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Open Features: A Party And A Visit To The Turf Bog - Part Two

...As we approached the cottage we heard the sound of someone singing and we were able to make out the words of “The Rose of Arranmore” which happened to be one of Jim’s favourites. “Boys o”, he said but Mrs Dorian has the gramophone going early this day.” Hardly had the words left his mouth when the good woman herself appeared at the door.

“Ach, it’s yourself Jim and the caddie. Willie, isn’t it? Sure you’re stretching up. I’ll warrant you you’ve grown a few inches since I last saw you. Come away on in the both of you. It’s a good drop of tay and a bite to eat you’ll be ready for after your journey and your work at the turf bank.”...

Alan McConnell brings us another delectable slice of life as it used to be in rural Ireland.

Arriving in Frosses Jim drew Sparky to a halt outside Kellys’ Corner Stores and swung down from the cart saying, “Well, caddie, I’m away into McGonigle’s to see about a pair of low shoes; you take yourself into Kelly’s and get yourself something to take the edge of your hunger ‘til we get something to eat at Mrs Dorian’s.”

With that he walked the few yards to McGonigle’s while I entered Kellys and made my way to the counter upon which old Mr Kelly was leaning while glancing through a newspaper. Upon seeing me approach he said, “Well, if it isn’t young Willie himself. You’re a bit out of your way this day I’m thinking. I suppose you’re on your usual trip to the bog with young Jim. And how’s all your care at home?” Without waiting for an answer he continued, “Your father called in with me the other day on his way to the fair. Wasn’t Jemmy Brennan telling me that your da bought thon two fine bastes of Slevin’s.” This said Mr Kelly became businesslike, “And what can I get you this day me boyo. I’ll warrant you’ll be after wanting a few sweets to keep your jaws busy on your journey.”

Somewhat reluctantly I decided to forgo the sweets and plumped instead for a couple of Paris buns these being more suitable for keeping the appetite at bay in the interval between now and partaking of Mrs Dorian’s repast which would not be taken until we had finished our work in the bog.

The buns having been placed in a brown paper bag and the necessary two pennies passed to Mr Kelly I made my way outside where Sparky was patiently waiting. I took my place in the cart and a few minutes later Jim appeared bearing a parcel tied with string. "Boys’ o, caddie but them low shoes don't get any cheaper," were his first words to me. "Do you know I thought oul' O'Rourke the cobbler would be able to fix the ones I've been wearin' for the last few years but he says they've had their day and they don't owe me anything. Anyway it's a good thing I don't have to wear them every day. I suppose if I get as good wear out of these new ones I'll not be able to complain."

Indeed, we only wore low shoes with our Sunday best on high days and holidays. As our every day footwear was stout working boots our low shoes tended to have quite a long life.

While Jim was speaking he sprang on board the cart and urged Sparky on his way. Soon after leaving Frosses we were in the foothills of the Blue Stacks and taking a side road we arrived at our destination - the turf bank. The bank was situated about one hundred yards from the roadside and a rough track allowed the cart access for about half that distance necessitating quite a short carry from where the turf was stacked in small groups, called ricks or clamps.

Originally the turf was cut from the bank by means of a turf spade, called a slean in our part of the country. This differed from a normal spade in that it had two sides at right angles to each other. The shorter of the two sides extended about four inches up the blade of the spade. The whole was also longer and narrower than the conventional spade. When dug each turf sod measured roughly twelve inches by four but this could vary with the type of spade being used. Ours was only one of many types used throughout the country. When cut the sods were thrown to the top of the bank where they were laid in rows to dry. As they were quite wet at this stage care had to be taken to ensure that the sod was not broken. If this took place the resultant pieces were called clods.

With the right weather conditions the sods would dry over the course of ten days to a fortnight. When they are dry enough to lift without breaking the next step was to "foot" them. This meant stacking four or five sods together in an upright position to enable good exposure to sun and wind. With satisfactory drying conditions the turf could, after a week or so, be built into heaps called ricks or clamps ready for collection by cart or lorry.

