(The following was written by Michael McDermott whom Pat Brosnan recently wrote about. Michael’s late mother Joan Collin came from Knocknagorna and he has fond memories of times spent there)

It’s a frosty still night, winter is upon us, the cattle are nestling in their cosy sheds, the birds are working and scanning back yards and gardens for some domestic offerings, the coal bucket and turf shed is being shovelled easier, but is vital to stifle Jack Frost. I’ve just received a copy of the Athea and District News. I’m like a child of six excitedly opening a present, flicking and scanning the written word and pages. I see Pat Brosnan’s name and then my own family logo. It’s surreal as I glance down, and begin to read his very kind and thoughtful words. It fills me with a wonderful sense of place, of belonging, of family and acquaintances, ties which are the essence of life. I feel in great spirits full of verve and pride, that I have rekindled my roots, my attachment or bond to my mother’s home place and its people. It’s a feeling of melancholy, of remembrance, of drifting back the calendar years to days of agriculture, harvest, sunshine, sport, fun, smiles and the celebration of all these events in a typical West Limerick spirit.  I want to reflect and try to capture my emotion and thoughts as I unravel some cobwebs and endeavour to write about this very special area nestling quietly and snugly on the western margins of the “Treaty County”. I feel a little under pressure, as I’m struggling to do justice and appropriateness to the people that lie in this great land of Athea town and country. I feel like hopping back up on my dear friend’ Mickey Liston’s pony and maybe veering towards Listowel and Ballybunion, but I would surely be getting a rather serious look if that happened.

My mind strays to my Uncle Mickey’s kitchen in Knocknagorna in far away days of hustle and bustle on those picturesque summer mornings. The cock screeching for all its might in the yard, happy in the knowledge that he is king in his harem. The smell of the turf fire and the hiss of the kettle flapping on the range, waiting for Bridie’s tender touch to fill the waiting family and relations with a hearty breakfast. Homemade white bread of course, to add to the fresh eggs, homemade black pudding and sausages. The flagstones as sturdy strong and powerful as when they were first laid, seamlessly taking the footsteps of the Collins family and cousin brood. The Sacred Heart light shining in all its glory, rosary beads dangling safely from its holder. The Farmer’s Journal showing pages of tractors, animals and news of impending E.E.C. talks in Brussels.

