By Eugene Daly
Ripe corn must be gathered in without delay lest the grain be shed from the ears of corn damaged by bad weather or by disease. Thus a degree of urgency was normal at harvest time, especially before the coming of harvesting machinery. Everybody was called out to help, men and women, young and old, neighbours and relatives.
A century ago and less, saving the harvest was a long arduous affair. First came the cutting with scythe or sickle, then the making of sheaves and stooks (standing a number of sheaves upright against each other), then drawing it into the haggard by horse and cart, then the making of a rick.
This was followed by the threshing which was done by flails, then the winnowing, where the chaff was blown away by a light breeze, leaving the grain.
At other times, each group had its own work, the men in the fields, the women in the home, the children at school. Only at harvest and hay-making time when they were all together, engaged in the same work, with fine weather and the promise of abundance, it was natural that there were jokes, pranks and general merriment.
Good weather, of course, was vital for harvesting the corn and saving the hay. A summer like this year (2015) would have been disastrous for both.
The last bit of corn in the last of the farmers’ fields was the visible symbol of the end of the harvest, and the cutting of this last piece was, all over Ireland, attended with some ceremony. I can remember all the processes connected with Harvest, except the use of the flail for threshing. The era of a ceremony connected with the end of the harvest was gone in West Cork by the 1950s.