by Domhnall de Barra

What we should be seeing this weekend. Entertainers on the gig rig in the square 2019

This weekend should have been the occasion of the County Fleadh Cheoil in Athea. It was a great success last year but little did we know that the world would be turned upside down within the year. It would have been a major boost for the local economy and an opportunity for us to celebrate and enjoy our native tradition culture. We can only hope that next year will see an improvement and the sound of fiddles, flutes, accordians etc will once again ring out around the village. The secretary of Comhaltas in Athea, Gráinne Ahern, is posting videos of live music over the weekend on the Limerick Comhaltas Facebook page so log on to bring back memories. Here are a few more reminders of last year’s event.

Session in full flow at the Top of the Town

This was taken at the Fleadh launch

Artwork supplied by Athea Tidy Towns for the Fleadh

Englishman, Ralf, who came for the Fleadh and worked with the committee over the weekend, having a well earned pint with his “landlord” Jerry Brouder

Fleadh Chairman, Francie Flavin, in good form  at the Top with johnny and Betty Cotter

This week we have contributions from Jer Kennelly, Tom Aherne, Peg Prendeville, Marian Harnett and Kathleen Mullane. If anybody else out there would like to sent an article or a photo, please do so. we are also available for anniversaries, thank you prayers etc. Just make contact at [email protected], call me on 087 675 8762 or drop them in the office in Athea.

This is a busy time of the year with the turf and silage cutting. I can’t remember a better year for the turf, the weather was so good. It is strange to see it being brought home already. The windmills have been a great blessing in some bogs as they provided good roads for access. The turf machines are also able to lay the sods close to these roads which makes the harvesting much easier. A big change from the old days of the sleán when some of the banks were a good distance from the nearest passage. Turf had to be drawn out with donkeys and ponies until the tractor made its appearance around the 1960s. With the passage of time we are going to lose much of the terminology associated with turf cutting. People won’t know what a sleán was or how it was worked. Around this area it was driven downwards into the bank but in other areas it was used horizontally. This was known as a “breis sleán” (hope I have the proper spelling!). The man who piked the sods away from the slean was said to be “branching”. Not many people outside the bog areas would know that. I remember one time when my son Danjoe broke his ankle playing ball in the back yard. He was taken to the hospital in Tralee to have it set. When we eventually got in to see him he had a smile on his face so I asked him what he was smiling about and he told me that while he was waiting in a cubicle he could hear the conversation between an Asian doctor and a patient in the next cubicle. As is normal procedure the doctor asked the man what he was doing when he sustained the injury to his ankle. “Branching turf” was the reply. “What were you doing, running, jumping, falling” asked the doctor a bit testily. “I said I was branching turf, were you ever in the bog you fool” came the retort from the man from Lyreacrompane. No wonder Danjoe was amused. “Stripping sods” were cut off before the sleán could be used and the first sods at the top were referred to as “bár fhód”(top sod). This sod could be light and stringy and there wasn’t much heat out of it but it was great for starting the fire. Of course turf has to be “footed” and some people “re-foot” (pronounced ray foot).  It would be a great pity if all these terms were forgotten and I’m sure there are a lot more i haven’t mentioned. If you know any please send them on.

Even though the competition has bee cancelled for this year, Athea Tidy Towns are out making our village look better. Great credit is due to these volunteers who give of their time on our behalf. I’m sure they would not mind if a few more people from the village joined their ranks. If there weren’t volunteers we would have a very drab life with no sports clubs, drama groups, community development etc. many hands make light work and there is great satisfaction in seeing your work come to fruition.

We were talking the other day about jobs we hated doing when we were young. Some didn’t like going to the well for water or bringing in the turf. I have two that I hated doing and they both have to do with hens, referred to as chickens nowadays. We always had hens, as most households did because of the eggs they laid and the meat the produce when past their laying years. We knew all the hens by name and they all had their own peculiarities. They usually laid the eggs in the hen house but occasionally one of them might get awkward and find a secret hiding place for her eggs. During the holidays we enjoyed everyday which wasn’t half long enough for us. I might be ready to go fishing, swimming or playing football when my mother would tell me to watch a particular hen who was “laying out”.  This might seem an easy task but the hen was smart and would soon know you were observing her movements. It became a battle of wits as she tried to avoid you. She wouldn’t use the nest while yo were watching so this task could take all day. A covert operation had to be mounted where you blended into the background and observed from a distance. Eventually she would lay the egg and your task was completed, but the waiting around, wasting valuable time was awful. The other job I didn’t like was cleaning the hen house. The droppings mingled with the rushes on the floor creating a kind of dust that could be suffocating. It was also full of lice and the smell was unbearable. It was a great fertiliser for growing potatoes but that smell would stay up my nose for days. Simple but happy days.