Ann Fitzgerald: 'What would my father have made of today's world?'

Nora O’Mahony and Eugene Lambert in ‘Wanderly Wagon’ in 1978
Nora O’Mahony and Eugene Lambert in ‘Wanderly Wagon’ in 1978
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

My father, Patrick Fitzgerald, of Wilton Hill, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, died 50 years ago on August 10, and I spent the morning of his anniversary walking the Cullahill Mountain Loop.

Looking through the mist back across the countryside towards the Slieve Blooms after the first ascent through a hazel wood, I wondered how much it must have changed in that time.

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It's still nicely patch-worked, though I'd imagine the patches are now bigger.

There was a lot of hay, in round bales rather than wynds or small square bales. But most winter feed is now stored as silage, which was first made in Ireland in the mid-1960s.

I soon saw a field of Charolais bulls. Charolais were the first continental cattle breed to arrive in the country in 1964.

Charles Haughey often gets credit for the importation, but it was really the work of Agriculture Minister Paddy Smith.

Passing through a rushy pasture, I thought I heard the haunting cry of a curlew. Around 150 nesting pairs of curlew remain - down from 150,000 pairs in the '60s and '70s.

I missed a turn and ended up on a road, over 6km from my car. Looking at the hedges as I walked along, I noticed that sticking a bush-in-a-gap is no longer a form of stock control. This is thanks to the electric fence, which was introduced in New Zealand in the '70s.

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Most of the houses had well-kept ornamental gardens, but I didn't see any vegetable patches. There were no children to be seen. The only entertainment we had as kids were books and ourselves, so we were outdoors a lot.

The 1969 moon landing occurred at 9.17pm Irish time, and Teilifís Éireann broadcast into the night for the first time.

Programmes at the time included the The Riordans and our Saturday evening treat, Wanderly Wagon. That summer also brought the start of the Troubles.

My dad was in poor health. He previously had TB and was an insulin dependent diabetic. The insulin was animal-derived, which was hard on the body.

One of my few memories of Dad was of him perching me on a stool in The Thatch bar in Newbridge with a glass of Nash's red lemonade and Tayto salt & vinegar (still my favourite crisp).

But we've been told that he was a kind man. He loved horses and singing, and his family. When his sister Peggy became emotional on a visit from Australia a few months before he died, Dad said: "Will you ever shut up, woman, wouldn't it be worse if was one of the children!"

While lots of things have changed, not everything has. August 10 is still the first day of Puck Fair.

My mum had gone to the fair with family friend Johnny Fennell to buy some young horses. Having broken his leg riding a pony, Dad was in hospital in a coma, but his condition was stable.

I have a picture in my head of arriving in the hospital with my granny, to be told that he had died.

My mum always said that, as soon as she swung in the gate at home and saw her brother-in-law Noel milking the cows, she knew Dad was dead. How different the speed of communication!

Were he alive, Dad would be 92. Who knows what he would make of today's world.

Indo Farming


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