“The man who waits for a fine day will always get it.” he was fond of saying.
He checked the bottle and turned on Radio Eireann for the weather forecast. They said it would stay dry. He was not convinced. He went outside and looked up at the sky and back at the towering MacGillicuddy Reeks shimmering in the distance. There was a gentle breeze from the west. A good sign. He made up his mind.
“Run down to Mikey Noble,” he instructed the youngest of us “and ask him if he could come up and cut the long meadow by the road as soon as he gets a chance.”
Mikey Noble owned a Massey Ferguson tractor and mowing machine, and was very much in demand at harvest time.
Mikey arrived the next morning to great excitement and we cleared the heavy stones away from the gap so that he could drive in to the meadow.
He started mowing at the verges and worked his way around in ever-decreasing circles until he arrived in the middle. When he was finished, swathes of grass in neat and uniform rows lay drying under the noon-day sun while nature took its course.
“God spare you in the health.” himself acknowledged as Mikey gathered up his traps and drove away. Payment would be made at the end of the month when the next creamery check arrived.
The scythe was carefully sharpened and honed. He then went around cutting any headlands that the mowing machine could not reach. Not a blade of grass would be wasted.
“It is all in God's hands now.” he observed as he surveyed the meadow of mown hay before shouldering his scythe and slowly heading for home, with the rest of us following behind. The next couple of days would be critical. Any break in the weather and the crop could be lost.
He was out and about early the following morning. A heavy dew fell during the night but the rain had held off. There was fog on the mountains but it would soon lift.
We milked the cows, ferried the milk to the creamery and did our various chores. By midday the fog had cleared and the sun was beating down from a clear blue sky. He walked over to the meadow and examined the drying hay.
“We'll give it another hour,” he decided " and then we'll turn it.”
An hour later we arrived back in the meadow with our pikes and began the tedious job of turning the hay. He led the way with a three-pronged pike, walking along and quickly flipping over the swards of grass with an ease born from years of practise. We followed with our humble two-pronged pikes and tried to keep up with him. By early afternoon we had turned all the hay and the meadow now looked like a furry blanket.
He gazed anxiously up at the sky where an odd cloud had begun to appear.
“We could be close to rain.” he predicted. However, there was little we could do now but wait. We were at the mercy of the elements.
We went home and ate the dinner and he turned on the radio to get the latest forecast. It was not good. There would be showers later in the evening.
“Come on,” he said, collecting a couple of hay racks from the barn and heading over the road “We'll rack it in to rows and make creabhars before the weather breaks.”
There was a sense of urgency now as we worked quickly in pairs, one racking the hay and the other gathering it in to small heaps. We finished as the first drops of rain began to fall. The creabhars offered some protection against the weather but it would be only temporary. If it kept raining we were in trouble.
It rained on and off all evening but there was a drying breeze between the showers. He took some comfort from this. “It'll keep it fresh.” he said.
The next morning the rain had stopped and a warm sun began raising steam from the damp creabhars. We grabbed our pikes and shook out the hay again. It was a race against time now and we kept going until it was all turned.
The waiting continued. The midday sun beat down upon the meadow and the hay slowly began to change from green to gold. In the late afternoon we turned it again, exposing more green underneath. The blazing sun continued to do its work.
The forecast said we could expect more showers overnight. He took a gamble and decided to leave it as it was, saying “Tomorrow will tell its own tale.” We headed for the house, our day's work done.
His judgement was sound. It stayed dry overnight and in the morning the mist lifted to reveal a deep blue sky and a scorching summer day.
We waited a couple of hours and then racked the hay into rows again. He went around lifting fists of hay and examining it closely. It was dry and crisp.
“We'll start gathering it now” he said, satisfied that it was finally ready to be made up.
We went along the rows, piking the hay into piles. We then collected the piles and began making them into cocks of hay. Himself directed operations, laying down the bases and then heaping hay up in to cone-shaped structures. As each hay-cock was completed we secured it and tied it down with sugáns, himself using his penknife to cut the twine to the correct lengths. It was heavy, back-breaking work and we paused occasionally to catch our breath and take a drink of water or cold tea.
Finally, we were finished. Twelve impressive cocks of hay stood straight and tall around the meadow like ghostly turrets from some medieval castle.
He sat on the ditch, reddened his pipe and puffed away contentedly as he gazed out at the fruits of our labour.
In all his years of farming it was his proud boast that he had never yet lost a meadow of hay.