of rats, stacks, stilts and stands
The brown rat could be said to be the architect, indirectly,
at least, of a stone structure in Spink and of a monument
on the Stradbally-Carlow road.
The stone structure in Brophys' haggard at Graiguenahown,
Spink, is a corn stand, and is believed to date form the
The monument, in the form of a base and two crosses, commemorates
brothers Andrew and Edward Hacket who perished when caught
in a snowstorm on February 16, 1838.
At the time, they were returning home to the Doon of Clopook,
Luggacurren, after having had oats ground in Ballykilcavan
mill. The area where they died is now known as Hacket's
The brown rat (Rattus rattus) arrived in Ireland in the
18th century and, quickly adapting to the climate, soon
reached epidemic proportions.
In contrast to the black rat (Rattus norvegicus), which
largely confined itself to urban areas, the brown rat inhabitated
the country-side inflicting massive damage on grain crops.
In bad weather, the rats migrated to haggards and farm yards,
where they fed and bred in corn stacks. Many, if not most,
of these were not threshed until spring. Not that there
was much to thresh following the rodents' depredations.
Farmers fought back by inventing stands upon which they
erected the stacks. In the majority of cases, the stand
bases were mushroom shaped and were arranged in circles
Rats and mice could climb the mushroom stem but, in theory,
at any rate, not the cap. Hence the stacks were saved, and
the grain, maturing slowly over the winter, was in perfect
condition for spring threshing.
The Spink corn stand does not conform to type. Consisting
of two large half-moon like flag stones fitted together,
it rests on two circular walls instead of mushrooms. What
is certain is that without the need to counter the brown
rat it would not exist.
To blame the brown rat for the demise of the Hackets in
that terrible snowstorm 167 years ago would probably be
an exaggeration, but they did lose their lives in circumstances
connected to the use of cornstands and spring threshing.
The horses were reluctant to move as, in the early morning
of February 16, 1838, the brothers set off for Ballykilcavan
mill with two cart loads of oats they had threshed with
Their mother pleaded: "In the name of God leave it
so today. Those horses have never refused to pull a load
before and don't you know there's some bad omen attached
to it." Fateful words, indeed.
The snowstorm caught them on the return journey. Andrew
struggled towards a lightened window in Tarletons (now Farrells)
of Tullamoy, but died as he crossed a stile within yards
of safety. The drifting snow smothered Edward. The horses
Michael J Conry tells the story in his recently-issued book
Corn Stacks on Stilts-Corn Stands for the Spring Threshing
An agricultural scientist, he worked for many years in the
Oak Park Research Centre in Carlow. His previous publications
including Dancing with Culm (2001) which was very successful
in Laois, as well as in other counties.
Irish Agricultural Museum Curator Dr A.M O'Sullivan, in
the foreword to the new book, states: "Michael Conry
had done a great service to history and agricultural science."
"By careful collection of oral knowledge from men with
practical experience, he has gathered the building blocks
to write the story of an important facet of Irish harvested
corn that was threshed in the spring. Thankfully, he did
it when first-hand experience could still be reordered for
Lavishly illustrated with photographs and drawings and very
readable, Corn Stacks on Stilts is available in the Laois
Education Supplies Bookshop, Portlaoise, or from Chapelstown
Press Ltd at 059 9131535.
Courtesy of The Leinster Express