still like to have a selection of them in their possession.

Progressive farmers would have cultivated the land in October or during the winter months but most landowners in our part of the world didn’t begin until February or March. This meant that those two months were exceptionally busy periods because all work was done manually with the aid of horse-drawn machines.

Nowadays huge tracts of land are cultivated in a short space of time but back then sowing crops depended entirely on the brawn of workmen, the strength of their animals and the sturdiness of their implements.
Forges and joineries were also in demand because horse and equipment had to be geared up for the major tasks ahead. Readers might find it hard to credit but there were often queues at joineries and forges in the first weeks of spring, as customers waited to have their problems sorted out.

It’s no exaggeration to say that forges and carpenters’ workshops were forums where notes were compared and the latest information on agricultural matters were available to all in sundry free of charge. No doubt some spicy gossip was shared by the customers too.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own