In Memory of
It is a Summer's morning in the 50s, the milking is over early, today is haymaking day. Herbert arrives in the yard whistling one of his beloved tunes and a three-pronged fork on his shoulder. There is a feeling of 'relaxed tension' in the air.
Dad arrives home from the creamery and consults with Herb on the weather prospects. The winds have shifted to Ballybunion, the sunset was glorious last evening, the mountains are a distance away; yes, it is going to be a good day. The tanks are washed and turned upside down with their covers resting on their wide bottoms. The picnic has been prepared for the meadow. We will get the Mitchelstown cheese later at Nell Daughtons and the tea from Bridie Hannon in her enamel bucket. It will be a day of toil but also one of conversation and entertainment. Herb will be the centre of our world, we loved him and we know he loved us children. I bare-back ride the pony to the meadow cantering up Cronins hill and galloping down the dust covered glen bothrin faster than Ballymoss.
Herbert from a sketch by Myles Cronin
Our first job was shaking out the grass cocks. Herbert was an expert at grass cocks, with a hurler's flick of the wrist they sat neatly raised from the damp ground allowing the sun and breeze to do their work. The hay is felt and pondered on. It will take a few good hours to dry and save. We were patient! I learned patience and acceptance from Herbert; like the tailor of Gounganebarra. He believed that if you "took the world fine and aisy, the world would take you fine and aisy"
It is eating time. Brother Dan and I scamper across the fields to Bridie for the tay - strong with plenty of sugar, it was an excellent thirst-quencher. We ate with sacramental relish, my dad affecting a farmer's silence while Herbert entertained us boys with side-splitting fantasies. We threw the crumbs to the watching shepherd dog and cast aside the droiders from the mugs. Now its time for a Goldflake for the boss and a pipe-full for Herbie; Bendigo plug. The ritual of pipe cleaning, cutting and crushing the tobacco between the palms, filling and finally a majestic lighting of the pipe was all part of the pleasure. Like two Indian chiefs they sat lost in their own thoughts. How we loved the aroma of Bendigo; no worries about passive smoking in the peaceful meadows of Glenballyma!
It is time to put the hay in rows. The T.V.O. won't start! Take the plugs out and dry them on a little fire lit with a petrol-soaked rag! Herb discreetly removes us boys to shake out the headland once again. The sun weakens momentarily while those ominus clouds mar the horizon. The wise old man cautions against pessimism and panic. yet, it brighens again; there may have been a shower over Tralee - but haymaking doesn't bother them.
We tackled the pony under the wooden 'slinger'; she will have a hard day, so a bucket of water from the nearby spring is a tonic with the sweet grass from the ditch-side. The parallel rows of beautiful scenting hay are ready and we make the first 'butt' - not too big! The diameter must be just right for the hay car. My job is standing on the wynd. "Walk around it" Herbert counsels while he ensures that every pike is of reasonable size and strategically placed. Herbert's wynds never topple over.
The work is interspersed with story telling. Herbert had a great store of anecdotes, sport and people were his themes. He was a man of this world; earthly and wise, a worker and a thinker. He could not fathom the dubious rewards of the after-life. "If it's there well an' good - but do not bank on it", was his motto. Herbert's was a whole-some life; fishing, dressing blackthorn sticks and shillelaghs, water divining and following his favourite hurling teams from the Tullig Game Cocks to the Kilflynn Pearces and, of course, Crotta O'Neills.
His life had that delightful balance between work and leisure which would be the envy of modern man. While our father 'slung' the hay from a distance, Dan and I teased Herb about lifes mysteries. To young adolescent boys, women were the only mystery and Herb was a expert. Dad knew the conversation when a sudden silence descended and everybody was real busy when he came near. He knew Herb was a good teacher, pragmatic, spicy and pure. We couldn't wait to be young men.
Now the sound of Jack Shanahan's hooter is reverberating over the Shannow and as its echoes die over Stacks Mountain we appraise our work. The wynds stand symmetrical in the clean meadow like 'you'd pull from them'. At home the cows are milked and an appetising meal is ready by a mother whose toil is never-ending. Herbert now will prepare a few shillelaghs for the yanks, divine a spring well for some neighbour and drink some well deserved pints in Cronins or Parkers.
In my minds eye I can see him still tipping his toes at ninety years and singing "we had a little drink about an hour ago".