Friday 30 September 2016

The rambler who hightailed it out of Meath's plains Meath's

Joe Barry

Published 01/07/2015 | 02:30

Author William Bulfin railed against what he perceived as snobbery and he wasn't impressed by some of the Meath cattlemen's fondness for a day's hunting
Author William Bulfin railed against what he perceived as snobbery and he wasn't impressed by some of the Meath cattlemen's fondness for a day's hunting
Rambles in Eirinn book cover

In the early 1900s, William Bulfin cycled throughout the length and breadth of Ireland and wrote in detail of the people and places he encountered on his travels.

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His writings were originally published as newspaper articles but later were compiled in to the now famous book Rambles in Eirinn.

Bulfin didn't just cycle; he walked, climbed, swam, got soaked in driving rain and fell in to numerous ditches and down steep hillsides.

This makes great reading and his description of cycling from Ballivor in Co Meath to Kilmessan is both hilarious and fascinating.

His hatred of the graziers of Meath knew no bounds and was made worse by the state of the road as he tried to cycle through the sheen of cow dung left by the cattle that were being driven to their pastures from the station at Hill of Down having been railed there from the fair of Ballinasloe.

He learnt quickly not to upset the drovers and especially not to tempt any of them to use their sticks on him as they guided their livestock to their destination. "I made a vow" he wrote "never to cycle again while the Meath men are on the trail"

This reminded me of one famous drover, Jack Mannon who lived near Rathmoylon in Co Meath.

Jack couldn't count but would familiarise himself with each individual beast and leaving Delvin or Athboy fairs with maybe 15 or 20 cattle in his charge, would stop occasionally and check them over saying "your there and your there" and so on until he was satisfied none were missing.

His destination was my father's farm near Summerhill, a distance of at least 30km from Delvin and one of Jacks great attributes was that he never tired the cattle and they would arrive fresh and unstressed.

An amazing feat when you consider the fact that there would be open gates around every corner and the ever present fear of the warble fly creating panic among the cattle which, on hearing its buzz, would race, with tails in the air, until they felt that danger was past.

Bulfin had different ideas about Irish drovers however and having spent some years working with cattle in Argentina stated: "I tried to console myself that if I had a few score of the dusky riders who were my comrades in the past, I could clean out Meath in a week, graziers, drovers, cattle and all"

Meath clearly didn't appeal to Bulfin for despite his acknowledgement of the quality of the pastures, the lack of people surprised him.

"It was only when you looked for the houses that you were conscious of a sense of loneliness. In many places you could see clumps of trees which had sheltered farmsteads in pre-grazier days.

"No blue wreaths of turf smoke floated over the tree tops. There was no tillage-no ploughman's whistle.

In the rich grasses the big dehorned Durham (Shorthorn) and polled Angus bullocks fed or lay. There were bird voices in the air, but nothing else rippled in the silence."

He would be astonished if he returned today as up every minor road he would find prosperity and endless newly built houses, each with at least one motor car and swarms of smartly dressed children being bussed to and from school. Reading between the lines, I got the feeling that Bulfin wouldn't much like this either.

Snobbery

He seemed happiest railing at the perceived snobbery and lifestyles of the wealthy cattlemen of the time and even found space to jeer at some of them enjoying a day's hunting.

But hunting is our most ancient of sports and why he felt Irish men and women shouldn't enjoy it the same as in our past is puzzling. Did he want the entire Irish population to remain tugging their forelocks to the then bankrupt Anglo Irish landowners who were fleeing the country in droves? One will never know. Meath is nowadays a bustling commuter county with the rush to the local towns and the city of Dublin and its suburbs starting around 6am every weekday.

It now nurtures countless small businesses operating from farmyards and workshops providing a welcome guarantee that we will never again return to the dark days of the past when the emigrant boat was the only future for the majority of our youth.

The shorthorns may be gone but behind all the houses and business premises there is still that wonderful rich grazing land now stocked with sleek Charolais and Friesians.

jbarry@ independent.ie

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