Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Memories of days hitching rides on hay bogies and climbing trees are rekindled in Royal good read

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Those of us who farm and live on the land we grew up on will always have a special link with the landscape that surrounds our homes.

Even our non-farming brothers and sisters who have perhaps emigrated and now live on another continent will speak of the unique bond that they share with the land that reared them.

Just ask any of them if they remember "the haggard" or "the pond field" or whatever names were given to the paddocks close to the farmhouse and the memories immediately come flooding back; climbing trees, hitching a ride on a hay bogy, gathering mushrooms in the early morning or searching for birds' nests among the hedgerows.

The sons and daughters of farmers who have reached old age and who may not have set foot in Ireland for more than half a century will still talk fondly of fields they played and worked in, and the livestock and crops they contained.

The hawthorn hedges and stone walls that marked the boundaries of our parents' holdings also marked the boundaries of all that was exciting and unknown to our young minds.

Later on in life, when we read the poems of Patrick Kavanagh or the stories of John McGahern, we were gently transported back to the endless summers of our youth.

To a time when cows were milked by hand, when mice ran through the corn stooks as we gathered them for threshing and the rivers and streams were full of trout and eels.

It is, of course, easy to remember the fields of our youth solely as playgrounds that provided endless amusement but the hardships endured in a late spring or bad summer are also embedded in our folk memories.

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The stories we learnt from our parents and neighbours and the legends associated with hills and hollows, where lone thorn trees stood untouched for fear of angering the spirit world are as real today as they were centuries ago.

The witchcraft of the elder bush and the mischief that faeries could get up to are part of an inherited ritual that was essential to the development of a civilised rural society.

Whether we like it or not, our history defines us. Two thousand years ago the Roman philosopher Cicero said: "To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.

"For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?"

Given the importance of local history and how easily it can be forgotten, I will always be grateful to the wonderful people who recently published a splendid book on the field names of my home county of Meath.

You don't need to live in the Royal County to appreciate the fascinating facts that the dedicated production team unearthed in the course of their work.

The project chairman was John McCullen with the work co-ordinated by Joan Mullen, along with a small army of researchers and local helpers.


The book itself, printed in full colour, contains a range of stunning photos of rural Meath showing many fields and features within their boundaries.

The content details all the information that was gathered about Meath field names along with their history and lore from townlands in every corner of the county.

At more than 400 pages, this is a large book and a reader could pass many pleasant winter nights dipping in and out of the different sections.

The project was supported by Meath Partnership, the FBD Trust, the Heritage Council and several local sponsors.

In an era where we can be overcome by negativity, this book and the voluntary effort that went into it represents so much that is positive about Meath, its people and its landscape.

One can only hope that other counties will follow the example of the committee who produced it and record for posterity our farming past from pre-Christian days to the present time.

The book is widely available at a cost of €20 in all branches of Meath libraries, at local bookstores and selected newsagents and also in several agri stores.

It can also be ordered on For more information, go to the project website or phone 087 2077622.

Irish Independent