Wednesday, 5 April 2017


Furze bushes blooming along the Grogeen Road on Sunday with the Hills of Kerry in the distance.

The furze bushes were in full bloom round Abbeyfeale Hill at the weekend. They spread like garlands of gold along the ditches by the side of the road. Mount Brandon shimmered in the distance while the McGillycuddy's Reeks stretched skywards, with Carrauntoohil almost reaching the heavens.
The county of Kerry was laid out like a green carpet with a patchwork pattern of fields and roads and ditches. The landscape here has changed little over the centuries, except that they have knocked many of the ditches and made the fields bigger and more manageable for large machinery.
The days of the small farmer are truly over.
I took a stroll down the Grogeen Road. Much of the forestry in the area has now been cut and the magnificent views restored. The remaining rough terrain looks very untidy but hopefully the area will be eventually cleared up.
As I walked around a bend I came across the familiar figure of Tade Tomáisín who was herding a couple of goats as they grazed contentedly by the side of the road.
Tade is a man of interminable years. He was old when we were young and he does not seem to have aged a day since, although he is well in to his nineties. He is a font of knowledge about the folklore and the history of the area and is great company.
How's Tade?” I greeted him.
How are you, young sir?” he responded. This cheered me up no end. I hadn't been called 'young' or 'sir' for years.
Grand day.” I continued
A pet day.” Tade replied. “The swallows are flying very low. We'll have rain tomorrow.”
We sat in the sun and Tade lit his pipe. “What brings you in this direction?” he enquired.
The bit of fresh air” I answered.
'Tis well for some with nothing better to do.” Tade gave the nearest goat a tap of his walking stick. “Ate your supper!” he commanded
They enjoy the fresh grass?” I nodded at the grazing goats.
They do indeed,” said Tade “ and there is plenty of it, and it is all free. I calculated that the amount of grass on both sides of the road from the top of Grogeen all the way down to Cahir is the equivalent of a twenty acre farm. I was even thinking of cutting a few bales of hay and selling it.”
The County Council might not be too happy”
They can feck off! What they don't know, won't trouble them.” Tade has a healthy disregard for authority.
Do you see the passage there!” he continued, pointing with his stick to an overgrown gap in the furze bushes. “That path leads to what the old people called the 'commonage'. Hundreds of years ago there were stone quarries in there. People dug out the stone with shovels and picks and with their bare hands. It was broken up and carved and dressed and was used to build all the old houses above on the road.”
Did they have planning permission?” I joked.
They did adéale! Most of them probably didn't even own the land. It was belonging to some rich landlord over in London with more money than sense. Local tradesmen paced out the measurements for a simple room and kitchen, and labourers dug the foundations. The stones were drawn up in creels and set in red mud. Trees were cut and shaped for doors and windows and for the roof beams. Long scraws of turf and heather were cut out of the bog and spread over these beams. Barts of rushes were placed on top of the scraws and the thatch was battened down with scallops cut from local woods. The walls were whitewashed inside and out. Many the big family was reared above on that road – and in hard times too. There were great men long 'go.”
And all the houses are gone now?” I said.
Knocked to the ground,” Tade replied. “and new bungalows and big ranches built in their place. 'Tis good to see people getting on,” he continued, “but we mustn't forget the past either. Every stone and every bit of timber that went in to those old houses were hand made and had a story to tell. And now they are all gone. Time waits for no man.”
He got to his feet and called in the goats. “People are buying posh cladding and fancy masonry now,” he went on “and paying a small fortune for it, while all that original stonework is being broken up and used as rubble.”
The goats began moving down the road. “They know it is milking time.” Tade said. “They are better than any clock.”
What do you do with the milk?” I asked curiously.
Drink it.” he replied. “Sure you couldn't drink better than goats milk. I do have a mug of it with a raw egg every morning, and mix it with a bottle of stout before I go to bed at night. Signs on, I've never been a day sick in my life, Thank God.”
You'll live to be a hundred.” I predicted.
That's the plan.” he agreed as he slowly began herding his goats back down the Grogeen Road.
I turned and had one last look at the 'commonage' and thought of all those long-dead labourers down through the years excavating stone with simple tools and bare hands to provide humble homes for their families with no help from government or state. It was true for Tade. “There were great men long 'go.”
I stood a moment in silent salute to past generations and then went quietly on my way.

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