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Recalling a time in Irish rural life when man and horse worked in unison

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A time when man and horse worked together to break the soil.

MARK McGAUGH, a staunch Mayo man from Ballycurran, Headford (postal), put pen to paper in recalling an era of Irish life during the ‘40s and ‘50s, when man and horse came together to ‘break the soil’ in springtime for the planting of the crops. His story, The Ploughman, is one of a number included in a new book entitled Around the Garden Gate Collection just published.

BY the time I left Ireland for foreign shores, the tractor had commenced to gradually replace the horse as the preferred method of ploughing and carrying out lots of other farm related work, but I will add that we did not have a tractor on our land at the time of my departure in January, 1960.

So it does not surprise me when I think of the days I spent on the farm, that my memory recalls the time I spent with the horse ploughing, harrowing, drilling, and scuffling the beet. We were part of a team with the horse playing the leading role, and a working relationship was established which was based on trust, kindness, and the will and desire to finish the job in hand.

Perhaps it is in the springtime from March/April onwards when those visions were most crystallised, and among the memories is the first ploughing day of spring. I pictured the cold morning air when the horses were taken from the stables, and they almost appeared to be looking forward to the day’s work ahead. They were alert and frisky with their heads held high, and the sparkle on their coats gave the impression that they are eagerly awaiting the task of ploughing the land.

There was an age difference in the two horses, with Fanny barely two years old, and she had only been broken in the previous autumn, while Blackie was an experienced six-year-old who had done every job expected from him on the farm. These tasks included pulling the common and spring harrow once the field was ploughed, the smaller plough for drilling the field where the various seeds would be sown at a later date. The horse’s work was seldom finished as throughout the spring and summer and into the autumn the horse was always in demand.

One clear memory I have is from the first ploughing of the spring time when there might be still some slight frost on the ground. There was a great deal of preparation to be done beforehand. The old Pearce manufactured plough had to be prepared, with both wheels being oiled, the cross checked, with a touch of paint added to give the impression to the neighbours that it was a very useful and important piece of equipment.

The horses employed might be Clydesdale or Suffolk, but they also required some serious preparation for the long hard days ahead. We had a blacksmith named John Molloy in the village who had carried on the traditions of his father and grandfather before him, of turning long metal rods of iron into properly fitting shoes for the horses in the local villages, and many a happy hour I spent pulling the bellows in order to get the necessary heat up for the making of the shoes.

I recall the aroma when ‘the smithy’ first tested the red hot steel on the horse’s hooves to ascertain the correct fitting. The properly fitted steel shoes were essential for the horses to get a grip on the soft soil as they trudged along turning the deep heavy soil onto its side. The ploughing was normally done in co-operation with another relative or more often with a neighbour as very few farmers had more than one horse, and two horses were needed to pull the heavy plough.

Connacht Tribune

Flexibility and budget worries over direction of new scheme

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Michael Biggins: Disappointed at scheme.

THE new ACRES (Agri Climate Rural Environment Scheme) due to be rolled out on January 1 next is ‘restrictive and complicated’ according to West of Ireland farming representative.

IFA Rural Development Chairman, Michael Biggins, said that the proposed scheme was ‘far from a new REPS’ and urgently needed to be modified in terms of flexibility and budget allocation.

“As it’s currently proposed, ACRES is restrictive and complicated.  It will inflict more compliance costs on farmers, resulting in less income.

“The scheme is designed to discourage people from farming. In order to achieve the average payment, farmers will have to commit more land to lower levels of production compared to previous schemes,” said Michael Biggins.

He added that all farmers who applied needed to be accepted into the scheme while those farmers applying in 2023 would have to be paid in the same year.

Details of the €1.5 billion ACRES scheme were outlined by the Dept. of Agriculture in June with two entry streams – a general or individual one: and a co-operation model for environmentally sensitive area including Connemara and parts of South Galway and Mayo.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

‘Smart villages’: the way forward

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Pictured at the recent opening of the ‘Smart Villages’ office in Mountbellew were: Anne Kinsella, Chairperson of Galway Rural Development; Senator Aisling Dolan; and Minister for Rural Development and Social Protection, Heather Humphreys.

A RECENTLY opened Galway Rural Development (GRD) office in Mountbellew could be the forerunner to similar ‘Smart Villages’ initiatives over the coming years, according to the organisers of the scheme.

The Smart Villages initiative is part of the European Network for Rural Development, aimed at improving services in country areas such as health, social, energy, transport and retail.

The Mountbellew office was officially opened by Minister for Rural/Community Affairs  Heather Humphreys, who said that the initiative marked an important step forward in terms of rural development.

CEO of Galway Rural Development, Steve Dolan, said that last year they had picked out Mountbellew as their pilot location for the Smart Villages project which would offer a lot of opportunities for rural communities mainly through the use of information and communications technology

“Smart Village training has been developed and delivered, up-skilling many in the community in local development, connectivity, sustainability, and more. The opening of this office in Mountbellew is as a result of our shared efforts,” said Steve Dolan.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Anger as factories continue to chop lamb price

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Stephen Canavan: No reason for price cuts.

THE meat plants have been accused of trying ‘to make a fast buck’ on the backs of sheep farmers with lamb prices now back by a euro per kilo, as compared to just over a month ago.

Farm leaders have said that the factories are trying ‘to tough it out’ before more finished lambs begin to come on the market over the next month or so.

Galway IFA Chairman,  Stephen Canavan, told the Farming Tribune that there was no good reason for the chain of factory price cuts over the past five weeks or so.

“All the information we are getting is that the supply of finished lambs is still quite limited but the factories have obviously taken a decision to cut now, before the number of finished lambs increase through the Autumn.

“It’s just another example of the meat plants trying to make a fast buck at the expense of the primary producer at a time when input costs for farmers have never been as high,” said Stephen Canavan.

Lamb prices are this week hovering at the €6.50 per kg mark – down from a high of over €7.50 per kg in late June, equating to a price drop for farmers of around €20 per lamb.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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