Having grown up on a small farm, I can well remember the “good old days”. We walked to school which was about two miles. There were no school buses in those days or no central heating in the school. There was a small turf fire in our classroom and the teacher always sat in front of it. We were really cold down in our seat. We brought a lunch with us every day and we brought a bottle of tea but there were condition to the type of bottle you had. The bottle had to have a cork on it as a screw on top was not allowed for safety reasons. The bottles were put around the open fire to keep warm, but the danger was if they got too hot and the screw cap on, they would explode.
Walk to the bog and carry two bottles of tea
After school we would hurry home to help on the farm. Sometimes we would have to walk to the bog and carry two bottles of tea in two home knitted socks to the men cutting the turf. There were no hopper machines in those days. All turf was hand cut by slane and spread out on the bank to dry. When it was half dry we put it into footings and when fully dry we moved it onto the bog road to bring it home. I loved bringing home the turf as it was transported by pony and cart and I got to sit on the top of the heap on the way home.
In springtime my father ploughed with two horses and we sowed corn, beet and potatoes. The corn was shook by hand and carried in a white sheet. To get the potatoes ready for sowing, I often sat at a pit of potatoes picking the seed potatoes and cutting the slits (that is making two halves of the big potatoes for seed). Drills for potatoes were opened by horse and plough and the seed sown by hand.
Kick the bucket
In summertime the hay was cut with two horses and a mowing machine and it was saved with a rake and fork. It was made into little cocks in the field and later brought into the haggard (our garden) and made into a big pike in the haggard. One pike was made especially for the sheep. It had to have a pole in the centre so when the sheep were eating it, the hay couldn’t fall on them. I used to milk the cows out in the field whilst sitting on a three legged stool. Often whilst milking, the cow would move or kick the bucket and spill the milk and when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, she would give a good swish of her dirty tail across my face.
An old myth
We sowed beet for Tuam Sugar Factory and this had to be thinned out after four weeks of being sown. I hated this job as we had to go down on our knees in the drills and we often got sun burned. There was no sun lotion in those times, we just had to get the top layer from the crock of cream and rub it onto our arms. We made our own butter. The butter was made in a dash churn and when it was being made any person entering the house couldn’t go out until they gave a twist to the churn. There was an old myth that a person couldn’t leave without giving a twist to the churn, so that they wouldn’t bring the butter from the cream. The men also would be waiting patiently for the mug of buttermilk to quench the thirst!
The oats was cut with horses and a finger bar mower and sometimes had to be cut with the sythe if it was lodged. The oats was gathered by hand in the swarth and made into sheafs and tied with a band made from the oats. Often plenty of thistles were found in the oats which would cut the arms off you and leave you with plenty of thorns. Those sheafs were put standing up, eight of them together in what was called a stook. After a few weeks all the stooks were brought together and made into small stacks in the field. It was a skilled job to make a stack of oats properly so it wouldn’t take in the water. Later on, maybe after two weeks or so, all the stacks were brought into the haggard and made into a big stack. This stack was then thatched and made very secure for the winter.
The potatoes had to be dug with a spade or a horse and plough. Picking the potatoes was an awful job and involved being bent over most of the time and then carrying the buckets full of potatoes to a big pit which was often a good distance away. This pit when finished had to be shaped in a “V” shape and then covered in straw and clay.
That’s my story of the good old days. I loved farm work and there was always something different to be done and every day had its own surprises!