My mention of an orchard in a reflection recently led me to observe that apple trees all over the county are dripping with unharvested apples. ?The apple does not fall far from the tree? as the saying goes. ?Breeding breaks out? (Briseann an dúchas amach) or (Briseann an dúchas trí shúile an chait); breeding breaks out through the eyes of the cat is another way of putting this
My mention of an orchard in a reflection recently led me to observe that apple trees all over the county are dripping with unharvested apples. ?The apple does not fall far from the tree? as the saying goes. ?Breeding breaks out? (Briseann an dúchas amach) or (Briseann an dúchas trí shúile an chait); breeding breaks out through the eyes of the cat is another way of putting this pessimistic piece of local lore. It seems that in our time of plenty, apples are not worth picking, never mind stealing. The orchards that were part of every large lot or household have been disappearing during the spate of housing development on every spare piece of ground available, that literally ?marks? our age. ?The Orchard? is now more likely to be a small estate of town-houses in what used to be the generously proportioned garden of one large town-house.
When I first came to live in Dundalk, one of the ?new? phrases that I learned was that of ?progging? apples. I understood that the term generally meant robbing orchards to steal the fruit from trees or bushes. I enquired in my home area if the word was known to the locals. They knew it but used it in a different context. ?He got the whole prog? meant that someone inherited the total estate of a deceased person. Robbing orchards was not unknown however in the Orchard County and the bogey-man whom you might end up like, if you did not behave yourself, was called ?McGladdery?. He was the last man to be sentenced to die by hanging in Northern Ireland, having been found guilty of the murder of a local woman in 1961 and put to death. ?There?ll be a bad end to you, me boy?? generally signalled the conclusion of the lesson.
Collier the Robber? was a Robin Hood type of figure in nineteenth century Louth. He was born in 1780 in Lisdornan, near the Hill of Bellewstown in County Meath. At age thirteen he was working on the estate of a local farmer called Richard Murtagh. During this time he became leader of a group of juveniles who robbed fruit and vegetables from the garden of a local mansion. This marked the training ground for a long career of highway robbery in Ireland and in England by Collier and his gang. Punishments by the courts took him to Africa and to America but he ended his life as a publican in Ashbourne and apparently as a government informer, before he died suddenly, having collapsed on the street in Drogheda on August 13th 1849. His folk-memory lived on for a long time afterwards and children in the Louth/Meath area were often warned by their anxious parents, ?Look what happened Collier after he robbed the garden?.
He was not the first person to begin a famous or infamous career robbing gardens. Saint Augustine, who lived in Northern Africa (354-430), is one of the great minds of the Christian Church. He developed the concept of Original Sin and that of the possibility of a ?Just War?. He lived the life of a rake during his youth and for many years he had a mistress. A son, called Deodatus, (given by God) was born of this relationship. Augustine famously prayed, following his conversion, ?make me chaste, Lord, but not yet?!
In his autobiographical book ?Confessions? Augustine tells of how he and a group of friends sneaked into an orchard at night and stole some pears. He later reflected anguishedly on why he had engaged in this behaviour. He did not particularly want the pears and he was not therefore motivated by self-interest. He simply enjoyed the illicit thrill of doing wrong for its own sake. He also figured that he would not have robbed the orchard if he had been alone. He understood the power of what we now call peer-pressure. People in groups can support each other in doing good and noble things but they can also egg each other on in doing base things, as his gang of boyhood friends did when he robbed the orchard. Augustine used the episode as a springboard for his meditation on the nature of sin and wrongdoing many years following his final conversion which took place under a fruit tree in a garden.
The ?Adam and Eve in the Garden of Paradise? story in the Book of Genesis inevitably comes to mind. Many gallons of ink have been spilled since it was first written in an effort to explain this foundational tale. It is a story that is rich in insight into the human condition and the ways of the human heart. It tells of a garden and a forbidden fruit tree that is essentially ?robbed? by our first parents. The rebellious Adam and Eve, and by extension, all of us, are consequently robbed of happiness, innocence and enduring life in the ?Garden of Eden?. Stealing or ?progging? an apple can have far-reaching and disproportionate consequences!
A friend of mine who remains unmarried told me that he was once asked by the local Parish Priest why he had not married. He might well have bounced the question back to his interrogator but carrying the orchard metaphor further, and like any good Irishman, answering one question with another one, he replied, ?Why tether yourself to a crab-tree when you have full run of an orchard??