Monday 26 September 2016

Set adrift on memories of my hay days

Ann Fitzgerald

Published 15/06/2016 | 02:30

At one time hay bales only came in one shape.
At one time hay bales only came in one shape.

I recently went into nostalgia overdrive when, out for a leisurely stroll on a country road, I happened upon a field of small square bales.

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In my childhood, they were just "bales", as there weren't any other kind.

I have often wondered at the 'square' descriptor as the correct term should be cuboid.

Either way, hay has now largely been usurped by silage bales, which now also come in a range of colours.

Alongside the traditional black are green, white, pink (to raise funds for the Irish Cancer Society) and purple (in aid of Crumlin Childrens Hospital).

I felt this overwhelming desire to go into the field. Of the senses, smell is the most evocative.

Suddenly I was a teenager again, hit by a wave of warm, sweet yet fresh, vaguely moist, air.

Many accounts of childhood summers recount long days lying around in the sunshine, considering the universe.

But, for us siblings and our country relations, summers consisted of what seemed a never-ending treadmill centred on saving the hay with its hot-and-sweaty, callouses-on-the hand, and scratches-on-the-legs hallmarks.

The first job with the bales was to, as it was put in west Limerick, "stook" them, a term which Himself thinks is hilarious.

He boasts that they used a far more sophisticated term, "stacking".

Whether you stooked or stacked, the bales needed to be picked up and arranged so they would not be damaged if rain fell on them before they were brought in to the barn.

The golden rule for making stooks, where the bales stand on end, is "knots down and out" and for stacks which lie on their edge is "cut side down."

When it came to stooking, I always approached the first bale with a sense of dread about their weight.

You would have a fair idea what they were going to be like because of the conditions in which the hay was saved but you couldn't be sure.

Then there was the vagary of the contractor and the baler.

Some contractors seemed to take pleasure in turning out bricks and, more often than not, the response was a groan.

Only 800 to go!

These bales were still lying where the baler had dropped them and my instinctive reaction was to pick one up.

Some things you never forget. Stand at right angles to the length of the bale, with your weaker hand on the closer cord and the stronger hand on the further one. Then lift. Even after a gap of many years, I felt a tinge of fear.

Building a load of hay on the trailer was an art in itself.

Unlike today loads of big bales will usually be on a state-of-the-art bale trailer, people used to call into service what was available and every trailer had its own best way of being filled.

The advice Robin got as a young lad from Jim Tuck (a Coolderry man) who worked on this farm was "build the outside and the middle will fill itself". A similar mantra pertained in the barn.

It was hard work but the landing of the last bale brought a genuine sense of familial satisfaction that still gives me pleasure today.

Indo Farming

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