One of the most iconic images of summer in the old days was that of the haycocks, the domed haycocks, in the fields. We cut and saved the hay in July, but the haycocks remained part of the landscape of summer for a very long time thereafter.
It is no great wonder then that so many of the old photographs show the haycocks in the background, the sky a bright, mesmeric blue overhead. Looking back it is almost as if summer would not have been summer without the little domes of hay that seemed so ordinary, familiar then, but that evoke such nostalgia now.
Most, if not all, of the photographs were taken with Aunty Nora’s little Kodak camera, the one that she brought from America when she came home on holidays and that seemed like the height of modernity in its day.
I remember summer afternoons when we sat in the field and rested against one or other of the little domes, basking as we did not just in the warmth and the light, but in the company of friends and neighbours too.
It was very seldom that one of the neighbours did not drop by for a chat when we sat in the field, old roses, pink and red, trailing their blossoms over the low privet hedge that fronted the garden, the brave white rooster sometimes crowing in the yard: his crowing more and more resonant still in the quiet of the long afternoon.
Sometimes my Aunt Mag dropped by. She lived with her family in the yellow-washed farmhouse down the road, or it might be Jack who came by, Jack who owned the gramophone and the garden, or the other Jack whose pride and joy was The Grey, the fine grey mare, that grazed to her heart’s content in the long green pastures of summer.
Then the hens and the turkeys had the freedom of the fields, a familiar thing for the turkeys, in particular, to wander at will so that rounding them up and herding them home in the evening time was very much part of the daily round: the sun sinking low in the west and gilding the bay with its light.
I vividly remember a detail from the Geography paper the year I did the Inter Cert many moons ago. It was a photo of Ceann Sibeal, Sybil Head, with the headland and offshore rocks in the far distance, domed haycocks in the field in the foreground. The black and white photograph was, in its way, a perfect illustration of just how ordinary the haycocks were then.
One of the questions was about the time of year the photograph was taken. We knew at once that it was summer, of course, the haycocks held fast with ropes in a place that seemed like the very edge of the world, the sea waves breaking on the rocks with a wildness and grandeur that was evocative, so evocative, of the splendid seascapes of West Kerry.
It was about that time too that a professional company took pictures of Callinafercy from the air, one of the photographs showing Jack – Jack of The Grey and the geese – busy making winds, winds of hay, as he called them in the next field.
The field in question was still known by its Irish name Cloch a Cuinne, the Corner Stone, flanked as it was on one side by the line of the old boreen; the hedges hung with woodbine and wild roses all summer long, rich growths of ferns and mosses showing in damp corners too.
Triangular in shape, it was a favourite haunt of pigeons and pheasants and grey herons, the latter with their nests and roosts in the grove nearby. One of the things we children liked most of all about it though was the large dip, or hollow, at the far end, a dip that sometimes filled up with rainwater and was frozen solid in winter.
Jack loved to reminisce of the old days, days when his uncle William guided the plough horses nice and slow, the plough itself leaving the straightest, the smoothest of furrows in its wake.
He spoke of the haymaking too, the scent of the hay crisp and dry and warm like the scent of summer again, the long grasses in the margins dabbled with the colour of wild flowers still.
When we went to the river Maine to collect the fish, we travelled the grey ribbon roads of Coolinch, great sweeps of wild iris yellowing the fields near and far. It was a familiar thing to meet two sisters, then in their twenties, drawing home the haycocks by horse and cart.
It was only a detail, a detail of summer, and yet the memory of it stays with me still: the rich chestnut of the horse, the sisters in their light summer frocks, the domed haycock in the cart behind them.
There was no doubt that saving the hay and drawing it home was hard work and yet looking back the very thought of it fills me with nostalgia still. It was in its way part of the wonderful weave of summer when life was young and full of promise and summer days it seemed would last forever: the soft clippety clop of the horse’s hooves still heard in the distance when we came to the river again.