Cutting, laying, footing and ricking could take a considerable amount of time and a lot depended on the amount of labour involved together with favourable weather conditions. Indeed, if we had a good spell of weather in the month of May when the cutting usually commenced every available member of the family would be pressed into service and school principals would turn a blind eye to a few days absence of their more senior pupils.

As we had had a good run of dry weather leading up to our visit to the bog the peat in the ricks was as firm as you could want and we set to the loading, filling a creel apiece and carrying it to the cart. The creels were large wickerwork basket-like containers measuring roughly 30inches by 30 inches and about 24 inches in depth. A length of rope was attached at the top of one side to facilitate carrying on the back. My creel was never more than three quarters full as this was as much as I could carry but Jim's was full to overflowing and carrying it didn't take a fidge out of him. Contents were deposited in the cart and after several journeys from rick to cart when the load was level with the side boards we fixed cribs to each side of the cart thus extending the load capacity. By this means we were able to almost double the quantity the cart would have held without the addition of the cribs and still within Sparky’s strength and stamina.

Eventually Jim said, “Well, caddie, everything seems to be shipshape here so we might as well give Mrs Dorian a shout and see what she’s got for us. I’ll warrant you’ll not be hungry on the way home after she’s fed you

Mrs Dorian’s cottage, situated about a quarter of a mile from the turf bank and reached by a laneway lay some way back from the road. It was a neat thatched structure and almost a carbon copy of my grandparents home in that it consisted of a kitchen, two bedrooms and a “good room” the latter used only on special occasions, joyous and melancholy, namely wedding celebrations and the like and wakes.

As we approached the cottage we heard the sound of someone singing and we were able to make out the words of “The Rose of Arranmore” which happened to be one of Jim’s favourites. “Boys o”, he said but Mrs Dorian has the gramophone going early this day.” Hardly had the words left his mouth when the good woman herself appeared at the door.

“Ach, it’s yourself Jim and the caddie. Willie, isn’t it? Sure you’re stretching up. I’ll warrant you you’ve grown a few inches since I last saw you. Come away on in the both of you. It’s a good drop of tay and a bite to eat you’ll be ready for after your journey and your work at the turf bank.”

“You’re right there,” said Jim. “I’m just about ready for some grub and we’ll be in as soon as I give Sparky a bit of hay and some water. I’ll have to make free with one of your buckets for the water.” “Ach, you’re welcome to a bucket, Jim,” she said, “and there’s plenty of water in the rain barrel. I’ll away on in and leave you to it.”

Sparky’s needs seen to we entered the cottage and the source of the singing was revealed. It was not from a gramophone as Jim had thought but from a Bush radio sitting on a small table at the back of the room. Jim paused on the threshold. “Man a dear missus but that’s a fine wireless you’ve got there. There’s not many like that in these parts.” Indeed Jim spoke truly for in those days radios were still a rarity in remote areas such as these.

Mrs Dorian smiled proudly. . “Well Jim didn’t it come as the quare surprise to himself and me when Sean arrived home last Christmas time and got it delivered all the way from Packie Rafferty’s shop in Letterkenny and sure didn’t Packie utter your very words about there not being many like it about these parts. It was Sean and Paul bought it between them as a Christmas present and didn’t they get us a spare wet battery as well so that we wouldn’t be without the wireless when the other battery was being charged up at Rafferty’s.

“Well”, said Jim I wish you the best of luck with it and I’m sure you find its great company when you’re on your own in the house. And what does himself think of it?”

“Sure himself is only interested in the weather forecast and news. I like them music programmes where they play what they call requests. Mind you there’s some rare songs goin’ about these days. I suppose it’s what the young wans like nowadays. I’m still one for the oul’ come-all-yes. Sure its great company when he’s out in the fields. Now that the wains are grown up and away the place gets wild quiet sometimes.

“And what about the boys,” says Jim. “Sure the last time I saw himself at Mountcharles fair he told me they were well settled in jobs in England and America.

“Arragh, God be with the day. Sure I know they’re better off where they are but my heart’s sore so it is that they have had to go so far from home to get a living. It’s not so bad for Sean in England, sure he can get home in the summer and Christmas for a wee while and give his father a hand about the place but for Paul, dear knows when he’ll be back. But sure I have to be as content as I can when I know that they are earning good money where they are. Now, away over to the table with you both; you’ll be ready for this wee sup of tea after your work.”