The bog was after breakfast, so Brussels would have to wait. My Uncle Mike’s gentle caring smile as he retorted that a few trailers could be filled today. And what matter if it wasn’t, tomorrow’s another day. We set off in horse and cart, ably pulled by Ben, a fine brown steed with a speck of white on his forehead. Mike stopped to chat with his lifelong friend and neighbour Tommy Barrett for a short while about our turf exploits before heading on and through the gates with the derelict schoolhouse in the distance.  To say that the journey through the maze of pathways that led to the bog was akin to bumpy would be an understatement. Thank God our stomachs remained intact but were given a severe examination. The bog was a fusion of purple heather bushes, brown and black sods of turf in various stages of preparation, carpet-like softness as one walked on the surface, people footing, splicing, throwing, stacking, arranging neat piles of valuable turf that would repel winter’s impending lunge at the local inhabitants. Uncle Mike pointed to Curlew, Corncrakes and Thrushes, recanting to me the various warbles and tweets each one made. They wafted high and low in the breeze, keeping us serenaded as we tipped along at our own pace. The bog was a hive of activity, my Uncle Jack together with my cousins Paddy and Seanie joined us along with Ned Sheehy so the chat, craic and interaction was funny and educational in its own little way.  One is cut off from the outside world, as it were, when the turf is being prepared, it’s a world of nature, peace, tranquillity and reflection, away from the hustle and bustle of modern living and ways. The sun was glittering majestically in the sky, but being in a bog means a cooling breeze is ever present to sooth and refresh tired backs and arms.  When one’s back was turned, now and again a scrap of turf might hop off your back or pole, with everyone adjacent as innocent as pie. A jumper or short coat might disappear into the heather also, races from one end of the stretch might ensue also, with debatable photo finishes the order of the day.  The work went on regardless, stacks of turf appearing in little rows waiting eagerly for the sun’s rays to do their work. I always worked near Uncle Mike and Uncle Jack, maybe looking for some praise, as I busily stacked and carried to show that the thirteen year old Tipperary cousin had inherited some of his family work genes.  I felt so safe, secure and warm beside my two great Uncles. Yet they were like chalk and cheese. Uncle Jack was spirited, a born leader, a man of great honour, wisdom and sincerity. To watch him work and organise and plan the day was like poetry in motion. His experience always shone through. He would give you a great lift when he’d say “that’s it, keep it up, you are doing well”. One could sense from him the importance of the bog harvest, the quality and texture of the sods had to be nurtured also.  He was also a kind, caring and considerate man who was just fulfilling his important role as head of the Collins family.  When going into battle or facing up to a crisis being beside Jack Collins was the appropriate place to be.  On the other hand Uncle Mike was a different type of man, easy going, old fashioned in a nice sort of way, caring and kind to a fault, religious and devout like all in his community, yet it was this happiness in his own place, the nature the animals in his surroundings that set him apart. He was like Eamonn De Buitléar and David Attenborough in one, noticing, watching, embracing, feeling and experiencing the beauty of God’s natural amphitheatre. Mick noticed the swallows hovering like bullets, gathering for their epic journeys, he noticed the bond between cow and calf, the gentle loyalty in Shep wagging his obedient tail, of breezes and winds shaking and tossing hedgerows and trees, of butterflies and bees dancing and buzzing in sun clad days, of trout and salmon hiding and nesting in swollen river torrents. Of rain and shine and fusions of colour as rainbows appeared in those moments after fresh showers had watered the land. Of seeing lilac, fuchsia’s, daffodils and daisies throwing their beauty and pleasantness far and wide.  Mike Collins and Jack Collins were people to admire, look up to and to learn from. Believe me, I was always trying to retain and store up the rights and appropriate views on life on those heady and simple days in the bog.

Bog Day, Knocknagorna

At around 1.30 pm with brows damp and muscles straining, yet with spirits high, a welcome sight was seen approaching across the horizon.  It was  Aunt Bridie and my cousin Peg coming with our turf dinner. We were all delighted to see them and we were treated to a royal feast of ham, tomatoes, white soda bread, tart, buns, brack, tea and soft drinks.  We rested and chatted about our progress, the weather and the serenity that is part and parcel of the bog landscape.  I was given the task of ensuring Ben, our faithful steed, was well looked after. The flies hovered around his rear end and he swished his tail in gentle defiance. I patted his temple and he bobbed and preened as I gave him water and a handful of barley to thank him for his contribution. I looked back at the resting crew of relations and friends. The sun was glistening with all its might, the breeze ruffled the heathers and flowers ever gently, the black bog water looked like a deep foreboding pool, the banks of turf stood proudly clean and straight in their furrows. Larks, curlews and finches warbled and sang with gusto in their freedom. The horizon and hills beyond gave a warm feeling of history and continuity in natural beauty, unspoilt and unchanged in a setting tended most carefully by my blood people from Knocknagorna. The bog was to be appreciated, nurtured and conserved. Treat it with respect and tolerance and it will yield abundant harvest. My people well know this and honoured loving care on the brown sods of gold.  I felt privileged in this moment in time to be experiencing the riches of nature in all its guises as we simply extracted, harvested, weathered and nurtured the turf to its safe haven in the shed , yet embracing God’s creatures, fauna and weather patterns on this lovely summer’s day. It was as if being in the bog was like freezing a moment that echoed back to other bygone days when the interaction, ambiance, characters and the beauty of the place was exactly like our happy toil. We returned and worked diligently, funnily and chattily for a few more hours blissfully happy, content and satisfied in our historical pursuits.  The cows would soon be baying to be relieved of their liquid gold, the calves and pigs had to be tended to, tidying and sweeping up had to be done, the rosary would be worshipped, supper would be eaten, chat and laughter would be indulged upon about the bog day exploits. As the sun slowly set on Knocknagorna and stars glistened in the sky our day would come to an end; dreams and thoughts would flood our minds as we slept under the merry plough.


Michael McDermott