“A people who don’t have a knowledge of their past is like a tree without roots”
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January 18 2006
THE TURF CUTTERS
I stand on the road and look across the white field stretching out before me. The last time I looked at this field it was just another cutaway bog, now it’s wearing a beautiful dress of white bog cotton.
All around me is silence and I close my eyes and think about how this field would have looked 200 years ago. It is black with newly cut turf. The air is alive with the shouts of young men and women and the laughter of children. The young men cut the turf with turf spades throw them out to the women and children who carry them out and spread them in neat even rows. Old men lean across the wall, smoke their clay pipes and talk about the great turf cutters of long ago. The children push each other into the bog holes and chase each other across the turf banks, Irish is the spoken language .
There are ten families living on this road, they are the tenants of Robert Gore Booth who lives in far away Lisadell. Down at the end of these fields lies the bog commonage where the tenants and estate workers who live in Lisadell and Maugherow have a right to cut turf. There are no bogs on the fertile farms of Maugherow and that is why every morning they make the long ten mile journey along the brown dirt road in their bare feet, on the first morning they bring their turf spades and leave them there until all the cutting is done. The locals look forward to the arrival of the Maugherow men, they bring news of deaths, marriages and other local events. When the turf are saved they bring their asses and creels to take them home.
No one has a way of telling the time except by the sun so they wait until the angelus bell rings out across the bog from Cliffoney church. Then they know it is time to stop for food,The locals eat a meal of potatoes. If they are lucky they will have mashed potatoes and milk and butter, This meal is called bruítín, sometimes they might have a salted herring but often they have only potatoes sprinkled with salt.
The Maugherow men light a fire with a lighted turf taken in an old bucket from the nearest house. They make tea and eat the oaten bread they have brought with them. The young men sit together and talk about girls, dances, card playing and their hopes of emigrating to America. The older men talk of the high rents and say silent prayers that the pig will live or the cow calve safely, otherwise they won’t have the rent for the landlords agent.The threat of eviction is never far away. One by one the locals stream back and work continues again.
Those days are long past, no noise or laughter now disturbs the white field. The only sound I hear is the lonely cry of the moor hen and the flutter of the young pheasant’s wings as she flies low across the bog cotton.
Pictures: 1 and 3, Joe Mc Gowan; No. 2, Colman Doyle. Text: Copyright, Maureen Connolly
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