War of Independence looms large as we toil amid the sounds of the countryside
The 12 sheep have slowly eaten the grass in the river field. It is our intention to give them new ground, but first we must stock-proof it.
I have become a fencing man this week.
My hands are covered in cuts and scabs as I write this, for I have been at this work for a few days with my father.
In the upper ground, there is new grass but also a river that can be crossed, and good as briars, and blackthorns are, they are no fence.
Mearning lines and ditches become in use worn and weak, and so we must set to work with wire and hammer to right them again.
The ditches are thick in places and need only a few wooden posts. We weave sheep-wire through the trees, tacking staples into place when we have found anchor points.
The work is slow, and soon fresh blood has been drawn.
We are alone in our work, and we listen out to the sounds of the countryside. In the distance, a tractor is cutting hedges. To our right the church bell of Ballinalee rings out for the Angelus, and in the foreground, a dog barks absentmindedly for its owner.
Our minds have quieted now, and we say that if the job goes well, it will be done for a few years, and it will be a while before we are back in this spot.
They say a river is never the same each time a man returns to it — so too it is with a ditch.
I lever the barbed wire with the nail bar, pulling it tight but not so tight as to un-stretch the sheep wire, and Da nails it into place.
My father has been reading a book about the War of Independence in Longford by a local author, and between the wire and the blood, we talk of the brave men who went before us.
My granduncle and grandfather — the man I was named after — took part in those warring days.
“They started with so little,” my father says.
“They were brave men,” I reply.
The war gave and it took, we agree.
Our first hole filled, we move our fencing kit and tractor down the field and attack the next spot.
We throw the tools over the water onto the sandbank and start to our fencing again. This time we drive down several posts and create a good bulwark against the wandering beasts.
We pull and nail the wire in, and in the bigger gap we use the high-tension sheep wire. It is slow work and at times tedious, but the chat keeps us going. There is pleasantness in the work for from disorder, a new structure is made.
I check the time, and several hours have passed, and it is now grub time on this, our third day of fencing.
Do the sheep know all the work we put into their lives? I doubt it, but we are the captains of the wire today in the ever-changing landscape of the soulful ditches.
John Connell lives and farms in Longford