By John Corbett

Mild and sunny days are the strongest memories I have of July. It was a real bonus when mid-month arrived because we could ignore books for the rest of the summer. Looking at our behaviour, one might think that we had broken free from the academic world for good and not just for a measly six weeks, which was the length of school holidays at that time.

There was lots of hard work in store but that didn’t bother us. Meadows weren’t mowed until well into the month but the bog and other tasks had to be dealt with, mainly footing turf and making it into ricks.

But when all the chores had been done, we still had plenty of time for fun and frolicking. The same was true of grown-ups. Having worked hard in meadow, field and bog, they still had time to engage in games and attend dances, even though both normally necessitated long-distance spins on bicycles.

It was as if we all acquired extra energy from the sun and from the environment because it was rare to hear of anyone to complain of being tired in June or July.

Previous generations were equally energetic and a thirty mile round trip to an event wasn’t a problem even when it had to be done on ‘Shank’s Mare’. Pat Kenny from Cappalusk was a great walker and was known to have gone from Gurteen to Athenry on foot on many occasions. Even by going cross -country, he would have done more than twenty miles before reaching home.
Of course the legendary Willie Morris from Newcastle, Athenry, was exceptional. Willie won many All-Ireland trophies for his racing and friends say that he used to run several miles to work each day. Then, after having engaged in physically demanding tasks, he would run home again in the evening. This outstanding athlete passed away in his nineties in 2018.

Personal trainers didn’t feature then. Strength and determination enabled athletes like Willie to overcome whatever obstacles were in their way and their achievements are unlikely be matched now, or in the foreseeable future.

There several other less well-known individuals, some of whom travelled by foot on pilgrimages to Knock Shrine. Walking bare-footed around holy wells was common enough at that time too.

Men and animals travelled long distances to fairs and markets. Sometimes carts transported them, but more often than not their destinations were reached on foot.

Tommie Brown from Colmanstown regularly did the 50 mile round trip to Galway on his bike and as with most of the cyclists of that period; it didn’t do him any harm because he lived to be a ripe old age.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own