We cut turf with the sleán and pike in Kate Keeffe’s bog for very many years.
Himself had bought a high bank from Kate in 1939 for the princely sum of ten pounds. It proved to be a sound investment as it kept our home fires burning brightly for the next thirty years.
Good value considering the cost of coal and briquettes today!
|Receipt for the high bank of turf purchased from Kate Keefe in 1939. It was witnessed by the late James Collins T.D.|
Turf cutting operations would usually begin in late March.
Himself would sharpen the sleán and spade and gather up the pikes and a roll of hemp to mark out the ground.
Off we would go, marching over the road carrying our implements on our shoulders like soldiers heading for battle.
The bank would be covered by a light blanket of heather. He would strip a narrow layer, three sods wide and lay the scráws in a bog hole to be replaced later.
Turf-cutting was normally a three-person job. One man would work the sleán, a second would pike the sods on to the bank and the third would spread the turf in rows along the bank to dry.
However, in our case, there were only two of us. Himself would cut out the sods, driving the sleán down with his right foot and making sure to slope the cuts outwards so that the bank would not afterwards collapse. I would be tasked with piking the fresh sods on to the bank and ensuring that the mouth of the sleán was kept clear at all times. We would pause from time to time and step up on to the bank and spread the turf more evenly before resuming our positions.
As each layer was completed he would leave a step so that we could step down to the next level. The first two levels consisted of dry, corky sods which were difficult to cut. The middle layers were rich and thick and were the best of the turf. The bottom layer was black and brittle and would harden when dried. Below that that was the mud. And below the mud we hoped to find hidden treasurers from bygone days, but all we ever found were stumps of bogdéal and more mud.
We would work away at a steady pace while he regaled me with stories of olden days and times long past. He had a vast store of local knowledge and folklore. He knew the history of every townland and every family that lived there. Every meadow and stone gap had a story to tell. Even the very ground we worked on was steeped in history and myth. Sadly, much of this is now lost and gone from us forever.
Herself appearing over the rim of the mountain with the mid-day meal was a welcome diversion. We would down tools and sit on the verge of the bank while she handed out thick cuts of cake bread liberally smothered in creamery butter. There would be cold bacon and dressed cabbage and mugs of strong, sweet tea. It was a feast fit for a king and we would devour every morsel.
Himself would then light up the pipe and puff away contentedly while she slowly gathered up her accoutrements and complimented us on the work before disappearing once more over the brow of the hill. There were hens to be fed and bread to be baked.
We worked on until evening, two solitary figures moving in harmony through a peaceful landscape of bog and mountain. It was as if we were the only humans left on earth.
The six o’clock angelus bell tolled distantly from town and finally called us from our labour. We lay our weapons carefully down by the bog hole and paused to survey the bank of freshly cut turf.
“A good day’s work.” was his judgement before we turned and headed slowly for home.
Turf is no longer cut in Kate Keefe’s mountain. The forestry has most of the land now and the magnificent views across the Feale valley in to Kerry are all but obscured.