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Then and now: 'Saving hay in July' - Tom Aherne

Then and now: 'Saving hay in July' - Tom Aherne

THE MONTH of July in my youth I always associate with carefree days and fine sunny weather.

We got our national school holidays around July 10 and we were free to enjoy ourselves for the next six weeks. The classrooms, homework and schoolbooks were forgotten about as we eased into holiday mood. The great outdoors beckoned with lots of manual work to be done but it didn’t cast us a thought. We woke to the sound of the cuckoo’s call and the brilliant sunshine coming in the window. We ran barefooted through the green fields and jumped over the fellustrums (yellow flag) and buchalláns (ragwort) and cut the heads of the thistles with our home-made hurleys made from a root of an ash tree.

We blocked the local stream and cooled off there in the evening time, skimming flat stones along the pollution free waters. We searched for trout and eel under the stones and riverbank and quenched our thirst in the ice cool spring water in the well nearby. We inhaled the sweet fragrances, of the Woodbine and Meadowsweet flowers, and admired the rich colours of midsummer all around us. In today's world the majority are engaged in social media activities, rather than outdoor and more healthy activities.

The long warm days were endless, and we hoped they would last forever, but we also had to do our chores and look after the garden, meadow and the bog work. The main work was to save the hay and the four meadows we had to cut and make into wynds would take the whole month to complete. It had to be cut turned rowed and wyned mostly by hand, which was hard work, but the freedom of the outdoors compensated. This work is now done in bales and only takes a couple of days with machinery.

The birds singing and the croaking of the corncrake late at night was a delight to hear. This majestic bird fell victim to the high-speed rotary mower many years ago more the pity and only survives in a few areas of Ireland at present. We always had a few families of pheasants around the locality who added to our enjoyment as they blended into the landscape. People and animals lived in closer harmony with other wildlife in those far off days.

I remember July as a month that showed off, a rainbow of different colours filing our days with joy and delight. We may take it for granted at times but there would be no colour without the sun and the rain and the rising fog and the morning dew. As a nation we complain about the Irish summer weather and most conversations will include a mention of it. We expect more than we often receive but when you think about it though there are very few days that people cannot get out and about.

We are spared those extremes of climate that are part and parcel of life in many parts of the globe. The older people welcomed the rainy day as well as the sunny one and gave it their blessing in the well-known phrase ‘’ A fine soft day thank God.’’ This year we have experienced more diverse weather than others, with months of rain, then glorious April and May and changeable in the last six weeks.

I also associate the month of July with the abundance of roses that are to be seen all over the place. One of my earliest memories of roses is of the bush that grew outside the door of my grandmother’s house. The lovely fragrant smell was like perfume as the honeybees moved around and into the centre of them in search of nectar. The wild rambling roses with their assorted colours adorned the gardens of so many of the old farmhouses in times past and the perfumed scents were delightful to inhale

St Swithin’s Day

SAINT SWITHIN’S Day, the fifteenth of July, has gone down in folklore history as a weather indicator for the following forty days. It is believed that the legend about Saint Swithin (Sweeten or Sweeteen (Suitin) as he is called in Munster) came into Ireland from England in the middle ages. When St Swithin was buried his monks who had great affection for him though his simple burial place was not befitting their master, This angered the saint who besought his divine Master (as it was afterwards revealed to one of his monks) to prevent such a useless expenditure of time and money which would be better spent in relieving the poor and needy. The monks went ahead and built a costly mausoleum to mark his final resting place to show the world how much they thought of him.

When it was finished, they named July the fifteenth as the day his remains were to be exhumed and publicly transferred to the new venue. St Swithin’s prayers to God were answered and the flood gates of heaven opened. It continued to rain for the forty days without interruption and the country all around was flooded. The monks prayed to God and to St Swithin to intercede for them. It was at this period he appeared to one of his monks and revealing to him how displeasing it was to God to spend their time in useless display, forbade them ever interfering with his remains thereafter.

The command was obeyed and ever since (as a remembrance of St Swithin) when it rains on his day the succeeding forty days will be a time of anxiety for the farming community and for all others depending on the weather. Another explanation is that it was the day and date that the rain commenced to fall which led to the deluge or Noah’s flood and the building of his Arc. During the height of the flood a man in a small boat shouted at Noah for a lift, but Noah replied” we are full up with two of each”. It’s okay so, “it’s only a passing shower” said the man.

St Swithin’s day is also remembered in verse form

If on St Swithin’s day it really pours

You’re better off to stay indoors.

We hope it will be dry this Wednesday as we could do with a return to summer sunshine.

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