coming of spring evokes memories of a bygone era
I suppose that somewhere in us all there is a bit of sentimentally,
and that occasionally no matter what we pretend to be that
bit of sentimentally comes to the fore. There are times,
places and things that cause that to happen in the lives
of all of us no matter what our profession, and as far as
I am concerned springtime is one of those occasions.
Now as I look at the green shoots that are the containers
of the golden ball that will soon burst from its green coated
prison and become one of a Host of Golden Daffodils
I can sense the freshness in the air, see the white puffs
that are the first signs of bloom on the plum trees and
shrubs in the area.
Mention of St Brigid reminds me that February 1 was St Brigids
Day, the first day of Spring. Brigid had been so much involved
with land and animals that this marked the first day of
the farming year. In olden times the farming family would
turn the sod. This was an annual ritual and
was accompanied by the reciting of certain prayers.
Traditionally ploughing did not start until that first sod
was turned. Now times have changed and a lot of the ploughing
is done long before the first of February.
Talking of ploughing, what must it have been like when land
was tilled by the spade before the advent of the plough.
Imagine starting to dig an acre of ground with a spade,
that was the lot of the early farmer and it was said that
a dozen strong men could turn an acre a day.
What a relief it must have been when the first primitive
ploughs were introduced on the farm. It was a wooden plough
and was hard to use over a long period, yet it was a big
improvement on the spade. The type of plough used improved
and then a Scotsman named James Small invented a plough
which one man could operate on his own.
Up to this it had taken two men to do the ploughing, one
to look after the horses and the other to guide the plough.
The first all iron plough was made in 1800 and ploughs have
been improving ever since. It is interesting to note that
when ploughing for tillage, the most suitable length for
a furrow was 220-250 yards, and it was from this that the
word furlong (furrow in length) came from, remember eight
furlongs in a mile. Then there was the rolling and harrowing.
When the ground had been rolled and harrowed the next job
was the sowing of the seed. In the early times this was
done by hand from an apron which the sower held up in front
of him with one hand and scattered the grain as evenly as
he could with the other.
Then came the sowing fiddle, a small machine which scattered
the seed with the aid of a bow like handle which
was moved backwards and forwards rhythmically. Improvement
came in this machine over the years until we have the modern
machines of today.
The spring must surely be one of the busiest times on the
farm for apart from the tilling of the land, the late lambs
arriving and there was always the fear that foxes or worse
still, marauding dogs, would attack the sheep and do untold
damage. Perhaps one of the loveliest sights on a farm in
the springtime is the sight of healthy young lambs playing
in the fields, along with the blooming of the flowers and
the sowing of the crops it reminds us that nature is awakening
from her winter sleep and preparing for the sunny days of
In those far off days and nights of pleasant memories nature
played a big part. Spring in Ireland really starts in late
February, slowly winter begins to relax its grip and the
home-birds start to stake out their territories. It was
soon after February that blackbirds and thrushes begin building
There is an old saying that the crows commence building
their nests, or reparing old ones, on the first of March.
By the end of March the first migrant birds begin to return,
at least they did in my youthful years, the chiffchaffs
from southern Europe and the willow warblers from Africa
and other birds from other parts.
The first flowers are blooming as we near the end of the
month, the daffodils burst forth in a blaze of gold while
the snowdrops and primroses are exposing their beauty to
the naked eye. The time passes quickly and the buds on the
trees being to open and take the winters skeleton
look off the branches. The bluebells and buttercups now
come on the scene with a myriad of small wild flowers that
decorate the hedgerows.
Somehow or other thinking about those days once again makes
the sounds and smells of springtime fresh in my memory.
There was a stretch of bog land beside the river Derry near
Clonegal and I often think of the evenings that I stood
and listened to the different calls on the evening air.
The call of the jacksnipe as he swept low over the bog at
nightfall, hear the lonely call of the curlew, which according
to the old folk, was a sure sign of rain, then in the late
evening the call of the otter along the river bank (otters
are now almost extinct in this part of the country) and
at other times the sharp bark of a fox as he started off
on his nightly hunting round.
Then another sound which is seldom heard now and comes a
little later in the year, the Creak-Creak of
the Land Rail or corn-crake as she sits on her nest in the
young meadow and makes the creak-creak sound
by rubbing her wings together. Now alas, most of those sounds
have gone. Modern methods and machines have no time to wait
for the corn-crake to hatch out her young. The snare and
the trap have accounted for most of the otters. While the
Lamping and Mxyo have then their toll on the
poor mans soup supplier, the rabbit.
Sometimes I feel lonely for those sounds that were part
of an evening in late spring or early summer, and then I
start to think, so have most of the friends I knew.
I suppose that is no way to end a story that started about
springtime and the rebirth of nature, but then we are knocking
nature, only ourselves for doing away with it as we knew
it. No longer are the meadows filled with wild life, no
longer is the haymaking or the harvest social events in
the country life, no longer have we the characters that
we knew in every village.
(Think back on how many are gone from your area). How many
Rambling Houses are left in the villages and
parishes of our area? But again we become melancholy, let
us cheer up, another spring is here, let us enjoy it, and
with the help of St Brigid many more along with it.
Courtesy of Willie White and the Carlow Nationalist