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Keeping skills of hedge laying tradition alive

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Pat McMahon and some of the tools he uses for hedge laying

Pat McMahon and some of the tools he uses for hedge laying

Pat McMahon and some of the tools he uses for hedge laying

Keeping a tidy farm is important to Pat McMahon and that extends to the hedgerows on his property in Ballybinaby, Hackballscross.

He is one of the few remaining practitioners of hedge laying in the country and is hoping to raise awareness of the ancient practice.

'Hedges have been a vital part of rural Ireland for centuries, acting as land boundaries and supporting a wealth of diverse wildlife such as bats and countless types of insects and birds.'

Twice a national tidy farmyard award winner, he explained the process of hedge laying.

'The first job is to remove all ivy and brambles and give the hedge a good tidy up.'

He fears if the scourge of ivy is not controlled there will not be a hedge in 50 years' time.

'The basic principles of all styles of hedge laying are the same. The selected stems (pleachers) are cut 80% of the way through, cutting down to form a long living hinge at the very base of the pleacher. The pleacher can then be laid down at an angle of 25-45 degrees.'

The tools he uses look formidable! These include a buck saw, a start and finishing hook, a slash hook, a Japanese blade and long-handled 45-degree nips.

Hedge laying season is in the darker months of the year from September until February and the physically demanding nature of the work is one of the reasons why so few people continue to do it.

A member of the Hedge Laying Association of Ireland, he added this skill enables him to eliminate gaps in hedges which will grow back in five or six years.

There are many benefits to laying hedgerows, such as the rejuvenation of the hedge from the base, the retention of an existing habitat, increasing biodiversity and a stockproof barrier.

'I am working 40 years with hedges. I saw my father at it. He lived to be 100,' Pat continued, and he recalled cutting with a bill hook as a seven- or eight-year-old.

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