Having said this she made her way over to the open fireplace and swinging out the crane over the turf fire lifted off the large black hissing kettle and poured the boiling water into into a teapot in which she had previously deposited three or four spoonfuls of dry tea.

I needed no second invitation to go to the table. To tell the truth I had been paying scant attention to the conversation between Mrs Dorian and Jim. Rather, I had been eying the food that had been laid on the table where I had noted with appreciation and keen anticipation some of my favourite current scone bread occupying a prominent position along with a farl or two of the soda bread to which I knew Jim as particularly partial. And what was more I had noticed a plump freshly baked apple pie cooling on the sill of the window at the back of the kitchen. I knew that in due course it would make its appearance at the table. Meanwhile there was the current scone bread and he soda thing to be going on with. Jim joined me at the table and Mrs Dorian collected the teapot from its trivet on the hob and commenced to pour part of the contents into two large mugs sitting before the two of us.

“Now don’t be afraid to strike hard on the butter and jam boys. I know you like the blackcurrant thing Willie and the butter’s freshly made. Sure I like to see a man enjoying his food, so I do.”

“Are you not having a wee drap o’tay yourself missus,” said Jim. “Ach, I’ll wait until himself comes in. Sure he’ll be sorry he missed you. He’s away over at Ballymagroaty seeing Clancy the tailor for a new pair of working trousers. Now eat up the both of you. You’ll be all the better for something sticking to your ribs for the journey home. ”

While we were eating Mrs Dorian busied herself around the kitchen before taking a chair at the end of the table and addressing me. “I suppose your father is as fond as ever of the buttermilk, Willie.” “Aye, mother says that she doesn’t know what he’d do if all the milk was sent to the creamery and the churning stopped.” At that Jim chipped in, “There’s not much chance that that will happen anytime soon. There’ll always be enough milk kept back for making the country butter. Sure, my oul’ da wouldn’t touch the stuff made in the creamery. Ach, there’ll always be buttermilk, never worry.”

“Aye you’re right enough there, Jim. Sure there’s a couple of people come out to me regularly from the town just to get my home made butter. They’d rather have it than the creamery stuff any day. I’ll houl’ you your father will get his time in before there’s any scarcity of the country butter. There’s nothing himself likes better than a plate of them Arran Victor potatoes with a good slab of the home made butter.”

“Well,” said Jim.”I sure enough hope you’re right missus.”There’d be no living with him if we had to depend on shop butter. So far as the buttermilk is concerned he he’s not like your da Willie. He’d rather have a good mug of strong tay, the sort you could trot a mouse on.” “Well, everybody to their own fancy,” said Mrs Dorian and rising from the table fetched the apple pie from the window sill at the back of the kitchen. “This should be cool enough now boys; it won’t burn the mouth off yis.”

She cut two generous slices and slid them on to our plates. Needless to say I made short work of the pie and was promptly rewarded with another slice. “That’s what I like to see; someone who likes their food. What about you Jim, could you manage some more.” Jim shook his head. “No thank you. I’m full to the brim. The caddie here is a growing boy and he has hollow legs when it comes to his grub. But we’ll have to be on our way if we’re to get back and get the cart unloaded before its too late. Thank goodness for the long evenings that are in it now. Saying that he rose from the table and I followed suit.

Walking with us to the door Mrs Dorian said, “Well, don’t forget to visit when you’re up this way for your next load. Maybe himself will be here then and you can have a craic about what’s going on in these parts.”

“You can be sure of that,” said Jim as he helped me up to perch on top of the load of turf. “I’ll walk for a bit ‘till we get back to the road. It’s downhill most of the way home so Sparky will have no trouble getting us back and thank you missus for the grub and be sure and tell the boss that I was asking after him.”

So saying and with a “gee up there Sparky” from Jim we set off, Mrs Dorian waving us on our way.


To read the first part of this account, and many more nostalgic words by Alan, please click on


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