EUGENE DALY continues his series on various aspects of Irish folklore and customs
September is the time for gathering the bounty of the countryside. In earlier times it signified the end of the corn, oats and barley harvests. The day of the threshing was the big day, labour intensive, so a meitheal (big number) of men was required.
Neighbours helped with the labour – comhar na gcomharson (neighbour helping neighbour). Then the thresher was replaced by the combine harvester and all the magic went; no longer was there need for neighbourly help, the combine did it all.
This used to be a time of great rejoicing, celebration and contentment, because the hardworking and humble country folk held their land in reverence. They treated the fields as well as they could, caring for the soil, the livestock, the hedges and wildlife, for all was seen as part of the pattern.
The arrival of the spring migrants (cuckoo, corncrake, swallow, martin, swift) told them when to sow; the departure of the same birds showed them when to harvest.
When we were young blackberry picking took us into the fields in late August and September. Neighbours didn’t mind us wandering through their fields. There are many kinds of berries, blackberries being the most plentiful and the most widely used for jam, pies and wine. Other berries collected are rosehips from the wild rose, sloes to make sloe gin, whortleberries from the bogs, rowan berries and haws.