Waterford County Museum, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, Ireland. Charity Reg: 17397
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4.
6.
Working The Land
8.

Ardmore Memory and Story - Life and Work

8. Working The Land
No aspect of Irish life has shown such a revolutionary change in the century as agriculture. We think of the early days of the century indeed practically into the forties, as the days of horses and donkeys and carts, of haymaking, mowing machines, threshings. All this has changed completely. A few years ago, on a school tour, the children were brought into an Art Gallery, and a local farmer's son asked his mother "What are they"? Indicating a field of haycocks.

Hay is certainly grown but what used to be regarded as the idyllic days of hay-making are gone. Instead, the hay is generally not allowed to go to seed or ripen. For silage, it is blown into trailers taken tot he haggard to the silage pit on a concrete base; the trailer goes up and down to pack it, a plastic sheet is placed over it and old tyres placed on top to press it.

Many of the farmers in this district base their viability on their milk quota. In former days, the milk was brought in churns to the creamery, where it was separated and the skimmed milk then brought home, so the creamery was generally a great social center. Since about 1983, the milk quota became important, one's viability depends on it, but one is penalised for exceeding it. Cows of course are no longer milked by hand, but by machine in milk parlours. The bulk tank comes to collect the milk, which used to be brought to Dungarvan, but now goes to Glanbia headquarters in Co. Kilkenny.

Other farmers in our area grow corn, which is threshed and dealt with, by combine harvester. Gone are the days of threshings and threshing dances.

There are still other land owners who grow beet and also carrots, which are washed and graded and dealt with scientifically before sending to the big city supermarkets. Indeed, it is precisely in these supermarkets that the farmers' wives buy their potatoes and vegetables. So the wheel has turned full circle.

Agriculture is the chief industry in this parish. There have been many changes in the farming scene since the beginning of this century. The number of people employed has dropped considerably. In the earlier years when emigration had taken its toll the remainder of the population took up employment on the farms. Hand labour was used entirely in the case of livestock and also in the work in the fields. Horses supplied the power for carting and tilling the land.

All cows were milked by hand. The milking machine did not make its appearance until the second half of the century and then only gradually in the fifties and sixties. Home-made butter was to be had in many farmhouses. Cream separators were not used in many cases as the fresh milk was put in large milk pans and the cream skimmed off after a day or two. At this time dash churns were used; the end over end barrel churn was not used until a later date.

Cattle were driven on the road to monthly fair ten or fifteen miles to Youghal or Dungarvan and sold on the fairgreen or on the side of the street. Cattle marts replaced fairs in the 1950's and cattle were transported by lorry or trailers.

The crops generally grown were potatoes, vegetables - cabbage and smaller quantities of carrots etc. The potatoes were planted in ridges or beds and drills. Root crops grown were swede turnips and mangolds - mainly for livestock. All thinning and weeding of root crops were done by hand. The sugar beet crop was grown from the thirties and was pulled and 'crowned' by hand labour. The mechanical beet harvester arrived in the late fifties. All this has changed with the use of single beet seed - no thinning, weeding reduced to a minimum by using chemical sprays, lifting is done by mechanical harvesters and tractor and trailer to draw the beet to a loading site. With the arrival of sugar beet the use of chemical fertilisers increased. In the early part of the century and up to the end of world war ii, F.Y.M. was the fertiliser used except near the sea shore when seaweed and sea sand was used.

The cereals grown were malting barley, oats and a small acreage of wheat. In the early part of the century the corn was reaped by scythes and mowing machines drawn by horses. Then the sheaves were bound by hand. The reaper and binder was used on the larger farms. Small acreages of corn were threshed by flail on the barn floor and when the straw was required for thatch it was 'slashed' by hand against a stone. The grain was separated from the chaff etc., by using a hand powered winnowing machine. Threshing machines drawn by steam powered engines were used on the large farms. Oil powered tractors replaced most of the steam engines during the 1940's.

It was during the 1950's that tractors replaced the horses for ploughing and tilling the land. Home produced wheat, oats and barley and potatoes were grown by the farmers under the Compulsory Tillage Order from 1940 to 1948. This order saved the population from starvation as very limited imports were allowed by the allies. Ration cards were issued to everyone by the government for bread, flour, sugar, tea, etc., and for clothes, shoes and boots. At least no case of death by starvation was reported.

Author: Siobhan Lincoln

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