Wednesday 17 January 2018

The common fate of turf and man

It only takes a wet summer for the best laid scheme to sink

Con Houlihan
Con Houlihan

Con Houlihan

I looked forward to the summer after my first year at Cork University -- even though it wouldn't be a holiday. Three of us had cut a fair amount of turf at Easter and hoped to make a modest bundle of money. Alas, we experienced the truth of Robert Burns's lines about the best laid plans of mice and men. It turned out to be the wettest summer in living memory -- whatever that means.

There were no deluges or monsoons; rain fell persistently day after day. The water in the river was consistently high, even though hardly ever in full flood. You couldn't even think of working in the bog; the turf was lying in a sad state. For once I could go fishing with a clear conscience: no work was being neglected. I didn't feel guilty -- unlike Bing and Satchmo who, as you will remember, left their hoes lying in the sun. Even though the water was high, the fishing wasn't great: much of the time the fish were sated. There were good days too -- even the quiet days had their compensations. By the side of a river is a great place for thinking: I used to imagine that I was a philosopher trying to solve the problems of the universe -- though I was really more concerned with the problems of the turf.

Every morning I used to look up the hillside a few miles north of us, to see if the cows had gone there. Morning after morning after morning they were still grazing in the fields down below. A host of stories grew out of that rain-ruined summer. I might as well tell you one that is part of folklore. The hero, God rest him, was a veteran bogman who depended on turf for his living. Like the rest of us he kept looking forward to an improvement in the weather. One Sunday morning in September as he went in to Mass in Scartaglen, he got hope. The sky was blue with a few light clouds; the air was light.

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