Saturday 10 December 2016

Wintery ways reveal our heart of darkness

Fiona O'Connell

Published 15/11/2015 | 02:30

'Regardless of fleeting light, the farmers are busy. Tractors trundle over the bridge from dawn to dusk in this country town. Some are still hauling in hay and other produce. You often hear before you see the mammoth machinery'
'Regardless of fleeting light, the farmers are busy. Tractors trundle over the bridge from dawn to dusk in this country town. Some are still hauling in hay and other produce. You often hear before you see the mammoth machinery'

Leaves may still linger on some trees, but their top branches are usually bare. While the colours have become coppery and brittle. Nor does it take a breeze, let alone a wind, to send them falling any more. Winter and its ever-encroaching darkness is upon us.

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The clock going back didn't help. Some question if this custom is now a cynical commercial ruse to lure us into lit-up Christmas shops.

Regardless of fleeting light, the farmers are busy. Tractors trundle over the bridge from dawn to dusk in this country town. Some are still hauling in hay and other produce. You often hear before you see the mammoth machinery.

They may be impressive, but my favourite farming vehicle is an old tractor that used to be parked everywhere about town, as if it was a car. Certainly, it was small and dinky enough to fit into tight spaces.

That tractor is viewed as a comical curiosity. Yet only a few decades ago, it would have been the last word in technical wizardry. Because hard as it is to fathom, with our SUVs and science fiction savvy, farmers once relied on horse power instead of high tech.

As did the rest of society. Indeed, it was as late as this day 47 years ago, that our national public transport providers at CIE retired its last dray horses.

These are the largest of the horse breeds, which were bred for tough tasks, like pulling heavy loads and ploughing. Dray horses are extremely muscular and strong. They also possess a natural curiosity and willingness to learn, as well as a docile demeanour.

It's no wonder that you regularly see them in equestrian centres, where their calm and sweet-tempered personality makes them ideal for nervous or inexperienced riders.

So it was hard to hear a local remembering the time as a boy when he witnessed these gentle giants being led over the bridge, in a trail as endless as today's tractors, by the farmers they had worked so hard and willingly for their entire lives. For technology, in the form of the new-fangled tractors, had arrived.

Their last journey was to the old watchtower that stands on the far side of the bridge. That ancient castle has been the site of strange and savage scenes over the centuries, not least when it was used during that time as an abattoir. Toothed eels thrived on the blood and guts that were dumped into the river.

Those trusting creatures were brought there at the end of their final working day. That local boy, now a man, remembers the struggles that took place, when those extraordinarily powerful equines realised their fate. For this was also before more sophisticated forms of slaughter had been perfected.

Under cover of night, we brutally extinguished their light as thanks for their labour. Thereby expanding our all too human heart of darkness.

Sunday Independent

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