Saving The Hay

By: Mary Walpole

Search County Kerry

I HAVE special memories of saving the hay when I was a child. Make hay while the sun shines as they say and the sun seemed to shine a lot more back then.

My father was a small farmer and not really known for his progressive ways. At times when neighbouring farmers were buying tractors our horse power consisted of a trusted donkey.

When others hail moved on to get their hay baled in lovely precise square bales that were easy to stack and store we still did it the traditional way with lopsided haycocks and trams. The smell of the mown grass, yellowed and sweetened by the summer sun, was the essence of summer when I was young.

After the hay had been cut for a few days, turned several times to dry through and raked into lines only then did the serious work of saving the hay start for us. Those days started early. Once the animals had been tended, our parents and the six of us would traipse down to the hayfield, each carrying a fork.

THE FIRST task was to make cocks of the hay. We started off with a round base and added more and more hay with the haycock narrowing in diameter as it grew.    The hay cocks were about three and a half feet high and if done properly resembled a beehive hut.

We were split up into three teams to do this with each team having a professional. My mother and father of course were the original professionals and my oldest brother was a quick learner so before long he was deemed competent to lead the construction of a cock of hay.

Once the hay had all been made into cocks the next step was to convert several of these cocks of hay into trams ready to be brought in from the field to the haggart. Again the trams were circular in construction and tapering to a point at the top but these were about six or seven feet high.

I still recall my surprise when one day in the middle of the hay saving my father asked “will we go to Tramore today?” (Tramore being the nearest seaside to us).

Here I was with visions of a picnic on the beach, candy floss and licking my lips at the thought of seaside chips with their own unique aroma and taste. But hey stupid me. Of course no such trip was on the cards, no we were going to tram more hay.

ONE OF the best parts of saving the hay was having tea in the hayfield. Being the youngest I was the one who went back to the house with my mother to get the tea. Granny would have the kettle boiled and would have made up what seemed like mountains of sandwiches with her own home made butter and my mother’s home made raspberry or strawberry jam.

The tea was carried to the field in  a gallon with a lid. The tea would be made up with a little milk mixed in. We would bring extra milk in a bottle and sugar in an old   mustard jar. Never have I tasted such tea as that which was devoured in the hayfield. We sat at the butt of the cocks or trams of hay, the sun beating down, the dog sitting panting in the shade and tried to drag the break out as long as we could. Sometimes we got diluted orange and that was a real   treat to help us cool down.

Once the trams were all completed the next task was to get the hay home to the haggart. This was done with a buckrake on the little Massey Ferguson 135 we had   at the time (after eventually progressing from donkey power to horse power).

ONCE THE hay was brought home to the haggart it was   made into a rick. This was rectangular in construction and could reach a height of fifteen feet or so. Usually a neighbour came to help us at this stage. I remember   Dick with his strong rounded shoulders and Daddy beside him and they hoisting up forkfuls of hay to my brothers who were building the rick.

My sister and I were given the task of walking in the hay – we would basically walk around on it to flatten it. This was fine when we were near the ground but got quite   scary the higher the rick got. Again the rick was tapered a little at the top and when finished it was tied down and covered with plastic to keep it dry. When we built the haybarn I must say I missed the sight of the rick of hay at the end of the haggart.

In time our father caught up with the times and we graduated to getting the hay baled. Whilst this took a lot of the backbreaking work out of saving the hay it also took a lot of the fun out of it. But I’m sure it’s only from a child’s perspective that the serious issue of saving the hay could ever be considered fun.

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