Alec Wedlock and Bertie Wilson building stooks of corn on Wednesday at the farm of John joe O’Reilly.

Keeping the traditions alive

THRESHING A day of reviving memories

The nostalgia evoked by a corn harvest in Maudabawn was captured in all it’s glory by the pen of Kevin O’Reilly as one of the participants in a day of threshing. His wonderful prose recreate the magic of times past. Here Kevin describes the day...

“You’ll be down the ‘morra for the cuttin’ of the corn. The binder is comin’ at two o’clock. It’ll be that time before it is dried out,” this is not a mislaid note from fifty or sixty years ago, but a phone call from John Joe from Maudabawn for one of his harvest gatherings.

Preserving ways of our cultural past occupies the broad thrust of John Joe O’Reilly’s philosophy.

Modern machinery may have its place on the industrial road of progress but it’s the agricultural machinery around the the middle of the last century that has smitten John Joe.

While many in their latter years dream upon the memories of a bygone time John Joe brings it to tangible reality. Each year in a cosy basin among the Middle Chapel hills an acre of corn claims its place.

This year the weather was definitely in his favour. The sun might be heading for autumn’s tilt, but temperatures were forecast for mid-twenties. The prayer to Demeter, the Greek goddess of grain, was truly heard.

When I got down to the field the binder had arrived, complete with her three journeymen reapers from Lough Egish. “Aisy; aisy,” was the call as the delicate manoeuvre to unload the antiquated machine progressed with directions coming thick and fast from several straw hatted men of similar vintage.

Eagerness was in no short supply. With careful help the Old Lady slid down the ramp assuming an air of stately elegance in the wake of her new found attention. Dating from somewhere between the 1940’s and 50’s, her exact point of origin was not disclosed. She looked fresh from long retreat. Retirement is kind.

A few checks were zealously carried out in the simmering heat by the Monaghan men and the nod given. The Corn Goddess turned towards her crop of gold. Conditions were perfect. Indeed this was a crop ripe in anticipation, as if awaiting the reaper’s blade.

The tractor driver started up his engine and she jerked into action, briskly entering a sea of acceptance, the long paddles drawing the golden crop to her bosom before casting it to one side in a continuous rhythm of tied sheaves.

“The last time I saw one of them workin’ was out through the winda’ of Dernakesh school in McGorry’s field, probably about 1966 or 1967,” a grey headed man wistfully recalled.

“That would have to be Janey from the mountain; Janey Lynch,” John McCabe from Drumgoon, after a few moments recall, enlightened his listener, “he had a binder.”

The reaper moved with consummate ease rounding the soft corners, unveiling a stubbled trail. If Wordsworth happened to be passing by no doubt he would have taken note. The call of this reaper might not have been as sweet as the voice he heard in the Scottish Highlands but no doubt it would have caught his ear.

Surely Kavanagh, peering down from his ‘no earthly estate’ would have spotted the occasional nugget among this pot of gold. In the midst of such gatherings his pen was richest. Kavanagh may have been light on sentiment, but still would have gladly approved of this re-enactment.

The sheaves were gathered and stood in stooks. John Joe was never far from the action moving across the stubble with purposeful intent.

“Slow up, slow up,” a man rushed over to the tractor driver, “me son, his woman and childer’ are on their way. They’d have never seen anything like this.”

The Old Lady got a break. She rested on the headland. Her attendants gave constant check.

Passersby of every generation stopped in the presence of this time warped spectacle. A few who stole in did so with bemused curiosity, as if treading on the sanctity of another time, not venturing too far beyond the headland lest they might break the spell.

By mid afternoon we were halfway through. The forecast got it spot on. This was a week when August broke sweat. The Gospel quote of ‘harvest great and labourers few’ definitely didn’t apply. There nearly weren’t enough sheaves to go around.

By five o’clock it was all over. John Joe viewed the fruits of his labour with barely concealed fulfilment. While the threshing has yet to follow in a few weeks time there was satisfaction on a stubbled face of harvest complete. This was a day of glorious nostalgia.

“They’ll be cuttin’ the corn in Creeshlough today,” he later quoted me a line of emigrant verse as he surveyed the heaped up sheaves in fields that are forever yesterday. The past is never far from the heart.